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Voices in the Water

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--∞--

Clarke hangs back along the tree line, cloaked by the night, watching people come and go from the rowdy tavern. No one can see her in the shadows with her hood pulled over her red-dyed hair. She stays for a while, simply watching and chewing on a piece of bread as she observes a group of Azgeda warriors leave together, completely wasted. She watches a sad man stumble into the tavern, although she’s sure he already has a few drinks in him. She watches a man and woman, not much older than her, leave the tavern and slip into the night in the opposite direction. The man slips his arm around the woman and she kisses his cheek before Clarke loses them to the darkness. She wonders what it’s like to have that - something so easy, so loving, but she shakes away the thought. She’s on a mission, has a target, and it isn’t the time for foolish thoughts. 

Clarke sighs, more weary than nervous, as she enters the clearing and walks towards the old tavern. It’s ramshackle, at best. The kind of tavern that sits between larger villages and frequents travelers coming from every direction. Not the kind of tavern with regulars, where one might expect to meet their neighbors or where anyone would be weary of strangers. Three large lanterns light the outside of it and a few stray men and women hang around the entrance, despite how cold it is this far north. 

She slips off her hood when she enters, taking in the thick crowd of people. It smells of stale beer and moonshine, of travellers in need of a wash. She pushes past a few drunken men who don’t notice her, making her way the bar and sitting at one of the few empty stools. 

She raises a single finger to the bartender and he slides her a small glass of moonshine a moment later. The dirt she purposefully rubbed into her face makes her look like an wayward traveller with nowhere to be. Still, she makes sure to sit up straight, showing off her chest in her low cut shirt as she glances in the direction of her target sitting at the opposite end of the bar. She takes a sip and feels his eyes on her. She’s heard that he has a weakness for young women, which makes the job easier for her.

She looks up over her drink at the man, pretending that she’s attempting to be coy. His eyes don’t leave hers, his bold confidence irritating her all the more. 

Yes, this one will be easy.

Clarke raises her eyebrows at him and finishes her drink, setting the old jar on the bar with a few coins. She doesn’t wait to see if he’ll approach her - she knows he’ll follow, and she doesn’t want to be seen leaving with him. Still, the tavern is so packed with people she’s sure she wasn’t noticed anyways.

She breathes in the cold air when she walks outside, a sense of numbness washing over her like it does before a battle. This is her version of a battle, but she doesn’t get to wear the ceremonial scars of honor like the other Azgeda warriors. She makes it about 20 feet before she hears him behind her. 25 feet before he calls out to her.

“Miss!”

Clarke - no, Wanheda - stops, giving him a sly smile.

“Leaving so soon?” he asks. “You looked awfully lonely in there.”

Her eyes sweep over him, which she’s sure he takes as a compliment. He weighs about 200 pounds, mostly muscle. His brown beard is heavy, eyes challenging. 

“I was hoping you wouldn’t let me leave alone.”

The man smirks, like he’s caught a rabbit in a trap. He doesn’t understand that he’s the prey. 

She nods at him to follow her and heads towards the dark treeline where she came from. She doesn’t make it five steps into the shadows before he presses himself against her from behind, a large hand splayed over her stomach and lips to her ear. It sends a chill down her spine, a terrible one. This is the worst part - pretending that she wants them when they make her want to crawl out of her skin.

“You’re very beautiful,” he murmurs. His breathe is stale with alcohol and too warm in the cold air.

“A little further,” she says quietly, breaking away but leading him by his hand. She grits her teeth when he grabs her ass, but doesn’t allow herself to physically react. Not until she’s led him even further into the dark forrest. The lanterns of the tavern are a distant glow. 

The man pushes her against a tree. She lets him.

“Far enough,” he purrs in her ear, before bringing his lips to her neck. 

She waits until he’s distracted, until his chapped lips brush against her neck, before she brings her knee to his groin as hard as she can manage. 

He grunts, curling over. She knocks him to the ground while she still has the element of surprise.

“Bitch,” he hisses, already recovering from her blow. She unsheaths the sword she carried on her back, no doubt unnoticed by the man prior to this moment. 

He lunges at her, taking out his own long knife he had tucked away. She ducks, rolling to the ground, using her smaller size to her advantage like she was taught. He’s clumsy when he lunges at her from above, too driven by rage and probably too drunk. From where she’s crouched on the ground, she drives her sword through his center. He collapses on her before she can roll out of the way, his knife slipping from his grip and blood dripping from his mouth onto her face. She uses all of her core and arm strength to flip them over so that she’s straddling him from above, hands still on the handle of the sword in his chest. 

His lips are moving, but no sounds come out. 

“You shouldn’t have betrayed the Queen. You betray Azgeda,” she growls, pulling the sword from him. Blood pours from the wound.  

“I’m sorry, though,” she murmurs. “I meant to make this quick. I missed.”

His eyes track her movement as she quickly brings up the sword again, this time driving it into his heart.

--∞--

Clarke drags his body closer to the tavern. It will be a message. Word of Wanheda’s latest kill will ripple through Azgeda and eventually to the other clans. They’ll trade theories about why he was targeted, wondering whether they might be next. Some will deny her existence, will say there’s no proof it was her at all. But then they’ll be reminded of the simple vertical line carved behind his ear, and they’ll know with certainty it was her. The smart ones will, anyways. 

A sheen of sweat breaks out across her brow and down her back by the time she drags the body just beyond the treeline. She leaves him sitting against a tree and quickly backtracks into the woods, beginning her hours-long journey back to where she left Orion tied to a tree. Clarke lights the tiny lantern she brought with her and begins walking briskly, hoping that if she moves fast, she’ll stay warm enough to dull the cold air’s bite. 

Clarke smiles widely when she finally sees him. Relief floods through her, both from the prospect of finally getting a few hours of rest and the fact that her horse is still standing before her with her belongings, no harm done to him. 

“Hey, my boy,” she murmurs once she walks up to him, stroking his mane. He nuzzles against her familiar hand. 

It can be more dangerous to leave him in another clan’s territory, but she knows Azgeda territory inside and out after years of traveling through it. It’s still a risk, but a much smaller one. Clarke sets her lantern on the ground and digs through the small sack of belongings she brought. Her hands and toes are cold, but not dangerously so. It’s the kind of cold you grow used to when it’s what you know. You can grow used to almost anything, given enough time. She pulls out her change of clothes and peels off her bloody garments, shivering when the cold air hits her skin. 

She doesn’t have any problems finding a few good logs and quickly builds a fire, throwing the bloody garments into it, piece by piece. After that, she sits in front of the fire, rubbing her hands together for a few minutes before pulling the small blanket she brought with her out of the sack. She lays it across the forrest floor and sits down with a grunt, her muscles already aching. Thankfully, despite the cold, it’s dry. So at least there’s that.  

She lays down, rolling onto her side and putting her hands under her head, watching the sparks dance in front of her and listening to the sounds of the forrest. The occasional bird call or rustle, but not much more. When she closes her eyes, she sees the man’s glossy eyes and bloody lips and quickly opens them again, deciding to stare at the fire a while longer. 

It’s my duty to my clan, to my people, to root out the traitors. The threats , she reminds herself. 

But those reminders never seem to keep the dead at bay. This man is the latest addition to the collection of ghosts she stores behind her eyes and between her ribs. 

--∞--

Clarke wakes when the sun begins to rise, the cloudy Azgeda sky a light indigo. She rubs at her tired, cold eyes and rolls over, looking at what’s left of her fire. It’s burned down to a pile of hot coals, smoke drifting into the sky that looks like the puffs of air her breath makes on cold mornings like this. She forces herself to stand and feeds Orion an apple before shoving the blanket back into the sack. Chewing on a piece of salted rabbit, she stomps out what’s left of the fire and climbs onto Orion. She pulls her hood over her red hair, face hidden from view, just in case.  

It’s nearly a day’s journey back to the southern Azgeda capital, Suskainau, so Clarke doesn’t stop to take a break until the sun is high in the sky. At least, she supposes it is, behind the gray clouds that cover every inch of the sky. Either way, she knows she only has a few hours left until she’s home. 

“Let’s get a drink, buddy,” she coos at Orion, leading him towards the river. It’s the same river that would eventually lead them straight through Suskainau if she traveled directly down its banks. She climbs off Orion when she gets close, leading him to the river bank. It’s surrounded by bare trees, some because they never recovered from the radiation and some simply because they’re in the thick of winter. The cold air and clouds seem to cast a blue hue over the landscape.

Once Orion is lapping at the river water, Clarke strips off all her clothing, shivering and gritting her teeth when she walks into the freezing water. She just needs five minutes, which she’s sure she can manage. She dives out, knowing it’s better to handle the shock all at once, but doesn’t put her head under. Gasping, she quickly scrubs at her body and leans her head back to wash the red out of her hair. She sheds red, the mixture of dye and blood quickly flowing down the river away from her. Clarke doesn’t linger and hurries back to the shore, shaking as she uses her blanket to dry off and put her clothing back on.

By the time she gets to the capital, her damp hair is mostly dry from the ride and the sun is already on its way down. Although that happens pretty early this time of year, it still means she won’t have time for a nap before she’s expected at dinner. Her missions, although ordered by Nia, are never an excuse to miss it.

Your absence would be questioned , she hears her aunt tut. 

Clarke’s not sure it would be, given that she never says a word and simply blends into the scenery, but she knows better than to contradict her. 

“I didn’t see you leave this morning,” the stable boy comments when she rides Orion in. It sounds like an apology rather than an accusation.

“Oh, you know me,” she says, straining to keep her voice light. “I love to catch the sunrise when I ride, I don’t like to bother anyone,” she assures him, handing him the reigns to the horse. 

The guards simply nod at her when she walks into the castle, the ruins of what she imagines was an important building in old world. It’s one of the only structures in Suskainau that survived the bombs, its domes and pillars mostly in tact. It’s been her home since she was born and home to Azgada royalty long before that. At the very least, she knows her late grandfather King Theo was born here too.

Clarke holds her head high like the queen taught her to as she passes guards and servants, making her way to her room at last. The room grew frigid in her absence so she lights the fireplace and several lanterns, the sky nearly dark outside her balcony. She draws a bath, the castle the only place in the capital that has the luxury of running water. It’s only lukewarm, as always, but it feels like heaven compared to the cold air and the river. She climbs into the large tub, sighing happily as she sinks down into the water.

Clarke would fall asleep right here if she could, but that isn’t an option. She grabs a bar of soap and thoroughly washes herself, scrubbing at dirt she missed during her quick wash in the river. When she sees specks of red here and there, she scrubs at them twice as hard until her skin is an angry pink. 

At least he didn’t beg. It’s always worse when they beg. 

She sees the blood pouring out of his chest and shakes her head, dunking her head under the water. It’s something she’s done since she was a little girl, for as long as she can remember. She loves to be under water. She loves the way the world above disappears and all she can hear is muffled silence. It makes her feel like her soul is floating, like she can be anything. Like she might drift away into something better. 

Memories of summer days at the lakes with her mother flow through her. A Podakru princess, her mother was married off to her Azgeda father to settle a border dispute between the clans. It was a peace offering by Podakru, Clarke really knew. Azgeda was more powerful, and so Podakru appeased them, in the end. 

Her father allowed her mother and her to spend one week of the year with her mother’s clan. They would stay on the shores of the Podon Bigas, the giant lakes northwest of Azgeda territory that gave her mother’s clan their name. They were as big as the ocean, her mother told her. Clarke wasn’t sure if that was true. She had never seen the ocean, but it was true you couldn’t see across to the other shore of the Podon Bigas, so she supposed it was possible. Her mother would take her during the warmest month and they would spend days playing on the beach and spending time with her mother’s family. Her mother acted differently there. Happier. Free. Her mother’s parents were kinder than King Theo, but they were weaker too. 

Clarke comes up for air with a small gasp, but keeps her eyes closed. She sees her mother like she did as a child, through blurred vision under the water. It was how she looked when the two of them would go under the surface together, her mother’s beautiful hair floating weightlessly around her face. They would have contests to see who could hold their breath the longest. Clarke always won, although she knows now that her mother let her. She smiles at the memory until it fades to darkness. Opening her eyes at last, she gazes up at the cold cement ceiling above her. 

--∞--

Clarke dresses and braids back her hair before heading downstairs to the castle dining room. She’s the last to arrive to dinner and sees the disapproving glance her aunt throws her way from the head of the table. Clarke quietly takes her seat at the opposite end of the table, past the ambassador to Polis, the war chief, Nia’s most trusted advisors and others she’s deemed more important than her niece. 

As always, an impressive amount of food covers the long and narrow table. Iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling hold dozens of candles and lanterns line the walls, brightening the room despite the black sky. 

“How was your trip ?” Roan asks quietly from beside her. Well, at least Clarke can take comfort in the fact that the queen placed her son, the heir, far away from her too. 

Clarke glares at him, tearing a piece of bread in half and sticking one half in her mouth instead of answering him. He just smirks and continues his conversation with Echo, sitting across from them.

It was only a few months ago that her cousin returned from three years of banishment, but he’s already back to being a pain in her ass. She’s not sure why he is, given that she couldn’t be less of a threat to him. Even with his banishment, he was still the heir to the throne. Azgeda succession shifts to the direct line of the current ruler. Since Clarke was only a child when her parents were killed, the power went to her aunt and would someday be bestowed upon Roan. If the queen ever gives it up, that is. Clarke was referred to as a princess as a sign of respect, but the title was an empty one.

Still, in Roan’s defense, he had returned to the capital with a new vigor and respect for his clan. Clarke remembers him as a different person when he left. At 15, she had regarded him with a mix of amusement and irritation. He had been a respected warrior but ultimately seemed more interested in who was in his bedchamber than in leading their clan. But based on what she’s seen since his return, Clarke thinks that he could be a decent king someday.

It’s strange for Clarke to imagine a future where Roan is king. Would she still be forced to act as Wanheda, or would Roan set her free? After all, Nia and Roan are the only ones who know of her true identity. Clarke likes to pretend that’s all she really wants - to escape that identity. But if she’s being honest with herself, the idea of losing that scares her as much as being Wanheda forever. She’s not sure who she is without that identity. Would she become what she pretends to be - the quiet Azgeda princess, the loyal but useless ornament to the Azgeda throne? Is that all she really is without Wanheda? That girl is a shell of a woman. She would rather be half-Wanheda than surrender to that. 

--∞--

Clarke barely makes it back to her room, has just shut the door behind her, when someone knocks on it loudly. With a sigh, she opens it, prepared to glare at whoever it is. It’s one of her aunt’s servants, a newer addition whose name she doesn’t know.

“Apologies for disturbing you. The queen requests your presence in her chambers.”

Clarke gives her bed one last longing gaze before nodding and following the servant into the hallway. She walks through several dimly lit hallways before she makes it to the Nia’s chambers, knocking quietly when she does. 

“Come in, Clarke.”

Clarke walks into the familiar sitting room, closed off from Nia’s actual bedchamber. She sits on the old lounge chair across from Nia, who’s seated on a battered velvet settee.  

“How were your travels to the north?”

“It’s done,” Clarke answers shortly. 

“Why the long face then?” There isn’t an ounce of care in her tone.

“I’m tired, that’s all.”

Nia looks her up and down, assessing her in a way that makes Clarke feel squirmish. 

I’m the prey now , she thinks.

“Clarke, come sit with me,” she orders.

Clarke wordlessly does as she’s told, sitting beside her with a few feet between them. The queen takes hold of her chin in a way Clarke is sure would look affectionate to another, but her grip is too firm.

“I know it’s a heavy burden, but it’s necessary for the survival of our people to root out dissenters. They’re a threat to us, and thus the clan. Your father would be so proud of you. You avenge his death as much as you protect our people.”

She drops her cold hand from Clarke’s chin and takes a sip from her mug of tea. 

“I know. Thank you.”

The queen nods in approval. Despite how much Clarke wishes it meant nothing, it does mean something to her. It’s all she has. 

“I just returned from Polis this afternoon,” the queen tells her, setting down her mug again.

“I heard. The journey went well?”

The queen waves her off, nodding. “Of course. But you and I, we have something of great importance to discuss.”

Another trip for Wanheda, Clarke guesses. 

“I had many meetings with Heda and King Bellamy about the impending war against the Mountain Men,” she continues with a roll of her eyes. “They exaggerate their abilities, but the two of them are deadset on the coalition moving against them. Of course, Trikru remains a greater threat to us than the Mountain Men, but Heda will use her power as she sees fit. For obvious reasons, I have reason to believe she isn’t exactly unbiased in her views.”

“But the past commanders guide her decisions too,” Clarke reasons. “They weren’t all Trikru like Heda Lexa.”

Nia’s eyes turn cold at her words. “Don’t be foolish like your mother,” she snaps. It feels like a slap to the face. Clarke sees her mother tucking her into bed, whispering stories of the commanders and the flame to her. She shoos away the memory.

“Regardless, Heda is displeased with both our clans. Being the two most powerful clans, she believes this cold peace is too unstable and a threat to the coalition and the war. Her solution, I was surprised to hear, is a royal marriage between the clans.”

Clarke’s eyes grow wide. “You and King Bellamy?” she can’t help but blurt, equal parts amused and disturbed by the thought of it. 

Nia laughs heartily at that. “Of course not. The point of a royal union is, after all, to produce an heir. I’m not so vein as to think that those days aren’t behind me. No, the marriage would be between you and the king. I agreed to it.”

“I don’t-” Clarke sputters. 

“Now before you get ahead of yourself,” Nia cuts her off. “I was initially disgusted by the thought of it. But then I thought, think of the wonders Wanheda could do as the Queen of Trikru.

Nia has always intimidated Clarke, scared her even, but the cruel excitement in her eyes is something new. It sends a chill down her spine. 

“You want...I’m to infiltrate Trikru? I don’t understand how this will work, I don’t-”

“Settle down, Clarke,” Nia scolds, exasperated. “You won’t be there forever. Just long enough to gather the intelligence that we need and when we’re finished, end it.”

“End it?”

“When you assassinate the king, the clan will descend into chaos. We’ll be back at the forefront of the coalition if we choose to be. One step closer to reinstating an Azgeda Heda.”

Clarke’s head is spinning, heart pounding.

“How long?”

“How long, what?”

“How long do I have to...to pretend?”

Nia shrugs, unaffected. “I’ll have Roan find a way to communicate with you, we’ll have to make decisions as we go. When I decide it’s time, you’ll know.”

Clarke swallows hard. “I’m to- to actually marry the king. Move to Trikru territory with him, and kill him?”

“Is there a problem?”

So many problems, that they’re a jumbled mess in her mind. 

“Of course not.”

“Good, you can go now.”

Clarke stands to leave and makes it to the door before Nia calls to her again. Clarke turns with hopeful eyes. 

Say you’ve changed your mind. Say I don’t have to do this.

“We leave at dawn for Polis. Be ready, it’ll be a while before you’re back.”

--∞--

Clarke feels short of breath as she walks back to her room. She considers running out of the castle, finding an alley to throw up in, but she’s better than that. She can handle anything. She can handle this. 

She shuts the door to her bedroom and rushes out to her balcony, suddenly desperate for the cold air that she’s been trying to escape from. She runs her hands through her hair, her braid falling out, and sinks to the ground on her knees. She counts her breaths, coming out in little clouds. 

One. Breathe.

Two. Breathe.

Three . Breathe.

This isn’t a simple Wanheda assignment or target. This isn’t an assassination of an internal dissenter or threatening rival. Well, it is a rival, she supposes. But a royal one. A leader. This is a deep cover assignment that will probably end with her dead before she manages to take him out. If she does manage it, how does she escape after that? The questions run through her head too fast to answer. Rationally she knows she can’t answer any of them right now. There’s nothing for her to plan until Polis, or more realistically, until she’s taken into Trikru territory as a false queen. She needs to be strategic, adaptable, which she knows how to be. She can do this. 

King Bellamy. The other thing that scares her. Perhaps, ridiculously, more than the spying and murder, the thought of playing his wife terrifies her even more. She tries to think about what she knows about him, but it isn’t much. Just the basics. She’s never even met him. 

She knows he rose to power young, at only 16 or so. But that was over a decade ago, when she was just a girl. Azgeda and Trikru were at war and Clarke’s grandfather was responsible for his mother’s death, the queen. She knows King Theo was killed at the hands of Trikru shortly after. 

This will be a disaster. 

Clarke is shocked that he agreed to go through with the marriage at all. She supposes that you don’t say no to Heda, but still. There must have been a way out, if he had really wanted one. Another story about the Trikru royal family itches at the edges of her mind. Something about his father, the King, going mad. About his mother having to take him out herself. Perhaps Bellamy is like his father. For all she knows, she could be blindly falling into the bed of a mad king. There are so many ends to this gamble that end with Clarke dead.

Bed . It was foolish, she knew, but that might be what terrifies her most. Wanheda can handle the spying, the murder, the escape. But Clarke is the one who will have to give herself to a stranger. A target . She isn’t naive. As Nia pointed out, the point of these unions is the produce an heir. It cements a union in a way that no handshake or contract can. She should know, after all. She’s the product of one. 

Nia will make sure she has the herbal tea she needs, a blend of stoneseed root and thistle, to prevent pregnancy. She’ll have to take it in secret. But she would still have to...she’ll still have to go through with it. Not that anyone knows this, but he will be her first. Women like Echo would find that shocking, Ontari would probably mock her. She knows that at 18, it’s assumed that she’s gone through with it at some point. But the truth is, the thought of being vulnerable in that way with anyone terrifies her more than any acts she commits as Wanheda. After all, how many times had she used those same desires against her targets, only to betray them? She couldn’t afford to let her guard down. But now, there will be no avoiding it. The only thing in all of this that she is certain of is that she doesn’t have a choice. She’s never had a choice.

Once Clarke’s adrenaline drains, her heart beating steadily again, she slips back inside her room, pulling the heavy leather curtain across the balcony entrance. She stokes the fire once more before she climbs into bed, her hands and feet chilled from spending too long outside. She closes her eyes, still exhausted by the events of the last day and more exhausted still when she imagines what lies ahead. At least she’ll get to see Wells in Polis. If there’s any good that comes out of this, it’ll be seeing her best friend. Her only friend, really.

In the strange place between the waking world and dreams, a memory floats through Clarke’s mind. It emerges suddenly from her subconscious, a memory she didn’t know she had. 

King Bellamy. Brown eyes, intense and sorrowful in a way she didn’t understand.

Clarke was only ten when both her parents were murdered by Azgeda dissenters. It was only a year after her father and King Bellamy had established a cold peace, delicate but so far holding. There were no bloody battles on the borders.

As was tradition for royal clan members, King Jakob and Queen Abigail were to be honored in a ceremony conducted by the flamekeeper in Polis before the funeral procession would carry them to their final resting place in Azgeda. Clarke had been to Polis plenty of times before that, but it felt like a more threatening place to her then. Even with Nia and Roan by her side, she felt alone in the world for the first time. 

But she remembers the clamor before the ceremony. The announcement that King Bellamy had arrived to pay his respects. She remembers seeing flashes of him through the people. The boy king, but technically just as experienced as her father. She remembers catching glimpses of his face, full of grief like the grief she carried. But he was gone almost instantly. Nia and the other Azgeda officials protested angrily that it was disrespectful, to taunt the death of their leader, of his enemy. Clarke remembers trying to reconcile the sad expression on his face with her aunt’s words. But then she was pulled away to the ceremony, the incident forgotten. It was just a singular moment in a series of long and terrible days. It didn’t seem important to her at the time.

Clarke opens her eyes to the dark room. That was the last time she had seen the king. Until now. 

Chapter Text

“Hey, boy,” Clarke soothes Orion, stroking his mane. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us,” she warns, moving to secure her small bag of belongings to him. 

She isn’t bringing much, but then, Azgeda people aren’t very sentimental. She doesn’t have much to her name anyways. Her bag carries only her night clothing, a second change of clothes, a small pocket watch that belonged to her father, and a small lump of charcoal. She knows she probably shouldn’t bring her father’s pocket watch, pretty much the only thing she considers valuable in her possession. After all, if she needs to make a quick escape, she won’t be able to go back for it. Still, she always keeps it on her. Not to mention, she can’t help but heed the nagging warnings in her head that she might not make it back. 

Clarke glances around at the party preparing to leave for Polis. The sun has barely risen, but it will take them until almost nightfall to reach Polis. Nia is bringing her usual entourage - her most trusted advisors and warriors, the coalition ambassador and her war chief. She was hoping that Roan might stay back, but given how things have been going for her, she should have known better. Instead, both him and Nia’s prodigy, Ontari, are joining the group. 

Ontari catches Clarke’s gaze before she can turn away. She saunters over to her and Clarke rolls her eyes as she turns back towards Orion. Ontari doesn’t intimidate her. Not really. She knows at the end of the day she could take her. But she exhausts Clarke. With every opportunity she has, she makes it clear to Clarke that she is a nightblood and Nia’s greatest pride. She’s mistaken in thinking that Clarke cares, but her arrogance irritates her all the same. If there’s a silver lining to this mission that will probably kill her, it’s that she’s getting a break from Ontari. 

“Finally preparing to do something useful for our clan,” Ontari baits, walking up beside her. “A nice change of pace.”

Clarke simply sighs. “Do you need something?”

Ontari smirks, her eyes cruel. “Nope. Just wanted to remind you not to fuck this up for the queen. I know you’re not used to being needed, but she’s counting on you this time.”

“I’ll try my absolute best,” Clarke bites back sarcastically. “I’m sure it won’t be nearly as productive as fawning over the Azgeda and Heda thrones.”

Ontari scowls at her. “I won’t forget your words when I’m Heda.”

“I’m shaking in my boots.”

Ontari rolls her eyes and walks back over to her horse. Clarke doesn’t miss how she looks over at Roan, who doesn’t seem to notice her presence. Unfortunately, despite Roan’s distinterest in her, Clarke suspects that Ontari may very well be Heda or the Azgeda Queen one day. Whichever comes first. She supposes that if Nia isn’t around, Clarke should be far away when that happens. She isn’t sure that even Roan would be able to protect her from Ontari’s misdirected insecurities. She wishes there was an Azgeda nightblood not as cruel and rash, but she’s really all they have as an option if they want to take back the coalition.

Clarke goes back to stroking Orion’s mane, trying to ignore the way her nerves are thrumming throughout her body. 

“Ignore her.”

Clarke looks up to find Echo walking up to her. “She’s just jealous.”

Clarke laughs. “Ontari wants the Azgeda throne and to be the next Heda. I don’t think she’s jealous of my impending marriage to the Trikru King.”

“She wouldn’t taunt you if she wasn’t threatened by you, whatever the reason,” Echo says, matter-of-factly.

“I suppose,” Clarke shrugs. 

“You’re doing an honorable thing,” Echo tells her. “It’s a great sacrifice you’re making for our clan.”

Clarke gives her a soft smile. “Thank you,” she murmurs, wishing that it were that simple.

Echo is one of Nia’s most trusted warriors, one of the few who has her complete trust. Clarke isn’t stupid enough to think she can truly trust Echo, but Clarke doesn’t really trust anyone anyways. What she does know is that as far as she can tell, Echo has the best of intentions. Her loyalty is to Azgeda, to their clan, and it isn’t motivated by personal greed like Ontari. Clarke thinks she truly wants what’s best for them. She’s the kind of honorable Azgeda warrior that Clarke thinks she could have been under different circumstances. In a different life. 

Not ten minutes later, Clarke climbs onto Orion, steeling herself for the long journey ahead of her. She imagines it will be nearly sundown by the time they arrive in Polis. The orange light from the rising sun reflects off of the white war paint decorating the faces of their party as everyone mounts their horses. 

Clarke steers Orion to her place behind Nia and Roan, thinking about the fact that she won’t be home for a long time. Thinking about the fact she might never make it home. That’s a more realistic outcome, if she’s being honest with herself. Still, she doesn’t allow herself to look back as they leave the city limits. Not even once. That’s just not who she is. 

--∞--

By the time the Azgeda party enter the Polis City limits, the sun is already falling, low on the horizon. It casts an orange glow, sliced by shadows, across the city. Reflecting off the tower, it makes the city look like a more ominous site than Clarke knows it to be. In the day, she knows that the city is bustling with citizens from all the clans and shopkeepers selling anything you could imagine. But the shopkeepers are closing their doors by the time the Azgeda horses ride through the streets, all falling quiet when they pass by. Clarke remains stoic, her face an unreadable mask as they pass. She enjoys the intimidation that her clan casts on the people. She likes how it makes her feel strong. An illusion of power that she doesn’t really possess.

After leaving the horses at the stables, they’re escorted to the tower guest rooms they’ll be occupying during their stay. She doesn’t know the details of the ceremonies they’ll be expected to partake in, but she suspects she won’t be here longer than two weeks time. Maybe not even one. 

The guard that leads her to her room tells her that someone will return in an hour to escort her to dinner. He quickly leaves before Clarke can utter a response to that. She readjusts her bag on her shoulder and opens the door to her room, thankful to discover that someone had already come by to light the fire. She doesn’t spend much time dwelling on the room, only shuts her door and unceremoniously throws her bag on the bed before drawing herself a bath so that she’ll be ready in time. This is far from her first time in Polis and she’s found that all of the tower guest rooms are more or less the same. 

Although she tries not to, she thinks of the king nearly the entire time that she bathes, scrubbing the dirt from the journey off every inch of her body. She thought about him nearly the entire journey to Polis too, no matter how hard she tried not to. Hating how nervous she is, she reminds herself over and over again that this is a mission just like the others - and she’s never this nervous for any mission. But her heart betrays her rationale and she feels her nerves like a pit in her stomach and throat. 

Clarke paces once she dresses, feeling like she’s waiting to marry him instead of waiting to meet him at a dinner. She’s tempted to grab her charcoal and draw - on the floor, on the walls, it doesn’t matter. But she knows Nia will be livid if she shows up to dinner with stained hands. Eventually she forces herself to sit with her back to the fire, in hopes that her hair will be mostly dry by the time she goes to dinner. 

There aren’t too many moments that Clarke allows herself to miss her parents. Nia had little patience for sentimental feelings, even in the immediate aftermath of their deaths. She would remind Clarke that she needed to make her parents proud by remaining strong and not dwelling on the past. Now that Clarke is eighteen, Nia snaps at her at any mention of her parents, as if their memory is something that she should’ve grown out of by now. So she doesn’t let herself miss them often, doesn’t dwell on their absence except to let a happy memory wash over her for the briefest of moments. But as she sits, picking at her finger nails and chewing on her lip, she feels her longing for them like a hole in her heart. 

Her mother specifically, Clarke wishes she could talk to. When it was just the two of them, her mother would coddle her more. Usually, that’s the thing that Clarke misses the most. But now, she misses her mother for what she thinks are very rational reasons. Her mother had gone through her own arranged marriage. She would know exactly what to tell Clarke, what things to warn her about or what things to reassure her about. As her mother often did, she would encourage Clarke not to dwell on the negative. Her mother was always able to see the good in people, in situations that seemed hopeless. She wishes it was something she inherited. Then again, it’s hard to focus on the positive when you’ll eventually have to kill your new husband.

Clarke has sunk so deep into her thoughts that the knock on her door startles her. She jumps up and runs her fingers through her waves, finding her hair mostly dry. Quickly twisting it into a half-up style, she hurries to the door. Clarke will never hear the end of it if she’s late to dinner.

The Polis guard is stoic, doesn’t do anything but nod in response to her stepping into the hallway. Clarke returns a simple nod, striving to mask the fear she feels crawling under her skin. The guard takes her on the elevator down several floors, although she’s unsure which exactly they get off on. He leads her down a winding hallway until she’s brought into a dining hall much larger than the one from home but not necessarily more elegant. Her eyes sweep over the table, mostly full of people but with a few remaining empty chairs. Heda is at the head of the table, Nia on one side and the Trikru king on her other side. She doesn’t need to consider her seat. The guard leads her directly to the empty seat beside Nia and pulls out the chair for her. Of course Nia would still be seated next to Heda and across from the king, despite the fact that it’s Clarke getting married. A clear signal that while Clarke is the one entering the marriage, she is a bargaining chip, not a player, in the game. 

“Welcome, Clarke kom Azgeda,” Heda greets her, her face serious, but not necessarily cold. 

“Thank you, Heda,” Clarke nods. “It’s an honor to be here.” 

Beside her, she senses Nia’s approval at her words without even looking at her. 

She forces herself to look at the king - something between a greeting and an assessment. He nods at her, a serious, unreadable look on his face, before quickly redirecting his attention back to Heda and the queen. Clarke isn’t sure whether to be irritated or relieved at his dismissal of her. She knows she should take the opportunity to listen to what the three of them are discussing, but she’s too distracted by the last of the people filling the seats around the table. Roan, on Clarke’s right, followed by the ambassador, war chief, Ontari, Echo, and a few other warriors who traveled with them and who Nia deemed important enough to dine with them. That doesn’t interest her as much as the Trikru people seated across from them.

Clarke sips her wine, trying not to be too obvious about her eyes sweeping across them as servers begin to bring in plates of food. Directly across from her, next to the king, sits a man of impressive stature. He has light brown skin, a completely shaved head, and is wearing an unreadable, neutral expression. By reputation, Clarke suspects the woman sitting next to him is the king’s sister. She doesn’t look all that similar to the king, but sitting with only one person between them, Clarke can sense a similarity in their mannerisms, in the intensity of their eyes. While the man between them says nothing, a mask of indifference, this woman seems to be the opposite. While she talks to the man on her other side, Clarke senses that she’s upset about something, a fire burning within her. Clarke can only hope that it isn’t about the marriage, but she suspects it probably is. Who, of either clan, would be happy about these plans?

The man she’s speaking to - or speaking at, Clarke suspects - has the same tone of dark skin as the other man but short black hair and a slightly friendlier expression. Beside him is a woman who puts Nia’s icy expression to shame. She’s stocky, with dark skin and short black hair. Her gaze frightens even Clarke, which isn’t an easy feat. Clarke’s gaze has just passed to the man sitting next to her, a middle aged-man with shoulder length brown hair and a kind face, when she hears Heda address her.

“You were not here in Polis during negotiations,” Heda starts. Clarke isn’t sure if it’s a question or statement. She can feel the king’s gaze on her, heavier than before, as she waits for Heda to continue. 

“You agree to this union? To the terms of it?”

Clarke isn’t even sure of the terms of it, not completely. “Yes,” she says anyways. “It’s an honor to represent Azgeda in the union.”

Heda seems satisfied with her answer, but she can still feel the king’s gaze on her. She digs her nails into her thigh so that she doesn’t physically squirm, but spares her future husband a quick glance before quickly returning her eyes to Heda. It feels like he’s unashamedly assessing her, like a commodity. 

Target , she reminds herself. Not husband. This isn’t real. None of this is real.

Even as she reminds herself of this, she realizes it’s going to be harder than she expected to separate the mission from the cover. She fights the urge to meet his gaze. It’s been years since she’s seen him in person and even then it was never up close.

Once the food is served, Heda stands and gives a succinct speech about their union, about how their tribes together will defeat the mountain and liberate prisoners taken from all twelve clans. Clarke knows from Nia this is a lie told by Heda to pressure Azgeda into remaining in the coalition and war, and that few Azgeda warriors have actually been taken. 

After that, they begin eating and the people return to their side conversations with those closest to them. They only speak with those on the same side of the table, but Clarke isn’t surprised by that at all. This union is a sham, but even if it weren’t, it would never be successful in truly uniting these people. There has been far too much blood spilled, long before Lexa rose to power. It’s a naive proposition at its very foundation. 

Clarke forces herself to remain engaged in the conversation between Nia, Heda, and the king, although she doesn’t dare speak up. 

“We have to act quickly, be aggressive going forward. This can’t wait much longer,” the king is urging. There’s an intense passion in the way he speaks, a fire that he seems unable to contain.  

Nia is able to restrain herself from rolling her eyes, but Clarke can sense how she’s turned tense next to her. “What we need , is to be patient. To be careful and intentional in our approach,” she snaps. 

The king clenches his jaw, as if it’s a great effort for him to remain calm. Clarke belatedly remembers the story of the mad king and wonders if this king also has a temper. Wonders if she’ll become intimate with it. 

“Every day we wait, every day we don’t take action, more of our people are killed by them,” the king argues, raising his voice. “Or worse.”

Reapers , Clarke thinks. He’s talking about the reapers. 

She’s never personally encountered one, but she’s heard the stories. People believing their missing loved ones were returned to them, only to realize that they came back monsters. People forced to kill their parents, their children, their lovers. Clarke has heard the stories of these monsters since she was born and knows that they appeared long before that. Reluctantly, she can’t help but feel for the king’s outrage at the complacency. Surely they should have been able to do something by now. Still, it’s not that many who are taken. Of Azgeda, an even lesser number. She understands why the king wants their help in this fight, but it’s a fight they shouldn’t be responsible for.

Nia opens her mouth to speak, but Heda beats her to it. “We will hold a strategy session with the ambassadors this week and discuss it then. For now, let us focus on this union, on that which unites us.”

“I would think stopping the mass murder of our people would be quite a unifying concept,” the king grumbles. 

Clarke’s eyes grow wide at his retort and she nervously glances at Heda. Heda, however, seems unbothered by him. 

“Have either of your clans gained any intelligence on Wanheda?” Heda asks instead. “The Yujleda ambassador has complained that two of their finest warriors were found dead in the last month. A mark behind the ear was left again.”

“Yes, I just gained word this morning that they murdered one of my chieftains in our Northern territory,” Nia tuts. She’s the perfect actress. 

Murder . Clarke clenches her jaw and grits her teeth at the word. She hates when she speaks that way, even if it is just to maintain a pretence. Murder sounds like something irrational, something without reason. Murders are acts of passion and vengeance. Wanheda’s actions are those of a patriot, even if few people understand that. The deaths are for her clan, not for her.

“If only the mountain men would find their way to Wanheda,” the king laughs darkly. “No matter who wins, one monster would be taken out.”

His words send a chill up Clarke’s spin. To find out she has ill intentions would be one thing, but she tries not to think about what kind of reaction he would have if he discovered that she is Wanheda - the monster he holds to the same standard as his greatest enemy. Still, it makes things easier in a sense, to know how he hates her. He may not know that he hates her, but she will know. When the time comes to finish the job, knowing that will make things easier.

The rest of the dinner passes relatively uneventfully. Nia, Heda, and King Bellamy discuss other political matters far less controversial than the war against the Mountain or Wanheda. Clarke slips in and out of the conversation, finding it hard to follow since she knows little of what and who they are talking about. Nia never includes her in these political discussions. Clarke’s mind is elsewhere regardless, focused on the prospect of seeing her best friend for the first time in months. It’s easier to focus on that small bit of joy than everything else that lies ahead.

Finally, after what feels like ages but Clarke is sure was not actually so long, the empty plates along the table are collected by the tower servants. 

“We’ll meet in the drawing room in the morning with Titus to discuss the details of the wedding ceremonies over the next week. You may bring whichever advisors you see fit, but we don’t need a crowded room,” Heda tells them. Both Nia and the king nod in agreement. 

Clarke admits that she’s eager for this meeting with the flamekeeper, given that she knows so little about what lies ahead. She also didn’t miss Heda’s projected timeframe - a week. Clarke is glad for that. More opportunities to see Wells while she can. She’s itching to leave at this point, and it’s a great effort not to fidget as Heda stands and dismisses the room. She needs to get to Wells, the one person who can calm her nerves about what lies ahead. The one person who knows the truth of her and loves her anyways.

Clarke stands quickly with everyone else, nearly the first out of her chair. Everyone around her is standing, except the king. He remains seated, looking generally relaxed, as if he’s lounging on his throne instead of at another’s dining table.

“I’d like a word alone with the princess,” he announces to the three of them. His eyes remain on Clarke when he says it, even though he seems to be addressing Heda and her aunt. 

“Very well,” Heda nods, leaving them with guards flanking her sides. The room waits for Heda to leave before quickly shuffling out after her. 

Clarke sees Nia hesitate, still standing behind her chair, as if deciding on whether she’ll allow it. There seems to be a silent power play at work between the king and her, one Clarke doesn’t understand.

“Don’t be late tomorrow,” Nia tells her at last, giving her a sharp look before turning to leave. 

Don’t say anything stupid , the look says. As if Clarke has ever given her a reason to doubt her abilities. Clarke nods and slips into Nia’s seat across from the king when Nia walks away.

Before Clarke can say anything further, the warrior Clarke thinks must be the king’s sister walks over to them.

“We should stay for any further discussions,” she tells him.

Alone ,” the king reiterates, sounding mildly irritated. Still, she recognizes it as a familial irritation, not one of a king displeased with a subordinate. 

The woman gives him a pointed look before following the rest of the Trikru party out of the dining hall, never sparing a glance at Clarke. The sound of the door falling shut behind the last person echoes throughout the room, which now feels much larger than it did a minute ago.

Clarke swallows but forces herself to look directly at him, determined to stand her ground. The king sits up straighter, leaning forward with his elbows on the table, as Clarke takes in the more minute details she didn’t catch during dinner. A sharp jaw line and intense eyes. Black curls, and...and freckles, she thinks. Sprinkled across his nose and cheeks. He’s handsome, as she remembers, but he’s certainly aged in the eight years since she last saw him. She isn’t sure it’s anything physical as much as it’s the way he carries himself now. Not a sign of naivete, not anymore. She thinks this man would know better than to attend her father’s funeral.

“I’m sorry we weren’t awarded a more private introduction,” he starts. His voice is serious, but he seems genuine. 

“It’s no bother. We arrived late,” she excuses. “It’s a long journey.”

The king nods, his face still masked by a neutral expression. He drums his fingers on the table, as if considering his next words. Clarke waits patiently, face passive like she’s trained it to be. The king can’t see how she nervously twists her fingers in her lap, below the surface of the table.

“You don’t have much to say,” he comments at last. His words both surprise and frustrate her. She nearly snaps at him that it was him that requested her presence, before she realizes that he must be referring to her silence at dinner.

“The queen speaks for Azgeda.”

“And who speaks for you? The queen as well?”

Clarke furrows her eyebrows at him, unsure of what he wants from her, but he speaks again before she can answer.

“I need to know that it is you who are consenting to his union - this marriage.”

“Of course I do.”

He casts a doubtful look. Clarke hopes that she can improve her acting skills. Her life depends on it. 

“You’re speaking for yourself? These aren’t the queen’s words?”

Clarke pauses, considering her words more carefully this time. “I would do anything for Azgeda, for our people,” she says at last. That is, at the very least, completely true. “If this union will help - if I can help my people and those imprisoned in the mountain, then it is what I want. What I choose.”

Bellamy nods, seemingly accepting her answer this time. He pauses again, before speaking. “I know tomorrow we’ll discuss the details of the wedding ceremonies, but before we go down this road, I want to set my expectations.”

Clarke feels a cold sweat wash over her. 

“This union was arranged by Heda for the benefit of our people. I believe that in order to truly unite our people, to cement this bond, the union must be a genuine one. If the queen has mislead you in any way, if she has told you this is to be a glorified political union, I want you to know that now is the time to change your mind. If you do, I will take the fall for it. No questions asked. The queen would never need to know.”

Clarke eyes him carefully, surprised at his offer. He truly doesn’t trust the queen, not one bit, although that isn’t so surprising under the circumstances. He thinks that Clarke is a victim of the queen, a naive, young girl tricked into this union. He thinks that she is what the rest of her clan, the rest of the entire coalition has labeled her to be. The useless ornament on the Azgeda throne. The chess piece. But he is the real fool.

For the briefest of moments, Clarke considers a world where she might take that offer. She considers a version of reality where she tells this man, this stranger, that she wants out. Where she trusts his word, that he will shoulder the blame. Where she can return to the same life she’s known since her parents died eight years ago. Where she stalks through the night as Wanheda and spends her days as Clarke, just as lonely. But no - such a world does not exist. A world where she disobeys Nia, where she makes a cowardly choice that protects herself over her clan. A world where she trusts the word of this stranger. All of that is nothing but a fantasy.

“My point is” he continues, hesitating slightly, “I won’t insult our traditions or the intention of the union. I want to make it clear that this - this is a true marriage, not a political partnership. If you would like to change your mind...now is the time to make that decision. Do you understand?”

Clarke swallows, her mouth having gone dry, cheeks flushing pink in spite of her best efforts not to react. 

Intention of the union. True marriage. He means producing heirs .

The great Wanheda, the legend, and this is what scares her. This is what makes her hesitate. 

“I am not going to change my mind,” she quickly assures him, before she can give it any more thought. “I know - I am aware of what’s expected of me.”

His brown eyes, already dark, seem even more shadowed now. The look he gives her makes her skin burn, so she forces a different image of him into her mind. Him bloodied, lifeless beneath her. 

“Okay, very well,” he says at last, leaning back in his chair again. 

“You can leave,” he adds, rather abruptly, when she says nothing more. 

Clarke stands quickly, unsure of how to react to this man. She would be insulted if she wasn’t dying to leave the room. Dying to leave the tower, more accurately. She spares him a single, final glance when she reaches the door. He remains at the table, leaning forward again with his elbows on the table and his chin resting on his folded hands. He looks deep in thought, and Clarke can’t help but wonder what he might be thinking. She turns away, nodding at the Polis guard waiting for her in the dim hallway, letting the door fall shut behind her. 

--∞--

The good thing about her conversation with the king is that by the time Clarke makes it back to her room, she doesn’t have to spend hours pacing her chambers until the tower sleeps. It’s already a late hour and she takes only minutes to grab her cloak, pulling up its hood as she slips out her door and into the dark hallway. Only a few lanterns light the winding hallway and for someone trained as she is, it’s easy enough for her to avoid the guards by slipping through the shadows. 

The cold air hits her like a wall when she sneaks out of the tower at a side entrance that she discovered as a child. It’s too risky to go to the stables to retrieve Orion, so she steels herself for the nearly two mile long walk through the frigid air. It only takes her ten minutes to weave through Polis in the dark, finally breaking through to the forests that border it. 

Wells and his father live in a small village outside of Polis, made up of the other merchants who populate the city during the day but choose not to live there. The merchants are made up of people across all of the clans, all who have chose to live and trade in Polis away from their homes for one reason or another. Wells and his father are Trishanakru, his father a former village chieftain who moved for a fresh start following the sudden death of Wells’s mother.

Clarke had met Wells when she was only six years old during one of the many trips she took to Polis with her parents when they ruled. Bored of spending the days under watch in the tower, she had discovered the secret entrance that she still uses in the present. Clarke was fascinated by the different shops and items the merchants sold, and by the lively bustle of the market filled with people from every clan, and nomads too. Wells was working at his father’s stand and asked if she was lost, probably due to the overwhelmed expression she must have been wearing. Indignant, she insisted that she most certainly was not lost (she most certainly was). He was kind, if not amused by her, and offered to give her a tour of the city. After that day, she had sought him out on every trip to Polis. The rest was history. 

Outside of Nia and Roan, Wells was the only other person entrusted with her secret. She supposes it wasn’t quite a shock that he knew, as it would be if she told him today. He was there every step of the way as Nia trained her, as she sent her on one odd assignment and then the next, as the Wanheda legend took form throughout the lands. It was not something born out of thin air, something that had happened overnight. He understood that she didn’t have a choice, that this was how she served her queen, her clan, her slain parents. That this was how she survived. He knew the cruelty that Nia was capable of, more than others, given the stories Clarke entrusted him with. 

Of course, Nia and Roan did not know Wells knew her secret. In fact, they had no idea of her friendship with Wells, which is why she’s sneaking off to see him in the dark of the night. Clarke loves her aunt - she’s her aunt, the only caretaker she’s known for a long time. But in the deepest parts of her heart, she doesn’t trust that she wouldn’t forbid her friendship with Wells. She would say it was a distraction to Clarke. She might even use him as leverage, or worse.

Clarke’s fingers and toes are cold by the time she arrives at the edge of the village. It’s one of the largest of the Polis outlier villages, consisting of several community buildings at its center and surrounded by residential cabins and huts. She glides around the cabins until she arrives closer to the village center. There’s a fairly large group of people gathered around a large bonfire, drinking teas and what she suspects is probably moonshine too. It only takes her a moment to spot Wells, standing tall amongst the others. He’s surrounded by people she presumes are his friends, people he’s described to her before but who she always deemed too dangerous to meet. She can tell that he’s popular, a leader like his father, even if he’s too humble to admit it. She can’t imagine what it must be like, to have a whole village of friends, of family. Anytime her heart aches for it, she quickly sweeps the sentiment away. There’s no time for it. She keeps her eyes trained on Wells, smiling at his silhouette, waiting for the right moment to catch his attention.

Eventually, he walks away from the group, towards the large cabin he shares with his father. She kicks a rock in his direction, but it falls short of his ankle by a foot. Many would ignore the quiet noise, but Wells has always been sharp. Not to mention she suspects he knows she might be here. He would know that Azgeda arrived in Polis today. 

His head pops up quickly, scanning the shadows that Clarke is hiding in. Even in the dark, with just the orange glow of the large fire behind him, she can see the small smile that creeps onto his face as he walks towards her. Clarke whistles softly as he gets closer and he picks up the pace. She walks back towards the woods, knowing that he’s close on her heels. For a moment, a sickening pit drops into her stomach like a hard stone at the realization of how familiar this feels. Their rendezvous doesn’t look all that different from Clarke luring a target closer to her. Not for the first time, she wonders how Wells is able to love a monster.

She doesn’t have time to dwell on the thought or that terrible feeling. As soon as they’re safely behind the tree lines, he runs up to her and pulls her into his arms, hugging her so tightly that she’s lifted from the ground. She squeezes him back just as tightly, realizing she hasn’t had anyone hold her like this, or at all, since the last time he saw her. When she pulls away and looks into his eyes, she doesn’t find the same charming, nearly giddy, expression that he usually greets her with.

“You know,” she sighs. 

“Probably long before you have,” he confirms. “I didn’t know how to get word to you.”

Clarke just nods, unsure of what to say, and follows Wells as he guides her further into the woods. They eventually sit down on the cold earth, backs against a large oak tree. They’re both quiet for a minute, the various sounds of the forrest surrounding them, the distant sound of chatter from the fire drifting towards them.

“What are you going to do?” he murmurs at last.

“What do you mean? There is nothing to do, except go through with it.”

Wells turns to her, clearly shocked at her answer. She doesn’t understand why. When has she ever done anything other than what the queen has asked of her? “Clarke, you can’t - you can’t go through with this.”

“You know I don’t have a choice,” she reminds him, her voice sharp. 

“Like hell you don’t,” he argues, voice suddenly furious. She’s never seen him like this, worked up and full of fire. He’s supposed to be level-headed, like her. 

“It gets worse,” Clarke warns. “The marriage, the union - it isn’t genuine. She wants me to spy, to eventually...the king is her target.”

A more fierce anger strikes Wells’s features. “You think I didn’t figure that out the minute I heard?” he asks, making a concerted effort to keep his voice low, although she suspects he wants to be yell. “This will end with you burned at the stake - or worse. This will end with Azgeda and Trikru engaged in another bloody war that we all fall victim to.”

Clarke’s heart is pounding at his words. He never speaks to her like this. “I know you don’t agree with her tactics, but Nia just wants to see an Azgeda commander. Lexa is Trikru and it isn’t-”

“And what?” Wells cuts her off sharply. “Azgeda is better suited to lead the coalition against the mountain? With who? Ontari?”

“Well it isn’t fair that-” Clarke starts, growing angry herself.

“You don’t even believe that,” he cuts her off again, shaking his head. This time his voice is softer, resigned. “Not really, not if you let yourself think for yourself. Lexa is a good leader, no matter her clan. She’s the only one who managed to unite the clans, how can you dismiss that?”

“She united us by forcing our hand,” Clarke argues. 

Wells shakes his head again, like he’s disappointed in her. It physically pains her. They’re both quiet for a long pause before he speaks again. “You’re better than this.”

“It doesn’t matter if I agree anyways,” she murmurs. “You know I don’t have a choice. I’ve never had a choice.”

“Yes you do,” he starts.

“Wells-”

“Run away with me,” he pleads, the words spilling out of him in a desperate manner. 

“What are you talking about?”

“Run away with me,” he says, taking her hand between both of his. Clarke stares at it numbly, but doesn’t pull away. “They’ll never find us, not with your skills. We’ll go south, or far enough west that no clan can reach us.”

“Wells…” Her mouth has gone dry, her heart beating wildly. Is he...does he…

“Clarke, I…” Wells pauses, only to cup her face in his hands. The wild look in his eyes terrifies her. “I can’t lose you.”

Clarke turns away quickly, ripping her face away, out of reach. 

“Wells, don’t,” she starts, voice cracking as she stands up. “Don’t do this now, don’t-” she breaks off, feeling the panic rise in her. “I’m not, we’re not-” she says, taking another step away from him.

“Clarke, stop,” he says, scrambling to stand. “I’m sorry, forget it. Forget I said it, Clarke. Don’t go. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”

Clarke hesitates, remaining where she is. How did she miss this? When did he start looking at her like this?

“I have to get back.”

He sighs, looking more disappointed than before, if that was possible. But still, he pulls her close to him again, and she lets him. She sighs into his embrace as he hugs her tightly, hugging him back. 

“It is what it is,” she whispers, lips next to his ear. “I have to make my parents proud.”

He pulls away slightly, searching for something in her eyes. But he won’t find any answers there. No one will. 

“I’ll make it out of there,” she promises, finally letting him go. “I’ll make it back, I always do.”

Wells casts her a doubtful glance, but doesn’t say anything more before she turns to leave.

--∞--

Clarke is truly frigid by the time she leaves the borders of Wells’s village. She rubs her arms for warmth, wearily eyeing the little clouds her breath makes. Snow crunches under her boots and she pulls her cloak tighter around her, sending a silent plea to the spirits of the commanders that spring arrives quickly this year. 

She sighs as she walks over the large frozen pond she recognizes as the halfway mark between Polis and the village. She isn’t sure if she’s relieved that she’s made it halfway back or disappointed that she still has half the journey ahead of her. She’s busy chiding herself for not wearing more layers when she hears a deafening crack beneath her feet, loud as thunder. She barely has time to process it before the ground disappears beneath her.

The black water swallows her greedily, its iciness a sharp slap to the face that makes her whole body sting. It’s the darkness that scares her most and her lungs burn as she desperately tries to find a way back up. The dark is an endless expanse around her, nothing but empty black so cold that she almost feels warm. She tries to swim up, even through the pain, but quickly realizes that there is no up. There is no up or down, no left or right. There is only the black.

I’m going to die , she realizes, her lungs now on fire. 

Still, her body fights for a chance to live and she thinks that above her, she sees a light. It’s hard to tell, given that it’s almost as dark above the ice as it is down below, clouds hiding the moon. She swims in the direction of the lighter gray color above her. Her head spins, the lack of oxygen making her dizzy. 

This is how the mighty Wanheda is going to die. Alone, where no one will find her body. No one will ever know what happened to her.

She’s not sure why that matters to her, but she finds that it does. 

As she desperately claws her way towards the dim light, she realizes it may not exist at all. It may be her vision going spotty, the air in her lungs having run out. She doesn’t want to die though, not yet. She doubts that any life after death will treat her kindly after the things she’s done, no matter the reasons. She certainly deserves whatever she gets. 

The light seems so close, the gray the color of the stones that make up her home. She reaches her arm up, one last desperate attempt to cling to her life. She waits for the feel of cold air, of the wind on her hand, for her hand to break through the barrier. But there is nothing as she reaches above, violently kicking and stretching her arm as high as she can manage. There is only more water.

Maybe what comes next will be nothing. Maybe she will simply cease to exist. It sounds peaceful, she thinks, her arm still straining upward to no avail. Around her, the familiar muffled silence of the underwater world envelopes her. As her head grows foggy, as her vision becomes so spotty that she barely can see the gray she was once reaching for, as her lungs burn to ash, she thinks that at least she has this. At least in death, she has her favorite sound in the world. She thinks she can see her mother’s face, even in the darkness. Smiling at her, beautiful, billowing hair around her. 

Clarke , she says. Somehow, her voice breaks through the sound of the water. 

Clarke .

Clarke.

Clarke reaches up towards her mother. She wants to see her again. She prays she’ll see her again. Straining her arm up, she closes her eyes. 

Something grips her arm tightly, violently dragging her back to consciousness. She opens her eyes to find that her mother is gone, but a muffled hum reaches her through the water. Before she can consider what it could be, whatever grips her arm wrenches her up and through the surface. Whatever the force is, it holds her so tightly she knows her arm will bruise, if not break. She gasps at the air, choking as she tries to take it in. Someone is yelling, a howl of exertion as the rest of her body is pulled out of the water. She tries to open her eyes but they feel like weights she doesn’t have the strength to lift as she continues to choke on the air. Something slams into her back and then she’s throwing up, coughing up water, the burning in her lungs made more intense by the rush of cold air. 

The air feels warm , she thinks belatedly, slumping over as she attempts to remain conscious. How does the air feel so warm now?

Someone is saying her name, repeating it over and over again. She feels a palm on her cheek, and wants to respond, even moves her lips to say something, but nothing comes out. She feels like her soul is floating around in her head, disconnected from her body. 

The ground disappears beneath her again, but this time she’s lifted up instead of falling under. Eventually they stop, the ground underneath her again, and she feels her soaked clothing being ripped off of her. 

She tries to open her eyes, but fails again. 

I’m being assaulted , she thinks. I’m being assaulted and I can’t move. Can’t protect myself .

Panic rises in her throat like a bile, like the pond water that she still feels in her lungs. She flails haphazardly, doing anything to move her body, to make it harder for the person to undress her. She knows it isn’t much, but she feels her foot make contact, and her elbow too. Maybe it’s the new fear that gives her the strength, but she finally manages to open her eyes, just a sliver.

She sees the silhouette of a man, but can’t make out more than that. She doesn’t know if it’s due to the dark or if her vision has been permanently damaged. The man pulls her against him, locking her arms down in a vise to prevent her flailing.  

“Clarke, stop. Stop,” someone murmurs in her ear, holding her tightly. The voice is familiar. She knows she’s heard it before, but can’t place it. 

Her eyes fall closed again and she continues to fight against him, but she’s weak and unable to stop him as he strips her of all her clothing except for her bottom undergarments. She’s only vaguely aware of her nearly naked state when she feels her chest pressed against warm, dry skin. It feels like a furnace to her.

Oh , she thinks weakly, finally forcing herself to still. This feels better. This is better

Warm arms wrap around her backside, pressing her closer to the man. She feels warmth begin to slowly flow into her body again. 

A moment later, another coughing fit hits her like a punch to the chest. The arms still hold her, patting her back as she throws up more water. She can feel warm tears run down her cheeks at the effort. Finally it ends, and the arms once again hold her chest to his, arms tight around her. 

Clarke blinks heavily, again trying to catch a glimpse her surroundings. She feels disoriented, like the one time Wells and her shared a bottle of moonshine. This time, although heavy, she manages to crack her eyes open, however minimally. She leans back, looking up at the man holding her. Her heart pounds wildly when she realizes it’s the face of the Trikru king, of King Bellamy, gazing down at her with worried eyes. Wet curls stick to his forehead although she knows the rest of him, pressed against her, is dry. The moon is still hidden by the clouds, but stars shine far above him, a canvas, a backdrop, to his strange angelic face. She has the ridiculous thought that she’d like to hold onto the image, maybe even sketch it later. 

She shifts, feeling his bare thighs burning against her cold damp ones. The reality of her situation, that she’s sitting nearly naked in the lap of the king, pulls her towards reality again. She tries again to break away from him, struggling against his grip, but makes no progress. He barely flinches, his arms simply tightening as if he was prepared.

“Clarke, stop,” he murmurs into her wet hair. “Stop, you need to warm up. I need to warm you up, let me warm you up.”

His voice is strange, she thinks as he presses a warm cheek to her forehead. There’s a strange desperation, a vulnerability to it, that she doesn’t recognize. 

The king slowly moves his cheek across her forehead, which feels oddly intimate although she understands now it’s only to warm her. She listens to him and stops struggling, sinking into his embrace as she presses her cheek to his warm chest. She can hear his heart beating wildly and despite it’s erratic rhythm, it lulls her into a strange sense of calm as she lets herself melt further into him. She curls into him, making herself smaller as she settles onto his lap. He responds immediately, holding her even closer. His body blankets hers, a wall between her and the elements. The only time he lets her go is when he reaches with one arm to grab his jacket, still dry, to drape over her shoulders. He resumes his hold on her, this time over the material of the jacket. Even though the sturdy material traps more heat, she misses the feel of his bare arms pressed against her back.

Clarke isn’t sure how long they sit like that as her breath steadies. She shivers, her body waking up from the shock and finding new ways to torment her. She feels like every organ inside her is sore, exhausted, and her skin feels like it’s been burnt despite the fact that she still feels a frigid cold deep in her bones. At one point, he gathers her hair in his hands and rings it out. She can feel how it’s already froze in the cold air. 

Clarke shifts in his lap and his hand slides under the jacket, pressed against her stomach. She’s surprised that his hand feels sticky. Did it feel like that before? Had she not noticed given her state? With great effort, she moves her hand from where it’s curled between their stomachs. She can feel his curious gaze on her, but he says nothing as she touches his hand, his arm. She feels a warm, sticky wetness again before the familiar metallic smell hits her. Blood.

“You’re bleeding,” she sputters, tongue tripping over the two simple words. They’re the first that she’s spoken since being pulled from the water.

He’s silent for a moment and Clarke wonders if he might not answer her at all. 

“You’re a foolish girl,” he finally grumbles, through gritted teeth. He sounds like the man from the dining hall again, only more exasperated. Angry, even. She supposes he has all the reasons in the world to be angry at her. He put himself in danger, injured himself, rescuing her. More than that, she put their alliance at risk. If she had died, his plans would fall through.

She tries to break away from him, physically rejecting his harsh words and tone, just to prove a point. But as soon as she tries, the lack of contact with his warm skin feels almost painful to her. She grits her teeth, unsuccessfully biting back a whimper as she presses herself closer to him again. 

“You’re okay,” he whispers, his tone soft again. 

She gives up and presses her face against his bare chest again, her brain only able to focus on the warmth she’s drawing from him. She feels his large hand cover her head, pressing heat into her scalp as he holds her face against him. She’s not sure how much time passes as they sit there in the woods, at the edge of the pond. It strikes her that he must be freezing, himself stripped down to his undergarments and pressing her freezing cold, damp body against his own. She feels like a parasite, draining him of heat and leaving him to freeze. It’s fitting, given the circumstances. Still, if he’s cold, he doesn’t show it. He doesn’t shiver even once and remains steady as he holds her.

“We have to get you back, get you warm,” he murmurs. 

He lets her go and this time she successfully holds in her whimper, not wanting to appear weaker than he must already think she is. Still, she can’t help but immediately begin shaking as he gently sets her on the ground and stands. She wraps his jacket tighter against her as he pulls his dry pants back on. She watches with tired eyes as he collects her wet clothing and brings it over to a horse that she’s only just noticed. He shoves the clothing in a small bag secured to the horse and walks back over to her, picking up his own shirt on the way. Squatting down in front of her, he pulls his coat from her shoulders. She keeps her arms covering her chest, feeling a terrible kind of vulnerable despite the fact that her bare chest was pressed against his just minutes ago.

“Here,” he prompts, helping her into his own long sleeve shirt. It’s comically large on her, which in this case is a good thing since she doesn’t have any dry pants to wear back to the tower.

“Thank you,” she murmurs. 

He hands her the jacket back. 

Clarke furrows her eyebrows, shaking her head. “What will you wear?”

“I don’t need it, I’ll be fine,” he insists, already moving to help her arms into it. “It’s a free show for the woodland animals. I’m generous like that.”

She looks up at him in surprise, hearing more than seeing his smirk as she hugs the jacket against her. The joke surprises her. She didn’t suspect he had much of a sense of humor. Despite the fact he probably can’t see her shadowed face anymore than she can see his, she smiles wanly at him. 

“Can you walk?”

Even before she attempts it, Clarke knows that the answer is no. But she’s cursed with stubbornness so she attempts it anyways, twice as embarrassed when she falls onto weak knees. He doesn’t make her ask for help, which she’s grateful for, just easily scoops her into his arms and walks her over to the horse. He helps her mount the horse before climbing on behind her. Pressing himself flush against her, the king uses one arm to secure her against him while he directs the horse back towards Polis. She isn’t sure if he does it to keep her warm or if he thinks she isn’t coherent enough to stay on the horse on her own. Maybe both. She doesn’t fight him on it.

Neither says anything during the short ride back. Despite the horse jostling under her, she lasts mere minutes before her eyes fall closed and her head falls back to rest on his shoulder. She focuses on the warmth of his breath against her neck and lets herself slip into a strange place between unconscious and conscious. She thinks she must have fallen asleep given that it feels as if she’s barely closed her eyes before the horse is slowing under her. Sitting up straighter, she forces her eyes open again.

“Are you going to tell her?” Clarke asks quietly. 

“Who? Heda?”

“No, the queen.”

There’s a long pause, one that makes Clarke wish she could see his face. 

“No, but we’ll discuss this tomorrow,” he tells her at last. His tone implies that she doesn’t have a choice in the matter, which she can hardly argue with given the circumstances.

The city is easy to navigate given the late hour, but she notices how he still takes a strange, roundabout route back to the stables. He must know the city well. As they approach the stables, Clarke sees a woman waiting in front of it, holding up her own lantern despite there being a few hanging along the stable walls. Clarke doesn’t note much more than her shocked expression and dark blonde hair as they ride by her and into the stables.

“What happened?” the woman whispers loudly, following them into the stable. “Are you alright?”

“This is Harper,” the king introduces, ignoring the woman’s question as he dismounts the horse. The girl doesn’t say anything else, despite her unanswered question, and the king doesn’t offer up any information more than her name.

Clarke offers her a small nod as the king helps her off of the horse. Her legs wobble and she knows she won’t make it to her room alone, but the king seems to already know this. 

“We’ll talk later,” he tells Harper. “Can you make sure the horse is taken care of?”

Clarke tries to imagine a world here Nia would ask rather than command, but she can’t. 

Harper nods and the king lifts Clarke into his arms again without warning. She hates this. She hates feeling vulnerable and weak and every one of her atoms fights against it, even as her head reminds her that there isn’t another way.

As Bellamy enters a strange servants’ entrance in the tower, it becomes clear to Clarke that she isn’t the only one accustomed to sneaking around the tower during her trips here. Although, it strikes her as odd that he feels the need to. While Clarke is avoiding the queen’s notice, the king should be free to go wherever he pleases. 

He takes the stairs all the way to her room, which isn’t incredibly high up but it’s enough that it would tire even her, and that’s without carrying anyone. She sees a sheen of sweat on his forehead when they pass by the lanterns, but he doesn’t falter even once. There’s a guard at the opposite end of the hallway, but he’s far enough that the king is able to slip into her room unnoticed. 

After depositing her onto the bed, he quietly shuts the door to her bedroom and begins lighting the lanterns before moving over to the bathing tub behind the divider screen. She hears the water begin to run and as disoriented as her mind is, it takes her longer to speak up than it should.

“Thank you for...I appreciate it,” she starts. It hurts to speak. “I’m okay now, you don’t need to stay.”

He pops out from behind the screen, eyebrows raised. He looks much younger than he did at dinner, cheeks flushed and hair messy. Her eyes are drawn to his still-bare chest, but she quickly averts them, staring at the empty fireplace instead. “You could go into shock. You almost died, do you realize that?”

Part of her doesn’t realize that, admittedly. She somehow feels numb about the whole thing. Maybe the worst part of it is that at the very end, when the pain started to fade, she felt a sense of relief. 

“I’ll be fine. I insist you go,” she tells him, still not looking at him. Her voice comes out raspy and weak, instead of commanding as she had intended.

“If I go, then I’m going to tell the queen so someone from Azgeda can come look after you. Your choice,” he challenges, eyes intense. 

Clarke clenches her jaw in frustration but says nothing more. He must take her silence as an agreement, because he disappears behind the screen again to shut off the water. 

“Go bathe while the water is hot,” he instructs, voice clipped again like when he snapped at her earlier. His angry tone alone reminds her of his arm.

“Your arm,” she prompts, making no effort to move from where she’s sitting on the bed. The lanterns only cast a dim light across the room, but she can still see his blood stained hand and forearm. 

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, clenching his fist, as if testing it. “It’s fine.”

“You need to clean it. You may need stitches.”

He looks up at her, clearly exasperated. It’s strange, given that despite the irritation they clearly feel for the other, the whole ordeal has quickly freed them from the awkward acquaintances phase into something more familial. Into what exactly, she isn’t sure.

“Would you just get in the tub?” he asks. “I’ll take care of my arm.”

You have to kill this man , a pesky voice reminds her. 

She wishes she could get it over with now. With that thought on her mind, she makes her way to the tub on rubbery legs without any further argument. Let him screw up his hand for all she cares. Maybe he’ll die from an infection and she won’t have to do the job herself.

Clarke takes off his jacket and shirt with shaky hands, kicking off her bottom undergarments too. Her skin aches and burns from the cold. She places an experimental hand into the water to find it warmer than she expected. She’s not sure if it will feel good or not, but she supposes it’ll be good for her. The water is shocking to her body as she sinks into the tub, but it feels comforting after a few moments. Every bit of her aches and burns, her lungs and throat the worst. She hopes she won’t lose her voice tomorrow, she’s not sure how she’ll explain it.

Clarke ducks her head under the water, but it doesn’t feel peaceful like it usually does. She feels the violent cold, sees the infinite darkness, hears the king’s muffled voice. She pops her head up nearly as quickly as she went under. Her arms shake as she runs her hands through her hair, slicking it back. Glancing to her side, she can see the shadow of the king behind the screen. She thinks that he must be lighting her fire. 

It’s only in the silence that her mind begins to catch up with her. What was the king even doing in the woods? What are the chances that he was on the same path as her in the middle of the night? The only logical explanation is that he was following her. He must have seen her leave, doesn’t trust her. Still, she’s surprised he didn’t just send a guard after her. She can’t exactly ask him for his reasons, because she’s sure the question will be met with the question of what she was doing. Clarke doesn’t plan to bring that up unprompted. She has a feeling they’re caught in a case of mutually assured destruction and wonders if they might never address any of it. It would be for the best. 

Just as that thought crosses her mind, she remembers his words on the way back.

We’ll discuss this tomorrow .

She sighs, leaning back against the tub. She’s really made a mess of things this time.

A soft knock on her door a moment later startles her, but the king seems to be expecting it by the way he calmly walks over to answer it. She can’t hear who it is, but he closes it a moment later, his shadow revealing his arms full of something. She supposes he probably asked that girl - Harper, she thinks - to bring him something for his cuts. Given her current state, she’s not surprised she missed that conversation. 

When she gets out of the bath, she changes into a large sweater that’s too big for her and a warm pair of soft trousers. Walking around the screen, she discovers her wet clothes drying in front of the fire and a cup of tea places on her bedside table. The king is sitting in front of the fire, biting down on a wad of cloth as he stitches up a deep gash along the side of his forearm. She can see that he’s cleaned away the excess blood and besides the long gash, his hand is littered in smaller cuts. Most likely from punching through the ice. From saving her.

Under normal circumstances, she would offer to help, but she knows her shaky hands are useless tonight. She feels for him, in spite of her best efforts not to feel anything at all about him. She knows how painful it is to stitch yourself up. A certain mental strength is required to be the one inflicting the pain on yourself. She would know, she’s had to do it dozens of times. She brings a small bottle of alcohol with her on her missions for that very reason.  

The king doesn’t seem to notice her as she climbs into the bed and sips her tea, watching him carefully. He’s wearing a shirt now, so at least there’s that. His shoulders tense as he finishes the stitching. As soon as he’s finished, he looks over to the bed where she’s settled under the blankets. Apparently she was wrong about him noticing her.

“I’m sorry,” she blurts, unexpectedly. She hadn’t planned to say it, hadn’t meant to say it, but it slipped out like an instinct. 

He doesn’t address the apology, which makes her feel even worse. She drinks about half of the mug of tea before her eyes grow too heavy to hold open. Setting it down on the small table beside her, she sinks into the bed and closes her eyes. 

Under normal circumstances, she might feel uneasy about the strange man still in her room, but a primal need for rest overshadows that. As the warmth of the tea floods through her from head to toe, she thinks about Wells. How they argued worse than they ever have, how disappointed he was in her, how he somehow feels something for her he has no business feeling. Worst of all, it may be the last time she ever sees him. Right before sleep drags her under, she thinks of the king. She thinks of his face in the dark with the stars behind him. She thinks about how if he had just let her drown, he might have a chance. By saving her, he’s only marked himself for death.

When Clarke dreams that night, it’s of the bottoms of ponds and lakes. She drowns over and over again, but sometimes he saves her. Sometimes he pulls her out. When he does, she drives a sword through his heart and she dives back into the depths of the water. 

When Clarke wakes the next morning, the king is nowhere to be found.

Chapter Text

The first time that Clarke wakes, she can tell that the sun has just risen by the way it casts an orange glow across her chambers. It’s only when she feels the soreness in her throat and lungs, does the previous night come back to her in violent flashes.

Black water. 

A ghostly image of her mother. 

The king’s body, like a furnace. 

Clarke sits up, her eyes quickly surveying the room and noting that the king has already left. He’s no where to be found, nor is his shirt or jacket. The only evidence that the previous wasn’t a terrible dream is the ache in her body and her clothing laid out in front of the fire, now burned down to embers. 

Clarke lays back down again, letting out a sigh. She isn’t even aware that she fell back asleep until a knocking on her door wakes her again, making her jolt upright. Her room is brighter, filled with daylight. Echo walks in without further warning, a Polis servant carrying a tray on her heels. 

“The Queen wants you up and ready for your meeting with Heda and Trikru,” she says by way of greeting, never one to waste time on niceties. Clarke generally appreciates that, given that she’s the same. She rubs her eyes, noting that the tray is holding a small pot of tea, bread, and dried meat. The Polis servant leaves the two of them alone once she sets the tray down on the small table in front of the fire. 

“You don’t look well,” Echo observes.

Yes, Clarke thinks. Nearly drowning and getting mere hours of sleep will do that to a person.

“And it’s not like you to sleep so long,” Echo adds.

“I just didn’t sleep well,” Clarke excuses, voice a little raspy but not terrible. “What time is it?” she adds, reluctantly pushing the blankets aside and climbing out of bed.

“Half past eight. You need to be in the drawing room at the top of the hour.”

Clarke swallows, fighting the soreness in her throat as she walks over to the table to pour some tea. Her head is also aching, her limbs heavy as she walks, but she supposes she can’t complain. She’s alive, at least. Alive thanks to the king. Clarke puts extra honey into the mug before pouring the tea into it, hoping it will soothe her throat. Echo remains standing a few feet away and Clarke can feel her eyes on her as she takes her first sip of the tea, as if assessing her. 

“Are you sure you aren’t ill?” Echo asks again. She doesn’t hold any sympathy in her voice, but Clarke knows she’s concerned if only because she asked a second time.

“I’m not ill,” Clarke confirms, setting the mug down. “And we both know it wouldn’t matter if I was anyways. There’s too much to be done.”

Echo nods in agreement. “I’ll see you later then,” she says, leaving Clarke alone in the room. 

Clarke takes the mug with her and goes back to the bed, sitting on the edge of it as she takes another sip of tea. She suspects it’s going to be a long and stressful day, even by her standards. Not to mention she’s far from at her best and it’s more important than ever that she’s careful, that she keeps her wits about her at the meeting and in any other interactions she has with Heda and Trikru. She still has no idea what excuse she’s going to come up with for why she was wandering through the woods at night. She also has no idea if she’s going to confront the king about whether or not he was following her. 

Finishing her tea, Clarke sets her mug down on the table and changes into the second set of clothing she brought with her - tight black trousers, a dark blue shirt with long sleeves, and her longer leather coat that stops at her knees in the back. She munches on the meat and bread, not feeling hungry at all but knowing that she needs it to keep her energy up. It hurts on its way down her throat, scratching her sensitive skin no matter how long she chews it for. Her hands shake slightly as she braids her hair back and she sends a silent prayer to the spirits of the commanders that she makes it through the day unscathed.

--∞-- 

Clarke feels out of place at the long table in the drawing room, even though everyone is gathered to discuss her marriage, rather than politics and war. Although she supposes her marriage is part of that category too. But as always, she feels like everyone in the room knows more than her, which is especially unnerving given the circumstances. 

It’s silent as Azgeda and Trikru wait for Heda and the flamekeeper to arrive, although Clarke supposes it’s safer for everyone if no one says anything. Flanked by Nia and Roan, she sneaks another glance across the table at the king. He looks exactly the same as he did at dinner the previous night - stoic, serious, and disinterested in her presence. He had only given her a curt nod when she walked into the room, nothing else.

Like Azgeda, there are only three Trikru in the room. Besides the king, the same intimidating bald man from dinner sits beside the man with the shoulder length brown hair and kind face. Lincoln and Kane, the king had introduced them as. She needs to keep track of those two, if they’re who he deemed important enough to join him for this conversation. She can’t help but be relieved that his sister isn’t with them.

“Good morning,” Heda announces, entering the room through the large double doors. Everyone rises when she enters and she takes a seat at the head of the table that Bellamy and Nia are sitting at. The bald man who came in with her sits at the opposite head. His intense, dark eyes unnerve Clarke.

“This is Titus, our flamekeeper,” Heda introduces. 

Titus only gives a short nod in greeting before he begins explaining the details of the wedding ceremonies to the table. Clarke listens intently, afraid to miss any small detail. As he speaks, some of what he describes sounds familiar, parts of her parents’ wedding ceremonies that she had asked her mother about when she was young. Arranged marriages weren’t common and Clarke had viewed the ceremonies through a romantic lens as a girl. She was fascinated by it, and had even felt special to have parents who had partook in the ceremonies.

Non-royals rarely had any kind of official ceremony that cemented their union. It was a simple decision, an understood commitment, sometimes further cemented by the decision to move in together or children. But there was no singular event otherwise, at least for Azgeda. So for Clarke, the idea of giving yourself to another in a formal declaration had sounded very romantic and lavish. She supposes that her mother liked her thinking of it in that way, because she never told her otherwise. As a girl, she hadn’t understood that these ceremonies were never arranged out of love - it was quite the opposite. Those in love didn’t need a ceremony. Even moreso, Clarke hadn’t understood that it was common for one or both parties to not have a choice in the matter at all. When she realized that, long after her parents’ deaths, the idea had become tragic to her instead. And yet, here she is. 

First, Titus describes the ceremony of the ashes. In theory, it’s supposed to be a formal way of forgiving your partner and yourself for the past sins committed against each other, taking place prior to the actual marriage ceremony. This ceremony, more than the other, is unique to arranged marriages. Clarke supposes that makes sense, since any normal union would not be marred with bloodshed or generally anything that called for a formal declaration of forgiveness. 

Titus explains the logistics of the ceremony, telling them how they will each write down their own sins and grievances against their partner, and then burn the paper in a ceremonial fire blessed by Heda and himself. With the ash from the fire, they are to trace the symbol of Heda on the brow of the other, murmuring a specific vow of forgiveness that they will repeat after Titus. 

Listening to him describe the ceremony, Clarke wonders how, even as a young child, she ever thought something like this could be romantic. Grief churns deep in her stomach at the thought of her parents having to make such a vow. Of her parents having to marry their enemy, especially her mother. Her mother, who had to marry the Azgeda prince mere months after Azgeda slaughtered so many of her people. Her mother, who had to leave her home to live in his. The ceremony felt repulsive, more than anything. Not to mention foolish, as if forgiving others’ sins, least of all your own, could ever be as easy as burning a piece of paper.

Titus describes the actual marriage ceremony next, which Clarke finds generally straightforward. Like marriage ceremonies from the old world that Clarke has read about in the few books she’s managed to get her hands on, it involves the king and her making vows to one another in front of the coalition ambassadors, Heda, and the flamekeeper. 

Once again, Clarke sneaks a glance at the king while Titus speaks. His face is completely neutral, eyes trained carefully on Titus, as if he’s listening intently. 

“After the marriage ceremony is complete,” Titus continues, “the consummation ceremony will follow immediately.”

Clarke’s eyes instantly snap back to Titus as she bites down on her tongue to keep from dumbly echoing his words back to him in question. A consummation ceremony ? It was not something she had heard of, from her mother or anyone else. Although she supposes it makes sense that her mother wouldn’t give her those kinds of details about her own marriage ceremonies. 

Nobody else in the room asks for an explanation or so much as bats an eye at the phrase.

“Are there any questions?” Heda asks, looking down the table.

So many , Clarke thinks. But she doesn’t know how to ask them without sounding like a fool and she certainly doesn’t want to ask them with an audience present, so she keeps her mouth shut.

She’s surprised when Bellamy speaks up. “I’d like to incorporate Trikru’s matrimonial dance.”

Clarke has never heard of that. 

“That can be done,” Heda agrees immediately, clearly familiar with the tradition from her own upbringing. 

“It’s a dance,” Bellamy explains, turning his attention to Clarke’s side of the table. “A Trikru tradition, a dance prior to the marriage ceremony.”

Clarke raises her eyebrows, suddenly finding her voice in her panic. “I don’t know the dance,” she says quickly, as if that much wasn’t obvious.

“I’ll have Lincoln or Kane teach you.” Clarke’s eyes sweep across the two men, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute. “It’s not difficult, I promise you,” he assures her. 

Clarke isn’t sure she agrees with him. She’s never attempted any kind of dance in her life.

“Are there Azgeda traditions you’d like to incorporate?” Heda asks when Clarke doesn’t respond.

Clarke’s mind instantly recalls the singular Azgeda tradition associated with marriage, one that she never thought she would partake in. The partners give each other a small tattoo behind the ear, a simple circle representing a love that does not end. Without really thinking, she opens her mouth to tell them that, but Nia answers before she can.

“No, there is nothing,” she tells them.

Heda nods, easily accepting her answer. Clarke’s eyes flutter to Bellamy, who is watching her closely.

“Were you going to say something, Princess?” he asks, giving Nia a pointed look. 

“No,” she answers immediately. “I was going to say the same as the Queen.”

The king purses his lips, as if he’s disappointed in her. 

Clarke grits her teeth in frustration. Who is he to judge her? He knows nothing of her life, of her choices. Besides, Nia was right to say no. This marriage is a sham and it would only be insulting to Azgeda’s traditions to include them.

Heda wraps up the meeting by informing them that the ambassadors will meet in two days time to discuss the strategy against the mountain, suggesting that they all meet before that. Again, the table stands as Heda leaves the room, followed closely by Titus. 

“Stop by my chambers before dinner,” Nia instructs her in a quiet voice. “There are things we need to discuss.”

Clarke nods and watches as Nia and Roan leave the room. She turns to face Bellamy as he’s dismissing his advisors.

“Princess,” he greets her again, as if they haven’t spent the last hour in the same room. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Clarke insists immediately. 

“Are you...can we go for a walk?”

--∞--

Bellamy and Clarke are quiet as they walk to the edge of the city, eventually reaching a quiet area on the water. It was a Harbor for ships in the old world, or so her father had told when she was a girl. All that remains is concrete roads and walkways, now crumbling into the water, and a tall, dilapidated brick building with the faded letters P, er, nt on top of it. She could never figure out what it was supposed to say. The few people that they pass by pay them no mind. 

Bellamy walks with his hands clasped behind his back, his posture formal and stiff. The strange moments between them the night before feel like a dream or hallucination now. Clarke does her best not to fidget.

“You’re sure you’re alright?” he asks, breaking the uneasy silence. 

“Yes,” Clarke promises. “Thank you, again,” she tacts on after a beat.

Like the night before, Bellamy doesn’t address her thanks. He purses his lips again, as if thinking. It makes Clarke nervous, but she tries not to let it show. He stops suddenly, turning to face her.

“I meant what I said about this marriage,” he starts. By his tone, Clarke thinks he’s attempting to bite back his anger. 

“I-” she starts.

“I won’t be made a fool of,” he cuts her off. “If you’re spoken for, if you are not- I gave you an out, and if you are not serious about this union, I would rather you take it.”

Clarke can’t help the way her mouth opens in surprise, her brain trying to process his words. Then it hits her. 

Wells

He saw her and Wells.

“You were spying on us,” she accuses. Logically, she knows it’s the wrong thing to say, but it’s what slips out anyways.

“Not intentionally,” he excuses, appearing sheepish for the first time. “But regardless-”

“It’s not what you think,” she insists. “He’s a friend, he’s- he’s a brother to me. It isn’t...it isn’t like that .” She feels her cheeks flush at the implication. 

“A friend you sneak off to see in the middle of the night, alone, in secret,” he questions, voice growing fiercer. 

She feels something stir deep in her gut at the way that seeing her with another man seems to anger him so, but she doesn’t understand it.

“I…” she starts, still unable to think of a viable reason as to why she feels the need to keep Wells a secret.

“This won’t work if we keep secrets. Our past, the mistrust between our clans...our situation is complicated enough. We need to trust each other, to work as partners, if this is…” he trails off. A hint of the same vulnerability that she witnessed the night before fights its way to the surface of his brown eyes. “It won’t be easy, but I...I want this to work,” he says finally.

Clarke is surprised by the intensity of the guilt that slams into her. She’s not sure why she feels any guilt at all towards this stranger. She owes him nothing.

Bellamy scoffs at her silence, turning to walk away.

“I’m protecting him,” she blurts, grabbing at his arm before she can think better of it. She lets go quickly once he turns around, brow furrowed. Clarke sighs in frustration.

“The queen,” he says. It’s a statement, but Clarke knows it demands an explanation.

“Yes, I just-” She cuts herself off, sighing in frustration again. “I just don’t want him involved, okay?” she says quickly, tripping over her words. “In any wars, or politics, or...in just anything. I want him safe, and I- we ...our lives are not safe. I keep him separate, apart from that.”

Clarke prays her explanation is suffice. She can’t very well tell him she thinks the queen might use him against her in some way. It sounds malicious and terrible, which she knows it is, but she can’t help but feel the need to protect the queen. It feels wrong to paint her as a villain.

Bellamy is quiet for a moment, looking at her so intently she wants to squirm. He says nothing, finally giving her a single nod before he turns to continue walking. She follows him quickly, catching up in an instant, still unsure of whether he accepted her answer. 

“I was visiting family.”

Clarke glances at him. It’s not a response she could have predicted. “Visiting family?”

“I was not spying on you- or at least, I did not mean to. I…” Bellamy pauses, running a hand through his curls. She watches the motion, feeling her stomach do something strange again.

“What do you know of my family?”

Clarke hesitates, feeling awkward. I know your father went mad , she thinks. I know your mother took him out herself.

Bellamy glances at her when she says nothing.

“Right,” he says shortly. “Well, my mother, she was not Trikru,” he continues. “She was the daughter of a merchant in Polis, where my father met her. As you well know, my mother, or my sister and I, having a relationship with her family would be frowned upon.”

She did know. In an arranged marriage, the partner marrying into another clan was discouraged from keeping ties with their old clan. At least, personal ties. If they did, loyalty would be questioned. It was why her father allowing her mother and her a mere week with Podakru was considered a generous gift. Most were not awarded even that.

“My grandmother, my aunt, and cousins live in your friend’s village. I visit them when I can, when I have business in Polis. Understand that, aside from my most trusted advisors, this is done in secret. I trust that you’ll keep this to yourself, as I will say nothing of your friend.”

Clarke’s head is swimming. The king’s secret is unexpected, surprising even. The fact that he would care enough to keep ties with his mother’s family is unusual. That his mother would make such an effort to remain close to her own family...it was a different kind of loyalty than loyalty to one’s clan, one she had no experience in.

“Of course I will,” she tells him. Her first lie to him. Her first of many. The thought depresses her, and she does her best to push aside her feelings on it. Pitying him will do her no good.

“Thank you.”

They’re both quiet for a few more minutes, but to Clarke’s surprise, it isn’t necessarily uncomfortable. Clarke listens to the sound of the water lapping against rock, to the giggling of two children who run by them. 

“Do you think we could walk everyday?” he asks. “I’d like to get to know you.”

“I’m not sure I can enjoy your company after hearing that you’re making me learn a dance,” she quips before she can think better of it.

He barks out a laugh, clearly surprised by her response.

“I assure you, it’s not difficult.” He wears an amused smirk. 

“I think I’ll be the judge of that.”

He chuckles again. “Is that a no?”

“I suppose I can fit you in my schedule, between dance lessons.”

“I’m honored.”

“You should be.”

The king smirks again. 

“A lot of information today,” he comments.

“I’m familiar with most of the traditions. My mother had recounted them to me.”

He nods in response, but says nothing.

“They had an arranged marriage as well,” she adds, even though she supposes he must know that already. It’s a bit strange to think about the fact that Bellamy was her age when her father was in power. He was already ruling a clan when she was just a girl.

“I remember,” he confirms. He says nothing further about them, which Clarke supposes makes sense. Better not to speak of a time when their people were regularly slaughtering each other.

“There was one I wasn’t aware of,” she starts hesitantly, attempting to keep her voice steady. She has to ask someone, and for whatever reason, the idea of asking Nia or Roan about it sounds even more terrible than asking the king. Not to mention that in the end, he will be the one there with her for it.

“Besides the dance?” he teases.

“Besides the dance,” she confirms. “I…” She stumbles over her words, trying to think of the best ones to use that don’t make her sound foolish. “I didn’t realize there was a- a ceremony aspect to the consummation. And I do not- I do not know what that consists of.”

Clarke feels her face burning at her own words and hopes that he understands the question in them. 

“Oh,” he answers, after a beat. “The queen didn’t discuss it with you?”

Clarke shakes her head, hoping that he doesn’t ask why that is. Thankfully, he doesn’t. She keeps her eyes trained ahead as he speaks, afraid to look at him. 

“The ceremonial aspect of it,” he starts, sounding confident and unbothered, “It only means that there - well, there will be an audience of sorts.”

“An audience?” she balks immediately, unable to hold in her reaction.

He lets out an amused laugh, but she doesn’t think it’s very funny at all. It’s bad enough that her first time with someone will be with the king, under false pretenses, but to have others there…

“It’s not as bad as you’re thinking,” he assures her. “The bed, it’s concealed from view. They can not see us, even though they are there.”

“Who is they exactly?”

“Heda, the flamekeeper, and others in his order, who will issue a blessing on behalf of the spirits of the commanders. Probably the queen too, since you are not the ruler of the clan.”

“Oh.” She isn’t sure what more there is to say about that. It irritates her, how the king shows no sense of nervousness about any of it. Although she supposes he’s slept with plenty of women. This will be nothing to him.

They walk in silence for a few more minutes, but Clarke cannot stand the awkwardness, their last conversation bearing heavily on her mind.

“Your sister - was she the woman at dinner?”

When Clarke spares a glance at him, she notes that he smiles at the mention of her.

“Yes, Octavia. She’s very close to my heart. I helped my mother raise her and was her sole guardian after my mother’s death. She’s about your age.”

“She’s lucky to have you, I’m sure.”

The king laughs. “I’m not sure she would agree. I’ll make sure to introduce you soon, but I should warn you, she has a temper and is fiercely protective. She may require more patience than the others.”

“Sounds promising,” Clarke quips.

The king laughs again. “Lincoln is her partner and opposite. We’ll make sure he’s present for introductions, he’s much more amenable.”

“Good to know. I suppose I’ll have to keep track of the kind ones.”

“They will all be kind ones.” His voice shifts into something serious, passionate even. “I want you to feel at home, Princess. If anyone stands in the way of that, including my sister, they will answer to me. You will be their queen and I expect them to treat you as such.”

Clarke isn’t sure how to respond to the intensity of his words. It’s a strange concept, having someone on your side in such a way. She squeezes her eyes shut quickly, imagining slitting his throat in a single motion before any warmer feelings bleed through her walls. 

Target , she reminds herself. She cannot afford to become confused.

“You may call me Clarke,” she corrects him, rather than respond to his other words. “We both know it is an empty title anyways.”

“It is your birthright, whether it was was recognized or not.”

Clarke digs her fingers into her palms. “That’s neither here nor there.”

“Well, I hope it was clear that you may call me Bellamy.”

“Bellamy,” she nods at him, giving him a soft smile as they weave through the busier streets, approaching the tower. The word, the name, feels strange on her tongue. Makes him more human, in an instant, than the mysterious king was. More boyish, like the man who rescued her the night before.

“Clarke,” he starts, voice a quiet murmur as they pass the guards and enter the tower. “If you visit your friend again, will you humor me and let me escort you?”

Clarke scoffs. “I do not need-”

“Please,” he asks, cutting her off. His voice is so sincere that she finds herself nodding. She doesn’t have a chance to say more before he turns to speak to the elevator operator, giving him their floors.

The two of them enter the small elevator together, shoulders brushing. The king- Bellamy- somehow seems much more imposing in such a small space. She swallows thickly, unsure of why such a thought thrills her. She can’t help but let out a quiet sigh of relief when the doors to her floor finally open. 

“I’ll see you at dinner,” he tells her as she steps out. 

Feeling overwhelmed, she simply nods, the doors closing behind her.

--∞--

“Come in,” Nia calls from the other side of the door.

One of the guards placed at Nia’s doors opens it for Clarke, who walks in to find Nia on a settee in front of the guest room’s fireplace. 

“Sit,” she commands, pouring a mug of tea.

Clarke sits down in the chair across from her and Nia leans across the table, handing her the mug.

“Oh, no thank you,” Clarke tries to refuse.

“Stoneseed and thistle,” Nia explains. “Drink it.”

“Why do I need it now?” Clarke questions, accepting the mug anyways.

“The king seems found of you,” Nia muses. “Which works to our advantage, of course, but if he can’t wait a week, we don’t want any casualties.”

Clarke takes a sip of the tea, mostly so that she can avoid answering her aunt.

“Of course, if he wants you, let him have you,” she continues. “It only helps us if he’s fond of you.”

Clarke nods again, although for reasons unknown to her, Clarke can’t imagine Bellamy attempting anything before their marriage. Of course, maybe her aunt is right. She doesn’t really know Bellamy at all, and it’s better to be prepared.

“How will I have access to the tea when I’m in Anapolei?”

“I have some to give you, and when you meet with Roan to exchange intelligence, I will give you more.”

Clarke takes another sip.

“How was your walk?” Nia asks, her tone somewhat mocking.

“It was fine.”

Fine ?” Nia questions, clearly irritated by her lack of detail.

The thing is, Clarke had planned to tell her about Bellamy’s trips to visit his mother’s family. After all, it would only aid in destabilizing Trikru if they could accuse their leader of being disloyal. She tells herself the reason she doesn’t is to protect her own secrets. If she tells Nia about his family, it could lead the queen to Wells and her own indiscretions. 

“We talked of nothing substantial. I admonished him for making me learn a dance. I…” she trails off, thinking of their conversation about the consummation ceremony and growing angry at Nia.

“Yes?”

“Well, I asked him what the consummation ceremony would consist of, since you did not bother to provide those details. It is bad enough-”

“Oh relax, Clarke,” Nia cuts her off. Clarke hates her tone, how she has a way of belittling every concern of Clarke’s. How she makes Clarke question her own instincts, how she makes Clarke feel like she’s being overdramatic and immature everytime she has a feeling or opinion about anything at all. “It’s not a big deal, honestly. There are curtains around the bed, you won’t know anyone is there.”

“Right,” Clarke replies shortly, her tone cutting.

“Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s a foolish tradition as well. But you know Polis, caught up in their beliefs about the spirits of the commanders. As if a blessing and proof of consummation will make a union legitimate. We obviously disprove that, but let them have their fun, I suppose.”

“Is there anything else?” Clarke asks, suddenly needing to be anywhere but near her aunt.

“Oh, Clarke. You get so wound up. Drink your tea, we need to discuss the details of our communications when you’re gone.”

Clarke does drink her tea, in case Nia is right about Bellamy, as Nia recounts how Roan will act as her handler and meet at an agreed upon location every two weeks. The next location will be shared at the meeting, different each time to protect them. Nia assures her they will be places easy for her to sneak off to, but Clarke already feels anxiety about her lack of control over the situation. She truly has no idea what she’s walking into after the marriage, when she leaves Polis for Trikru territory. 

Clarke nods numbly, acknowledging she understands Nia’s directions. 

“He said nothing else of interest today?” Nia asks.

“He wants to walk together everyday, to get to know me,” Clarke tells her. “I’ll gain his trust and learn what I can. Is there something specific I should be searching for?”

Nia purses her lips. “No, not yet. He’s not a foolish man, he’ll catch on if you go digging. Just let him think he knows you.”

Clarke nods, swallowing the last of her tea. “I’m going to rest before dinner - is there anything else?”

“Nothing, you may go,” Nia dismisses her.

--∞--

After breakfast the following morning, Clarke walks over to the pavilion, a large building next to the tower, but separate from it. It usually remains empty, only used in ceremonies and events such as the marriage ceremonies that will take place in a week’s time. When Clarke walks in, past the guards standing outside the doors, she notes that it looks identical to the last time she was in it. Years ago, she thinks.

It’s a single room, brick building with large windows lining all four walls. Because of that, no lanterns are needed when the sun is in the sky. Patches of the ceiling are also missing, revealing the sky above. The room is bare, an intricate tile mosaic design making up the floor at its center, some of the tiles long-gone. Stray pieces of furniture, mostly tables and chairs, have been covered with sheets and pushed to the edges of the room. 

What Clarke remembers most about the room, which is why it might be her favorite in Polis, are the different paintings lining the walls between the windows. Clarke would beg her father or mother to bring her there everytime time they visited just so she could look at the paintings. There was never anything new about them, but she found them mesmerizing nonetheless. She couldn’t imagine possessing such a talent.

He’s standing so still that it takes Clarke a moment to realize that Lincoln is already in the room. His back to her, he’s staring at one of the paintings in a way that Clarke admires. He seems relaxed, arms behind his back, as he gazes on it. Almost as if he’s in his own world. But she knows better than to think he hasn’t noticed her entrance. Someone so close to the king would be trained better than that.

“That is one of my favorites,” she comments, walking up to him. 

“Mine as well,” he answers, finally turning to face her as she reaches him. 

In truth, she had been hoping that it would be Kane who would teach her the dance. He seemed much friendlier, an easier person to talk to, which Clarke appreciated since she wasn’t very good at talking. But Lincoln gives her a small smile and she realizes that there’s a calming presence about him. Bellamy did say that he was amenable, although maybe he only meant relative to his sister.  

“It’s nice to officially meet you, Princess,” Lincoln says.

“Clarke is fine,” Clarke tells him, trying her best to mirror his smile despite her nerves. 

“Clarke,” he nods. “Are you an artist?” he asks, nodding towards the painting. “You seem to have an eye for it.”

“Oh, certainly not,” she says, blushing at the thought of it. She had never shown anyone her sketchbooks, no matter how she enjoyed it. It all felt too personal. “I only admire it.”

Lincoln nods. “Do you know anything of the dance?”

Clarke shakes her head. “I should warn you, I know nothing of dancing in general, let alone this one.”

He chuckles. “I promise that it will be mostly painless. It is short, its steps simple. But Bellamy cares for traditions, so it is important to him.”

Clarke bristles at how informally Lincoln addresses his king. She can’t imagine a scenario in which anyone, even Nia’s closest advisors, would ever describe her by her given name. Clarke supposes they would pay for it if they did.

“Well, we’d better get to it then.” Clarke says, striving to channel any amount of determination.

Clarke spends the next hour attempting to learn the dance with Lincoln. She realizes that Bellamy must have purposely selected him as her teacher, because she doesn’t think that she’s ever witnessed anyone with more patience. He wasn’t technically wrong about the dance being a simple one. It’s a slow dance, one where you mirror your partner for most of it. Yet, her body doesn’t seem to be able to process what her mind can. Clarke has just stepped on Lincoln’s foot for the umpteenth time, feeling her frustration close to boiling over, when she hears the doors to the Pavilion open. She stops immediately, spinning around. Her eyes land on Octavia, who is walking over to them.

“Don’t stop on my account,” Octavia tells them, sauntering closer and taking a bit of the apple in her hand.

Clarke hears Lincoln sigh behind her, as if exasperated. Clarke keeps her eyes on Octavia, who is looking her up and down like a commodity in need of assessment.

“Princess, this is-”

“Clarke,” Clarke reminds him, cutting him off. She turns to face Octavia, who is now only a few feet away. “I’m Clarke.”

“Octavia,” the girl responds, but her tone is far from friendly. “Go ahead,” she adds, nodding at them to continue.

“I think we’re done for the day,” Lincoln responds, before Clarke can. She decides that Lincoln may be her new favorite. 

--∞--

The next few days pass slowly, Clarke’s anxiety over the upcoming ceremonies twisting time into something lethargic and never ending. Still, she manages to keep busy. Perhaps most importantly, there are the meetings they have to discuss the war against the mountain. They establish a timeline of four months, which Bellamy roars about, claiming it’s far too long to wait, that many will die in that time. When Heda points out that they’ve yet to even figure out a way into the mountain, let alone devised a detailed battle plan, Bellamy reluctantly acknowledges that they need the time to plan. Nia points out that four months is nothing in the grand scheme of the war and Clarke can’t help but agree - it seems a small price to pay if it means they can come up with a fool-proof strategy. But then Bellamy snaps at the queen, reminding her that it matters to the prisoners who will undoubtedly lose their lives in those four months, and Clarke feels less sure about all of it. 

Beyond that, Clarke spends her mornings with Lincoln, attempting to learn the dance. They have no further interruptions and she thinks she has it memorized and the footwork mostly down, but she can sense how ungraceful she is in the movements and dreads having to do it in front of an audience. Although she hates the dance, she does enjoy spending time with Lincoln. He’s easy to talk to, even if they talk about nothing of substance, and it makes Clarke feel like she has an ally going into Trikru territory. Of course, in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Clarke also walks with Bellamy everyday after lunch. They don’t discuss anything groundbreaking, but he tells her a lot about the people closest to him and about Trikru culture. She pays especially close attention when he speaks of the people, knowing it will probably be of use to her. Besides Lincoln and Kane, who act as his primary advisors and Kane as the coalition ambassador, there is also Indra, his War Chief. As Bellamy describes her, Clarke realizes Indra is the woman with the harsh face and dark skin. She learns that Octavia was her second and works closely with her still. Then there are other top warriors - Miller, Harper, and Murphy, all of who have traveled with him to Polis. Others, who didn’t join him, include Raven, who is incredibly intelligent but who can’t fight anymore after a permanent injury she suffered in a skirmish with reapers two years ago. Bellamy tells her that she’s invaluable to them, even with her injury, because of her knowledge of weapons and ability to create and build new ones. Monty also works with her, and although he isn’t a warrior, Bellamy gushes about his intelligence too. If Bellamy’s faith in their abilities isn’t exaggerated, Clarke supposes that Nia may want them taken out as well.

Bellamy asks her a lot of questions on the walks too, but she offers less to him. Half her life he can never know anyways, and there are other parts that she doesn’t want to share. Still, he somehow manages to pull information out of her. She tells him about her parents, a little, but she mostly talks about Wells. It’s one of the only happy topics she can think of that isn’t related to her dead parents - parents that used to be at war with him. It feels good to talk about Wells, to describe their childhood stories, since she never could with anyone else. But as she speaks, their last interaction weighs heavily on her mind. 

It had been nearly four nights since she almost drowned, with only a handful of days until the ceremony of the ashes, and she hadn’t talked to Wells since that night. In fact, she had purposely avoided the area where she knew his father’s stand was. But the closer they got to the ceremonies, the more it was clear to Clarke that she might not see him again. She needed to make sure she didn’t leave Polis with them on bad terms. She needed to make sure they had a proper goodbye. 

Clarke and Bellamy are returning to the tower when she slows, pulling him aside.

“Everything okay?” Bellamy asks quietly, clearly reading the nerves on her face in a way that irritates her. He shouldn’t be able to read anything. 

“Yes, I’m okay,” she assures him quickly. “I- I wanted to tell you that I’m going to see Wells tonight at the village. I know you had said you wanted to join, but you don’t have-”

“I’ll come,” he says, cutting her off.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. It’s no bother, I’d like to visit my family once more and I’m not sure I’ll have the chance again during this trip.”

Clarke nods. “When and where should I meet you?”

“Come by the stables at ten,” he instructs. Clarke nods again before they continue their walk back to the tower, feeling a strange mix of nerves and anticipation at the thought of the night ahead of her.

--∞--

Clarke pulls the hood of her cloak down when she enters the stables, peering into the shadows. There’s only a single lantern lit, but she can make out two silhouettes in the same area where Bellamy dropped off his horse nights ago. 

“Hi,” Bellamy greets her in a quiet voice as she approaches them.  

“Hi.” Her eyes sweep over the other person. She expected it to be Harper, but it’s another man she recognizes from dinner.

“This is Miller,” Bellamy introduces, as if reading her thoughts. 

Miller acknowledges her with a nod before Bellamy mounts the horse. Clarke climbs on after him, sitting behind him this time. She doesn’t like the fact that she has to ride with him again, but she isn’t going to risk taking Orion out. 

“We’ll be back in about three hours,” Bellamy tells Miller as they exit the stables. Clarke wraps her arms around Bellamy’s center, unsure of how else to hold on. She isn’t used to riding with someone else. If he thinks anything of it, he doesn’t say. Soon enough, the city fades into the distance and the sounds of the forrest surround them.

“Does he know you’re coming?” Bellamy asks.

When he speaks, she can feel the vibration of his chest, the warmth of his skin bleeding through his jacket and onto her hands. It sends goosebumps down her spine, ones she doesn’t want to acknowledge.

“No, I haven’t spoken to him. We had an argument that night. I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave Polis with us on bad terms.”

Clarke waits for Bellamy to pry and ask her what the argument was about, but he says nothing at all.

“Why doesn’t your sister join you?” Clarke asks after a moment of silence, her curiosity getting the better of her. 

Although, she supposes that’s exactly what she’s supposed to be doing - gathering intelligence. This part of the job is new to her. After all, she’s an assassin, not a spy. She’s not very good at talking to people and will probably be terrible at it, but she has to try. Her life will depend on it. It already does.

“We travel on different nights. As it stands, Octavia is the heir to the throne. It isn’t safe to risk both of ourselves at once.”

Clarke doesn’t say anything further, and they remain silent for the rest of the ride. Traveling by horse, they arrive quickly, nearly half the time it takes Clarke to walk to the village. Bellamy slows the horse a little ways away from the village, although Clarke can clearly see the glow of the village center’s fire. He leads the horse right and after a couple hundred feet, a large cabin comes into view. There are no other cabins around them, indicating they own more land, a sign of higher status. Not to mention it appears to have several rooms. Clarke wonders if Bellamy, or more likely his mother, had something to do with that.

Bellamy stops close to the cabin, allowing Clarke to climb off first before following. 

“Is this okay?” he asks, tying the horse to a tree. “You can just meet me back here when you’re ready.”

“Of course. I won’t be long.”

Bellamy nods and Clarke turns to go without another word. After a few hundred feet, although she doesn’t really know why, she looks back towards the cabin. When she does, she sees Bellamy still standing at the horse where she left him, watching her go.

--∞--

Clarke doesn’t see Wells when she surveys the area by the fire, so she walks over to the three room cabin that he shares with his father. She doesn’t see the glow of a fire through the windows, so she quietly makes her way to where she knows his bedroom window is. 

“Wells,” she whispers through the small open square. “It’s me,” she adds, like it isn’t obvious. She’s nervous. He isn’t someone she ever thought she would be nervous around, but she can’t ignore the way her stomach flips as she waits. 

“Clarke?” Wells’s face appears at the window, voice raspy with sleep.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. I didn’t know when I’d have another chance to talk to you.”

Wells rubs at his eyes. “You’ve been avoiding me,” he says, his voice already clearer. It isn’t a question.

Clarke looks down at the ground, saying nothing but confirming his words.

“Hold on,” he tells her. 

He disappears from the window, back into the dark room. Minutes later, she hears the creak of his front door opening. Once he walks closer to her, she can’t help but throw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. She’s aware of how selfish it is, but he’s the only thing she’s ever let herself have.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I was avoiding you, I’m sorry. I don’t want things to change. I know it’s selfish, I know-”

“Hey,” he says gently, pulling away from her and tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry too. It wasn’t right, putting that on you.”

“You were just being honest. You shouldn’t be sorry for that.”

Wells nods, as if he’s unsure of how to respond. “Let’s walk,” he says, after a beat. “I don’t want to wake my father.”

Clarke walks with Wells further into the woods, but never far enough for them to lose sight of the village.

“Clarke, it isn’t too late.”

Clarke turns to speak, growing frustrated all over again.

“I know, please just listen and I’ll never say another word about it.” He pauses, waiting for her to protest, but she doesn’t. “Clarke, I love you. You must know that. But if you do want to run, know that I would go with you in a heartbeat, that there would be no expectations on my part in the slightest. I only want you to be safe. I only want what’s best for you. I only want you safe, happy.”

“Wells…” she trails off, unsure of what she wants to say. Unsure of what she even wants at all. For the smallest moment, she entertains the idea of accepting his proposal to run. Maybe, in time, she would even love him the way that he loves her. But in the end, running scares her more than this assignment. And it isn’t because of Wells’s feelings, and it isn’t because of the threat of the Queen, or being caught. What scares her most is who she would be without Wanheda, without an assignment, without a purpose. The things that would haunt her, night after night, with all the time in the world to think about them. She doesn’t have the stomach to face the things she’s done, to sit with them on quiet nights. She’s a coward, but she already knew that.

“I can’t,” she finishes. “I’m sorry.”

“I know.” There’s both defeat and acceptance in his voice. Like he knew what the answer would be, but had hoped for something different anyways.

“Thank you,” she adds.

“For what?”

“For being here. For being the only person in my life that I can count on.” Clarke laughs darkly. “Sometimes I think our friendship is the only reason I’m still sane. I know I get more from it than you, so thank you.”

Wells shakes his head. “Don’t say that, Clarke. You’ve been everything to me - you are everything to me. And I know how smart you are, how strong you are. I know you’ll make your way back to me, that I’ll see you again. When I do, I’m going to try to persuade you to run all over again.”

Clarke laughs, hearing both the tease and determination in his voice. “I look forward to it.”

Still, she can’t fight the dread that spreads through her like a cancer. She realizes it’s because she doesn’t believe him, not really. Not at all. 

--∞--

Clarke makes her way back to the cabin that she left Bellamy at. Clarke walks up to the horse, still tied to the tree, noting the light and voices pouring out of the cabin windows when she walks by it. She feels awkward, just standing outside and waiting for him, but she doesn’t want to bother him. Stroking the horse’s mane, she murmurs quiet nonsense to it the way she does to Orion. A woman’s voice makes her jump.

“Thought I heard someone.”

Clarke spins around, eyes landing on an older woman standing on the cabin porch. 

“Well, come on inside, then,” the woman commands, waving her forward. “We have plenty.” Clarke isn’t sure what she has plenty of, and doesn’t ask. Her voice is somehow both warm and authoritarian. Like she’s used to bossing people around, but does it out of love.

“Oh…” Clarks starts. “I’m just waiting for the- for Bellamy. I can wait here.”

Before the woman can respond, she hears Bellamy’s voice, speaking to the woman as he walks out onto the porch. “Mam, who are you talking-” He cuts himself off, eyes landing on Clarke. 

“She doesn’t want my cooking, what’s wrong with the girl,” the woman huffs. 

Clarke can see the amused smile on Bellamy’s face, even in the dark. “Well, you’d better come in,” he teases, eyes on Clarke. “You don’t want to insult her cooking, it’s a grave offense.”

Clarke twists her fingers nervously. “I don’t want to intrude-”

Bellamy opens his mouth to speak, but the woman beats him to it. “There’s such a thing as too many manners, dear. Come along now.”

Clarke swallows thickly and slowly walks over to the cabin, meeting Bellamy and the woman on the porch. 

“Thank you,” Clarke says when Bellamy opens the door for them. The woman drags Clarke in after her.

Clarke’s face flushes with an intense blush as everyone in the room quiets instantly, looking up to stare at her. Seated on a couch in front of the fire are three children, a boy and two girls. The eldest looks about twelve or so and the youngest girl doesn’t look more than five. The boy is somewhere in between. There’s also a woman, seated at a small table and holding a baby. 

“Didn’t anyone teach you animals not to stare?” Bellamy teases, walking up beside her. It breaks the tension, and the room falls into a symphony of laughter. Clarke remains quiet, her discomfort weighing her down.

“This is Clarke,” Bellamy continues. By the lack of further explanation, she assumes that Bellamy has told his family about her. Then again, she supposes all of the clans know about Bellamy and her at this point. 

Bellamy places a hand on her back as he introduces her to the room, gently nudging her forward. “You’ve met my grandmother, Freya,” he starts with a soft laugh, nodding towards the woman doing something at the stove. “This is my aunt, Celeste, and my cousin, Kajsa,” he continues, pointing out the woman holding the baby girl. “My cousins Penelope and Beyla,” he points point, addressing the girls sitting on the couch together, the eldest first. “And most importantly, Akamu, who keeps me sane in this house full of woman,” Bellamy laughs. The little boy smiles at that, as if it’s a great source of pride.

They all look more like Octavia than Bellamy. There’s a clear resemblance, but not a single one of them has his darker complexion or freckles.  

“It’s nice to meet you, I’m sorry to intrude,” Clarke says.

“Oh, nonsense,” Celeste tells her, bouncing the baby on her hip. 

“Eat,” Freya commands, putting a piece of sweet bread in Clarke’s hands and pushing her towards an empty chair at the table across the table from Celeste.

“Thank you,” Clarke replies, unable to stop the small smile that escapes onto her lips. She glances at Bellamy, who sits on the arm of the couch a couple feet from her. She finds him already smiling back at her. 

“Is it scary in Azgeda?” the smallest girl asks from the couch. 

“Beyla!” her sister swats at her.

Clarke can’t help but laugh at the exchange. She’s never had a sibling, but it seems nice. “It’s okay,” Clarke assures her. “Azgeda is very big. Some places are scary, but most are not. It’s my home, like Polis is yours.”

Beyla nods, cheeks still pink from embarrassment at her sister’s scolding. 

“There is good and bad in every clan,” Freya tuts from where she’s pouring several mugs of tea.

It’s a funny thing to hear. She thinks that no one from Trikru would say that, nor would anyone from Azgeda. But Polis is a diverse place, truly made up of all of the clans, and nomads too. Clarke supposes that to them, it’s much less black and white. She can’t imagine growing up with such views.

“Who’s the bad ones in Trikru?” Akamu asks, poking at Bellamy’s arm.

“Octavia,” he quips, and the room fills with laughter again.

Bellamy stands a minute later, helping Freya pass tea around the room. Another strange sight, the king serving others. Once they’re done, Freya takes Kajsa from Celeste’s arms and sits in the empty chair between Clarke and Celeste. 

“How many days until the ceremonies?” Celeste asks, taking a sip of her tea.

“Three,” Bellamy answers immediately. 

“Are you nervous?” she asks, her eyes on Clarke. 

“Of course not, she’ll be with Bellamy,” Freya answers, before Clarke can open her mouth.

“Ma!” Celeste scolds, exasperated. “She’s just met him, she’s allowed to be nervous.”

Freya waves her hand dismissively, like it’s nonsense.

“Ignore her,” Celeste mouths silently, giving Clarke a wink. 

“I am, a little,” Clarke admits. Another lie. She’s absolutely terrified, for reasons she can never share. “I’ve just never lived away from home before.” No matter her extensive travel as Wanheda, that much is true. Living in another clan’s territory is different than traveling through it under the cover of night. “But, everyone has been very nice,” she adds, giving Bellamy a soft smile. 

“Even O?” Penelope quips. Everyone laughs in response.

Clarke smiles, ducking her head, afraid to say anything about Octavia one way or another.

“Alright, stop with the interrogation,” Bellamy scolds them, but his voice is all affection. 

Clarke blushes and takes a bite of the sweet bread. “This is incredible,” she blurts without thinking. She rarely eats sweets and can taste the sugar melting over her tongue. Freya smiles proudly. 

“You’ve already figured out the way to Mam’s heart,” Bellamy laughs. 

“Why do you want to marry Bellamy?” Beyla asks. Penelope groans in embarrassment at her sister’s question.

Clarke blushes for the umpteenth time. The little ones probably don’t understand what an arranged marriage even is. 

“Alright, that’s enough,” Bellamy tells them, laughing lightly but looking as uncomfortable as her.

The little girl looks embarrassed, and for reasons Clarke can’t decipher, she hates that. It reminds her of all the times she was scolded for asking her aunt anything at all, as if her questions made her a fool.

“It’s okay,” Clarke tells her. “That’s not a bad question. Bellamy and I...we both like helping people. So we want to keep doing that, together.”

Clarke doesn’t dare look at Bellamy, even though she can feel his gaze on her. 

“Oh,” Beyla says, sounding satisfied. Clarke takes another bite of the bread so she can’t say anything more.

A moment later, the smell of something burning drifts through the room.

“Oh damn it to hell,” Freya says, standing quickly. “Got distracted,” she mutters, handing Kajsa off to Clarke in her rush to the kitchen. 

“Oh,” Clarke responds, holding the baby out a few inches from her. Nobody seems to think anything of Clarke holding her, but Bellamy looks thoroughly amused. Clarke is trying to think of a time she’s ever held a child when Kajsa grabs a fistful of her hair, giggling at her prize. 

“Want me to take her?” Bellamy offers, probably reading her discomfort. 

“No,” Clarke says, if only because Bellamy is looking at her like he doesn’t think she can handle it. She doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction. 

Clarke holds Kajsa against her with one arm like Celeste was doing earlier, letting Kajsa keep her hair wrapped in her tiny fist. Clarke can’t help but smile when Kajsa does, speaking gibberish to Clarke. 

“You’re a natural,” Celeste tells her, smiling at her. 

Freya sits back down at the table then, taking in Clarke holding the baby as if she hadn’t just passed her off to her. 

“Your children will be beautiful,” Freya observes, as if she’s simply speaking her thoughts aloud. “His dark curls and freckles, your blue eyes,” she muses, nodding in approval.

Clarke’s face becomes as hot as the stove. She knows she must be beet-red as she searches her mind for any kind of response, but she comes up blank. 

“Alright, that’s enough,” Bellamy tells his grandmother, giving her an amused roll of his eyes. 

“Don’t sass me, your highness,” Freya says mockingly, leaning over to take his chin in his hand. Bellamy looks ten years old when he laughs at the gesture. It unnerves her, how informal they are around him. Sure he’s family to them, but that doesn’t mean family negates royal status. She of all people knows that.

“Alright, we need to get going,” Bellamy announces, standing. 

Freya holds out her arms to take Kajsa from Clarke. “I expect to see one of these next time you come see us,” Freya tells her, taking the baby. 

“Mam, would you knock it off?” Bellamy scolds. Still, there’s amusement and fondness in his tone.

Clarke just nervously laughs, saying nothing more. 

Everyone stands to hug Bellamy goodbye and Clarke is surprised when they hug her goodbye too, every single one of them. She tries not to appear as stiff and awkward as she feels. Bellamy and Clarke are already on the porch when Akamu runs after them, tugging on the bottom of Bellamy’s shirt to get his attention. 

Bellamy gives him an amused smile and raises his eyebrows at his young cousin, but Akamu only gestures for him to lean closer to him. Bellamy leans down, so Akamu can whisper something into his ear. Clarke can’t hear what, but Akamu giggles after he says it, immediately running back into the house. 

Clarke laughs. “What was that about?” she asks, making her way down the porch stairs.

“It would seem someone has a crush,” Bellamy tells her, turning to smirk at her. “He wanted me to tell you that he thinks you’re very, very pretty.”

Clarke blushes, yet again, despite the fact that the compliment is coming from a child.

“I can’t say I disagree,” he adds, ducking his head as he smiles.

Clarke’s heartbeat quickens at his words. “Well, it means much more coming from Akamu,” she quips.

Bellamy barks out a surprised laugh as they reach the horse.

“I’m sorry for that,” he adds, a beat later. “I didn’t mean to ambush you. They can be…a lot.”

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your time with your family, I know that it’s rare.”

“I’m glad you met them,” he insists. “They’re important to me, and not many in my life can meet them. I’m glad you did.”

Clarke offers him a small smile before laughing lightly. “And yes - they are a lot, I suppose, but a lot of good things,” she assures him as he mounts the horse. Bellamy laughs as she follows, wrapping her arms around him once again. 

“I won’t argue with that.”

As the horse takes off, Clarke looks back at the cabin, wishing it weren’t the last time she would see it. Something about it makes her heart ache, some primal longing in her for something she knows she’ll never have. 

Chapter Text

The morning of the first ceremony, the ash ceremony, Clarke finds herself in the Pavilion with Lincoln for one final hour of dance practice. She’ll have to perform the dance with Bellamy tomorrow evening, in front of everyone. If she wasn’t channeling all of her stress and anxiety towards the consummation ceremony, she’d be feeling pretty fearful of this one too.

Clarke knows that she’s mostly got it. She has all the moves memorized and has made it through the dance two days in a row without stepping on Lincoln’s foot. But she can’t help but feel like there’s an aspect of it that isn’t really clicking - something she can’t learn . Something she just doesn’t have in her. It isn’t her coordination - with her training and experience as Wanheda, she’s an excellent fighter, unbeknownst to most. Coordination is part of that. No, it’s something else. She isn’t grasping the subtleties or delicacies. She understands it enough to stumble through it, but she feels foolish doing so all the same.  

She’s halfway through the dance when she hears the Pavilion doors open. She assumes it’s probably Octavia again, attempting to intimidate her. She hasn’t been back since the first day she barged in, but she doesn’t strike Clarke as someone who listens to peoples’ orders. Well, she won’t give her the satisfaction of faltering. She ignores her entrance, but still isn’t able to finish the dance before Bellamy’s voice echoes in the large room. 

“Mind if I cut in?” he asks from somewhere behind her.

Clarke startles, stopping and immediately turning around. He’s leaning against the wall, looking as confident as always. 

“Of course,” Lincoln says from beside her, while she’s still staring at Bellamy. “I’m supposed to meet Kane soon anyways.”

“You’ll do great, Clarke,” Lincoln adds, pulling her attention back to him. 

“Thanks,” she mutters. She doesn’t really believe him, but it’s nice of him to say. 

Bellamy walks up to her and the echo of the doors shutting behind Lincoln fills the room. She doesn’t know what to make of her heart pounding as he steps into her space. This doesn’t happen with Lincoln.

“From the beginning?” he asks her.

Clarke nods. Her tongue feels too heavy to trust with speech.

They start and Clarke keeps up with him for the first half. It’s a little strange, how the only noise in the large room is the soft sound of their shuffling feet and light breaths. 

“Eyes on mine,” he reminds her when he catches her looking over his shoulder. Her stomach twists at the command, how it’s firm and gentle all at once. 

She thought his intense gaze on her would make it harder to focus, but somehow it becomes a little easier. She simply follows him, reflects him.

Towards the end of the dance, they’re supposed to put a hand up to their partner’s hand and circle their partner. Clarke supposes that she gets a little carried away, and that’s why she forgets that she’s supposed to leave a space between their hands. She presses her pale palm against his tan one, the size of his hand striking against hers. There’s a moment of tension when he stops moving, a spark when her skin brushes against his, before he clears his throat and pulls his hand back. 

“Space between the hands, like this,” he corrects, keeping his hand up, but an inch away from hers. 

“Why?” she asks, her hand dropping to her side.  She knows he’s right - Lincoln had taught her that and she simply forgot. But now she feels a little defensive, a little impatient with all of it. It comes out impetulant, when she should have just accepted the direction with a nod.

Bellamy lowers his own hand. “Why?” he echoes.

“Nevermind,” Clarke shakes her head at herself, putting her hand back up. This is exactly the kind of behavior Nia always chides her for. The kind that exasperates her aunt and queen.

“No, go on,” he insists. She’s surprised to find that his interest in her question seems genuine. Like he really wants to hear what she’s thinking.

Clarke drops her hand again. “Why does the entire dance - a matrimonial dance - take place without the partners...touching,” she finishes, unable to think of a better word. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Well,” he starts, voice rough. He clears his throat before speaking again. “Because the tension is in the almost,” he explains. She doesn’t know if she imagines how his eyes darken and his voice lowers. “In being so close to something you desire, and not being able to have it.”

“Yet,” he adds. “Not being able to have it, yet .”

Clarke swallows. “Oh,” she says dumbly, suddenly feeling squirmish. “Okay.”

Bellamy takes a step back and it’s only then that Clarke realizes how he had gravitated closer to her without her notice. He puts his hand up again, nodding at her to mimic his. They pick off where they left off, but this time he speaks to her as they go, explains it to her.

“The dance itself is supposed to be a symbolism of partners mirroring each other. Of providing what the other needs. It’s a balance.”

They finish the dance, Bellamy standing in front of her, leaving no more than a few inches between them.

“It’s supposed to symbolize coming together, mentally and spiritually, before physically coming together - before the consummation. That’s why there’s no... touching .” An amused smile itches the corners of his lips, but he bites it back.

Clarke takes a full step back from him, straightening her posture. “Thank you. That makes much more sense then,” she says primly. 

“Good,” he nods. 

There’s an awkward beat, where it’s clear that neither knows what to say.

Bellamy’s hands go behind his back. What she initially thought was a formal posture, she realizes may be a nervous one.

“Well, I should-” she starts.

“Will you go on a ride with me?” he asks, cutting her off. “There’s somewhere I want to show you.”

Clarke bites the inside of her cheek nervously, before nodding. “Okay.”

--∞--

“Aren’t we going to bring guards, or alert someone?” Clarke asks as they walk into the stables.

Bellamy flashes her a mischievous grin. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

There’s a rebellious side to the king, one that isn’t obviously apparent given how he holds himself in public. She likes this side of him. It thrills her, but it shouldn’t. Nothing about this man should thrill her.

It’s still late morning as they ride past the Polis boundaries, the sun not yet at its highest point in the sky. Her arms are wrapped around his center and she can feel his easy breaths as he rides. Someday, someday soon, those breaths will stop. His heartbeat will slow to a halt and the steady rhythm of his chest will cease to exist. And it’ll be because of her. She suddenly feels so overwhelmed by the thought, by the guilt and tragedy of it, that she squeezes him tighter and lets her face fall to his back, her forehead pressed beneath his shoulder. 

Clarke can feel him tense, can feel him try to half turn his head.

“You okay?” he asks. 

“Yeah,” she answers a little breathlessly, pulling her face away from him. 

It’s so wrong. It’s all so wrong, how her reaction to grief over having to kill him is seeking comfort in him. The worst part of all is that he lets her. 

They ride deep into the woods, streaks of sun shining through the bare tree tops, some wearing green buds. The constant chill in the air is thawing and it won’t be long until Spring arrives. 

“If you’re planning to murder me, you should know I don’t think the alliance would survive it.”

She feels, more than hears, the rumble of his responding laugh. “We’re close.”

Bellamy isn’t wrong. It can’t be more than five minutes before he slows the horse. At first, Clarke is confused. She thinks they’ve stopped in a random section of woods because the structure is so well-covered despite its massive size. 

Clarke slides off the horse when it stops, eyes gazing up at building from the old world in awe. It’s taller than most surviving buildings. To say it survived might be a stretch, but it certainly survived better than most. Vines and moss have overtaken the outside of it, and there are some green leaves that amazingly survived the winter. She imagines that during the warmer months, it’s even better hidden by the bright green foliage of the area.

“What is it?” she asks, eyes still looking up at it as he slides off the horse.

“A church,” he tells her, tying up his horse.

“Church?”

“A religious building, a house of worship,” he clarifies.

Most of the things Clarke knows from the old world are from the books she’s managed to get her hands on. Not many have an appreciation for learning about the old world, least of all Azgeda. She wonders if Bellamy’s knowledge means he’s found and read books as well. Maybe he enjoys them like her. 

“C’mon,” he tells her, nodding at her to follow him.

Bellamy squats down next to the wall to clear brush out of the way, revealing an old cellar door. 

“I haven’t been here in a while, a few years at least,” he tells her as he yanks open the door. It reveals crumbling stone stairs that lead to a dark tunnel. “I promise, I’m not leading you to your death,” he laughs.

Clarke lets out a nervous laugh. Although she isn’t really worried she’s in danger. Maybe she should be. She doesn’t really know him well, or at all. Maybe he is bringing her out here to murder her, for reasons unbeknownst to her. Still, she can’t find it in her to be afraid. There’s just something about him that’s calming to her, that she trusts. Of course, there’s also the fact that she thinks if he tried something, she could probably take him, despite his size.

Bellamy offers her his hand and for a moment she just looks at it. “It’ll be too dark to see, for a moment. Hold onto me.”

Clarke nods, steeling herself as she clasps his hand. It’s as calloused as hers, but much warmer. Goosebumps bloom up her arms and back, but it isn’t from fear anymore. Or at least, not that kind of fear. She presses herself close to him as he leads her down the steps and through a dark tunnel. They don’t say anything except for when Bellamy occasionally tells her to watch her step. Then he leads her towards a light, and a moment later, she’s walking through the tunnel into a large space. It’s...it’s stunning. Beautiful in a way she can’t quite put her finger on. Clarke lets go of Bellamy’s hand as she wanders ahead of him, eyes looking up and around her.

The inside of the old church is mostly one open space, one large rectangle, with beige stone walls. But there are intricate designs carved into the stone. She looks up and halfway to the ceiling, the windows start. The windows are open to the outside, miraculously clear of any vines or foliage, and the late morning sun shines through them on both sides of the structure. The sunlight illuminates the space enough to make it as bright as the outdoors, as if they aren’t in a building at all. When Clarke looks up, she sees that patches of the ceiling are missing, kind of like the Pavilion. The floor is more crumbling beige stone, marked by large patches of moss and foliage, some vines too. Straight ahead, there’s a mezzanine a little bit higher than where the windows start. A circular design ornates the wall behind it.

Remembering that this was a house of worship, Clarke imagines how people must have gathered here, praying to something they believed was bigger than them. Something they believed could save them. They must have come here to find comfort in sorrow or maybe to celebrate love. How many prayers had been whispered to these walls? She wonders if maybe she can draw strength from them, but quickly realizes she doesn’t deserve a part in anything so pure.

“How did you find this place?” she finally asks, turning around to look at Bellamy.

She finds him where she left him, at the tunnel entrance they came through. He’s gazing at her warmly, in a way that unnerves her.

“Uh, it’s-” Bellamy clears his throat as he makes his way to her. “Well, I found it when I was a boy. My parents would bring me to Polis with them, if they had to come. I would sneak off, abandon my guards if I could. One day I wandered further into the woods than I usually did and stumbled upon it. It’s strange that no one else has found it. Or maybe more accurately, no one else cares. But I’ve never seen another soul here.”

“It’s beautiful,” Clarke murmurs.

Bellamy nods, now standing beside her. “I spent a few years clearing some of it out, before I took the throne. But I’ve never really had time to do more than briefly visit it since then.”

Clarke imagines a smaller version of Bellamy. A boy with dark curls and freckles, cleaning out the large area with a sense of purpose. Clarke remembers the night she almost drowned, Bellamy sneaking back into the tower through the servants’ entrance. It made more sense now, knowing what he was up to as a child. 

She looks at Bellamy, who’s gazing up towards the top of the walls, looking around. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I just really love it.”

“It’s nice,” she mindlessly agrees, still looking around. 

Bellamy looks down at her with a teasing smile and she realizes how flippant she sounded.

“No really,” Clarke laughs. “It’s wonderful. I don’t think I have anywhere like this. It’s like a sanctuary. Somewhere that exists outside of reality, that belongs only to you.” Clarke can’t think of anything that belongs only to her. Not even her body. Not even her life. 

Bellamy swallows and nods, walking a few feet away from her to run his hand along the wall. “I’ve actually never taken anyone here before.” He doesn’t look at her when he says it. 

The admission surprises Clarke. Why is he taking her here, if the people most important to him were never invited along?

“Not even Octavia?”

Bellamy shakes his head, walking back over to her.

“Well...I’m honored then.” In truth, she feels something more conflicted. She’s touched by the gesture, but it’s tainted by an intense guilt. He’s standing in front of her again when she adds, “I don’t mean this to sound…” She doesn’t know the word she’s looking for, so she just asks him instead. “Why did you bring me here?”

Her heart starts to race when she looks up at him, to find him already gazing down at her. “I guess I thought, every part of the beginning of our marriage is marked by a ceremony with an audience. I wanted something just for us.”

“Oh,” she whispers, unable to keep her gaze from dropping briefly to his lips. He takes another step closer, ghosts a hand over her hip. His face is inches from hers and her breath feels heavier, in a way she doesn’t completely understand. In a way she’s never experienced before. 

Bellamy’s voice is low when he speaks again. “I also brought you here, because I don’t want an audience when I kiss my wife for the first time,” he murmurs, gently cupping her face with the hand not grazing her hip. His lips are mere inches from hers.

Clarke tenses, holding her breath. He doesn’t move when she says nothing, only adds, “Is that okay?”

The irony of the question does not go unnoticed. He’s asking for consent to kiss her, a day before he marries her in a ceremony she has no real choice in. Of course, he doesn’t realize that. He tried to give her a choice. He may be the only person who has ever cared enough to give her a choice about anything at all.

“Yes,” she whispers. 

She tells herself that Nia would want her to say yes - that it’s the reason she agrees to it. She tells herself that it’s another way for her to gain his trust. But then his lips crash into hers and his hand on her hip tightens, and she doesn’t know anything at all but her, and him, and this singular moment. Despite the tight grip he has on her waist, his lips are gentle, cautious even, as the hand on her cheek moves to thread through her hair. His lips feel soft and warm, blazing like his body was on the night he saved her from the water. Fire to her ice, he makes her melt. 

Clarke opens her mouth to him on instinct, arching her back so that she can press her chest against his as his arms wrap around her to pull her closer. She grasps at his shirt, fisting the material. 

This is technically her first kiss, even if it isn’t Wanheda’s. This is the first one that she wants. His tongue licks into her mouth as both of their breathing becomes labored and she feels desire between her legs pulsing like a heartbeat. The taste of him overwhelms her and just as she moans into his mouth, he pulls away. His forehead rests against hers, his hands running up and down her sides in a way that drives her wild. It sparks a want - no, a need - that she didn’t know existed in her. 

“Sorry, I got carried away,” he says, giving her a small smile. But it’s not the charming smirk she’s grown familiar with. It’s shy - sheepish even. 

Clarke shakes her head, at a loss for words. She doesn’t want him to stop, not really, but she knows it has to. She knows it should. “It’s okay,” she says, letting out a soft laugh and pulling away from him. 

“C’mon,” he says, holding out his hand to her and nodding towards the tunnel. The shadow of a smile remains on his face. “Let’s get you back.”

This time when she takes his hand, he interlaces his fingers through hers. She does nothing to stop it.

--∞--

By the time they returned to Polis, Clarke barely had a moment to herself before she was whisked away by servants to get ready for the ceremony of the ashes. As she bathes, she watches the silhouettes of the servants on the other side of the screen. There are only two of them, here to help her dress and then braid her hair. Echo is coming too, to paint the white Azgeda warpaint designs on her face. Clarke usually does it herself, but it has to be perfect for the ceremony.

Clarke climbs out of the bath, drying herself quickly and wrapping herself in the cream colored silk robe that was left in her chambers. Sitting in front of the fire, one of the servant women combs out her wet hair, wrapping it in intricate designs that will leave it wavy when it dries. The other servant offers her tea, as well as bread and cheese. Clarke accepts the tea, but is too nervous to eat much. She asks her to wrap it up for later.

By the time Echo comes in, Clarke’s hair has nearly dried and one of the servants is unwrapping it so that she can begin braiding it. 

Echo offers her a tentative smile, which is really as warm as she gets. “Ready?”

Clarke nods and Echo sits down in front of her, crossed legs mimicking her own. She sets the white paint beside her and immediately begins to work on Clarke’s face. Clarke does her best to sit completely still, even as her hair is being braided behind her and Echo is painting her face. She’s being poked and prodded from all sides.

“Have you ever attended this ceremony?” Clarke asks when Echo has to dip the paint brush back into the paint. Echo is older than her, probably Bellamy’s age if she had to guess. It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, although she doesn’t know whose marriage it would have been.

“No,” Echo states simply. Clarke doesn’t think she’s going to elaborate, but then she adds, “I think your parents were the last arranged marriage we’ve seen in a long time. There was a Trishanakru and Ouskejonkru marriage a few years before your parents, their son is the Trishanakru King now.”

“Oh, that’s right.” It sounded familiar to her.

“It should be simple,” Echo assures her, as if sensing her nerves. “The flamekeeper will guide you through the entire ceremony.”

Clarke nods, saying nothing more. It does little to settle her stomach. 

--∞--

Clarke waits outside of the Pavilion, flanked by Nia and Roan, the rest of their Azgeda party behind them. Echo looks stoic as usual and Ontari is wearing her signature scowl. For once, Clarke couldn’t care less about Ontari’s mood.

Clarke keeps her face completely neutral, a practice that is as easy as breathing after so many years. The top half of her hair is pulled back into two fishtail braids, tied together, blending into the waves underneath them that tumblr over her shoulders. The white paint consists of simple vertical lines that cover her face in its entirety, swirling into a circular pattern on her left cheek. The dress they put her in is simple, conservative even. A simple black skirt that falls to her ankles, the black top covering half her neck, the sleeves stopping at her elbows. 

No one says a word to her as they wait. Eventually, a Polis guard opens the door for them and they file into the large room. The sun has long gone down and candles line the walls and fill the iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Clarke keeps her gaze straight ahead, refusing to look at any ambassadors, Trikru members, or other important Polis residents waiting in the room. Her eyes search for him, eventually landing on his back. 

Bellamy is standing at the front of the room, the wall opposite from the doors they entered through. In front of him, closer to the wall, are Heda, Titus, and the highest ranking members of the flamekeeper’s order. Bellamy is standing completely still, dressed in simple black clothing like she is. The entire wall that Heda, Titus, and the order stand in front of is illuminated by shelves upon shelves of lit candles.

She swallows thickly as she takes her place to the right of Bellamy, Nia and the others dropping off behind her to the right of the room, opposite of Trikru. It’s involuntary, her heartbeat speeding up as she remembers his lips on hers earlier that morning. 

How could that have possibly been the same day? Somehow, it was.

Bellamy doesn’t react at all to her entrance, only remains standing tall, posture rigid and hands clasped behind his back. She can’t see his face, but she imagines he’s wearing the same serious expression that she thought was his true one before spending the last week with him. 

Clarke waits for Heda or Titus to speak. She stands still as a statue, has no problem remaining quiet. When Titus finally does speak, she tries her best to pay attention even though the ceremony is essentially meaningless to her. She thinks it would be even if the marriage was genuine. It’s an empty symbolic gesture, much like her title. 

Servants bring over two small tables, placing one in front of Clarke and one in front of Bellamy. Two small pieces of parchment and a charcoal pencil are placed on each table. 

A slip of paper to confess her own sins.

A slip of paper to write her grievances against her partner. 

Both burned together with his, released into the world so they can move on.

Out of the corner of her eye, Clarke can sense that Bellamy has already leaned over and is writing on his. Clarke mimics his posture but pauses, pencil in hand, suddenly feeling empty of any words. She knows it doesn’t matter - she could write that she’s going to kill Bellamy on it and no one would know the difference. It’ll be burned before anyone sees it.

She decides to write down her grievances against Bellamy first. Many things cross her mind - mostly about the conflict between Trikru and Azgeda. She should write down those ideas.

She should write, You have slaughtered Azgeda, my people, in war.

She should write, Your people are the reason my grandfather is dead.

She should write, Your clan unfairly owns the title of Heda.

She should write, Heda and your people have forced us into a coalition. One we don’t want any part in. 

She presses the pencil to paper, but can’t bring herself to write those things. She’s not sure why, because they’re all accurate, factual. But they don’t feel right , and somehow there is a difference. 

You’re too kind, she writes instead. 

You’re too trusting, she writes instead. 

You don’t protect your heart, she writes instead. 

They sound like weak compliments, rather than grievances, but she truly means them. She truly hates him for these things. If he didn’t possess those traits, she would not be in the possession she’s currently in. He would not be foolish enough to welcome a fox into his henhouse with open arms. She would not have to kill him if he didn’t so easily accept her in the first place.

Writing down her own sins is the easy part. The hard part is narrowing it down, condensing her sins so that they fit neatly on a small, single piece of paper. 

Eighty six people. That’s how many people Wanheda has taken from the world in the past five years. On behalf of her aunt. In vengeance, for her parents. She remembers every single one, stores them between ribs and knuckles, in pockets of her heart, her lungs. They weigh her down, like bricks under her skin. 

Eighty seven, she writes down. 

That will be her count when Bellamy is gone. 

On a whim she adds, Forgive Me . She’s not sure who she’s even asking. It’s a prayer, maybe like the ones the people in the old world whispered in the shadows of the church walls. Begging something they couldn’t see or feel, hear or touch or smell, to save them, against all odds.

Clarke puts the pencil down on the table and looks up at Titus. He gives her a simple nod and lights the small ceremonial fire in an iron bowl. Titus leads the order in blessing it, in the name of the spirits of the commander, before he calls Bellamy and Clarke forward. 

It’s the first time she looks at Bellamy directly the entire night. Orange light from the flames obscures his face, but she can still see his dark, serious eyes bearing down on her. Still, she finds a kindness in them tonight. Maybe it was always there, maybe she would have noticed if she had bothered to look. His expression is nearly tender, but she doesn’t have time to dwell on it before they’re both called upon to drop their papers into the fire. 

As they were instructed when Titus explained the details of the ceremony, Bellamy holds out his hands for her, on either side of the iron bowl. Clarke places her own in his, relishing in the feel of his rough fingers, warm and all encompassing. His eyes never leave hers as the order continues to murmur another blessing and the intimacy scares her to her core. She feels like he can see through her - into every lie, every drip of poison in her blood, every broken memory. Her heartbeat runs away from her and the impulse to abandon him is so strong, she squeezes his hands tighter. His face shows no change but he squeezes them back, a silent show of comfort that she didn’t know she was seeking.

You’re comforting your murderer , she wants to scream at him. 

Instead, she tears her eyes from him and gazes into the flames. It’s the only escape available to her. Thankfully it isn’t long before Titus walks up to them to smother the fire. It goes out quickly and Titus leads them to stand in front of the bowl. Bellamy lets go of her hands and she wishes she didn’t feel the loss so deeply. 

Bellamy goes first. Whether that’s because he’s Trikru, a king, or a man, Clarke isn’t sure. He dips his finger into the ash and repeats Titus’s words after him.

May my sins burn.

May your affection consume them.

May our bond rise from the ashes. 

His eyes never leave hers as he recites the vow, and for the briefest moment, she wishes desperately that this was real. Even if she wasn’t marrying him for love, the idea of marrying him for any genuine reason is so tempting. 

Bellamy runs his finger over the skin between her eyebrows, tracing the commander’s symbol with the ash. It’s hot on her skin - nearly painful but not enough to flinch. His hand so close to her face has her attempting to extinguish the butterflies that swarm her stomach. He pulls his hand away, and it’s over as quickly as it began. 

She swallows thickly, steeling herself so that her voice remains steady. It’s her turn.

May my sins burn. 

May your affection consume them. 

May our bond rise from the ashes. 

Clarke dips her own finger into the ash. It feels even more painful than it did on her forehead. Maybe this is the point, she realizes. That forgiveness is painful. That you have to burn before you heal. She manages to keep her hand steady as she brings her finger to his face, tracing the commander’s symbol between his own eyebrows. She looks up into his eyes as she does and watches how his jaw clenches, although she doesn’t understand why. 

--∞--

Clarke is shaking by the time she makes it back to her chambers. She glances at the bread and cheese from earlier and realizes she still doesn’t have the appetite for it. Instead, she sinks down in front of the fire as tears stream down her face. Tears she doesn’t truly understand, her body reacting to something that her mind can’t process. 

She isn’t sure how long she sits there, arms wrapped around her legs as her body shakes. She hears Nia’s cruel voice in her head, demanding she stand. Berating her for her weakness. It does make her stand, it makes her turn off something inside of her as if she’s simply turning the lock on a door. By the time she’s washed the paint from her face, unbraided her hair, and changed into her soft trousers and and a long sleeve shirt, she feels well enough to eat the bread and cheese. Tired as she is, she expects to fall asleep easily. But she doesn't.

Clarke’s mind can’t rest, too focused on what the next night will entail. She remembers Bellamy’s eyes bearing down on her during the ceremony, she remembers Bellamy’s lips on hers in the church, and feels as if she’s drowning in fear. She will have to give herself to him tomorrow night, in everyway possible. The vulnerability of tonight’s ceremony will be nothing compared to tomorrow’s. Clarke sits up, running her hair through her messy waves. 

What if he’s rough with her?

What if it’s painful, and she has to pretend to be okay, in front of all those people?

She knows it’s absolutely insane, but she climbs out of bed anyways. Opening the door to her chambers, she asks the Polis guard in her hallway if he can escort her to the King’s chambers. She tells him that it’s urgent.

Clarke’s mouth is dry with fear, but she figures it’s better she has a conversation with him now than a horrible awkward ordeal the following night, in front of everyone else. Clarke has always been one to seek comfort in plans, in careful preparation. It gives her more control over a situation and that’s what she needs now.

She sucks in a breath before quietly knocking on his door. Waiting, she expects that she’ll hear footsteps. That he’ll open the door in a moment, if he’s awake. She chastises herself when she considers he might be sleeping. She hadn’t even thought of that.

“Come in.”

His voice echoes from the other side of the door, interrupting her spiraling thoughts. 

Clarke pushes the door open hesitantly, unsure of what she’ll find. Her eyes sweep over the room, which looks a lot like hers, and land on Bellamy sitting in his bed. He’s shirtless, the covers pulled up to his waist, an open book lying face down on the bed next to him. Only the lantern next to his bed is lit but the fire still burning provides additional light.

Upon seeing her, he sits up straighter, his posture more tense. She wonders who he might have been expecting, hearing a knock on his door at this hour. It crosses her mind that maybe he expected another woman to show up at his door, but then she remembers his anger over Wells, and she isn’t so sure. Not to mention their kiss shared that morning.

“Clarke,” he greets her. His tone is warm, but holds a question.

“I’m sorry,” she starts, shutting the door behind her. “I didn’t mean to bother you.”

Bellamy shakes his head, furrowing his brow as if he’s confused at such an implication. “You’re not a bother.”

Clarke leans back against the door, not daring to wander further into the room. “I just wanted to tell you, or...mention, something, about tomorrow,” she starts, her cheeks already flushing. 

It’s only at that moment that Clarke realizes she hasn’t seen Bellamy shirtless since the night she almost drowned, and she could hardly appreciate it then. Her eyes rake over his chiseled chest before snapping back to his face. If he notices, he doesn’t show it. 

“Okay,” he answers, looking at her expectantly, face open. 

“I wanted to tell you- I wanted you to know-” she cuts herself off, taking a breath to ensure that she doesn’t sound as nervous as she is. She just wants to state it like any other fact. Bellamy doesn’t rush her, only patiently waits for her to continue. 

“I wanted you to know that tomorrow, you will be my first.”

Clarke holds her breath, looking down at her feet as she waits for his response. She’s feeling more idiotic by the minute. What does that matter to him? The fact that she came here, to tell him that…

“I’m glad you told me,” he says after a moment, voice gruff. Clarke’s head snaps up to look at him and she notices that his eyes have grown darker. 

Clarke swallows thickly. “Okay.”

When she turns to leave, he calls out to her. She doesn’t remove her hand from the doorknob, but turns to face him. 

“Are you - are you okay, with everything? Do you feel okay about tomorrow?”

Just like the moment he told her she was the first to be taken to the church, the warmth that floods her is immediately tainted by guilt. She’s doesn’t deserve the kindness he shows her. She pities him and hates him for it all at once.

“I am,” she murmurs. “I just thought you ought to know that.”

It physically pains her to stand still, to not nervously twist her hands.

Bellamy just nods. “Okay. Goodnight, Clarke.”

“Goodnight, Bellamy,” she says quietly before rushing out of the room. She lets out a sigh, a breath she didn’t realize she was holding in.

It’s only when Clarke is back in her own chambers, tossing and turning under her blankets, does she remember the book lying on Bellamy’s bed. 

So he does read , she thinks. It’s a useless fact, not one Nia would care about. Not one Clarke should care about, but she finds her mind drifting, wondering about it anyways. 

What kinds of books does he read?

What stories are his favorite?

What things about the old world is he most curious about?

When Clarke finally drifts off to sleep, the exhaustion from the day catching up with her, she dreams of Bellamy. It’s too blurry to make out exactly what, but she remembers freckles and black curls. She remembers a face buried in a book, illuminated by candlelight. 

Chapter Text

Clarke is surrounded by black water again. She wonders how water can feel so light in one’s hands, how it can slip through your fingers when you try to hold it, but can somehow suffocate you with such violence. How it can drag you to the depths of the Earth, how it can weigh you down like stones in your pockets. 

She can’t breathe. Her lungs burn and she knows it’s over. All of it is over. 

Clarke has nearly given up when she hears the king’s voice. It’s muffled by the water, but somehow still clear. He’s calling to her - her name, she thinks. Forcing her eyes open, she looks above, expecting to find him. Instead, she sees a bright light shimmering through the water. It’s  coming from the surface and seems to be as powerful as the sun. She hears his name again and realizes it’s coming from that light, so that’s what she swims towards. Upwards, towards that light, towards his voice. 

But Clarke is too tired. Her muscles are aching, her head pounding, and she can’t remember what it felt like to feel at peace. Certainly she must have been at some point, but she has no memory of it. She stops swimming, letting herself sink back into the gray depths that dim to black the deeper she falls. It must be over now, and so she closes her eyes, waiting for something, although she isn’t sure what. She isn’t sure how much time passes before she’s yanked upwards by some unnameable force. She breaks through the hard surface of the water, but doesn’t gasp for air like she expected. 

She expects to see the king’s face, illuminated by moonlight, although she doesn’t know why. Instead, her eyes absorb a shocking brightness. It isn’t the natural kind of light the sun casts over the Earth. The sky is snow white and empty, casting a brightness over everything that forces her to squint. She can breathe fine, isn’t choking on water, and the king is nowhere to be found. 

The sound of a thrashing in the water startles her. Just as she looks down at the small whole cut in the ice, she hears the king’s voice again. It’s muffled, like she’s the one still underwater and he’s the one on land. She’s horrified to realize that her hand is in the water holding something down. Him, she realizes with a panic. She’s holding the king under. Her heart pounds erratically and she begins to cry, but her hand remains with a steadfast weight, anchoring him under the water. 

“Please,” she begs, through tears, but her hand only pushes him down further. 

“Stop, stop,” she sobs. No one is around to hear her. 

His muffled voice is screaming her name, she realizes. But before she can process that, the king’s voice is drowned out by the others. They’re loud and clear, angry and frightened. They come from every direction above the water, surrounding her, drawing closer. She tries to move her hand again - tries to release him and pull away from the water - but she can’t. 

The voices screech at her and despite their collective despair, she can somehow hear each one separately. 

86 of them, she thinks.

Clarke’s eyes snap open violently and the only sound she hears is the pounding of her heart. She brings a shaky hand to her cheek, noting the stickiness of half dried tears. She inhales for a full five seconds before letting out a slow exhale, trying to calm herself as her heart steadies again. 

It was a dream.

It was only a dream. 

Clarke rolls onto her side and realizes that she’s drenched in sweat. She takes another deep breath and lets her glossy eyes drift to the open window. The newborn sun has coated the sky a bright orange and cast duller, warm rays of light across the stone walls of her room. 

It was just a dream.

Clarke throws the blanket off of her and strips off her damp clothing before running herself a bath. There’s no point in pretending she’ll be able to sleep again. It’s only when she lowers herself into the bathtub that Clarke realizes it was her last night in this room. She’ll be in some other bedchamber with Bellamy tonight and then whisked away to whatever awaits her in Trikru territory the very next morning.

It’s strange to think about living in Trikru territory. She can’t deny that she’s as curious as she is anxious about seeing where Bellamy lives. There’s a reason that Polis exists and that political meetings and events are most often held there. Even when two clans are meeting somewhere other than Polis, they’ll set up a temporary meeting location in a village near their borders rather than welcome another clan into their capital city. No clan is trusting enough for that. Even as Wanheda, Clarke has only ever skimmed the borders of Anapolei, never foolish enough to wander into its depths. She has no idea what it will be like.

Clarke dresses quickly and makes her way down the tower, knowing that she won’t have much time before she’s whisked away by someone for something related to preparing for the ceremonies. The merchants are already bustling throughout Polis, opening shops and conversing with each other over their morning cups of tea. Clarke feels a familiar ache in her chest as she slips through the crowds, trying not to draw attention to herself. She yearns for the life they have. Anonymity, family, simplicity. Things that were never meant for her. 

She finds the Jahas’ stall easily, given its location hasn’t changed since she met Wells twelve years ago. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches as he unloads something onto the shelving in the tent behind their slab-wood counter. She slows enough that it catches his attention and he briefly makes eye contact with her before she continues onward, weaving through people until she finds a less populated side street. The sun remains low in the sky.

“Clarke.”

Clarke spins around and finds her best friend approaching her. He looks different in a way she can’t placed. Sad, or resigned. Closed-off even. 

“Hi.”

“You always told me it wasn’t safe to meet here.”

“I know, I just...I wanted to say goodbye. I wasn’t sure I would have another chance.”

Wells swallows thickly. Although Clarke only means to say goodbye because she’s leaving for Anapolei the next day, the air is heavy with what they both know to be true - that their goodbye might be permanent. 

Wells reaches her in two long strides and wraps her tightly in his arms, rocking her as he hugs her. She reciprocates immediately, wrapping her own arms around his familiar frame. For the briefest of moments, she wonders what could have been if so many things were different. If she was the daughter of a merchant in Polis. If her parents were still alive. If she was brave enough to accept his proposal to run away with him. All of these instances might lead to her growing to love him. All of them might lead her to some kind of happiness, some version of peace. But it’s not the reality they live in. 

“Hey,” he tells her, pulling away. He holds onto both of her arms and looks directly into her eyes, his expression intense. “Clarke, will you do something for me?”

Clarke gives him a doubtful look. He should know better than to ask her to make promises that she can’t keep.

“Just, follow your gut, okay?” he continues. “Use your head,” he tells her, poking gently at her temple. “And this,” he says with a small smirk, tapping where her heart is supposed to be. “You’re smart and I know who you are. You know who you are. So use your own head and trust your own heart, not Nia’s. If something goes wrong, if something doesn’t seem right...this isn’t just an assassination, Clarke. Be smart about what you’re doing, and if something is wrong, leave .”

“Wells-”

“Find me. We could still run. I know you’ll do what you need to right now. But if things change, if something goes wrong, just...don’t put this mission or the queen or whatever justification for all of this you arm yourself with - don’t put it above your own life. Trust yourself. You’re a good person - a smart person, with a good heart.”

Clarke scoffs at that, bewildered by how he can possibly think that of her. She barely has a heart, let alone a good one.

“Clarke,” he prompts. 

“Wells, I can’t-”

“No, you can . Do this for me, okay? I know you have to do what you have to do - or what you think you have to do, but if things go south, promise me you’ll bail? That you’ll find me?”

Clarke sighs and looks into his unwavering eyes. “Okay,” she finds herself hesitantly agreeing. “I will.” 

The truth of it is, if she doesn’t make it out of this, it won’t matter if Wells is angry at her anyways. She reminds her that if she ends up dead, it will be better for him anyways. He can leave her in his past where she belongs. He can marry a merchant girl. He can have a family and a good life without the stress and drama she currently brings to it.

Wells wraps her in one last hug and she savors it. A cherished moment of comfort with the only person who knows her and somehow, against all rationale, loves her anyways.

--∞--

“Princess.”

Clarke looks up from where she’s sitting on a cushion on the ground, being poked and prodded from every direction. 

“I’m to inform you that the queen and prince are on their way to your chambers,” the servant informs Clarke in a meek voice. She twists her hands, as if nervous by Clarke’s presence.  

“Thank you,” Clarke responds quietly, too lost in her thoughts to manage much else. 

Clarke pulls her robe tighter to her, trying not to move as servants works on an intricate hair design and Echo paints her face. No servant was trusted enough to apply the white paint to Clarke’s face, but Echo doesn’t seem to mind the task. She’s quiet and steady, just as she always is when completing any duty on behalf of the clan. There are no intricate designs this time. Instead, they paint the entire surface of her face, as one does before a battle - completely white with only the area around her eyes the black of a moonless midnight sky. Clarke isn’t used to being painted like this. The uniform she dons before Wanheda’s battles never resembles a warrior’s.

Echo has just finished with her face when there is a polished knock on the door. One of the servants tending to Clarke’s chambers opens it to an Azgeda guard, who stands in front of Nia and Roan.

“Clear the room,” the guard demands as he walks in, Nia and Roan on his heels. The servants quickly filter out, but Echo hesitates, as if she isn’t sure the command applies to her. Nia gives a short nod towards the door and Echo follows the servants out without a word. The guard leaves too, closing the door behind him and presumably guarding it from the hallway. 

“Are you ready?” Nia asks, moving to sit on one of the two chairs in Clarke’s room. Roan occupies the other and Clarke remains where she is on the floor in front of the fire. 

“Almost - my hair, they have to finish,” she tells her, bringing a hand up to feel the braids they’ve started. 

Nia nods and Clarke spares a glance at Roan who looks...uncomfortable. It isn’t something she recognizes in him. She’s seen him arrogant, angry, irritating, immature, but not this - whatever this is.

“You’ve been drinking your tea? Everyday?” Nia asks, snapping Clarke’s attention back to her aunt.

Clarke’s cheeks flush at the question, at what it implies, especially with Roan in the room. “Everyday,” she nods.

“The three of us probably won’t have the opportunity to talk after the ceremonies and before you leave in the morning. My last spy into Anapolei was discovered and killed months ago, so we’ll need to decide on a predetermined meeting place and location,” Nia tells her in a detached voice. Clarke swallows thickly at the implication, although Nia seems largely unaffected. Her aunt doesn’t seem to consider that Clarke may share a similar fate soon enough. 

“We’ll plan to meet at a stone structure a few miles north of the Severai trading post,” she continues. “You’ll pass Severai on your way into Anapolei, it should be easy enough to make your way back to it.”

Clarke nods. “How am I to know which structure is the right one?”

“It is the only one for miles. If you head north from Severai, you will walk right into it.”

Clarke nods again. She wants to ask how she’s supposed to leave Anapolei unnoticed. Given how invisible Clarke generally is, she’s never had to worry about her absence when she was traveling as Wanheda. But this is different - all eyes will be on her. The queen. The foreigner. Still, she knows her aunt will only be irritated if she asks how she’s supposed to do that. She’ll have to figure it out on her own.

“It will be easier if we can meet in the night,” she suggests instead. 

Roan nods. “That will be fine. We’ll plan to meet in three weeks time during the witching hour. I’ll give you a few hours to arrive before I leave.”

“She will be there on time,” Nia answers for Clarke, voice sharp. Roan clenches his jaw at her tone but says nothing.

“I expect you to have information to share, Clarke. Keep your ears and eyes open, but don’t be careless or too direct.”

Clarke nods in agreement, mind already spinning with everything that could go wrong. 

--∞--

The dress they put Clarke in is admittedly beautiful. Even as a princess, she doesn’t think that she’s seen anything so delicate, so striking. It’s a long gown made of different black and silver fabrics - mostly simple cloths but threaded through with more rare, delicate fabrics like silk and chiffon. It’s sleeveless but conservative, with a translucent black material sewn onto the sleeves and neckline as frills. When they put it on her and she looks at herself in the faded mirror in her chambers, she doesn’t recognize herself. She sees someone beautiful, but someone to be feared. Someone hard and cold, like a vengeful goddess. Foolishly, she worries if Bellamy won’t like her like this. 

Titus had stopped by her chambers earlier in the day, bringing with him a young woman who he introduced as Gaia, one of his apprentices. He went over the details of the ceremony with her and asked if she had any further questions. Clarke told him she didn’t. There were a lot of things Clarke was feeling uncertain about, none of which were as simple as logistics or anything that the flamekeeper could help her with. 

By the time the sun is setting and there’s a knock at her door, she feels as if she might throw up the meager contents of her stomach. She hasn’t had an appetite all day. Clarke swallows, doing her best to quiet her mind, drain it and dissociate in a way she sometimes forces herself to when she’s acts as Wanheda. It’s harder this time, knowing she doesn’t have the other identity to hide behind. 

A mix of Azgeda and Polis guards escort her to the entrance of the tower, where the rest of the Azgeda party is waiting for her. She takes her place behind her aunt and cousin, who lead the procession of Azgeda representatives who travelled to Polis with them. When the guards open the doors and lead them outside, Clarke notes how the sun has set in the time it took her to make her way down the tower. The sky is now a dull orange on the horizon, draining to blue as her gaze moves upward. What Clarke did not expect was the crowd of Polis residents surrounding the tower. They stand in a respectful silence, holding candles as the Azgeda procession walks through them via a pre-cleared pathway to the Pavilion. Clarke keeps her gaze trained forward, not daring to look for Wells’s face amongst the crowd.

A guard opens the doors to the Pavilion for them and they filter in, not unlike the previous night for the ceremony of the ashes. The Pavilion looks more or less the same as it did then. It’s clear that the Trikru procession had filed in not long before them by the way they seem to be still finding their places. Everyone remains standing on either side of the wide building, Trikru on one side and Azgeda on the other, Polis representatives on both. The center of the room is kept clear, most likely for the Trikru matrimonial dance she has to perform. As nervous as she is for that, she’s also eager to get it over with.

Clarke clenches her hands into fists when her eyes finally land on Bellamy, trying not to physically react to the shiver that runs down her spine at the sight of him. She can’t place the strange feelings that he’s been drawing out of her. Some muddled combination of fear and guilt, anticipation and warmth. She spares a single glance at him as she takes her place next to him at the front of the room, in similar positions as the previous night, but closer with only a foot or so between them. Bellamy is dressed in regal black from head to toe, some silver design decorating his long sleeve shirt across his chest and torso. His head holds a simple crown, a harsh piece made of a dark twisted metal. Like Clarke, his face has been decorated in war paint. Trikru war paint is only black around the eyes, but it’s spread across his temples above his ears and smeared down his cheeks, as if dripping. It seems fitting that they’re dressed for battle at their marriage ceremony.

Clarke keeps her eyes trained on Titus and Heda, the flamekeeper order standing behind them and in front of the wall covered in lit candles as they did the previous night. Clarke barely pays attention to Heda’s welcoming or the Flamekeeper’s words. It’s only when he prompts the Trikru matrimonial dance and Bellamy turns to face her, offering her a hand, does Clarke truly become present. His face is serious, blank as she accepts his hand and leads her to the open space in the middle of the room. If he thinks anything of her painted face, he doesn’t show it.

Most of Clarke’s nerves regarding the dance had stemmed from her being the center of attention - from Azgeda, Trikru, and Polis all watching her possibly stumble and fail. Neither Clarke nor Wanheda has ever been anything but invisible. But then Bellamy lets go of her hand and stands in front of her. His gaze is intense in a way that makes it impossible for her to break eye contact, and somehow, the nerves fade. Calm is certainly too strong a word for what Clarke is. It’s more that her nerves have been redirected to a kind of anticipation that has everything to do with the warmth that Bellamy is radiating. He maintains his composure, but Clarke thinks that she might see the trace of a smile on his lips before the dance begins.

Someone begins playing a simple melody on some kind of of string instrument. Instead of worrying about the people that surround them, Clarke falls into step with Bellamy in a way that feels much more simple than the two of them actually are. 

The dance itself is supposed to be a symbolism of partners mirroring each other. Of providing what the other needs. It’s a balance.

Remembering his words makes it easier. That’s what she does - mirrors him. She’s drawn to his movements and simply follows them. As they move, she also begins to understand the purpose of the dance in a way she hadn’t before. 

Because the tension is in the almost.

In being so close to something you desire, and not being able to have it.

Yet.

Clarke feels an ache in her chest, a yearning for him that surprises her in its intensity. The almost is killing her, because she doesn’t want to wait. She wants to press her hand to his. She wants to press her lips to his. She wants to press her body to his. 

Almost .

It feels like the dance as quickly as it began. The music stops and Bellamy escorts her back to the front of the room to stand in front of Titus, all of their people behind them. The marriage ceremony is more perfunctory than the ceremony of the ashes. Heda speaks of the purpose of the marriage - of uniting the two warring clans in order to forge lasting peace and dismantle a common enemy. Then Titus blesses them in the name of the first Heda and speaks of their union of mind, body, heart, and soul. Clarke nearly laughs at that part, that they have the audacity to say such things about an arranged marriage. 

They have no vows they have to recite as part of the ceremony. It’s much simpler than that. Bellamy takes Clarke’s hand tenderly, twisting it so that her palm is open to him. She grits her teeth at the sting of him slicing a line across it with the small pocket knife, but she’s experienced worse. The blood that rises from the cut is dark in the shadows of the large candlelit room. Clarke takes his hand next and bites down on her lip as an intrusive thought invades her mind. She imagines herself slicing his neck instead, with something much larger than the knife she holds now. She collects herself quickly, swallowing as she brings the knife to his open palm. Bellamy doesn’t so much as flinch when she cuts him. A member of the flamekeeper’s order appears by her side to take the knife as soon as she finishes. 

They interlace their hands, sticky palms pressed against each other as Titus begins to recite the final marriage blessing. Her hand feels so small in his and she’s reminded of taking it when they entered the dark tunnel to the church yesterday. She wonders what it would be like to marry somewhere like that, like the people of the old world did. It’s a foolish thing to waste her thoughts on, but she can’t help but imagine her and Bellamy standing in a place like that in a different world than theirs. 

--∞--

After the ceremony concluded, Clarke was immediately whisked away by a group of guards. It was something she was growing both used to and tired of. They brought her to unoccupied bedchambers closer to the top of the tower than the ones she was staying in. Servants tend to her hand first, washing it and putting a healing balm over it before wrapping it with a thin cloth. It stings. Clarke hadn’t considered the fact that she would have this scar on her palm forever. She hadn’t considered how she’ll have to look at it everyday, a constant reminder of what she did to the man it bonded her to. 

The servants give her the privacy to change out of her dress and into a thin beige-colored silk slip that only falls to halfway down her thighs. Thankfully, they also provide a more conservative robe too, a dark linen one that falls to her calves. They descend on her again once she steps out from behind the screen, one woman working to scrub the paint from her face while another begins to release her hair from its braids, fingers light and quick. Her face begins to feel a little sore, raw from scrubbing the paint off of it. Clarke knows that her fair skin will show red blotches because of it. Her first thought is that at least she’ll look like her when she gives herself to Bellamy. Yet, as soon as she thinks it, it scares her deeply. Perhaps the war paint was always an armor of sorts, a mask to wear into battle. Clarke is going into this battle vulnerable - bare, with nothing to shield her. 

When the servant finishes washing her face, she massages a light, silky oil with a floral scent into her face, presumably to soothe her irritated skin. After that, there is nothing to do but wait. They pour her a glass of water that Clarke sips at absentmindedly, but she feels too nervous to put anything into her stomach. Even water. 

Finally, there is a quick knock on the door. Clarke tightens the tie on her robe once she stands and rolls her shoulders back, attempting to appear confident and regal, despite the chaos she’s enduring on the inside. They lead her down the winding hallway, but the room she enters isn’t far from where they groomed her. She steels herself as she’s lead through the door, striving to keep her face neutral and not let her eyes wander. Still, she’s able to take in most of the large room as they lead her to where Titus is standing next to Heda, Bellamy already standing in front of them. The flamekeeper’s order is there, as well as Nia, Roan, and the Azgeda ambassador to the coalition. No one is there on behalf of Trikru except for Kane, their ambassador to the coalition. Clarke supposes that makes sense. Unlike her, Bellamy is actually the leader of the clan, whereas Clarke is only a pawn in hers. The leader and future leader need to be present for the ceremony. She spares a glance at the bed as she takes her place next to Bellamy, noting that it’s the centerpiece of the room. At least Bellamy was correct about the bed being shrouded. Heavy pieces of linen are hung from the ceiling on each side of the bed, obscuring it from view. Given the single lantern that must be set on a table next to the bed, Clarke thinks that the linen is opaque enough to allow them some semblance of privacy.  

Bellamy stands still as statue, hands behind his back. His eyes stay focused on Heda and Titus and he doesn’t spare a glance at Clarke. Clarke doesn’t have that kind of self control and her eyes dart quickly to him before returning her gaze to Heda and Titus. Like Clarke, his face has been scrubbed of any paint. He’s dressed only in a pair of dark linen trousers, feet bare like hers are. They’re no longer presented as two warriors preparing for battle, but instead, a man and a woman. A husband and a wife.  

Titus chants a blessing in a low voice before tracing the commander’s symbol between Bellamy’s eyebrows as he did during the ceremony of the ashes, but this time it’s a clear oil of sorts instead of ash. The flamekeeper’s order echoes the blessing and Titus repeats the process with Clarke. Clarke’s heart races as Titus concludes and she considers what will happen next. A servant brings her to one side of the bed while another brings Bellamy to the opposite side. The servant opens the curtain for her and she steps inside of the small space, the curtain dragging closed behind her. She’s left alone to face Bellamy, who is waiting for her on the opposite side of the bed.

He gives her a soft smile before offering a hand across the bed to her. She takes his hand, allowing him to assist her in climbing onto the bed as she tries to fight her intense awareness of the fact they aren’t alone in the room, regardless of what the thick curtains around the bed might suggest. Clarke sits on her knees and expects Bellamy to sit in front of her, but he climbs onto the bed behind her instead. Nothing has even happened, but her heart is already beating wildly, all of her blood rushing to her face.

“Are you okay?” he murmurs into her ear, stroking up and down her arms in a soothing manner. 

“Yes.” Her voice sounds breathless in a way that’s foreign to her.

“Are you sure?” His hands move to the front of her, pulling on the length of cloth keeping her robe closed.

“I am. I’m sure.”

Bellamy slowly pulls the robe down her arms, as if he’s savoring it, before pressing a kiss to her shoulder. Clarke squeezes her eyes shut at the sensation, her heart beating impossibly faster. 

“Tell me if that changes, okay?” His voice is low, quiet enough that she knows no one else can hear more than a low murmur coming from inside of the curtains. “If you’re not okay, or you don’t like something, let me know. I want this to be good for you.” The warmth of his breath against her ear, against her neck, sends a chill down her spine.

Clarke nods pathetically at his words, unable to manage much else as he helps her out of the robe, leaving her in the silk slip. She can’t help the gasp that slips through her lips when he presses a warm, open-mouth kiss to the junction of her neck and shoulder. He drags the thin straps of her slip down her shoulders, grazing her arm with feather-light fingers before continuing to kiss across shoulders. Her breath becomes labored, each nerve catching fire. With a hand wrapped around her waist, he gently turns her so that she’s finally facing him. The strange look on his face nearly takes her breath away. It’s both tender and hungry, his black eyes reflecting the flame of the lantern. She surprises herself by being the first to lean in for a kiss, pressing her lips to his in a nearly harsh manner. He responds immediately, hands moving to cup her face as he deepens it. As he presses her back against the bed, she feels the same fire building in her as she did when he kissed her at the church. Except this time, they don’t need to stop. 

Their kisses grow more intense as he lowers himself over her, his broad form blanketing hers. Her legs part on instinct so that he can settle between them, the short slip riding up to her waist in the process. She isn’t wearing any undergarments and the heat of him against her core, even with his pants still on, draws a breathy sigh from her. Bellamy’s hands move up and down her thighs as he pulls his lips from hers, kissing down her neck instead. As his hands move up to stroke the sides of her waist under her slip, he rises to look down at her. 

“Can I?” he whispers, tugging on the bottom of her slip.

Clarke nods and lifts her arm so that he can pull the slip over her head and off of her. Now completely uncovered, Bellamy’s intense gaze sweeps over her naked form. She looks away from him, cheeks hot with embarrassment. As soon as she does, she feels his fingers take hold of her jaw, gently but firmly pulling her face and gaze back to his.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers in a reverent voice, his fingers still holding her chin.

She’s never shown herself to another like this, not even as Wanheda. Because of the men she encountered as Wanheda, she’s never wanted this. She always imagined their eyes would be hungry in a predatory way. In a way that sought to take and leave nothing in their wake. But Bellamy doesn’t look at her like that. Not at all. His gaze may be hungry, but its more akin to worship. Like he wouldn’t dream of taking. Like he only wants to nurture, to provide. 

Bellamy leans down to kiss her again before she can respond to his words. She’s glad for it, since she doesn’t know how to respond to something like that. Instead, she focuses on the taste of his tongue as he explores her mouth and the feel of his hands, moving up her thighs and waist until they land on her breasts. He begins to caress them, somehow both firm and gentle in a way that she’s beginning to suspect is a characteristic he’s mastered. The sensation makes her center ache with want and she arches her back to press closer to him. He swallows the small moan that he draws from her and grinds down against her center, allowing her the smallest form of relief. 

However quiet, the noise of footsteps in the room snaps Clarke’s attention back to reality. She remembers that she’s surrounded by people, that they’ll hear every small moan and gasp that escape her. Gently pressing her hands to his chest, she pushes him away. 

“I’m ready,” she whispers, nervous they’ll wonder what’s taking so long. 

Bellamy’s eyes track her gaze, which is now focused on the curtains behind him. 

“Hey,” he murmurs, looking down at her again. She shifts her gaze to meet his. “Don’t worry about them. If they get bored, they’re welcome to leave.”

Clarke bites down on her lip, for some reason feeling the need to muffle her smile as much as any other noise she makes. She leans back again, head against the pillow, eyes still trained on him as she does. Bellamy’s smile makes something in her chest ache. When he lifts off her for a moment, she expects him to slip out of his pants. Instead he leans over to reach the small table that the lantern sits on and picks up a small glass bottle that she hadn’t noticed before. She sits up slightly to watch him as he pours the oily substance onto his hand.

“I need to make sure you’re ready,” he whispers. He leans over her again, forcing her to lay back down. “So it won’t hurt as much when you take me.”

He kisses her tenderly, mouth warm and addicting. She feels overwhelmed, and not just because his fingers are trailing up her inner thigh. Warmth spreads through her chest at the thought of him caring enough to make sure she’s ready for him - that he took it seriously when she told him that he would be her first. Enough so that he requested they provide the oil that he’s now massaging her center with. 

Clarke hums quietly at the sensation and Bellamy presses a kiss to her shoulder. 

“That’s it. Just relax and let me take care of you, okay?” he murmurs, voice sweet as honey

“Okay,” she breathes quietly, already focused on the pleasure building between her legs. She’s never felt anything like this, but it’s a good kind of strange.

Bellamy continues mouthing at different parts of her shoulders and neck as he strokes her folds. She gasps when his thumb presses against a part of her that sends a shocking current of pleasure through her whole body. Clarke grabs at his arm on instinct, needing something to anchor her.

“You okay?” he murmurs against her ear. 

Clarke nods, eyes shut as some invisible force builds inside of her. He rolls circles against whatever is making her feel this way and dizziness fills her head as her skin begins to tingle. Just as her toes curl on instinct and she feels as if she might fall off the edge of some unnameable cliff, he eases up. Instead, he teases her entrance with a finger before slowly sinking it into her. Clarke is unable to stop the gasp that escapes her, becoming less aware of the audience beyond the curtain with every passing second.

Only when she opens her eyes does she even realize she’d been squeezing them shut. She finds Bellamy’s warm brown ones bearing down on her, intensely focused as he begins to move his finger inside of her to a steady rhythm. The initial discomfort fades and although it isn’t as acute as what he was doing before, she begins to feel a warmth growing from inside her lower abdomen again. His thumb presses against that spot again and he captures her lips with his before she can moan too loudly. A moment later, he presses a second finger into her. This time the discomfort takes longer to fade, but it eventually does. 

Bellamy pumps his fingers in and out of her as his thumb works the sensitive point between her legs, kissing her tenderly throughout. She begins to squirm as she climbs higher and he quickens his pace, fingers working her expertly. A sort of desperation overtakes her as her body chases something she doesn’t entirely understand. Whimpering against his mouth, her nails dig into his arm and side as she finally falls off that edge, clenching around his fingers.

Bellamy breaks the kiss, murmuring praise and encouragement as he slows his pace and eases her back down again. Her breath is ragged and she clutches his bicep tighter, feeling like she’s in a strange fever dream. 

“You’re doing so good,” he whispers into her ear. 

She preens at the simple praise, even while knowing she hasn’t really done anything at all. Maybe it’s the adoration in his tone or the fact that she can’t remember the last time anyone has praised or appreciated her for anything. She hadn’t realized how much of a ghost she’d been in her own life, but under Bellamy’s touch and gaze, she feels seen again. Seen, and heard, and alive. 

Clarke immediately misses the warmth of his body when he pulls off of her to rid himself of his pants. Despite everything he’s already done and is about to do, she still feels too shy to look directly at him and stares up at the concrete ceiling instead. She briefly wonders if the spirits of the commanders are looking down at her disapprovingly for making a mockery of a sacred practice. Perhaps they’ll eventually smite her for it. Still, despite her intentions, she can’t deny that something about what they’re doing does feel sacred. As content and warm as she felt a minute ago, a deep-rooted sadness seeps through her at the reminder that none of this is real. That she has to kill this man.

“You okay?” he asks, interrupting her spiraling thoughts. 

When she looks up at him, she nearly startles at the sight of him stroking himself. She forces herself to nod, cheeks burning as she takes in the pleasure reflected on his face. His jaw is slack, the hunger in his eyes intensified. It sends heat flooding through Clarke again. His length is slick with more of the oil and the only thing she really comprehends before he’s settling between her legs is that he’s much larger than two fingers. She sucks in a breath, feeling more nervous than she had a moment ago.

“Hey, I got you,” he whispers into her ear, pressing a hot kiss to her neck as he uses his thumb to roll circles around that sensitive part of her. She begins to relax and lets herself sink back into the pleasure as he rubs himself against her slick folds a few times. 

Bellamy brings his face above hers again before he pushes into her, one hand on her thigh and the other trailing up her side to caress one of her breasts. At first, she only feels an intense pressure as he enters her, causing her mouth to fall open at the sensation. But as he pushes further into her, a sharper pain emerges. Tears prick her eyes and Bellamy pauses, abandoning her breast in favor of swiping away one of her tears with his thumb.

“You okay?” he murmurs, quieter than before.

“Yes,” she manages to choke out. “Keep going.”

Bellamy pulls out slightly before pushing into her completely. She whimpers at the sharp pain, sucking in a deep breath as she adjusts to him being buried inside of her. Bellamy stills, dropping his forehead to rest against hers as runs a soothing hand up and down her waist. When he kisses her, she tries to focus on the feel of his tongue gliding against hers. Bellamy begins rocking in and out of her, keeping his movements slow and controlled. Clarke realizes that the movement makes it feel a little better.

“Keep um- keep going,” she whispers, lips brushing against his when she speaks.

She knows she isn’t making much sense, but he seems to understand what she’s trying to say because his thrusts fall into a steady rhythm that begins sparking the same pleasure that his fingers provided. As his pace quickens, Bellamy stops kissing her and his face falls to the crook of her neck. He seems completely focused on moving in and out of her, on the pleasure he’s drawing from her body.

“You feel incredible,” he whispers, voice soaked in that same adoration as before. “So good,” he pants. “So good.”

Clarke feels a surge of wetness from just his words. Bellamy pauses to hike her legs higher around her waist and she understands why when he thrusts into her a moment later, hitting somewhere deep inside of her that draws out a different kind of pleasure than before. It’s somehow less acute and more satisfying all at once. She feels the now familiar chase catch in her and begins rocking against him, following instinct. Bellamy moans, apparently not caring about their audience. She’s not sure he ever did. 

It becomes something primal after that, drawing moans and satisfied hums from each other as they climb higher together. Every sense is filled with him and she finally, truly understands why it’s called a consummation. To consume. To burn completely. That’s what it feels like, feeling Bellamy drag in and out of her. Her pleasure burns through her, threatening to consume her entirely.

It takes her by surprise when he pushes her over the edge again. She barely has time to bury her face into his shoulder, muffling a cry. Almost immediately, Bellamy groans loudly into her shoulder, sounding more animal than man as he spills inside of her. Her cheeks blush when she feels the heat of him emptying into her. Despite the fact that she doesn’t want a child, there’s still something deeply satisfying about the way he fills her. It’s primal, something Clarke has no logical explanation for. 

Bellamy’s groan was apparently enough of an announcement that their consummation was complete. While they settle back into reality, breath heavy and uneven, Clarke hears Titus chanting another blessing. She can’t really focus on the words long enough to decipher it. There’s a shuffling as everyone clears the room and Bellamy surprises her by lifting one of her hands to his face and pressing a soft kiss to the back of it. Clarke realizes it’s her bandaged hand, and it makes her want to disappear, shrink into herself, more than anything else that just transpired between them. 

“Are you alright?” he asks, voice still quiet despite their audience leaving. She’s acutely aware of the fact that he’s still buried inside of her.

“Yeah,” she murmurs. “I’m - I feel good.”

Bellamy doesn’t say anything else as he pulls out of her. She grits her teeth at the sensation, knowing she’ll be sore tomorrow. Bellamy pulls his pants back on before leaving the curtained area. She doesn’t realize what he’s doing until she hears him dismissing servants that she didn’t know were still in the room with them. He pulls back the curtain a moment later, just as she’s pulling her slip back on. 

“Hey,” he says, voice incredibly gentle as he cups her face with one hand. “You sure you’re alright?”

Clarke smiles at him, hoping it’s convincing. She is alright, at least in the way that he’s asking. She can’t tell him all the reasons she isn’t. “I am, I promise.”

“Okay.” He lets go of her face, but leans down to press a chaste kiss to her temple. “Can I draw you a bath?”

She nods. A bath sounded nice, if only so she has a minute alone to process her thoughts.  “Thank you.”

Bellamy disappears behind the screen and Clarke stands to pull the curtains aside, opening the bed to the rest of the room. There are still several candles lit from where the flamekeeper’s order was standing. The room feels much bigger now that they’re gone. 

She watches him as he returns from behind the screen and is reminded of the last time he drew her a bath. He looks like he did then - boyish and young - but content instead of angry. Things were so different then - he was so different then. She can hardly believe it’s only been a week since then. 

“Water’s warm,” he tells her, a soft smile gracing his face. 

“Much nicer about drawing me a bath this time,” she teases, surprising herself with her casual tone. There’s something about him that makes her feel lighter. 

Clarke expects Bellamy to laugh but his smile transforms into a sheepish one and he runs a hand through his messy curls. “I’m sorry about that. I was rude to you.”

Clarke shakes her head. “No- I. You saved my life, I was the one that was dismissive of you.”

Neither says anything for a beat and Clarke is about to walk past him towards the bath, but curiosity gets the best of her. “Why were you so angry with me?”

Bellamy furrows his brow at her, like he’s confused by the question.

“Clarke, I was angry because I was scared. I thought you went to meet with a lover, and that I’d lose you because of it.”

Clarke’s eyes widen at that. “Lose me? You didn’t even know me-”

“No, but I knew that I wanted to know you.” His soft smile comes back to him. “I very much wanted to know you.”

Clarke’s cheeks burn as her mouth drops open, unsure of how to respond. Bellamy saves her the trouble. 

“Go bathe while the water is hot,” he commands, purposely echoing his words from that night. Except this time, his voice is light and teasing rather than frustrated. It draws a smile from Clarke instead.

--∞--

Clarke lies in bed in the dark room, eyes trained on the ceiling. She feels utterly exhausted, mentally and physically, which is somehow making it even harder to fall asleep. Bellamy - her husband , she reminds herself - doesn’t seem to have that problem. He’s sleeping soundly beside her, a solid few feet of space between them.

Once she had finished with her bath and Bellamy cleaned up, they got into the bed together. Somehow, it had felt more intimate and awkward than having sex had. Before, Clarke had been entirely focused on his body and how he was making her feel. This - the simple act of sharing a bed with someone - felt foreign to her. Although she supposes she has to get used to it.

Clarke was both relieved and disappointed when he didn’t move any closer to her. When he didn’t wrap an arm around her or so much as touch her. She can’t deny that something inside her craved that affection, but that, along with everything else she had experienced tonight, was new to her. She feels overwhelmed by all of it, to say the least, and so she appreciates him giving her the space. All he had done when they laid down was place a hand on her arm and ask her if she was okay. Again. She assured him she was and he drew his hand back and wished her goodnight before closing his eyes. His breathing steadied within minutes and she was left alone to dwell on the events of the day.

Running a hand over her palm, re-bandaged by Bellamy after she finished bathing, Clarke thinks about how her entire life is changing. Yet, somehow, none of it is real. It was a hard concept to reconcile. Forcing her eyes closed, she tries to fight the slow sadness that drips into her veins the longer she lies there. Even with the awkwardness of the ceremonial aspect of their consummation, she can’t deny that her experience with Bellamy was wonderful. She never thought it would feel like that, that she could feel like that. Every time she tries to find happiness in that, she remembers the false pretense that tainted every moment of her day. Every moment of their friendship, their marriage. Just like her first kiss, it was yet another personal experience that was supposed to belong to her , but belonged to Azgeda instead.

Chapter Text

The sun is well above the horizon by the time Clarke opens and rubs at her weary eyes. It isn’t like her to sleep in past sunrise, but the last few days have taken their toll on her. The soreness between her legs is an abrupt reminder of where she is, and she glances to her side to find that she isn’t the only one who slept in. Bellamy’s back is to her, but he’s clearly still sleeping, his shoulders rising and falling with his steady breath.

So the king isn’t an early riser , she notes. 

Another fact that will mean nothing to Nia, but she nonetheless stores away for reasons she can’t decipher. Then again, it’s now her job to keep her eyes peeled. To observe, to notice. She isn’t sure what things will be useful to her later on. What things might save her. 

Clarke is surprised they were allowed to sleep in this long, but then she remembers that Anapolei is much closer to Polis. They won’t require an entire day of travel to make it back. She’s not sure how she forgot, given it’s yet another grievance Nia has against Trikru. Pushing the blanket off of her, Clarke slides out of the bed as quietly as she can manage. The chill in the air is harsh against her exposed skin, the slip she’s wearing barely covering her. She quickly grabs her robe, slung over a chair next to the fire that’s burned down to embers. His voice startles her, just as she finishes tying it at her waist.

“Good morning.”

Clarke spins around quickly, finding Bellamy sitting up in the bed and running a hand through his messy curls. He rubs at his eyes, clearly still tired.

“Morning,” she answers, offering him a hesitant smile.

“Don’t tell me you’re a morning person,” he complains, flopping back down onto the bed.

“Afraid so,” she quips, making her way over to him. She looks down at him, standing next to the bed with her arms nervously crossed over her chest.

Bellamy doesn’t open his eyes, but his mouth quirks into a sharp smirk. “This was a terrible idea, this marriage will never work.”

A laugh escapes Clarke against her will and Bellamy opens his eyes again to look up at her, seemingly satisfied at being the one to draw it out of her. 

“I, um...I was going to return to my chambers. I need to pack my things and change.”

“Okay. We’ll probably head out in an hours time, but I’ll come by.”

Clarke nods in agreement, staring down at him a beat too long before turning away.

--∞--

Clarke lets out a long sigh once the guard escorts her back to her chambers. She closes the door firmly behind her, feeling overwhelming relief at simply being alone. Keeping busy to avoid dwelling on what lies ahead, she begins to gather her few belongings. After sliding the slip off, she folds the delicate garment and leaves it on one of the chairs. She’s not sure if it’s hers to take. It would probably be fine, but she doesn’t want it anyways. Instead, she changes into her black pants and a dark blue tunic, already feeling more like herself as she fastens the leather belt around her waist. Having left her hair down to dry last night, her waves are wild and messy from sleeping on them damp. She tames them the best she can, braiding back pieces of it so that it’s in the half-up style she wears on most days. Having downed the last of her tea, she’s putting her last piece of clothing into her bag when she hears the door open behind her, the lack of announcement making her jump. Startled, she turns to find Nia walking in and closing the door behind her.

“Good morning,” Clarke greets, standing up straighter.

“Good morning, Clarke. Are you well?”

Clarke isn’t sure what to make of that question - whether Nia is showing an ounce of care for her given the previous night or if she simply wants reassurance that Clarke has her head on straight. Regardless, Clarke provides a confident nod.

“Good,” her aunt responds shortly. “This will be our last chance to talk before you leave. Are you clear on the plan, on when and where to meet Roan?”

“Yes.”

Nia pauses before walking closer to Clarke. She reminds Clarke of a cat, prowling, waiting to pounce. Her voice is low but steady when she speaks.

“I worry, sometimes - that you don’t have the heart to serve your clan in such a manner. This requires a great deal of bravery.”

Clarke swallows. “I will succeed. I won’t dishonor our people.”

Nia nods. “Remember why you do this. For your people, for your parents . A strong front, a strong loyalty is required to protect our clan. Your father lost that by giving Trikru leeway and it cost him his life and your mother’s. With Trikru removed from our path, we will remain strong - our people safe and secure.” 

“I will not fail.” Clarke wills her voice to remain confident, strong, despite how fear has soaked her bones over the last week. 

Nia takes her jaw in her cold hand, pulling her gaze up to meet her own. “I know you have your mother’s softness in you. Don’t fall prey to it.” Nia tightens her hold on her jaw and Clarke digs her nails into her palm, forgetting her wound. Still, not even the pain forces her to lose her balance. “The king is charming. He’ll prey on your emotions, manipulate you. You’d be weak to give into that. Your clan will pay if you give into that. There is no room for you to be emotionally compromised by this man. He does not know you, and thus does not and cannot love you, no matter how convincing he may seem. Do you understand?”

Clarke feels a coolness spread throughout her body, a layer of ice quickly washing over her bones, her veins, freezing her blood. She unclenches her hand, letting the truth of her aunt’s words sink in. She’s right. Clarke has already begun to slip into a false sense of...of something.

None of this is real , she reminds herself. 

None of this is real.

“I understand.”

--∞--

Clarke sits in the chair in front of the fire, her thumb rubbing over her father’s pocket watch in a soothing manner. She understands now why she needed to bring it with her, despite that she risks losing it forever by bringing it to Anapolei. It’s a token, a talisman even, that will anchor her to reality when she’s there. It will remind her of her goal - will keep her from falling mindlessly into the fantasy she’s already begun to spin in her mind.

At the sound of a knock on the door, Clarke slips the watch into her jacket pocket. 

“Come in,” she announces, already standing.

Bellamy walks in, dressed in dark clothing, a mix of cloth and leather. He looks as regal, as serious, as he did the night she met him. A proper king, and a powerful one at that. Although it isn’t as easy to unsee the softness beneath that now. Even the serious mask cannot permanently hide the boyish charm she knows lays underneath it. 

“Are you ready to go?”

Clarke nods, moving to her bed to grab her bag as Bellamy walks further into the room. He pauses, looking at the floor next to her bed, in front of the window, with a confused expression. He walks a few steps closer to it before Clarke can stop him.

“You - you drew on the floor.”

A blush rises to Clarke’s cheeks. Over the last week, she had drawn a landscape with the charcoal she brought with her. It was a form of escapism for her, one that allowed her to relax, to slip away into another world. A world free from the queen and royal responsibilities, from dead parents and Wanheda. 

“Don’t worry, it will wash off quickly. The guards have never commented on it before,” she assures him, assuming his observation was meant as a scolding. Or at the very least, said in disapproval.

“No, I- this is incredible, Clarke.” She realizes that what she assumed was a criticism is more akin to awe. “You’re very talented.”

Clarke’s blush deepens. “It’s nothing - a wasteful habit.” It’s what the queen tells her every time she catches her with black-stained fingers. 

Just as Bellamy opens his mouth to respond, a guard pops his head into the room. “Are you ready, Sir?”

“Just a minute,” he responds, turning back towards Clarke. “Are you ready?”

Clarke nods, pulling her bag over her shoulder. Another lie.

--∞--

There is no Azgeda party to see her off. As far as they’re concerned, despite the fact that she married into Trikru to solidify a union between Azgeda and Trikru, she is no longer one of them. Perhaps Clarke should feel insulted by the abandonment, but she’s mostly relieved she doesn’t have to see the queen or Roan again. Or Ontari for that manner.

A servant brings Orion over to Clarke, where the Trikru party has gathered near the stables and are making last-minute preparations for the journey back. She feels instant relief when she sees her horse, a familiar comfort as she heads into the unknown. Stroking his mane, she studiously avoids eye contact with the Trikru people while still managing to sneak glances at them. About a third of them - amongst them Octavia, Lincoln, Kane, Indra, Miller, and Harper - she recognizes. But the rest are new faces. She’d been so focused on getting to know Bellamy that she nearly forgot how many others she would have to spend time with in Anapolei. Unlike Bellamy, and perhaps Lincoln, none of the rest of them have seemed to take much of a liking to her. Octavia and Indra both look at her with cold, assessing eyes. Even the kinder ones like Harper appear weary of her presence. It’s at that moment that Clarke understands the extent of her intrusion in their clan - just because Bellamy accepted this union, doesn’t mean his clan has. 

“Ready for the journey, my Queen?”

Clarke turns to find the source of the unfamiliar voice, noting the subtle mockery in his tone. She finds stormy blue eyes staring back at her. They belong to a man with messy brown hair wearing an unreadable, almost bored expression. He takes a bite of his apple, waiting for her response.

“Clarke is fine,” she corrects him, even though she’s fairly certain that he wasn’t using the title genuinely. His tone was one of perfected sarcasm - enough to notice it, but subtle enough that Clarke can’t quite call him on it. 

“Leave her alone, Murphy,” Bellamy calls from behind her before the man can answer, walking up to them with his own horse.

“I was just introducing myself, your highness.” This time, Clarke detects respect in the use of his title. Still, there’s the same informality in his tone that Bellamy apparently condones. 

“John Murphy,” the man offers, turning back towards Clarke. 

“C’mon, we’re heading out,” Bellamy instructs.

Murphy gives Clarke a final nod before walking away from them, presumably towards his own horse. 

“Murphy is a great warrior if you can put up with his attitude,” Bellamy explains, mounting his horse. Clarke follows suit. 

“Good to know,” she answers wrly. 

Clarke spares a single glance back at Polis as they take off. Everything feels so different than it did when she arrived a week ago - so much heavier than she expected. She hadn’t thought that would be possible. She wonders if Wells is working at his father’s stand. For a brief moment, she lets herself wonder what he might be thinking, feeling. She wonders if he’s angry with her, or afraid for her. Probably both. She wonders if he really does love her like he thinks he does. Probably not. Clarke focuses ahead as they start to move. That has to be the last time she lets herself think of such things - she can’t afford the distraction. 

The Trikru party keeps a slow pace as they make their way out of the city and towards a central road that runs through the woods. Clarke notes how the party naturally encloses herself and Bellamy at its center, her husband riding close beside her. They only pick up the pace once they begin moving through the woods. Heavy clouds roll across the sky, but the sun still shines through the tree tops, whose leaves are finally blooming green. She takes a deep breath, noting the rich scent of Earth and reveling in the fact that spring is close. 

“I have to warn you,” Bellamy starts, voice low. “There will be a celebration of sorts tonight, for the marriage. I know you must be tired, but it isn’t so ceremonial as the last two days.”

“I don’t mind,” Clarke assures him.

“What kind of celebration?” she adds, after a beat.  

“Just the kind of night that would usually follow the ceremony in a Trikru marriage - food, music, dancing...too much wine and moonshine.”

Clarke laughs. “That doesn’t sound too terrible.”

Bellamy laughs too. “Certainly not. I just didn’t want to overwhelm you.”

Clarke shakes her head at that. “I’ll be fine.”

--∞--

Clarke pays special attention to the handful of trading posts they pass on their journey to Anapolei. A few minutes after Bellamy tells her that they’re close, nearly to the outskirts of the Trikru capital, they pass the trading post her aunt instructed her to keep an eye on. Severai is painted on a sign out front in large block letters. She takes note of it, trying her best to memorize the details of the surrounding area and paying close attention to the path that takes them into Anapolei. 

Clarke is wide-eyed as they break from the woods and head towards the center of Anapolei. The town is smaller than Polis, but from what she can see, not by much. They take what appears to be a main road, one of broken concrete smoothed over with dirt. She takes in the houses and businesses they pass, all of which appear to be a mix of skeletal brick structures that survived the old world and newer constructions made from wood and stone. People catch wind of the fact that they’ve arrived and begin emerging from the buildings, welcoming the king and trying to catch a glimpse of their new queen. Clarke can nearly see the news of their arrival spreading through the town as more and more people empty out of buildings and line the sides of the roads. They clearly know the path that the king is taking, even if Clarke does not. 

Clutching Orion’s reins tightly, Clarke spares a glance at Bellamy. He holds his head high, his expression fierce and measured even as his people wave at his party. It’s immediately noticeable to her, how he commands their respect. Clarke keeps her own face neutral, afraid to appear either too cold or too weak. Masks are a part of royal life, so it isn’t surprising that the Bellamy she’s come to know over the last week isn’t exactly the image he presents to his people. At least with Bellamy, the mask seems clearly defined. He knows who he is underneath it, as do his family and close friends. Clarke, on the other hand, isn’t sure which version of herself is the authentic one, if either of them are at all. She doesn’t quite feel like Wanheda, nor does she feel like the ornamental Azgeda princess her aunt has strategically presented her as. But she doesn’t know who she is beyond that. With the exception of Wells, she hasn’t had to be anything but those two versions of herself in a long time.

Clarke pulls herself out of her wandering thoughts so that she can take in her setting - knowing it intimately will be essential to her survival. Clarke catches a glimpse of water in the distance, which doesn’t surprise her. One of the few things she knows about Anapolei is that it rests on a coast. The road takes them further downhill and to her disappointment, the view of the water disappears. She doesn’t have time to dwell on it before they’re slowing in front of a large building of tarnished and faded brick. It seems to have held up better than most, but Clarke can see patches of where the the building has been filled in with newer stone and wood. The windows are empty squares in the walls, as they are in all towns. In this case, the windows line the entire front of the building. There appear to be what’s left of a few broken pillars in front of its wide entrance. 

The rest of the building pales in comparison to what sits atop of it - what’s left of a grand dome, made of now gray stone that Clarke suspects was white once upon a time. Chunks of it are missing and even from the ground she can see how it’s mostly uncovered, the ceiling even more sporadic than the pavilion in Polis. Still, there’s something beautiful about it - regal and stoic.

“Home,” Bellamy tells her quietly.

Clarke tears her eyes from the dome, sparing him a glance. 

“It’s beautiful.”

Bellamy nods, but doesn’t say anything more. A few minutes later, the horses arrive at a stable similar to the ones in Polis and Suskainau, located behind what Clarke now understands is the Trikru castle. Her new home, as Bellamy pointed out. 

Clarke dismounts her horse along with the others and passes Orion’s reins to a stable boy who appears at her side nearly instantaneously. She feels irrationally anxious parting from him, one of the few comforts from her old life. Aside from Wells, perhaps the being in the world who knows her best. 

Most of their party disperses, presumably heading to their own homes or different posts. Bellamy’s hand falls to the small of Clarke’s back as he guides her along with him into a back entrance of the building. 

“I can give you a full tour tomorrow, but I assume you’d like to rest before this evening?” Bellamy asks.

“Oh. I wouldn’t mind one now, if it’s not a bother.” 

Clarke knows she’s far too nervous to rest . She can’t remember the last time she’s even taken a nap. Besides, she figures that beginning to familiarize herself with her surroundings will only help keep her nerves at bay. The less unknowns, the better. 

“Of course,” Bellamy answers, giving her a soft smile. She realizes that his mask has already been discarded, now that they’re alone.

Bellamy passes their bags off to a servant and to Clarke’s surprise, thanks him as he does. 

“Shall we?” he asks, nodding towards the first hallway they come upon.

It takes Bellamy about three quarters of an hour to give Clarke a complete tour of the building. It’s really only striking in how similar it is to the Azgeda castle in Suskainau, which Clarke nearly laughs at given how each clan insists the other is its opposite. Concrete halls, sparsely decorated with lanterns and candelabras. He shows her the kitchen and a vast dining room, which is one difference between her home and his. Suskainau’s dining room is small, consisting of a singular table that hosts whomever the queen deems worthy. Anapolei’s is less of a dining room and more of dining hall . One long table rests parallel to the side wall on a raised platform, but the rest of the room is filled with similar tables. 

“All are welcome to dine here,” Bellamy explains. “I use meals as an opportunity to connect with the people. They know they can discuss matters of importance with me here, in an informal setting.”

Clarke is so taken aback by the concept that she simply nods, continuing to observe the room as Bellamy guides her further into it. She can feel the breeze drifting in through the large windows that line the entirety of one of the walls and notes the familiar thick, leather curtains that can be pulled to cover the windows when it’s cold. Only when she comes to stand in front of the larger table that she assumes is their table does she notice the two canvas painting hung on the wall behind it. Together, they cover nearly the whole wall. They were both made with black paint, one of a man and the other a woman. She can see Bellamy’s features in both of them.

“Your parents?” she asks. 

Part of her instantly regrets asking when she remembers the horrible fate they each fell to. Still, the more curious part of her wonders if he’ll provide any further details about either of them. All Clarke knows is the foundation of the story, passed from mouth to mouth across the clans. His father had gone mad - he succumbed to an illness that made him believe his family was the enemy, that turned him violent, and that Bellamy’s mother had killed the king in self-defense. His mother of course, died at the hands of her own people.

“Yes,” Bellamy confirms. Clarke glances at him, now standing beside her. He seems relaxed still, unbothered by her question, but doesn’t elaborate.

“Your mother is beautiful,” Clarke offers, and she means it. No matter that the woman was born into a trader’s family in Polis - she appears regal in her own right. Queen Aurora resembled Octavia more than Bellamy, with her sharp jawline and intense eyes, but there was some unnameable feature Clarke saw in the painting that left little doubt in her mind that Bellamy was truly her son.

“She was,” he agrees. A small smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes appears on his lips as he follows Clarke’s gaze towards the painting. Clarke glances at him, feeling a surprising but intense pang of guilt at his loss.

“I’m sorry,” she blurts. 

Bellamy turns to face her immediately, apparently as surprised by her words as she is. Still, his answer indicates that he clearly understands the implication behind them - the acknowledgement that her people are responsible for the queen’s death. 

“That wasn’t - isn’t - your fault,” he assures her, almost gently.

“I know, I- I’m sorry it happened.” Her voice sounds small, childlike. 

Bellamy nods, murmuring his thanks. There’s an awkward beat of silence before Bellamy turns back towards the entrance. “Let’s continue.”

The rest of the tour is mostly uneventful. The building, their home, consists of many guest bedchambers and also a drawing room, where he holds meetings with his advisors. 

Bellamy concludes the tour at the entrance to his - no, their - bedchambers. Clarke notes that there’s a singular guard standing duty next to his door. 

“There will be at least two on duty when we sleep,” Bellamy informs her after nodding at the guard, who opens the door for them. It sounds like a reassurance, which Clarke tries not to read too much into. She remembers again that his people might not be as accepting of the marriage as he is.

Her thoughts on that vanish as the door is closed behind them and Clarke is left alone with Bellamy in their bedchambers. She hadn’t given much thought to this...dynamic, since leaving him this morning. But she supposes that he was clear about the terms of their marriage from the beginning and she has to assume that he will have her when he wants. The thought fills her with conflicting feelings of excited anticipation and dread. 

“This wardrobe is yours,” Bellamy tells her, leading her further in the room. 

Clarke looks around as she follows him. Like the rest of the castle, the bedchambers are similar to both Suskainau and Polis. Stone and brick walls, one of which hosts three large windows with a view onto the front lawn and street parallel to the front of the building. There’s a large fireplace, a table in front of it, a couch and two chairs surrounding it. Two wardrobes, one of which Bellamy is now opening, and of course, the very large bed. 

“I know you brought some of your own items, but there’s more clothing in here for you,” he explains. Clarke bites her lip to mask her smile, amused at how he seems to have become more nervous. 

“Thank you.”

Her eyes sweep over the room, landing on a screen like the one in Polis. 

“Running water?” she asks. 

Bellamy nods. 

The air suddenly feels sticky with tension and Clarke looks around the room again, trying to find anything to talk about. Her eyes land on a shelf hosting a few dozen books. 

“You read?” she asks, wandering over to it. It’s a stupid question - she knows he does, has seen him with a book. Still, Bellamy seems relieved at the question and walks over to join her.

“Whenever I can,” he answers. “Do you?”

Clarke nods. “I’ve read what I could, but even this - I haven’t seen a collection of books so large.” Books were hard to come by - any books not stored in a bunker or somewhere incredibly secure were easily incinerated by the bombs. 

Bellamy smiles at her response. “Well, they’re as good as yours now.”

--∞--

Clarke sorts through the wardrobe that Bellamy designated as hers, curious as to what clothing was left for her. She sifts through a larger variety than she expected, noting the shelf containing a few perfume oils, salves, and balms. Bellamy had excused himself shortly after he showed her the room, vaguely telling her he had a few errands to attend to. She wonders if he knew she needed a moment alone, and she appreciated the gesture. Finally, she had a moment to breathe and settle without any eyes on her. 

She had unpacked her few belongings and took the opportunity to bathe given that she would presumably be the center of attention at whatever this evening consisted of. But now, as she stared at the clothing options while wrapped in a thin towel, she realizes she has no idea how to dress for this particular celebration. She supposes they would have given her a dress if that was expected of her, but she really can’t be sure. Sighing, she decides to dress casually in a pair of black trousers and a dark green shirt with patches of leather sewn into the sleeves. She realizes once its on that the shirt ends just past her midriff, but the pants are high waisted anyways. Given the previous night, she guesses Bellamy won’t mind the stripe of exposed skin either. That intrusive thought nearly prompts her to change into something else entirely, but she only shakes her head and sits down on the couch in front of the fire in an attempt to relax. 

Clarke only manages to sit for a few minutes before she stands again, restless in her uncertainty. She isn’t sure where Bellamy went, when he’ll be back, and is eager to start whatever this celebration is. Her gaze wanders to the books Bellamy pointed out, but she knows she doesn’t have the focus to read at the moment. She wishes she had something to draw with. Too often it was the only thing that quieted her mind. Instead, she wanders over to one of the large windows, peering out from their second floor room. People have already started gathering in the circular street curved alongside the castle lawn. She watches them intently, crossing her arms across her chest as she feels the same pang of loneliness she felt in Polis, for that simple feeling of community that she’s never known. She knows it isn’t non-existent in Azgeda. In fact, Trikru and Azgeda aren’t so different at all in that way. It’s just always been out of reach for her, no matter where she is. 

At the sound of the door opening, Clarke spins around to find Bellamy walking into the room. She doesn’t miss how his eyes quickly rake over her, probably taking note of her new outfit. 

“Are you ready?”

Clarke nods. Given that Bellamy is in the same outfit he left Polis in, she guesses that her own clothing is probably fine. Still, she’s nervous to be presented as the queen and finds herself asking anyways.

“Is this okay?” she asks, glancing down at her shirt. “I wasn’t sure…”

“That’s perfect. You look beautiful.”

Clarke’s gaze snaps back up to meet his. No matter how many times he compliments her, it always catches her by surprise.  

“Thanks,” she murmurs, feeling heat flood her cheeks. 

It’s not real , she reminds herself. The voice belongs to her aunt. 

Bellamy walks over to join her at the window and looks down at the scene below. 

“Try not to be too nervous,” he tells her in a low voice. She turns to look up at him and finds him much closer than she realized. “I promise it’s not a test, only a party.”

Clarke lets out a laugh. “I suppose. But it is a test of sorts, isn’t it? I need them to like me.”

Bellamy shakes his head at that, like the prospect of them not liking her is absurd. She can’t help but think that for whatever reason, his judgement might be clouded, especially if her interactions with Octavia and Murphy are anything to go off of. 

“That won’t be a problem,” he promises. 

--∞--

Clarke takes another sip of her wine, letting out a laugh at Jasper’s description of Monty’s failed engineering projects over the years. Jasper, who she now knows is Monty’s best friend, assists Monty and Raven with their engineering and weaponry projects. 

Another good person to keep an eye on , she had immediately noted upon meeting him about thirty minutes ago. 

The celebration had started in a formal manner, with Bellamy and her exiting the castle side by side and Bellamy addressing the large crowd of people that had gathered in the streets. He gave a short speech about their marriage, not unlike Heda’s speech about the importance of their union and learning from each other in order to face a common enemy. The only part that surprised her was when, in a commanding and nearly fierce voice, he made a somewhat ominous statement explaining that Clarke and him were equals, and thus harm to her would be treated as harm to him and the clan. He even went as far as to say that any perpetrator would face the punishment for treason.

Clarke had swallowed thickly at that word. The punishment would be execution, she knew. It was a fate she hoped to avoid but wasn’t entirely certain she could. 

But then Bellamy effortlessly moved past the warning, transforming back into his charming self as he welcomed everyone to the celebration. The clan cheered, and although Clarke wasn’t at all certain it had anything to do with her, she could only be relieved that no one was protesting her presence. Given Bellamy’s words, it seemed that Clarke wouldn’t have anything to worry about - at least publicly. 

That had been a couple of hours ago, before the sun had sunk below the horizon. Now the street is illuminated by lanterns, some attached to buildings and some strung above them in the street in a zigzagged pattern. Various tables hold more food than she’s seen in a long time - various meats, fruits, vegetables, and of course, plenty of wine and moonshine. This set up was repeated in one street after another, spreading from the epicenter that was the castle. Clarke couldn’t deny that it was lovely, especially the various people playing music. Music was hardly present in Azgeda and Clarke wouldn’t no where to begin in naming or describing what instruments these people were playing. She only knows that she’s enjoying it. 

To Clarke’s relief, Bellamy remained glued to her side the entire evening as he introduced her to his people. It was admittedly tiring, but she tried her best to file away the details of everything she saw and heard. Some of the people clearly did not know Bellamy personally and greeted them formally. But others, like Jasper and Monty, were Bellamy’s friends. She knew it from their previous conversations, but it would have been obvious regardless. The only surprising fact was that Monty and Harper were partners, which Clarke discovered when Harper walked up to the four of them with a small baby wrapped firmly to her chest. She greeted Monty with a quick kiss on the cheek. 

“This is Jordan,” Harper tells Clarke, cradling her baby’s head with affection. 

“He’s beautiful,” Clarke smiles. She feels a surge of warmth just observing the way that both Monty and Harper watch him.

“And who is Jordan named after?” Jasper asks. He says it in a tone that indicates he knows the answer. 

Monty rolls his eyes at his friend in a good-natured manner. “Jordan is Jasper’s middle name,” he explains.

Clarke laughs and she sees that Bellamy does too, shaking his head at his friends. 

“Have you guys seen Raven?” Bellamy asks them. “I was hoping to introduce Clarke tonight.”

“I haven’t,” Harper shakes her head. 

“Well, these days, if you find Murphy, you’ve usually found Raven,” Jasper says, clearing reveling in the opportunity to gossip.

Bellamy raises his eyebrows at that, amused, but saying nothing. 

“Is that so?” Monty asks. 

Jasper shakes his head, as if he’s disappointed in them. “You guys don’t pay attention to anything.”

“On that note, we’ll see you guys later,” Bellamy tells them. 

Clarke tells them all goodbye and Monty and Jasper echo that it was nice to meet her. She nearly sighs in relief once they walk away, moving through the crowd again. Perhaps she was overreacting to think his people wouldn’t approve of her. 

“How are you doing?” Bellamy asks, hand falling to her lower back again. The simply gesture sends a tingle up her spine. 

“I’m okay,” Clarke nods. 

Bellamy narrows his eyes at her, nearly suspiciously. 

Clarke laughs. “What?”

“I’m beginning to suspect that it will always be your answer, no matter how you’re feeling.”

Clarke raises her eyebrows at the directness of his words. “I - I’m used to these sorts of events and appearances,” she tells him, after a beat. She doesn’t mention how she was never allowed to not be okay, not sure at all how to explain such a concept.

Bellamy nods, apparently accepting her answer. 

“Actually, I’m relieved,” she admits, taking another sip of the wine in her hand. 

“Relieved?”

“Nobody seems to hate me. I didn’t expect to be treated...well, I didn’t expect to be accepted easily by your people. But everyone has been kind.”

Bellamy shakes his head. “They won’t test my patience by disrespecting me.” There’s a more serious undertone to his voice now. “That never ends well for anyone,” he adds. 

A chill runs up Clarke’s spine at his words. They’re meant to be a warning towards the others, to anyone who dares to harm her . But she knows they might as well be a warning to her too, unbeknownst to him.

Our people,” he adds when she says nothing. 

“What?”

“You said your people, but they’re ours now. We’re no longer separate entities.”

“Right,” Clarke nods. “It’ll just take some getting used to.”

Clarke turns to face him when he doesn’t answer, but he’s peering ahead of them. 

“Well I guess Jasper was right,” Bellamy laughs lightly. 

Clarke follows his gaze and finds the guy who introduced himself as Murphy sitting next to a pretty brunette on a stoop a few houses down. She watches the girl, Raven she assumes, elbow Murphy as she laughs at something he said. 

“Raven!” Bellamy calls. 

The girl’s head pops up to find the source of his voice and a wild smile breaks out on her face as she sees Bellamy. It’s only when Raven stands does Clarke notice the leather brace secured to her leg and the way she’s slow to stand. Clarke bites down a smile when she sees how Murphy tries to help steady her, only for her to swat him away. 

“About time you show up,” Raven laughs as Bellamy pulls her into a tight hug.

Oh , Clarke realizes. So they’re...close. 

It bothers her in the most irrational way, but when she glances at Murphy, he doesn’t seem to think anything of their interaction. She’s being ridiculous. Besides, Bellamy isn’t really hers anyways. 

Then Bellamy gives Murphy a firm handshake and Clarke realizes that despite Bellamy’s comment in Polis, he seems fond of the guy. 

“Raven, this is Clarke,” he introduces, guiding Clarke closer to them. 

“It’s nice to meet-” Clarke starts, only to be cut off by the girl.

“So you’re our queen, huh,” Raven observes, crossing her arms as her gaze sweeps over Clarke. Clarke shifts uncomfortably at her clear assessment.

“Raven, play nice,” Bellamy warns. 

His tone, although not mean, still holds a firm warning. Raven gives him an unreadable look before offering Clarke her hand, squeezing it firmly when she shakes it.

“Nice to meet you, Clarke.”

“Raven, along with Monty and Jasper, attend our war strategy meetings,” Bellamy explains. “So we’ll all be seeing a lot of each other.”

Clarke isn’t so sure that’s a good thing. 

“Bellamy told me how brilliant you are,” Clarke tries, after an awkward beat.

“Is that so?” Raven asks, smirking at Bellamy. 

“Don’t fuel her ego,” Murphy mutters, causing Bellamy to laugh. 

“So,” Raven starts, eyes mischievous. “How was...last night?”

Clarke nearly spits out the wine she’s sipping and wishes she were far more intoxicated. 

“Nobody wants to hear about that.”

Clarke never thought she would be relieved to hear Octavia’s voice. She turns immediately to find Octavia walking up to the group, Lincoln trailing behind. Octavia passes by Clarke without a word and goes straight for Raven, wrapping her in a tight hug. Lincoln comes to stand beside Clarke, offering a smile, and she feels just the smallest bit less out of place. 

Clarke listens intently as Raven catches them up on what they missed while at Polis. She tries to focus on the facts, things she can use, but the loneliness bubbling up in her is distracting. These people are a family, she realizes. Closer than Clarke is with anyone who shares her blood.

Lincoln elbows her softly, causing Clarke to look up at the intimidating man. Although somehow, he’s the least intimidating person in the circle of people talking at the moment.

“Don’t let those two scare you,” he whispers, almost conspiratorially, nodding to Octavia and Raven. “They’re both incredibly protective of Bellamy, just give them time and in the meantime, don’t show fear.”

Clarke’s lips quirk into a small smile. “I don’t intend to.”

“Atta girl,” Lincoln laughs.

Octavia’s gaze snaps back to her at the sound of Lincoln’s laugh, eyes narrow and intense. 

--∞--

The celebration is still in full swing when Bellamy asks Clarke if she’s ready to go. She must not hide very well how relieved she is, because Bellamy lets out a soft laugh when she enthusiastically nods. 

“So now , how are you doing?” he asks as they make their way across the lawn. 

Clarke laughs. “I admit, I’m very tired.”

Bellamy nods, laughing softly. “It’s a lot of people to meet in a short amount of time.”

“I told you that you had nothing to worry about,” he adds, after a beat.

Clarke just hums at that as they approach the castle entrance. 

“No?” he questions, clearly surprised.

Clarke laughs. “ Mostly . I don’t think Raven and Octavia are very fond of me, but it’s okay. I understand.”

Bellamy sighs, shaking his head. “They just-”

“It’s okay, really,” Clarke insists. “Lincoln already gave me the pep talk.”

“Oh did he?” Bellamy sounds amused now.

“Yes. He just said how you’re close to them and their protective of you. I understand that.”

Bellamy nods. “He’s right.” He pauses for a moment as the guard opens the door for them and they walk into the dimly lit front entrance, the iron chandelier holding several candles acting as the only piece of lighting in the room. “Lincoln’s a good man. He has a good head on his shoulders - always thinks clearly and rationally in hard situations. My sister and I...that isn’t our strong suit. We act with our hearts, our emotions, first. It’s why I surround myself with people like Lincoln, Kane, and Indra,” he explains. “You know, he reminds me of you in that way.”

“Really?”

Bellamy smiles down at her as they make their way up the winding staircase to the second floor.

“Yes, really,” he laughs. “I can see your compassion, but you don’t let fleeting emotions impact your decisions. You approach things in a measured manner - it’s a good quality to have.”

Clarke’s cheeks flush for what feels like the hundredth time in the past few days. Bellamy is partly right, she supposes. She wishes she had the compassion he falsely sees in her. 

Thankfully, their arrival at their bedroom door spares Clarke from having to respond to his comment. As Bellamy promised, two guards are stationed in front of the door, one of whom opens it for them. 

Bellamy murmurs a thanks and follows Clarke into the room. Maybe it’s because she’s already thinking of their previous night together and whether that will happen again tonight, but for whatever reason, her eyes are drawn to their bed upon walking in. It’s why she immediately notices the small leather-bound book on the bed. She mindlessly walks over to it, driven by pure curiosity. It’s only when she’s standing next to the bed does she see the several sharpened charcoal pencils next to it. It isn’t a book, but a sketchbook, she realizes, picking it up with hesitant hands. 

“It’s not wasteful if it brings you joy.”

Clarke spins around to face Bellamy, sketchbook still in hand and a lump in her throat. She finds him standing right behind her, looking at her curiously. 

“Are you upset?”

Clarke shakes her head quickly, even though she can feel tears welling in her chest, her throat, her eyes. She chastizes herself, quickly breathing through the emotions. Swallowing them, locking them away.

“No, not at all. Thank you, I - it’s incredibly kind.”

“I just want you to be happy here, Clarke. Whatever I can do to make that happen, let me know.”

Clarke nods again, feeling a bit shell-shocked by the simple gift. 

“I’m going to bathe,” he tells her after a beat. “I won’t be long.”

Clarke nods again, still at a loss for words. She waits until he’s safely behind the screen before letting out a sigh and looking down at the sketchbook in her hands. Only then does she realize her hands are trembling. She sets the book and pencils onto the table next to what she assumes is her side of the bed, given the opposite table holds a lantern and a pile of three books. 

Her aunt’s words rattle around her skull as she walks over to the wardrobe. 

The king is charming. He’ll prey on your emotions, manipulate you.  

Clarke quickly finds a soft pair of trousers and a matching sleeveless shirt to change into. She changes, neatly folding the other clothing and placing them back into the wardrobe. On her way back to the bed, she begins unbraiding her hair. 

You’d be weak to give into that. Your clan will pay if you give into that.  

Her whole body aches, she realizes, as she climbs into one side of the bed. Playing this game is a different kind of exhausting than her missions as Wanheda were. Just as she pulls the blanket over her, Bellamy emerges from behind the screen. He’s shirtless but wearing a pair of trousers. Heart racing, her gaze follows him across the room and as he climbs into their bed. 

There is no room for you to be emotionally compromised by this man. 

Clarke has no idea what to expect. 

Will he want to sleep with her again? 

That’s why she’s here, isn’t it? 

To give him a child, a permanent link between Azgeda and Trikru? 

Instead, he surprises her by wishing her good night and turning off the lantern, plunging their room into darkness. She stares into the blackness, wondering how long she can possibly keep this up. 

He does not know you, and thus does not and cannot love you, no matter how convincing he may seem.

Do you understand?

Chapter Text

It’s still dark when Clarke wakes, the thick leather curtains pulled across their chambers’ windows blocking the sliver of light that rises to the horizon like oil atop water. Bellamy stirs beside her from where he’s sleeping soundly on his side of the bed, a generous space between them, as Clarke climbs out of bed as quietly as possible. Luckily, as she’s discovered, Bellamy is a heavy sleeper. Clarke waking him on their first morning together in Polis seems to have been an isolated incident. Her stomach twists when she makes a mental note that it may be useful to her later. 

It’s become routine since she arrived in Anapolei, two weeks ago to the day, for Clarke to rise before Bellamy. The first few days, he insisted on waking with her. In fact, he insisted on escorting her nearly everywhere, although Clarke could tell that it wasn’t because he didn’t trust her, but because he felt guilty leaving her alone anywhere. She managed to convince him that she was fine by bringing up the very rational point that the people should see her without him if they’re going to recognize her as an equal. She also reminded him that she could take care of herself on the rare occasion she ran into any trouble. He had given her a doubtful look at that and Clarke had to contain her laughter at the irony of him being worried for her, or doubting that she couldn’t take anyone who came for her. Regardless, he relented, and so now Clarke starts every morning with a walk throughout Anapolei. She never strays too far from the castle, but she’s managed to do a decent amount of exploring so far. Clarke is honest with him about the fact that she goes on these walks in order to familiarize herself with the city, even if she isn’t being honest about the reasons why.

Clarke quickly changes into a plain pair of black pants and a long-sleeve gray shirt before slipping on her jacket. Spring has officially arrived, but the mornings are still damp and cool enough to chill her cheeks and hands. She glances at Bellamy as she braids her hair in the half-up style she wears nearly everyday, able to just make out his face given the low glow provided by the embers in the fireplace. He always looks so much younger when he sleeps - boyish despite the decade he has on her. Looking away quickly, she heads to the door, feeling like she’s gotten away with something too delicious to feel guilty about - a second piece of pie for dessert, ten extra minutes in the sun when her mother ordered her to come inside, rides at dawn with Orion when she was supposed to be meeting with her aunt. 

The guards only nod at her when she walks past them, more of an acknowledgement than a greeting. By the time she leaves the castle, the horizon is a bright orange that bleeds into pink and blue. Clarke takes a deep breath as she walks through the streets, the scent of sea salt still new and exciting to her. Unlike Bellamy, many in town are already awake and starting their days, mostly shopkeepers opening their doors. Some offer smiles that don’t reach their eyes, and others avoid her gaze entirely. She’s used to this reaction by now. No one is rude, but no one is warm either. Her presence has been defined by a weariness that she’s yet to escape. She assumes that it will only take time for them to warm up to her, but also recognizes she might be long gone before that happens, one way or another.

Clarke guesses that the walk to the water is about a mile or so, which is where she ends up every morning. It’s stupidly indulgent of her, serves no real purpose to stare at the horizon as the morning drags the sun into the sky, but she always ends up here all the same. Maybe it’s because it reminds her of the Podon Bigas, of her mother. Maybe it’s just because it’s shiny and new, and if she’s likely to die in the coming months, then she might as well see as much of the world as she can manage to grasp at. It’s a bay really, not even the ocean. She can see to the other side, which is already less expansive than her mothers’ lakes, but it’s still something. She can no longer afford to be picky about the small moments of joy she stumbles upon. 

“Clarke!”

Clarke is so lost in her thoughts that the voice startles her, making her physically jump. She curses herself for that small concession when she sees that it’s Octavia walking towards her from the skeleton of a large marble building on the water. Clarke recently learned that it’s used as a training center. 

Clarke does her best to plaster on a warm smile, even if doing so feels as ridiculous as smiling at a panther who regards her as prey.

“Good morning,” she offers, tone more prim than she intends. This woman unnerves her - in part because she’s Bellamy’s protective sister, but also simply because of the intense energy she always seems to vibrate with.

Octavia doesn’t acknowledge the greeting, but her lips twist into something that Clarke assumes is supposed to be a smile. She hasn’t been any less guarded in the last two weeks, but she’s at least seemed to stand down in the only way she knows how. 

“What are you doing out here?” Octavia asks, assuming Clarke must have a particular purpose. Clarke supposes if you grow up with a view like this, it’s easy to lose sight of all the ways in which you should appreciate it. 

“I’m an early riser,” Clarke shrugs. “I’ve been going for walks in the morning, trying to familiarize myself with the city.”

Octavia hums at that, her gaze refocusing on where Clarke was staring a moment ago, as if searching for something in particular that piqued Clarke’s interest. She won’t find anything.

“You’re also an early riser,” Clarke observes, mostly for something to say. 

Octavia huffs a laugh. “One of the many differences between my brother and I.”

Clarke’s smile at that is genuine, as she thinks about the man probably still sleeping peacefully in their bed. 

“Another difference,” Octavia continues, “Is that my brother always sees the good in people. Lincoln is like that too, but I’m a little more skeptical.”

Clarke swallows, but manages to maintain a perfect mask at the pointed comment. 

“It’s an admirable trait, but I’m more of a skeptic myself too,” Clarke responds, voice even. 

Octavia’s eyes sweep over her face, trying to find something that she never will. It’s not a matter of Clarke being so good at hiding as it is a result of there being nothing to hide after so many years of this game. Eventually, Octavia simply hums again. 

“Harper and I were about to start training with a few others,” she says, after a beat. “Why don’t you join us?”

Once again, Octavia’s expression reminds Clarke of a panther searching for prey. She grits her teeth to hold in her laugh. Clarke isn’t cocky enough to believe with certainty that she could beat Octavia, but she knows that it would at least be a thoroughly fair fight. Octavia’s hungry expression reveals she believes otherwise, and it’s nothing short of comical. 

“I’m not dressed properly,” Clarke excuses. “Besides, I’m sure I’m hardly up to par with you guys - I’m not a warrior.”

“Well that’s why you need to be trained,” Octavia argues. “You’re a queen, you need to be able to defend yourself.”

“I’ve had basic training,” Clarke bites back, unable to keep the irritation from her voice. She hates to be underestimated, even if that’s exactly what she’s supposed to portray herself as - weak. It’s harder than one would think to constantly fold yourself into a box. Clarke always feels ready to burst.

“Well, you should have more than that. A queen can be a warrior too, it didn’t stop my mother from learning.”

Clarke tries to hide her surprise at the casual mention of the former queen. Bellamy hasn’t spoken of either of his parents since that first day in the dining hall, despite that they’ve eaten two meals a day nearly everyday in front of their paintings. Octavia, however, doesn’t seem to have any reservations about it. 

“Another time,” Clarke agrees. 

Octavia clenches her jaw, not unlike her brother does when he’s frustrated. But in the end, she only nods and tells Clarke that she’ll see her at breakfast. When she finally leaves, Clarke looks back towards the water again, yearning for something that has no name.

--∞--

Bellamy is just stepping out of the bath when Clarke enters their chambers. Although he doesn’t rise as early as Clarke, she now knows that he goes on a short run every morning before returning to bathe. In the short amount of time they’ve spent married, they’ve already fallen into a sort of routine that suggests an intimacy she has no right to.

Clarke sits down on the settee in front of the fire, trying her hardest not to let her gaze linger on Bellamy’s silhouette behind the screen as he dries himself. 

“Morning,” he greets her, emerging from the screen and toweling his hair dry. 

He’s completely naked as he walks over to the dresser. Clarke averts her eyes, staring intently at the fire as she mumbles a greeting in response. It’s not that this is new, it’s that it still catches her off guard every time. It’s something about Bellamy she’s yet to figure out. Not since their consummation ceremony has he so much as touched her while in bed together. There were small touches elsewhere - a guiding hand on her back, a brush of his arm against hers while they eat - but nothing substantial. He has no reservations about flaunting his naked form in front of her, but he’s shown no indication that he wants her again. Part of her worries she did something wrong during the ceremony. He enjoyed himself - it certainly seemed like it - but she’s new to all this. What does she know? All she knows is that the purpose of this union, regardless of false pretenses, is producing an heir. Yet, he seems to have no interest in doing so.

“Ready?” he asks.  

Clarke turns to him and offers a smile, a strange concoction of relief and disappointment flooding her when she finds him fully clothed. 

“Yeah,” she agrees, standing.

It’s only ten minutes later that they’re seated at breakfast in their usual seats, facing the rest of the tables. Clarke is quiet as she eats a plate of egg, potatoes, and a piece of salted pork, that one of the kitchen workers brought out to her. Bellamy is speaking with Lincoln, seated on his other side, and Octavia is on the end next to Lincoln. On Clarke’s other side sits Indra, who hasn’t said so much as a few words to her since she arrived in Anapolei. The woman is even more intimidating than Octavia, but thankfully she’s occupied by Kane seated on her other side. 

Clarke’s eyes sweep across the various groups of people scattered across the different tables in front of them, enjoying the same breakfast as her. She recognizes many of them - it only took about a week to realize that Bellamy’s statement about allowing people to dine with them in order to “discuss matters of importance in an informal setting” was nothing short of a lie. Nobody has ever approached Bellamy at a meal, although she knows that he isn’t opposed to it. She quickly discovers, given the unkept state of many frequent diners, that they are here for a free meal. Not only is Bellamy making sure the poorest in his city remain fed, but he is offering them dignity with the veiled excuse. Clarke can’t help but find it strange - she certainly has never heard of any king or queen doing something like this, but she supposes she really only has Agzeda and Podakru to compare it to. From what she remembers from her visits with Podakru, they didn’t see it as their responsibility to personally put food on the table for their people. Nia would certainly never consider it - Clarke can’t remember how many times she’s heard Nia lecture that if people were without food or housing, it was because their own failures had led them to that fate.

“Clarke?” Bellamy asks from beside her, pulling her attention away from the diners. “We’re planning to meet in the drawing room after breakfast, is that alright?”

“Of course,” Clarke nods, tripping over the two simple words. It’s still strange for her to be asked rather than demanded, and always throws her off balance for a moment.

Bellamy offers a soft smile before sticking a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.

--∞--

In the two weeks since her arrival, they hadn’t yet discussed Mt. Weather in a formal setting. Needless to say, as Bellamy leads the group from breakfast to the drawing room, Clarke is nervous. This is the kind of information that Nia wants and so Clarke has to pay close attention and can’t let a single fact slip by unnoticed. 

The drawing room isn’t all that different from any other room in the castle, or different from the drawing room in Polis for that matter. There’s a singular long table with chairs, a fireplace, several maps hung on the wall, and a few other couches and chairs lining the walls. Like their bedroom, it’s on the second floor of the front side of the castle, three large windows lining the wall. By the time they walk in, several others are waiting for them. Clarke knows them by name now - Monty, Harper, and Raven are all sitting at the table, Raven’s attention completely absorbed by a piece of paper in front of her. Murphy is sitting on a smaller desk pushed against one of the walls, loudly crunching on an apple, and Miller and Jasper are both lounging in chairs pushed against the opposite wall, the latter’s legs thrown over the arm of his chair. Jasper and Miller immediately jump up when Bellamy enters the room, hurrying to take a seat at the table. Murphy wanders over too, with much less urgency. Clarke hesitates, unsure of where to sit, but Bellamy nods at the seat next to the head of the table where he sits down. Clarke offers a smile at Harper, sitting on the other side of her, having left Clarke’s seat open as if she knew it was reserved for her. Raven, sitting across from Clarke, still doesn’t look up from the paper she’s studying. 

Bellamy knocks on the table next to Raven’s hand, looking at her expectantly. Her head pops up dramatically, looking around at the table, clearing not having noticed everyone’s arrival. 

“Sorry,” she says hurriedly, sliding the paper over to Bellamy. “Here.”

Clarke studies Bellamy as Bellamy studies whatever it is that Raven handed him. There are a few things that Bellamy told Clarke prior to this, so that she wouldn’t be walking into the meeting blind. The most important piece of information was learning that Lincoln was kidnapped by the Mountain Men months ago. They had every intention of turning him into a reaper, and although it was a horrifying prospect, it ended up working in their favor. He was saved by a girl who told him that there was a group of people inside the mountain who didn’t agree with what their leadership was doing. The girl gave him vital intelligence regarding the entrance to the mountain - that the main door was powered by electricity, which was powered by machines in some building sitting on the river. A dam, she thinks she remembers being told. 

The whole thing is hard for Clarke to wrap her head around - while Clarke and most grounders know that electricity was something that existed in the old world, no clan has ever been close to bringing it back. Some clans, like Azgeda, are even openly suspicious of it, believing that kind of power is what led to the bombs that wiped out the old world. Clarke has never quite bought into that, but she’s also never given it much thought - about them not having electricity, or about what having it could mean. 

“It was folded in a hole in the tree,” Lincoln explains, Bellamy’s eyes still scanning the drawing. “It’s a blueprint of the mountain - a guide to how we can get in.”

Clarke remembers Bellamy mentioning that the girl directed Lincoln to a specific tree near the Mountain-Trikru border, and somehow found a way to pass notes to Trikru by leaving them there. Trikru is assuming that at least one of the guards with access to their suits is working with the same group the girl mentioned.

“How do we know they aren’t feeding us false information?” Clarke asks.

“Leave it to Azgeda to assume an act of goodwill is a lie,” Raven mumbles.

Bellamy fixes her with a hard stare and she looks back down at the table. 

“We don’t,” Bellamy answers, turning away from a scolded Raven. “Which is why we need to be cautious, think this through.”

“It was the place the girl specifically told me to check,” Lincoln explains to Clarke. “I don’t think it makes sense she would lie, given how she saved me, but you’re right - we don’t know if she’s been compromised since then.”

Bellamy sighs, running his hand through his hair, looking back down at the blueprints. He looks frustrated. 

“We need a way to confirm its validity before we put any trust in it,” Clarke points out.

Bellamy looks up at her, gaze curious. “Like what?”

“Like an inside man.”

Everyone looks up at her comically fast, expressions a mix of surprised and pessimistic. Except Murphy of course - he just looks bored.

“You want to send one of our people,” Octavia starts, speaking slowly, as if she couldn’t have heard Clarke correctly. “Into an enemy’s fortress. I know you’re Azgeda, but here, we try not to kill Trikru people.”

“O,” Bellamy nearly growls at her. “That’s enough.”

Clarke slinks back into her chair, cheeks flushing pink. What she wants to tell them is that she could do it - slinking through the shadows unnoticed, blending in, is what she’s best at. But they would never go for that - not to mention how she would have to explain how she has those skills.

“Sorry,” Clarke immediately mumbles. She shouldn’t have said anything at all.

“No,” Bellamy immediately answers. “You’re on the right track - you’re not wrong. I just don’t know that we can afford the risk.” 

--∞--

Clarke spends the rest of the afternoon wandering, unsure of what to do with herself. If she was being productive, she’d call it snooping, but the truth is she’s simply bored. She’s used to her days being filled with meetings, with following Bellamy around. But they have nothing more to do today, after he instructed the room that he and Clarke would think on what to do next regarding the mountain and the blueprint. Clarke didn’t miss a few scowls at the mention of her name being included with Bellamy’s, namely from Octavia and Raven, but Clarke found she didn’t really care. She liked the way that there was a Bellamy and her a little more than she should. Bellamy went off to train with Lincoln and Clarke declined the invitation, telling Bellamy that she wanted to sketch or read instead. That only lasted about an hour, before she started to become stir crazy in their bedroom, which is how Clarke ended up wandering the halls of the castle like she is now, her sketchbook under her arm. 

She doesn’t pay attention to where she’s going, too lost in her own thoughts to realize that she stumbled upon a narrow hallway split off from the main upstairs corridor. The castle isn’t big enough that she hasn’t already seen most of it - she must have walked by this hallway a dozen times, too distracted to give it a second thought. But now she’s looking at the singular door at the end of it, and she’s curious, and most of all, she’s bored. She feels a little like Wanheda when approaching it, like she’s supposed to be sticking to the shadows, like she isn’t supposed to be caught, despite the fact that nobody told her not to open this door.

The door groans when she pushes it open, but it opens easily enough that Clarke imagines it hasn’t been closed for a long time. She doesn’t know what to make of the area she walks into - a small, square room with no windows. Her gaze is drawn upwards, to where the only light that fills the room seems to be coming from. As her eyes adjust, she notices the iron spiral staircase leading up. It’s melted in a few places, from the bombs probably, and repaired in other sections with stones and wood. Clarke is careful as she steps onto it, cautious as she slowly lets it hold all of her weight. Looking up, all she can see is that there’s natural light coming through. She grips what’s left of the railing and climbs upward, emerging from the hole onto a solid stone floor. 

The dome , she thinks, spinning around the small area. I’m in the dome .

With all the windows blown out and some pieces of the walls and ceiling missing, it nearly feels like she’s on an outdoor balcony, but its surviving walls still provide enough cover that it feels like she’s indoors. She walks around the circle twice, in awe of the view it provides. Clarke can see Anapolei spreading out from the castle in every direction, can see as far as the water and the woods. The people below her look small - not quite ant-sized like they do when looking down from the highest floor of the Polis tower, but comically small all the same.

Clarke huffs a laugh, feeling like she’s stumbled upon a buried treasure. There’s nothing there but a single lantern on the floor. She does a few more laps, doing nothing but staring below at the tiny people. She’s not used to feeling so big amongst them - it somehow makes her feel both powerful and lonely. After a few minutes, she chooses a windowsill with a mostly smooth surface that faces the water and pulls out her sketchbook, smiling in spite of everything.

--∞-- 

Clarke lays still on her back, gaze trained on the ceiling that she can just barely see given the dying glow of the fire. Ordinarily, her eyes would be heavy at this hour, but anticipation and adrenaline have her feeling more alert than ever. Bellamy has long stilled, his breathing steady, sleeping like a rock per usual. Clarke waits until the sounds in the streets below are nearly non-existent, until she knows the witching hour is nearing. As quietly as possible, she climbs out of bed and slides on a thin robe, glancing once more at Bellamy’s sleeping form before she grabs her sketchbook and opens the door to their bedchambers. 

The guards turn to her as she shuts the door behind her.

“Everything alright?” one asks.

Clarke nods. “Just couldn’t sleep - I’m going to have some tea and draw,” she tells them quietly, holding up her sketchbook as if she needs the evidence.

“Do you want an escort?”

“Oh no, I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

She turns away from her before they can answer. When she glances back as she turns the corner, they look unconcerned. It isn’t ideal, but she quickly realized there would be no way to avoid them seeing her and had to think of another way. Her heart races as she makes her way down to the kitchen. The castle is silent, so quiet that the quiet seems to be its own unnerving sound. Every creak has her on edge because of it. The large kitchen is as quiet and dark as the rest of castle, and when she walks in, she’s affronted by a long-forgotten memory. 

Clarke is little, although what age, she can’t say. She sneaks out of her bedroom and down to her castle’s kitchen, feeling like she’s on an important mission long before her days as Wanheda. She was told that she couldn’t have a second helping of honey cake with dinner, but that seemed unjust to her. They almost never had honey cake with dinner, and so, Clarke thinks she deserves that second piece. 

The kitchen is quiet, dark and shadowed. She feels a mischievous thrill run through her as she climbs onto the counter and reaches for the box that she’s almost sure has what she’s looking for. Clarke can’t wait to tell her new friend Wells all about this - he’ll scold her for it, but she’s sure he’ll be jealous of her bravery, of her midnight adventure. She must jinx herself, because the kitchen door swings open at that moment. Clarke’s head whips around, blue eyes widening as she’s caught red handed with her hand on the box. Her father raises an eyebrow at her, seemingly as surprised to see her as she is to see him. Clarke quickly lets go of the box, her clasping each other, but she knows it isn’t looking good for her. 

Of course it had to be her father who catches her. She supposes it could be worse - her aunt, for example, could have caught her. Or Roan, who would certainly have blackmail her. But her father is still the more strict of her parents and she hasn’t seen much of him since he inherited the throne months ago.

“Clarke,” he says, walking towards her. Her name itself sounds like a scolding. 

“What might you be doing down here in the middle of the night?” he asks as he walks towards her, stopping in front of her. With her seated on the counter, she’s face-level with him, her own blue eyes staring back at her. It’s strange to be the same height as him - he’s always been such an intimidating presence. 

“I don’t know,” she mumbles, looking down at her hands. 

“You don’t know?” he asks, using a finger to pull her chin up so that she’s looking at him again. “Could it have something to do with that cake right there?”

“Maybe,” Clarke admits. 

She’s shocked when her usually stern father appears more amused than angry. 

“Well,” he starts, opening the box. She can smell the sugar as soon as he does. “What do you say we split this?” Clarke giggles, excited to have a co-conspirator. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“Okay,” she agrees.

“Okay,” he laughs, cutting the large remaining piece in half. 

Clarke stays sitting on the counter as they eat, legs swinging, her father leaning against the adjacent one. 

“Is it bad if we lie about the cake?” she asks, her mouth full of it. Her father laughs, sweeping a crumb from her mouth.

“Well,” he starts. “There are a lot of different kinds of lies. Some are bad - the ones that hurt people. Sometimes we lie to protect people, because we love them. But little lies about cake - they don’t do any harm.”

Clarke thinks her mother would disagree - she always tells her not to lie. But she smiles at her father, happy to have any excuse for more cake and more time with him. 

Clarke knows they talked for a long time that night, but what she mostly remembers is a sense of relief at her father’s presence after him being so frequently pulled away from her as a new king. She tries her best to swallow her grief as she makes her way to one of the usually-empty cabinets tucked away in the corner of the kitchen. She’ll never feel that same relief again. 

Clarke pulls her jacket and boots out of the cabinet, having stored them there hours ago, and puts her sketchbook in its place. She doesn’t have the luxury of changing into better clothing, so she only replaces her robe with her jacket and stores it with her sketchbook. The soft trousers and short-sleeved shirt she wore to bed will have to do. She did remember to bring a dagger though, hoping that it’s enough if she runs into any trouble. Glancing around the kitchen once more, it dawns on her that if she does run into any trouble, this might be her last moment spent in the Anapolei castle. It seems like she’s always preparing for last moments , and although she tries not to, she grieves each one. She’s so tired of goodbyes. 

It’s easy enough for Clarke to slip out of the castle unnoticed, given that she’s memorized where any guards usually stand. She also selected her jacket that has a hood, since she knows her blonde hair is her most noticeable feature and she isn’t going to be get away with dying it. Her heart is pounding as she makes her way through the city and toward the main road they traveled in on. Everything about this feels uncomfortable and wrong - she’s never had to sneak out of Suskainau on her way to a mission. She’s never had to go on a mission as Clarke instead of Wanheda. She’s never had to sneak through the night as a person instead of a ghost. Still, Wanheda’s instincts ripple beneath the surface, on alert if she should need them.

Clarke follows the main road by walking parallel to it in the woods, easily navigating the dark. This part is familiar. Enough so that her mind goes on autopilot as she walks towards Severai. She keeps a quick pace, knowing that it will take at least an hour to reach the trading post. Clarke should spend her time thinking up excuses in the case Bellamy finds their bed empty, and the kitchen too. She nearly laughs considering that the success of her plans as a spy are largely dependent on her new husband’s sleep patterns. But as her mind wanders to him, escape plans aren’t exactly the kind of thoughts that take root. In her three weeks in Anapolei, she’s become increasingly fascinated by her new husband. It’s a dangerous practice, but she studies the way that his lips quirk in an imbalanced manner when he smiles, their lopsidedness somehow still perfect. She studies the way that his freckles look differently under the candlelight when he’s reading in their bed. She studies his hands, and wonders how they can hold a sword so fiercely when they so delicately flip the pages of a book. 

In the week since she discovered the dome, she claimed it as her personal hiding space. Somewhere to go and be whoever it is that she is by herself - not Wanheda, or the Azgeda Princess, or the Trikru Queen. Just Clarke. She brings her sketchbook with her and starts to draw buildings and sunsets, but always ends up drawing curls and dimples instead. Her husband is somehow both a distraction and a target, as contradictory as that is.

Clarke slows as she approaches the Severai trading post. There’s a single lantern lit, hanging on the outside wall next to the door, but no one around. She keeps her distance from the actual building, walking deeper into the woods as she passes it, paying more attention to her surroundings as she does. Nia had told her it’s few miles north, and based on Clarke’s internal compass that she’s honed during her travel as Wanheda, it’s an accurate assessment. After heading north for another three quarters of an hour, Clarke finally sees the faint glow of a lantern. The woods clear just barely enough to reveal a path to a single-room stone building, what was presumably a small house in the old world. Half its roof is missing, but the remnants of a chimney remain strong. 

Clarke grips her dagger tightly, ready, just in case. When she cautiously walks through the open doorway, she finds Roan sitting behind the lantern, looking more relaxed than he probably should be. The lantern’s glow lights up his face in a way that makes him look like a predator, but her cousin doesn’t scare her. Annoys her maybe, but never scares her.

“You made it,” he says by way of greeting, voice nearly bored.

Clarke sits down next to him with a huff, back against the adjacent wall. She feels more exhausted from the hike than she ought to, which probably has to do with the spike of adrenaline.

“I don’t have much time,” Clarke tells him.

“Then lets hear it, your highness,” Roan drawls. 

Clarke picks up a small stone and chucks it at him, but he easily doges it. She relays to him everything she’s learned so far - namely about Lincoln and the people inside the mountain that are apparently helping them, and about the electricity-powered door that guards the mountain.

“Interesting,” Roan hums. “The king seems to have forgotten to share that bit with the coalition.”

“Well, he probably will during the next meeting,” she quickly replies, unable to discern why it felt like an instinct to defend him.

Roan raises his eyebrows at her.

What ?” she asks, rolling her eyes. She knows exactly what.

“Don’t get stupid on me.”

“I’m not.”

Roan looks at her a little longer, but eventually just asks her what else she has. Clarke tells him less important things that may still be useful to Nia, like Raven and Monty’s inventions and about the people closest to Bellamy. Clarke still doesn’t share anything about Bellamy’s family in Polis. She convinces herself it’s because it isn’t relevant, but feels like she’s lying by omitting it anyway. Her father’s words come back to her, prodding at the corners of her mind. 

“There are a lot of different kinds of lies. Some are bad - the ones that hurt people. Sometimes we lie to protect people, because we love them. But little lies about cake - they don’t do any harm.”

She wonders what type of lie it is to keep things from Nia, and she wonders what type of lie it is to spy on Bellamy and Trikru. Most of all, she wonders what category the lies you tell yourself fall under.

“That all?” Roan asks, once she’s finished.

“Yeah, that’s all for now.”

“I know it’s hard for you to break away - we can wait until the coalition meeting next month to talk again. We’ll find a way to meet in Polis, but if there’s something urgent, find a way to get it to us.”

Clarke nods. She doesn’t ask how she might do that, knowing she’ll have to figure it out like she always does - like she figured out how to slip away from Anapolei tonight. 

--∞--

The sun is low in the sky, setting it ablaze all around her from her usual spot curled on the dome’s blown out window. She looks over to the water, how it shines brightly, before turning back towards her drawing. She needs to go down for dinner soon, but she’s almost done with this sketch, which may or may not be another one of Bellamy, and she can’t pull herself away. 

It’s been a week since her meeting with Roan, when she successfully slipped back into the castle early in the morning. The guards said nothing, Bellamy didn’t wake, and she dared to believe she’d successfully gotten away with it. To say that she’s been calm since then would be an exaggeration - she can never be calm in Anapolei, not given what she’s ultimately here to do. But at least that particular hurdle is behind her. Meeting with Roan or Nia in Polis will be miles easier.

“I see you’ve found a nice hiding spot.”

Clarke is so focused on getting his curls right, that she thinks she’s hallucinating his voice. Her head snaps up to find him standing next to the stairs, looking at her curiously. She steels herself for a scolding, knowing there’s a chance she isn’t supposed to be up here, but he only seems amused. As discretely as she can, she lays her arm over her sketchbook so that he won’t see it.

“It must not be a very good one,” she quips, offering a hesitant smile.

Bellamy chuckles, walking over closer to her, gaze trained on the water for a brief moment.

“Oh, from my experience, it’s actually a very good hiding spot,” he tells her, leaning against the wall next to her. “But that’s probably because I’ve banned everyone else from coming up here.”

Clarke’s smile drops, an apology on her lips, but he waves it off.

“I would have said something, if I didn’t want you here. Maybe we can share.”

Clarke smiles again, dreadful butterflies swarming in her when she takes in the way the evening sun reflects off his tan skin. “If you’re sure it’s okay.”

“More than sure - but we have dinner now, if you’re ready,” he tells her, nodding towards the stairs. 

Clarke quickly closes her sketchbook, still obscuring its view from him, and hops off the windowsill. Bellamy standing in the dome with her is a strange experience. The dome makes her feel large - bigger than human life, like a detached God watching down on everyone else. Bellamy’s presence anchors her in a way that she didn’t know she craved until now, shaves off a layer of her loneliness. Often, when she looks at something beautiful like the view from the dome, she feels like there’s an appreciation or feeling that she simply can’t reach. She can recognize its beauty, but there’s an emptiness to it. Clarke never realized the emptiness could be filled by another person, but with Bellamy standing next to her in front of the sunset, she knows it can. He’s taken the shell of a pretty picture and given it substance.  

In another life, she might insist that they stay up here a bit longer, that they watch the sun surrender, standing side by side. In another life, she might even kiss him. But there is no side by side, there is only her own surrender, and it cannot be to him. 

Chapter Text

Clarke holds her head high as she walks through Anapolei, Bellamy next to her and the two of them flanked by their usual entourage of advisors and most-trusted warriors. He smiles easily at his people when they walk by, their eyes following the group like moths to a flame. She strives to appear as easily confident as he does, knowing she’ll never quite reach that place. Clarke is used to being tucked away and the sudden exposure as Queen has her feeling like a bat thrown into the sunlight for the first time, flailing as it gets used to the exposure. 

She thinks that even if her life was different, this quality Bellamy possesses would still be out of reach for her. It’s not quite charm - that word is too cheap, too flimsy, too fleeting, to encompass what burns in him. She’s not sure there is a singular word for it, but it’s clear that he inspires his people and demands their respect in a way that few others can. Whatever this unnameable quality is, it’s something innate that cannot be bought or learned. Whatever it is, Bellamy has it and she does not. The best she can hope for is garnering half the respect his people hold for him and that no one grows too suspicious of her in the short amount of time she intends to be here.

They walk through the center of the city and eventually arrive at the edge of it, in front of a large stone building. She looks up at it with curious eyes, realizing that it resembles the church Bellamy brought her to over a month ago. It’s half the size of that one, but the structure that sits on the river resembles it all the same. Her cheeks flush as Lincoln pushes open the heavy wooden door, letting their party inside. Glancing at Bellamy, she foolishly wonders if the same memories of their first kiss are running through his mind like they are hers. If they are, he masks it well. Bellamy never gives anything away unless he wants to - unless he chooses to let his guard down. 

Clarke isn’t sure what this church looked like before, because nothing that served its past purpose remains. Instead, it is filled with different pieces of machinery that Clarke barely has the knowledge to describe, let alone name. Open windows provide ample light, but lanterns hung along all four walls aid in brightening the space. There are wide wooden tables throughout the large space, tools and different papers scattered across all of them. At first glance, this place looks like a proper mess, but Clarke supposes that Raven has her own way of organizing things.

Bellamy had explained to Clarke that Raven doesn’t like visitors when she’s trying to work, but that she summoned the group to share something with them. Despite her invitation, Raven pays them no mind as they file into the building. Both her and Monty are bent over one of the tables, Jasper sitting on it beside them. He’s drinking something out of an old mason jar and wearing a pair of goggles on his head, although Clarke isn’t sure what purpose they serve.

Monty notices them first and gently elbows Raven, who looks up as the group approaches the table. Clarke doesn’t miss how Raven’s eyes linger on her for a beat too long, as if annoyed by her presence. Averting her gaze, Clarke’s eyes land on Monty and Harper instead. Harper greets him with an easy kiss. That’s exactly what their love seems to be - easy, natural, effortless. Clarke can’t fathom what that’s like. The only love she’s known has had jagged edges, tainted with duty and sacrifice. The only love she’s known is heavy, and her body is growing tired under the weight of it. 

“I think we’ve figured it out,” Raven announces. Her voice is more serious than usual, lacking the cocky undertone Clarke has grown familiar with. 

While Bellamy acknowledged that Clarke’s plan to send in an inside man was smart, he decided against it. He said being captured and taken to be turned into a reaper was the only way, and that it was too dangerous for any of his people. Clarke didn’t miss how strained his voice was when talking about the reapers, and she can’t help but wonder if his personal experiences with them extend beyond Lincoln’s capture and escape. She thinks he shouldn’t be making such decisions based on fear, but even as Queen, she knows it isn’t her place to tell him otherwise. 

Instead, they decided to focus on what they learned directly from the girl who helped Lincoln - electricity. They were weary to depend on the blueprints at first, unsure of if they were truly passed along from the girl, but Bellamy sent scouts closer to the mountain in the dead of night to verify. There was no way to know what lied in and under he mountain, but they were at least able to verify the prints’ accuracy based on the outside of the mountain. 

“What do you have?” Bellamy asks, leaning closer to the table.

“The blueprints - they show how they use the water to power their electricity. No power, no electricity…no functioning security system. No security system-”

“No locked doors,” Bellamy finishes, before giving her a doubtful look. “But disarming their power system can’t be so easy.”

“No,” Raven agrees. “Not easy, but possible. We just need a way to infiltrate that building - which isn’t under the mountain - before they realize we’re there.”

“We need a distraction,” Monty adds. “If they know the power has been tampered with, they’ll be waiting at the door - with resources we know nothing of.”

“You need a mask,” Clarke says aloud, without thinking. Everyone turns to look at her, both confused and expectant.

“You need a decoy,” she clarifies. “The tunnels Lincoln mentioned yesterday - they won’t expect us to know of those or attempt to enter that way. We make sure all their resources are pooled at the main door, and take half the army through the tunnels. We’ll have them from both directions when the doors open.”

Clarke’s face burns when no one says anything and she instantly regrets opening her mouth. Maybe it was ridiculous, stupid in a way she doesn’t even realize. She doesn’t expect Murphy to be the first to speak.

“Well damn - that’s kind of brilliant.”

Clarke raises her brow in surprise - she certainly wouldn’t use that word to describe her idea, but at least he doesn’t think it’s stupid. Everyone begins clamoring and murmurs of agreement and further suggestions ripple through the small group. Clarke can’t help but feel pride that even Raven seems impressed. After a minute of everyone talking over each other, Bellamy quiets the group.

“I wouldn’t say brilliant,” Raven huffs, glaring at Murphy. “But with the coalition, we have the numbers - I think it’ll work.”

--∞--

Clarke is exhausted by the time Bellamy and her head back to their chambers after a late dinner. The day was a long one, spent hammering out more details of their plan - her plan, she remembers with an unfamiliar sense of satisfaction - so that it’s ready to be presented to Heda during their trip to Polis next month. Their largest hurdle is the issue of the reapers, which they have to be prepared for like any other weapon the mountain might have in its arsenal. Still, it was a day of progress. One that made her head ache, but in a good way. It feels like soreness after a workout, but for once, Clarke was able to offer something more than her body. 

It’s strange enough for Clarke to wrap her head around the fact that Bellamy so readily includes her in all their meetings and decisions, but to be an active participant in them is jarring. She’s so used to being nothing more than a foot soldier, a tool or weapon, that she never considered she might be good at making decisions on her own. 

“You’re good at this, you know,” Bellamy tells her, as if reading her mind. He offers a soft smile that makes something in her stomach flutter. “Strategy, I mean,” he elaborates. “You remind me of Heda Lexa in that way. You can see the big picture through the clouds.”

Clarke huffs a laugh. “Please do not insult Heda by comparing me to her.”

“I’m not insulting her, I’m complimenting her.”

Clarke’s cheeks burn at his words. She never knows what to say when he makes such comments. 

“Well,” she starts, swallowing thickly. “You’re the one who inspires them. I see how your people look at you - they’d do anything for you.”

“I guess we make a good team then,” he chuckles as they approach their door. 

“I guess we do,” she admits, feeling conflicted at such a sentiment. It would be easier to brush aside if it didn’t feel like the truth.

--∞--

Bellamy is already reading in bed when Clarke gets out of the bath. She quickly dries and changes behind the screen, still unable to gather the amount of confidence Bellamy has and walk around undressed in front of him. Every time she thinks she might be brave enough to do so, yearning to test his reaction to her, she remembers his lack of interest in her since their wedding night. It should make her happy. If anything, it makes her life and mission less complicated. It should make her happy, but it doesn’t. It feels like any other failure, like any other rejection she’s faced. 

Clarke combs through her hair as she walks towards her wardrobe, dressed in a simple linen shirt and trousers. She glances at Bellamy when she sets her hairbrush down and picks up a salve, rubbing a small amount between her calloused hands to keep them smooth. He doesn’t look at her, only flips a page in the book he’s reading.

Clarke follows the familiar routine of climbing into bed beside him. They never touch, awake or asleep, as if wary of each other even in dreams. Clarke’s eyes linger on his bare chest before she pulls the blanket over her, silently chiding herself for letting him become such a distraction. She should be better than that. She needs to be better than that - her life depends on it. 

Bellamy acknowledges her presence by closing his book and leaning towards his bedside table, reaching for the lantern. 

“It’s okay,” Clarke assures him, before he can blow it out. “You can keep reading. The light doesn’t bother me.”

“Are you sure?”

Clarke nods, rolling onto her side to look at him, hands tucked beneath her head. “I don’t mind. What are you reading?”

“The Odyssey,” he tells her, holding up the book even though its cover is too worn and damaged to mean anything. “Have you heard of it?”

Clarke shakes her head, still looking up at him. She likes when he talks to her, likes the simple pleasure his voice brings. Tonight, she doesn’t want to talk about war strategy, doesn’t want to use her brain. She only wants to listen, get lost in his voice, his words. 

“Will you read aloud?” she asks. Not even she understands where the courage to ask such a frivolous request comes from. To her surprise, he seems pleased rather than annoyed by it.

“Of course. I’ll start at the beginning.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she assures him. 

Bellamy offers another smile - the kind that always brings conflicting feelings of nervous anticipation and guilt. “I don’t mind - you should hear the whole story.”

“What’s it about?”

“Finding your way home,” he answers simply, as if that explains everything. 

Clarke doesn’t answer, only offers an encouraging smile that prompts him to begin. She loves the steady tone of his voice, the depth of it, the low rumble of it. The story, although engaging, is not enough to keep her from eventually drifting off. Not when she feels so safe, despite being embedded in her enemy’s home. Not when somehow, it’s beginning to feel like her own home too.

--∞--

After breakfast the following morning, Clarke agrees to accompany Bellamy to the training center. She hasn’t yet been there since arriving five weeks ago, despite how many times she’s walked past it both on her morning walks and on her way to other destinations with Bellamy. The only opportunities to visit it were invites to train from both Octavia and Bellamy, but she was hesitant to accept the invitations from Bellamy and decidedly against accepting them from Octavia. 

This morning, Bellamy asked her if she wanted to stop by to watch the children’s training sessions, and Clarke couldn’t think of a reasonable excuse as to why she couldn’t. Moreover, she knows that it’s foolish from an intelligence standpoint to avoid any place that she might be able to report back on to the queen, and so she agrees. 

It’s less than a ten minute walk to the building and by the time they reach its walls, she can hear the clanking of metal from inside. The building is one large rectangle, its walls faded and bruised marble that she suspects was white once upon a time. After walking through the central doorway, she learns that the building is one large open space without any ceiling. The only covered parts are the four hallways that wrap around the central room, pillars holding up the hallway ceilings. 

Clarke’s eyes sweep over the space and her stomach drops when she sees that it’s Octavia and Lincoln training the children, but it’s too late to back out now. The children, all around the age of thirteen if she had to wager a guess, are disciplined and obedient. They listen to Octavia’s guidance as she corrects their moves and stances while they spar with their partners. Despite it being so different from her own training, memories of it flash through her mind anyway.

Clarke doesn’t know exactly what it means when her aunt tells her that it’s time for her to stop moping around and begin her training. It’s been six months since her parents passed and a week since her eleventh birthday, although no celebratory event marked its passing. It didn’t matter to her anyway - without her parents or Wells, it felt pointless anyway. She’d spent the last six months in a fog, wandering aimlessly during the days and showing up at meal times as instructed, but not doing much else. Sometimes she drew, sometimes she read, but mostly, she simply floated. Apparently, that was no longer acceptable. 

Yesterday, Clarke’s aunt found her in her room after breakfast and instructed her to be prepared to begin her training the following day after breakfast. Now, she braids her hair and dresses appropriately before heading to the drawing room to meet her aunt as instructed. Although most children are older when they begin their training, she doesn’t think it’s all that odd that she’s going to be joining them early. Maybe it’s because she’s a princess and requires additional training before she takes the throne one day. Besides, she’s actually looking forward to it - to having something to pull her mind from the fog, something to work towards, something to do. It isn’t until her aunt and her guards walk past the training center that Clarke’s confusion deepens.

“Where are we going?” she asks as they enter a section of the woods not far from the castle’s stables. 

“To where you will train,” she answers cooly. “You’re special, Clarke. You won’t be training with the others.”

Clarke’s nerves fade, a warm pride at her aunt’s words replacing them. 

“I am?” she asks, simply because she wants to hear it again.

“Of course,” she answers. “You’re destined for great things.”

Clarke likes the sound of that - it makes her heart swell and it fills her with excitement for the first time since her parents were lowered into the ground. She can’t wait to tell Wells about this.

After about ten more minutes of walking through the woods, they emerge in a small clearing that Clarke has never been to. A man with olive skin and dark hair and eyes stands in front of them, his own three guards behind him. Clarke wonders who he is, important enough to be escorted by three guards. 

“This is Dev,” her aunt introduces, as if reading her mind. “He’s been tasked with training you.”

“I’m to be a warrior?” Clarke asks, excited at the prospect. 

“Yes - but a special warrior. You’re going to help me root out the traitors who killed your parents. You’re going to bring them justice, and serve your clan.”

Clarke beams at the prospect, looking towards Dev with wide eyes. 

Dev nods, taking a few steps towards Clarke. “It’s nice to meet you, Princess,” he nods. 

He’s stoic, his expression measured and neutral, but Clarke can’t deny that there is a warmth to him. She trusts him already, for no real reason at all.

“Hi,” Clarke answers, unsheathing her sword. She tries to do it smoothly, like she’s seen Roan do, but it’s heavy and unbalanced in her hands. 

Dev seems amused, which Clarke doesn’t like. She wants to be respected, and she wants to be strong.

“You can put that away - we’ll get to that later.” 

Clarke nods, setting it aside. 

“Okay,” he nods. “Let’s get started.”

“You okay?” Bellamy asks. The shiver that runs up her spine from the hand he places on the small of her back immediately breaks her from her reverie. 

“Of course,” she smiles at him, before turning her attention back towards the children. 

“Clarke, Bellamy,” Octavia calls, noticing their presence. The lack of a title makes her bristle on instinct, even though she actually prefers it.

Bellamy and Clarke walk closer to the group and the children pause, standing at attention in respectful silence when they notice the king and queen for the first time. 

“You’re all doing excellent work,” Bellamy compliments them. Clarke bites down a smile as the children try to tamper their excitement at his praise. She knows how they feel.

“Your highness,” Octavia starts, turning towards Clarke. “What do you say to a demonstration?”

Clarke’s jaw clenches, knowing that she can hardly say no in front of the children, while also knowing that Octavia probably doesn’t have good intentions.

“O,” Bellamy says, her name a warning that confirms Clarke’s suspicions. Clarke glances at Lincoln and remembers his words from her first night in Anapolei. 

Don’t let those two scare you. 

Don’t show fear.

Clarke has never depended on another to defend her, and she can’t make a habit of it with Bellamy.

“It’s okay,” she answers easily. “I’d be happy to.”

Octavia seems delighted, while Bellamy and Lincoln wear matching nervous expressions. 

Clarke unsheathes the sword she always keeps secured on her back, the children forming a line to watch them. Lincoln moves to stand next to Bellamy, folding his arms as he watches Octavia unsheathe her own sword. 

“Just a basic spar,” Octavia explains. “We’re teaching basic defense and offense,” she adds, her tone implying she believes Clarke might not be familiar with the concept. 

Clarke nods, moving a few steps closer to Octavia. She’s prepared for Octavia to lunge forward first, knowing the girl is probably expecting a clumsy defense. Instead, Clarke’s own sword comes up to block hers instantaneously, pushing Octavia back with a force that makes the other woman raise her brow at her. She straightens, as if reassessing Clarke. 

As she should , Clarke thinks, unable to dampen her sense of satisfaction.

Clarke has every intention of putting on a convincing show, one where she appears to try her best but still loses easily to Octavia. But as they circle each other, as a smooth rhythm of lunging forward and drawing back builds and metal strikes metal, a fire ignites in Clarke. 

It is the wrong choice to not let Octavia win and fein weakness as she always has. But her body and heart know her own strength and are determined not to surrender, and so she gives as fiercely as Octavia does. Sweat trickles down her back as their moves quicken and Clarke notes with satisfaction how determined Octavia’s brow is.

She’s trying as hard as she can, as hard as I am, Clarke realizes. 

She doesn’t let the thought distract her. Instead, she feigns left. Anticipating Octavia’s intelligence, Clarke knows she will strike right, and so she ducks and spins around, overcoming the other woman and throwing her on her back. Octavia’s eyes darken as she glares up at her. At that exact moment, nausea rises in Clarke and her vision becomes spotty. The moment of weakness is enough for Octavia to pull down Clarke and roll on top of her, effectively pinning her down. Clarke nearly growls in frustration before she forces herself to mask her anger.

Octavia gives her a satisfied smirk, but to Clarke’s surprise, offers a hand once she stands. Clarke takes it, letting the other woman pull her up. 

“You’re far more skilled than you’ve given yourself credit for,” Octavia observes.

Clarke is surprised she sounds impressed rather than angry that Clarke made such a vicious effort. She blinks a few times, still feeling rather dizzy.

“Are you okay?” Octavia observes, eyeing her curiously. 

“Thank you, yes,” Clarke offers politely. “That’s high praise coming from you,” she forces herself to add, slipping once again into the persona she’s supposed to embody. It’s only then that Clarke notices the children’s silence. 

Octavia turns to them too, chuckling at their expressions. “Don’t mess with your Queen,” she tells them with a laugh, sheathing her sword again.

Clarke’s gaze meets Bellamy’s over the heads of the children and he winks at her, drawing a laugh from Clarke before she can think better of it. 

--∞--

The next few days pass uneventfully, filled with strategy planning for the war with Mt. Weather. Clarke still goes on her morning walks and spends her free time drawing in the sketchbook Bellamy gave her, often from her spot perched on the sill of the dome’s blown out window overlooking the bay. She’s never fully at ease, the mission overshadowing her existence and the anxiety over living a double life giving her the occasional bouts of nausea. Still, she compartmentalizes the best she can. She thinks about why her mission is necessary for her clan, her people, her parents’ legacy. Some nights, it becomes harder to convince herself that what she sees and lives everyday isn’t reality. On those nights, she holds her father’s old pocket watch, running her thumb across the smooth, cool surface as she reminds herself why she needs to remain strong. 

Every night since Clarke asked Bellamy to read aloud to her, he continues the story. She climbs into bed, rolls on her side, and Bellamy begins reading without a word. She almost always falls asleep while he’s still reading, but he most notice, because the next night he picks up in the part of the book she last remembers. Still, he never makes any attempt to touch her, or hold her, let alone lay with her again. The idea she’s done something wrong crawls into the darkest corners of her mind, even as she reminds herself it’s for the best. It’s feels like a difficult concession when her eyes sweep over him as she reads, his dark curls messy and the soft glow from the lantern’s flame illuminating his bronze skin. 

Nearly a week after their spar, Octavia approaches Clarke while they’re leaving the dining hall after breakfast. 

“Do you have plans tonight?”

Clarke raises her brow at the question. “I suppose not,” she answers, unable to help the last word from dissolving into a laugh. What plans could she possibly have?

“Good,” Octavia answers. “Raven, Harper, and I do a girls’ night once a month. You’ll join us tonight.”

“I will?” she asks, her brow shooting higher at the command.

“Come to our place at sundown,” she adds, skipping ahead to join Lincoln before Clarke can answer her. Bellamy chuckles next to her.

“Should I be afraid?” she asks him, only half joking. “Surely she wouldn’t be bold enough to murder me...right?”

Bellamy laughs harder before answering. “I think you impressed her last week. Believe it or not, that’s as close as you’ll get to an olive branch from Octavia, so I think it’s a good idea to take it.”

Clarke scoffs. “Come looking for me if I don’t return by dawn.”

“Always,” Bellamy answers immediately. His tone isn’t as light as she thinks he intended.

--∞--

The sunset drapes an orange glow over the entirety of the dome, Clarke’s body included from where she’s tucked on the ledge with her sketchbook. Her gaze wanders over the water, the sun reflecting off the surface in a brilliant display of sparkling light. The town beneath her is blanketed in various shades of soft orange and gold, people still filling its streets. She reminds herself to take in these moments of beauty and to be grateful for them, no matter the reason she’s here, no matter the impending war, her mission, or what else might lay ahead. Unable to shake the feeling that her days are numbered, she makes a concerted effort to appreciate each moment, no matter how imperfect. It is one of the few things she allows herself to give into, unlike her growing appreciation for the Trikru people she spends each day with. Unlike her growing feelings for Bellamy. 

Charcoal pencil still in hand, her attention returns to her drawing. She’s grown used to drawing Bellamy - she no longer fights it. Allowing it doesn’t feel all that different from allowing herself to enjoy the sunset. Today though, it isn’t Bellamy who looks back at her, but Dev. Try as she might, he keeps creeping back into her mind since she visited the training center. His eyes bear into her own from the paper, as if trying to tell her something she doesn’t understand. Something she can’t grasp. 

Dev quickly becomes a part of Clarke’s life, his presence as consistent as her daily breakfast. In fact, he’s more present than her parents ever were. Every morning, she meets him and they train until lunch. Most days, they eat together with a lunch Clarke packed at the castle, before continuing her training for hours afterwards. She strives for perfection, in part to make her aunt proud and honor her parents, but also to make Dev proud. She knows he must be important and each compliment he gives her makes her shine. Each critique he offers makes her try that much harder.

Dev is stoic, but warm. He’s funny in a quiet way, in a way that makes her feel honored to be at the other end of his jokes or teasing. He is patient with her in a way that her aunt never is, and above all, he’s an excellent teacher. He also talks often of his own family, and of his own two children. Sometimes Clarke feels jealous of them, although she tries her hardest not to. 

By the time Clarke’s twelfth birthday passes, she can hold her own against him in a spar despite her small size. In fact, Dev has taught her exactly how to use her small size against a larger person and she excels at it. He even smiles when she successfully knocks him down for the first time. Dev not only teaches her how to defend herself, but also how to kill. Clarke doesn’t question him, having learned to trust him wholeheartedly. She knows these are all things she’ll need to know as a warrior in the Azgeda army. He teaches her which parts of the body are the weakest, which parts she can inflict the most and least amount of pain on, and how to kill them quickly in a way that minimizes suffering. She loves Dev for those details - knows he has a heart to think of such things. Not all warriors do. 

Less than a month after Clarke’s twelfth birthday, Nia arrives at her training session. It’s not an unusual occurrence - she checks in on her training about once a month. These are the days Clarke tries her absolute hardest, determined to show her aunt how strong she is, determined to show her aunt that she is ready to make her parents proud. 

Nia arrives in the afternoon just as they finish sparring, watching them with assessing eyes. 

“Your first test is today, Clarke,” she announces. 

“I’m ready,” she assures her, standing up straighter. “Your highness,” she quickly adds, remembering how her aunt started scolded her for not using her formal title. 

“Kill him,” she orders, pointing at Dev with a neutral, nearly bored expression. 

Clarke tenses. “Fight him?” she asks after a beat. 

“No,” Nia snaps, already impatient with her hesitancy. “That man was part of the group of traitors responsible for your parents’ death.”

Clarke’s mind spins as she looks over at Dev, her grip tightening on her sword as her confusion overwhelms her. He doesn’t look afraid - not afraid, or even surprised. No, he looks...resigned. She looks back at her aunt, as if she might take it back if she stalls long enough. 

“Kill this man, and bring honor to your parents. If you do not, he will die at someone else’s hand and his family will also pay for his sins. If you kill him now, his family will not suffer for his mistakes. Do it now, Clarke.”

Clarke looks back at Dev again, feeling hopelessly lost. Her eyes wander behind him to the guards who always accompany him. It’s only now that she realizes they’re here to prevent his escape, rather than protect him. Dev clears his throat, standing straighter, and Clarke’s attention returns to him. 

“It’s okay, Clarke,” he tells her. “Listen to our Queen.”

Tears begin streaming down her face and her voice cracks when she speaks again, turning back towards her aunt. “I can’t do it.”

Nia reaches Clarke in two long strides, roughly grabbing her by her chin. “Your parents would be sickened by your behavior, by your weakness.”

“It’s okay, Clarke,” Dev tries again. “If you do this for me, my family will be safe.”

Clarke can’t stop the tears streaming down her face, but she breaks away from her aunt and steps closer to Dev. His sword is discarded on the ground. This is not a fight, but an execution. 

“Just like I taught you,” he says quietly, and she understands. Quick. Minimal suffering. “It’s okay, Princess. Go ahead.”

Her tears show no sign of stopping, but she forces herself to raise her sword, leaning back and drawing strength from her legs like he taught her. Lunging forward, her sword drives through his chest, straight through his heart. Blood bubbles from his mouth and he collapses onto the ground when she withdraws her sword. Clarke gasps, choking on tears in her throat. He is gone before she takes her next breath. 

“You must love Azgeda above all people,” Nia tells her, voice never wavering. “Your duty is to your clan above all else, above anyone else. That is your first lesson. Your training continues tomorrow.”

The creak of the iron stairs brings Clarke back to the present and she looks up just as Bellamy steps onto dome’s floor, holding a book. He smiles when he notices the sketchbook in her lap. 

“I hope you don’t mind the company,” he starts. “Both Kane and Indra are after me tonight.”

Clarke laughs. “Not at all.”

Bellamy sits on the ledge on the opposite side of the dorm, stretching out his legs as he opens his book. Clarke allows herself to spare a glance at him as he settles on the blown out windowsill. He looks young like this - boyish and free. She likes this look on him and feels a familiar warmth coil in her lower abdomen. 

Neither says anything as the sun falls. The only sounds are the distant waves, the indistinguishable chatter far below them, the sound of her pencil against paper and of book pages turning. On a few occasions, she senses his eyes on her, but whenever she glances up to meet them, she finds his gaze studiously trained on his book. She must be imagining it. 

Eventually, the sun sinks below the horizon and the sky darkens. Clarke closes her sketchbook at the same time that Bellamy lights the single lantern. 

“Wish me luck,” she announces.

Bellamy laughs as he looks up at her. “You won’t need it.”

--∞--

Clarke makes her way to Lincoln’s and Octavia’s small house in the center of town. She’s stopped by a few times with Bellamy, but never for an extended period of time. At first, Clarke found it was odd that they chose not to live in the castle, especially since she’s sure Bellamy would prefer to have his sister close. But then she realizes it’s probably for that reason that Octavia chose to have her own space. 

The door is open when she arrives, letting in the breeze that smells of Earth and spring’s official arrival. Lincoln and Octavia are seated at a small table in front of their fire, seemingly having just finished with dinner. Clarke knocks hesitantly on the open door, feeling like an intruder despite the invitation. 

“Sorry, am I early?” Clarke asks when Octavia and Lincoln both look up at her. 

“Nope,” Raven says from behind her, walking past her into the house. “Right on time, your highness.”

“Clarke is fine,” she reminds her, still glued to the doorway. 

“The more you insist, the more she’ll ignore you,” Harper warns, appearing at the doorway next to her. 

Clarke laughs, but her nerves make it sound stilted.

“Are we ready?” Harper asks the other two. “I’ve got the good stuff,” she adds, holding up a bottle of what Clarke can only assume is some kind of alcohol.

Raven gives her a wicked grin. “Fantastic, let’s go.”

Clarke watches as Octavia gives Lincoln a goodbye kiss, the two of them briefly enveloped in a quiet intimacy that makes Clarke feel like she swallowed a stone. The same rush of jealousy she felt watching Monty and Harper catches her off guard, just as it did then. Lincoln says goodbye to the rest of them and offers Clarke a quick wink that no one else sees. The four women leave together, walking through the streets in one line. It’s dark, with lanterns lining the fronts of houses, but not late enough that the streets have emptied. Despite her nerves about what this night might entail, she feels a childish thrill run through her at being one of the crowd, at no longer being invisible and glued to shadows. 

“Monty told me that they tried something new with this batch,” Harper warns, holding up the bottle again. Clarke eyes it warily. “Which means either we’ll all be sick, or tonight will be more fun than usual.”

Octavia barks a laugh. “Those two things are not mutually exclusive.”

“You make an excellent point,” Raven laughs. 

Clarke swallows, again feeling like an outsider. These women are as close as sisters and have a natural banter that seems impossible to break through. 

“Where are we going?” Clarke tries, both unsure of what else to say and also genuinely curious. 

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Raven teases from beside her. 

“Knock if off,” Harper chides from Raven’s other side, before leaning forward to speak to Clarke. “There’s this abandoned parking garage on the edge of town - from the top, you can see the whole city.”

Clarke nearly tells them that it’s probably not any higher than the dome before catching herself. “That sounds nice,” she says instead. 

“Hand me the bottle,” Octavia demands, from Harper’s other side. She takes a generous swig of it before passing it back and releasing something like a squeal. “ Definitely going to be a good night,” she laughs once she catches her breath. 

Harper shakes her head at her. “No more until we get there, or you won’t be able to make it to the top.”

They walk for about fifteen minutes before arriving at the parking garage, chatting easily along the way. These kinds of structures are fairly common across the clan territories, having been more resistant to the blasts from the bombs. Clarke has even seen cars in the lower levels of some, but it’s hard to imagine what the machines must have looked like moving about on all the roads. 

The parking garage is dark, streaks of moonlight cutting through the open spaces and illuminating where overgrown greenery has spread across the old cement walls. It’s four levels high and by the time they reach the third level, it’s clear to Clarke there aren’t any cars left in this building. It’s also clear that Raven is struggling, the group slowing to accommodate her pace. Clarke doesn’t dare ask if she’s alright - she doesn’t know Raven well, but she already knows the girl wouldn’t take kindly to that. If the other girls’ silence is any indication of it, Clarke thinks it was the right choice. 

When they finally reach the top, Clarke looks around the large empty space. Admittedly, although the building isn’t as tall as the dome, the view is something splendid. Unlike the dome that sits in the center of Anapolei, the top of the parking garage allows Clarke to look over the city from a distance. The quiet of it, the feeling of looking at beauty from a distance and unable to reach it, is a familiar feeling for her. But then she hears the giggles of the other women as they take their seats on old cushions and furs around a lantern that Octavia is lighting, and the beauty no longer feels so empty.

They chat about different people in town and other topics Clarke doesn’t feel she has any segue into, and so she mostly listens quietly. When Harper offers the bottle of moonshine, she takes a generous swig from it. Logically, she knows it’s ill-advised to get drunk, lest she let something slip that she isn’t supposed to - something that puts her in danger. But sitting here with these women feels more difficult than any mission she’s been sent on as Wanheda, and so she concedes.

“Damn, you didn’t even twitch,” Raven laughs once Clarke passes her the bottle. 

Clarke nearly laughs once she realizes how odd it most seem to them - the sheltered princess being able to hold her liquor with ease. If only they knew the nights she’s spent alone in taverns full of nomads and the roughest of clan warriors.

“It’s not that bad,” she says with a shrug instead.

“I’ve got to admit, you’re a lot cooler than you seemed,” Octavia announces from where she’s sitting directly across from her, the lantern glowing between them.

“I’ll try to take that as a compliment,” Clarke huffs.

“Trust me, it is,” Harper assures her, laughing. 

“You let me win in our spar,” Octavia accuses. She doesn’t say it with any malice, but with curiosity. Still, the accusation certainly confuses Clarke. 

“I didn’t let you win,” she insists, furrowing her brow.

“Really? You completely had me, and then just - stopped.”

Clarke remembers the moment where Octavia overtook her - the strange dizzy spell and nausea. She hadn’t given it much thought - it was probably the stress taking a toll on her body.

“I didn’t let you win, I - I got distracted, that’s all.”

“Distracted?” Octavia asks. Her lips twist into a teasing smile. “By our audience?”

“No,” Clarke immediately refutes, cheeks blushing furiously. She knows what Octavia is implying and Clarke has no desire to think about those feelings, let alone discuss them. She needs to bury them, not let them materialize into something more dangerous than what they are. 

Raven scoffs. “You’re married to the man, it’s not a crime to think he’s hot.”

“I mean, I love Monty, but…no one would argue with that,” Harper adds.

“As much as I don’t want to discuss that ,” Octavia chimes in. “My brother is certainly walking with a pep in his step these days.” Octavia gives her a teasing stare, asking for more details as subtly as she knows how to. The other two girls look to her, clearly wanting details as much as Octavia does. 

“We get along well,” Clarke answers after an awkward beat of silence. 

The group clamors at the response, all three of them dissatisfied - even Harper, who Clarke didn’t expect to be so nosy. 

Raven takes a swig of the moonshine. “Octavia - cover your ears.” She doesn’t wait for Octavia to do so before turning back to Clarke. “How’s the sex?”

Clarke’s cheeks burn furiously. She doesn’t answer, only holds out her hand for the moonshine. Raven raises her eyebrows in response. “Damn, it can’t be that bad,” she adds, passing her the bottle. Clarke takes a generous swig, trying to ignore the scrutiny of all three pairs of eyes.

“Raven would know,” Harper giggles. That has Clarke’s attention. She sets the bottle down, turning towards Raven. 

“What does that mean?”

“Harper makes a big deal of the fact Bellamy and I hooked up once ,” she answers, rolling her eyes at Harper but otherwise unbothered by the discussion. Clarke can’t say she feels the same. Surprisingly, it’s Octavia who seems to pick up on that. 

“Half of the group does not want to discuss that,” Octavia announces, shooting Clarke an apologetic glance. Clarke doesn’t like this conversation, but she can’t claim she isn’t curious to know more.

“You guys - you were together?” Clarke asks.

“Definitely not,” Raven quickly answers. “It was after Finn, and Queen Aurora - we were both in a bad place, and it was...trust me, it’s nothing to worry about,” Raven assures her, tone more somber now. Clarke thinks it’s the first time the other girl has taken her feelings into consideration. She isn’t sure she feels better about it, but she appreciates the gesture.

“Who is Finn?” she asks, ready to move on from this conversation. It makes her skin itch with jealousy. The group silences and Clarke realizes she somehow chose a topic even worse than her husband’s former partners.

“I’m sorry-” Clarke starts.

“It’s okay,” Raven immediately cuts her off. “I just, I forgot you didn’t know. It was a long time ago - nearly a decade ago, when I was nineteen. My boyfriend - who was also my best friend, someone I grew up with - was taken by the mountain. Everyone told me to give up on him, but I couldn’t. I did finally find him, but only after they turned him into a reaper. I tried to reason with him, but he attacked me, and I was forced to kill him. It’s how this happened,” she tells Clarke, gesturing at her bad leg.

“Oh,” Clarke answers, stunned. “I’m sorry.”

“Shit happens,” Raven answers, brushing off the apology. “Besides - we’re going to bring these bastards down soon enough.”

“Damn, how’d we get from talking about sex to this,” Harper grumbles, taking a swig of the moonshine.

“She’s right,” Octavia agrees, taking the bottle for herself. “No more shop talk tonight.”

“Well, in that case,” Raven smirks, already seemingly in a lighter mood. “Why’s the sex with Bellamy so bad?”

“It’s not bad, it’s nonexistent,” Clarke blurts, before she can help herself. Damn moonshine.

Raven lets out a low whistle. 

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with waiting - Monty and I were officially together for nearly a year before we slept together. Not to mention we’d been friends nearly our entire lives.”

“But they already slept together,” Raven points out. “For the ceremony.”

“I- I don’t want to discuss this,” Clarke says, voice sharper than she intended. “If the king doesn’t want me, that’s his prerogative.” She tries to sound nonchalant about it, but she isn’t sure she succeeds. It’s hard given that she feels far from apathetic about the issue, despite her best efforts.

“That’s not it,” Octavia argues, chiming in for the first time. “It’s Bellamy ,” she adds, huffing a laugh, like that explains everything. “You guys saw how torn up he was over the arranged marriage,” Octavia points out to Raven and Harper. “He was so afraid of you being forced into something you didn’t want. If you want to...move things along,” she continues, grimacing and drawing laughs from all three of them. “You’re going to have to tell him that.”

“Oh,” Clarke answers after a beat. That had never crossed my mind. “Pass me the moonshine, please,” she adds, stretching out her hand towards Octavia.

“Atta girl,” Octavia laughs, handing it over. “Now that we’ve interrogated Clarke,” she starts, turning towards Raven. “You’re going to tell us what the hell is going on with you and Murphy.”

Raven scoffs. “ Nothing is going on with Murphy and I.”

“Sure,” Harper answers sarcastically. “And nothing is going on with Monty and I.”

“I mean - yeah, we’re hooking up. Is that what you want to hear? It’s just sex though, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Octavia raises her eyebrows. “I’m not sure Murphy knows that, given the way he looks at you.”

Raven rolls her eyes, turning to Clarke. “Moonshine, please.”

--∞--

It isn’t until they’re walking back into town that Clarke realizes she may be more drunk than tipsy, as she had originally thought. Her head is spinning and she feels light and happy in a way she rarely does, in a way that can only be attributed to alcohol. Despite Clarke asserting that she doesn’t need an escort, Octavia insists on walking her back to the castle. When Clarke argues, Octavia tells her Bellamy will be angry with her if she doesn’t. Clarke concedes simply because she doesn’t want to cause any trouble between the siblings - not when Octavia is finally showing a liking towards her. 

Clarke concentrates hard as she walks through the halls and tries her best to maintain a stoic expression when she greets the guards at the door and walks into their bedchambers. She expects Bellamy to be asleep given the late hour and nearly startles when she finds him in bed reading, wide awake. 

“Hi,” she says dumbly. “You didn’t need to wait up for me.” 

Bellamy shrugs, closing his book. “I didn’t mind. How was your night?” 

Clarke blushes, thinking of their conversation about them. “Surprisingly well,” she answers, walking over to the wardrobe. She blinks a few times, trying to get her head on straight, but ends up catching her foot on the rug instead. Nearly toppling over, she catches herself on the wardrobe door. 

“You’re drunk,” Bellamy observes. He sounds more amused than disappointed.

“I am not,” Clarke insists, unsure of why she feels the need to lie about it. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t want to appear more vulnerable in front of him than she already does. Maybe simply because lying is an instinct.

Bellamy chuckles as Clarke struggles to pull off her jacket. 

“If you say so,” he answers, climbing out of bed. 

“I don’t need help,” she insists when Bellamy walks up to her, helping her pull her arm from the jacket. 

“But you’ll get it anyway,” he answers simply, pulling the jacket the rest of the way off. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Clarke can’t help but remember a similar situation the same night he saved her from drowning, back when he was still a stranger to her. Clarke swallows thickly. Maybe Octavia is right - maybe he does want her, he’s only looking for an invitation. 

“Sit,” he commands. Clarke sits on the edge of the wide windowsill next to the wardrobe and Bellamy begins unlacing her boots for her. 

“Thank you,” she murmurs. 

“That’s more like it,” he teases, looking up at her with a smile that makes her heart race. 

“Shut up,” she laughs as he pulls off one boot, followed by the other.

Bellamy pulls her up to stand and turns her around before unlacing the leather corset she’s wearing over her shirt. Holding her breath, she half expects him to continue undressing her. She’s not sure she would stop him. Instead, he hands her the linen sleep clothing folded in the wardrobe. Without another word, she takes the clothing from him and walks behind the screen to change. Her skin is buzzing with want in a way that she can’t rationalize, can’t out-think. When she emerges, Bellamy is pouring her a glass of water from the pitcher on their table. He hands it to her and returns to bed. She gulps down the water before setting it down on her bedside table and climbing in beside him. Bellamy rolls onto his side to face her. 

God, she wants him. It is a tragedy and a travesty all rolled into one, but she wants him all the same. When she looks at him, she can’t help but think of their first night together. The feeling of being consumed by him, the pleasure running through her body and his hands burning into her skin. Except, she wants him even more in this moment, because now she knows him. He’s dug his way through her, to her core. He’s burrowed his way under her skin and into her heart in a way that will only bring them both an immense amount of pain someday. But someday is not tonight, and tonight, her head is clouded with moonshine and desire.

Clarke scoots closer to him, breaking the invisible barrier in their bed they’ve maintained since her arrival. His eyes search her face as she leans up, closer to him. He doesn’t move closer, but he doesn’t pull away. Clarke is not accustomed to taking what she wants, but the very idea of it seems simple to her in this moment. She presses her lips to his and the feel of them - searing, warm, addicting - is even better than she imagined. But like all pleasure in her life, it is short-lived. His lips leave hers and a gentle hand to her chest rebukes her attempt at drawing him closer. Disappointment swells in her like an infected wound.

“You don’t want me,” she murmurs. It isn’t a question. Her suspicions were correct, but at least she knows that now. She’ll have to deal with the humiliating consequences, but at least she’ll know with certainty-

Bellamy’s scoff breaks her from her thoughts as he tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear. 

“That couldn’t be further from the truth, but you don’t have your wits about you tonight. We can talk about this tomorrow.”

His words are a balm to the initial rejection, but she isn’t sure what to say, so she only nods as exhaustion floods her for the first time since she walked into their bedchambers. Unable to face him for another moment, she rolls onto her opposite side with her back to him, doing her best to rebuild the invisible barrier she tumbled through with so little care. In the end, she’s unable to. She feels Bellamy move closer to her again, feels the heat of his bare chest through her thin sleep shirt as he crowds her. 

“Is this okay?” he whispers as an arm wraps around her waist. 

“Yeah,” Clarke whispers back, eyes still closed. 

She surrenders to sleep, her dreams quickly pulling her under. The last thing she remembers is the feeling of his lips pressing a tender kiss to her temple.

--∞--

In spite of the alcohol she consumed the previous night, Clarke wakes as early as she usually does. Mild nausea brews in her stomach, along with a slight headache, but she doesn’t feel as bad as she expected to. Second to the state of her body, she realizes she’s still wrapped in Bellamy’s arms. To her dismay, the feel of his arm on her waist and his steady breath on the back of her neck still has her body buzzing with want. In spite of her body’s reaction, thinking about how she acted last night - throwing herself at him rather than keeping her distance as she should - fills her with a new level self-loathing. Her aunt would be disgusted with her - her parents too. 

As delicately as she can manage, she untangles herself from Bellamy and climbs out of bed. Per usual, he remains in a heavy slumber and barely moves when she leaves him. She dresses quickly, looking forward to her morning walk and hoping the fresh air will give her a fresh perspective as well. 

The rest of the day passes uneventfully, and most importantly, Clarke manages to avoid being left alone with Bellamy. Bellamy, for his part, says nothing to her about the previous night. It’s like it never happened, and although she half-wishes that were true, she doubts that she will avoid the conversation forever. By the time she returns to their bedchambers, having tucked herself away in a corner of the castle to draw for most of the evening, the hour is late. Bellamy, as always, is in bed reading. It’s an image she knows will be ingrained in her mind long after she kills him, for better or worse. She’s not sure if it would be more or less tragic for that image to overshadow what will undoubtedly be the last one she has of him - a colorless face and lifeless eyes.

Clarke greets him cooly, unable to look him in the eye as she takes her clothing from the wardrobe and changes behind the screen. He waits until she’s placed her clothing back in the wardrobe and rubbing an oil onto her arms before he speaks.

“You’re avoiding me.” He sounds more amused than angry about it.

“I’m not,” she argues, forcing herself to look over at him when she speaks. Bellamy lifts a brow in response, clearly not believing her. It’s unfair how beautiful he looks in the low glow of lanterns and firelight. “I just -” she looks away, intently focused on rubbing the oil into her skin. Maybe she can walk this back. Maybe she can make her desire, her disobedient emotions, appear as something more rational. “You don’t seem interested in producing an heir since we’ve returned to Polis, which is why I’m here-”

“That’s not why you’re here.”

Clarke slowly puts the oil back on the wardrobe shelf, forcing herself to meet his gaze again. “It is the purpose of any arranged marriage.”

“If you wanted me, Princess - all you needed to do was ask,” he teases, the boyish glint in his eye drawing a smile from her against her will. 

“I didn’t say I wanted you,” she quips, unable to stop the laugh her words release.

Bellamy’s smile only grows wider. “You break my heart.”

Not yet , she thinks. 

Clarke walks over to the bed and climbs in next to him, if only to prove to herself that she can. It is a last ditch effort not to surrender to fear, but as she looks at him, she knows it’s too late for that. She is terrified, but it’s a kind of fear she’s never experienced before. She does want him, and although he was joking, there is truth in his words - she truly doesn’t know how to ask. She’s never been in a position to ask for anything. Clarke looks up at him with wide eyes, hands beneath her head on the pillow. She hopes he sees the silent plea in them, asking him to make sense of what she cannot. Bellamy must see something, because his expression shifts into something more serious and when he speaks again, there is no trace of teasing. 

“You’re right about arranged marriages. I know this marriage...you agreed to it, but I cannot believe you truly chose it. We didn’t have a choice regarding the ceremony, but the rest...we do not need to rush things. I don’t want you to feel pressured to give me an heir, or about anything else in our relationship.”

His eyes are dark and sincere, the flames from the fireplace reflected in his warm irises. 

This is my husband , she thinks, her stomach swooping at the thought of it. 

It was a series of lies that led her to his bed, but that simple fact is as true as ever at its core. She revels in it - in the fact that in this moment alone, he is hers, and she is his. She swallows thickly, but doesn’t answer him. She cannot find the appropriate words. 

Bellamy’s face searches hers, gaze fluttering across it. She isn’t sure what he sees, but he moves closer to her in response, once again breaking through the invisible barrier. Leaving a foot between them, he gently lays his hand on her hip, drawing light circles over her skin where her top has ridden up. It makes her feel a different kind of dizzy than she did during the spar, than she did after the moonshine last night.

“My constraint has been just that - constraint. If you’re asking me if I want you, the answer is every moment of everyday. But if you need - if you want - time, I will happily practice that same constraint everyday. I only want this if you do.”

Bellamy is driving her mad with his touch and when Clarke attempts to inhale, her breath catches in her throat. She knows he heard it by the way his eyes darken in response, by the way the black has swallowed the honey brown she’s grown to love. 

Are you ready, Clarke?”

Clarke knows he’s asking if she’s ready for more than this night. He’s asking if she’s ready to have his child, for motherhood, to cement what they have into something that can never be untangled. The answer to all those questions is no, but only she knows it isn’t a possibility. She is ready for this moment though, his very presence making her clench her thighs together. She knows she is ready to lose herself in him. She is ready to stop fighting for self control that she doesn’t truly have. 

“Yes,” she murmurs, her answer confident despite the quietness of her voice. 

Bellamy doesn’t spare a moment before leaning down to kiss her. She kisses him back immediately, pulling him closer, desperate to feel his weight on top of her. His tongue finds hers and she welcomes it, reveling in the feeling of him exploring her mouth as his hands explore her body. Clarke’s chest is heaving, breath heavy by the time he pulls away. She pulls her shirt over her head before she can talk herself out of it. Bellamy descends on her again, pressing kisses up the soft swell of her stomach and drawing a gasp from her when he takes her peaked nipple in his mouth. 

“Bellamy,” she moans, threading her fingers through his hair as he continues his ascent up her body. 

The kisses across her collarbone and neck are bruising and Clarke holds him impossibly close, already clenching down on nothing. She’s wanted him far longer than she let herself acknowledge, and her body welcomes him home. Wrapping her legs around his hips, she urges him closer until he’s grinding against her center. Bellamy’s lips find hers again, but their kisses are incoherent as their breathing transforms into panting. She thinks she could come from this alone, but it still wouldn’t be enough. She needs him closer.

“Please,” she pleas breathlessly. “I need you.”

Bellamy breaks away immediately, stripping off his trousers with a speed that might make her laugh if she didn’t feel as desperate as him. She works on her own, just having lifted her hips to pull them down when Bellamy takes over, pulling them the rest of the way off and discarding them somewhere on the floor. Opening her legs on instinct for him, she cradles his body as he lowers himself over her again. 

“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs, kissing her once more. 

Clarke has been called beautiful by countless men, especially when luring them as Wanheda, but she’s never believed it until the word tumbles from Bellamy’s lips like a prayer, powerful and cherished. One of his hands moves between her legs and his thumb rubs slow circles over the most sensitive part of her. She cries out, keening from the intensity of the pleasure running through her, but it’s the look on Bellamy’s face as much as his touch that threatens to undo her. He closes his eyes for a moment, as if the sounds he’s drawing from her are his favorite music. As if he’s trying to memorize them. 

“I need you,” she gasps, her patience dwindling. 

He slides his finger through her folds as he kisses down her neck, savoring her. 

“Clarke,” he groans. “You’re so wet.”

He doesn’t give her a chance to respond before his lips are on hers again, guiding himself into her at the same time. Clarke’s nails dig into his back as he rolls his hips, their kiss breaking as he fills her. The stretch is overwhelming, just like the first time she took him, but everything else feels different. 

This time, she knows the man inside of her, whose brown eyes are bearing down on her blue ones. This time, she lets herself melt into him, lets herself surrender to him with no one and nothing but him filling her mind. Bellamy’s thrusts are slow and even, drawing moans from her when he finally increases his pace. Her legs move further up his waist and he slides even deeper into her, the feeling causing her to cry out. 

“That’s it,” he tells her, his own breath labored. Clarke’s hand moves to push his hair back, noting the sheen of sweat that has dampened his forehead and curls at his hairline. “How does it feel?” he asks, just as he thrusts into her harder, drawing another cry of pleasure from her.

“So good,” she whines. “It feels so good.”

Clarke’s head falls back as Bellamy pounds into her, kissing her neck and sucking on her pulse point. The sound of skin on skin fills the room, intermingled with their collective moans and panting, until Clarke feels the same fire as last time flood her body. 

“Yes, yes, yes ,” she cries, legs tightening around him. 

“Come for me, baby,” he pants. “Come for me.”

His words alone push Clarke over the edge, her entire body clinging to his. He releases with a groan that fills her ears and their entire room, his body collapsing onto her own. She’s barely caught her breath when Bellamy pulls up onto his forearms, looking down at her. His face is flushed and glowing, and Clarke can’t help the delighted laugh that escapes her as soon as his eyes meet her own. His smile widens, like her laughter is a gift to him in itself. 

“That was incredible.” Her voice is breathless, unrecognizable. 

“I’m aware,” he laughs, leaning down to kiss her again. “I’m going to make you feel like that everyday for the rest of our lives,” he whispers, pressing kisses down her neck and across her shoulder. Clarke’s grip in his hair tightens, holding him close to her as a fresh wave of guilt washes through her, drowning her bliss.

“Promise?” she asks, hoping he can’t hear how strained her voice is.

“Promise.”

--∞--

The fire has burned down to embers, the streets below the castle silent, but Clarke feels wide awake. Bellamy sleeps soundly beside, one arm still wrapped under her and holding her close. Her head against his chest, she listens to the strong rhythm of his heartbeat. She wishes it would lull her to sleep, but it’s only a dreadful reminder that she’ll be the one responsible when it stops beating. 

Is this how she’ll kill him someday? It would be easiest to do it like this, to strike him when he’s at his weakest. She can’t shake the feeling of the wrongness of that - if he has to die, he deserves nothing less than a warrior’s death. She just doesn’t know if that will be possible when the time comes. 

Clarke imagines another night like this, wrapped in his arms but when her orders from the Queen have already been given. 

Could she do it? 

Could she slit his throat? Watch as blood pours from him and the last look in his eyes before his soul leaves his body is that of betrayal?

How can she possibly do this? 

As soon as the thought crosses her mind, she knows that it cannot be a question. She cannot start thinking like that, cannot convince herself that there is any alternative to his death. The moment she believes she has a choice in any of this, is the moment she loses control of everything. It is the moment she loses everything.

Chapter Text

“Do you have everything?” Bellamy asks, closing his own bag. 

Clarke notices that he’s tense, his posture stiff. The war with the mountain weighs heavily on his mind. In the nearly two months since she arrived, it’s become clear to her that there would be no war against the mountain without Bellamy. She feels conflicted about it. It certainly proves her aunt’s assessment correct - Azgeda and the rest of the coalition are being dragged into the war, even though they aren’t impacted like Trikru is. She’s probably also right about the fact that if Heda Lexa were not Trikru, this impending war might not have the coalition’s support. 

But in all of this, Clarke cannot ignore the horrors of the mountain that have been revealed to her since arriving in Anapolei. Finn’s death, Lincoln’s near death, and countless others. Each person taken from the mountain - whether killed or worse, turned into a reaper - was connected to dozens of more people. Clarke has always floated through life alone. When she dies, she can’t imagine that anyone at all will be truly impacted. It’s different for others though, she’s come to realize. Their lives are interwoven with the lives of so many loved ones, and it is impossible to tear them from life without ripping the thread that binds them to everyone else. The fabric tears, and what was once cohesive, and complete, is no longer. A person is not just a person, a number. A person is a single point in the universe, but the lines that connect them to others are what holds it together, are what keep the stars in the sky. When she thinks about this, she understands Bellamy’s vigor regarding this war. Even so, it isn’t enough to dispel her aunt’s words from where they are so deeply embedded in her subconscious. 

You must love Azgeda above all people.

Your duty is to your clan above all else, above anyone else.

The words are beginning to sound more hallow, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. It only means that Clarke has grown weak. It only means that she must work twice as hard to remember her mission, but remember her mission she must. 

“I am,” Clarke answers, pausing for a beat. “You’re nervous.” Bellamy looks up at her as Clarke closes her bag. 

“If Heda and the coalition don’t approve of our plans, it may push back the timeline. So many more people will die,” he retorts sharply. “I’m right to be nervous.”

“Of course,” Clarke quickly agrees. “I didn’t mean-”

She cuts herself off when Bellamy shakes his head at her words, expression immediately apologetic as he steps closer to her. “I’m sorry - I know you understand. Octavia tells me I’m a brute when focused...I know that you’re just trying to help, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

Bellamy’s hand lands on her lower back and he gives her a kiss that is over far too soon for her liking. In the two weeks since they started sleeping together, their relationship shifted in such a subtle way that Clarke felt like it had already completely changed by the time she took note of it. They are no longer just friends, or even partners, but truly husband and wife. It isn’t just that they regularly have sex...which they certainly do. Sex that Clarke can’t get enough of. Sex that feels addictive, that she can lose herself in, even if it is a short-lived feeling. But there are also the more minute changes. The attentiveness in his eyes as he listens to her, the way he takes her hand under the table in the dining hall while they eat, the way his hand always ends up on her lower back when they walk, the way that he seems to gravitate closer to her in every instance. 

Surely, it isn’t love. Clarke will never love him, never can. It is something she can’t allow, not when she knows what will eventually be required of her. Similarly, she’s certain that he cannot love her. She supposes he might believe he does, although he hasn’t said anything to indicate it. But the truth of the matter is that he will never know her well enough to love her. Any love he believes he has for her is misplaced, like loving morning fog or shadows that stretch across the dome at dusk. He would only be loving her cover, but not who she is. She cannot imagine anyone loving whoever that is. 

Still, she worries about the easy intimacy she’s allowed them to fall into. Will she be able to untangle herself from it in time to do what she must? She practices that untangling the best she can, spending her days and nights thinking about how she might kill Bellamy in that very moment if she was required to. It is a mental shield of sorts, one that prevents her from sinking too deeply into the fantasy she’s spun around herself.

Of course, Bellamy is not the only one she must be mindful around. Everyday that she spends with these people - with his people - she can feel herself begin to thaw from the inside out. Something deep inside of her, something buried with her parents, tries to claw its way out. Some days she wants to give into it, but the feeling unendurable. It can never last.

Clarke and Bellamy make their way down to the stables, meeting the rest of the group traveling to Polis with them. The group is the same one that accompanied Bellamy last time, except for the fact that Raven, Monty, and Jasper are joining them this time as well. Raven and Monty will be essential in presenting their plan to Heda and the coalition, especially the tone generators they’ve created to incapacitate the reapers. Clarke is unsure of the reason for Jasper’s presence, except for the simple reason that he wanted to tag along.

Clarke is quiet during their journey, focused on Orion and finding comfort in the small piece of familiarity he provides. Anxiety bubbles beneath her skin anyway, heart racing at the thought of having to meet with the queen for the first time since she left. It’s irrational, foolish, the way her body is reacting to the anticipation of seeing her, but Clarke can’t shut it off. She works herself up so much that she feels nauseous for most of the trip, but can do nothing but take deep breaths as Orion trots along at a steady pace. She wants nothing more than to be alone, anywhere she might be able to fall apart without the eyes of everyone on her, but that is impossible. She wouldn’t even be able to explain to the others why she feels such terror at the prospect of seeing her queen, her aunt, her own blood. She hardly understands her reaction herself. 

Having left in the late morning, their party doesn’t arrive in Polis until dusk. They’ll have to attend dinner soon, but they have some time to settle into their rooms first. Clarke is so focused on the prospect of having a moment alone that she nearly forgets that she won’t get one - Bellamy and her will be sharing their bedchambers just as they do at home. 

At Anapolei , she internally chastises herself. Not home. It is so far from home.

“Are you alright?” Bellamy asks almost immediately, upon closing the door to their bedchambers. Clarke swallows thickly, trying to get ahold of herself as she sets her bag down. When she does, she realizes her hands are shaking. 

“Fine,” Clarke quickly assures him, unable to keep the tremble from her voice. 

She needs to see the queen in less than an hour. The queen who she has nothing to report to. Their war plans are going to be presented to Heda and the coalition, so those are hardly useful. She has nothing. 

Clarke’s heart races uncontrollably, a sharp pain plaguing her chest. Her hand lands on her heart, as if she might be able to physically quiet it, but it’s no use. Her lungs feel as if they’re giving out, just as a cold sweat breaks out across her face and back. She tries to make sense of what’s happening, but all she can focus on is the fear, the terror, no matter the fact that she can’t identify the source of it. 

Collapsing to the ground, Clarke holds her head in her hands as she gulps air, trying to retain control. She’s vaguely aware of tears streaming down her face, but all she can focus on is her shortness of breath. Every inhale takes a lifetime. 

“Clarke.”

Bellamy’s voice sounds so far away. Just like the last time she couldn’t breath, when she was trapped underwater, his voice breaks through the abyss. It is muffled, broken, but it is a lifeline, an anchor. Even so, she isn’t strong enough to grasp at it. Not this time. 

“Clarke.”

Bellamy appears suddenly, kneeling in front of her and prying her hands from her face.

“I can’t,” she starts, gasping for air, a sob lodged in her throat. 

“Look at me.” 

She manages, just barely, to shift her gaze towards him. The panic spreads through her body and the sob is finally released, but it does nothing to calm her body. 

“I’m sorry,” she cries. “I don’t-”

Bellamy brings her hand to his, pressing her palm against his. The memory of their matrimonial dance slams against the panic rising in her, but it isn’t strong enough to break through it. 

“Look at our hands.”

Clarke gulps another swallow of air, trying to focus on their hands. Her life has not been an easy one, but in this moment, the simple act of focusing on their hands seems like the most difficult task in the world. Somehow, she manages. Clarke’s gaze flickers across their hands, noting the way that the tips of her own fingers barely reach halfway up his. Her heart still feels as if it might explode or stop altogether, but she isn’t sure which. 

Bellamy pulls his thumb away, although the rest of his hand remains pressed against hers. “Count with me.”

The strangeness of the request itself draws her attention, despite the pain in her chest, despite the way she’s trembling. 

“One,” he counts, tapping his thumb against her own. He leaves his thumb pressed against hers, but lifts his index finger this time. 

“Count with me,” he repeats.

“Two,” they count together, tapping index fingers and leaving them joint. 

“Three,” Clarke murmurs, her brain emptying of anything but the way they tap the tips of their middle fingers together.

“Four.” The word is broken when it leaves her lips, but she still manages to tap her ring finger to his. 

“Five.” Clarke focuses on nothing but the feel of his pinky finger tapping hers. 

“One.”

“Two.”

“Three.”

“Four.”

“Five.”

Clarke isn’t sure how long they go on like this, but she remains focused on counting and the roughness of his finger tips. They count over and over again - it is safe, a steady cycle as her heart slows and she regains her breath. Eventually, after a countless tap of his pinky finger against hers, Clarke pulls her hand away. She takes a deep, but shaky breath as she does.

“I’m okay.” Her voice is hoarse and her eyes remain trained on her lap, unable to face him. She’s never had an outburst like that, and now that reality has settled back into place, her cheeks flush with embarrassment. 

“Hey.” His voice is impossibly soft. She doesn’t deserve it. 

She feels his fingers brush over her damp cheeks, wiping away stray tears. When she still doesn’t respond, he gently tilts her jaw up, bringing her gaze to his. He says nothing, only searches her face for a moment before pulling away. Clarke remains on the floor, her body drained as Bellamy walks to their door and says something to the guards, but it’s too quiet for her to hear what. 

“We have to go to dinner,” she says quietly, as he walks back over to her. Her voice sounds hallow, devoid of anything. 

“We’re not going to dinner.”

“But-” she starts, feeling panicked all over again. The queen will question her, will be angry, will-

“I told them to report that I am feeling under the weather,” Bellamy assures her. Clarke knows she gives too much away by the way she visibly calms at his words. She’s relieved she won’t be blamed for their absence, but now Bellamy can see that she was worried she would be.

“I’ll draw you a bath,” he tells her, when she says nothing more. Clarke nods weakly, and Bellamy disappears behind the screen. She digs her nails into her palms, trying to find the strength to pull herself together. When her nails scrape the scar across her palm from their marriage ceremony, she tenses. 

“C’mere,” Bellamy murmurs, approaching her again. He helps pull her up and Clarke forces herself to walk towards the bathtub, all of her attention focused on moving one leg after the other. She doesn’t expect Bellamy to follow her, but he does, hovering closely. He helps her out of her jacket, and then the rest of her clothing. Once she lowers herself into the warm water, she feels Bellamy’s deft fingers begin to unravel her braids. 

“Do you want to be alone?” he asks quietly, kneeling beside her next to the tub.

Clarke shakes her head before sinking deeper under the water, briefly dipping her head beneath the surface. When she resurfaces, Bellamy begins to wash her hair, his hands soothing on her scalp. Still, she can’t completely relax. She feels torn in half, pulled between her fear of her aunt, her growing affection for Bellamy, and most importantly, her duty to her clan. To her people, to her parents. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” he tries. 

“No,” Clarke answers, voice more steady than it’s been since she broke down. Bellamy doesn’t push her on the subject. He doesn’t pry after she dries and changes, or when the guard brings them food and tea. He doesn’t pry when they get into bed either, only pulls her close to him and kisses the crown of her head. Exhausted, the world around her plunges into darkness. 

--∞--

Bellamy and her rise early the next morning, prepared for a long day of meetings. They plan on departing tomorrow, which Clarke can only be grateful for. This morning, they will meet with Azgeda and Heda first, before presenting the plan to the rest of the coalition ambassadors in the afternoon.

Clarke masks her face into something neutral when she enters the drawing room, Bellamy by her side. She can feel the queen’s eyes on her as she walks through the room, taking a seat at the table across from the Azgeda representatives, which includes both Roan and Echo. Trikru brought Kane, Indra, and Lincoln to the meeting, as well as Raven and Monty for the sole purpose of explaining the more minute details of their plan.

“It’s lovely to see you, Clarke,” the queen greets her. Clarke thinks the queen’s smile must seem genuine to the others, and Clarke might agree if she had ever seen her smile genuinely about anything. When Bellamy tenses next to her, she realizes she might have been wrong about being the only one not fooled by her niceties.

Clarke smiles and offers her own greeting in return, but the conversation doesn’t progress further due to Heda’s arrival a moment later. The meeting goes relatively smoothly as they explain their plan - temporarily shutting off their power, standing half the army at the main door and the other half at the tunnels so as to attack from both sides, and the tone generator Raven brought with her that they’ll use to incapacitate the reapers. Mountain Men using such a device to control the reapers is a well known fact, but no one had been able to replicate it until now - until Raven and Monty. Clarke can see Raven’s frustration rippling under the surface when the others don’t quite understand her explanation of the tone generator, but Monty takes over, happy to calmly explain it several times over. Heda is receptive to the plan, as is the queen, although Clarke doesn’t know if she genuinely is. She doesn’t plan on being a part of this battle at all, so Clarke can’t imagine she cares either way. When all is said and done, they agree they’re ready to present the rest of the plan to the coalition. 

As they file out of the drawing room, Roan brushes past her. 

“Lunch,” he murmurs in her ear, subtly enough that she’s sure no one else caught it. The single word is clear enough for Clarke though. 

In the next hour, when Bellamy and other members of the Trikru party make their way to the dinging hall, Clarke tells him that she’s going to rest in their room instead. He offers to stay with her, as she knows he would, but she insists that he join the others. She only waits ten minutes before she slips out of her room and walks towards the queen’s chambers two floors above her. The queen always stays in the same room during her trips to Polis.

Clarke feels better today. Perhaps better isn’t the right word - perhaps she just shoved her fears and feelings deeper within herself than she ever has. Compartmentalizing is the only option she has left. For the first time, she lets her mind empty completely as she approaches the queen’s door. This is a familiar shift in her, a cold calm settling over her. It’s who she must be when she becomes Wanheda, and it is who she must be when facing her aunt now. 

Clarke doesn’t need to knock when she arrives. The Polis guard must have been told to expect her, and simply opens the door for her. Walking in, she finds the queen sipping on tea on the velvet settee, Roan in a chair across from her. 

“Clarke,” she casually greets her, as if it hasn’t been months since they’ve been alone in the same room. 

“Hi,” she answers weakly, falling into the chair beside Roan.

“So,” the queen prompts, raising her brow at Clarke’s silence. “Do you have anything?”

Clarke swallows, her nerves prickling under her skin. “Not a lot. I told Roan already about the people closest to him. I’ve been with them every step of the way while planning this battle against Mt. Weather, and there’s nothing that he withheld from you during the meeting.”

The queen purses her lips, but to Clarke’s surprise, doesn’t berate her. The relief only lasts a second. 

“Perhaps he’s already outlived his usefulness,” she ponders. 

“There’s still two months before the battle though,” Clarke quickly counters, before she can think better of it. 

Nia raises a brow at her, eyes sharp. “Yes, a battle we have no intention of participating in. A battle where we could lose hundreds of Azgeda warriors trying to save a few. Or have you already forgotten about your clan?”

Why does it matter what clan they’re from, when so many people are in trouble? Clarke thinks. 

“Of course not,” she assures her instead. “Whatever you decide...I am ready.”

The queen pauses, thinking over their options. 

“We’ll send Roan to meet with you two weeks from today. The earlier we destabilize Trikru and rid ourselves of the coalition, the better.”

Clarke nods, a cold sweat breaking out across her forehead. She feels like she might throw up. 

“I’m going to be noticed if I’m gone too long,” Clarke prompts.

“Very well,” the queen answers, waving her off. “Two weeks - same time and location as last time.”

Clarke nods, not looking back as she walks out of the room. She’s halfway down the dark, winding hallway when she hears footsteps behind her. Tensing, she readies herself for an attack, but relaxes once she spares a glance over her shoulder. It’s only Roan, walking at a brisk pace in an attempt to catch up with her. 

“Falling for your target, Princess?” Roan asks quietly. While it’s certainly a taunt, his words are more somber than usual. 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she nearly spits at him, walking faster. He grabs her by her arm, pulling her into the shadows of a narrow hallway off the main corridor. 

“What do you want?” she huffs. 

“If I can see right through you, it’s a sure bet the queen can too.”

“There’s nothing to see . Do I think that we should at least wait until the battle, so maybe we can save those people? Sure. But that doesn’t mean I have any intention of going against her wishes. I know what’s expected of me. Just because I don’t agree it’s the smart choice, doesn’t mean there’s anything to see .”

“It is the smart choice - for our people, for your people. Or have you already forgotten who those are? Have you already forgotten that Trikru slaughtered so many in our clan? That they would do it again in a heartbeat?”

“They could say the same about us. They also - they wouldn’t. He isn’t like that,” Clarke argues. She immediately bites down on her bottom lip, but it’s no use. There’s no taking back her words. 

Roan huffs, looking more disappointed in her than anything. “What kind of damn fantasy have you constructed? They would have you burned at the stake the minute they discovered your purpose, who you are . What do you think is going to happen? You confess, they forgive you, and you live happily ever after with your fake husband? It’s too late for that. It’s been too late for that since the second you met him, since the second you set foot in Anapolei under false pretenses. Your entire existence in that place is a lie, and the minute they find that out, you’re dead .”

“Roan-”

“No,” he snaps, shaking his head. “This only ends two ways - with you dead, or him. When the time comes - and it will - do yourself and your people a favor and finish it, so you can return to your own.”

Clarke clenches her jaw. “I am Wanheda . You think I’m so weak, that I would let some man get in the way of my mission?” she nearly growls. “Piss off,” she spits, shoving him aside and walking back down the main corridor. 

When Clarke glances behind her a few minutes later, Roan is nowhere to be found.

--∞--

Clarke considers going back to their room, but she can’t handle being around Bellamy right now. Not when Roan’s words, words that are the truth if there ever was one, are rattling around in her head. They have the meeting with the coalition soon anyway, in the drawing room rather than the throne room today. Maybe she’ll find a book or something to entertain herself there, something to distract herself from the awful anxiety trying to claw its way out of her chest. 

So lost in her own thoughts, she nearly walks through the doors of the drawing room without a second thought. As always, it’s Bellamy’s voice that brings her back to reality. She pauses, hand still on the door, before dropping it when she hears Heda’s voice on the other side too. Knitting her brow, she does a quick look around her before leaning closer to the door again. It’s open a crack, so their voices easily carry, but she can’t see either of them.

“So it was worth it?” Heda asks him. “The marriage?”

“Nothing will be perfect with Nia on the throne, but it’s a start.”

“I was shocked when you suggested it, but I can’t deny I think it’s a step in the right direction. But you’re right - the queen will always be out for blood. At least while she’s in the coalition, we have a semblance of control over her.”

Clarke’s heart is racing, but footsteps further down the hallway force her to walk away from the door. What did Heda mean that he requested this?

“Your Highness, I believe you’re headed in the wrong direction.”

Clarke’s gaze snaps up from where it was trained on the floor as she walked down the corridor, away from the drawing room. She finds Indra walking towards her, her expression as stoic as ever. Clarke might interpret it as suspicion, but she isn’t sure she’s ever seen another expression on the woman’s face. 

“Right,” Clarke agrees, shaking her head. “I get so turned around here, thank you,” she adds, trying to keep her voice steady as she turns around, walking back towards the drawing room. 

Neither says a word as they walk, and when Clarke opens the door this time, half the room is full of people. She finds Bellamy quickly, noting the empty chair next to him that she’s expected to take. Having no choice, she does just that, even though she can hardly look him in the eye. 

“You okay?” he murmurs, leaning closer to her. 

“Of course.”

Bellamy spares another glance at her, like he doesn’t quite believe it, but Clarke is saved by the meeting commencing. Largely a repeat of their morning meeting, which in itself was a summary of the plans she herself spent months aiding in the development of, her mind wanders as everyone speaks around her.

It makes no sense that Bellamy would ask for this marriage - that he would willingly tie himself to her. Even Octavia had said that he was torn up over the prospect of it. What game is he playing? She’s spent so long focused on fighting her feelings of guilt over her impending betrayal, that she’s missed the obvious danger in front of her face. 

They would have you burned at the stake the minute they discovered your purpose, who you are.

Clarke is quiet for the rest of the meeting, and through dinner as well. In fact, it’s not so different from her old existence, where she so easily blended into the walls. It had been different in Anapolei, and it happened so gradually that she hasn’t noticed the stark contrast until now. There, she began to open, to bloom into something with beautiful potential. But the most beautiful flowers are often the moist poisonous, and she let herself forget who she is. She let herself forget her purpose. Most importantly, she let herself forget that she doesn’t know the man she sleeps next to any more than he knows her. 

--∞--

Bellamy and her return to their bedchambers after dinner, an uneasy silence between the two of them the whole walk there. 

“Something is the matter,” Bellamy prompts, as soon as he closes their door.

“Nothing is the matter.”

“Clarke-”

“You’re not going to see your family?” she asks, sitting down on the edge of their bed and kicking off her boots. 

Bellamy offers a pointed look at her abrupt change of topic. “No - Octavia is going tonight. Are you trying to get rid of me?”

It’s not the first time Bellamy has asked her that, but it’s the first time it wasn’t said as a tease. There is no humor in his voice.

“Of course not. I just wondered.”

“You’re really going to pretend like nothing is wrong - after last night. After the way you’ve been acting all day?”

“Acting like what?”

“Like not yourself.”

“And what do you know, about my true self?”

“Don’t do this, Clarke,” he says, exasperated as he runs a hand down his face. “Don’t push me away. We’re supposed to trust each other. I thought we agreed on that much.”

The rage and frustration that Clarke has spent the day attempting to smother rise in her uncontrollably, the words spilling from her before she can stop them.

Trust?” she echoes, standing from the bed. “You want to talk about trust? When were you going to tell me that it wasn’t Heda that arranged this marriage, that enforced it, but you? When were you going to tell me this marriage was your idea? Were you ever going to tell me?”

Bellamy’s face drops, the anger replaced with something like regret. 

“I heard you speaking with Heda this afternoon, in the drawing room,” Clarke confesses, quieting her voice with great effort. She should have kept this intelligence to herself, or provided it to the queen, but it’s too late now. She let it slip because has the gall to feel betrayed in this moment. It’s ridiculous, given the circumstances, but it’s the truth. 

“So?” she prompts, when Bellamy says nothing. 

“Clarke,” Bellamy sighs. “It’s complicated.”

“Well, I’m not as stupid as I seem.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what Bellamy?” she snaps, her frustration bubbling over again as tears prick her eyes. “Then-”

“The marriage wasn’t my idea, it was your father’s,” he answers hurriedly, voice low. 

Clarke feels her heart drop into her stomach, and a pounding in her ears. She grits her teeth, just barely managing to keep her tears at bay. “I don’t understand.”

“I know - we need to talk.”

Clarke runs her hands through her hair, her usual half-twist falling out. She’s not sure if she even wants an answer anymore, half-afraid of what it might mean, but she knows she needs it. Bellamy sits down on the chair in front of their fire and Clarke follows, sitting down on the settee across from him. She needs the space between them. 

“I was sixteen when I took the throne - when my mother was killed. Your father took the throne a year later, after we killed King Theo in retaliation.”

Clarke expects to feel more emotion from those words, from her husband so flippantly stating that he killed her grandfather. But the truth of it is that she barely remembers him, and what she does remember, wasn’t good. 

“Another year later, another year of endless blood exchanged between Trikru and Azgeda, the previous Heda was killed, and Lexa ascended as Heda. We had grown up together, knew each other well. Three new leaders after nearly a decade of war. We had all lost people, and when Lexa invited each clan to Polis in her first attempt to form a coalition, your father came to me privately. I was shocked, but he came to me with a proposition for a more permanent peace agreement between our clans. Not the cold peace we have now, enforced only by Heda and the coalition, but a true peace between us. I was young, paranoid of being taken advantage of and unsure of whether to agree to it. Luckily, Kane and Lincoln convinced me it was the right choice, and it soon became clear he was genuine in his intentions.”

Bellamy pauses, eyes flickering over her face. “Clarke.”

“What?” She doesn’t realize she’s crying until the word comes out cracked and fragile. It’s clear Bellamy is fighting the instinct to comfort her, but he respects her space. Quickly wiping tears off her cheeks, she tells him to continue. 

“Over several months of painstaking negotiations, we grew to know each other well. There was a level of trust and respect between us, between our advisors. Both our clans officially joined the coalition, and we were so close to finalizing our own agreement.”

“And how do I fit into this?” Clarke cuts in. 

“It was your father’s idea - he added it to the peace agreement, that you and I would marry when you came of age. By that time, we were supposed to have had nearly a decade of peace between our clans. Our marriage was meant to be the last piece of it, a formal cementing of the bond between our clans.”

Clarke stands abruptly, turning away from Bellamy. She isn’t sure if she’s more furious, more heartbroken that her father sold her as a pawn before she even understood what a marriage was, or if this is in a twisted way, a comfort to her. She still can’t bring herself to doubt her father’s love for her, and if he really did grow to respect Bellamy, if he really believed this was what was best for their clans, and for her, and found her way here anyway...then maybe that means something. 

“Clarke.”

She forces herself to turn and face him again. “That doesn’t explain why you decided to honor a dead peace agreement that never saw the light of day.”

“I’m getting there,” he says pointedly, nodding towards the settee. Clarke sits down again, nodding at Bellamy to continue.

“Nearly a month before the agreement was supposed to be signed, we were meeting in Polis to finalize it. Your father confided in me that he didn’t trust his sister - your queen - and even some of his closest advisors. She disagreed with both our peace agreement and the coalition, and he even mentioned that he was wary of a coup. I tried to push him on it, as I was concerned for the agreement, but he walked it back. A week later, both your parents were dead.”

“You cannot possibly be suggesting what I think you’re suggesting,” she argues, feeling hysterical. “My queen, my aunt -”

Bellamy’s own frustration bubbles over in that moment, and he stands, taking a step closer to her.

“You had a damn panic attack at the prospect of seeing her again, and you’re going to sit here and have me believe my suspicions have no basis, that my suspicions-”

“They were killed by dissenters who didn’t agree with Azgeda joining the coalition, that does not mean it was my own aunt. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t .”

“She could,” Bellamy argues, his tone final, more harsh than she expected. “She could, and she did. How long do you think it would have been before she deemed you as the next threat that needed to be taken out?”

Clarke’s eyes burn into Bellamy’s, the light from the fire flickering across both of them as she finally realizes his true reason for honoring the old agreement.

“You believed I was in danger.”

“And you do not?”

“I was - am - the furthest thing from a threat to her.”

“And you know this how? Because she made you feel that way? Rules of succession shift all the time, Clarke. If you had staked a claim in the throne, there would be those in your clan who believed it to be warranted. You would have support, enough to threaten her rule. I saw that, whether you did or not.”

Clarke swallows thickly, too overwhelmed to form a functional sentence. 

Bellamy sighs. “I’m going for a walk...I’ll give you some space.” 

He doesn’t ask if that’s what she wants this time.

--∞--

Clarke has no more tears to shed as she lays in bed. The moon is high in the sky, but her husband still hasn’t returned. She feels exhausted in such an ancient way, deep in her bones, in her mind, in the blood that runs through her veins. Reeling, she tries to sort through everything Bellamy told her, tries to process it, but she feels hopelessly lost. Her anger towards Bellamy dissipated rather quickly once the guilt began to seep in. The twisted irony of all of it is not lost on her. He married her to save her. She married him to kill him. 

What weighs more heavily on her mind are his accusations against her aunt. To suggest that she killed her parents, that she had a part in their death? It’s impossible...it must be. No matter how cruel Nia might sometimes be, she loved her brother...didn’t she? Admittedly, all of it seems more tangled than before. Clarke had thought Nia loved her brother. Clarke had thought that for all their faults, her family loved one another. She doesn’t want to face the nagging reality prodding at the edges of her mind that suggests that everything she thought she knew about love is all wrong. It’s becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. 

With everyday she spends in Anapolei, the more blurred her entire concept of love has become, no matter her attempts to see things as clearly as she used to. In her father’s family, love was not important - not when it was anything outside of love of clan. Yet, she can’t deny that she remembers feeling loved by her parents. But then they were gone, and in their absence, she was raised to be powerful and ambitious, to be loyal and honorable. Above all, she was raised not to be weak. But then she thinks of Bellamy and Octavia, of the friends and loved ones they’ve surrounded themselves with. She thinks of how they love as brightly and fiercely as they fight, how their warmth does not dampen their strength, but fuels it instead.

Clarke is facing the balcony when she finally hears the door open and close on the opposite side of the room. She keeps her eyes closed, her breath steady as the bed dips under Bellamy’s weight. 

“You’re awake.” It’s a statement, not a question, but she isn’t sure how he could tell. 

Clarke rolls onto her opposite side to face him, too exhausted to fight against the allure of him. Without a word, she shifts closer to him and tucks herself into his side, cheek resting against his chest. She half expects him to reject her, to push her away, or maybe to simply try talking to her again. Instead, she feels his arm wrap around her, holding her close to him. Instead, she feels his lips press a featherlight kiss to her temple. Instead, he embraces her, holding her as her breath steadies, as her heavy eyes flutter closed, as she sinks deeper below the surface, with no way out. 

--∞--

Clarke runs a soothing hand down Orion’s face as everyone gathers at the stables. Her head is still spinning, trying to process everything Bellamy has told her, but at least she can do that in Anapolei, away from the queen’s prying eyes. Her gaze shifts towards the markets in front of the tower, where Wells is most likely working. She made no attempt to see him during this trip, for a lot of reasons, she supposes. The most telling reason is probably that Wells would be able to immediately tell what a mess she’s gotten herself into, and she has not idea how to respond to that. Not yet. 

“Clarke?”

Clarke turns, finding Harper walking up to her. She lowers her voice before speaking. 

“Do you have any cloths?”

Clarke knits her brow at the request, her exhausted mind tumbling full speed towards yet another crisis. “Cloths,” she repeats dumbly, even though she knows exactly what Harper is saying. 

“Yeah…” Harper says, looking at her strangely. “My cycle started early and Octavia and Raven didn’t bring any either.”

“Oh, I - no, I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“You okay?” Harper asks.

Clarke shakes her head at herself, trying to mask her panic. She feels like she’s going to throw up, and the nausea makes her feel that much worse when she realizes the source of it might not be anxiety. 

“I’m fine,” she promises. 

“Okay - well, I’m going to ask Monroe, but thanks anyway.”

Clarke nods, taking a deep breath. Why hadn’t she thought about the fact that she hadn’t had a cycle since arriving in Anapolei. On the one hand, she was never consistent, never started them at the same time each month. But she’d also never gone so long without one. She almost reassures herself it’s far too early to be worried about this, given that Bellamy and her just started sleeping together mere weeks ago. But that doesn’t matter, because if she got pregnant from their consummation ceremony, then it’s more than possible. The missing cycle, the bouts of nausea, her dizziness and fatigue. She attributed all of it to stress, but maybe it’s not. A cold sweat breaks out across her face, anxiety washing through her as she takes a deep breath. She can’t fall apart again. 

“You ready to go?”

Clarke turns and finds Bellamy walking up to her. 

“Are you okay?” he asks, voice quiet. 

No, she most certainly is not. 

“I know last night was...I know it’s a lot.”

Clarke nearly laughs. She wishes she could go back in time to ten minutes ago when that revelation was her biggest concern. 

“It was,” Clarke agrees, swallowing thickly. “But I’m okay.”

They mount their horses without another word, leaving Polis behind them.

--∞--

The next few days could technically be described as uneventful, but they aren’t for Clarke. Not with the things she’s dealing with internally - sorting through, wading through. She stops drinking her tea, unsure if that’s the wrong answer or right one. If she’s not pregnant, that could only lead to her becoming pregnant. Although Bellamy seems to be giving her space since they returned, and they haven’t slept together since before Polis. On the other hand, she isn’t even sure why she would stop taking the tea if she’s pregnant with a baby she doesn’t want. But something inside her, something she’s afraid to examine too closely, tells her otherwise.

Clarke only makes it three days before not knowing becomes too much to handle. She isn’t sure if it’s possible to get any answers, theoretically being only 2 months along, but she has to try. Rising for her usual morning walk, she spares a glance at Bellamy as he sleeps soundly in their bed. The sight of him makes her want to burst into tears for too many reasons to really narrow down. 

Her heart is pounding as she walks through the winding streets into the center of the city. The sun is just now rising, casting orange shadows across the houses and businesses she walks by. She knows it’s rude to arrive so early, and to take advantage of the fact that as his queen, he can’t deny her. But she doesn’t know when else to come, and she can’t wait another day. Once she knocks on the heavy wood door, Clarke shifts nervously on her feet, crossing her arms across her chest. To her relief, Nyko opens the door within minutes and he doesn’t seem to have just rolled out of bed. However, he does seem shocked to see her. 

“Your Highness,” he greets her. “Is everything alright?”

“Clarke is fine - and, uh - yes...I think so. Can I come in?”

“Of course,” he answers, quickly stepping aside to let her in and closing the door behind her. 

The first floor of Nyko’s house is where he works as the city’s chief medic, although there are a few others who have trained under him. His living quarters are upstairs, Clarke remembers from when Bellamy introduced him to her while giving her an tour of the city. 

“What can I help you with?”

Clarke swallows thickly. She hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to simply say the words out loud. “I was wondering if there is a way...if you could tell me if I might be pregnant.”

Nyko masks his surprise well, but Clarke can still see it in his eyes. Although maybe the surprise has more to do with the fact she came here without Bellamy, at a time when most of the city is still waking. 

“Take a seat,” Nyko says, nodding at the table in the corner of the room. “Would you like any tea? Anything to eat?”

Clarke shakes her head, gnawing on the inside of her cheek as she sits down. Nyko takes the seat across from her. 

“How far along do you believe you are?”

“If I am pregnant, I’m two months along. I haven’t had a cycle since before our marriage ceremony, and that was the only, we hadn’t…it would be two months,” she lands on, deciding he doesn’t need the details. “This past month, I’ve also felt more tired than usual, and had bouts of nausea,” she adds.

Nyko nods. “We have a device we can listen for a heartbeat with, but that’s not possible until you’re farther along - usually when you’re already showing. But there is also an herb that if added to a urine sample, will turn it a green color when a woman is pregnant.”

“And it’s accurate?”

“As accurate as we have...I have seen false positives over the years, but not many. I have it now, if you’d like me to test it.”

Clarke flushes at the prospect of it, despite the fact that Nyko is a medic. Still, her need to know is stronger than any embarrassment she feels. 

She nods, and Nyko opens his mouth to speak, but she cuts him off. “I drank another type of tea, that was supposed to - to prevent this. I’ve been drinking it, up until a few days ago.” She hopes he hears the question in her words. 

“Ah, stoneseed and thistle?” he asks, standing from the table. 

Clarke nods. “I just thought it would be best to wait given the war with the mountain,” she adds. She isn’t sure if he would find it odd, but she figures it doesn’t hurt to throw in that excuse. 

“That is...not as effective as people think. There’s no need to worry though - if you are pregnant, it shouldn’t have any impact on the baby, although I would still recommend you stop taking it to be on the safe side.”

Clarke nods again, twisting her hands.

Baby

She’s been thinking about all this like a thing that is happening to her. His words - a stark reminder that there’s another human involved in this - make her want to sob. She manages to swallow it, as she has all her life. 

“There’s a chamber pot in the back room there,” he tells her, pointing down a hallway. “Take as long as you need.”

Clarke walks down the hallway and into the small room. It has a single window, but it’s too high for her to see outside. She glances at the chamber pot, feeling nauseous again. Bellamy’s story about her parents, about her aunt, comes back to her. When she thinks of her aunt, she realizes that her biggest concern is her finding out about this. Closing her eyes briefly, Clarke wonders why she’s been so hesitant to believe Bellamy when her first instinct has always been to protect people from her. 

Clarke’s cheeks flush when she walks out, telling Nyko that she’s finished and asking him if she should bring him the pot. He shakes his head, telling her take a seat at the table and that he’ll take care of it. He disappears - for how long, she isn’t sure. Sitting in the front room, she clenches and unclenches her fists as she waits, nails digging into her palms. In this moment, she’s never missed Wells more. She feels a sharp grief at his absence. He would know what to do - he always knows what to do. She never should have come here. She should have trusted his instincts, she should have listened to him, she should have accepted his offer to run. Maybe it isn’t too late for that. 

“Your Highness?”

She looks up, tearing her gaze from her hands. 

“Clarke is fine,” she automatically corrects him again, before remembering the weight of the information he has for her. 

“Clarke,” he corrects himself. “The color did change. Given this test, and your other symptoms, I’m quite confident that you’re pregnant.”

Chapter Text

Clarke takes a deep breath as Nyko’s words settle over the room. Despite her initial shock, she has no doubt that he’s was right. She’s been distracted since the moment she arrived in Anapolei, but looking back, it all seems rather obvious now. Clarke knows her body. While the test certainly confirms it, she didn’t really need it to tell her what she already knows.

She nods once she realizes she’s been staring at him silently, swallowing thickly before she speaks. “Okay.” Another deep breath. “Okay, thank you.”

“You should come back in a month and check in with me.”

“Okay,” she agrees, even though it may be a lie. “I um - please...keep this between us.”

Clarke can read the suspicion on Nyko’s face, even though he masks it rather well. But she’s grown up memorizing subtleties in expressions, always needing to be prepared for whatever mood the queen might be in. 

“I just - I don’t want to get the king’s hopes up, since it’s so early,” she adds, hoping it’s enough to appease Nyko’s curiosity. “I’ll bring him with me, when I return in a month - as long as I don’t bleed before then.”

“Of course,” he nods. “I’ll keep it between us, your Highness.”

Clarke doesn’t correct him this time. She wants it clear that if he goes back on his word, he’s betrayed his queen.

--∞--

Clarke watches the city from her usual spot, perched on the window ledge of the dome. Her sketchbook is open on her lap, the blank page daunting, but she can’t find it in her to draw. She isn’t sure where to even begin to sort through the mess she’s in. For a moment, she rests a hand against her stomach, trying to let the knowledge that she’s carrying Bellamy’s baby sink in. She doesn’t let thoughts of it linger though - she cannot be a mother. Thoughts of motherhood inevitably melt into thoughts of her own parents, and she’s forced to confront what she’s most terrified to face.

Tears prick her eyes, trailing down her face when she blinks. There is a reason she didn’t want to face the truth of Bellamy’s words, and it isn’t really because she doesn’t believe her aunt is capable of such things. The real reason is that if Bellamy is right, then Clarke has slaughtered dozens upon dozens of people for no reason at all. Well...that might not be true. The queen certainly had her reasons, but those reasons had nothing to do with avenging her parents and protecting her clan. There is an even harder truth that lurks beneath that one, one that Clarke can’t ignore any longer. Her parents - who she wanted to honor - would be disgusted by what she’s done. They would be horrified by what she’s become. If Bellamy is right, then she has dishonored everything her father believed in, everything he stood for...everything he died for. 

Clarke knows in this moment that Wanheda is dead to the world, even if she’ll never exorcise her ghost from her own life. She’s heard the rumors in the last two months, people whispering about how Wanheda must be gone. No bodies showed up, or if they did, someone was always quick to point out that they were missing Wanheda’s mark - the simple slash behind the ear. She didn’t know it at the time, how right they were, but she knows it now. Wanheda is dead. 

Clarke feels like a fool, that she didn’t see these truths sooner. She never questioned why her aunt’s descriptions of her parents never aligned with her own memories, but even as a child, she knows she should have. She supposes her aunt’s impression of her mother was never really a lie, it was simply that every one of her qualities was reframed as something weak, something pathetic, something fragile. It makes her chest tight to think of her now, and for the first time, she feels true rage at her aunt’s words. 

Her mother was taken from her family, forced to marry a stranger, bore his child, and forced to live in a clan so different from her own, with a family so much colder than her own. It’s a wonder that she didn’t resent her own daughter, but somehow Clarke knows that she didn’t. She was loved, at one point. There was no lack of love from her parents, only a tragic lack of time. When Clarke glances down at her own stomach, despite how terrible this pregnancy surely is for everyone, resentment of her child isn’t one of the dozens of emotions coursing through her. 

Clarke loved stories as a girl, but few books were kept in the castle. It wasn’t a pastime that Azgeda valued, or found any purpose in, but her mother indulged her. She would recount stories from the books she read growing up, before she had to leave.

“Mommy, will you tell the one of you and Daddy again?”

Her mother smiled at her, tucking Clarke into her blankets. Her mother’s warm brown eyes contrasted with the icy blue ones Clarke inherited from her father, but she liked her mother’s better. 

“Only if you promise to go to sleep,” she said, tapping Clarke’s nose and drawing a giggle from her. 

“I do,” Clarke promised, snuggling deeper into her blankets and brushing her blonde hair off her face. 

“What part do you want to hear?”

Clarke leaned up again, tapping the hollow behind her mother’s ear. Clarke loved to look at her parents’ matching tattoos, the simple circle drawn into the skin behind the ear. She liked it because her mother’s explanation made it sound romantic, and so pretty - you have the circle tattooed with the person you love, as a vow of loyalty, as a symbol of the infinite nature of your love for each other. 

Her mother chuckled in response. “Why do you love to hear that one so much?”

Clarke shrugged, pulling a blanket up and against her cheek. “Because I want to have matching ones with somebody, just like you and Daddy.”

“You will someday, sweetheart,” she told her, tucking a piece of hair behind Clarke’s ear.

Clarke wonders why her mother went through such lengths to paint her life as something more beautiful than it was. Maybe she was only protecting her, as mothers are supposed to. Maybe it was always as simple as that.

--∞--

Things are not necessarily tense between Bellamy and her, but they feel unfinished. Clarke owes him...something, given what he’s told her. The reality is that she owes him a lot more than she can give him, but that is out of her control. 

They change in silence when they return from dinner, and Bellamy settles into their bed before she does. She spares a glance at him, taking him in, and realizes it’s now impossible not to see him differently, in so many ways.

When Clarke climbs into bed, Bellamy reaches for the book off his bedside table. Despite the strangeness between them, they have not broken this simple tradition. Every night, without fail, he still reads aloud to her. Tonight though, Clarke leans over and takes the book from his hand, setting it back down. 

“We should talk,” Clarke prompts, laying back down on her side, hands under her head. 

Bellamy mirrors her and nods, but he seems nervous.

“You know I’m not angry with you, don’t you?” Clarke asks. 

“To be honest, I’m not sure what you’re thinking at all.”

Clarke nods, understanding. He would be horrified to know all the things she’s truly thinking, but maybe she can give him pieces of her true self, not matter how small and broken. 

“My parents,” Clarke answers, voice quiet. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents.”

Bellamy remains quiet, patiently waiting for her to continue. 

“I’ve been thinking about them, and how my aunt so easily convinced me that they were different people than the ones I had memories of. My parents in my memories...my father is the man that you described. I don’t know what to believe about my aunt, but I must admit that I know in my heart she’s at least capable of it.”

Bellamy interlaces his fingers with hers, leaving their joined hands resting on the bed between them.

“While I’m not sure I agree she sees me as any kind of threat,” she continues, “I can understand why you would. I understand it and I...I appreciate you caring at all, when you were never obligated to. But I suppose I’m confused how I could possibly be a threat, when my own father didn’t see me fit to inherit the throne.”

Bellamy’s expression softens, and he hesitates before he finally speaks. 

“I don’t think - I don’t think that’s how it was. He mentioned preparing Roan for the throne, but I don’t think it was because he judged you as incapable. He told me that maintaining the bridge between our clans, being the person with a foot on each side and being able to work with both sides, was more important than whoever was on the Azgeda throne, as that would always change.” He pauses, smiling a little. “I remember him mentioning that you were like your mother - that you would have both the strength and the compassion to handle it.”

Clarke huffs a laugh, unable to keep her tears at bay. “I was ten years old - he couldn’t possibly have known that.”

Bellamy smiles again, that soft smile that makes her feel like someone lit a fire in her abdomen. “He knew who you are, just as I do now,” he tells her, swiping away one of her tears with his free hand. She bites down hard on her bottom lip, the falsity of his words causing a sob to rise in her throat. 

“Do you remember when you saved me from the pond?” she asks, abruptly changing the subject. 

Bellamy furrows his brow, huffing a laugh. “Of course I remember.”

“The reason you were able to reach my hand is because I was reaching upwards - I saw my mother that night, in the water. I was reaching for her, as if she might provide safety, or comfort, or, peace, and...and that led me to you.”

Bellamy swallows before shifting even closer to her, hands still joined between them, so that he can press a brief kiss to her forehead. 

“Your parents loved you, Clarke. Truly.”

Clarke nods. “Strangely enough, I believe you.” She does believe him - that they loved her. What scares her is that they wouldn’t feel the same about the woman she’s become. 

“Why do you say strangely enough ?” Bellamy questions. 

“Well, I just - my mother, especially. I was the result of her being forced to marry my father. I’m sure it wasn’t what my father wanted either. There was respect between them, friendship and even affection, I think, but...she could have resented me. She could have hated me for what I represented, but she never did. She just loved me, and shielded me from the worst of it.”

Bellamy is quiet for a moment, hesitating. “My own mother,” he starts. “She...well, by that logic, she should have hated me. But that’s just...that isn’t how it works with children.”

Clarke hopes that is true, but she can’t help but wonder if Bellamy would resent their own child if he knew the truth of her. 

“What do you mean, about your mother?”

Something vulnerable, something Clarke has never seen before, flashes across Bellamy’s face. She’s never seen him so unsure of himself. His gaze flickers across her face, searching hers for something, although she isn’t sure what. 

“I need to tell you something...something that I was supposed to take to the grave with me.”

“I’m not sure I can take any more revelations at the moment,” she teases. His attempt at a smile doesn’t reach his eyes. 

“It’s nothing about you,” he assures her. 

He focuses on where he’s stroking her side with his free hand, as if he needs the distraction. Only a month ago, Clarke would be eager to collect whatever information he offered and pass it along to the queen. Now, she only wants to help him carry whatever burden he’s been silently suffering through. 

“You can tell me,” she murmurs. 

“Only my mother and I knew of this - not even Octavia. It must stay that way.”

“You can trust me,” Clarke promises. 

It is technically a lie, but it doesn’t feel like one. Not with this. 

“My father, he was a cruel man. It was unknown to most - he was charismatic, and respected, but that wasn’t who he was behind closed doors. My father met my mother when she was working at my grandfather’s stand in Polis - she was nineteen, and in love with somebody else. But my father was the type of man who...well, he took what he wanted. Nobody said no to him. I think that if it was just my mother, she would have tried to run, but she had her parents to think of, and Celeste too. So she went with him, married him and became queen.”

Bellamy swallows and Clarke gives his hand a gentle squeeze, a small reassurance. 

“You would think if he was so desperate to have my mother as his wife, he would have treated her with respect, at the very least. Instead, he was…” Bellamy shakes his head, as if trying to rid himself of the thought. “My mother trained as a warrior, and was strong, and intelligent. But surviving under the thumb of a man like him, is a different kind of battlefield - one much harder to navigate and a crueler one in so many ways. She had me two years after they married and she raised me the best she could. Growing up around my father was like constantly walking on egg shells...we were most happy when his duties kept him occupied.”

Clarke’s chest aches. Not only because she feels empathy for him, but because she is familiar with the exact fabric of his pain. 

“I’m so sorry, Bellamy.”

Clarke wishes so badly that she could take his pain, but she’s never known how - she’s only been trained in inflicting it. Bellamy continues, brushing aside the apology.

“When I was ten, my mother was pregnant again. I suspect some of my father’s anger over the years was because they couldn’t seem to have more children, but things changed after that - for a while anyway. He seemed happier, and things seemed calmer, and nine months later, Octavia was born. I was twelve, Octavia only a year old, when things started to get bad again. It was worse this time though - it wasn’t enough to simply stay out his way. He was angry, and cruel, and as a child, I didn’t understand why. My mother didn’t tell me until later that it was because he found out that Octavia wasn’t his child - she’d had an affair with another man in town.”

Bellamy swallows thickly, taking a deep breath. 

“When I was thirteen, just after Octavia’s second birthday, he came into the drawing room where I was reading while my mother entertained Octavia. He - he was livid, and had his sword with him...I noticed that there was already blood on it. He lunged at my mother, who had Octavia in her arms, and she just barely escaped his sword. I - I grabbed the sword I had just finished training with, and the next time he rose his own, I drove mine through his back. We found out later that he killed Octavia’s real father before coming after my mother and Octavia.”

“Bellamy,” Clarke breathes. The tears pricking her own eyes mirror his. When she cups his face, he leans into her touch. 

“Killing my own father - the patricide of a beloved king - there would have been challenges to my rule. Especially because nobody knew what he was truly like…they never would have believed it. My mother made up the story of him going mad, being ill rather than simply cruel as he always was, and killing him in self defense. It was a risk - she could have been executed, but her life was spared when it was understood she would only be on the throne long enough for me to take over. Even so, Marcus and Indra were heavily involved in her reign, our people trusting them more than my mother, given that my mother was not born Trikru. I wasn’t supposed to inherit the throne until I was eighteen, but when my mother was killed three years later, they were out of options.”

Clarke isn’t sure what to say, so she wraps herself around him, pressing her face to the crook of his neck and breathing him in. Bellamy clings to her, holding her close to him, but says nothing. Running a hand through his hair, Clarke thinks about how so many broken moments of their histories led them to this exact one - one that doesn’t feel broken at all. 

“My whole life, I’ve been terrified of becoming him,” he confesses, a whisper in her ear.

The sheer shock from such a sentiment makes Clarke pull away. 

“You aren’t him, Bellamy. You’re - you’re such a good man. We aren’t our parents, and they weren’t us. Our parents weren’t like us, they didn’t-”

Clarke cuts herself off, realizing how close she came to saying something so incredibly foolish. Something she’s been fighting within her subconscious for weeks, no matter how fiercely she tries to smother it, to drown it. 

“Didn’t what?”

Clarke looks into his eyes, noticing each freckle mapped across his face. She takes a deep breath. This is the worst idea she’s had yet, to say this out loud. 

“Didn’t love each other.”

Part of her hopes that Bellamy will turn away from her - from her words, her confession. Part of her hopes that he won’t feel the same way, that he’ll reject her. All of this would be so much easier if he did. Instead, Bellamy’s lips collide with hers, interrupting her doubts, scattering them to the winds, dissolving them into nothing. The kiss is tender, the kiss is desperate. The kiss is everything. 

“I do love you,” he nearly gasps when he pulls away, lips brushing hers as he speaks. “I love you.”

Clarke nods, kissing him rather than saying it back. She can’t bear it. It isn’t long before their bodies collide just as seamlessly as their lips had. It feels different this time. Intense and perfect as he slides in and out of her, as she claws at his back and urges him closer, deeper. It feels as if they’re truly trying to become one, as if they’ve forgotten it isn’t possible. Bellamy lets go as soon as she comes, rolling his hips, kissing across any part of her skin that his lips can reach.

Lying in his arms hours later, the room nearly black, Clarke is aware of only three things. 

She loves him. 

She cannot kill him. 

She cannot stay.

--∞--

Clarke lays on her side, quietly observing her sleeping husband as the rising sun casts orange shadows across their room and over his bronze skin. It makes her regret every morning walk she’s taken since arriving in Anapolei, when she could have been doing this instead. She won’t make that mistake again though, not when her days are numbered. Clarke isn’t sure what her next step is, but she knows it can’t include Bellamy.

It isn’t long before Bellamy stirs, and Clarke doesn’t try to hide the way she’s been watching him. He blinks up at her, his sleepy eyes and lazy smile making her heart flutter.

“You know, I think this is the first time you haven’t been gone when I woke.”

“Should I go?” she teases.

“Don’t you dare,” he laughs, pulling her into his side. Clarke relaxes into his embrace, letting her head drop to his shoulder and her hand to his stomach. One of Bellamy’s arm wraps around her waist as he presses a kiss to her temple, but the other interlaces their fingers. Clarke stares at their joined hands, a little mesmerized by the sight of her ivory one in his bronze one, the dissolving glow of the last moments of the sunrise illuminating them.

“How did you know?” she asks, eyes still on their hands. “How did you know how to calm me, with the counting?”

Bellamy lets their joined hands drop back down to his stomach. “I use to get nightmares - sometimes panic attacks as you did. They were worse after my father died, and my mother use to use that trick with me.”

All this time, Clarke thought Bellamy was so different from her. She thought that he was whole, but really, he was broken in so many of the same places she was. Yet, that’s not what matters. What matters is that Bellamy became whole again, that he used his own tragedy to heal others. What matters is that Clarke stayed broken, and that she made sure everyone around her was as broken as her. For the first time, she has hope that maybe one day, she might be able to change that. It seems impossible that she should be able to achieve any kind of redemption after all she’s done, but Bellamy makes her want to try anyway. 

--∞--

Over the next week and a half, Clarke makes a new plan. Despite the grief she feels for her impending departure from Bellamy, she feels lighter than she has in a long time. She can do the right thing, in her own way. She can break free from her aunt’s power over her. She can start over. 

Clarke spends her days trying to soak up her last moments with Bellamy, trying to memorize every piece of him. On the night she must meet Roan, she will leave as planned, except she will not be returning. Instead, she’ll continue onwards to Polis and find Wells. She hopes he will still be willing to run with her, but even so, she prepares for the possibility that he won’t. Whether Wells is with her or not, she’ll make her way North after that. 

It’s late spring, the perfect time to travel, and she will settle in one of the northern-most villages until the baby is born. These are the villages overlooked by the queen, the ones deemed generally unimportant, and it is where she will leave her child. She’ll make sure the baby is raised by a good family - a family not poisoned with the tragedy of both hers and Bellamy’s histories. Their child’s life will be simple, and full of love, and blissfully uneventful. Then, she will leave. Where she will go after that, she isn’t sure, but she’ll have plenty of time to ponder that.

Clarke knows she will break Bellamy’s heart, but his heart will remain beating. That is all she can offer, all she can do. Even though he will hate her, Clarke will take comfort in the fact that he is alive. He will remain alive, because if Clarke is certain of anything in this world, it is that he must exist on this Earth. 

She cannot kill him because he is a good leader.

She cannot kill him because he is needed to save the people in the mountain. 

She cannot kill him because it is not what her father would have wanted. 

She cannot kill him because he is the father of her child. 

Most of all, she cannot kill him simply because he is Bellamy. She cannot kill him because she cannot bear a world without him in it. It is the most selfish reason of all of them, but it is the one that overshadows the rest.

Clarke holds herself together better than she expected in her final days in Anapolei. She believed that she needed Wanheda to tap into her strength, but she’s beginning to realize that her own strength does not come from the commander of death. Her own strength was diminished by it. Now, she thinks of Bellamy, and her child, and how much better their lives will be because of her choices. It makes everything easier, in a strange way. 

On her last evening in Anapolei, she sits on her ledge in the dome, feeling as grateful for the small moment of peace as she did when she first discovered the dome. Her sketchbook sits on her lap, her charcoal pencil in her hand, as Clarke searches her mind for the words that will make the most sense. Clarke won’t reveal herself as Wanheda to him, and it isn’t for his sake, although she wishes she were that selfless. The reality is that Wanheda is her deepest shame, and she cannot bear Bellamy seeing her as a monster, even if he will certainly hate her all the same. She also won’t reveal their baby to him. Bellamy deserves a fresh start, just as their baby will get. Taking a deep breath, she brings her pencil to the paper.

Bellamy, 

If you’re reading this, I am already gone. I can’t imagine what you must be thinking. If you take anything from this, know that I did not leave because I do not love you, but because I do. 

You were right about the queen, in more ways than you know. My presence here, our marriage, was a lie. I was sent here as a spy - I was sent here to report on you, and when you were no longer useful, to kill you and destabilize your clan. I was sent here so that the battle against the mountain would never happen. I do not expect, nor deserve, your forgiveness. But please rest easy knowing that I shared your deepest secrets with no one, and will take them to the grave with me. 

I know you will never be mine, but-

Always yours,

Clarke

Clarke closes her sketchbook when she finishes, the whole ordeal feeling quite final. She will leave her sketchbook somewhere he will eventually discover it, but hopefully she will be long gone by the time he does, as will any trace of her. 

--∞--

When Bellamy reads to her that night, she tries to memorize the sound of his voice - the depth of it, the warmth of it. Even so, she has a hard time listening to the actual words. Instead, she wonders if their baby will have his freckles, his dark hair, his heart. Eventually, she closes her eyes, pretending to drift off to sleep. She hears Bellamy blow out the lantern and the color behind her eyelids shifts from dark orange to black. She hears his breath steady, and opens her eyes to see the steady rise and fall of his chest in the dim light of the fire’s dying embers. She knows it’s time to go. 

Clarke uses the same method she did last time to excuse her presence to the guards, and like last time, they think nothing of it. In the dark kitchen, she changes into more durable clothing. This time, she took the time to slowly add more supplies to the cabinet over the last few days, in order to prepare for her journey to Polis, and then north. With her father’s pocket watch in her jacket pocket, she takes off into the cool night, the town sleeping as deeply as her husband is. She looks around as she walks out of the city, feeling more paranoid and cautious than last time she left. Shadows move and she tries to ignore the sensation of being followed, but when she finally enters the forest, she knows with certainty that it was in her head. 

Just like last time, Clarke sees the familiar glow from a lantern within the old stone building, alerting her of Roan’s arrival. She knows it’s foolish to stop and speak with him, but she doesn’t plan to tell him anything about her plans. Foolish or not, she needs to ask him about her parents. She needs some sort of confirmation, some sense of closure, before she leaves and never looks back. Clarke isn’t sure if she’ll get that, but she has to try.

Roan isn’t relaxed, sitting with his back against the wall like last time. Instead, he’s standing, posture tense. It makes her heart beat wildly before she can really consider why that is.

“Do you have anything more?”

“No hello?” Clarke asks. 

Roan smirks at her, crossing his arms. “Good evening, Princess.”

Clarke rolls her eyes before responding. “I don’t have anything more - nothing new has come up since Polis.”

Roan nods, quiet for a moment. Clarke decides that this is her chance, before she loses her nerve entirely. 

“I have to ask you something.”

Roan raises a brow at her. Clarke swallows thickly. 

“Did she - did the queen kill them? My parents?” Her voice is shaky, quiet, instead of strong and confident like she intended. 

Roan says nothing, but Clarke doesn’t miss the strange expression on his face. He grimaces and looks...ashamed, of all things. 

“It’s true.” Her voice cracks over the word. 

“I don’t know,” he tells her, voice quiet and measured. “Honest, I don’t. But I was older, and from what I - from what I saw, and heard...I suspected it.”

Tears fill Clarke’s eyes, her plan to remain strong no matter his answer quickly dissolving. “And you did nothing .”

“It was over, and my mother was queen - there was nothing to do ,” he nearly growls at her. “You think I have any more power over her than you do? She banished me, for three damn years, simply because I-”

He cuts himself off, looking away.

“Because you what? You owe me that much, Roan. You owe me the the truth.”

He exhales a long breath. “She banished me because I pushed her regarding your...missions. I could see what it was doing to you. It wasn’t right, and I tried to stop it, but was banished instead. I learned my lesson regarding challenging the queen, and you should too.”

Clarke swallows, looking away. She was under the impression Roan was banished because he wasn’t taking his title seriously enough - because he spent more time in taverns and in bed with women. She never would have guessed it had anything to do with her. 

“Clarke, that isn’t all.”

Clarke looks up at him again, her blue eyes glistening in the faint glow of the lantern.

“The queen says it’s time. You need to take out the king.”

“I won’t.” Her voice comes back to her, stronger than it has been all evening. “I won’t be her pawn any longer, and I won’t kill him.”

Clarke tenses, preparing for the possibility she may need to fight Roan to escape. Despite her size, she’s technically better trained than he is. It would be difficult, but not impossible, to get away from him. She expects Roan to be surprised by her answer, but he simply shakes his head at her, as if disappointed. 

“You will-”

“I will not.”

“She has him.”

Clarke knits her brow. He can’t be referring to Bellamy - not only did she leave him sleeping soundly in their bed, but if they had him, they wouldn’t need Clarke to kill him-

“You were foolish, to think you could hide him from her - to think you could care for someone so deeply without the queen knowing. She will always be two steps ahead of everyone.”

Clarke’s stomach plummets, her heart beating wildly as the panic in her rises like a wave. 

“Wells.”

“Yes - the boy from Polis. She already has him, and if you finish your job and return to Suskainau in three days time, he will live.”

Clarke cannot help the tears that stream down her face. “You can’t - you can’t do this,” Clarke nearly yells, clenching her fists. 

“Trust me when I say that I am not doing anything - I don’t even know where he’s being kept. I don’t want him to die anymore than you do. Finish the mission, Wanheda. If you’re back in three days time, you will have a happy reunion with him in Suskainau before he is safely escorted back to Polis. If not, the queen will assume you failed, and the boy will pay for it with his life.”

“I can’t.” It comes out like a whimper, her strength draining.

“You can. It is your choice to make. Your friend, or the king - and his death will need to be confirmed before your friend is released, so don’t do anything stupid.”

Roan doesn’t say anything more to her before he leaves her alone in the crumbling stone house. She stands dumbly - for how long, she isn’t sure. Then a sob rises in her throat that she is unable to hold back, and wave after wave of sobs wrack her body until she makes herself sick. Only in the strange calmness that settles over her when her body has nothing left to give does she make herself leave.

--∞--

Clarke sighs in relief when she finds her belongings where she left them in the kitchen cabinet, including her sketchbook. She quickly changes and walks back into hers and Bellamy’s bedchambers, offering a smile to the guards when she does, as if her entire life hasn’t just fallen apart. She is wide awake as she lies in bed, certain that she won’t be able to sleep another wink before the sun rises. She lays on her side facing the wall, unable to even look at Bellamy as he sleeps.

The queen has cornered her, and there is no way out. Clarke wants to claim that she’s given her no choice, but she has. She has given her no choice as to whether to kill, but she has given her the tragic choice of who lives: Wells or Bellamy. 

If she kills Bellamy, not only will she lose him, but the war against the mountain probably won’t happen. It will mean her father’s attempts at peace have failed. It will mean murdering the father of her child. A piece of him will forever be tied to her, his existence entangled with hers. This child will bind her to Bellamy’s ghost whether she gives it away or not. He’ll haunt her forever. She’ll never survive it. 

But she cannot kill Wells - it is not an option. How can she put Bellamy’s life above his, after all they’ve been through together. Wells is the only person in the world who loved her after her parents were taken from her. Wells is the only person who knows exactly who she is and has loved her anyway, the only person who loves her for exactly who she is, even the worst parts of her. Bellamy doesn’t love her. You cannot love someone that you don’t even know. When Clarke imagines them keeping Wells hostage, she feels sick again. He may be alive, but she doubts that the conditions of where they are holding him are anything but cruel. This is not simply an ultimatum from the queen, but a punishment too. It is a punishment because the queen knew that an ultimatum would be needed.

Clarke doesn’t have long to decide what she’ll do. She only has three days to make it back to Suskainau, which gives her less than two days to finish her mission. If she had more time, maybe she could come clean to Bellamy. Maybe she would have enough time to convince him to execute her later, but help save her friend. But she doesn’t have enough time. By the time she’ll be allowed to speak at all, to explain herself, Wells will already be dead. 

Clarke walks through life like a ghost over the next two days. She thinks Bellamy notices - he asks if she’s okay, but she brushes off his concerns. He would usually pry more, but his head is wrapped up in his plans for the battle against the mountain, now less than two months away, and he’s more distracted than usual. After dinner on the second night, Bellamy tells her he’s going to work on a few things in the drawing room. Clarke finds herself in the dome after parting ways with him. She stands, the breeze blowing her hair around her face as she looks over the city. The sky is black and the lanterns across the city are glowing specks of orange, reminding her of the fireflies she used to catch in the woods on the outskirts of Suskainau during the summers as a child. She grieves for that little girl as much as she does for Bellamy. 

She’s wracked her mind for any solution at all, anyway to help Wells, but there isn’t any. There is simply not enough time to convince anyone to help her, and as it is, she is alone. Just as she’s always been. She has no friends, no allies, and no one to help her if she reveals herself. Even then, the simple truth is that even if Bellamy wanted to help, he would not launch a war against Azgeda to save one person. He could not risk the war with the mountain, when so many other lives are at stake. The only chance Wells has of surviving is Clarke, and there is no way to reach Wells in time unless she does what the queen wants. Clarke is the reason he’s in danger, and she is also his last lifeline. Clarke needs to finish this tonight, and make it back to Suskainau in time. It’s the only option. She is out of time.

Clarke’s mind is empty as she makes her way to the drawing room, Wanheda occupying her once again, despite Clarke’s promise to herself that she would remain dead. That was a foolish vow - you cannot kill the commander of death. That is the whole point. 

In the long corridor that leads her to the drawing room, she feels as if she’s being watched again, but she knows now that it’s only her paranoia. In a sense, she is being watched. She feels the queen’s presence everywhere. The queen has poisoned her to the bone. 

Clarke doesn’t bother knocking before she walks into the room, finding Bellamy sitting at the table, a map in front of him. She closes the door behind her and he looks up at her and smiles, but Clarke doesn’t allow herself to see him. Not this time. 

“I didn’t know you were coming down,” he tells her. 

Clarke doesn’t answer. She walks up to his chair, ignoring his curious eyes, before wrapping him in the same headlock that Dev taught her.

“Clarke,” he chokes out, as she quickly brings the knife to his throat. She knows that his shock is the only reason she was able to so easily take him, but she has him now. That is all that matters. He can try to escape, but any struggle will likely lead to his throat being slashed in the process. 

“I’m sorry, I am.” Her heart is racing, breath heavy. She’s grateful she cannot see his face. 

Do it. Get it over with , a voice inside her head whispers. But she’s frozen, grip tight, blade against his skin. 

“What are you doing?” Bellamy rasps. She can feel the struggle to get the words out, from the way his throat moves under her, but she doesn’t let up. 

“What I have to, like always,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry.”

She can’t let Wells die, even if she kills a piece of herself in the process. 

“Why?” 

The knife digs into his flesh when he speaks, blood trickling down his throat. She doesn’t let up. 

Why? 

There are so many reasons why, really. There are so many reasons this is happening, so many choices she’s made that have led them both to this exact moment. 

“Because you married Wanheda,” she says quietly. That is really what it comes down to. He should have the truth in death. He deserves that much.

Bellamy doesn’t respond before the doors burst open, Lincoln leading a few guards into the room. Clarke tightens her grip on him even further.

“But the knife down,” Lincoln warns, somehow sounding as calm as always. 

So she’s not making it out of this alive - but maybe Nia will still honor her agreement, when she hears word of his death. There is no reason for Wells to suffer if she and the king are both dead.

“Don’t come closer.” 

“Clarke,” Lincoln growls. Bellamy struggles against her and she tightens her grip, pressing the blade deeper, but not deep enough. Lincoln eyes where the knife is pressed to Bellamy’s throat. He knows that the king is one sudden movement away from death. 

This is it. This is how Wells lives. One more impossible choice. One more piece of her soul torn away. Clarke shakes her head, tears now rolling down her cheeks as she wills herself to kill yet another person. Not just another person. The person who means everything to her. He might not love her, but she loves him. That love broke something in her, something she’ll never put back together.  

Her hand trembles as she loosens her grip on him, just barely. 

She can’t.

Clarke lets go of him, and the sound of the knife clattering to the ground echoes through the room. The minute the knife is out of her hand, Bellamy is on her, grabbing her by her shirt and slamming her back against the wall. He probably wouldn’t be able take her so easily if she put up any kind of fight, but she doesn’t. It’s over. Nothing matters anymore. 

Bellamy’s dark eyes are filled with so much emotion - there’s grief and confusion, but mostly anger. She’s not sure she’s ever seen him so furious, his neck smeared with blood from his wound. He’s shaking with anger, but says nothing. 

“Bellamy, careful,” Lincoln says quietly. “She’s pregnant.”

Clarke can hear the breath catch in Bellamy’s throat and watches him clench his jaw. Clarke is no less surprised, and looks over at Lincoln with wide eyes, but Lincoln is looking at Bellamy. Waiting for direction, she realizes. Bellamy lets her go, pushing her firmly into Lincoln, who takes her and holds her arms behind her back. Bellamy walks a few feet away, his back to them.

“Take her downstairs,” he tells him, without turning around. “Breathe a word of this to no one.”

Lincoln pushes her forward, towards the door.

“Careful with her,” Bellamy adds. Clarke isn’t sure if he means to be careful with her because of the baby, or careful with her because of who she is. Probably both. 

--∞--

Seated on the floor of her cell, Clarke leans back against the damp cement wall. Lincoln nor any of the other guards said anything to her once they locked her in. She went obediently, the fight in her drained. It’s over, all of it, and she only feels numb. She’s exhausted from the weight of her life. 

Wells is dead. She killed Wells, and herself too, although she doesn’t care much about that. Bellamy won’t kill her right away. He’ll let her live long enough to give birth to their child. She knows he’ll still want their child, even if they are half her. Half treacherous murderer. There’s comfort in the fact that Clarke knows Bellamy will love the child anyway. She is the monster in his story - just like his father - but Bellamy will love their child anyway. Just as his mother loved him. About six more months of suffering before he executes her, and then it will finally be over. 

Clarke is thankful that Lincoln was there to tell Bellamy about the pregnancy. She should have been the one to tell him, in case he decided to kill her right then and there. Shame floods her. She didn’t speak up quickly enough. It’s one of the many reasons that she isn’t fit to be a mother. 

Clarke wonders how Lincoln even knew. Nyko must have told him - she remembers now that they’re friends, but Clarke still thought she could trust him, for some reason. She has no right to feel betrayed by Nyko, or Lincoln, or anyone else, but somehow she does. She thought that she had all of them fooled, that they were as embedded in her fantasy as much as she was, but it wasn’t real for them either. They saw right through her, and somehow that hurts - the revelation that maybe none of her relationships were any more real to them than they were to her. She still isn’t sure how Lincoln figured it out, but then she remembers feeling watched, and how she so quickly assumed she was being paranoid. What a fool this place has made her. 

Clarke watches the sky outside the small barred window at the top of the wall. It changes from black, to gray, and to a pastel orange, before she hears the door that leads down to the handful of cells in the castle’s basement open. Clarke doesn’t move, even when she looks up and sees that it’s Bellamy standing at her cell. She doesn’t want to face him. Just because he hates her doesn’t mean that she loves him any less. 

“Wanheda.”

Clarke looks up, unsure if it’s a question or an accusation. She nods anyway. 

Bellamy grimaces, his body tense. “Get up.”

Clarke does as she’s told, walking closer to him. Bellamy’s gaze sweeps across her face, searching for something - for what, she isn’t sure. Maybe he’s searching for the woman he thought he loved, but that was only a mask. A mask torn to tatters, that can never be worn again.

“Wanheda belongs to the queen. I should have known.”

“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” Her voice is deflated, devoid of any emotion. It is not a bargaining chip, or a desperate plea. She just wants it to be over. This is the end of the road, and she has nothing left to lose. 

Bellamy ignores her offer, and Clarke realizes that there are tears pricking his eyes that contrast with the harsh expression on his face. Her heart shatters over and over again, and she wonders if the pain will ever stop. She wonders if she will ever have a breath of reprieve from it again, or if this is how every moment will feel in the final months of her life. 

Her own pain is so clearly reflected in Bellamy’s face, and she is responsible for it. She did that to him - broke him. All she does is break, kill, destroy. All she does is take. The fact that she somehow created a child with this man, who is everything she doesn’t deserve, is all wrong. It is a hiccup in the universe that never should have been allowed to happen.

Bellamy swallows thickly before speaking again. 

“This child...if this is some ploy, some part of your plot-” he starts, voice cracking over the last word. 

“Lincoln was telling the truth.”

Bellamy’s gaze hardens. “I know he was - I spoke to Nyko. I’m asking- I’m asking if this was part of your plan.” 

Clarke looks away in shame as she realizes what he is really asking her. He thinks her such a monster that she would purposely get pregnant, trap him, bring a child into this mess. The reality is, she’s given him no reason to believe she’s not that monster, or even something worse. She cannot blame him for such assumptions. 

Bellamy reaches through the bars, roughly grabbing her chin and forcing her to look up at him again. His dark eyes are still shining with unshed tears. She wishes she could cry too, to show him how sorry she is, but she has nothing left inside of her. She has been bled dry. 

“Answer me - and so help me, if you lie to me,” he starts, tightening his hold on her chin until it hurts. She embraces the pain, rather than try to move away from him.

“The opposite,” she tells him, voice rough. “It wasn’t part of the plan, it was a mistake. Collateral damage. I was drinking a tea, it was supposed to...it doesn’t matter. It was a mistake.”

Bellamy stares at her for a moment longer. “Did you tell anyone about my father?”

“No.”

Bellamy searches her face for a beat longer, pushing her away with a huff. “I don’t know why I’m asking, when I can’t trust a word that comes out of your mouth,” he spits. 

Bellamy walks away without another word. Clarke stands where he left her, listening to his footsteps echo through the small cement corridor. Listening as the door slams shut. After that, she takes a seat again. Eyes on the cement wall in front of her, she stares blankly ahead.

Chapter Text

Clarke isn’t sure how much time has passed since Bellamy spoke with her, but the sky is bright blue when the guards come for her. Lincoln isn’t with them, nor is anyone else she knows, but there are five of them just to escort her. She wonders if they’re confused as to why so many of them are needed to escort a small woman, but Clarke knows she could incapacitate at least three of them within minutes.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells. 

They bring her to guest bedchambers she’s never been in, in the wing opposite the bedchambers she used to share with Bellamy. The entire room is cleared, save the bed, a chamber pot, and a bath tub behind a screen. Even the fire irons are missing, so she isn’t sure how she’s supposed to stoke the fire, but she supposes a guard will do that. She doesn’t blame them for taking them away. The room also has one window, but it is barred, the spaces between the bars too narrow to fit even a child. She knows the only reason she’s in this room instead of a cell is because of the baby, because she’s carrying the Trikru heir, and that makes her wish they left her in the cell all the more. She doesn’t deserve any comfort, even if it is just a byproduct of her pregnancy. 

Wells is dead. I killed Wells. 

Three guards leave her in there without a word, but two of them stay - both women. They stand on either side of her door, quietly watching her. Bellamy has realized how dangerous she is, and is trying to compensate for the fact that she was walking amongst them for so long. It is residual fear - the realization that they were so vulnerable and had no idea. Perhaps it makes them feel better, but in reality, it’s quite useless. She could probably get out of the room if she really needed to, if she really wanted to. But where do they expect her to run off to? To escape to?

Clarke would be executed in Azgeda for her failure to kill Bellamy, probably more quickly than she’ll be executed here. The queen would not care about the child, and might even want them killed. There is nowhere else she can run to either. If word gets out that she is Wanheda, every other clan will fight for the chance to kill her. She would be hunted for the rest of her days. Although, she thinks that Bellamy might keep her identity a secret, if only because it looks bad for him that he let her in to begin with. Above all, she’s pregnant. Running anywhere outside of Anapolei would put the child at risk. No, she isn’t going anywhere. 

Wells is dead. I killed Wells. 

When she walks over to her bed, she finds fresh clothing folded on top of it - all linen, with no zippers or anything else that might be used as a weapon. She runs a hand over the material before laying down on the bed. She isn’t going anywhere, but if it makes them feel better to guard her as the dangerous, cunning monster they believe her to be, then so be it. After all, they aren’t wrong.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells. 

--∞--

The days begin to blur together. Clarke is brought food a few times a day, but she mostly picks at it, never hungry enough to eat. Her view from her window is not terrible, even with the bars, but she doesn’t go near it. She has no desire to watch as the world passes her by. As the days pass, Clarke expects to sob, but she finds she cannot. She feels so empty, so numb, now that she is finally facing what she deserves.

I have dishonored my parents.

I have broken Bellamy’s heart, irreparably so. 

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

Six months - six more months of this. Clarke will live just long enough to have her child ripped from her. It will be one last, singular piece of suffering she must endure before she’s allowed to leave this world. At least the queen does not know about the child...for now, anyway. Clarke supposes it will eventually get out, but she won’t be around when that time comes. She trusts that Bellamy will protect them though. At least she has that.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

Weeks pass like this, Clarke thinks. There is no real way to know. She doesn’t go to the window, she doesn’t bathe, and she only stumbles over to the chamber pot when it’s absolutely necessary. She picks at her food, but eats the bare minimum, her appetite nearly gone. She has only her own thoughts to occupy her mind, but her thoughts are cruel, and if she’s being honest, a little redundant. 

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

Sometimes Clarke wonders how they will execute her. It doesn’t scare her like it once did. She feels eager, in a way, to be rid of everything. Ordinarily, Clarke thinks her crimes would warrant a public execution, but Bellamy will probably want to keep her betrayal a secret, even in death. He knows how such things can complicate a child’s claim to the throne, and unless he has another, their child is his only option for an heir.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

Clarke rolls onto her back, staring up at the stone ceiling above her bed. She has memorized every crack, every divot in it. 

Perhaps they will say she died tragically in childbirth. It’s what makes the most sense, but Clarke can’t help but find that nearly comical. The mighty Wanheda, to die as a tragic victim. To be portrayed as a flower plucked from life too soon. No one would know the truth - that she was never a flower, but simply a snake who choked on her own poison.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

No matter how they kill her, death is still preferable to anything else. She has no where to go, no one to go to. In spite of everything, she doesn’t feel afraid. She knows Bellamy will love this child, that their child will have countless others to help him raise them. In fact, in her death, letting this child go might be the best way she can love them. They will be better off.

Wells is dead. I killed Wells.

Nobody comes to see her. That part surprises her, not because she was expecting visitors, but because she was expecting interrogators. But no one comes, and so the days pass from where she lies in bed. Her, and the ceiling she stares at, and the gray behind her eyes when she closes them, somehow always too exhausted to fall asleep.

One day, books arrive in her room with her breakfast. They probably think she’s simply bored, but she doesn’t touch them. She isn’t bored. She’s only waiting, dissolving into nothing as she does. 

--∞--

One day, someone finally comes, but it isn’t who she expects.

Nyko walks into her room, clearing his throat to announce his presence as the guard shuts the door behind him. Clarke briefly sits up in bed to see who has entered, but lays back down when her eyes land on him. She isn’t interested in speaking with him. She just wants to wait in peace. 

“Clarke,” he greets her. He’s walks over to her bed when she says nothing, tilting his head as if he’s examining a wounded animal.

“How long has it been?” she asks, eyes still trained on the ceiling. Her voice is rough from lack of use, but devoid of any emotion. Just like her. 

“Two weeks. You’re officially at three months. How are you feeling?”

“You told Lincoln?” she asks, finally turning her head to look at him. 

Nyko is quiet for a beat, clearly uncomfortable. “I did. I found it odd that you wanted to keep the news from the king. Now - I’m here to check on you, on the baby. How are you feeling?”

Clarke turns to stare at the ceiling again. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not eating.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Can I examine you?”

Clarke hesitates, but nods after a beat. The question is only a courtesy anyway. 

Nyko hovers over her, lifting her soft linen shirt to her ribcage. She watches as he presses on different points of her abdomen, and her breath catches when she realizes that she’s begun to show, just barely. No one else would notice it, certainly not when she’s wearing clothing. In fact, the only reason she notices is probably because she’s lost weight everywhere else. She can see it though - the slight curve. The first physical sign that she’s with child. 

“You haven’t bled?” he asks, pulling her shirt down. 

“No.”

Nyko nods. “I’ll check in with you again in a week, but I want you to let the guards know if you have any pain, or if you think anything is wrong. In the meantime, I need you to try to eat the food they bring you - you need to keep up your weight, or the baby will be in danger.”

Clarke nods, but says nothing else, eager for him to leave. She waits until he’s gone before resting her hand on her lower stomach, moving it across her skin. She furrows her brow as she feels the curve of it, swallowing thickly as she remembers Nyko’s words. After that, she begins to eat. 

--∞--

A few days after Nyko visits her, Bellamy arrives in her room without warning. She is sitting at the window ledge, something she started doing the evening Nyko stopped by. She hoped the fresh air would make her feel something, but she isn’t sure if it’s helping. No matter her best efforts, she still feels as if she is walking through what little life she has left as a ghost. 

The guards open the door for him without a word to her, and Lincoln and Kane enter the room behind him. Clarke is wide-eyed as she takes him in, feeling relieved she finally bathed the previous night. It’s ridiculous really, to be insecure with her appearance after everything. She’s sure it’s the last thing Bellamy cares about. 

Bellamy stops a few feet away from her, and Clarke doesn’t miss how his gaze flickers to her stomach, even though there is nothing to see yet.

“You’re going to tell me everything, every detail,” Bellamy instructs her. Clarke shifts on the window ledge to face him. It’s a little awkward, given that there isn’t anywhere for the three of them to sit aside from her bed. They don’t seem to mind though, and remain standing instead. Bellamy seems too restless to sit anyway. 

“I told you I would.”

“Then talk.”

Clarke tells them everything, in great detail. She tells them that Azgeda never intended to participate in the battle against the mountain, whether it happens or not. Bellamy’s eyes darken at that, an angry glint as he’s reminded that the queen is leaving them half an army short. Still, he doesn’t seem surprised, and Clarke is sure that he knew as much from the moment she held a knife to his throat. Clarke also tells him of the queen’s desire to see an Azgeda nightblood on Heda’s throne. 

“You should be careful,” she warns. “She knows I’ve failed by now - she might send someone else.”

Bellamy doesn’t respond to the warning. She tells him about Wanheda next.

“How many?” he asks. 

Clarke swallows. She doesn’t need him to specify what he’s asking, but she wonders why he assumed she would count as she did. “86.”

She remembers every single one, has no problem recounting each death to Bellamy. She can’t explain the queen’s motives for each one, but she explains what the queen told her. Clarke doubts there will be anything uncovered by examining the queen’s targets anyway. It’s clear to her now that her targets did nothing more than threaten the queen in some way. Just like Dev, where it all began. It is so glaringly obvious to her now, and the shame from her foolishness feels unbearable. 

Bellamy nods when she stops speaking. He’s wearing his mask, the one he used to take off in her presence. 

“Bellamy, I-”

“No,” he snaps, turning around and walking towards the door. 

“Would you have already killed me?” she can’t help but ask. Bellamy pauses, tensing, but doesn’t turn around. “If it weren’t for the baby?”

There’s a beat of silence. Clarke digs her nails into her palms. 

“I don’t know,” he answers gruffly. Kane follows on his heels, but Lincoln lingers. Clarke looks up at him, unsure of what to say. 

“We’ve all got a monster inside us, Clarke,” he tells her. “And we’re all responsible for what it does when we let it out.”

He walks away after that, before Clarke can respond. She wouldn’t know how to respond anyway. Still, his words linger, the truth of them sinking beneath her skin and permeating her bones.

--∞--

Something shifts in Clarke after Bellamy’s visit. She can’t quite explain it, other than to say that she takes Lincoln’s words to heart. She is all too aware that she only has six months to take responsibility for what she’s done. She can’t fix things, but maybe she can make them just a little bit better. Maybe she can somehow still help make the world a safer place for her child. 

Clarke starts eating regularly again, which is easier now that her morning sickness has waned. She also begins each morning with push-ups and other small exercises, determined to keep up her strength. When she feels herself sinking inward again, her insides threatening to crumble, she thinks of her parents. She thinks of her mother, who remained strong in the face of everyone, and her father, who pushed to do better without support from those closest to him. Clarke cannot be the bridge between the clans that he foresaw. She burned that bridge to ashes, razed it to the ground. But she knows she doesn’t have to be useless while she waits for her sentence. She can do something - she can do what Wanheda does best. She can help with the war. 

They have less than a month until the battle. Clarke doesn’t know how the plans have been adjusted, knowing what they now do about the queen’s intentions to abandon them. But, for perhaps the first time in her life, she finds her voice. She spends her days asking the guards and servants, and Nyko when he comes by, for any scraps of information she can gather. Yet, none of them answer her, not even to tell her to shut up like they probably want to. Clarke knows it’s possible they simply know nothing, but she has to try.

Just over a week after he first came to see her, Bellamy enters her bedchambers again. Like last time, it’s unexpected and his presence startles her. Despite being caught off guard, she steels herself, knowing this might be her only chance to get through to him. 

“Stop pestering my people,” Bellamy warns, without preamble. He’s tense, trying and failing to mask his anger. 

“Let me help you - I can, if you just-”

“Are you out of your damn mind?” he cuts her off, expression bewildered. 

“I can help you. Keep me in chains if you need to, but let me help. I can - I can do this one thing.”

Bellamy doesn’t answer her. His jaw is clenched, like he has to remind himself he can’t strike her. 

“I can’t trust a word out of your mouth, your help is worth nothing.”

“You don’t have to trust me - you have to trust that I don’t want the people in the mountain to die. This is bigger than both our clans. Both of us have people trapped in the mountain, no matter the numbers, and only one of our leaders is planning to do anything about it. Please - let me help you save them. I know it changes nothing, and I expect nothing in return. But - I can help you.”

Bellamy shakes his head at her, leaving without a word. Clarke deflates, knowing that she’s blown her one chance. She allows herself the evening to wallow, tossing and turning through the night as she tries to think of ways she might reach Bellamy, all the while knowing it’s a lost cause. 

Clarke has accepted failure by morning, which is why it’s all the more surprising when Harper arrives in her room, holding folded clothing. It’s real clothing, Clarke realizes, rather than the sleep clothing she’s been living in for weeks. Clarke sits up straighter at her presence, not having seen the woman since she was caught. 

“You need to change, I’m bringing you to a strategy meeting,” Harper tells her, setting the clothing down on the bed. She doesn’t give anything away, her face a perfect mask of neutrality. Clarke only nods, deciding not to waste her breath on an apology. It isn’t fair to Harper to even attempt one. 

Once Clarke changes, Harper instructs her to hold her hands in front of her. Clarke obeys, fresh nerves brewing in her. This is what she wanted, but now she has to face everyone she betrayed at once. She musters any courage she might still possess as Harper and her walk towards the drawing room, the other guards trailing behind. Clarke tries to fight the images from her last time in the room that invade her mind. Her knife to Bellamy’s throat. Him shoving her against the wall, blood dripping from his wound and so many emotions she can’t begin to untangle glistening in his eyes. 

Clarke doesn’t have time to dwell on those memories once they enter the room. Her attention is occupied by the death stares she receives from half the room, the other half wearing carefully constructed masks that barely hide their general discomfort.

“I can’t believe this,” Octavia nearly growls, turning to Bellamy. “You were serious, about bringing her here?”

“I can help,” Clarke cuts in, before Bellamy can answer.

“Like hell you can. You’re the reason we’re in this mess. Weeks from a battle with half an army - and you knew from the very start,” Raven snaps at her. 

“You don’t have to like me. I’m aware you hate me, and that I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I have knowledge of Azgeda. I have knowledge of all the clans, all the land - including yours - that I’ve traveled through extensively for six years. I can help you take down the mountain. You’re not going to win this war without Wanheda on your side.”

Octavia clenches her jaw, but says nothing more. 

--∞--

There are only three weeks until the battle against the mountain, and despite Azgeda’s betrayal, Bellamy is determined to move forward with it. Part of her wishes that she could convince him to add a few more weeks to their plan, to give them more time to perfect things, but she’s seen countless others lose that argument over the last couple months. Of all people, she certainly can’t change his mind on this. 

In the week since Clarke attended the first meeting, they stumble through a new battle plan. Its foundation is the same as it was, but in dealing with the new numbers, it is riskier. They now have to pull in Trikru reserves that Bellamy didn’t want to send in. Before, even if the coalition’s army was decimated, there would still be a Trikru army at the end of the day. Now, if things don’t go their way, there won’t be much of a Trikru army left. The clan will be severely weakened, just as Nia wanted. 

The truth of it is that they won’t truly know what they’re walking into until they breach the mountain. If , Clarke darkly reminds herself. If they breach the mountain. They’ve taken all the precautions they can - sent scouts ahead, accounted for the electric doors, and made a plan to incapacitate the reapers. But at the end of the day, they simply have no idea what’s waiting for them inside. 

In the week since Harper brought her to the first meeting, Clarke has been brought back daily for each one since. Some of them look like they’re ready to kill her every time she enters the room, pregnant or not. Octavia, Raven, Murphy, Indra, and Miller wear harsh scowls and won’t respond to anything she says unless it’s a dig of some kind. Others - like Harper, Monty, Lincoln, and Kane - wear more neutral expressions, although they cannot mask the strange mix of sympathy and wariness that sometimes slips through. Clarke doesn’t mind. It’s exactly what she expected, and being allowed to help at all is all she can ask for.

Bellamy remains as rigid as he was the first time he entered her room over a week ago, the raw emotions on display when he was standing in front of her cell scrubbed from every expression and gesture. Clarke tries to tell herself that she doesn’t mind, but lying to oneself is a hard practice. In truth, it breaks her heart and she feels his disdain like an ache in her chest every time they’re in the same room. She is the epitome of her mistakes, her current situation the culmination of a series of wrong decisions that resulted in one shattering conclusion. But she won’t insult him by begging for forgiveness that she doesn’t deserve. 

This is how she can help him most - not as Clarke, but as Wanheda - and she doesn’t need or want any thanks for it. Not that she would get any. Her advice is met with a mix of distaste and reluctant respect from the group, now that she’s truly using her voice without reservation for perhaps the first time in her life. She has nothing more to lose, so she shows them just how cold, how strategic, how cunning Wanheda really is. She looks at their plans like puzzle, devoid of the kind of empathy that drowns you if you allow yourself to dip your toe in it. She isn’t afraid to act as the monster. It’s what Bellamy, who has always been too good, cannot do. So they may hate her for it, but if she’s giving Bellamy what he truly needs, then she’s done what she set out to do.

--∞--

One day, on what would be Clarke’s eighth meeting, Harper doesn’t show up at the usual time. Clarke waits, wracking her brain as to why that would be, trying to remember if she missed a mention of cancelling today’s meeting. By late afternoon, Clarke swallows her pride and asks the guards still stationed at the door inside her room. She hates how she surely sounds - like a forgotten child, left behind and sulking. 

To Clarke’s surprise, the guards answer her without any further badgering. “The King is on a trip to Polis. He won’t be back for two days.”

“Oh,” Clarke says dumbly. 

It makes her feel just a little better, to know at least she hasn’t been uninvited to the meetings. But Clarke feels new nerves prick her skin at this news. Surely he’s there to brief Heda and the coalition on their new plans. Clarke isn’t nervous that they won’t approve the new plans, if only because the new soldiers are largely coming from Bellamy’s own army. Rather, she wonders what exactly he will tell Heda about her. 

Perhaps Clarke has been naive to think that she’ll simply be executed in Anapolei. Perhaps Heda will want her transferred to Polis, interrogated and tortured for more information. Bellamy won’t allow it while she’s pregnant, but once she has the baby, she’s not sure he’ll care enough to stop it. Her life will be nothing more than a bargaining chip, passed around to anyone who wants a piece of her.

--∞--

The next day feels more monotonous than usual. Clarke had grown used to the daily meetings, which acted as a marker in her otherwise uneventful day. She doesn’t know what to do with herself and is nearly relieved when Nyko comes by to check on her in the late morning. She asks what time they’re expected back from Polis, and to her surprise, he gives her a straight answer.

“Tomorrow afternoon, if all goes well.”

Once Nyko leaves, Clarke finds herself pacing the room as she tries to quell her anxiety. She hates that she let herself fall into some false sense of security, only for it to be be ripped away. Perhaps a punishment worse than death is what she truly deserves, but she was hoping the universe might have mercy on her tired soul. 

Clarke glances at the books that she picked up for the first time a few days ago, but knows she won’t be able to focus enough to read. Gaze sweeping across the room as she continues to pace, her eyes land on the fire that went cold sometime in the early morning hours. Being in the throes of spring, it’s unnecessary to light it during the day, and all that remains of it are blackened coals.

Clarke walks over to the fire place and lowers herself onto her knees. She can sense the guards tense out of the corner of her eye, as if she might fight her way out of the room with a handful of coal. Instead, she reaches for the biggest piece of coal that she can find and pulls it out, black dust already coating her fingers. Still on her knees, she shifts so that she’s facing the floor next to her bed, the area hidden from the guards and anyone else who walks into the room. 

Clarke hesitates, undecided on what to draw. She wants to draw something that will take her mind off her current situation, but try as she might, all she sees is Bellamy. Her thoughts fall backward from the memory of the knife to his throat in the drawing room, tumbling through all that came before, and landing on the first time he saved her. In that moment, she couldn’t have guessed all the ways he already had saved her, and all the ways he would continue to do so. In that moment, she was gasping for air, was grasping at life, and Bellamy was a simple lifeline. Bellamy was her mother’s voice in the water, dragging her from the depths of death and back to the living. 

She realizes it’s the face of the Trikru king, of King Bellamy, gazing down at her with worried eyes. Wet curls stick to his forehead although she knows the rest of him, pressed against her, is dry. The moon is still hidden by the clouds, but stars shine far above him, a canvas, a backdrop, to his strange angelic face. She has the ridiculous thought that she’d like to hold onto the image, maybe even sketch it later.

Clarke leans forward on her knees, bringing her piece of coal to the floor, and does just that. 

--∞--

Clarke is perched on the window ledge hours later, fingers still black and dusty, as she watches the horizon embrace the sun. The window is a small respite from the monotony of her bedchambers, even if it cannot rival the beauty of the city when standing above it in the dome. At the very least, she enjoys taking deep breaths of the spring air that blows through the open window as dusk paints the sky and city a brilliant orange. 

Clarke doesn’t turn when she hears the door open, assuming that it’s a servant bringing dinner. She’s not hungry, but she’ll make sure she eats later. 

“Trying to figure out how to fit through those bars?”

Clarke whips her head towards the door, Octavia’s voice startling her before she can remember to remain stoic. The guards haven’t yet lit the lanterns, and the room is shadowed with bright orange light from the setting sun reflected on the stone walls. 

“I have no desire to escape, and nowhere to go,” Clarke tells her shortly. “What do you want?”

Given the way Octavia has acted towards her during the meetings, she knows that the woman can’t be here with any good intentions. She doesn’t think even Octavia is ruthless enough to kill her while she’s pregnant, but that doesn’t mean Clarke is in the mood for an interrogation. Octavia walks closer to her, stopping a few feet short of her. 

“Lincoln says you chose not to kill Bellamy,” Octavia says, ignoring Clarke’s question. Or maybe answering it, in an indirect way. “That you had a clean shot and decided not to kill him.”

Clarke forces her gaze to remain trained on Octavia, refusing to give into her instinct to look away. “And what do you think?”

“I think that even if that were true, it’s only because you realized you were cornered and were trying to save your own traitorous ass.”

“Well it sounds like your opinion has been decided. Do you need something else?”

Octavia’s gaze narrows, a threatening glint in her eyes as she crosses her arms. “I’m not sure it’s even Bellamy’s child.” 

This accusation catches Clarke off-guard. In all that’s happened since she was caught, the thought that her child’s paternity might be a question to anyone never crossed her mind, if only because it’s never been a question in her own mind. 

Clarke offers a leveled stare, relieved that the shadows hide the way her cheeks and chest flush. “Bellamy was my first and only. There were no others.”

Octavia pauses for a beat, a flicker of discomfort on her face before she masks it. “Your word means nothing anyway.”

“Then why are you here, looking for answers?”

Octavia shakes her head slightly. “I’m here trying to figure out how the hell we were all so easily fooled.”

Clarke is surprised at Octavia’s words, if only because it feels like a concession. She did not expect the other woman to show an ounce of weakness in her presence. 

“Well, you weren’t all fooled. I was being followed by Lincoln...was that not why I was caught?”

“Lincoln was returning from Nyko’s when he saw you leave the city. Nyko had just told him you were pregnant, making him all the more suspicious. But it was a coincidence, that you crossed paths that night.”

Another concession, but it doesn’t make Clarke feel any better. It makes her feel sick instead, that she has something inside of her that allowed her to easily fool people so many. Something cold and twisted. If she were a better person, she wouldn’t have been able to stomach it. If she was a better person, she would have failed.

There’s a beat of silence before Clarke speaks again. “Does Bellamy believe that? That the child isn’t his?”

Octavia clenches her jaw, pacing a few steps before turning back towards Clarke. “Seems to be the only thing he does trust you about, regardless of countless warnings from those closest to him. 

“You think he’s being weak,” Clarke observes. 

“No, I think my brother has a good heart, which is why he needs the rest of us to ensure that it doesn’t lead him astray.”

Clarke nods, understanding the truth of Octavia’s words. Bellamy might not know her, but she thinks that she does know Bellamy.

“You know,” Octavia continues, “I think in a world where you weren’t such a monster, you could have been that for him. The level head that didn’t lead his heart astray.”

Clarke feels her heart ache at Octavia’s words. They are tender, despite the woman’s biting tone, and perhaps they are true. Clarke had never considered that. She had only thought about how Bellamy helped open her own heart to the world, but she had not considered how she could have protected his from that same world. But Clarke is a destroyer, not a protector, and so she shattered his heart instead. 

“Yes,” Clarke agrees quietly, voice detached. “If things were different.”

Her words seem to only anger Octavia, the woman tensing as she takes another step closer to Clarke. 

“You don’t care an ounce about it, do you? About him?”

Clarke takes a breath before answering. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

Octavia glares for a beat, as if thinking that over herself. “You know what - I want nothing from you. If it were up to me, your throat would be slit the moment the baby is born.”

Clarks huffs at that. “I don’t imagine you’ll have to wait much longer than that, your anger is wasted.”

Octavia raises her brow at Clarke’s words. “You think Bellamy plans to execute you?”

“Of course,” Clarke answers. There is no blame or resentment in her words - it is simply a fact. “It’s what any king or queen would do to a traitor.”

Octavia shakes her head. “If you believe that, then you never knew him at all.”

--∞--

Clarke remains restless the next morning, her conversation with Octavia weighing heavily on her mind. Mostly, she wonders if Octavia could be right about Bellamy having no intention of executing her. Still, it sounds too good to be true. It’s not something she can allow herself to believe. It will hurt too much if she lets herself believe it, only for it to be yet another thing taken from her. 

Of course, she also cannot ignore the fact that, in some ways, not being executed frightens her even more. It’s absurd, she knows, but part of her was relieved that there seemed to be an end in sight. Living through what comes next frightens her more than death in so many ways, and she isn’t sure she’ll have the strength to bear it. Not to mention she still isn’t sure where she could go. Wells was the only home she had, and she killed him. She would not deserve him even if he were still here. 

Clarke doesn’t expect to see Bellamy or anyone else until the meeting the next day. It’s dark, with the fire and several candles and lanterns lighting the room, when Clarke finishes her bath. She changes into fresh clothing and returns to her bed to comb out her tangled hair. They were reluctant to give her a comb, but relented. She thinks it’s because no one wanted to be move close enough to her to brush it for her. She’s just finished untangling the last knot when Bellamy walks into the room, simmering with an anger she doesn’t understand. 

“Leave us,” he commands the guards. Clarke sets the comb down, wide eyes on Bellamy as he waits for the guards to leave the room, the door shutting behind them. She swallows thickly, trying to understand what she could have done to anger him. She’s told him everything, just like he asked.

“What changed?” he asks. It is more a demand than a question. 

“I don’t-”

Bellamy tosses her sketchbook on her bed. She was so focused on his face, she hadn’t realized he was holding it. Her eyes briefly flutter closed when she sees that it’s open to the letter she wrote. She’d left the sketchbook shoved in her wardrobe, and with everything that had happened, she hadn’t thought of it. 

“What changed?” he repeats, each word clipped and enunciated clearly, as if she hadn’t understood him.

“I - it doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me.”

Octavia’s words rush back to her, sharp and unyielding. If Bellamy finds out about Wells, he will take on that guilt himself, no matter that he isn’t to blame in any way. Bellamy will view it as Wells dying so that he could live. He might think it matters, but Clarke can’t do that. What’s done is done, and she can’t keep inflicting more pain. In the end, it changed nothing. It doesn’t change the fact she came here to kill him, or that she tried to. Clarke told herself all her life that reasons matter. It is how she justified killing so many people at her aunt’s whim. But reasons do not matter when people are dead, when damage is done, when mistakes are irreversible. 

“Nothing changed,” Clarke tells him. She isn’t sure she succeeds in keeping her voice steady. “It was a moment of weakness. It changes nothing.”

Bellamy clenches his jaw, and Clarke watches him turn away, walking back towards the door. It surprises her that he doesn’t push her further, and she wonders if he himself was more afraid of the answer than he let on. He doesn’t speak again until his hand is on the door, swinging it open. 

“Just because it changes nothing, does not mean it doesn’t matter.”

Before she can respond, he’s gone. 

--∞--

Clarke grows more nervous with every passing day, each day bringing them closer to the battle against the mountain, but she is eager to see through what they started. Eager, and also terrified. There are so many factors that could go wrong. Bellamy hasn’t come to her room since he asked about the sketchbook, and based on their interactions in meetings, the conversation might as well have not happened. Clarke might be convinced she dreamed the whole encounter if he didn’t leave the sketchbook in her room. Clarke isn’t sure whether she’s relieved and disappointed that the conversation was forgotten. Regardless of what she is, she knows that it’s for the best. 

Despite having possession of the sketchbook again, and despite itching to draw in it, she hasn’t been able to touch it. That letter to him burns every time she attempts to open it, and so it sits on the table beside her bed, taunting her. The night before they’re due to leave for the mountain, she’s warily staring at it when Bellamy walks into her bedchambers. 

Sitting on her bed, Clarke immediately straightens as he asks the guards to leave them. His voice is quiet, nearly gentle. His mannerisms are so much more calm, more somber than anything she’s witnessed since she tried to kill him. Bellamy has been nothing but tense postures and rigid lines, but now he seems...resigned. About what, she isn’t sure.

He walks a few steps closer to her before speaking. 

“I’m leaving tomorrow. Early.”

“You? Don’t you mean we ?”

Bellamy raises his brow at her, genuinely surprised. “You thought you were coming with us?”

Bellamy’s tone isn’t cruel, but Clarke’s cheeks still flush with embarrassment. 

“I - I know I wouldn’t fight, of course . But I can stay in the staging area, I can help you plan, I can-”

“Clarke-”

“I don’t expect you to trust me. I know you don’t. You could keep my hands bound for all I care, but-”

“Clarke, stop,” he cuts her off, harsher now. “It’s not about that.”

An unbearable moment of silence settles between them. Clarke feels suffocated by it. 

“I cannot have you anywhere near the mountain,” he tells her, speaking slowly. Bellamy pauses again, as if the words he’s preparing are difficult to voice. “You, our child - it is a distraction I cannot afford. If you have an ounce of care in you, you will not make this harder for me.”

Emotion lays thick in her throat, and Clarke feels tears well behind her eyes for the first time since everything fell apart. 

Our child. It is the first time that either has voiced that, has acknowledged what is tethering them to each other. Not the child, not his child, not her child. Theirs

Clarke knows she shouldn’t even be asking to go. She’s surely a terrible mother for wanting to. But she realizes now that it was never about needing to be at the battle. It was about needing to be with Bellamy. Somehow, it is only in this moment that she seems to understand what Bellamy already knew, and what she tried to bury in her subconscious...that Bellamy might not make it back. That after everything, he might not come home anyway. 

“Okay,” she murmurs. If this is all he’s asking of her, then she can do it. If this is how she lessens his pain, then it is not a question. When she blinks, a tear escapes, running down her cheek. Once upon a time, he would have swept it away. Instead, he remains where he is, preserving the space between them.  

“Okay,” he echoes, turning away from her.

He only makes it a few steps before she calls out to him. His expression is weary, as if he fears what she might say. For the first time since he approached her in the cell, his mask has slipped, although she cannot begin to name the emotions painting his face.

“You will return, and you will meet your child.” 

She watches him swallow before nodding, turning quickly to leave. Clarke crawls into bed, hiding from the eyes of the guards that reenter her room. For the first time since the night in the drawing room, her body cannot contain her sobs. 

--∞--

Clarke watches the people gathered around the stables from her window ledge. Everyone she’s spent time with is leaving. Raven will be going into the dam to disable their electricity, escorted by Murphy. Even Monty and Jasper are going, although they’ll stay at the staging area, further away from the mountain. Her stomach twists as she watches each of them mount their horses, leaving until there is no one left. She tries not to read anything into it when she notices how Bellamy looks up towards her window before riding away. 

For the first time in ages, she sends a prayer to the spirits of the commanders. She might not deserve any help from above, but the people taking on the mountain do. She hopes that is enough. Clarke thinks of the church Bellamy brought her to, where they shared their first kiss, and wonders if this is how the people from the old world must have felt in such a place - desperately whispering prayers to sacred walls, hoping against all odds that they might be saved. 

Clarke opens her sketchbook for the first time, the letter not being enough to stop her this time. Her nerves are too sharp, and she needs the distraction. She’ll be waiting for days, and she can’t work herself up like this. Against her best efforts, she feels sick with worry. Something might happen to Bellamy. There’s a real chance that she’ll never see him again. More than that, there’s a real chance that their child will never meet him - that their child will be orphaned as soon as they’re born. 

It’s can’t be good for the baby, all the mindless worrying that consumes her. Still, it doesn’t stop her mind from cycling through their plan over and over again, looking for holes in spite of the fact she can’t do anything anyway. She can’t help but wonder what Nia will think if they do manage to pull this off. Even abandoning them to battle the mountain alone might not be enough to stop Trikru from succeeding, from becoming even more powerful rather than decimated. 

Although Clarke initially feels a smug sense of satisfaction at that, she almost immediately feels unsettled by the thought. It’s an innate reaction that she hardly understands, but something tugs at her that makes her feel uneasy. Clarke, Trikru, and the coalition have been so focused on making up the difference and succeeding against the mountain with fewer numbers. It is a risk, and so winning is a stretch, while losing is a fear and likely outcome. But if she was her aunt, she wouldn’t be afraid of them losing, she would be afraid of the, winning. If the queen is afraid of them winning, she will not willingly let it happen. She will not do nothing. 

A sick pit forms in Clarke’s stomach as her mind reels. They’ve been so focused on defeating the mountain that they only viewed Azgeda as a liability, or a long-term threat to handle at a later date. But the queen wouldn’t risk Trikru gaining power, wouldn’t risk the coalition she wants no part in gaining power. The queen wouldn’t risk that. The queen would...the queen would ensure Trikru doesn’t succeed. She would ensure it herself. 

Clarke digs her nails into the palms of her hands, Roan’s words coming back to her. 

She will always be two steps ahead of everyone.

Clarke feels sick, her thoughts tumbling over each other as she tries to think of some confirmation that she’s wrong, but all she uncovers are all the ways in which Nia will make sure that Trikru falls, and the coalition with it. It’s absurd to consider Nia moving against Bellamy’s army and the rest of the coalition army, which is why it didn’t cross anyone’s mind. But they don’t know the queen like she does. They don’t know how ruthless she is. 

What if the queen isn’t abandoning the battle, but planning on fighting on the other side of it? 

Then, a more horrifying thought crosses Clarke’s mind. 

What if Nia isn’t apathetic about the mountain - what if she’s on their side? 

Clarke is sure no one will believe her, but she cannot ignore the thought now that it’s appeared. After all, Clarke is certain Nia hates Trikru and the coalition more than the mountain. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, and Clarke can’t be certain that Nia wouldn’t turn to them. Especially since most of the people the mountain have kidnapped are Trikru. The queen might even see it as the mountain doing her a favor. The queen might not even want the abductions to stop.

Clarke stands abruptly, pacing and tugging at her hair. The guards tense, and one of them asks if they need to retrieve someone. Clarke shakes her head. She’s not sure who they would retrieve anyway, given that Nyko has left with everyone else. 

In all her life, Clarke has never felt more helpless, which is truly saying something. Even if people are willing to listen to her, she isn’t sure what she would say. That Azgeda is going to attack? That Azgeda is working with the mountain? They would ask her how she knows, and she would say...what? A gut feeling? But she has to warn them. If she’s wrong, then there’s no harm done. But if she’s right, this could cost them everything. This could cost her Bellamy.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

Clarke looks up at the two guards, forcing a deep breath. She needs to remain calm if she’s going to get out of here. If she’s going to warn them. 

“I’m okay,” she answers, voice steadier. “I’m just very nervous. I’m going to change, and then could you escort me to the drawing room? I’ve forgotten a book there during the last meeting, and it would help me keep my mind off my worry.”

“I don’t think-”

“Please. I’m worried sick for them, and I know what you must think of me, but I truly am. The worry is bad for the baby - the Trikru heir - and I’m trying to calm myself. Would you please escort me to the drawing room?”

The two guards look at one another for a moment. Clarke’s heart races, precious seconds feeling like hours. 

“Fine,” one of them concedes. “But just for a few minutes, and we come straight back here.” 

Clarke forces herself to hold back a smile, one that she feels blooming under impossible conditions. “Thank you, that’s perfect. A few minutes is all I need.”

Chapter Text

Clarke tries to clear her mind as she’s escorted downstairs towards the drawing room, her hands tied with a knotted rope in front of her and three guards trailing her in a triangular form. She isn’t sure if the reason there are three guards instead of five is because of resources being pulled for the battle or simply because Bellamy has begun to let his guard down. The latter seems unlikely, but the reason doesn’t really matter. What matters is that because there are only three, she knows she can do this. 

The hard part here will not be freeing her hands and taking down the guards, but doing so without killing any of them. Clarke has never needed to exercise restraint before - or more accurately, Wanheda has not - but she needs to learn quickly. She can’t leave a trail of bodies behind her journey to save lives. 

The castle is eerily quiet, any servants and guards not traveling to the mountain not needed and thus at home. If she does this right, she can get out of here relatively undetected. A sort of quiet washes over her as they arrive at the door and one guard steps forward to unlock it. It is the quiet before a battle, the calm before the storm. It is that strange interlude when you can hear only your blood rushing in your ears. 

The door unlocked, Clarke pushes it open and takes a step into the room, immediately throwing herself back against the heavy door. She slams it against the guard who unlocked it with a dreadful thud. There’s a commotion as they try to enter the room, but Clarke stands firm with her back against the door. She can’t hold them for long, but she doesn’t need to. She just needs them to think that she’s trying to hold them out. In the next second, she quickly steps away, letting them fly into the room in an unbalanced tumble. The guard who took the door to the face wears a heated scowl, a welt blooming on her forehead. Clarke doesn’t have the time to feel badly about it.

She ducks when they come for her, sweeping her feet under them and knocking two to the ground. The third one - the one with a welt on her head - comes for her as the other two collect themselves. Clarke lets her tackle her before rolling them over and smashing her own head against hers. It makes her see stars, and pain swells behind her skull, but the other woman is in worse shape and looks barely conscious. Ducking when the other two come for her, Clarke gives the man a swift kick in the groin, but doesn’t bother engaging with them further now that she has what she needs. They’re larger and stronger than her, but her speed and size is her advantage as she makes it to the door just in time, slamming it shut behind her. Hands trembling and still tied together, she manages to lock it again with the key she pulled off the guard just as the other two tug at the door from the other side. 

Clarke doesn’t give herself a moment to slow down, despite her aching head. She jogs through the castle and towards the stables, her stride awkward and stunted due to her bound hands. There are guards at the perimeter of the castle, but she’s quiet enough that she’s able to slip by them unnoticed, tossing the key in the grass on the way. There is only a small window high on the wall of the drawing room for security purposes, but she doesn’t doubt that the three of them will manage to break through the locked door soon enough. 

The stables are quiet, and nearly as empty of horses as it is people. She isn’t sure if she’ll find him here and half wonders if one of the many people she’s betrayed here would have killed him out of spite. That thought leads her to sigh in relief when she sees the familiar horse. She hasn’t seen Orion in a month, and the fact that he’s not only unharmed but clearly recognizes her makes her smile despite the circumstances. 

“Just a minute,” she mutters to him, looking around the stable. 

Her eyes land on a sharp axe left in the corner and she hurries over, squatting and adjusting herself so that she’d holding the handle between her legs. She brings her bound hands over the sharp edge, sawing the rope the best she can and nervously glancing towards the entrance as she does. Her heart is pounding as she wears the rope down and by the time it severs and her hands are freed, her brow and back are covered in a sheen of sweat. She doesn’t waste any time before saddling Orion, reveling in the familiarity of this part. For a long time, he was her only partner, her only ally. The two of them against the world, she’s back to where she started. 

“Just one more mission,” she tells him as they ride off. “Just this last one.”

--∞--

Clarke doesn’t dare stop until it’s absolutely necessary, taking bathroom breaks near rivers so she can also get something to drink. It’s more than foolish to travel so ill-prepared, especially while pregnant, but she doesn’t have the luxury of time. Not only might the Trikru guards already be trailing her, but she’s in a race against time to make it to the staging area. It takes nearly half a day to ride to the mountain, although Clarke suspects that she’s making better time on her own than the armies did. Still, they left at dawn and will already be there by now. They’re planning to attack the mountain tonight and are moving fast to try to preserve the element of surprise, so Clarke still might be too late if her suspicions are right.

Despite the fact that Bellamy will be furious with her, she still hopes that she’s wrong. She hopes that she’s paranoid and unhinged and had no reason to run off towards them alone. She hopes, but she doubts it. She knows deep down that she’s right and is done ignoring her instincts.

Memories of her missions as Wanheda pull and tug at her as she rides. The countless nights alone in the dark, believing that she had a cause when it was nothing more than a smokescreen blown by a cunning queen. A queen who knew she could twist a foolish little girl for all that she was worth. All those meaningless nights, all the deaths that haunted her before and will haunt her still, have led her to this moment. To this one mission that is at last not meaningless. To this is one mission that means everything. Perhaps if she can make a difference in this moment, she can begin to forgive herself for the others. Or at least, she can begin to try. 

It is dusk when she finally breaks through the tree line into the expansive field that hosts dozens of tents and fires half a mile from the border with the mountain. People look up at her in confusion, in awe, as she rides through the camp. It is only in this moment that Clarke realizes she has no idea what the rest of Bellamy’s people were told about where she’s been. Do they know she betrayed them? Even if they don’t know she’s Wanheda, perhaps they know that much. Or perhaps Bellamy only told them she was ill. 

“The king?” she asks as she passes through. “The king?” 

People point her in the direction of a tent at the center of the camp. Word of her arrival must have rippled through the camp faster than she rode through it, because Bellamy throws his tent flap aside and stalks outside, eyes landing on her as she closes the distance between them. His eyes hold fury, his body tense as she stops in front of him and dismounts Orion.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he growls, seething as he pushes her into his tent with a hand to her back. 

“I think Azgeda is going to attack,” she claims breathlessly as she walks in. Octavia, Lincoln, Indra, and Kane all stare at her from where they’re seated around a table, a large map spread over it. 

“I-” Clarke cuts herself off, out of breath from the ride and most likely dehydrated. Bellamy ushers her over to a seat and orders someone to grab water. Clarke gulps it greedily when he hands it to her and Bellamy looks at her with some mix of anger, exasperation, and worry.

“More lies,” Indra says. Clarke isn’t sure if she means that Clarke lied about not knowing, or is lying now, but Clarke shakes her head as she swallows the last of the water. 

“I didn’t - I didn’t think about it, until you left. All of our focus has been on the mountain, and she might take advantage of that. I don’t think she’ll risk us winning this, even if she thinks our chances are slim.”

Us ,” Octavia scoffs. Lincoln puts a hand on her shoulder, which seems to visibly calm her. 

“Yes, us ,” Clarke snaps. “We have to tell Heda, we have to-”

“Murphy and Raven are already on their way to the dam,” Bellamy tells her. “In fact, they should already be there. We’re to be at the doors of the mountain in one hour. What are you basing this off of?”

“I just - I just know. You have to trust me. We have to talk to Heda.”

Bellamy clenches his jaw, all eyes on him as they wait for a response. Clarke can see the wheels of his mind spinning, the risk of withdrawing over something that might not even be true. He’s probably also wondering if he can even trust Clarke’s judgment, and even more so, her intentions.

A commotion outside interrupts them, and Bellamy is saved from giving an answer. The group exchanges a few worried looks before rushing outside to find half the camp already in chaos. Two tents on the south edge of camp are on fire, and people are rushing towards them, weapons drawn. Clarke only takes one step forward before an arrow lands a few feet from her, burrowed in the earth. She yanks it from the ground with a shaky hand before turning back towards Bellamy, holding the arrow up to him.  

“It’s Azgedan.”

--∞--

“Stay in the tent,” Bellamy orders, pushing her back into it. It isn’t worth arguing with him right now, in a moment of crisis. It will do nothing to refuse him, or even to point out that the tent isn’t any safer. Instead, Clarke waits until Bellamy is barking orders to other war chiefs and higher-ranking soldiers, rushing after them towards the south border of the camp. 

Clarke’s eyes sweep over his large tent and she picks up a sword left behind, weighing it in her hands. It isn’t the perfect fit her own is, one that feels like an extension of her body, but it’ll have to do. She cautiously exits the tent, half expecting someone to scold her or push her back in, but everyone is distracted. Clarke was right. Azgeda is attacking, and it has already started. It’s against battle etiquette to attack a staging area, and the queen knows this. But as Clarke has learned the hard way, the queen does not believe the rules apply to her, whether those are rules of war or humanity.

They’re coming from the south end of the field, where they set the fire, and it’s where the joint Trikru and coalition army is running towards. But despite the queen’s best efforts, Clarke did not turn a deaf ear to Azgedan military strategy. They will be coming from another direction, maybe two if they have enough bodies. Beyond the wall of them, somewhere behind the army, is the queen herself.

Clarke looks around her desperately, unsure of what direction to take. She knows she should hide herself away. It’s what Bellamy would want. It’s how she can best protect her unborn child. But she cannot ignore the other voice inside her. This voice is insistent, roaring in her ears. This voice has a long memory, and reminds her of the world she’s bringing this child into. It reminds her that as long as the queen lives, this is the world their child will grow up in. More senseless violence, more blood spilled. If the queen lives, Trikru and the coalition will never make it into the mountain. As long as the queen lives, Bellamy, and their child, will never be safe. 

Clarke may very well die if she attempts this, taking their child with her. But if she doesn’t try, it will never end. The spilled blood that her father sought to end will never cease running while the queen rules, and she is the only one in a position to stop this. By the time Clarke reaches the west end of the camp, her decision is made.

--∞--

Clarke slinks through the shadows, grateful for the cover of night. The night is Wanheda’s domain, and Clarke is able to escape notice easily, especially with the chaos unfolding around her. When she makes it to the tree line, she takes out two Azgedan soldiers, probably sent ahead to scout this area of the camp. 

Clarke heads further into the forest, instead of walking parallel to the camp. She’ll need a wide berth to avoid more soldiers and make her way around them to where the queen is surely waiting. Clarke isn’t sure how long she jogs, keeping a quick and steady pace as she weaves through the dark forest and eventually arrives at a small encampment. She doesn’t see the queen, but she recognizes her closest advisors and knows she’s found the right place. 

Just as she’s about to take a step closer, a strong pair of arms wraps around her from behind, pulling her deeper into the forest and throwing her against a tree. She manages to turn and protect her head just in time, body tense and ready for the next blow. Instead, Roan steps closer, pinning her against the tree, but not striking her.

“You’re a new kind of stupid, Clarke.”

Clarke spits in his face. “You knew she was going to do this.”

Roan doesn’t wipe the spit from his face, hands occupied with keeping her pinned to the tree. “I should kill you here. It will be a kinder death than she’ll give you.”

“How can you do this?” she seethes. “How can you go along with this? I know you don’t approve. I know you don’t want this.”

“Want,” Roan scoffs. “Approve. What kind of fantasy have you spun while in Anapolei? I serve my queen, just as you were supposed to. There’s nothing more to it.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this. It isn’t like this - not with Trikru. The queen cares more for her own power than her people, which is why she doesn’t give a damn about the ones trapped in the mountain.”

Roan stares at her with an unrelenting scowl, but remains quiet.

“Help me. Help me take her out. You will be king and you can do better, just like I know you want to. Help me.”

Roan’s eyes sweep over her face, assessing, calculating. One of his hands releases her and reaches for his knife. Clarke squirms, but even holding onto her with one hand, his grip is too strong to break free from. In the blink of an eye, Roan raises his knife, and Clarke feels the air whoosh beside her. 

“I’m pregnant,” she blurts at the same moment the knife lands in the tree next to her head. 

The surprise on Roan’s face is evident, and Clarke flushes when she realizes he didn’t plan to stab her.

“I’m not going to help you,” he says, finally letting her go. “But I won’t stop you. If you want to walk into your death, that is your prerogative.”

Clarke takes a deep breath, eyes briefly fluttering closed in relief. Roan is already walking away from her, but he turns around a few strides away. “Good luck, Wanheda.”

“I don’t need luck.” It may be a lie, but she can’t go into this depending on anything or anyone but herself. Not even luck. Roan’s smile is nearly predatory in its amusement, but there is something else there too. Something like respect. 

Only after he’s disappeared into the shadows does Clarke realize that he left behind his knife.

--∞--

The small encampment is nearly deserted save for the queen’s usual guards standing at the entrance of the tent. It makes sense, given that the likeliness of anyone getting past her army as quickly as Clarke did is slim to none. Not to mention that given the surprise of the attack, the Trikru and coalition army are in survival mode. No one has the capacity to seek out the queen. No one but Clarke. 

On silent feet, she makes her way to the large tent, slicing the throat of the first guard from behind. She tries not to think about the bodies she’s dropping on her path to the queen, but the numbers flash behind her eyelids. 89. She takes the guard next to him before he can react to the first. 90. She can set aside those feelings in the moment, but knows these men will join the others, waiting until she closes her eyes at night to appear. Her collection of ghosts, the ones she stores between ribs and knuckles, in pockets of her heart, her lungs. The ones that weigh her down. The ones that will one day drown her, no matter whose voice tries to reach her as they pull her under.

Clarke whips open the tent flap, prepared to fight a handful of other guards or advisors. Her heart pounds wildly when she finds it empty. Something is wrong.

“Clarke, dear.” 

A chill runs up her spine as Clarke spins around to find her aunt walking towards her, a few strides from the tent. Roan was a reminder to watch her back, so this time she senses the guard that comes for her from behind before he can lay a hand on her. She ducks, spinning and driving her sword through his chest before turning back towards the queen.

“A shame,” the queen tuts. Clarke bristles. Even as the one doing the killing, she feels more for these people. 

“You shouldn’t have trained me so well,” Clarke bites back. 

“Apparently so.”

“You killed Wells,” Clarke starts, walking closer. “You killed my parents .”

“I would say smart girl, but it certainly took you long enough to figure that one out.”

“He was your brother. Your family.”

“He was weak - started listening to your mother’s foolish ideas instead of his advisors, his people. You should be thanking me. I raised you to be strong and powerful, where they would have let you dissolve into nothing.”

Clarke doesn’t want to hear anything else. Nothing the queen says is the truth, and even when it is, it is a twisted and cold version of the truth that Clarke can no longer carry. She raises her sword, swinging down harshly, but the queen moves faster, unsheathing her own sword and blocking Clarke’s in one swift movement. 

Clarke swings again only for Nia to block it, easily pushing her further back. Clarke would give anything for her own sword. This one is too heavy. Its weight, along with Clarke’s exhaustion and probable dehydration, is making her clumsy. Still, she forces herself to clear her mind, blocking Nia’s own strike just in time. 

“You’re a stupid girl,” she taunts. “You could be running far from here, and you walked willingly to your death instead.”

Clarke grits her teeth, biting down frustration as she swings again, this time slicing a shallow gash on the queen’s arm. 

Good. But now she’ll come back twice as hard. Be ready.

Clarke inhales a deep breath as she hears Dev’s voice in her head. She can do this. 

The two of them collide after that, their blows and blocks fierce and angry, a decade of simmering resentment driving their swords. They’re both covered in grime, littered in small cuts and bruises, but Clarke can’t back down. This is all she can do to honor Wells and her parents, to help Bellamy, to make sure their child is safe. This is all she has left. 

Clarke ducks the next strike, ungracefully shoving the queen to the ground with her. She doesn’t hesitate when she drives her sword into her, but she misses her heart in the dark, stabbing her shoulder instead. The queen cries out in a mix of rage and pain before throwing Clarke off of her. Clarke is able to roll away, absorbing the blow the best she can, but the movement knocks the sword from Clarke’s hand. She watches it hopelessly clatter half a dozen feet away, just out of reach. 

The queen crawls over to her, face red and eyes fuming.

Remain calm , Dev reminds her. Use their emotion, their anger, but don’t succumb to your own. 

Rising to her knees, the queen raises her arms above her, anger rippling off her body. Clarke kicks her shin as hard she can manage. She doesn’t move, but the distraction is enough for Clarke to pull out Roan’s knife and drive it into her chest, pushing her flat on her back. 

Panting, Clarke allows herself a brief moment of reprieve to catch her breath. By the way the queen is still struggling, gasping for air, Clarke knows she missed her heart. She crawls towards the queen on her hands and knees, body shaking. There’s a trickle of blood dripping down the queen’s chin and for a moment, Clarke thinks she’s trying to speak. She leans closer, only to hear gurgled laughter.  

Bewildered, Clarke pulls the knife from her, arms raised above her. She won’t miss this time. 

“If your husband makes it into the mountain,” she rasps. “He’ll never make it out.”

Clarke pauses, roughly grabbing her aunts shirt. She only laughs again, face pale as moonlight. 

“You were working with the mountain. You are working with them.”

The realization hits Clarke like an icy river, washing over her and leaving pure fear in its place. Her aunt’s smile is cruel, even now, moments from death. Clarke should let her bleed out, should match her cruelty. Instead, she hears Dev again. 

Just like I taught you. It’s okay, Princess. Go ahead. 

Clarke raises her knife again, driving it through the heart this time and watching as her eyes gloss over. Clarke’s chest aches, heavy with emotion she doesn’t understand. Emotion she doesn’t have time to understand. She has to make it back to Trikru, back to Bellamy. She has to make sure they don’t go into the mountain. 

Clarke takes one more deep breath, readying herself to stand. Readying herself to leave her aunt behind for good. She allows herself one last look at her, gaze lingering. Leaning closer, she pulls the knife from her and carves the single dash behind the queen’s ear. Wanheda’s mark. Wanheda’s last kill. It slashes through the tattooed circle behind her ear, the one she received when she married Roan’s father, a man dead before Clarke was born. It severs infinity, just as the death of Clarke’s parents had severed her own small infinity. Just as it ended her entire world, thrusting her into a darker one she was ill-prepared for. It is done now. It is over. There is still so much to do, and no time to waste.

Clarke stands on shaky legs, finally walking away from the queen’s body. Walking away from Wanheda, whose ghost lies beside the queen, finally at rest.

--∞--

Clarke stumbles as she walks into the woods. She doesn’t make it far before Roan emerges, eyes sweeping over her battered form. 

“It’s done,” Clarke tells him gruffly, sweeping hair out of her face. 

“I see that.”

It’s only then that Clarke realizes Roan is covered in blood too, and notices the discarded bodies of more guards. It explains why more didn’t come from her, even as she fought the queen.

Clarke scoffs. “So much for not helping.”

“I was helping myself, and my clan.”

Clarke’s lips twist into an amused smile. “Whatever you need to tell yourself.”

Roan ignores her, folding his arms. “I’ve already sent word for Azgeda to retreat. But you should hurry back. You still have the mountain to worry about, and you should know-”

“You were working with them.” Clarke resists the urge to spit on him again, the affection from moments ago gone. 

“I don’t know the details.”

Clarke narrows her eyes at that. 

“Why would I hide anything from you now?”

It’s true. Roan is king now, and can do whatever he pleases. 

“Hurry,” he prompts. Clarke nods, stepping forward and offering him back his knife. 

Roan shakes his head. “I’d say you earned it.”

--∞--

The camp is in tatters by the time Clarke makes it back, although some of the tents are still standing and a few different fires provide light in the black night. Azgeda is nowhere to be found, so Roan must have been telling the truth about ordering their retreat. Still, it’s eerily quiet, most people occupied with patching up injuries and cleaning up the camp. Clarke can’t help but feel a chill up her spine when she realizes just how few people are in the camp. Warily glancing around, she makes her way to Bellamy’s tent. When she’s halfway there, she hears someone calling for her. 

Clarke spins around, finding Harper running towards her. Monty and Jasper are trailing close behind. 

“You’re alive,” Harper sighs when she reaches her. Her relief is short-lived, worried eyes taking in Clarke’s battered form. “What happened to you?”

“I killed the queen. Where’s Bellamy?”

The three of them exchange worried glances, as if they think Clarke hit her head. Jasper lets out a nervous chuckle.

“Clarke, you need to rest. To lie down,” Harper tries, pulling her forward.

“No, really. I killed the queen,” Clarke repeats, her impatience growing. “Where is Bellamy? They can’t go into the mountain. Azgeda was working with them. They probably know everything,” Clarke says, looking beyond the three of them. 

“Clarke, they already left for the mountain. The coalition abandoned Trikru after the battle with Azgeda. Heda said they didn’t have the resources anymore, but Bellamy refused to back down. They already left.”

“That absolute stubborn ass,” Clarke yells, storming away.

“Clarke, wait,” Monty calls after her. Clarke can hear them jogging to catch up with her. 

“I was supposed to find you, and make sure you stay safe,” Harper adds when she reaches her again, but Clarke doesn’t slow down. They seem nervous and Clarke realizes she’s not sure she’s ever been anything but calm and collected around them. But Bellamy does this to her - makes her feel like she’s losing her damn mind.

I’m fine, but they won’t be. We have to go help them. Why would he do this? Why would-”

“Raven and Murphy didn’t come back as planned,” Monty says. He can’t keep the quiver from his voice. 

It’s clear to her now why Bellamy acted so rashly. He’d do anything for his people. He isn’t the queen - he couldn’t be further from her. Still, this news only makes Clarke move faster, the three of them still on her heels. 

“Clarke, stop,” Harper tries again, clearly exasperated. It only irritates Clarke further, making her stop in her tracks and spin around to face the three of them. 

“They’re all in danger,” Clarke tells them in an unforgiving tone. “I’m going to help. You can stay here, or you can come with me. I don’t really care. But if you try to stop me, you’ll end up with swords in various limbs.”

The three of them exchange glances, and Clarke doesn’t miss the indecision that passes between Harper and Monty. Clarke feels a twinge of guilt, understanding the decision they’re silently trying to make. Monty was never supposed to go into battle. If they both go, they might leave Jordan an orphan. 

“One of you should-”

“No,” Harper decides, cutting her off. “We’ll help. This is for our family. Sometimes being a good parent means being brave enough to do what’s necessary, fair or not.”

Clarke swallows thickly. It makes her feel the slightest bit better about her own risks taken with her unborn child. Maybe Harper is right. Maybe sometimes this is what being a good parent means. Not just being there, but making the world a better one for them, whether you get to witness it or not.

“Okay,” Clarke agrees. “Do you all have weapons?” she checks, looking to Monty and Jasper. They nod and Clarke notes their own swords on their backs. It’s not that they’ll be useless - Trikru are like Azgeda in that everyone begins training at thirteen. Still, the two of them aren’t soldiers. Not like Harper. Not like whatever Clarke is.

“Let’s move.”

--∞--

The entrance of the mountain is eerily deserted. The electric door is closed again, but that’s what was supposed to happen. It leaves the tunnels as the only option for them.

“How many in the Trikru army came with Bellamy?”

“A good amount,” Monty says. It makes Clarke even more nervous as they enter the tunnels. If that many came with them, then where are they now?

“What about the reapers?” Jasper whispers. 

“They were supposed to have taken care of them already, with the devices,” Clarke reminds him.

“And if they didn’t?”

“If they didn’t, we’ll find out pretty quickly,” Harper answers. 

They’re quiet as they make their way through the tunnels, hyper aware of any sound that might indicate danger. They must have succeeded with the reapers though, because the three of them make it to the door without running into anyone or anything. The fact that the door was left open makes Clarke hesitate. She isn’t sure if it’s a bad or good sign for Trikru, only that it means chaos unfolded inside. They walk inside a small square room that barely fits the four of them and Monty closes the door to the tunnel behind them. The other three look at him in alarm.

“It’s a pressure system,” he tells them, nodding towards the other closed door. “The blueprints,” he adds. He hits a button on the wall, and a lot of air is rushed into the room before the second door - the door into the mountain - opens.

“It was left unguarded,” Jasper observes as they walk in. There’s an alarm sounding, the beat of it blaring to the same rhythm as a flashing light on the wall of the hallway. Jasper is right though. No one is here to stop them. 

They turn to walk down the hallway but stop short, staring ahead. The hallway is littered with bodies, both Trikru and what Clarke can only assume are soldiers from the mountain. They remain alert, fighting the heavy sorrow that hovers over them. All their gazes sweep over the bodies as they walk, the other three probably looking for friends. 

“Monroe,” Harper observes, kneeling down. Before Clarke can say anything, they hear footsteps pounding on the concrete from around the corner. Harper stands again and they all tense, unsheathing their swords and prepared for battle. Rather than a soldier, as Clarke is expecting, a young woman turns the corner. She stops short in her tracks, raising her hands at the four of them who have all pointed their swords in her direction. She looks to be about their age, with warm brown eyes, frizzy dark hair that lands on her shoulders, and a pale, nearly sickly, complexion. 

“I’m - I’m not a threat,” she stutters. “I’m here to help.”

“Why would we believe that?” Clarke asks. None of them lower their swords. 

“The man - Lincoln. You know him?”

Clarke nods. 

“I was the one who saved him, who helped him escape. I got the blueprints. Not everyone here agrees with our leaders, but I don’t have time to explain. We need to hurry, your people are in danger.”

It takes Clarke a beat to realize that the three of them are looking to her to make a decision. Like a leader, like a...like a queen. Clarke nods, sheathing her sword.

“I’m Maya,” the girl tells her, as Clarke approaches.

“Clarke. Do you know where the king is?”

“Yes. The rest of your people are in danger.”

“Okay, hurry then,” Clarke tells her, picking up the pace. 

Maya leads them down several hallways and up a few staircases, leaving Clarke exhausted. She prays to the spirits of the commanders that she’s not being a complete fool for trusting this girl. She could be leading them to their deaths. But, how would she know Lincoln’s name? Even so, what other options does Clarke have? The mountain is enormous, and Clarke has no idea where to start looking for Bellamy or anyone else. 

Maya stops outside one of the doorways in a long hallway. A soldier turns the corner at the same time, but Harper takes him down in the blink of an eye. Clarke doesn’t miss how Maya grimaces as the man falls to the ground, the life already gone from his eyes. 

“I’m sorry,” Clarke tells her. Maya looks taken aback by the apology, but quickly collects herself. 

“Your king is in there,” she tells her, pointing towards a closed door. “In the control room.”

Clarke approaches cautiously, despite her brain telling her to hurry. She’s afraid of what she might fine. What if it’s only Bellamy’s body? What if-

No , Clarke chides herself. She has to be brave. She has to be better.

She pushes the door open, the other three on her heels. Bellamy is standing there, hand on a lever. There’s another man on the other side of the room pointing a weapon at him. A gun, Clarke knows, although they don’t use them. Bellamy doesn’t look to them, except for a brief glance. 

“Get out, Clarke.”

“No.” She swallows thickly as the gun’s aim swerves towards her when she takes another step into the room. 

Glancing up at the screens on the wall, her eyes grow wide as she realizes what she’s looking at. Trikru soldiers in cages on one screen. Her friends - Murphy, Kane, Indra, Octavia, Lincoln, Murphy, and Miller - tied to a wall on another. She feels like she’s going to be sick when she notices how Raven is tied to a table. At the exact moment she notices her, Raven’s mouth opens wide in a scream. Clarke doesn’t need to hear her to feel her agony, her pain. 

Bellamy’s attention has shifted back to the man on the other side of the room, who points the gun back at Bellamy. The man is frail - elderly with white hair, pallid skin like Maya’s.  

“Take your hand off the lever,” he tells Bellamy. His voice is surprisingly even.

“Let them go, and I will.”

Clarke is beginning to understand the stalemate. The man can’t shoot Bellamy before he pulls the lever and Bellamy can’t pull the lever before he shoots. 

“What happens if you pull it?” Clarke asks.

“Get the hell out of here,” Bellamy roars, eyes still on the man. It takes all she has not to shrink into herself at the intensity of his voice. She’s never seen him like this. 

“He kills everyone in the mountain,” the man answers. “Women and children included.”

Clarke looks back at Bellamy, his hand still gripping the lever. She thinks of him being forced to kill his father. She thinks of him forced to make another impossible decision to save the people he loves. 

“You’re hurting them,” she tells the man, as if it isn’t obvious. “You let them all go, and we leave. Simple as that.”

“I’m afraid it isn’t. We need your blood, your bones, if we want to live. If we want to breathe real air again.”

Clarke’s heart is hammering as she glances at Harper, who has moved towards the man so slowly that Clarke doesn’t think he’s noticed. 

“I’m shooting on three. Get your hand off the fucking lever,” the man says, voice even colder than moments ago as his calm facade slips. Clarke moves towards Bellamy, although she knows it must make him more furious. 

Clarke knows the exact moment she makes a mistake. She sees the exact moment that the man watches her eyes flicker towards Harper. There’s a loud click as Harper lunges at the man, and a thunderous boom echoes through the small room. Clarke barely understands what the sound means, but she somehow understands exactly what it will take from her. She dives at Bellamy, knocking him to the floor. 

The searing pain she feels in her arm hits her belatedly, when she’s already laying on the floor. She looks up, blinking wildly, Bellamy’s face hovering above her. He’s got her face in his hands and he’s saying something, but his words are drawn out and too far away. They are muffled, trying to reach her as she drowns, but there is too much water between them. They are another language she doesn’t understand. 

Bellamy looks beautiful like this, she realizes. The world around him is blurring, but she can see every freckle, every line in his skin. She can see his black curls, damp with sweat and sticking to his forehead. His brown eyes look desperate and devastated, but she can’t remember why. She wants to tell him that it’s alright. She wants to tell him that he doesn’t need to worry. She has the ridiculous thought that she’d like to hold onto this image of him, maybe even sketch it later. Then the world goes black.

--∞--

Clarke hears yelling, but she can’t bring herself to open her eyes. They feel like weights, holding her down, pinning her to unconsciousness. She thinks she hears Bellamy’s voice, but she can’t be sure. It’s too delicate, slipping through her mind like water through fingers. Then she’s under again.

--∞--

Before Clarke even opens her eyes, she feels the throbbing pain in her head. She forces herself to blink her eyes open with great effort, her vision blurry for a moment before it clears. All she sees is canvas, the nondescript ceiling of a tent above her. She turns on her side, trying to take in her surroundings, only to be met with sharp pain. A loud groan escapes her, and Nyko is suddenly beside her, rolling her onto her back again.

“Don’t put any weight on your arm,” he instructs. 

Clarke takes a deep breath, feeling a little nauseous. She squints as she turns her head to look at Nyko and then beyond him, realizing she’s in Bellamy’s tent. The one she was supposed to stay in all along. It must be daylight given that even the shade of the tent isn’t enough to protect her sensitive eyes from the brightness outside.

“I…” she rasps, before realizing she isn’t sure what she means to say. Her whole body aches and Clarke feels the bruises that have surely bloomed across her fair skin. The pain in her arm overshadows most of that. She glances down at it, finding it wrapped.

“Do you remember what happened?” Nyko asks, voice quiet. 

“I killed the queen,” Clarke tells him. Nyko frowns at her, before bringing the back of his hand to her forehead. 

“I’m not feverish,” she scoffs, shoving his hand away with her good arm. “I killed her. Then I went into the mountain.”

“You were shot,” Nyko reminds her. “With a gun.”

“The baby?” Clarke asks, even though this question scares her more than the queen. More than the mountain. 

“Everything appears to be okay. You haven’t bled and there aren’t any other signs that anything is wrong. But you need to rest. You’ve had quite an ordeal, pregnant or not. The best thing you can do for the baby is rest.”

He helps her sit up slightly before bringing her a glass of water. Clarke sips it the best she can, but even her good arm is shaking. 

“You’re dehydrated,” he observes. 

“How long until you can hear the heartbeat?” she asks, ignoring his comment. “With the device you mentioned?”

“Could be now,” he tells her. “Sometimes as early as four months, sometimes not until five. We can try when we return to Anapolei, but if we don’t hear it, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them.”

Clarke nods, looking up at the ceiling of the tent again. Disappointment over Bellamy’s absence rises in her throat, despite her best efforts. It’s foolish for Clarke to wish he was here. He’s the king - he has people to tend to, to lead, and plans to organize. Most of all, it’s foolish to wish he was here because she knows that nothing that happened during the battle changes anything between them. Well, maybe that isn’t true. After continuously not listening to him and putting the baby at risk, he probably hates her even more than before.

As if the universe read her mind, Bellamy walks into the tent a moment later. His eyes barely sweep over her before he turns to Nyko. 

“Her arm?”

“The bullet was taken out, the wound is shallow. As long we avoid infection, it should heal just fine.”

Bellamy offers a curt nod before his eyes drift back to her again. She forces herself to hold his gaze, no matter how badly she wants to look away.

“Leave us,” Bellamy tells Nyko, walking closer to Clarke. Once Nyko is gone, Bellamy sits down at a stool a few feet from the cot. It’s the closest that Bellamy has been to her since she tried to kill him, and she’s never felt so vulnerable. So exposed and raw. 

Bellamy clears his throat. “How is the pain?”

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

Clarke thinks of her life as Wanheda, of her life in Anapolei, of her last month in the castle. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Bellamy swallows, nodding. He clasps his hands and looks down for a moment before facing her again. “What did Nyko tell you?”

“Not much.”

Bellamy pauses for a beat before speaking again. “We lost a lot of people. To Azgeda and to the mountain. But we defeated the mountain, and freed the captives - both our soldiers and the hundreds of others already being kept there.”

“Octavia?” she asks. “Lincoln? Rav-”

“They’re all okay. Raven is injured, but she’ll be okay. We made it to them just in time.”

“Are there any survivors?” Clarke asks, remembering the girl that helped them. Maya. “From the mountain?”

Bellamy nods again. “There was an entire faction of their population willing to help us, looking to overthrow their own leadership. The people in the mountain needed - need - our blood. It’s why they took us, but not everyone was okay with the inhumane nature of it.”

Clarke furrows her brow at that, feeling both horrified and curious. 

“They can’t survive the air like we can. I barely understand it myself,” he sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “But their leadership was experimenting, using pieces of our bodies to let them survive outside. Raven and Monty understand it better than me. I’m putting together a peace deal with the new leadership. We’re going to discuss a way to safely provide them with blood - maybe even the other, if it can be done safely. In return, if we can make the air survivable to them, they’re to assimilate with our clans and provide us with their knowledge, their technology. The mountain is ours now.”

“The mountain agreed to these terms?” asks, a little skeptical. 

“Some are more reluctant than others, but it is not a choice if they want to survive. Maya and the others have helped convince people that this is best for everyone. Most have dreamt of living outside of the mountain, so they are agreeable if we can help them achieve that.”

It is a strange thought to consider, a strange new truth to reconcile. She’d always assumed the people inside the mountain wanted to be there, that they were hiding within the fortress. She’d never considered that they were trapped. There are so many different cages in the world, but no cage is bearable. Not really. No matter how safe you think you are, no matter what you think it might provide you with. A life without freedom is no life at all. 

“You saved them,” Clarke observes, feeling overwhelmed by his words. “All of them.”

Bellamy purses his lips, like he’s struggling with something.

“What happened after I was shot?” she asks, pushing ahead.

“We can talk more later. You need to rest.”

“Please. I want - I need to know now.”

Clarke is in no position to be making demands, but Bellamy relents anyway. 

“At the same time Wallace - their leader - shot at you, Harper and Monty took him down. Harper killed him before we even hit the floor. It happened fast. Maya knew where the keys to where they were holding everyone were - both the ones being tortured and the ones in cages. I sent Harper, Jasper, and Monty with her to free the people from the cages first. The freed army - those that were well enough - saved the others.”

Clarke’s mind reels as the events Bellamy has described play in her mind. It’s only after she thinks through them that she realizes that he said he sent the others to free the army. He didn’t mention going with them. Did he stay with her? He should have left Jasper, or anyone else with her. He shouldn’t have stayed with her himself.

“Harper told me you said you killed the queen,” Bellamy prompts cautiously, as if he doesn’t quite believe it. 

“I did. Roan called back the army once she was gone. It is why they retreated. You don’t need to worry about the queen anymore. Nobody does.”

Bellamy looks at her for a moment, but his expression is truly unreadable. There is a long, awkward pause before he speaks, as if he is carefully crafting his words. As if he knows they will not be easy. 

“What you did...coming here at all, going after the queen on your own, and then stepping in front of-” 

Bellamy pauses, jaw clenching as he staves off his anger. Then he takes a breath, collecting himself again. 

“It was stupid, and reckless. It was foolish, and careless, and…” Bellamy takes another deep breath, looking away for a moment. 

She wants to say something. She wants to tell him that she agrees, but that she couldn’t bear losing him. She wants to tell him that the mere prospect of losing him is what made her stupid, and reckless, and foolish, and careless. She wishes that it was a more noble cause that led her to act as she did, but she cannot lie to herself. It was him. 

“And you saved me,” he finishes. “ You saved them all. Not me.”

Clarke furrows her brow at his words, feeling some mangled combination of confusion and hope. It is not what she was expecting.

“I do not take it lightly, what you did,” he continues, speaking more quickly now. “If you want to, you can stay after the baby is born. Or - or you may leave, if that’s what you prefer. Either way, after the child is born, consider yourself free. A life for a life. Your debt is paid.”

Clarke tries not to let his words sting, especially the fact he thinks there is even a choice to be made regarding what she wants. That he thinks she would want to leave their child. Leave him. She isn’t sure if that hurts more or less than him believing that saving him was a transaction. As if saving him was an intentional choice. Saving him was not a choice at all. 

“I want to stay.”

Bellamy’s eyes search her face before giving her a short nod. “Publicly, you may remain Queen. I will respect you as the mother of my child. But...I want to be clear. That is where our relationship ends.”

Clarke swallows thickly, unable to untangle the grief she feels at the finality of losing him and the relief, happiness even, she feels at not only getting to live, but getting to be a mother to her child. 

“I understand.”

Bellamy nods again before leaving her alone in the tent, the pieces of her shattered heart trailing behind him.

Chapter Text

Clarke falls asleep quickly after Bellamy leaves, even as his words still weigh heavily on her, an ache in her chest. When she wakes again, it’s from a nightmare. Clarke doesn’t remember what she dreams, but it leaves her gasping for air, her eyes flying open in alarm. Golden light from the open tent flap dances across the canvas walls, the setting sun evident without Clarke having to look outside. She turns her head, finding Nyko puttering with something in the corner of the tent.

“Are we not leaving today?” she asks.

Nyko looks over at her, seemingly assessing her state before he answers. “Those well enough began the journey home this morning. The rest are leaving in the morning. How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” she answers, glancing at her arm. The throbbing has dulled slightly, although the pain is undeniable. Still, it’s nothing compared to the pain inflicted by Bellamy’s words. 

“Hungry?”

Clarke pauses. She isn’t - not really. But she knows she needs to eat, to keep up her strength. “Yes.”

A few minutes later, Nyko brings her chicken broth, a small piece of bread, and water. Clarke eats slowly, giving her stomach a chance to adjust. The sky darkens outside as she eats, and Nyko lights a few lanterns within the tent. Clarke also notices the glow from fires outside the tent, bright spots in the canvas, and smells the hint of smoke from them in the light spring breeze. She has finished eating and is nursing her cup of water when Bellamy walks into the tent. His entrance is less purposeful than this morning, and he seems almost hesitant as he approaches Nyko.

“Go ahead and get some rest. I’ll stay here tonight.”

“I should change her bandage first-”

“I’ll take care of it,” Bellamy cuts him off, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Go get something to eat.”

Bellamy doesn’t say anything to her when Nyko leaves. Instead, he walks over to Nyko’s table and picks up clean cloth and a bottle of clear alcohol before walking over to her and sitting on the stool beside her bed. 

“Can I?” he asks, gesturing towards her arm as he sets down the cloth and alcohol on the small table next to her. Clarke swallows thickly as she nods, grimacing as she lifts her arm for easier access. Even after everything, Bellamy still gives her a choice. These are the kinds of choices that seem so meaningless, so inconsequential, to most people. They matter to her though. 

His hands are impossibly gentle as he unwraps the old bandages around her arm. 

“How is the pain?” he asks, pulling the bandage away. He leans closer, examining the wound the best he can in the dim light provided by the lanterns. 

Clarke’s gaze flickers to him, all shadows and soft light. With Bellamy so close, it’s too easy for the world to fall away from her, the sound of the people outside a distant hum that has lost all meaning. 

“It’s okay.”

Bellamy nods before letting her go. He pours alcohol onto a fresh cloth before blotting it against her wound in a gingerly manner. Despite her best efforts to remain stoic, she flinches at the sharp pain. 

“Sorry,” he murmurs, thumb stroking the underside of her arm as he presses the cloth against the wound once more. Clarke holds her breath, unable to answer him before he lets her go again. He gently wraps her arm and Clarke feels like the air between them might shatter. It is both a relief and a travesty when he finishes, collecting the materials and moving away from her. 

Clarke clears her throat before she speaks, forcing herself to think clearly. She cannot hold onto these feelings. She won’t survive it. 

“What do they know?” she asks as Bellamy unrolls a woven mat across the floor a few feet from her cot. 

“Who?”

“The people, what do they - what is the story?”

Bellamy tenses when he realizes what she’s really asking. 

What lies have you told them?

What specks of truth did you keep?

Bellamy doesn’t look at her as he unfolds a blanket over the mat. “That you were ill. That you were insistent on coming to warn us of an Azgeda attack when you learned intelligence from an old contact still loyal to you. And-” he pauses briefly, smoothing the blanket over the corners of the mat. “And the truth of your role in taking down the mountain,” he finishes. “They should know that,” he adds emphatically.

He’s quiet for a minute as he lays down on the mat, gaze on the ceiling. “We won’t say anything about the queen for now. It could put you in danger, and we don’t know what Azgeda will say about it. There’s no point in us saying anything until we know what their story will be.”

Clarke nearly tells him she doesn’t think Roan will tell anyone about her, but she won’t dismiss Bellamy’s distrust. Clarke herself is barely in a position to trust Roan - she really isn’t sure how he’ll handle this. Not to mention that Clarke isn’t sure her word will mean anything at all to Bellamy at this point. 

“And do they know I’m...about the baby?” she asks. 

Bellamy’s eyes remain on the ceiling. “I believe people suspect, but there has been no formal announcement. It’s best we wait until you’re further along.”

“Okay,” she agrees. Bellamy says nothing more, so Clarke turns her head to look at the ceiling again and closes her eyes.

--∞--

Clarke feels worse than she expected to the next morning. The pain in her arm had overshadowed any other injuries while she rested, but now she feels every bruise and cut as they pack up what’s left of the camp. She keeps to herself as everyone gathers, standing next to Orion and stroking his mane. Clarke catches Octavia’s eye as she looks around, and her heart races when the other woman begins walking over to her. 

“How is your arm?” Octavia asks, not bothering with any niceties. 

“It’s okay,” Clarke answers. Her hand remains on Orion, drawing strength from the familiar feel of him. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“You too.” Octavia nods, pausing for a beat. “I - I heard what you did. Not just the mountain, but...well. Thank you. It doesn’t excuse anything, but - but thank you.”

Clarke nods, masking her surprise at Octavia’s words the best she can. Octavia doesn’t give her a chance to respond before she walks away and Clarke watches as she embraces Lincoln when she returns to him. Lincoln catches Clarke’s eye over Octavia’s shoulder and nods, offering a smile. If Clarke didn’t know better, she’d say he nearly looked proud.  

The journey back is slow. Clarke knows that the pace is purposeful on Bellamy’s part - others are far more injured than her, both from Azgeda and the mountain. Raven is riding with Murphy, sitting in front of him as he guides their horse. Clarke can tell she’s in pain, despite the familiar stoic facade she wears. 

The sun is low in the sky when they finally ride into Anapolei. It is the same path they rode into when returning from Polis after the wedding. Just like then, people have crowded in the streets. This time though, the crowd is more somber than excited. They are quiet, a sign of respect for those who have fallen. They lost many, despite their victories. Clarke tries to keep her gaze trained straight ahead of her, but she catches the eyes of a few in the crowd. Some look upon her with respect, a reminder that the news of her actions in the mountain arrived in Anapolei with the group that returned yesterday. Others hold guarded suspicion in their gazes. She knows that even Bellamy’s words won’t be enough to dispel distrust in her after Azgeda’s attack. Clarke is sure she can earn back their trust eventually, but knows it will take time. 

--∞--

Upon returning to the castle, a servant leads Clarke to her new bedchambers. There are no longer guards to escort her, and the new freedom is jarring. It hadn’t felt real until this moment. The servant stops in front of a door across the hall from her old bedchambers with Bellamy. There is a guard posted outside of her door, just as there is outside of Bellamy’s door. This time the guard is there to keep others out, rather than keep her inside. 

The servant leaves her to settle in and Clarke takes a few minutes to look around the room. There is nothing extraordinary about it, but given that she has her own bedchambers again rather than a glorified cell, it feels extraordinary in its own right. The sun has only just gone down, and someone has already lit a fire and several lanterns. There is a settee and chairs in front of the fire, like her old chambers, as well as a wardrobe. Even her sketchbook has been placed on her bedside table. 

Three windows line the wall like her old chambers, but they overlook the back lawn of the castle and the stables in the distance. A warm spring breeze blows through them, and Clarke feels gratefulness wash through her. There is finally time to thaw. 

--∞--

Clarke bathes, moving slowly as she washes off the dirt, grime, and blood from the past few days. Her skin feels tender, and she finally has a full view of the bruises that have bloomed across her skin. She delicately removes the cloth from her arm and cleans her wound, and to her relief, it seems to be healing well. She’ll have to ask a servant to clean and wrap it again when she’s finished.

After dressing in a linen tank top and pants, she combs her hair and already feels worlds better. Clarke asks the guard to send for tea and a light meal before sitting down on the settee in front of the fire, staring at the flames, unsure of what else to do as she waits. The memories of the queen’s blank eyes and the heavy guilt that accompanies thoughts of Wells still linger under the surface, the events too raw to put out of her mind. Taking a deep breath, she tries to shift her focus as her hand moves under her shirt and across her stomach. She feels the small but defined bump that now exists - it is not unlike the hope that has begun blooming in her, slowly but surely.  

The knock on her door startles her, but she assumes a servant has arrived with her tea. 

“Come in.”

Bellamy enters instead. He shuts the door behind him, but hovers close to it. 

“Do you have everything you need?”

Clarke nods. “Thank you.”

Bellamy slowly walks closer to her, hesitating a few feet away.

“Are you feeling well?”

“Yes. I’ve just sent for tea - I’ll ask the servant to wrap the wound.”

“I can take care of that,” he tells her. Before she can respond, he opens the door and instructs the guard to send for supplies.

“You don’t have to,” she tells him once he turns around. 

“I know.”

The quiet that stretches between them as they wait for the materials is awkward, only interrupted by the servant bringing a tray with tea, fresh chicken, and slices of cheese and apples. Only when another servant returns with fresh cloth and a bottle of alcohol does Bellamy close the door again. He walks further into the room, taking a seat beside her on the settee. 

“I came to tell you I have to leave for Polis in the morning,” Bellamy announces, taking her arm in his hand. Clarke grits her teeth, both from the pain of the alcohol as he cleans the wound and the news of his impending departure. 

“So soon?”

“All of this is a bit of a mess. Aside from the issue of Azgeda and where they stand with the coalition, I can’t move forward with any agreement with the mountain before approval from Heda. We’ll need to discuss how they fit into the coalition, and I need to tell Indra and the other troops left there how to proceed sooner rather than later.”

Clarke nods understandingly. Bellamy sets the damp cloth down and picks up a dry one. “What do you think of Roan on the throne?” he asks as he wraps her arm.

Clarke tenses, shocked at the question. Shocked that he’s asking her opinion, her advice, on anything at all - even Azgeda.

“Roan could have stopped me from taking out the queen. He helped me instead, by taking out some of her guards. I cannot be sure of his view on the coalition, but he did not agree with the queen on much. Azgeda will not be a problem in that sense - I imagine he will be more focused on internal reform than expanding. He will not want further violence.”

It’s only when she’s finished speaking that she realizes Bellamy is still holding her arm, despite having finished wrapping it. She turns to him, finding his face much closer than expected, his gaze already trained on her. 

“Good,” he answers gruffly, letting go of her. He stands, gathering the supplies. “Kane, Lincoln, Miller, and Octavia will be accompanying me along with my guards. If you need anything, fetch Nyko or Harper.”

Clarke nods. “How long will you be gone?”

“Hopefully not longer than a few days, but I’m not sure what to expect.”

She nods again. “Be safe.”

“I will.”

--∞--

Clarke wakes late the next morning. Despite her sore muscles, she forces herself out of bed and readies herself for the day ahead. It’s strange having nothing to do, but also the freedom to do anything. Her nerves try to convince her to stay in her room rather than face the people outside. She doesn’t give into them though, if only because she doesn’t want her new bedchambers to feel like the prison that her last ones were. 

To her relief, most people greet her with a smile and don’t treat her differently than they had before. Despite rationally knowing that none of them know of her betrayal and identity as Wanheda, part of her was convinced they would somehow see through her. Of course, those in Bellamy’s inner circle who do know will be an entirely different situation. But if Octavia can show some semblance of decency, Clarke has hope for the others. 

She walks her usual path, ending up along the water, and tries to take it all in the best she can. It’s a different feeling than before. She’s no longer savoring the last months of her life, grasping at peaceful moments like straws. This time, she can take in the beauty while knowing that she has countless more moments ahead of her. That thought is perhaps just as daunting, in its own way.

As she walks back towards the castle, she passes Nyko’s street. She only hesitates for a moment before turning and walking towards his house. It would probably be best to wait for Bellamy, in case he wants to be here for this, but Clarke doesn’t think she can wait that long. Since Nyko mentioned that he might be able to hear a heartbeat when she woke days ago, she hasn’t stopped thinking about it. Even Bellamy seemed to have no idea how long he would be gone, and Clarke can’t handle not knowing.

She’s so focused on not chickening out that she doesn’t think to knock on Nyko’s door before opening it. The minute she does, Raven, Murphy, and Nyko all look up at her. Raven is seated on one chair, her leg outstretched and resting on a second one. Murphy is standing next to her, arms folded. 

“You know, knocking is considered a common courtesy, royalty or not,” Raven snaps. 

“I’m - I’m sorry,” Clarke stutters. “I’ll wait outside,” she adds, already moving to close the door.

“Wait,” Raven calls out. 

Clarke pauses, surprised by the immediate change in her tone. 

“We’re almost done,” Raven says with a sigh. “You don’t have to go.”

Clarke bites her lip, hesitating for only a moment before stepping back inside. Saying nothing, she sits down on a chair on the opposite side of the room. She spares a glance at Murphy, surprised that he has no sarcastic quip for her, but his focus is entirely on Raven as Nyko lifts her leg off the chair. 

“It’s healing well,” he tells her. “You still need to take it easy,” he adds, this time looking at Murphy. 

“He’s not my gatekeeper,” Raven huffs, taking hold of the crutches resting against the table.

“Somebody has to be,” Murphy mutters. He dodges Raven swatting at him, and Clarke doesn’t miss the amused smile he has to bite back. It looks so different than the usual smirk he wears. Clarke finds that she prefers this one. 

Raven stands and Murphy’s hand remains on her lower back, even though she appears to be moving fine on her own with the crutches, despite the grimace on her face. Clarke doesn’t expect them to say anything, but Raven pauses when Murphy opens the door for her. 

She tenses, as if the words are hard to say. “Thank you. For what you did.”

Clarke nods. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Always am,” Raven answers, her familiar bravado returning. Clarke can’t help but smile in response. Murphy offers a nod when he follows Raven out.

“I’m assuming you’re here to see if we can hear the heartbeat,” Nyko prompts, as soon as the door closes. Clarke nods.

“Go ahead and lay down on the bench there,” he instructs. “I’ll be right back.”

Clarke does as he says. There are furs over the bench, but it still feels hard under her back. Her heart begins to race when Nyko returns. He told her that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything if they don’t hear the heartbeat yet, but that doesn’t stop Clarke from expecting the worst.

Nyko drags a chair next to her, and places two ends of some kind of wire in his ears before lifting her shirt to her ribcage. He places the other end of the device - a round, cold disc - on her bump and drags it across her skin. Clarke thinks she stops breathing as she watches him, until a faint smile teases his lips. 

“It’s there,” he announces, moving it again. “Strong too,” he adds, a moment later. 

The tears that fill Clarke’s eyes surprise her. She didn’t anticipate the intensity of the relief that floods her. “Really?”

Nyko nods, before taking the pieces out of his ears. “Would you like to listen?”

Clarke nods and takes the device from him, placing it in her ears as he did. Nyko presses the disc to her skin again and she bites her bottom lip as she listens intently. A drum-like rhythm fills her ears and she can no longer hold back her smile, mesmerized by the sound of it. Minutes must go by before she remembers Nyko, and takes the device out of her ears. 

“Incredible, huh?”

Clarke only nods, unable to find the appropriate words.

--∞--

In the days following her visit to Nyko’s, Clarke lets the seedling of hope that began growing the moment she woke up in a world without the queen, in a world where she could stay in Anapolei, flourish into something more. It is still a delicate thing, something that cannot bear all her weight or be examined too closely. Nevertheless, it grows. 

Clarke hadn’t realized all the ways she was distancing herself from her child before she heard the heartbeat. It was too hard to imagine when she knew there was no version of the future where she would be able to know them. But things are different now. Her child is hers. Her child has a heartbeat - and a strong one. She’s allowed to know them, and love them, and she’s begun to do just that.

On the fifth day that Bellamy hasn’t returned, Clarke begins to grow nervous. She knows he’s probably fine - there are so many complications to talk through regarding Azgeda and the mountain. It makes sense that it’s taking more than a couple days to sort through. Still, it’s hard to distract herself with only books, her sketchbook, and her morning walks. A thought crosses her mind, and even though the very idea of it makes her chest feel tight with anxiety, she knows that at least it’s something she can do to feel productive. It’s something she needs to do, and it seems the perfect time given that she needs the distraction.

When she walks out of the castle, the sun is already setting and painting the sky a brilliant orange. Clarke shields her face from the rays of light as she makes her way to Harper’s and Monty’s house, only a few blocks from Nyko’s. When Harper first entered her old chambers - the first time Clarke saw her after attempting to kill Bellamy - Clarke had told herself that it was an insult to the woman to try to apologize. Clarke had told herself she didn’t deserve her forgiveness. She realizes now that it isn’t her choice to make. Whether or not Harper and Monty forgive her, she owes them the apology.

We’ve all got a monster inside us, Clarke. And we’re all responsible for what it does when we let it out.

She was only protecting herself before, shielding her heart from their rejection by not giving them the opportunity to wound her with it. But Lincoln was right - she’s responsible for her actions and she has also the responsibility to make things right.

Clarke inhales a deep breath before she knocks on their door, her hand briefly landing on her small bump. It’s easier to do what she needs to when she remembers that she’s going to be a mother - that she’s going to be setting an example for another human. When the door swings open, Clarke comes face to face with Harper. The woman masks her confusion fairly quickly, but Clarke doesn’t miss it.

“Clarke.” Her name sounds like a question. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” she answers, eyes flickering to where Monty is setting the table for dinner. “I wanted to...I wanted to apologize. For everything. I won’t make excuses for my actions, but I wanted you - you both,” she adds, glancing up at Monty as he walks up to the door with Jordan in his arms, “to know that I genuinely am sorry for what I did, and for the pain I caused.”

Harper and Monty simply stare at her for a beat. Clarke turns away, feeling strangely emotional. 

“Wait,” Harper says, placing an arm on Clarke’s. “We have plenty, if you haven’t eaten yet.”

Clarke looks past them at the stew and fresh bread on the table. She hasn’t eaten yet, and her stomach reacts eagerly to their meal. “I don’t want to intrude. Truly, you don’t owe me-”

“We know,” Monty cuts in. “But we’d like you to join us, if you want.”

Clarke nods meekly and Harper steps aside, welcoming Clarke into their home. Their house is small, but quaint. In many ways, Clarke prefers it to the castle. The entry room hosts a fireplace and seems to function as both a kitchen and living area. There is a bathroom to the left of the main room, and a staircase on the right that Clarke assumes leads to the bedrooms. Clarke can’t help but imagine a different life for herself, one where she could live somewhere like this. Perhaps if she’d listened to Wells, perhaps if they’d run away together, they could be living somewhere like this. But even as the thought crosses her mind, Clarke can’t truly regret not running away with him. She cannot regret any choices that led her to Bellamy, and to their child. When she realizes that, fresh guilt consumes her.

Clarke takes a seat at their small table as Monty puts Jordan into a bassinet and Harper pours her a bowl of stew. Clarke watches Monty with Jordan, the reality of her own situation hitting her anew. Bellamy will hold their own child as tenderly as Monty holds Jordan, but it will not be the same. Not really. 

“Are you excited?” Harper asks as she sits down, following Clarke’s gaze to where it lands on Jordan. Clarke turns around, busying herself with tearing off a piece of bread as Monty takes a seat. 

“Yes - and scared,” she answers honestly. 

“Don’t worry, nobody really knows what they’re doing, even when it looks like they do,” Monty offers with a smile, biting into his own bread. Clarke huffs a laugh, grateful for the small piece of advice.

“That’s good to know.” She pauses for a beat. “I just - I want to live up to the kind of parents mine were. And...and I want to live up to Bellamy,” Clarke admits, looking down at her bowl of stew. She hadn’t realized the truth of that until she said it. 

“Well, there are no perfect parents - including yours, or Bellamy,” Harper tells her. “That’s important to remember.”

They make small talk after that. It’s mindless chatter, but Clarke is thankful for it all the same. It’s certainly better than sitting in her room alone, fretting over where Bellamy is. It isn’t until their bowls are empty that Harper addresses Clarke’s apology. She places a hand over Monty’s, a silent show of unity that makes Clarke’s heart ache with yearning. 

“Clarke, we want you to know that we do forgive you, for what happened. Bellamy explained...well he explained the reality of your life with the queen. Not to mention what you did for us in the mountain. But...well, it’s not really our forgiveness you needed anyway. Bellamy has forgiven you, and if he can put it behind him, then we can too.”

Clarke tenses. “Forgiveness may be a strong word,” she answers honestly. “But...it sounds like he’s willing to move on as leaders and parents, for the sake of the child, and - and I’m thankful for that. I don’t deserve more than that anyway.”

Clarke watches as Monty and Harper exchange some unreadable look. 

“What?” she questions.

They don’t say anything for a moment, and Clarke’s stomach twists. Maybe he still hates her. Maybe it’s worse than she suspected. 

“It’s just…” Harper starts, seemingly searching for the right words. “I’ve never seen him like that.”

Clarke furrows her brow. “Like what?”

“Well,” Monty cuts in. “When you were shot he just - honestly, he lost it. He was holding you, and - and he refused to leave you. I never would have imagined a scenario that Bellamy wouldn’t insist on being the one to free the others - especially with Octavia taken. But he entrusted us to do it, because he refused to leave you.”

Clarke stares dumbly back at Monty, unsure of what to say. Her heart has begun pounding in her ears. 

“He never let go of you,” Harper adds, voice quiet. “From the time you were shot until he brought you into the tent and called for Nyko, he never let go of you.”

Clarke swallows thickly. 

“And - well, honestly, he’d probably be furious that we told you that,” Harper continues. “But I think it’s important that you know. I think… I think it matters.”

Clarke knows Harper is trying to say so much more, and that she’s asking Clarke to read between the lines. Clarke knows exactly what Harper is trying to say. But she saw how Bellamy acted in the tent after she woke up, and in every moment they’ve shared together since. There are not any words the other woman can say that might convince her that Bellamy’s true feelings are anything but reluctant forgiveness on behalf of their child and their people. 

--∞--

The day after Clarke has dinner with Harper and Monty, Bellamy and the others return from Polis. Clarke is sketching in her room when she hears the commotion near the stables. She tosses her sketchbook aside and rushes to the window, sighing in relief when she spots a familiar head of dark curls. She does her best to stay busy the rest of the afternoon, and to not sit around and wait for Bellamy to come to her, but it’s difficult. She’s not only eager to see him, but also genuinely curious to hear what happened in Polis.

Clarke is sitting on her bed, attempting to read, when Bellamy finally visits her chambers. Like last time, he respectfully knocks. This time Clarke knows it must be him and so she sits up straighter, setting the book aside before she calls for him to enter. Also like last time, he seems unsure of himself when he enters. He also looks exhausted, Clarke can’t help but notice. 

“Welcome back,” she greets him.

He runs an uneasy hand through his curls. “Thank you.”

Bellamy’s gaze sweeps over her bed and he hesitates for a beat before walking over and taking a seat on the chair across from the settee. Clarke walks over to the settee and sits down across from him. Her hand rests over her small bump and Bellamy’s gaze lingers on it before he clears his throat. 

“Heda is supportive of our plans with the mountain,” he announces. “She will be watching closely as we move forward but...as of now, we can move forward. I was late because I rode directly to the mountain to inform Indra. Kane stayed behind with her.”

Clarke nods, waiting for him to continue. 

“On my second day in Polis...Roan arrived.”

Clarke cannot help the way her brow shoots up in surprise. Despite her hope that Roan would not follow in his mother’s footsteps, she did not expect him to engage with Heda or the coalition. 

“I was surprised as well,” Bellamy starts. “He came to Heda and told her he knew nothing of the queen’s plans, and is looking to re-establish relations with the coalition.”

“A lie,” Clarke warns. “At least - the first part.”

Bellamy nods. “I suspected as much, as did Heda, but I believe his intentions are good.”

“As do I,” Clarke agrees. “Just because he did not feel he could challenge the queen does not mean he agreed with her, or wants what she did.”

Bellamy nods. “What was more surprising was that Roan approached me independently. He wants to revisit a more thorough peace agreement between Azgeda and Trikru.”

Clarke simply stares for a beat. She did not think that Roan would be as cruel as her aunt, but she also did not think he would be so progressive either. 

“And what did you tell him?”

“I agreed to open negotiations,” Bellamy tells her. “We’ll see how they go...and whether he is sincere or not. Perhaps he’ll be open to many of the same terms that your father had attempted to implement.” 

“Perhaps,” Clarke agrees. She truly hopes so. She truly hopes that this one piece of her father’s legacy might survive.

Bellamy clears his throat again and Clarke digs her nails into her palms, hating how stilted they’ve become. 

“What I...what I wanted to tell you is that I’m going to make a speech tonight - host a gathering. I’ll make an announcement regarding the mountain and opening negotiations with Azgeda, and...and I’d like to tell them about the baby - if that’s okay.”

“Yes, of course,” Clarke answers quickly. “In fact, I went to see Nyko a few days ago. The heartbeat-”

“I know,” Bellamy cuts her off. “I’ve spoken to Nyko.” 

Clarke swallows, looking away for a moment. She keeps forgetting that despite him loving their child, this is not an experience he wants to share with her.

“Good,” Clarke answers, voice clipped. “Well, I concur. We should announce it.”

--∞--

Clarke bathes and dresses in a pair of black trousers and a dark green tunic fitted over a long-sleeve black shirt. Her servants offer to braid back her hair, but Clarke turns them down. Instead, she ties it in the half-up style that she always wears. She’s eager to be herself, and only herself, moving forward. Amongst all the heartache, she’s eager to take advantage of this small freedom. 

Bellamy comes by her room to retrieve her, wearing dark clothing and looking as regal as always. It’s tortuous, knowing exactly what lies under that clothing, but Bellamy isn’t Clarke’s to want anymore. He never really was. By the time they exit the castle, the sun is low in the sky and crowds of people have already gathered in the streets. Bellamy takes Clarke’s hand as they walk forward. Surely it’s only for show, but it’s jarring all the same. The roughness of his fingers, and the warmth of them, nearly undo her as they arrive at the front of the lawn. All of the lanterns are lit, strung across the street, prepared for a celebration. It is not unlike their wedding celebration.

Clarke listens intently as Bellamy speaks, telling his people everything he’s already told her. When Bellamy announces an impending peace agreement with Azgeda, murmurs of discontent ripple through the crowd. Bellamy silences them quickly and Clarke is reminded of his strength as a leader - of the respect he so easily commands. 

“The queen was largely the root of our issues with Azgeda, and it was the queen who blocked a peace agreement already being pursued with King Jakob nearly a decade ago. As with the mountain, we need to move forward and pursue peace, or our history of spilled blood - of death - will only repeat itself.”

The audience silences, and Clarke can see how his words have affected them.

“In our initial negotiations with King Roan, he also revealed the fate of Wanheda.”

Clarke’s heart begins to race at the mention of her identity. Bellamy had not said a word of this to her privately. She cannot imagine that he would reveal her here, if only because of the child, but her throat feels dry all the same.

“King Roan informed the coalition that Wanheda’s true identity was Ontari kom Azgeda, and that she was a tool of the queen. She was killed in the battle, and will no longer plague our lands.”

Bellamy squeezes her hand tighter, and Clarke does not understand if he is showing his support for her in this moment, or if he is the one in need of support, the mention of Wanheda still a painful memory to bear. At this news, the crowd cheers wildly and Clarke feels both relief and and grief wash through her at once. These words uncuff her, release her from the last of her chains. Chains that she did not know were so heavy until they were cast off. Yet, in bearing them, they made her strong. Despite the joy she feels from her newfound freedom, she cannot ignore that. 

Clarke thinks back to the days she used to wonder what it would be like to lose Wanheda. She remembers feeling nearly afraid of it, unsure of who she might be without that mask. It surprises her when she realizes that she no longer feels that fear, in spite of the fact she is still learning who she is without Wanheda. She is ready to learn though. She is ready to begin that journey and to put in the work, no matter how long it takes.

Clarke is so distracted by his announcement about Wanheda that she does not realize that he announced the pregnancy until the crowd roars, apparently more happy with the news of a new heir than with the death of Wanheda. Bellamy squeezes her hand again and looks at her, offering a soft smile that she isn’t sure is for her or for the benefit of the people. She looks back over the crowd and forces her own smile. It is not that hard, given that she truly is happy about the baby. But their people believe Bellamy and her are in love - or at least affectionate - and it is a difficult thing to bury that grief for the benefit of the people. Still, for now, this is enough.

--∞--

After Bellamy’s return, life moves forward in a way that feels strange in its ordinariness. Over the next month, Clarke settles into a pleasant if not tedious routine. She takes her meals with Bellamy just as she did before, in order to keep up appearances. Octavia and Raven mostly ignore her, but Clarke can only feel relieved that they remain pleasant. Monty, Jasper, and Harper have forgiven her, and she spends more time with them now. Even Lincoln seems to have forgiven her and speaks with her like he used to. Still, it is a friendship made more delicate by his relationship with Octavia, so Clarke does not push it. 

Perhaps what is most surprising is that Bellamy still invites Clarke to all political meetings he hosts. It is a strange thing, but he seems to still trust and value her political and strategic opinions, despite the clear boundary he drew in their personal relationship. Most significantly, he depends heavily on her opinions when drafting the new Azgeda peace agreement. They spend hours on it, paying attention to the intricacies that will make the agreement successful. It has resulted in many late nights spent in front of the fire in Clarke’s chambers, the two of them poring over each detail together. 

Still, each night, he collects his things and moves across the hallway to sleep. The nights are the hardest, if only because she tortures herself with thoughts of the other women that might frequent his bedchambers. They have every right to be there, but that reminder does not make the thoughts any easier to endure.

When her thoughts wander down those dangerous passageways, she forces herself to seek better ones, which are almost always of her growing child. Nearly a month to the day that they returned from the mountain, Clarke feels them for the first time. It nearly startles her, the fluttering inside her, and her hand flies to her bump in response. Thoughts of Bellamy scatter to the wind and she smiles as she runs her hand across her stomach, the fluttering continuing. 

“You knew I needed a distraction, huh,” Clarke murmurs, releasing a watery laugh. 

When she falls asleep that night, the smile does not fade from her lips.

--∞--

Two weeks after Clarke feels the baby move for the first time, they leave for Polis again. Except this time, Clarke is joining them. She was surprised when Bellamy asked her to come, emphasizing that she should only come if she feels well enough, but Clarke eagerly accepted. Aside from the fact that she doesn’t want to be separated from Bellamy again, she’s invested in the peace agreement with Azgeda. It feels like one of the only things left that she can do for her parents, and she’s determined to see it through.

This time, the group consists of Lincoln, Octavia, Miller, and Murphy, given that Kane and Indra are still at the mountain. It surprises her that Murphy is coming, if only because she hasn’t seen him leave Raven’s side since they returned from the mountain. The group doesn’t depart until after noon, and so they do not arrive until dusk. Tired from the journey and preparing for a long day of meetings ahead of them, they elect to retire to their rooms upon arrival and take their dinner in their chambers. 

A guard leads Bellamy and her down a long hallway, stopping in front of a room and opening the door for them. Clarke doesn’t understand that it’s meant for the both of them and her mouth is agape mid-question when Bellamy nods at her to enter the room. He waits until the door is closed behind them before speaking.

“I didn’t feel like explaining why we required separate chambers. I hope this is alright - it’s only for two nights.”

“Of course,” Clarke nods, even though it is not okay. Not really. Her feelings are torturous enough when she isn’t sleeping beside him. 

Clarke bathes, if only for the opportunity for some time alone. By the time she finishes and changes into sleep clothing behind the screen, a servant has left them tea and a light dinner on the table in front of the fire. Bellamy is sitting on the settee, pouring them both mugs of tea as she sits down in the chair across from him. Bellamy clears his throat as he slides the mug over to her. 

“I’m going to see my family tomorrow night,” he starts. “I would ask if you wanted to come - to see Wells - but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to travel at night without guards right now.”

Clarke strains to keep her hands from shaking as she takes a sip of the tea, hiding her face. She hadn’t thought about the fact that his family lives in the same village as Wells does - did . But surely they know he is missing, at the very least. Surely they would have mentioned it last time Bellamy visited Polis.

“I agree,” Clarke answers, surprising herself with how steady her voice is, despite her pounding heart. “Did you visit them last time?”

“I was too busy,” he answers, picking up his own mug. Clarke nods, unsure of what else to say. 

Surely he’ll put the pieces together if they say anything about Wells. Clarke might as well tell him now - tell him how Wells is dead because of her. But despite that she knows it’s the right thing to do, she cannot bring herself to voice the words out loud. Clarke remembers the lies she told herself when she convinced herself Bellamy did not need to know - that it was better for him if he did not know. She can see it for what it is now - a flimsy excuse to protect herself. The truth is not that Bellamy would not be able to handle the guilt. The truth is that Clarke cannot handle her own guilt, and the shame that accompanies it. Clarke cannot handle Bellamy knowing that she left someone she loves, and the only person who loved her, to die. 

What will he think of her? 

What does it say about what kind of mother she’ll be?

Clarke changes the topic and asks about the day ahead of them tomorrow. They make light conversation while they eat, interspersed in a quiet that Clarke is surprised to realize is nearly a comfortable silence. When they finish, Bellamy bathes and Clarke gets into bed, feeling more exhausted than she expected. Bellamy emerges from behind the screen in only a pair of linen trousers and climbs into bed beside her without a word. When Bellamy pulls out a book, Clarke is tempted to ask him to read aloud, like he used to. It feels unfair to do so though, so she closes her eyes instead, hoping to fall asleep quickly. 

Their child has other plans. 

It isn’t but a few minutes later that she feels the baby kick. It is not a rarity - since the first flutter weeks ago, she’d discovered their baby has more energy than she would prefer. Especially at night, for whatever reason. When she’s alone at night, she often talks to them, but it feels too strange to do in Bellamy’s presence. Instead, she runs a hand under her shirt and over her bump, as if the movement might soothe them.

“You can feel them.”

Clarke opens her eyes at Bellamy’s abrupt words. She turns her head to look at him and finds his eyes already on her, his book set aside. It is a statement, not a question, but Clarke nods. Bellamy’s eyes remain on her bump, making her heart beat faster. She fights the urge to squirm under the intensity of his gaze.

“You can feel it, if you want.”

After a few seconds that feel much longer, he swallows and his gaze shifts to her face. She watches him, her head still on the pillow. 

“You don’t mind?”

Clarke has to bite her lip so she doesn’t scoff at such a question. She wants him to do far more than lay a hand on her stomach. 

“No,” she says, lifting her shirt to her ribcage. “I don’t mind.”

Bellamy shifts onto his side, placing a hesitant hand on her skin. It’s the wrong side though, so she shifts it herself to where the baby is kicking, small jabs like hiccups beneath her skin. Realizing what she’s done, Clarke quickly removes her hand from his as if she touched a hot stove. When she looks at him, she expects to find him smiling, as she always does when she feels their baby kicking. Instead, it looks like he’s fighting several wars in his mind, conflicted and emotional in a way she cannot decipher.

Without a word, Bellamy withdraws his hand from her and turns to blow out the lantern. The room plunges into darkness and Clarke feels as if she is drowning all over again. Bellamy had so clearly set boundaries that are supposed to exist between them, so why does she continuously feel lost? Why does every moment with him feel like a free fall - one where she isn’t sure when she’ll hit the bottom?

Staring at the ceiling, Clarke spares a single glance at him before looking up again. She can just barely make out his silhouette - enough to realize he’s also on his back with his face to the ceiling, but not enough to see if he’s closed his eyes. 

“Do you still hate me?” she murmurs, unsure of where the strength to ask such a question comes from.

There’s a long pause before Bellamy answers. “Not as much as I used to,” he answers honestly. 

The harsh words barely register - she already knew that. That is not where the confusion lies. Her confusion lies in the fact that despite his anger, he’s allowed her to be a part of this peace process. The confusion lies in the fact he still seeks her opinion, and treats her as an advisor. Her confusion lies in the fact that not only is she in Polis, but in his bed. A place that requires the utmost vulnerability.

“But you trust me.”

That’s it, she realizes. That is what confuses her. How can one trust someone that they supposedly hate? Clarke hears him sigh in the dark. He does not want to answer her, but he will. He always does. 

“I trust you with my people, and I...I trust you with my life. I was not lying when I told you that I did not take your actions at the mountain lightly. But I cannot trust you with my heart again. I cannot afford it.”

--∞--

They both rise early the next morning. Bellamy tells her that he made plans to spar with Lincoln at sunrise, which Clarke suspects is a replacement for his morning run and also a way to release some nervous energy before the day begins. Clarke should do something similar - perhaps go for a walk - but she cannot bring herself to. She does not want to wander aimlessly around Wells’s city, memories of him accosting her at every turn. 

Once Bellamy is gone, she dresses for the day and takes tea in her room as the sun rises ever so slowly, reluctantly painting the sky with color. The days are warmer now, the spring melting into summer, and the breeze carries the promise of a new season. A new beginning. Clarke brings her sketchbook out to the balcony, but she doesn’t open it yet. Instead, she stands at the railing, watching the earth open to the morning and the people below starting their days. There is a beautiful ordinariness to it. 

Clarke turns around quickly when she hears the door open, not having expected Bellamy to return so soon. She tenses when she watches Roan walk into their chambers instead. 

“You shouldn’t be in here,” she tells him sharply as he approaches her. “I don’t want my loyalties questioned.”

“Because you’re not loyal to Azgeda?” he asks, joining her at the balcony railing.

“I-” she starts, hesitating. It is not a difficult question, but she is surprised to realize she does not know the answer to it. After all, her aunt did not represent Azgeda, and she cannot bring herself to disown her own clan, even after everything. “I am loyal to this new peace process,” she answers decidedly, giving him a pointed look. “One that benefits both Azgeda and Trikru. One I hope you are sincere in implementing.”

“Well, first off, I asked your husband for permission to speak with you, so you can relax about that,” he tells her. “And - and I assure you that I am,” he continues. “Sincere, that is.” Clarke looks at him, finding his expression more serious than she’s ever known it to be. He pauses before continuing. “Your father - when he was trying to implement this peace agreement, he brought me with him to some of the meetings. He wanted me to care, to understand its importance. I now understand he expected me to succeed him. At the time, I didn’t want to care about any of it...you’re not the only one trying to correct their past mistakes.”

Clarke looks away from him, the mention of her father feeling like a stone in her chest. The breeze whips her hair around her face as she watches the merchants ready their stands for the day. 

“Thank you, for helping me,” she tells him. 

“No, Clarke. It was you who helped us all.” Clarke can see him turn towards her out of the corner of her eye, but she keeps her gaze trained ahead. “Azgeda, Trikru, the mountain...everyone will be better off because of your actions, whether they know it or not. You were brave when I could not be.”

“No, I was not brave,” she tells him, unconsciously bringing her hand to her stomach. “I was desperate.”

“Congratulations, by the way,” he tells her, gaze tracking her hand to her bump. “I was not sure if that was a clever lie when you told me.”

Clarke shoots him a glare, but his only response to it is a familiar, amused smile. “Clearly not.”

Roan chuckles in response. 

“Well, what is it you wanted to say to me?” she asks. 

His expression morphs into something serious again and Clarke gives him her full attention. 

“I wanted to say - I want to apologize. I should have tried harder to take you from her, but I didn’t see a way. It’s not an excuse, just the truth.” Clarke is glad he hasn’t come with any excuses. She doesn’t think she could stomach them. “And to your point about the peace agreement, I promise you that I am sincere. Aside from what your father tried to instill in me, I learned a lot while banished. I saw much of our territory, and could see the ways in which my mother’s policies were hurting our people. It was supposed to be a punishment, but I believe it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“Good,” Clarke answers shortly. She’s glad to hear it, but her mind is occupied by what she really needs to ask him. The questions that might break her if she asks them, but will certainly kill her if she does not.

“Do you know where he is buried?”

Clarke sees the shame on Roan’s face. She is relieved he does not try to hide it from her.

“I tried to find out. The guards who dealt with him would have been the ones closest to her - they would have been the ones we killed.”

Clarke suspected as much, but she had to ask. She had let herself hope that there would be closure of some sort, but war cannot be wrapped up so easily. It may have been a different kind of war that took Wells from her, but it was a war all the same.

“I’m not sure I can ever forgive you for it,” she tells him. “I know it was not your choice, but I’m not sure I can forgive your part in it.”

Roan does not look surprised. “I don’t expect you to. But I do hope that you can forgive yourself one day. She left you no choice.”

“I did have a choice, impossible or not. I have to live with my decisions the same as you.”

--∞--

Despite the day being long and leaving Clarke tired, she feels accomplished by the end of it. She was relieved when Roan accepted their terms, and that his own terms were acceptable to Bellamy. It feels strange to hope for more between their two clans after everything. She knows it must be the case for Bellamy, who was so close to this a decade ago, only for it to fall through. Even so, she does have hope.

Bellamy and Clarke do not speak upon returning to their chambers after dinner. Clarke is exhausted and climbs into bed. Bellamy excuses himself, despite the fact she knows he won’t be leaving to see his family until later. He must have sought company elsewhere, the thought of remaining in close quarters with her for a few more hours unbearable. 

Clarke doesn’t remember dozing off and only realizes she did when she wakes upon Bellamy’s return. She blinks her groggy eyes open, finding Bellamy standing at the foot of the bed, body tense. His loud entrance must have been purposeful. 

“I thought we were done keeping secrets,” Bellamy announces, his voice low and measured. Clarke shifts, sitting up to face him. She already knows what he is referring to. 

“You must know that Wells is missing,” he prompts when she says nothing. “Why wouldn’t you say anything? What are you still hiding?”

“Wells isn’t missing,” Clarke answers quietly. “Wells is dead.”

Clarke isn’t sure what Bellamy expected, but he straightens in response to her words, clearly surprised. 

“The queen took him, and she killed him,” Clarke adds. 

“How do you know this?”

She takes a deep breath, looking away from him for a moment. Even in the dark, his gaze is too intense. 

“You asked me what changed,” she starts, turning to face him again. “Between the letter and the - when I-” Clarke cuts herself off, biting down on her lip. “She gave me a choice - you, or Wells. I made my choice. That is all there is to it.” Bellamy’s face softens infinitely. 

“Clarke,” he starts. Clarke shakes her head at him and lays back down. 

“I will not talk about it,” she warns, voice sharp - unrelenting even. She rolls onto her side, facing away from him. 

Clarke isn’t sure she’s ever sounded so harsh, but her tone has the desired effect. Bellamy says nothing. Instead, she feels the bed dip under her as he climbs in next to her. He leaves ample space between them and they silently lie in the dark, facing their solitude together. 

--∞--

Bellamy doesn’t mention Wells again. Not the next morning, and not when they return to Anapolei either. They easily fall back into their old routine, but Clarke can’t help but feel like something is off. Bellamy seems gentler in all their interactions, and although Clarke was hoping for his anger to fade, this somehow feels worse. She does not want his pity, and especially for something that she does not deserve any pity for. 

A few days after their return to Anapolei, Clarke ventures into the dome for the first time since the day she was caught. She had stayed away for so long, feeling it was unfair to encroach on Bellamy’s space after all that has happened. This time though, she feels desperate for the breeze on her face, for that feeling of being both larger than the world and insignificant. Besides, she knows that Bellamy is visiting with Raven. He won’t be back until dinner. 

Clarke thinks of Bellamy as she gazes over the city. Her mind drifts to her memories of being shot - of the way his face seemed to be the center of the universe in that moment. She thinks back to Harper’s words.

I’ve never seen him like that.

She tries to imagine that version of Bellamy, the one she craves. Not because of him showing care for her, but simply because she misses him without his mask. She misses his raw emotions, and the way he opened his heart so easily to her. She’s not sure she’ll ever see it again. So she does the only thing she knows how to. The only way she knows to address the nameless feelings that constantly swarm her. She opens her sketchbook, the same one that still holds the letter, and begins to draw.

--∞--

Over the next week, Clarke returns to the dome countless times. Like before, it becomes her sanctuary. Only this time, she respects it as Bellamy’s domain, only wandering up there when she’s sure he won’t be around. 

Weeks pass, and Nyko comes by Clarke’s chamber to check in with her. This time, Bellamy joins him. He stands next to Clarke’s bed with his arms folded and lips pursed as Nyko listens to the heartbeat. 

“Very good,” he announces. “Still strong.”

Clarke smiles, but Bellamy remains tense, as if it pains him to be here. 

“Do you want to listen?” Nyko asks him. Bellamy hesitates, but shakes his head a beat later. In spite of everything, Clarke is still confused and disappointed by his answer. Yet, almost immediately, anger chases away her disappointment. He’s made his feelings clear, but he could at least pretend to find joy in their child. One thing is for sure - she won’t let him steal her own joy. 

“I want to listen,” she announces, giving Bellamy a pointed look. He immediately averts his gaze, looking at the ground. Clarke ignores him, focusing on the sound of their baby’s heartbeat instead. Everything that’s happened, no matter the mistakes made and trauma endured, has made the world a better place for her child to grow up in. At the very least, Clarke can find peace in that.

--∞--

The next night after dinner, Bellamy mentions going to the drawing room. Clarke heads in the opposite direction, towards the dome. The night is balmy and the sun is still in the sky, although it is already flirting with the horizon. Clarke lights the singular lantern anyway, expecting to remain even after the sky has lost the sun. 

The sun is flush with the horizon, fire melting into water on the bay, when Clarke hears the light clamor of someone coming up the iron staircase. She freezes, charcoal pencil still pressed to the paper, as Bellamy emerges onto the floor of the dome. He looks as surprised to see her as she is to see him, and he runs a hand through his curls, nervously glancing about. His grip on the book in his other hand tightens.

“I can go,” Clarke starts, quickly closing the sketchbook. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know-”

“It’s okay,” Bellamy answers hurriedly. “Stay.”

Clarke relaxes back against the stonewall of the ledge she’s sitting on, opening her sketchbook as she spares a single glance at where Bellamy has settled on the opposite side of the dome. He opens his book, and she begins to draw. They stay for hours.

--∞--

Their strange evening routine continues after their first night in the dome. Clarke sketches, and every night, Bellamy joins her with a book. She supposes that he would tell her to leave if he minded, but he doesn’t. In fact, he never looks surprised to see her there.

On the eighth night of this, Bellamy speaks for the first time.

“You should have told me.”

Clarke turns to look at him. She doesn’t have to ask what he’s referring to. 

“If you had told me, I-”

“You would what?” Bellamy stares at his lap, refusing to meet her gaze. “Look me in the eye, and tell me that you would have believed a word I said in those first few days.” Clarke turns on the windowsill ledge so that her whole body faces him. “Look me in the eye, and tell me you would have listened to me after I revealed I was an Azgeda spy, and Wanheda at that, whether or not I had a knife to your throat. Look me in the eye, and tell me you would have risked your cold peace with Azgeda, risked your war with the mountain, to save one man.”

Clarke is breathless by the time she finishes, but she refuses to look away from him. She has done enough to prove herself to him, and this is the one thing she will not take from him. To her surprise, Bellamy throws his book on the ground and spins around on his own ledge to face her. It is dark, the orange glow of the lantern providing just enough light for her to see the frustration simmering within him. 

“You should have told me after,” he nearly growls. He takes a deep breath, and when he speaks again, he is quieter. Calmer. “Why didn’t you tell me after?”

Clarke feels the truth of it bubbling up in her chest, threatening to burst. She digs her nails into her palms, tasting the truth on her tongue, unable to reign the words back inside of her. 

“Because I made a choice. I chose you . I put your life above the life of the only person who has loved me since my parents’ death. Above the only person who knew me - my worst parts, my secrets - and still chose me. But I chose you instead. And - and I am ashamed. I am so ashamed every morning and every night that I chose you. It haunts me. It haunts my every waking moment. I chose you, and it was selfish. I chose you because I could not bear to live in a world without you. Bellamy, I would choose you over everyone and everything. Over any person in my life, over Trikru, over Azgeda, over myself. That must make me a terrible friend, a terrible leader...a terrible person even. But what I am most ashamed of is that I do not regret it. What I am most ashamed of, is that if I had to do it all over again, I would still choose you. I made a choice, and it is a choice I am ashamed of, but not one that I am sorry for. I have so much to apologize for - so much to repent for in my life. But...but this is one thing I will not apologize for. So I did not tell you because I do not want your pity, or your forgiveness, for something I am not even sorry for. Not even a little. I would make that choice over and over and over again, no matter the circumstances.”

Clarke is nearly panting by the time she finishes speaking, and Bellamy only stares back at her, lips parted in surprise. She doesn’t wait for an answer, pushing herself from the ledge and making her way down the stairs as fast as her belly will allow. She half expects to hear Bellamy chasing after her, calling for her, but she doesn’t. The only sound is her feet on stone, and her sobs when she finally reaches her chambers.

--∞--

Clarke avoids the dome for the next few days. She attends meals regularly, but only because she assumes her absence will attract more attention from Bellamy rather than less. Even so, she does not give Bellamy a moment alone with her, a moment to address her humiliating confession. Yet, she knows Bellamy knows where to find her. If he really wanted to respond to her, to say anything to her, he would come to her chambers. He doesn’t. 

After a few days of this, a servant knocks on her door. It is late, and she’s just bathed and put on soft, linen sleep clothing. At more than six months pregnant, her belly protrudes under the loose tank top. 

“Come in,” Clarke calls, wrapping herself in a robe. 

“The king requests you in his chambers,” the woman announces. Clarke doesn’t realize she hasn’t responded and is simply staring at the girl gape-mouthed until the servant adds, “Your highness?” in a timid voice.

“I- it is late,” Clarke answers, desperately trying to think of some way to avoid this request.

“The king requests it.”

Clarke sighs. She wants to snap at the girl that even the king can’t have everything he requests , but she quickly reminds herself that it is not the girl’s fault. “Alright then.”

Clarke wraps her robe tighter around her body as she crosses the hallway and walks the few dozen feet to Bellamy’s chambers. Her old chambers. The guards must expect her, because they only part to allow her entry without a word. Clarke considers knocking, but her irritation at Bellamy summoning her so late at night chases away such considerations.

She clears her throat when she walks in, taking in the room as the guard closes the door behind her. Bellamy is sitting on the settee in front of the fire reading, but he sets down the book when he sees her. She wraps her arms around herself, feeling all too exposed, but it does nothing to make her feel less vulnerable standing before him.

“You wanted to see me?” she prompts. 

“Yes,” he confirms. His voice is gruff, and...odd. “I want you to sleep in here until the baby is born. I don’t want you alone this close to the birth.”

Clarke only stares at him for a moment, mind reeling. She nearly reminds him that many women sleep alone in the months before they give birth and do just fine, but something in his eyes - something she can’t place - extinguishes the words on her tongue before she can voice them. 

“Okay,” she settles on. “All my things-”

“I’m having the servants bring the rest of your belongings over tomorrow.”

Clarke stares at him for another beat - waiting for what, she isn’t sure. Bellamy only picks up his book again and begins reading. Unsure of what else to do, Clarke shrugs off her robe and climbs into the bed that she’s spent so many nights in. So many nights sleeping beside him. So many nights with his lips pressed against her neck, her shoulders. So many nights with him moving inside her. Closing her eyes, she runs a hand over her bump, finding their child to be a strange sort of comfort in the moment. She pretends to fall asleep, saving herself from any further uncomfortable moments. Still, she can’t drift off as easily as she would like. She feels hypersensitive to the sound of every book page that Bellamy turns. Eventually, the room darkens behind her eyelids and she feels the bed dip under his weight. 

Only when she’s sure it’s dark does she risk discretely popping a single eye open. There is substantial space between them. They fall asleep like that, on opposite sides of the huge bed, the wall between them from their early days together reconstructed in immaculate detail. 

--∞--

Over the next couple of weeks, Clarke grows brave enough to return to the dome. She even goes there when she knows Bellamy will be there, and they fall back into the same routine they began before her outburst. This time, though, they retire to his chambers together. They never speak of much beyond the politics of the impending peace agreements, and most importantly, they do not address what she said to him. 

One night, Clarke finds herself wide awake and restless. Bellamy is reading in the bed beside her, just like he did when they first married. Usually, she pretends to sleep, but she cannot even pretend tonight. She’s uncomfortable, and cannot help but toss and turn. Eventually, she rolls onto her side to face him. Even though he pretends not to pay her any attention, she does not miss how he quickly glances at the movement out of the corner of his eye before his gaze returns to the pages of his book. 

“Will you read aloud?” she murmurs. 

Clarke is not sure where the burst of bravery comes from. Maybe it is simply exhaustion and frustration at their child who will not stop kicking, and at her body that cannot find any comfort no matter what position she lies in. In all the time they spend together, he never really speaks to her. Not in the way she wants anyway. Not as Bellamy, rather than as the king. She misses his gravelly voice, and used to find such comfort in the deep rumble of it. Maybe this can be the exception. Maybe she can listen to him read, and enjoy his voice, and he can tell himself he isn’t really speaking to her. 

There’s a beat of silence, and Clarke convinces herself in that small moment of infinity that he will deny her even this. But then he begins to read. 

He starts right where he must have left off before she interrupted - practically mid-sentence - rather than starting over for her. In fact, he doesn’t even tell her what the book is. But none of that matters to her. She doesn’t care about the story at all. All she wants is to hear his voice. 

Bellamy is still reading when Clarke eventually drifts off to sleep, his words a soundtrack to her dreams. 

--∞--

Bellamy and Clarke repeat this ritual over the next two weeks. Each night, they climb into bed beside each other, leaving a safe distance between them. They don’t speak or address one another, but Clarke turns on her side to face him, and Bellamy needs no other signal to begin reading aloud. Like he used to, he picks up exactly where he left off the previous night, somehow always aware of the exact spot that Clarke fell asleep during.

Tonight, Clarke cannot fall asleep so easily. She dozes off, enough so that by the time she wakes again, the lanterns are out and Bellamy is sleeping silently beside her. But when she wakes this time, she cannot fall back asleep. She glances at Bellamy, taking in the rise and fall of his chest as he sleeps. He is breathing because of her choices, and she meant what she told him. She cannot regret them. 

Clarke slips out of the bed and pulls on her robe before leaving their chambers as quietly as possible. The guards pay her no mind and she nearly laughs, thinking of how different her circumstances were the last time she slipped out of their chambers in the middle of the night. Clarke is careful as she makes her way up the winding iron staircase and emerges onto the dome, the moon providing the only light she has to guide her path. The air is still warm and the light breeze barely makes a dent in the fierce humidity. She sits on her usual ledge, not bothering to light the lantern. She’s never been up here so late, when the city is so dark beneath her, when the stars are so bright above her.

The footsteps pounding up the staircase startle her, but before she can react, Bellamy is standing before her. Still wearing only his sleep trousers, he is breathless and wild, his curls in disarray. 

Clarke ,” he breathes. She expects irritation, but only hears relief. 

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep-”

“You were gone .” His voice is raw, as if he cannot quite believe that she is sitting before him. “I dreamed that you - and when I woke, you were gone. I thought something happened, I thought-” Bellamy gulps a breath of air as Clarke stands, quickly walking over to him. It scares her, how wrecked he sounds. He looks distraught. 

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, taking his face in her hands before she can think better of it. “It’s okay. I’m right here, and the baby is safe.”

Bellamy looks bewildered. “The baby?” he asks. “It’s not about the...Clarke, I…” he trails off, breath ragged. 

“What?” Clarke whispers. “What is it?”

Clarke is not sure how she expected him to answer, but she did not expect to be met with his lips crushing her own. The kiss is bruising as his fingers thread through her hair. He holds her close, as if he still thinks she might disappear before his eyes. Clarke’s hands move to his waist on instinct, the heat of his skin under her fingertips making her whimper. His tongue breaks through her lips, licking into her mouth and making her feel as if she might float away. The taste of him is bliss, is ecstasy, but as quickly as it washes over her, it gives way to fear. She cannot have him, only to lose him again. It will be too much to bear. 

Clarke pulls away. The confusion on Bellamy’s face is clear, even though it is just barely illuminated by the moonlight. 

“I can’t do this just because you feel relieved in this moment,” she warns, breathless. “Or because-”

“Clarke,” he breathes, cradling her face in his hands again. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I - I love you. I love you so much it feels unbearable. I love you so much that I could not allow myself even a moment of closeness with you, because I knew how easily I would fall again. I knew, I - I am a stubborn fool. I love you, and I do not want to - I cannot - fight it any longer,” he whispers, lips training across her cheek. 

Clarke’s heart races as she absorbs his words, her face still cradled in his hands. “How can you love me, when you do not even know me?” she asks. Her voice is frail, like it belongs to a frightened child. 

“Clarke,” he sighs, forehead briefly dropping to hers before he pulls away, only far enough to look into her eyes. “I did not know who you were when I arrived in Polis. I did not know who I was going to marry, only that it would be good for our clans, and that I might be saving you from a worse fate. I was prepared for a loveless marriage, and hoped for friendship at best. But - but in that first week, I knew. I knew . Maybe it wasn’t love, not yet, but my soul recognized yours. Something in me recognized that you and I were the same. I knew you had your secrets, that you had a world you weren’t sharing with me. I couldn’t have imagined what they were, but even now, I know what I knew then. I had thought - finally - someone who understands.” 

Clarke doesn’t realize that tears are trailing down her cheeks until Bellamy swipes them away with his thumbs, all the while never letting go of her. 

“I know you think I don’t know you,” he continues. “But I do. I know what it is like to bury your heart. I know what it is like to live for your clan, for others. I knew your loneliness, even before I understood the source of it. I recognized all those things in you, and I fell in love with you for them. I fell in love with your strength, and your heart that you could never truly bury, no matter your efforts. I saw you, perhaps clearer than you saw yourself, and I loved you. As I love you now.”

Clarke gasps at his words, but cannot respond before his lips are on hers again, fierce and unforgiving. 

“I love you,” he repeats, lips trailing across her cheek, down her neck. “I love you.” She does not stop him this time. She pulls him closer instead. 

Bellamy tugs off her robe, laying it on the ground of the dome before gently lowering her on top of it. Somehow he manages to do so with his lips still exploring every part of exposed skin he can find. 

“Bellamy,” she breathes, hands tugging on his curls as he crawls over her, lips meeting hers again. 

His hands run up the outsides of her thighs, under her knee-length night dress, hiking it up to her hips in the process. Clarke spreads her legs wider as Bellamy crawls further down her body, pressing slow, tantalizing kisses up her inner thighs once he does. When he presses a filthy kiss to her center, nosing at her clit, she lets her head fall back against the ground. She looks up at the stars through the blown out ceiling of the dome, watching the universe spin as he takes her higher and higher. Her breath comes out in short pants, interspersed by drawn out moans as pleasure courses through her, making her blood so hot that the warm air feels cool. Bellamy groans against her and the vibrations push her over the edge as she shamelessly moans his name. She hopes the whole city hears her. She hopes the whole clan knows that he’s hers.

Bellamy barely gives her a moment to come down from her high before he’s pulling off her night dress. He rolls it up under her head, and the gesture is so tender that it brings fresh tears to her eyes. His eyes roam over her, Clarke’s body burning under the intensity of his gaze.

“Beautiful,” he murmurs, leaning down to swipe his tongue across a peaked nipple. He takes it in his mouth, drawing another moan from her as his free hand runs up the curve of her bump, landing on her other breast. He releases her with a pop, and his lips make their way down the center of her bump.

“Please,” she whines. “I need you.” 

Clarke is not accustomed to asking for what she wants, but she is shameless and savage in this moment alone. She wants him, needs him, and will have him if it’s the last thing she does. Bellamy leans back to kick off his trousers and Clarke watches him intently, a far cry from her shyness on their first night together. She is not that timid girl anymore. She is a woman who knows what she wants, what she has earned. A woman not afraid to ask for the love she deserves. 

Bellamy climbs over her again, kissing her as she feels him slide himself against her soaking center. He remains propped on his hands as he slowly pushes into her, so as not to crush her bump between them. Clarke’s mouth opens in a gasp, her breathing shallow as she takes him for the first time in months. Bellamy groans shamelessly at the feel of her, and Clarke wonders if she isn’t the only one who wants the universe to know that they belong only to each other. 

Clarke had forgotten how satisfying it feels to be filled by him. Bellamy’s thrusts are slow and even, each drag in and out of her sparking a fire in her core, fanning its flames. He holds himself on his hands as he thrusts into her, palms on each side of her head. He is hovering further away from her than she’s used to, than she prefers, in an effort not to let his weight fall on her bump. Even with his eyes bearing into her own, even as he brings her higher with each snap of his hips, she cannot fight the dissatisfaction at his distance from her. She misses the feel of his chest brushing against her breasts, the heat of his breath when he pants against her neck, the feel of his lips against hers as she takes him. He’s too far, and they’ve already spent enough time apart.

Clarke presses a hand against his chest, mewling as she tries to get the words out. “Closer,” she pants. “I need you closer.”

Bellamy barely misses a beat before he pulls out of her, drawing a whimper from her at the sudden emptiness when she was already so close. 

“C’mere,” he says breathlessly, sitting back and helping pull her onto his lap. 

They both sigh in relief when he guides himself into her again, her damp forehead dropping against his. Bellamy’s arms wrap around her, holding her to him, her bump flush against his stomach. Bellamy kisses across her jaw, down her neck, as he begins to thrust into her again. He does most of the work until all Clarke can do is cling to him as she takes him. The pleasure builds quickly until she is shaking, an incoherent mess as she pants his name over and over again. Bellamy seems no less overcome, his fingers digging into her back as his face drops to her shoulder. The sounds falling off his lips sound more animal than man. 

Clarke moans shamelessly as she falls from the edge, no longer afraid of her own voice. She cannot think of a better use of it in the moment. Her back arches away from Bellamy, thighs trembling as heat floods through her every atom. Bellamy kisses her fiercely and holds her steady, only snapping his hips twice more before she feels him tense beneath her, groaning as he spills into her. Clarke tastes her name on his lips as he does.

Their shallow pants fill the dome as they catch their breath, but Bellamy doesn’t loosen his grip on her. He only pulls away slightly so that he can look into her eyes. Clarke stares back at him and for the smallest moment, she worries he was only caught up in the moment. That he didn’t mean what he said. Bellamy must sense her uncertainty, because he leans up to kiss her again. This time, their kiss is slow and patient, tender in its chasteness compared to the way his tongue was exploring her mouth just minutes ago. With his lips alone, he makes her feel precious. Clarke sighs, combing her fingers through his curls, now damp with sweat. 

He loves her. He knows who she is, and he loves her.

Bellamy nuzzles his face to the crook of her neck as he softens inside her. A second later, she blinks in surprise when she feels wetness on her shoulder. She gently pushes his head back so that she can face him and is surprised to see his eyes glistening with unshed tears. She says nothing, but Bellamy must see the question on her face anyway.

“I dreamt I lost you in the mountain,” he tells her, voice hoarse. “I dreamt you were gone, and I woke, and - and you really were gone. All I could think was that I let my pride stand in the way of my heart, and that you would never know.”

“Know what?” she whispers. She already knows what he means, but she wants to hear it again. She wants to hear it always. Bellamy appeases her, smiling softly as he cups her face in his large hand. 

“Know that I love you. Know that my heart is still yours.” 

Clarke leans forward, pressing kisses across his damp cheeks until Bellamy grows impatient, pulling her lips back to his own. An involuntary shiver ripples through her as they kiss, the breeze against her clammy skin cooler than it was before. Bellamy presses one last kiss to her cheek. 

“C’mon, let’s get you warm,” he tells her, helping her off of him. She cannot help but smile at his words, and it does not escape his notice.

“What?” he asks, offering his own smile in return as he helps pull her night dress back over her head. 

“That’s the same thing you said to me the night I met you. At the pond.”

A tenderness floods Bellamy’s eyes and he takes her face in both hands again, pressing a kiss to her forehead. He kisses her cheek next, and Clarke leans into his touch, closing her eyes at the feel of his lips trailing across her skin.  

“I will always keep you warm,” he whispers into her ear. She doesn’t have a chance to respond before he leans down to pick her robe off the ground, shaking the dust off it before helping her back into it. Clarke’s hand falls to her bump as she watches him tug his pants back up. Once he does, he offers her his hand. Like the night she almost drowned, she takes it, letting him pull her to safety. 

--∞--

There is no space, no wall between them, when Clarke wakes the next morning. There is only Bellamy’s arm wrapped protectively around her, his hand splayed across her bump. There is only his quiet breath against the back of her neck. There is only peace.

Clarke turns, unable to resist the chance to look at him. He stirs when she does, popping a groggy eye open as he takes her in. His hand returns to her bump, now between them, before he leans in to kiss her. 

“You think you can wake me up at the crack of dawn now?” he teases, eyes falling shut again. 

“Yes, I believe it’s within my right,” she answers cheekily, smiling at him although he cannot see it. Bellamy smiles at her words, eyes still closed.

“If you say so. We may need to draw up our own negotiations.”

Clarke laughs, shuffling impossibly closer to him. 

“Bellamy?” she asks a moment later. He blinks his eyes open again, appearing more awake at the serious tone of her voice.

“I want to tell you everything,” she says quietly. 

Bellamy raises his brow at that, a little warily. Clarke laughs in response. “I didn’t mean - I promise, there are no more secrets. I meant...” She takes a deep breath. “I want to tell you how I fell in love with you.”

Bellamy smiles widely, that boyish grin that so few others will ever see. “That sounds like a nice story.”

“It has its ups and downs,” she says. “But also a happy ending.”

Chapter Text

Voices in the water
In my mind again
Find me where the light ends
In the silence

--∞--

Clarke gives birth to their son the day that the first frost of the season settles over the ground. 

The last three months of Clarke’s pregnancy seemed to exist outside of time, feeling both endless and not long enough. Aside from negotiating the mountain and Azgeda peace treaties, Bellamy and her spent their days getting to know one another again. Gaining back his trust was not like flipping a switch, but with love as their foundation, the bricks that rebuilt it no longer felt so heavy. They carried them together. Part of this was Clarke no longer holding back from him. Bellamy knew her well enough to sense when she fought the urge to draw back into herself, a lifetime of hiding from everyone and her own heart a difficult habit to kick. But he was there to coax her back to life, back into the open where they could meet in the middle. 

Bellamy also doted on her during those last three months, not letting her lift a single finger. It was sweet, but also suffocating. Clarke buried her irritation, afraid of the delicacy of a love she had only just earned back. One night, the frustration came spilling out of her, her face growing red with anger when Bellamy insisted on helping her into the bath. Bellamy only stared at her as she berated him, but Clarke did not have time to fear her own words when they finally stopped. Bellamy’s lips twisted into an amused smile before he took her face in his hands and kissed her fiercely. 

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I’ll do better.”

It wasn’t until later that Clarke understood why Bellamy was happy she was yelling at him. In that moment, she trusted him with her anger, her honesty. Her feelings mattered to him, and by yelling at him, she had let him know that she understood that. It was a stark contrast to her past, to the way she had slowly lost her voice in the years following her parents’ death. He was smiling because she trusted them to momentarily break, knowing that they would grow back together stronger. Clarke is not sure there is much more to love than that. 

Now, Clarke leans back against Bellamy’s chest as she screams in pain. He is no less attentive now than he was when she went into labor nearly eight hours ago. In fact, he’s barely left her side. There is technically nothing he can do, but he has been there all the same - patting her forehead with a cold cloth, massaging her sore muscles, offering a hand for Clarke to squeeze until she turned his knuckles white, and murmuring simple reassurances in her ear through all of it. There is wailing, both from Clarke and the baby, as she finally delivers them into the world. Nyko passes the baby to the midwife so he can continue tending to Clarke.

“It’s a boy,” she announces with a bright smile. “All healthy - ten fingers and toes.”

Clarke huffs a laugh, head dropping back against Bellamy’s shoulder. He kisses her hairline, paying no mind to the fact it’s damp with sweat. 

Hours later, when the sky outside is black, it is only the three of them settled into their bedchambers. Clarke holds their son against her chest, unable to stop staring at him in wonder. Bellamy, laying on his side beside her, looks no less taken aback.

“We have to think about names,” Bellamy prompts, his voice a gentle murmur.

“Yes,” Clarke agrees, gaze unable to part with their sleeping baby. With everything else going on, choosing a name hadn’t been on the top of their list of priorities, but it would have to be now. 

“What about Jakob?” Bellamy suggests. “After your father.”

Clarke smiles briefly at Bellamy before looking back down at their son. Today, he belongs only to them. While he will be her son forever, someday he will also be a king to the people. Someday he will also belong to Trikru. Her son is not so different from the frost that settled over the ground this morning, made of ice and earth. But like Clarke, he is more than that. Not only born of Trikru and Azgeda, but of Podakru, and Polis too. Clarke wonders how many pieces of her own bloodline have been lost to history. How many women like her mother, like Aurora, lived life so bravely despite being traded like a pawn or claimed as a reward, names lost at some point along the way? Identities swept away by a husband, as easily, as silently, as the breeze. 

“What about Abbott?” Clarke suggests instead, looking back at Bellamy. “For my mother.”

Bellamy smiles softly at her, leaning forward to press a kiss to her temple. “I love it.”

--∞--

The following week, Clarke is feeling well enough for their friends to come by and meet Abbott. Clarke feels like her heart might burst when she realizes how large her son’s family will be, reaching far beyond just her and Bellamy. 

Octavia and Lincoln are the first to meet him. Lincoln greets her warmly, and although Octavia is more distant, she remains pleasant. Clarke doesn’t care anyway. Her son is the center of her universe now, and Octavia seems just as enamored by him when she holds her nephew for the first time. That’s all that really matters. 

Monty and Harper arrive next. They immediately gush over him, Harper insisting that she’s sure Jordan and him will be the best of friends.

“I’m surprised Jasper didn’t come with you guys,” Clarke prompts. He seems to be a third wheel more often than not, and Clarke was sure he would want to meet the baby. 

“He’s still at the mountain, helping Kane and Indra,” Harper tells her, eyes dancing with amusement. “Apparently he’s completely enamored with Maya, the girl who helped us.”

“It’s true,” Monty confirms, before his attention returns to Abbott. 

Murphy and Raven come by together, which is now their norm. Raven is still healing from her injuries, the process made more difficult by her past wounds. But Clarke doesn’t doubt that the woman can handle it. Clarke isn’t sure she’s ever seen anyone stronger, or more resilient. 

Clarke hands over Abbott to Raven so that she can hold him, and Murphy leans closer to look down at him. His smile is genuine, as it usually is these days. What Clarke thought was his signature scowl fades in Raven’s presence more often than not. 

“He’s perfect,” Raven tells them, although her eyes remain on Abbott. 

Murphy leans even closer to Raven, whispering something in her ear. Raven’s face snaps up to look at him, and Clarke thinks she might have swatted at him if Abbott wasn’t in her arms. She still gets her point across with a fierce warning glare. 

Definitely not,” she snaps.

Clarke looks over at Bellamy, who offers an amused raise of his brow at her.

Raven looks back at Abbott. “Well, not yet,” she amends, voice quieter.

--∞--

When Abbott is three weeks old, Octavia comes by again. It is late, past dinner, but Bellamy had a few things to attend to before retiring for the night. Clarke is burping Abbott when a guard enters their chambers, letting her know that Octavia is asking for permission to enter.

“Let her in,” Clarke announces.

When Octavia walks in, Clarke realizes it might be the first time that the woman seems nervous in her presence. Things have been...okay between them. They’ve respected the roles they each hold in Bellamy’s life, and have respected the other’s opinions in drafting the peace negotiations, but they mostly stay clear of one another. It is a cold peace, not unlike the one that existed between Azgeda and Trikru for most of Clarke’s life. 

“Is everything okay?” Clarke asks.

“Everything’s alright,” Octavia confirms. “Can I take a seat?”

Clarke nods, laying Abbott down in the bassinet before sitting down on the settee in front of the fire. Octavia takes the chair across from her.

“I just wanted a moment to speak with you - with just the two of us.”

Clarke waits for her to continue, unsure of how to respond. 

“We are family now,” Octavia starts. “I do not want to hold onto old grudges.”

“I don’t want that either,” Clarke agrees. “I never did. I’m sorry, for how I hurt you. How I hurt all of you.”

“I know you are,” Octavia answers. “I forgive you for that. I…” she trails off, looking at the fire for a beat before turning her attention back to Clarke. “Bellamy thinks I am far more clueless about our father’s character than I am. I’d prefer to keep it that way,” she adds quickly. “It makes him happy that he could shelter me from it. But I know better - from Indra, from Kane.” She shakes her head slightly as Clarke’s heart races faster. Surely she doesn’t know about the true nature of their father’s death, but the topic makes her nervous all the same. “My point is,” Octavia clarifies. “I understand better than you think what it is like to exist under the cruel thumb of another, of someone in great power. My mother...well, I know that it can cause people to act desperately. I’m not saying what you did was okay, but I understand why it happened. I forgive you for it, as Bellamy has. I’d like to leave it in the past.”

Clarke smiles, feeling a weight she didn’t know existed lifted from her. “Thank you. I’d like that too.”

“Perhaps, when you’re feeling up for it, you and Bellamy can join us for dinner.”

Clarke’s smile widens. “I’d love that.”

Octavia stands to leave after that. Neither one of them are fond of small talk, which Clarke can appreciate about the other woman. Octavia is halfway to the door when Clarke calls out to her. She turns around, wearing an expectant expression.  

“You were wrong,” Clarke tells her. “About Bellamy.”

“Wrong about what?”

“Bellamy’s heart is not his weakness. It is his strength.”

--∞--

“Are you sure we have everything?” Clarke asks, looking over their packed bags once more. Bellamy is standing beside her with their toddler in his arms, looking at his frazzled wife with amusement. 

“She never stops worrying, does she?” Bellamy loudly whispers to Abbott. Abbott only giggles in response, although Clarke is fairly certain that he did not understand his father’s very unfunny joke.

“You’re not helping,” she tells him, shooting him a glare as she reopens one of the bags. 

“Hey,” Bellamy tries, his voice more serious as he presses a kiss to the top of her head. “Everything is going to be fine.” 

Rationally, Clarke knows this, but she’s nervous all the same. Abbott is just shy of a year and a half, but has never left the safety of Anapolei. Clarke used to spend her nights traveling through darkness across the lands of all the clans, but this feels more terrifying. She is responsible for something precious, something vulnerable, and every maternal instinct in her is on high alert.

“I know,” she sighs, closing the bag again. “Give him to me,” she demands, holding out her arms. Bellamy passes him over before picking up their bags off their bed, one in each hand.

“We’re ready?” he asks, only half teasing this time. 

Clarke nods. “We’re ready.”

--∞--

Clarke breathes deeply, the spring air smelling of earth and new beginnings. It’s hard to believe that it was two years ago that she was arriving in Polis to marry - and assassinate - a stranger. A stranger who ended up being her entire world instead. 

Abbott remains secured to her front via a cloth wrap as they ride towards Polis, the path now familiar to her. Despite this being Abbott’s first time leaving Anapolei, Bellamy and her have made this trip countless times since he was born. Clarke spares a glance at her husband, only to find that he’s already staring at them. 

“Stop that,” Clarke scolds, biting down on her lip to hide her smile.

Bellamy only smiles wider at her and their son. “It’s a better view than the path ahead.”

“Until you crash into a tree.”

Bellamy chuckles, looking ahead of them again. 

--∞--

The Anapolei party arrives in Polis just before dinner. Bellamy and Clarke put Abbott down, leaving him with Miller and Harper while they dine with Heda and Roan. Clarke would rather stay with their small family, comfortable in front of a fire, but Roan is doing them a favor. It would be rude not to see him, and above all, it’s a good opportunity for the two clans to discuss their progress with Heda. 

Bellamy and her are the last to arrive at dinner. Lincoln and Octavia are already seated, as are Heda, Roan, Echo, and a few others from Azgeda’s party. When found out Roan decided to marry Echo, she was pleased. She knew that Echo would do right by their clan, and unlike the queen they served, had the best of intentions. Bellamy and her even attended their wedding in Suskainau months ago, which was certainly a first for Trikru and Azgeda. Dinner is pleasant enough, but Clarke can tell Bellamy and Octavia are as impatient as she is to wrap things up. 

Their timing ends up being perfect. Abbott wakes up less than an hour before they’re set to leave, meaning that he’ll hopefully be rested and in good spirits. They bring more guards with them than they usually do for their trips to the village, and Harper, Murphy, and Miller are amongst them. Lincoln and Octavia are both joining too, although they’re taking a separate route. It’s still a risk, but they discussed it and decided it was worth it for their family to be truly together for a few hours. Clarke isn’t sure when they’ll have the opportunity again.

Freya is already on the cabin porch when they arrive, Akamu standing beside her wearing an excited smile. He’s grown in the last two years, his long limbs both awkward and adorable. Octavia and Lincoln arrive before Bellamy, Clarke, and the others have even dismounted the horses. The guards each take positions around the cabin while Octavia runs up the porch and pulls Freya into a tight hug, the older woman cradling her head as if she’s still a small girl. Both Freya and Akamu turn their attention towards Bellamy and Clarke as they make their way up the porch steps. 

“Oh my, who do we have here?” Freya asks. Abbott smiles but shifts in Bellamy’s arms, suddenly shy as he hides his face in his father’s chest. 

Clarke hugs Akamu, but the boy is distracted by her son, just as enamored with him as Freya is. 

“Ab, this is your great grandmother,” Bellamy tells him. Freya immediately swats at Bellamy’s arm.

“Stop making me sound old,” she scolds him, before turning her attention back to Abbott. “I have some fresh sweet bread that I bet you’d love. How does that sound?”

Abbott nods eagerly.

--∞--

The cabin is crowded once they’re all settled into it, snacking on sweet bread and tea. Clarke holds Abbott in her lap, trying to find a balance between letting him meet his family and not completely overwhelming him. Not for the first time, Clarke realizes that he’s very much his father’s son. After only about ten minutes of hesitation, Abbott is happily waddling around the cabin, soaking up everyone’s attention.

Penelope is no longer a girl, but a beautiful young woman, who helps Celeste and Freya serve everyone. Beyla, although older, is still as curious and vivacious as the day Clarke first met her. She hopes that the world never changes that about her - the world needs more shameless women. Kajsa, less than two years older than Abbott, simply seems eager to have a playmate. 

Clarke watches as Bellamy scoops up Abbott when he makes his way back to them. Freya was right - their child is beautiful, but he is nothing like she predicted. In fact, he looks like his namesake. He has Bellamy’s dark eyes rather than Clarke’s blue ones, and a dirty blonde hair somewhere between the both of theirs, rather than Bellamy’s dark curls. Although, Clarke thinks she might be right about the freckles. Clarke has already noticed a smattering of them across his nose in recent months. 

“We actually have an announcement,” Octavia tells the group, her gaze flickering to Bellamy before her hand finds Lincoln’s beside her. “I’m pregnant.”

The room descends into happy chaos, Freya rushing over to Octavia to hold her face in her hands, pressing fierce kisses to each cheek. Clarke looks to Bellamy instead, instantly placing a comforting hand on his leg. She can see the struggle on his face, the conflicting feelings about his baby sister having a baby of her own, but he smiles at Clarke a beat later. The smile is genuine, only growing wider when he looks over at Octavia, leaning across Clarke to squeeze her knee. Octavia beams at him before turning her attention back to Beyla and the stream of questions she has about babies. 

--∞--

Their second night in Polis, the night before they begin their even longer journey, Bellamy collapses onto the settee in front of the fire after they’ve returned from dinner.

“I hope you’re not tired,” Clarke tells him. “We have plans tonight.”

Bellamy furrows his brow at her. “We should not see them two nights in a row-”

“We’re not going to see your family,” Clarke cuts him off. “We have other plans.”

This peaks Bellamy’s attention. He sits up straighter, eyebrow quirked in amusement. “Is that so?”

Clarke bites down on her bottom lip. It is impossible not to smile when he’s looking at her like that, gaze dangerously dark, lips twisted in curiosity. She fights the urge to go to him, knowing that if she lets herself fall into him now, they’ll never make it out of their bedchambers. Tonight will be a waste. Instead, she walks over to the small bed Abbott is sleeping soundly in, watching him for a moment. 

“And what are these plans?” he asks, walking over to her and slipping his arms around her from behind. He rests his chin on her shoulder, looking down at Abbott with her. 

“It’s a surprise.”

Bellamy huffs a laugh, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. “Alright.”

Thankfully, a minute later, Harper arrives to watch Abbott while they’re gone. It saves Clarke from any further interrogation and she gives Clarke a knowing smile when she tells them to have fun on their way out the door. 

Bellamy holds onto Clarke’s waist as she leads Orion out of Polis and into the forest. By the time that they’re halfway there, Clarke knows that Bellamy must know where she’s bringing them, but he doesn’t say anything, patiently waiting instead. Clarke smiles as they approach the old church and she notes the lanterns outside and the dim light inside, glowing through the blown out windows. Murphy and Miller managed to do what she asked. Although Bellamy must have guessed the location, he can no longer hold back his curiosity. 

“What is all this?” he asks Clarke as Orion comes to a stop. They both dismount the horse before Clarke ties him to a tree. She only smiles at Bellamy in the dark and offers him her hand. He raises his brow at her, but takes it, interlacing their fingers.

The lanterns have been left outside of the entrance that they used two years ago. They hadn’t had time to return to the church since then, but the memory of Bellamy’s lips on hers for the first time, the fire he ignited in her amongst ice and war, is as clear as if it happened only yesterday. The floor of the dark tunnel also contains lanterns, enough so that they can see what’s ahead of them, although it is still dark enough that they need to watch their step. Finally they emerge, hand in hand, into the body of the church. 

Bellamy lets go of her hand as he steps forward, looking around. She watches him, heart racing at the sight of him, and wonders if this is how he felt when she looked around the first time he brought her here. With the help of Murphy and Miller, dozens upon dozens of candles have been lit and set upon any flat stone surfaces they could find. They had also helped to clear some of the brush from the building too, which Clarke is grateful for. She’ll need to find a way to thank them.

“You did this?” Bellamy asks. He looks up and Clarke follows his gaze, noting the bright stars shining through the mostly blown out ceiling, only patches of it still intact. 

“With help,” she starts, walking to stand in front of him. “When you brought me here - when you kissed me,” she clarifies, cheeks flushing. “You said that you wanted something just for us. After everything that happened, I just - I want that too. I want to marry you as myself, and make a new promise to you, and do things right. I want our own vows - ones that belong to us, not Trikru and Azgeda.”

Even with only the dim glow from the candles, Clarke can see the tenderness in Bellamy’s eyes. His whole face melts before he takes her face in his hands, his kiss somehow both gentle and fierce, encompassing everything they’ve been through to make it to this moment. When Bellamy finally pulls away, he doesn’t move far, his hands dropping from her face to her waist and holding her close. 

“I don’t require elaborate lines from old ceremonies. I only want you to know this - you are my home. I promise I will love you as such, and defend you as such, until my last breath is lost to the wind.”

Clarke doesn’t realize she’s started crying until Bellamy swipes a tear from her cheek with a gentle finger, his other hand tightening on her waist. She inhales a deep breath, hand running up his familiar chest until it lands on his face. He leans into her touch.

“You saved me, in ways you’ll never understand.” Her words are inadequate, but Bellamy shakes his head at them. 

“No, Clarke. You saved yourself.”

Clarke lets his words wash over her, and perhaps for the first time, lets herself believe them. It is true that Bellamy, and Abbott, are the light in her life. But it was her who had to make the choice to fight, to keep burning, even when that fire was nothing but a spark. 

“Well, thank you for loving me through it,” Clarke says instead. “For loving me when I was drowning, when I tasted of war and loss. I did not know how numb the ice that I let coat my veins had made me until you helped me to thaw. And I-”

Clarke pauses. It feels impossible to encompass the promise, the vow, that she wants to make to him with such feeble words. It would be easier to show him. Without another word, she leads him to where a small bowl of black ashes and a small needle have been left. 

“I lied, when you asked if there were any Azgedan traditions I wanted to incorporate into our ceremonies. I’m thankful that I did, because it would not have the meaning it does now. But - our tradition is to tattoo a small circle behind the ear of who we are committing ourselves to. The circle represents infinite love, never broken, even by death. I want to do that now, because - because that is my promise to you. I promise to give you forever.”

Bellamy’s eyes glisten and he nods as he picks up the needle, seemingly at a loss for words. Clarke moves a lantern next to them so that they can see, before turning her back to Bellamy. One hand returns to her waist while the other moves her hair to her opposite shoulder, fingers trailing against the sensitive skin of her neck as he does. She expects to feel the sharp pain of the needle, but she feels Bellamy’s warm lips press against the crook of her neck instead. 

“I love you,” he murmurs. 

“I love you,” she answers, holding onto the hand that remains on her waist. 

The pain is sharp, but brief. They both laugh when Clarke makes Bellamy sit down so that she can do his, unable to reach his ear without standing on her toes. He pulls her onto his lap when she’s finished, drawing a yelp from her that dissolves into more laughter.

“Stuck with me now,” Bellamy tells her. His grin is boyish - that smile that so few see. That one that belongs to her now. 

“I think I’ll manage,” she tells him, running a hand through his hair. 

Even forever won’t be long enough. Not when it comes to Bellamy.

--∞--

“Hey.” The softness in Bellamy’s voice makes Clarke pause as she unties Orion from the tree. He places his hand on her lower back, not removing it when she turns around to face him. “Do you want to go to the tree? I know with Ab it was hard last night, but we’re already out.”

“Yes,” Clarke agrees. “That sounds good.”

Bellamy leads Orion this time, Clarke holding onto him and pressing a kiss to the back of his shoulder. She goes to the tree every time she visits Polis, and it was difficult in the beginning. Still, even then, it felt worse to not go. It felt a bit like a cathartic cry - terrible at the time, but leaving her feeling free afterward. 

Bellamy knows the way by now, and it takes them less than an hour to reach it. It’s on the outskirts of the village Wells lived in, and Bellamy’s family still lives in. Just far enough into the forest that none of the villagers ever notice them. Bellamy brings Orion to a stop, leaving a decent amount of space between them and Wells’s tree. Bellamy always accompanies her, but he also always gives her the space she needs to grieve Wells on her own. They both slide off of Orion and Bellamy pulls Clarke close, pressing a kiss to her temple.

“I love you,” he murmurs.

“I love you too.” 

It had been Bellamy’s idea to plant the tree. He knew how much it hurt Clarke that there was no body, no sense of closure in Wells’s death. Clarke had made sure that his father knew the truth of what happened, although she had been too cowardly to tell him herself at the time. She also made sure that Trikru provided him with anything he needed, an open offer to this day. He never took them up on it, which she understands. No money, no amount of gifts, or even security, can make up for the loss of a child. She knows that now more than ever. 

It’s become easier visiting his tree over the past year and a half. Enough so that Clarke knows it won’t damper this night for her. It still belongs to Bellamy and her, and these days, she mostly just talks to Wells when she visits the tree. She tells him about her life, about Bellamy, Abbott, and everyone else. In spite of everything, she’s learned to forgive herself over the last two years. It was a slow, arduous process. In the end, it came down to reminding herself that Wells loved her as much as she loved him. He wouldn’t want her blaming herself, and he certainly wouldn’t want her to live the rest of her life grieving him. In fact, given all the times Wells tried to convince Clarke to break away from Nia’s grasp, she thinks he might even be proud of her. Not because she killed Nia, but because in her absence, she began to truly live.

Clarke sits down in front of the tree, noting that it’s only grown stronger since she last visited. It makes sense. Wells was her strength when she had no one else, and even gone, the sentiment remains. 

--∞--

“Are you nervous?” Bellamy murmurs. 

The sky is gray, the sun not yet risen, but well on its way. They’ll need to rise soon so they can get an early start. Clarke shifts impossibly closer to him, her back pressed against his bare chest. The arm that Bellamy has wrapped around her waist trails under her shirt, stroking the soft skin of her stomach in a soothing, circular motion. 

“Yes,” Clarke answers honestly. She trusts him with her fears as much as anything these days. “I know they know we’re coming but...I don’t know. Somehow I still feel like I’m showing up at their door unannounced.” She pauses for a beat, the room quiet save their steady breaths. “It’s been so long. I was just a girl.”

“They’re your family,” Bellamy assures her. His voice is soothing, like honey on a sore throat. “They’ll be happy to see you, and happy to meet Abbott too.”

“You’re right,” Clarke agrees, but Bellamy knows her well enough to hear the doubt that laces her words. 

“Do you need a distraction?” he asks, his voice thick with something that ignites a fire in Clarke’s veins. 

She huffs a laugh. “I would not oppose one.”

Bellamy’s lips trail down her throat before he turns her onto her back, making his way down her body. His rough hands push her night dress up before they stroke up and down the outsides of her thighs. The movement chases a wildfire across her skin, just before Bellamy’s lips press against her inner thigh. He knows her body as if it’s his own and plays it like a well-tuned instrument until she’s panting, floating into the stars, leaving Earth behind her. One of his hands trails up her stomach and Clarke grabs it, letting him anchor her. Letting him carry her home.

--∞--

Clarke and Bellamy meet the party they’re traveling with over the next three days at the Polis stables. It’s a combination of Azgedan guards, those hand-selected by Roan, and their usual Trikru guards. Octavia and Lincoln are coming as well. It felt wrong not to bring them - they’re family too. 

Bellamy, already atop his own horse, looks over at her once she mounts Orion. This time, Abbott is secured to his chest instead of hers. She feels a swell of emotion when he briefly looks down at their son, his large hand landing on his head, before turning back to Clarke. He gives her a reassuring smile - one that she returns. After all, it was her idea to travel to Cleevelai, the capital of Podakru. She was holding Abbott when he was six months old, and she decided on a whim that she wanted him to see the lakes. She wanted to show her son the place his grandmother grew up in, the place they both loved. Before she could talk herself out of it, she sent a messenger with a letter to the king - her grandfather.

Of course, they would talk business while there as well. Podakru and Trikru never had much of an opportunity for any direct trade agreements given the Azgeda territory between them, but things were different now. They had already talked to Roan about several possible routes, and he agreed to it, granted that he would receive a percentage of the profit. That isn’t what Clarke is nervous about though. She suspects those conversations will move forward with little to no conflict. What makes her nervous is seeing her family again after all these years. 

Even as a girl, Clarke had only spent a week out of each year with them. But even so, she remembers those weeks fondly. After so many years apart, she wants them to be proud of the woman and queen she’s become. She wants to be a positive reflection of her mother, their daughter. To be anything less than would feel like letting her mother down.

--∞--

Clarke smiles as she watches Bellamy and Octavia wade through the water. They walk until it reaches their knees, despite it being so cold this early in spring. She squints against the sun, hair blowing in the breeze and holding her hand at her brow so that she can see them better. Octavia is talking to Abbott, held in Bellamy’s arms, and making him giggle as she pokes his stomach.

“He looks just like her.”

Clarke turns to find her uncle, the oldest of her mother’s two brothers, standing beside her. 

They had arrived two days ago. Their journey wasn’t long, but it was made more difficult with a toddler. All the same, it was pleasantly uneventful. Clarke isn’t sure that any Trikru party could have ever claimed that passing through Azgedan territory was uneventful, and yet, it was. 

For all of Clarke’s worries, they were welcomed warmly by her mother’s family. In fact, Clarke was taken aback by how excited, how emotional, they all were upon seeing her. She hadn’t imagined they actually missed her. Yet, her grandmother started crying, pulling her into her arms before turning her attention to Abbott, speechless at the sight of him. Her grandfather and uncles even seemed choked up. Her uncles had families of their own now too, several kids ranging from about five to thirteen between the two of them. They’re more reserved than Freya and the rest of Aurora’s family, but there is still an undeniable warmth to them. Being with them feels like falling asleep under the sun, comforting in the simplest of ways. 

“He really does,” Clarke answers. “Like her, and his father.”

Clarke had never looked much like her mother, neither in coloring nor features. There were minute details, commonalities between her mother and her that she picked her memories apart to find after they were gone, but nothing obvious. 

Her uncle clears his throat and Clarke tears her eyes from her family, giving him her full attention. He seems nearly nervous, and she isn’t sure what to make of that. 

“I wanted to let you know something about your mother - about Abigail.”

Clarke waits for him to continue, unsure of what else to say. 

“She wasn’t forced to marry your father - at least, not in the way that you probably think.”

Clarke tenses, an ancient defensiveness waking in her. What does he know about impossible choices? About choices that don’t feel like choices at all. But he must read her discomfort, because he hurries to explain. 

“I don’t mean - I don’t want you to think that we forced her to marry him. Not so that you don’t think less of us or anything like that, but I think it’s important that you know how brave your mother was. It was her idea to marry for an alliance. In fact, my parents were wary of it, even with the dire need to put an end to the war. But my sister - she was a true Queen, in every sense of the word, before she ever held the title. She knew the marriage would save lives, and so she insisted upon it.”

Clarke swallows thickly. She isn’t sure why she had never considered that possibility. She supposes she never would have guessed that anyone would willingly leave their home, their life, to marry a stranger. She supposes she did as well, but it is hardly a comparable situation. 

“Thank you for telling me.”

Her uncle nods, a smile teasing his lips as he glances towards Bellamy and Octavia. 

“During one of your visits here, she told me that marrying your father was the best decision she ever made. But not because of the alliance, or ending the war. But because of you.”

--∞--

Clarke stands against one of the columns of the training center, unnoticed in the shadows. Despite the days stretching longer during summer, the sun is already falling towards the horizon, enveloping the world in a gold hue. She came to fetch them for dinner, but couldn’t bring herself to interrupt them once she saw how much fun they’re having. 

Bellamy is sparring with Abbott, who celebrated his eleventh birthday days ago. There are subtle lines of gray in her husband’s curls now, but you wouldn’t be able to tell his age by the way he easily dodges Abbott’s sword, pausing to instruct him as they go. After nearly ten minutes of watching them, Aurora runs by her, nearly knocking her over as she passes. August follows her a minute later, running after his sister the best he can with legs so much shorter than hers. Apparently the other two got tired of waiting. 

“I want to join,” Aurora demands, interrupting her father and brother as she runs up beside them. At eight years old, their daughter is already too fearless for her own good. 

“Me too,” August pipes in, although the four year old is nowhere near old enough to hold his own sword.

“It’s my turn tonight,” Abbott argues, elbowing Aurora out of the way.

“Hey!”

“Alright, knock it off,” Bellamy chuckles, right before his eyes meet Clarke’s across the distance. He smiles, his whole face lighting up at the sight of her. “It’s nobody’s turn,” he adds, picking up August. “We’re late for dinner.”

Bellamy sets down August when he reaches Clarke, their son already squirming impatiently out of his father’s hold when he sees Abbott and Aurora running ahead. 

“Hi,” Bellamy greets her, wrapping an arm around her waist and giving her a chaste kiss. “Sorry we’re late.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me,” Clarke quips, offering a teasing smile as they follow their kids out of the training center. 

The kids run ahead of them, August trailing behind, up the steep road that leads to the castle that they’ve made their home. The sun is nearly gone now, casting a brilliant orange across the houses they walk by, punctured by sharp shadows. 

“Hey,” Bellamy starts, wrapping his arms around her from behind, looking at their kids over her shoulder. Clarke laughs as he holds her, trying to continue walking ahead. August is only a few minutes away from a tantrum. “Let’s have another.”

Clarke huffs a laugh. 

“What?” Bellamy asks, moving to her side again, but keeping her close with an arm around her shoulders. “We’re so good at it.”

“At what part exactly?” Clarke teases. She’d be lying if she claimed she hadn’t thought about it, but she won’t admit that so easily. Not yet. 

Bellamy leans closer, lips brushing against her ear. “All of it.”

--∞--

Clarke strokes her daughter’s dark curls, her small body pressed against hers as Clarke’s gaze remains on her husband. The kids are fed, bathed, and now sprawled across their bed as Bellamy reads aloud to them. Aurora and August are snuggled between them and Abbott is tucked into Bellamy’s other side, eyes following along with the book but growing heavier with every page turned. 

Even after all these years, there are no perfect days. There are perfect moments though, and the more jagged ones that punctuate them are smoothed over by the love that she’s threaded through her life. It was a painstaking process, one she dedicated herself to bit by bit, year after year. But the end result was a perfect net, always there to catch her if she falls. 

Every experience, every piece of who she is, has led her to this moment. For that, she can only be grateful. When she was a girl, she had understood water and ice as two separate entities. One was weak, and one was strong. The way her aunt chastised her mother only cemented this belief. She realizes now that ice is only fortified water. Ice is only water too frozen to sustain life. Sometimes that coldness is necessary to survive. Sometimes that kind of strength is what keeps a person going. Clarke can forgive herself for that now. But just as a person can freeze without nurture, she now knows they can melt just as easily, under the right conditions. It’s only a different kind of strength. 

Clarke doesn’t find it necessary to choose anymore. She was born of water and ice. Warm and welcoming, hard and strong. People, she knows now, can be both. Her husband, and the others she has made her home with in Anapolei, are a different kind of strength. Steady, and full of life. The kind of strength that both nurtures and blooms. The kind of strength that stands the test of time. It cannot be a coincidence that this is where she put down roots.

Usually it’s only August that falls asleep before Bellamy finishes, but they’ve had a long day, and it isn’t long before all three kids have dozed off, a symphony of soft snores and steady breaths. As gently as he can manage, Bellamy sets the book on his bedside table, trying not to disturb Abbott who has thrown his arm over his father’s stomach in his sleep. He turns to look at Clarke, finding her already staring back at him, and offers a soft smile. All these years later, and he can still make her heart flutter with a simple look.

“Look what we did,” he whispers, pressing a kiss to the top of August’s head. 

Clarke offers a good natured eye roll. “Message received,” she whispers back. 

Bellamy chuckles, the rumble of his chest causing Abbott to shift in his sleep, turning onto his opposite side. Bellamy reaches across the other two, cupping Clarke’s face in one hand, thumb stroking her cheek. “And?”

Clarke can’t help the smile that emerges on her face, warmth already coiling inside her at the simple feel of his hand on her face. “And...and I think we should see how fast we can get them to bed.”