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Coming Home

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He had been so charming.

That was how he made Clarke fall in love with him. He told her how beautiful she was, how beautiful the world was and how he could make her see the beauty, whenever he was with her. All she had to do was follow him.

It had started with adventures. She’d been a city kid, used to high-rises and coffee shops, but when she went to college, she’d gone as far away from the city as she could, off to Mount Weather College, a small school in the middle of nowhere, in the rinky dink City of Ark, a city that held the distinction of being the actual smallest city in the United States. Clarke kind of loved the small town feel of it. The way the national park was right outside the borders of town. She had never been in the wilderness. It had made her want to paint all day long, never mind all her science requirements for premed.

He had been the one to suggest the camping trips. He’d said that since they were there in the middle of the greatest natural beauty there was, that Clarke and their friends should really get to know it. She knew that although he included everyone, he was really doing it for her, because she’d never been camping, she’d barely even ever spent time in the woods. Not even for a walk. Her family was the kind that would take trips to Paris and London and Berlin. They vacationed for museums and restaurants, not mud and rocks and trees and rivers, but he wanted her to see, feel, hear and taste the beauty that was the world.

Truth be told, she might have fallen in love with him the moment he stopped her and the rest in the woods, held his arm out, and showed her the deer, peacefully grazing in the meadow. “Shh,” he’d whispered, so close to her ear that his words sent shivers down her spine. “Stay silent. Don’t move. Don’t ruin it.” She nodded, breathless. “Just watch.” And she stayed silent. She didn’t move. Afraid to ruin it.

She snorted to herself and it was louder in the dark, sleepy car than she would have thought, startling herself out of her own reverie.

If she chose to, she could take that one moment to illustrate what her life with Finn Collins would be like.

Stay silent. Don’t move. Without me, you will never see anything good. Without me, you’ll ruin it all. And she, naive and easily led, had believed him. The truth is, she should have ruined it a long time ago.

She should have told him to buzz off, she could have adventures on her own. She could choose her own paths, she could be the one to decide what was worth seeing and what wasn’t.

But try telling a naive nineteen year old that the dreamy boy who wanted to show her the world only wanted her to see his version of it.

Clarke sighed. Quieter, this time. Mindful of the late hour and the meditative woosh woosh of the windshield wipers. Silence was good right now. It allowed her the space to just be. And no one had made the decision but her.

But back then, she had followed his lead wherever he went. He captured her heart, good and thoroughly, and she was willing to put up with anything to be with him. It’s not like he was going anywhere she didn’t want to go, so the compromises she made never seemed like much at all, back in those early days. If ever she mentioned something was interesting, he would search it out and get up another adventure for their group of friends. And everyone always had fun, whether it was zip lining or mountain climbing or just camping out under the stars, cooking over the open flame, counting the wishes falling from the sky. It was a magical time, full of love and friends and beauty and adventure.

How was she to know that it would end?
***

It was still raining when she got to Raven’s house. She hadn’t been there in ten years, since they had been roommates. And yet, it still felt a bit like home. She pulled into the drive and Raven came limping out, before she turned off the engine. Even in the rain and without her brace, she managed to throw herself into Clarke’s arms and hang on as if she was never going to let her go.

“Fucking, Finn,” Raven finally said. “We should have fucking known.” And Clarke thought those were tears on her cheek, not raindrops.

“I don’t want to talk about him, Raven. I want to just forget him.”

Raven nodded, seriously, and stood back, putting all her weight on her good leg. “Yeah. I get that.” Then she shot a glance towards Clarke’s car, with the storage container on the top, and the passenger seat full of bags, and the trunk full, too. “But how are you going to manage forgetting him when you have them?”

Clarke sighed. “Yeah. They make it complicated.” She went over the car and opened the back door. She stopped and looked into the back seat. “Both dead asleep.”

Raven followed her and looked in. “God they’re cute.” She shook her head in wonder. “They look just like him, Clarke.”

“Cute was never his problem, huh?”

“Nope. His cute was our problem. And his charm. He always knew how to tell us what we wanted to hear so we would follow him to the ends of the earth. I followed him to Ark and found him in love with you. And you followed him to DC, gave him kids and he still dicked around and took off for better adventures. And now we’re both here.”

“Fuck, Raven. What am I going to do?”

“Here’s not such a bad place to be. I’ll tell you what you are going to do. You’re going to take those adorable children and put them to bed in my guest room. And you are going to sleep in my room with me, where we are going drink gallons of red wine and eat buckets of chocolate, and I am going to catch you up on all your old friends in Ark, and what they have been up to since you went off and married that idiot and let him convince you that you aren’t the awesomest woman in the world. And then tomorrow, your moving truck will be here, and we will get you moved into your new house, hurray for divorce settlements, and then we’re going to have a party with all your old friends who are dying to see you.”

“Honestly, Raven. I don’t know if I want to have a party. I don’t really want them to know what a failure I am.” Just the thought of her old friends seeing her this way, alone, broken, weak, made her want to hide.

Raven narrowed her eyes. “When you say ‘them’ do you actually mean ‘them’ or do you mean Bellamy Blake?”

Clarke snorted, feeling comforted by her old sarcastic defense mechanisms. It was better than feeling weak at least. “Oh come on. It was nothing but a crush and it was ancient history.”

Raven laughed slightly. “It wasn’t just a crush, Clarke. You were partners, friends. Even when you went back to Finn, Bellamy was still on your side. Your biggest defender. He wouldn’t let anyone give you a hard time, did you know that? Not even me. When you left Ark with Finn, finally, you would not believe how long he stayed drunk.”

Clarke made a face. “Raven, stop. That was ten years ago. I’m friends with him on Facebook. I know he’s with Gina. They’ve been together for ages.”

“They broke up, like a year ago. Bellamy is shit at Facebook. He never updates. But you’ve been checking out his Facebook page, haven’t you?” She grinned and lifted one eyebrow at her old friend. Her best friend. Her friend that she missed so much.

“Raven, are you aware that it is raining, and dark, and we are standing here getting wet. Without wine, which is clearly required for this conversation.”

Raven laughed and spun on her good heel. “It’s a good thing I trust that you are fully competent to bring your kids and whatever you need for our sleepover into the house, because I’m not helping you with it. Well except for providing the wine and the wonderfully cozy beds, that is.” She walked into her little house, still laughing, leaving the door open, the warm, homey light a beacon to Clarke and her small family.

“God, I love you, you cranky bitch. I’m so glad I’m back.”

She could hear the laughter pealing from inside the house. She bent to unfasten her youngest from the booster seat, lifting the limp body into her arms, and carrying her sleeping child into the house.

Chapter Text

The rain was gone when they woke up in the morning. Raven had convinced Clarke to drink way more wine than she should have and now she had a hangover. She simply couldn’t drink the way she could when she was a college kid, now that she was 32 and a mom who was responsible for early risers who liked to squeal when they laughed and hang all over her while she made them breakfast.

But instead of squealing kids, Clarke woke up to sunshine through the windows and a soft pillow. She sat up in bed and looked around. Raven’s room was a wreck. Aside from Raven’s own clutter of things she was tinkering with, she’d made Clarke bring in her suitcase, so they could pick out her moving day outfit. All Clarke’s clothes were strewn about the floor, and the short shorts and tank top were laid out on Raven’s chair.

“I must have been drunker than I thought if I let Raven plan to dress me like Daisy Duke for moving into my house.” She laughed at Raven’s unsubtle attempts to get her to seduce Bellamy Blake. Clarke pretended that she didn’t feel her stomach tighten at the thought of seducing Bellamy.

She left Raven’s bedroom, and walked through the halls. The smell of pancakes and bacon filled her with joy. As did the conversation she could hear from downstairs. Her kids, chatting with Her Raven. She smiled. “Finally.” She was pissed at Finn and herself, both, for keeping her separated from her best friend these last few years. Why had she let him cut her off from everyone? She didn’t understand why she had given Finn all her power. And she wasn’t sure how to get it back. She shook the thought away and headed down stairs.

When she had lived here senior year, the house had been falling apart. Raven had followed Finn here from Texas, and when that had fallen apart, she had taken her small inheritance from her grandmother and bought the old cottage. It was fine for a couple of young kids. But in the intervening years, Raven had renovated the old house into a warm and comfortable haven. All the wood glowed. Each room was painted a different color and it all harmonized into a beautiful whole.

“Good morning, everybody,” Clarke said as she walked into the kitchen.

“Mommy!” Violet said, she was sitting on a stool by Raven, dropping pancake batter on a griddle in broad splotches.

“Aunt Raven made us breakfast,” Leo said, grinning over his plate, full of chocolate chip pancakes, eggs, and bacon. He picked up a tall glass filled with creamy cold chocolate and took a big slurp through a straw.

“Milk shakes, Raven? Really? You do know it’s morning, right?”

“Of course I know it’s morning. And I haven’t seen these little dudes in, like five years. Violet wasn’t even walking the last time I saw her. It is a day for celebration, and celebration means milkshakes. Besides they have to know who the best auntie is. I bet they don’t even remember me.” She swooped down on Violet and squeezed her around the waist, swinging her over to the kitchen table and setting her in front of her own breakfast.

Raven was wearing her brace this morning. Clarke stepped up to her while Violet and Leo dug into their breakfasts. “I’m sorry, Raven. I should have had you out to visit, all those times you asked to come. At first it was just Finn always had a reason why we couldn’t have people out, and then… I don’t know, I didn’t want people to see who I had become. Raven. We have got to stop talking about then. I just want to move on. Talk about something happy.”

Raven nodded and smiled. “Milkshakes are happy,” she said loudly, looking at the kids who were busy sucking theirs down, slurping with a great roaring noise. “I’m going to make sure they remember me, this time, instead of forgetting me over a measly five years.”

“I remember you,” Leo said, finishing his milk shake and looking up at her with big, blue eyes. He looked like Finn, but he had her eyes. So did Violet.

“You can’t remember her. The last time you saw her you were three years old.”

“Yes I do. We sat around the kitchen table and we took apart the toaster. She taught me how to use a screwdriver.”

“You remember that?”

He nodded and took a bite of bacon. “Yup. It was fun.”

“You took apart our toaster?” Clarke asked.

“I put it back together,” she said, as if that made it okay.

“So I suppose I have you to thank for him dismantling every toy he had until he was six.”

“You took apart your toys until you were six?” Raven turned brimming eyes on the little boy.

“I still take them apart,” he said. “I was six when I learned how to put them back together.”

Raven grabbed Clarke’s wrist, squeezing it tightly and then dropped it and sat next to Leo. “Can I have a bite of this pancake?”

“Sure. I’m full now.”

“Very wise,” she nodded. She looked back at Clarke, chewing her pancake. “Leo is a mechanic, Clarke. Are you sure he’s not my son?”

“Son by long distance osmosis.”

“Works for me. You kids ready to go see your new house?”

Violet jumped up and down in her seat. “We get a yard!”

“You sure do. A great big yard. And it’s already got a tree house.”

“A tree house?” Clarke said. “You didn’t tell me there was a tree house.”

“Well, there wasn’t when I found the house for you.”

“You built a treehouse in my backyard?”

“Nope.”

“Well then how did it get there?”

“I’m not the one that built it.” Raven smirked.

Clarke narrowed her eyes at her. “Raven. Who built the treehouse in my backyard?”

The smirk broadened into a grin. “Bellamy.”

Clarke’s mouth fell open. “Why is Bellamy Blake building tree houses in my backyard before I even get to town. Why isn’t he building them in his sister Octavia’s backyard?”

“He already built one in Octavia’s back yard. He tried to build one in Monty and Miller’s back yard, but they didn’t want a treehouse for their two year old climber to fall out of and break his neck. Turns out, Bellamy Blake loves building tree houses. He says he likes to build stuff with this hands. It gives him a break,” Raven said, smirk back on, “from all the intellectual work,” she leaned in to Clarke with her shoulder, “of teaching ancient history,” and whispered the last into her ear, “and writing books on Roman emperors.”

“Knock that off,” Clarke said. “That doesn’t work anymore.”

Junior year, after she’d found out about Raven but before Finn had won her back, when she’d had self respect and refused to be with a man who would cheat on his girlfriend, she had confessed to Raven that it turned her on when Bellamy Blake had talked history. He always seemed like such a jock, so popular, such a physical force, that whenever he showed his intellectual side, she just about melted. For the few months she had been broken up with Finn, it had fueled her flirtation with Bellamy, which led to briefly dating and that one amazing night, before winter break.

But it was winter break where she had gotten mugged and the mugger had taken her purse with all of her money and her train ticket home and her cel phone, and it was Finn who was the only number she had memorized. It was Finn who came out to the train station, picked her up, and drove her all the way home to New York City. He stayed all break with her in their guest room, and her mom and dad had loved him to pieces. By the time they got back to school, they were back together and back in love. And Bellamy went back to being just one of her best friends, even if she caught him looking at her longingly sometimes.

She spent the summer between junior and senior year living with Raven in the house she’d bought when she’d first arrived after she graduated from her own school. Ready to settle down with Finn. The house was a pit, but Raven was awesome. And she was only living with Raven for three months before Finn had asked her to marry him and she had said yes. In retrospect, she wondered if the proposal had been his way to lay claim to her, to take her away from the influence of Raven, who was his oldest friend and ex fiancé, but seemed to prefer Clarke after his betrayal. And maybe also, that ring on her finger was a sign to someone else. A big Stay Out sign, aimed directly at Bellamy Blake.

If she only had it to do over again, she wondered if she would have made different choices. She always wondered. And Bellamy had always been her biggest what if. What if she had called him when she was mugged, instead of Finn? Even now, all it took was Raven’s mention of him building tree houses to take a break from writing academic books, and memories of broad shoulders and curly hair filled her head.

“Earth to Clarke,” Raven said. Huge smile. “Did we lose you somewhere in there?”

“Nothing. Just thinking about the house. Really. Thanks for finding it for me. You know I trust you implicitly, but it’s kind of weird buying a house sight unseen. Tree house or not.”

“It’s a great house, Clarke. I wasn’t the only one looking out for you. I had my entire team searching. I wasn’t even the one who found it.”

“Don’t tell me it was Bellamy.”

“No. Actually, it was someone else.”

Suddenly Raven seemed to be avoiding her gaze.

“Someone else? Who was it?”

“I’m so glad you came home, Clarke, but if you don’t like the tree house I’m sure we can just get rid of it. It’s so much fun to tear stuff apart and knock ‘em down. Destruction is my middle name. I’m sure I could find some charges somewhere, and we can blow the thing up.”

“NOOO!” the kids cried in chorus.

“Don’t blow up my tree house, mommy,” Violet wailed.

“I want a tree house.” Leo begged. “Please let us keep it.”

Clarke laughed and raised her hands up in defeat. “I’m not against the tree house. I was just surprised. As long as it’s safe, I have no problem with it.”

“I’m positive Bellamy would never build you an unsafe tree house.”

“It’s not MY tree house, Raven. It’s my kids’.” She knew that Bellamy never would build her anything unsafe. She suddenly remembered how protective he was. How he had raised Octavia and put off his own college education until she was done with high school. How he had worked as a janitor and handyman on campus, earning free tuition for both him and Octavia. How he would sacrifice anything for her, and as he came to love his friends, he transferred that sacrifice over to them. She remembered how he protected her from everything he could, but he couldn’t protect her from the person who had most damaged her life, her own husband. Or maybe it was herself.

She was not happy with the way her thoughts were going.

It was hard to remember, sometimes. She was saving herself, here, and it was a long process. She was not looking for a man to save her, or to protect her, or to show her what life was really like.

She wanted to do this on her own, for the first time in her life. This was why she had come back to Ark. This was why she was moving into her own house. This was why she was going to focus on herself, not another man. She needed to figure out who she was, outside of Finn, and their horrible marriage, and the divorce and him running off to Anapurna, after the divorce, because saving the world was more important than being in the same country as his own kids. No. It wasn’t about Finn anymore. And she wasn’t going to let it be about Bellamy, either.

This was about Clarke. She was coming home, all right, but she was coming home to herself.

“You know what, Raven,” she said, “Enough talk. Let’s go see our treehouse.”

Raven’s grin was accompanied by cheers from an eight year old and a six year old. Clarke couldn’t help smiling, either.

Chapter Text

They pulled up to the house. It was a small blue house with two stories and a porch, with similar houses on either side, and a tree lined street. She’d seen all the pictures, but it was different seeing it in real life and knowing that it was going to be her home for the foreseeable future. The moving truck was already there and the movers were bringing boxes in.

Leo was out of the car before Clarke could even unbuckle, and starting to run around behind the house.

“Hey! Kid!” Clarke shouted. “Slow down. Don’t go taking off without me and your sister.”

Leo stopped and turned back to Clarke, every muscle in his body showing his reluctance.

“Mommy! I can’t get out!” Violet called from the back seat, in a near panic. She was so excited she couldn’t unfasten the booster seat.

“I got it,” Raven said, opening the door and popping the button to free the little girl. She held out her hand out to Violet, her cane in her other hand.

“Don’t you guys want to see the house? Don’t you want to see your bedrooms?”

“No, mom, I want to see the tree house,” Leo said, his face set in the stubborn look that Finn had always said was hers to a tee.

“Me, too,” Violet said, making a fair approximation of the same look.

“But I have to go talk to the movers and make sure everything got here okay, I really can’t go wandering around the yard yet, can’t you guys wait? Then we can go exploring.”

“Clarke,” Raven said. “Why don’t you take care of the movers, and I’ll take these kids and get out of your hair? You don’t want to them to be underfoot anyway.”

“Really?” She was embarrassed by the sudden prickle of tears behind her eyes.

“Of course? What am I here for? To help you out.”

Clarke ducked her head. She was so used to doing it on her own. Even when Finn had been around, he had always expected her to deal with anything to do with the kids. It was her job to keep them from getting underfoot, no matter what else she was doing.

“Yay! I really missed you Aunt Raven,” Leo said when she caught up to him with Violet.

Raven grinned back at Clarke. “See? I’m the favorite aunt. Octavia won’t stand a chance. She’s a half a day behind already.”

Clarke laughed. “Is that what this is about? Chocolate chip pancakes and milk shakes? Competition with Octavia?”

“Damn right. Come on, kids.. Let’s go climb a treehouse.”

Clarke laughed and watched her kids go off with her dearest friend. It felt good. Really good. To be there with Raven. It felt right, and she hadn’t even stepped foot in the house. So she thought it was time she did.

It was an old house and it hadn’t been renovated. Whoever had owned it last had lived here for a very long time and it still seemed as if it existed in an earlier, simpler time. She loved it immediately. She felt welcomed. She felt at home.

She talked to the movers and made sure they put everything where it was supposed to go. Opened all the doors and looked into the little rooms. It would be the perfect place for them to start over. But first, she’d need to get started on lunch. In the kitchen she started unpacking the boxes that she had planned, being her organized self, to be the first opened, with all the necessary items for getting settled in, snacks and cleaning supplies and books for bedtime and dishes and plates for their first meals.

She could see the yard through the window and the kids playing in the treehouse. It was a great tree house. She had almost been afraid that it would be some extravagant, fancy, impressive thing that would have made everything awkward, but it wasn’t. It was perfect. It was a small rough play cabin set up in a big oak, with a porch and a ladder and a rope swing, and that was all, and that was all it needed to be. Leo scampered up and down the ladder and swung from the rope while Violet and Raven went more slowly, helping each other up and down the tricky ladder.

She wondered if Raven weren’t enjoying the tree house more than the kids.

She was washing off some dishes, watching them play through the window when a knock came from kitchen door.

“So they like the tree house?”

She froze for a moment at the familiar voice. She wouldn’t ever forget it.

“Bellamy,” she said and turned.

She couldn’t help taking in a big breath of air at the sight of him, leaned up against the doorjamb, dressed in a navy tshirt with his arms crossed over his chest. His curly hair still fell over his forehead, but the temples were dusted silver in place of black and he wore tortoiseshell glasses. Her heart flipped right over inside of her chest.

“Hey princess,” he said, and smiled the same smile. The bastard. She was already in his arms before she had registered that she really shouldn’t go in for the full contact hug, but it was too late and he was hugging her back. “I missed you,” he said into her hair, and if she didn’t do something she would be breaking down in tears while Bellamy Blake embraced her and she couldn’t have that, no. She couldn’t have that.

She pulled back from him and punched him on the arm. “You built us a tree house!” And if she thought that channelling Raven’s tendency to use physical violence to show her feelings would make her a hard ass like Raven, she was wrong, because she immediately broke into tears anyway.

He pulled her back into the hug and just held her, without saying anything until the tears petered out. “I missed you too,” she said.

“I built the tree house because I like building things.” He said. “And because I remember what it was like to be a kid and move to a new town, and not know anyone and have your life be all upside down. I wanted to give them something to be excited about.”

“So it wasn’t for me at all.”

“Nope. You are a force of nature. You don’t need no stinking tree house.”

She laughed out loud and stepped back, wiping her eyes. “Well thanks. I needed that. But I am glad to see you.”

“I’m glad you’re back. We all are. You should have come back years ago.”

“You’re right. I probably should have. I kind of wished I had. But I didn’t. So I’m here now.”

“Well good,” he said, and leaned back against the door jamb again, arms over his chest showing off his biceps. This time he had a big smile stretched across his face. Clarke had to take a few steps back and hang on to the sink, because her legs went weak.

“Can I offer you something to drink?” she asked, always the hostess, and then looked around the kitchen, full of boxes. “I mean, do you want a bottle of water? I don’t exactly have any beer yet.”

“No, I’m okay. Maybe I should have waited until you were a bit more settled, I just, I saw your car, and I wanted to say hi.”

“How did you see my car?”

“I live across the street. I’ve been watching those movers all morning. It’s a good thing they look professional or I would have been over here telling them the what for and have been all up in your business before you even pulled in the drive.”

“What?” Clarke’s head got a little light. “You live across the street? But your house is on the other side of town. I know I’ve been there enough times.” Bellamy and Octavia had been townies, living in their mom’s old house, and Bellamy never wanted Octavia to miss out on the on campus life style, so they’d had kids over constantly. It had been totally illegal. Bellamy bought all the booze, and required that anyone who drank either walk home or stay the night. He would take their car keys before he gave them their first drink. She smiled at the irresponsible responsibility of it all. They were such kids then.

“No, Octavia’s living there with Lincoln and their kids. I didn’t need such a big house for just me. I’ve been renting the little white house on the corner. That’s how I knew you were here. I had to say hi, and I wanted to see if, uhm,” he nodded out the window where Raven was standing on the porch of the tree house, shaking a stick at the kids on the ground, demanding something of them that caused them to run around the yard like chickens with their heads cut off. “The kids liked their tree house. Maybe I should build one for Raven.”

Clarke laughed at the sight of them. “That’s great,” she said. “No really, Bellamy. Thanks for doing that. I really feel welcomed.”

“Clarke, you are welcome. You belong here. You’re family, no matter what has happened these last ten years.”

Clarke looked at him, nodding. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.” Then she sighed. “I have to get some lunch going before these kids lose it. You want to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with us? I haven’t had a chance to go to the grocery store yet but I’ve got plenty of bread and jam and peanut butter.”

“Oh. Yeah. I should probably warn you,” Bellamy said, his voice suddenly apologetic.

“What…” she asked in dread for what might be coming next.

“When I saw your car, I happened to be on the phone…”

“Yes?” she prompted, when he didn’t finish his sentence. He just looked at her and grimaced. It had been a long time since she had been able to read Bellamy’s facial expressions, but this one set off some familiar bells.

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I was on the phone with Octavia.”

“But I love Octavia,” she said because it was true but that didn’t explain the hesitancy in her own voice.

“Especially when she declares she is coming over and bringing pizza and everyone you ever knew, right?”

“No.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“But, I just got here! Look at all the boxes! The movers are still—“

“You’re back!” Octavia stood in the kitchen doorway, looking exactly the same. “You bitch.”

“Octavia!” Clarke squeaked out, and then she was engulfed in a pint size hurricane of hugs and kisses.

Chapter Text

“You missed my wedding,” Octavia said as soon as she let Clarke free from her surprisingly strong arms. She pointed an accusatory finger at her. “And don’t think I don’t know it wasn’t your husband who made you miss it.”

“Ex husband,” Clarke said, firmly. “The divorce was final a year ago.”

“So what took you so long to come home?”

“You do know that I’m from New York City, right Octavia? I am not from Ark.”

She snorted. “It’s not where you were born, it’s where you belong. So what took you so long?”

“Life is complicated, Octavia. We had a life in DC, a house, school, friends. Their father.”

Octavia sneered. She honest to god sneered. “Their father. Is this the father who ran off with some doctors without borders chick to the ass end of nowhere? Is this the same guy who made you give up your dream of becoming a doctor when you got pregnant? Is that who you had in DC?”

“Octavia…” Bellamy warned.

“What? I know what it’s like to be abandoned by a father. And so do you Bellamy Blake. He’s not getting off light on this one.”

“He’s not here, Octavia. This is Clarke.”

“Yeah, and he abandoned her too.”

“I wanted him to go,” Clarke said, her voice low. She gasped after she said it. She’d never admitted it before, but it was a thing she had allowed herself to feel when she was alone at night, thinking back over the last ten years of her life. You weren’t supposed to want your marriage to fail. You weren’t supposed to want your husband to run off with another woman or abandon your children for global conservation adventures. But she was glad for it.

“Good,” Octavia said, her grin feral. “And now you get to live the life you were meant to live.”

“I don’t know what life I was meant to live,” she confessed. The last time she’d been in Ark, everyone had known what her future would be. They were already calling her Dr Griffin and coming to her for advice with every injury and illness. When she left with Finn, she thought that she’d take a year off, get married and then apply to medical school in DC, where Finn already had a job with a non profit. But the year off stretched into two when she got pregnant with Leo, and then she was too busy with an infant and then when she was just ready to try again for medical school, along came Violet. And by the time Clarke had turned around, it was ten years later and she was divorced with two kids, working a job that didn’t really fire her up, but she had no desire to go back to school and devote her life to medicine. She had no idea at all what she was supposed to do, or what she wanted to do.

Clarke looked up when she realized the kitchen had been silent for a good few minutes. She’d gotten lost in her head again. Octavia was studying her in concern. Bellamy was studying them both. Clarke turned back to the window, not really wanting either of them to see her emotions on her face right now.

“If I see Finn Collins here I will kill him. I am not kidding. I will kill him dead. I will—“

“Before you start plotting murder, babe, can you go get the pizzas out of the car?”

And there was Lincoln, with a toddler clinging to his neck, holding the hand of a young girl with long, wild, curly hair. “Uncle Bell!” the big one said and went running to Bellamy. He didn’t even startle, just scooped her up, and turned to Clarke.

“Say hi to Clark, Penny.”

Penny squinted her eyes at Clarke. “Where’s my friends?” she accused.

“Your friends?” Clarke asked, startled. “I don’t know. Where are your friends.”

“You were supposed to bring my best friends.” It was Octavia’s glare staring back at Clarke now from the little girl’s face and she almost wanted to laugh.

“Uhm, Octavia may have been talking Aunt Clarke and her new cousins up, for the last month or so.” Lincoln smiled and then walked over to Clarke, hugging her, one armed, with the smaller curly headed daughter still hiding her face in his neck. “We really missed you, Clarke. It’s good to have you home.”

It felt good to be in Lincoln’s embrace too. Not the same as it had in Bellamy’s she noted, but good. Family. She’d always been on his side in the infamous hiding-Lincoln-from-Bellamy debacle of a dozen years ago. Bellamy almost didn’t forgive her for introducing her coffee shop, art-show friend Lincoln to Octavia, but now here they were, running the coffee shop together, with their own kids, two nieces that Bellamy clearly adored.

“So is this Sophia?” Clarke asked.

Sophia peaked out to look at her. “Uh huh.”

“Do you want to meet my kids, too?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well they’re outside playing in the—“ she looked out the window to find no sign of her kids or Raven in the tree house. “Where’d they go?”

“Here we are!” Raven called from the back door, holding hands with Leo and Violet. “I told you I’d bring you your cousins. I am the best aunt ever!”

“No fair!” Octavia called from the door, her arms filled with boxes of pizza.

“How many pizzas do you think we are going to eat, Octavia!” Clarke gasped.

“Uh uh. No way, Raven,” Octavia said, ignoring Clarke as she dropped the pizzas on the counter and went up to Raven. “I get the cousins. They’re my kids. You can have gadgets and blowing things up but there is no way you get credit for the cousins.”

She put her fists on her hips and stared down at Leo and Violet, who blinked up at her, kind of in awe. Then Octavia dropped to her knees in front of them and pulled them into a hug. “Hi, guys. I’m your aunt Octavia. I’ve been watching you grow up from afar forever, just waiting for you to come home to us. I’m so glad you’re finally here. We are going to have so much fun.” She reached her hand out behind her for her girls. “Come on munchkins, meet your cousins. This is Leo and Violet.”

Penny squirmed down from Bellamy’s arms and ran over to them.

“Hi! I’m Penelope,” she said. Stuck her hand out to shake, which Violet immediately grabbed.

“Come on! We’re playing pirates in our tree house!” Violet said.

“Cool!” And the two girls ran back outside together, holding hands across the yard.

“Are we going to let them steal our booty?” Raven asked Leo.

Leo looked at her like she was crazy. “No.”

“What’s your plan, captain?” Octavia asked him.

He looked at her. “Blow ‘em up?”

“That’s my boy,” Raven said. She tucked his hand in her arm, and Octavia tucked his other hand in her arm and the three of them headed out into the yard. They strode out to the tree house, screaming a barbaric war cry.

Clarke closed the back door on the noise. “I sense a terrifying alliance,” she said.

“Mom! You’re home!” Jasper came into the kitchen, with a crate in his arms, his signature smile stretched broadly over his face. He’d filled in since college, his shoulders seemingly broader and his face graver. He put down the crate on the counter and it rattled. He pulled Clarke in for a hug.

“You brought your home brew!” Bellamy said, pleased.

“Of course we did,” said a new voice. Monty came in through the door, with a toddler sleeping on his shoulder, looking handsomer than ever. He joined Jasper to engulf Clarke in a welcoming hug. “Back where you belong.”

“Don’t any of you people work?” Clarke asked in amazement. “Are you going to hang out with me here all day while I figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life?”

“We’ve got the time, Clarke. The college isn’t in session. Did you forget how many of us are professors?” Bellamy said with a smile. He took a bottle out of the crate and pointed it at himself, “History,” then at Jasper “chemistry,” at Monty, “physics,” at Lincoln, “coffee…” he grinned and popped open the beer, handing it to her. She laughed and took a sip.

She was standing here, smiling with her boys. It made her happy.

Bellamy handed bottles around to the other men, even if two of them held toddlers. Times had changed.

“One of us should be at the coffee shop, but we’ve got someone watching Grounders,” Lincoln said. “We wouldn’t miss your homecoming.”

“Miller will be here after his shift. Ark Police Department doesn’t do summer break.”

“Harper’s got a nine to five the next town over, so she’ll be by after that," Jasper said.

“Harper? I didn’t know about that. When did you start seeing her?” Clarke asked surprised.

Jasper ducked his head. “Yeah, after Maya, we started hanging out more. It’s nice.” He said, quietly.

“I’m sorry, Jas,” Clarke said. “I wish I could have been here for the funeral.” She forgot sometimes that other people had hardships in their lives. That all of them had been through ups and downs. Seeing them now, it felt so good and happy, it felt like they lived in some sort of eden where sorrows never touched them. An eden that she had been expelled from. But that wasn’t true. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It’s okay, Clarke,” he said. “It’s been a while. It gets easier to deal with.” He looked up at her again, seriously, as if he was trying to tell her something. He had changed. She knew he’d been through a lot, but she liked the changes she was seeing, even if she hadn’t been there for them.

“So, did all of our crowd stay in Ark? Nobody left to go conquer the world?”

“Well there was you and Finn,” Bellamy said, and took a sip of beer. His adams apple bobbing.

“Wick was here for a while, teaching physics in my department, but he left for Boston.”

“Yeah, Raven kept me updated about that.”

“Oh, Murphy went off on some adventure mission with some documentary film maker and no one’s really heard from him since,” Jasper added. “And your freshman girlfriend Lexa? She’s some scary lady in local politics, terrifying the conservatives in her home town.”

Clarke laughed. “Lexa! Wow, I haven’t thought about her in years. That was a relationship that really went up in flames. I’m not so good at these relationship things, I think.”

“Maybe you’re just working at it until you get it right,” Jasper shrugged, and then went over to the pizzas, opening the first one. “What the hell is this? Salad?”

Clarke laughed. “Oh my god. Octavia. She remembered. It’s a Clarke special. Spinach, chopped green olives, onions, peppers, and mushrooms. There’s pepperoni in it too, but if it’s too exotic for you…”

She remembered that Jasper never backed down from a dare. “Oh you think you go off to the big city and come back all sophistimicated, huh?” and took the hugest bite out of the pizza she’d ever seen. “Hmmph,” he said around chewing. “Thiziz pretty good,” he mumbled.

“I know.” She reached in for a slice when the back door opened.

“Oh, good,” Octavia said, “the kids are hungry. And I just got a call from Charlotte,” The kids tumbled into the room and Clarke spent some time getting them all some pizza.

“Is everything okay?” Lincoln asked, concerned, setting Sophia down to get her own slice of cheese pizza.

“Yeah, it just ended play time. She took care of everything. I’m really going to miss her when she goes to grad school in August. Charlotte’s been our right hand for the last three years. We’ll never find someone to—“

Everyone turned to Octavia. Even after ten years, Clarke knew that when Octavia suddenly went quiet, something dangerous was about to happen.

“Clarke…” she sang, “you don’t have a job yet, what do you think about coming to work for us at Grounders. We could use someone we trust.”

“O, Clarke doesn’t want to be a barrista, she was going to be a doctor—“

“Now wait a minute, Bellamy…” she put her hand on his bicep to stop him and was momentarily distracted by the hard muscles of his arm under her fingers. She licked her lips. “Wait a minute. I don’t have anything to do. I have no job. I have enough money to tide me over, but I don’t want to use all my savings here. I want to do something while I am figuring out what I want to do with my life.” Her words faltered when she realized she was caressing Bellamy’s arm. She looked up at him and found him focused on her face, his eyes wide and dark.

Luckily, Lincoln filled the silence when Clarke stopped speaking. “That’s not a bad idea. You were even working there when we met. Want to work for us at Grounders? I bet it wouldn’t take very long for it to come back to you. What do you say, Clarke?”

“I think you’re right, it won’t take me long at all for it to come back.” She told Lincoln. But her hand was sliding down Bellamy’s arm, flirting with holding his hand before she reluctantly dropped contact. She nodded. “Yeah. I want to try.”

Chapter Text

If Clarke had been worried that all her friends would get in the way of unpacking and settling in, she was wrong. Once the pizza had been eaten, they set to work. Cleaning up and moving furniture under her direction. Unpacking boxes and stacking them neatly for recycling in the garage. She tried to get them to stop, to tell them that she could handle it, but they just scoffed at her. “This is why we are here, Clarke,” Monty told her, as he broke down the boxes from the kitchen. “To help you out. And this is why you came home. Because we are a team, and this is what we do. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do it for any of us.” His quiet explanation brought the sting of tears to her eyes, but instead, she just hugged her old friend and nodded, and quit trying to get her friends to stop unpacking her house.

She found Bellamy with her boxes of books, putting them into the built in book cases in the living room.

“Books, Bellamy? Really?” She smiled as she perched on the chair next to him. “Octavia would make fun of you for being a nerd.”

He looked up at her from where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his hair mussed and his glasses sliding down his nose. She just about lost her breath. He grinned, not seeming to notice the effect he had on her. “I’m organizing these by subject and author, but if you have a different system, you might want to rearrange them.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” she said, and she couldn’t help the huskiness in her voice.

Bellamy cocked his head and looked at her curiously. “I was wondering what you wanted to do with these,” he said, pointing at a couple of boxes that hadn’t actually been unpacked since her last move, when Violet was still a baby and they’d moved into a bigger apartment in DC.

“Art supplies,” she said, and snorted softly. “I haven’t done anything with those in years. I shouldn’t even have bothered bringing them. Just more things to move. I guess we could just put them in the garage.”

Bellamy frowned. “You used to love to draw.”

“I’m not who I used to be, Bellamy.”

He nodded and looked at her with an emotion that she couldn’t quite identify and made her throat close up. “I’ll put them in the garage, princess,” he said and her heart stuttered. “But it wouldn’t take me too much trouble to make that garage into a great art studio.”

“Bellamy…” she said, wanting to… she didn’t know, stop him from doing something she wasn’t even sure he was doing. Her heart was definitely speeding up.

He stood up and picked up the box of art supplies. “Just something to think about, that’s all.” He said, and left with the art supplies. He was giving her far too much to think about.

Harper came after work with a welcome basket, and Miller brought by Chinese food after he got off of his shift, and they all sat around the living room, on her newly arranged furniture, eating and talking, until the kids started getting cranky and falling asleep, and then they made plans to see her again and kissed her goodbye.

Leo and Violet were asleep in her bed, too excited to actually sleep in their own rooms, with their beds all made up, and their rooms decorated to their directions. Octavia and Raven had made it their specific missions to unpack and set up the kids rooms so that they felt at home. They seemed to have been doing more than fighting for favorite aunt title while playing in the tree house.

Clarke could hardly believe the day she’d had. The last few years had been filled with loneliness and loss and failure, but today had been full, and happy, and she felt, somehow, that she was finally on the right track, although she had no idea what track it was or where it would lead.

She pulled a dining chair out onto the front porch and brought one of the bottles of home brew that Monty and Jasper had left her. The night was cool and smelled like green things and the beer was refreshing. It was such a peaceful street, with the trees lining the sidewalks and the old houses lit from within with buttery light. Her fingers itched for those art supplies Bellamy had put in the garage, for the first time in ages. She was entranced with the shadows and bright windows and the feeling of both comfort and mystery. She would use pastels, she thought, a little blurry around the edges, smudging light and darkness together.

Bellamy was almost up to her porch by the time she realized he was even there, so lost in her thoughts of drawing was she.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she blinked. Trying to still the butterflies. “You have a dog?” He was walking a fluffy mid sized dog.

He shook his head. “No. I just walk him for my neighbor sometimes. She’s getting old and having trouble getting around, but the dog and I still like to take a stroll or two.”

“Could you be more perfect?” The words fell out of her mouth without her conscious control. Maybe the home brews were stronger than she was used to. Maybe she’d had more than she should have after everyone had left and the kids had gone to bed.

He laughed and she could see his blush even in the shadows from the street lamps.

“No, seriously. You’re like the perfect guy.” Clarke got up from her chair and moved over to the sit on the top step, patting the porch next to her in invitation. He grinned and sat next to her, the dog plopped, panting on the ground.

“You’re perfect,” he said, his voice a whisper.

She laughed and nudged his shoulder. “No. I’m a wreck. Look at me. Look at my life.”

He turned to her. The shadows from the street lamps made it feel very intimate when he looked at her, like there was no one else in the world. “You can be a wreck, Clarke, and also be perfect.”

She looked at him in the shadows and her breath was taken away. She reached out with one hand grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him in for a kiss. He surged towards her, pressing her back against the porch rail, his hands cupping her head, his lips burning hers.

“Bellamy,” she whispered and he slipped his tongue inside her mouth, sweeping it along hers, tenderly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling back slightly to nibble on his lower lip, lick after it, and then plunge her own tongue into his mouth. He smiled against her lips, and his hands roved down her back, and under the hem of her top.

Clarke’s body was on fire. She couldn’t remember wanting anyone as much as she wanted him right now. She knew it was a confusion of being celibate so long and coming home and memories of the past, but right now, all she could think of was his strong body and his soft lips and the way he made her tense up and tingle at his touch. She kissed along his jaw and neck. “Come inside, with me,” she whispered into his ear, and let her own hand wander down his chest, down to his waist band.

He sucked in a breath and pulled back. “Clarke, wait.” He took her wrist and removed her hand from his pants.

“What’s the matter? Are… are you seeing someone?” She hated to ask him, but she couldn’t assume.

He huffed a laugh. “No,” he said huskily, “But Clarke, I can’t just…”

Clarke laughed out loud at herself and sat back from him. She raked her hand through her hair. “I’m sorry. I’m really rusty at this. It’s been so long since I even flirted with anyone. I thought I was getting signals. I guess I was wrong. Just pretend I’m not some horny divorcee who jumped you. I’ll forget all about it.” She said, but knew she would never be able to forget all about that kiss. She would just have to save the memory for when she was alone at night, and pretend in public that she didn’t want him. She reached out for her bottle of beer and started to take a drink before stopping. She handed him the bottle. “You take this. Clearly I’m a fool who had too much to drink.”

He took the bottle and put it on the porch step. “Clarke, no. That’s not it.”

She laughed and closed her eyes because she couldn’t look at him anymore, so close to her, so goddamned sympathetic. Fuck. He was just being a friend, taking pity on her. A pity kiss. She felt her cheeks heat up with embarrassment

“Clarke,” he said, taking her hand in his. “When you left with Finn, I was heartbroken. I felt like you were leaving me. And I never had you.” Her eyes flew open and looked into his. There was no pity there. “When you married him, I thought I would never recover. I was in love with you.”

“No, you weren’t.”

He laughed bitterly. “Yes I was, and you were the only one who didn’t know it. You can be damn sure that Finn knew it. That one night we had, that wasn’t supposed to be the end, Clarke. That was supposed to be the beginning.”

“But then came winter break,” she said, remembering how she had called Finn to come save her and he had and then he had wooed her back to his side, and then proposed to her and then her life had been sent down this path that she found herself on now. “I should have called you instead…” she whispered, knowing he would know what she meant.

“Yes, you should have,” he whispered, his voice thick with emotion. “But you didn’t. And you married him and I was left to pick up the pieces of my heart, so when you ask me to come inside, I have to tell you I can’t fuck you.”

She dropped her head. He had been in love with her and she had broken his heart without even realizing it. And now he would’t have her.

“No. I said that wrong.” He put a finger to her chin and tilted it to get her to look at him. “I could totally fuck you,” his gaze raked her body, almost a physical thing. She could feel her nipples hardening under it, and swayed closer to him. “And it would be the best fuck you’ve ever had.” His voice made her shiver. She believed his promise. “But it wouldn’t be just a fuck, Clarke. It would be the beginning.”

She blinked at him, unable to catch her breath. She wanted him so badly. She wanted to be in his arms. She wanted to touch his skin. To kiss him. To feel him moving above her. To be enveloped in his scent. To wake up with him. She knew it showed in her eyes.

He leaned in to her, kissed her neck, once, twice. She felt his hot wet tongue stroke up behind her ear. “Are you ready for the beginning, princess?” he asked, his breath warm on her skin. She shivered and melted into him, thoughts whirling.

It would be the beginning of everything, she knew. She was already half in love with him, and she hadn’t seen him for ten years. It had to just be hormones. She couldn’t be this wrapped up in him already but then she knew herself and she knew she could be. She just dove in to the things she was passionate about, whether it was pre med or Finn or being a mom, and it became her whole world. Could she afford to dive into Bellamy the way she wanted to? Wouldn’t it just be going from one man to the other? Even though she’d been divorced from Finn for a year, she couldn’t lie and say that her life hadn’t still revolved around him, around custody agreements and arguments and her feelings about his latest girl friend and her disappointment in how her relationship with him had turned out.

Bellamy must have felt the change in her. He sat back, away from her. His eyes sad. His face firm. He nodded. “You don’t want a beginning.”

The panic that shot through her had her gasping. “Wait!” she cried, reaching out to grab his shirt again, but different this time, desperate for him not to leave before she could explain. “No. Wait.”

“I know I want you, Bellamy.”

He raised one eyebrow waiting for her to continue.

“But I also know I’m not ready for anything real.”

He nodded slowly, trying not to show his disappointment.

“It’s just, you say I’m not a wreck—“

“No, you’re a wreck,” he grinned and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Grimacing at his own action and pulling his hand back.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she chuckled, amazed that she could still feel so comfortable with him even during this horrendous scene. “I’m a wreck, and I need to figure out who I am, before I get all wrapped up in you.”

“Before? You mean you want to get wrapped up in me? Because I’d like to wrap you up.”

She flinched at that, hoping he didn’t see. No such luck.

“Ahh.” He said. “Clarke,” he sat back, farther than he’d been from her all night. “My mom had a problem. I know you knew about me raising Octavia, but it was mostly because my mom never believed she was good enough, never believed she could do it on her own, and always got herself wrapped up with these men who… well let’s just say I understand a little bit about what you are going through, from the other side.”

Clarke frowned. She knew his mom wasn’t a capable mom and he’d taken on far too much responsibility far too early in life. She didn’t like to be put into the same category.

“But you’re not like my mom. You’re strong. You got out, Clarke. You stood up for yourself and made the steps to live a life you deserve. You're taking care of your kids and I know you can take care of yourself. You forget that I know you. You may have forgotten who you are, but I remember. You are stronger than you think you are, and if you need time to figure that out, then I can give it to you.”

She stared at him, in awe. Wanting him, and knowing that she couldn’t have him, not the way she was right now. “So where does that leave us?”

He smiled, sadly. “Friends. Old friends. Getting to know each other again.”

She nodded. Her head bobbled up and down with it, unable to stop. “Friends.”

He took a deep breath and stood up. “I guess I’d better get this pooch back to his owner.” He started to walk away.

“Bellamy!” She called. He turned back around to look at her. “What if I wait too long?”

He stared at her for a long time, but she couldn’t see his expression in the dark shadows. He shrugged. “Then you’ll have waited too long. Good night, Clarke. I’m glad you’re back.”

She watched him walk away into the night, feeling absolutely gutted.

Chapter Text

Clarke had barely settled in to her new house and her new job at Grounders when the first holiday arrived. Octavia and Lincoln hosted a Fourth of July party in their back yard. She remembered the college parties Bellamy and Octavia used to host, with the kegs and drunken trysts and the excellent view of the fireworks over the lake. The thought of attending another one sent spikes of nerves running through her limbs, but when she walked over from her house with Leo and Violet in tow, she found Octavia’s yard to be filled with balloons, garden games and kids of many ages.

The debauchery of college was long past. She shook her head and laughed at herself, thinking that nothing would have changed in Ark in ten years, that her friends would still be college kids, reveling in freedom, instead of grown ups with bills to pay and jobs to do, spouses and kids and obsessions with recycling. Leo and Violet ran off to play with their friends. Penny’s treehouse turned out to be twice as big as theirs, with a second cabin half a level up the huge tree, and a sand box below, where little Sophie played with the other small ones.

She spotted Raven in the crowd and went over to her, “Hey babe,” Clarke said. “Seriously, do Octavia and Lincoln know everyone in town?”

Raven gave her the blazing smile and a beer. “Lincoln would be the curmudgeonly, silent coffee shop owner that everyone was afraid to talk to if it weren’t for Octavia. Octavia is like some sort of social director or ambassador… bringing all the disparate factions together to party and take over the world.”

“That’s not true. Lincoln has always been awesome, he’s just quiet.”

“Before Octavia, Lincoln’s reputation in this town was a scary one. With all those tattoos and his history with that biker gang when he was a teen.”

“Please. He was always a bunny rabbit. I know. I met him first when I worked at Grounders, back when Indra owned it.” Clarke grinned.

Raven shook her head and smiled at Clarke. “Just because everyone likes you and lets you into their inner circle doesn’t mean they let anyone else in, Babe.”

The grin fell from her face, because she spotted Bellamy, through the crowd, tending the barbecue, laughing with a pretty woman who beamed, fucking beamed up at him.

Raven startled at the sudden change in her friend and followed her gaze. “Ahh. Bellamy.”

“Who is she?” The words fell out of her mouth and she wanted to take them back. It wasn’t her business. But Raven didn’t seem to think so.

“That’s Mel. She’s the new elementary school teacher. She grew up around here. I think she was friends with Octavia.”

“So he’s known her a long time.”

“Hmm, yeah.” Raven said and then turned away from Bellamy to Clarke. “Yeah, so what’s up with that, Clarke? I thought I sensed something happening between you two on that first day. But now you two barely look at each other.”

Clarke couldn’t tear her eyes away from Bellamy laughing with Mel. She was cute. If things were different, Clarke herself might have flirted with her. He looked happy. She liked seeing him happy. She absolutely hated seeing him happy with someone else.

Ten years ago, she would have pretended that nothing had happened between them on moving day. She didn’t feel like pretending anymore. “I kissed him,” she said, gratified by Raven’s shocked expression. “After all you guys went home, he was taking a walk and I was on my porch, and I kissed him.”

“You did what? You go girl. I didn’t know you could be so… ballsy.”

“He turned me down.”

Raven’s jaw dropped. This shocked expression was not as gratifying. “No,” she said. “Not possible.”

Clarke laughed. At herself, she thought. “I can assure you it was possible. He told me that when I married Finn, he was in love with me and I broke his heart.”

“Was?” Raven gave her the doubting face.

“And he said that if he slept with me, it would be something real.” Clarke found her hands shaking. So she took a large gulp of cold beer, hoping it would help. “And I said I wasn’t ready and needed time.”

“And what did he say to that?”

“That he would give me time, but not forever.” Over at the barbecue grill, Mel smiled and put her hand on his arm. Clarke had to close her eyes.

“That’s fair, Clarke.”

“I know.”

“Sounds like you’d better figure out what’s going on with you, then.”

“I will. As soon as I figure out how to figure that out.”

 

She’d been in Ark for a few weeks, learning the lay of things, getting used to her new routine, enjoying her friends and her time with her kids, before the urge to draw took over.

Leo and Violet were playing at Octavia’s house when she went into her garage and found the boxes of art supplies that Bellamy had stored there. She found a large, almost new hard bound black art journal, and a bin of colored pastels and pencils and erasers.

She went into her dining room and poured herself a glass of white wine and laid out all the old supplies and opened up the journal to the first empty page spread. And then she sat there for what seemed like hours, staring at it.

She had nothing to say. She had no vision. It was like she had closed her eyes sometime during the last ten years. Stopped speaking. Her mind whirled in a mess of Violet and Leo, her house, the coffee shop, Bellamy, her friends, the tv schedule, cleaning, getting the kids ready for school, things that had happened in DC, things that had happened ten years ago in Ark, what she was going to make for dinner, the last email from Finn, the stilted phone call she’d had with her mom back in New York.

She was both too silent, and too loud. A frustration with herself filled her.

And then she was drawing. It was angry at first. Dark marks in heavy charcoal on the clean paper, just marring it. Making it not clean. Messing it up. Shutting up the screaming white silence of it all. She drew the charcoal over the page, over and over again. Darkening it. Darker and darker still.

And then she found that the movements that had been angry, became more contemplative, smaller, more intentional, until the very act of mark making became meditative. Then the page was entirely covered in black, heavy, complete, and her hand was aching.

She put the nub of charcoal down and picked up a finer point charcoal pencil. On the facing page from the black one Clarke wrote, in very small, precise, serif letters, ‘silence.’

Clarke stared at the double pages for a while, the charcoal pencil still gripped in her hand. Her eyebrows felt permanently drawn together as she looked at it, thinking about silence, about all the ways she had been silent for so long. She put down the charcoal pencil finally, still staring. She massaged her aching hand and thought about spraying it with fixative so her dark silence wouldn’t smudge when she closed the journal, but then she decided, maybe she wanted her silence to rub off, to rub away, to mark the white page as time passed and page met page.

It felt significant and she didn’t know what the significance was. She felt like she should want to take out the bright pastels and draw her new home, maybe the tree house, maybe a sunset, but she didn’t want that at all.

She wanted to sit with the silence.

***

Clarke liked working at Grounders. She loved her friends and was really glad to be back and spend time with them, but she found Grounders to be something she had outside of them. Sure Lincoln and Octavia owned the place, but they’d worked out the schedule between the three of them, so that if one of them was on shift, one of the others was taking care of all four kids. It generally worked out that O and Clarke were on differing shifts, since Lincoln took care of all the baking, and Clarke wasn’t ready to spell him on that, if she ever would be. So mostly Clarke worked the front while Lincoln did his quiet work in the back, and Clarke met the people of Ark.

It hadn’t taken her long at all to remember how to work the coffee machines, and she fell back into the rhythm of the shop. The best thing, though, was getting to talk to all the people from the town. They all introduced themselves and welcomed her back, even if they hadn’t known her before. Arkers were a friendly people, and she was starting to to make friends.

She even met Mel, and dammit if the girl wasn’t a sweet heart on top of being cute. She flashed a flirtatious smile at her, kind of just to see if she could, and got a flirtatious smile back, until she found out that Mel would be Leo’s teacher in the fall. She pulled the heart eyes back, and thought she saw a bit of disappointment in Mel’s. Well. That was interesting, maybe she hadn’t been interested in Bellamy. Or maybe she was just an equal opportunity flirt.

After that, Clarke practiced her flirting on all the customers. Men, women, babies, boy scouts, widows, dogs. It was so much fun just to show interest in other people, really for no other reason than that she enjoyed them. She wondered how she had lived so many years, so closed off, only taking care of Finn, Leo and Violet, and shutting out every one else.

The morning rush died down. For a while, there was no one in the shop. But in her head, she could still hear the bustle and noise of the morning rush. Like some sort of sensory memory, replaying the action of the day. Clarke was mesmerized by the sounds of the coffee shop, the way every cup clinked and the espresso dispenser clicked and the credit card machine beeped, and people laughed, and the door jingled.

In the silence of the slow period, her fingers itched to draw. Clarke took out her journal, that she had stuffed into her back pack on a whim that morning, and filled a page with hatch marks using a black ball point pen that was behind the counter. Hatch after hatch. A customer interrupted and when she got back to it, she found her black pen missing, so she made her hatches in blue for a while, only to return to black when Lincoln deposited the black pen back on the counter after using it to fill in some order forms. She worked on the hatches all through her shift, whenever she took a break or there was no one to serve. Just before the end of the day, she wrote ‘yes’ in the tiny, precise, serif letters, right at the bottom of the double page spread of hatch marks. She had no idea what it meant. She went home.

***

The next day, she had off from Grounders, and Octavia dropped Penny and Sophie at her house. The summer stretched long and she had a whole day planned for all four kids. She set up the sprinklers for the big kids and a baby pool for Sophie. She had a picnic lunch with lemonade and ice cream for dessert, and she sat out there with them, laughing while they played, taking photos with the point and shoot that Finn had said was crap, and didn’t take with him on his world saving travels.

That afternoon the clouds rolled in and the kids said they were tired of playing outside. Clarke pulled out the construction paper and safety scissors and waterproof markers and set them all on the dining room table. She showed them how they could outline their hands and cut them out to make garlands to decorate their tree house.

Clarke took more photos, and then decided to post them to Facebook, since her mom had been nagging her for more photos and it had been a good day. She wanted to share.

It only took a few moment for the direct message to pop up on her screen.

Finn:
Who are those kids with Leo and Violet?

It was a simple question. She didn’t know why it made her her grit her teeth. She couldn’t help hearing his accusing tone in her head.

Clarke:
That’s Penny and Sophie. Octavia and Lincoln’s kids. You know about them.

His message came back immediately.
Finn:
I don’t like it.

Clarke:
You don’t like what? The kids playing? Having a good day?

She stared at the blinking dots. For a while, waiting for his reply. Then she decided to stop waiting.

Clarke:
If you thought that you’d leave us and we’d stay miserable forever, you’re wrong. We’ve moved on. We’re happy. Be thankful that I can give your kids a good life.

Finn:
I always wanted you to be happy. I don’t like them playing with the Blakes.

She laughed out loud. Finn was jealous of Bellamy.

Clarke:
Their name is Woods, not Blake. And you excused yourself from our life. You don’t get to say who we are friends with. This conversation is done, Finn. Go save the world.

She didn’t wait for any blinking dots or angry responses or even apologies. She closed Facebook. She closed her computer. She went back to the kids and helped them hang their hand garlands up in the tree house.

When Octavia and Lincoln came to pick up the kids that night, they didn’t have time to hang out. It was okay. She didn’t mind the time with just her kids. They made grilled cheese sandwiches together and and took their baths and read together and went to bed.

When the kids were asleep, she took out her art journal and traced her own hands on the pages. She dug around in the art supply box and found some old bottles of acrylic paint. Some of the bottles were dried out, but enough of them were still fluid. She painted the hand outlines, black on the inside and gold on the outside. She filled the gold with hatch marks, using a tiny brush and more black paint. On the inside of one hand she wrote “I” and on the other “will.” She blinked at it for a while, and then put it up on a shelf to dry.

Soon Clarke found herself drawing or painting something every day. She carried her journal in her bag everywhere she went and felt the itch to make something every time she had a free moment. She thought maybe she was getting wrapped up in her journal the way she tended to get wrapped up in things and wondered if she should relax a bit, but she didn’t want to.

It felt right. It felt good. And maybe there was nothing wrong with enjoying something just because you enjoyed it. Maybe she didn’t have to always have it all figured out and know what she was doing and where she was going and how she would help everyone else. Her journal was slowly filling up with mysteries to herself. And she liked them.

It was slow at Grounders one afternoon, when her shift was almost over, and the door jingled. She looked up to see Octavia coming through the front door.

“Where are the kids?” she asked puzzled. Looking behind Octavia for the little duckling line. No kids.

“Bellamy’s watching them. I suddenly got these tickets to this show Lincoln and I have been dying to see, but if we don’t leave now, we won’t make it, so I got Bell to hold down the fort for a while.” Octavia stopped talking when she noticed Clarke’s shocked expression. “Oh my god. I didn’t even think about it. Are you okay with Bellamy watching your kids?”

Clarke scoffed. “Of course I am. Don’t be ridiculous.” And she was okay. But she was also trying to calm her racing heart. Even mentioning Bellamy caused her heart to speed up and now she was going to have to go over there to Octavia’s and see him. Not just see him, but see him playing with her kids. God.

She knew they got on all right. They’d met him at every gathering, played with the other kids when he took them on adventures. Climbed all over him with Sophie and Penny, but now, he’d be there, alone with them. Responsible. Ugh. Responsible Bellamy. She refused to melt. And he was still barely talking to her.

Octavia was staring at her with narrowed eyes.

“Is there something going on between you and my brother that I should know about?”

She laughed. “No. Absolutely not. We’re just friends,” she said, because they were, dammit, and she didn’t want to be.

“Right. Got it. You know Clarke, I made a vat of chili. We’ll never finish it all. Why don’t you eat at our house tonight.” Clarke glared at Octavia. She was meddling and they both knew it.

Lincoln came out of the kitchen then, his apron gone, wearing a nice shirt. “We’d better get on the road, O,” he said. “See you later, Clarke.”

“Have fun, you two. Enjoy your show.”

And then her shift was over and she was heading over to Octavia’s house to pick up her kids. She walked, because she always parked in their drive, since they were so close to the coffee shop. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and walked in the front door.

The very first thing she saw was Bellamy sitting on the couch with Leo, pouring over a book. “…His wings melted and he fell to earth,” Bellamy was saying.

Clarke just stood in the door way, not understanding why she couldn’t move.

Leo shook his head sadly. “He should have listened.”

Bellamy looked up at Clarke. “He flew too close to the sun.” The warmth in his eyes just about melted her. “Your mom’s here.”

“Hey,” Clarke said, really not able to say much more.

“Mom!” Leo said and jumped up. “Look what Bellamy brought me. A book of myths.” He brought it over to her, where she still stood in the open door. She kissed Leo and looked at it. “Wow, this is really beautiful.”

“It’s illustrated. I though you’d appreciate it,” Bellamy said. To her.

She bit her lip and nodded. “It’s beautiful,” her words were failing her. She wanted to kiss him hello, but he stood all the way across the room from her and she stayed, frozen in the door way.

“Violet,” she choked out. “It’s time to go.” She didn’t call loud enough. She couldn’t actually.

Bellamy pressed his lips in an annoyed line. “Girls!” he yelled. “Come here!” there was some sort of commotion in the back room. Bellamy cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed. “Violet! Your mom’s here! Report!”

She heard a stampede then. Three little girls came tumbling into the living room. They wore paper crowns and war paint on their faces. And then they were on top of Bellamy. He swept Sophie up into his arms and Violet and Penny each grabbed one of his legs, sitting on his feet.

“Charge!” Penny shouted.

“Charge!” Violet shouted.

“Violet,” Clarke scolded, “Get off of Bellamy.”

But Bellamy had begun to march around the room, the girls giggling as they rode his feet. He made a circuit around the sofa and then came back to where they started. “Okay, girls. Ride’s over. Violet and Leo have to go home.”

“Awww,” Penny and Violet and Sophie all said together. “Can’t they stay for dinner?” Penny asked.

“Please!” Violet begged.

“Octavia left us a huge pot of chili, Clarke, if you want to stay,” but he didn’t look at her when he said it. And she couldn’t. It was too domestic. Her heart was beating too fast. She wanted to touch him too much.

“No, not today, I think. Another time. Another time, okay Bellamy?” she asked, saying his name because she just wanted him to look at her.

He looked up, a tight smile that didn’t seem real pressed onto his face. “Another time,” he repeated and didn’t mean it.

God. She turned away, unable to look at him anymore because it hurt. She focused on the kids instead. They helped. “Come on guys. Do you have your bags?” Leo already had his back pack on and Violet grabbed hers from the chair. “Mom… can’t we play some more?”

“You can see Penny and Sophie tomorrow.”

“But I never get to play with Uncle Bellamy,” Violet pouted.

“Yeah, I want to hang out with Uncle Bellamy, too. We never get to see him.” Leo added.

She turned to look at Bellamy finally. He was watching her. “It’s true,” she said, “we haven’t seen you in a while.”

He shifted Sophie in his arms, looked down at her and then back up at Clarke. “I was working on an article. With a deadline. Publish or perish, you know?”

“Right,” she nodded. And kept nodding when he was still watching her. “Maybe stop by some night, when you’re not busy writing?” She smiled. “The boys keep me stocked with home-brew.”

“And then you can tell me more about Greek mythology,” Leo added.

“And we’ll make brownies for you!” Violet said. She always wanted to make brownies.

Bellamy smiled at her kids and then he smiled at her. He nodded. “Another time,” he said, and this time he meant it. Her heart swelled. It was enough for now.

“Bye,” she said, and ducked her head. Afraid to let him see how happy he had made her with those two words. The kids screeched goodbye and she hustled them to the car.

When she drove away, she noticed he was standing, in the doorway, watching them go. It was a start.

She and Raven had gone yard saleing and she had scored a new-to-her set of rocking chairs. They’d hauled them back to her house in Raven’s pick up truck, set them up on her porch with pillows and a small table and then they’d gotten tipsy on margaritas and Mexican food while the kids watched a movie in the living room.

After Raven had gone home and the kids had gone to sleep, she brought her margarita, her art journal and her art supply bin out onto the porch, sitting in her new rocking chair and deciding to try her hand at the idea of light and shadows she’d thought of that night with Bellamy. Just like she knew would happen, she was unable to stop thinking about that night, not only about that kiss, but also about what he had offered her, and what she knew she needed to do for herself.

Her hand travelled over the page as she blocked out the light areas and thought about yearning and love and home. And when she picked up the black pastel, looking to fill in the darkest areas, she thought about yearning and doubt and fear. She had just picked up a warm brown pastel when she felt him, standing there, in front of her porch.

She looked up. “Bellamy,” she said. And it didn’t matter how they were just friends now, how they behaved no differently than anyone else in their group, how they teased each other lately and kept it light, her heart still beat faster at the sight of him.

“Hey, Clarke. I noticed that you come out here every night, now.”

“Yeah, it’s become quite a habit.”

“I noticed also that you are drawing again.”

“Bellamy Blake, have you been watching me?”

“Yes,” he admitted, baldly. She laughed. “I may also be slightly buzzed.” He smiled his twisted little smirk and ran his fingers through his hair. “I went out with Miller for a few beers.”

She laughed at him and closed her art journal. “Are you done, or would you like to sit and have a margarita with me?”

“Are you asking me on a date, Clarke Griffin?” he grinned at her and she could feel her face heat up, because she knew that the way she wanted to sit and have a drink with Bellamy was not the way she wanted to sit and have a drink with any of her other friends. He was special, even when she was trying to pretend that he was the same kind of friend as Raven. Raven was hot, and she could appreciate that, but she was not falling in love with Raven. Ten years ago and before kids, she probably would have tried to fool herself into thinking she wasn’t falling in love with him, but she didn’t really feel up to that kind of self deception any more. Rather she thought that she could be falling in love with him, and also still not quite ready for all he was offering.

“Relax, Griffin,” Bellamy smirked down at her, “I was just messing with you.” He sat in the other rocking chair and leaned back, sighing. He began rocking back and forth, slowly. “Can I see?” he asked.

“What?” She had accidentally gotten mesmerized by the play of muscles under the skin in his forearms as he gripped the chair arms as he rocked back and forth.

“Your sketch book. Can I see it? You don’t have to show me if it’s private.”

She looked at him. He still thought that she wanted to be impersonal with him. Just casual friends. He kept trying not to take advantage of their history. Or get too close. Or some such nonsense like that. She just rolled her eyes and handed him the book.

“You can see it.” She wasn’t sure if he caught the slight emphasis on the ‘you.’

He raised his eyebrows in surprise and pleasure, and put his hand on the cover in reverence. “Yeah?” Clarke nodded. He opened the book and smiled down at the first page. “I always loved your landscapes,” he said. “Octavia always liked your portraits, but I liked these.” She looked at what he was seeing, because that didn’t describe anything she was doing. It was a soft color pencil sketch of a river. She remembered doing it when she and Finn had taken Leo on a picnic, before Violet was born.

“That’s an old sketch. Probably six or seven years ago. The new work starts a few pages in.” Suddenly she was nervous. Nervous to have him see what had been going on in her head for the last few weeks. He nodded, without looking up and slowly flipped through the early pages.

When he stopped flipping and his eyebrows raised, she knew he’d gotten to it. She looked at the page of silence.

“Wow.” He said.

“That’s it.” She couldn’t sit in her seat anymore. “Can I get you that margarita?”

“What?” He looked up, confused for a second. “Oh. Yeah. That’d be great.”

She left him with the journal and went to get him a drink. She made it very slowly, hoping that he would be done with the art journal when she went back out to the porch and she wouldn’t have to watch him looking through it anymore.

She set his margarita on the table next to his chair and looked at the book in his lap.

“You are still looking at the same piece!” Clarke said in surprise.

“It’s beautiful,” he said, his voice full of wonder.

“Knock it off, Bellamy. It’s just a black page.”

He looked up at her sharply, his brows drawn together. “No, it’s not,” he said, and it sounded like scolding. “It’s much more than that. You knock it off. And be quiet, while you’re at it. I’m looking at the art.” He raised an eyebrow at her, as if daring her to challenge him again. He reached out for his margarita and stopped, turning his palm over and looking at the charcoal stains that had transferred to his fingers. She wondered momentarily if he had stroked the page.

“I guess I never really thought any one would be looking at it,” Clarke said in a lame sort of apology.

He rubbed his fingers with his thumb, feeling the charcoal and then wiped them off on his jeans. “I don’t want the rest of the art to get stained,” he said, and then picked up his drink, winking at Clarke. He went back to the art journal.

Far from being unable to watch Bellamy look through her book, Clarke was unable to take her eyes from his face. She sat there watching him turn the pages slowly, taking so long with each picture, finding it getting harder to breathe.

She was chewing on her lip when he finally closed the book and looked up, handing it back to her.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “When did you become a poet?” He asked, his eyes boring into hers.

“I’m not good with words, Bellamy. You know that.”

He shook his head. “Not words, although you use words. But thoughts, ideas. You were always so concrete and realistic. So pragmatic.”

“I’ve learned a lot,” Clarke said. “Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe I’ve discovered that life isn’t so black and white, yes or no. All or nothing.”

“Hmm,” he agreed. “Life does that.”

She spoke up before she lost her nerve. “Hey, Bellamy?”

“Yeah?” he said, staring off into space, thoughtfully, with his hand on his chin.

“You know how they say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step?”

He turned to look at her, “yeah.” It was a suspicious look.

“Well, I was wondering if we could start our beginning, with a single step.”

He froze and blinked at her. “Our beginning? The beginning of us?” she nodded. He drew in a breath and sat back. “What do you imagine that single step would look like?”

“I was thinking that maybe we could stop pretending that we’re just friends, that we don’t like each other.”

He smiled. “I admit that I like you, Clarke.”

“And then when any of our friends are around, you avoid my eyes and keep yourself on the other side of the room.”

“I don’t do that.” He said and Clarke shot him a look. “Okay, maybe I do, but it’s just because I want touch you all the time, and it’s too much temptation to have you near me, sometimes.”

Clarke couldn’t help the smile that stretched across her face. “I think I would like to hold your hand sometimes. Or hug you. Or brush your hair back.” Her fingers twitched.

He nodded slowly. “Would I get to do those things to you, too.”

“Oh yes.”

“Okay, I think we can agree to that step being acceptable,” Bellamy grinned, and reached out to touch her hand. Her fingers closed around his. “People might get the impression that we are dating, you know.”

She snorted. “I think I can handle that.”

“Do you want our friends to think we are dating?”

“Among other people.” She said and then wished she hadn’t.

“What other people? You don’t know any other— do you mean other women? Clarke. Are you jealous?”

“When we were in college, you used to say that Miller was a great wingman.”

“You are jealous,” he said gleefully, which kind of stuck in her craw.

“That depends,” she snapped. “Were you trying to pick up other women?”

“We could make part of that first step not seeing any other people,” he said, conversationally, but his fingers tightened on hers. She inhaled deeply. She hadn’t realized how nervous she was that he might find someone who was less of a bother.

“Yeah, we can do that.”

“I have a question about that first one.”

“The showing we like each other one?”

“Mmm, sure,” he said, “and the touching.”

“What’s your question?”

“Would kissing be included in that touching?” he reached across the small table and touched her cheek.

Her eyes fluttered closed. “I think so. Yeah. Yes. Kissing would be included.”

“Kissing could lead to other things, you know.”

She breathed out slowly. “Oh I know.”

He stood up and moved in front of her, and drew her up until she was standing in his arms. “We can go slow,” he said, quietly, but she could feel his heart beating rapidly. It matched hers. She put her hand on his chest, so she could feel it better.

“I might need some help keeping it slow.”

He raised his eyebrows at her.

“I was the one who wanted to jump into bed with you the first time I’d seen you in ten years. You were the one counseling restraint.”

“Right.” He said. “This might be more difficult than I anticipated.”

“We might want to practice, to see if we can handle restraint.”

“We’re already touching, and that’s okay,” he said, and ran her palm up her spine. She shivered. “So I guess that means we should try kissing, and see if we can manage that.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, but she was already moving to touch her lips to his, softly, gently, intending to do as he said and take it slow. Except he pulled her in close and took her lips with his, pressing against her until she could feel every inch of his body along hers and he was devouring her gasps with his mouth.

And he let her go with one last peck to her lips. “Restraint,” he said, and backed down the porch steps, smiling. “Good night.” Light headed, she had to hang onto the railing to keep from collapsing. “Sweet dreams, princess.” He licked his lips and let his eyes slowly travel up and down her body, as if she weren’t wearing anything. Heat pooled in her body, and she suddenly couldn’t breathe. He smiled at her reaction.

“You prick, Bellamy. You did that on purpose.”

“I think you forgot that about me, Clarke. I’m no prince charming. I’m kind of an asshole.”

“Good.” She said.

“What?” He looked taken aback at that.

“I want you to be an asshole. I want you to be you. Stop being so nice to me like you’re afraid I’ll break if we argue.”

He took a step back towards her, one foot on the bottom stair, his hand on the bannister. “Let me get this straight. You want me to woo you by being a jackass.”

“Was that what you were just doing?” He lowered his eyes, embarrassed, which she took as a yes. “Then, please.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Clarke,” he said, his voice gentle. “If this goes bad…”

“It’s kind of part of the package, when you care about someone. The risk of getting hurt. The risk of it not working out.”

“I’m willing to take the risk.” He said.

She nodded. “I’m going to trust that if it does go bad, that you can handle it. Do you think I can handle it?”

“I do now,” he said grinning up at her. His eyes were dark and she didn’t think it was all just shadows.

“So where does that leave us?” She grinned at him.

They couldn’t stop smiling, it seemed. “I think we’re dating.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“And taking it slow.”

She let out a frustrated sigh. “You’d better get out of here, then.”

He nodded and started to back away again. “Think of me, princess.”

It was her turn to bite her lip and drag her eyes over his body. “You can count on it.” The smile fell off of his face and he had to catch his breath, too.

“You play dirty.”

“We’re both a couple of assholes, Bellamy. God, please get out of here before I start ripping my clothes off in front of the whole neighborhood.”

He groaned and raked both of his hands through his hair, his pecs and biceps and abs and everything flexing and she just about died right there. Then he turned around and slowly strolled down the street back to his house.

“Jerk,” she called after him. His laughter floated back to her on the night air.

Chapter Text

It was the last weekend of the summer, and Clarke had everybody over to her house for barbecue, to thank them for welcoming her and her kids, and helping out so much. Bellamy manned the grill, his shirtsleeves rolled up over his forearms, just the way he knew she liked. She could barely keep her eyes off of him as she handed out punch to the kids and corralled them for a game of pop the balloon.

But it was okay, because he could barely keep his eyes off her, either. Something she was just fine with. She might have worn the pretty white eyelet sundress just for that look he kept shooting her. She smiled and went over to him, bringing him a new beer, cold and wet with condensation.

“How are the burgers going?” she leaned into him and asked huskily. Her teasing tone of voice did not match her words.

He shot his eyes over to the kids, all of them engaged in popping as many balloons as possible to get the tootsie rolls out of them, not one of them looking over at the boring old grown ups.

Then he grabbed her, one armed, and pressed a quick passionate kiss on her lips, his tongue just flirting with hers, and left her gasping.

He let her go and stepped back to the grill, as if nothing had happened. He took a swig of beer and went back to flipping burgers. “Just fine, Princess. Should be ready soon,” he said coolly. He shot a look at her and smirked at her heated cheeks.

“Jerk,” she hissed. Not really meaning it.

“What are you going to do about it?” He raised an eyebrow, challenging her.

She glanced at the kids. The balloons were all popped. They were going to come looking for her for a new game any minute. “Oh I’ll think of something, Blake. Just you wait.”

“Looking forward to it,” he said, smirk seemingly permanently plastered to his face. She walked away from him, swaying her hips and not looking back even when he laughed, delightedly.

Raven slid up next to her as she walked across the yard.

“What was that?”

Clarke grinned. “What was what?”

“Don’t you even try to act like that was nothing. You kissed Bellamy!”

“I think he kissed me.”

Raven grabbed her arm and stopped her.

“Clarke. What is going on with you two?”

She turned back and bit her lip, glancing at Bellamy. He was looking at her, grinning. Then ducked his head back to the grill.

“Well. I guess we’re dating.”

Raven blinked and shook her head in shock. “You ‘guess’?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “No. I’m not guessing. Yes. Bellamy and I are dating.”

“Do you want to tell me how long that’s been going on for?”

“Beginning of August.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We’re taking it slow. Feeling it out.”

Raven nodded, “Okay, I get that. I guess you have been friendlier with him lately than usual.” She nodded again. “Actually yeah, you have. I thought you were just getting over some of your shit or you’d made up from that kiss problem you had or whatever but you were already just…together. You weren’t hiding, were you?”

“No. I guess we were just waiting to see if anyone noticed, but if they did, no one said anything. I guess Bellamy maybe got a little impatient.” She realized suddenly that she was running her fingers over her bottom lip. Where she could still feel the little nip he’d given her before he let her go.

She looked over at him again. He was still smirking. Miller had come up to him and was glaring at him, shaking his head in disgust. Bellamy shrugged, smiled, looked at her.

She beamed back at him and he winked. Miller threw his hands up and stalked away, heading back to where Monty and Jasper and Harper and Octavia and Lincoln were standing, waiting, apparently for Miller to confirm things. Miller nodded and a cheer went up from Jasper before Harper smacked him on the chest. Monty just smiled and Octavia shot a look at Clarke, and it was nothing but smug. Clarke was actually a little relieved. She thought Octavia might be mad at her for keeping it quiet, but no. She just hugged Lincoln’s arm and moved on to getting the kids some lunch.

But Raven couldn’t let it go. “So, how’s the sex? Awesome, right? So much better than Finn. I remember.”

Clarke felt a blush rise to her face. “Uhm. We haven’t yet.”

“What?”

“Yeah. We’re taking it slow,” she said, and she knew it sounded different this time when she said it. It felt different when she thought about having to take it slow with getting naked.

“Oh. The taking it slow is his idea.” She looked at Clarke, head to toe. “What is he, Superman? He’s been in love with you for twelve years, and here you are, with him, and he wants to take it slow?”

She didn’t want to place all the blame on him, especially when she thought about the revelation of him being in love with her for twelve years. Twelve years. She let that slide. She’d rather talk to him about it. “To be fair, he’s not the only one who needs to go slow. My life is complicated. I have the kids. An ex. My fucked up head. I didn’t know if I was ready for the full scale relationship that he wanted, so we decided to take. It. Slow.”

“But you want to jump his bones.” It wasn’t a question.

“God yes.”

“You know, every Superman has his kryptonite.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I have it on good authority that you carry kryptonite with you wherever you go.” Clarke looked at her in confusion. Raven nodded at her chest. “In your D-cups.”

“What? Knock it off. I do not. He doesn’t even pay any attention to them,” she said. But now that she thought about it, that was weird. He didn’t. And she knew for a fact she had a great rack.

“Ah. That’s how he’s managed to to remain strong so long. Avoidance. Believe me, Clarke, use them to your advantage and he will crumble.”

“How do you know?”

Raven sighed. “Every year on the anniversary of your marriage to Finn, Bellamy Blake gets totally blotto, and waxes poetic about your amazing boobs. It’s not all he says, but it always comes back around to the girls.”

“I think he’s trying to entice me with his body. Like if he teases me enough, I’ll succumb to him, and marry him or something.” She felt the blush rise again. And then deepened when she realized the blush wasn’t caused by the thought of his body, but of marrying him. What if his tactics were working?

“That sounds more like Blake,” Raven said. “He’s a competitive asshole. But you know, his game will only work if his willpower is stronger than yours.”

“Raven, his will power is REALLY strong.”

Raven nodded and then raised one eyebrow. “Except now you know his kryptonite.”

“Oh.” Clarke said. She looked over at Bellamy, flexing his biceps as he passed the plate of burgers to Miller. He caught her glance and smirked at her. That damn smirk. She narrowed her eyes at him, getting ideas, feeling vaguely like a super villain.

Their friends were surprisingly easy going about Clarke and Bellamy dating. Although Octavia kept shooting Clarke looks and she knew she would be cornered by her at some point. Everyone had burgers and dogs, enjoying their last summer weekend. The kids ignored the adults as much as possible, Leo, as the oldest, leading the all the kids on a scavenger hunt for nature specimens in the tiny patch of trees on the edge of the property. Violet and Penny each held the hand of a toddler, playing mommy to the littlest ones while the parents sat around the yard, drinking beer and chatting, and eyeballing Clarke and Bellamy when they thought they wouldn’t be noticed.

“It’s getting pretty hot,” Clarke announced, suddenly, standing up. She’d been watching the kids play, off in the woods, and decided it was time for the next game. “The kids are going to be sweaty. I’m going to set up the sprinklers.” She picked up the hose. “Bellamy, you’re the closest. Fill up the baby pool for me, will you?” He locked eyes with her and made her shiver as he came up to take the hose from her hands. Every time he looked at her, he made her shiver. She bit her lip and raised one eyebrow at him.

“Whatever the hell you want, princess,” he said as he leaned in seductively, his lips grazing her ear, and then suddenly turning away, with that damn smirk, aiming the spray nozzle at the wading pool, as if she didn’t affect him. The tease.

Bellamy wanted to play games. Clarke had games. She disappeared into the house for a minute. No one even noticed she was gone. And when she came out, she was armed.

“What I want, Bellamy,” she declared, her feet planted in front of him, “is for you to suffer.” Then she attacked him with Leo’s super soaker, dousing him, and laughing.

She emptied the whole gun at him, while everyone snickered. Then she dropped it and raised her arms, like a dare.

“That was a really bad plan, Princess,” he smirked, always with the smirk. “Did you forget I had the hose?” He turned the hose on her and sprayed her until she was soaked through to the skin.

She didn’t even run. She just stood there and took the soaking. A huge smile on her face. It felt good, actually. It was pretty hot out.

“Shit,” Bellamy said, and dropped the hose.

“What’s the matter, Bellamy?” she asked innocently. She didn’t mean to flutter her eyelashes at him, really. All their friends stared at her, mouths hanging open. Lincoln turned around to face the other way, shaking his head. Harper had to smack Jasper before he covered his eyes. Miller and Monty fell onto each other, laughing. Bellamy choked as he looked at her, then leapt over the fallen hose, whipping his shirt off as he reached her.

“Your dress—“ he choked out, as he tried to cover her up with his shirt.

She looked down at her pretty white, eyelet sundress. It clung to her skin like cellophane, clearly outlining her nipples and breast and belly and hips. It was like she was wearing nothing at all. “Wow. That’s more transparent than I thought it would be.”

He pulled his shirt around her and started buttoning it up. “You did that on purpose. At a family picnic!”

“You’re the one that sprayed me. I’m the innocent victim here,” she leaned into him, her wet breasts pressing up against his bare chest.

“You knew I would. You gave me the hose.” His voice was thick.

“I would never. My kids are here.”

“You sent them on a scavenger hunt in the woods,” he growled.

“Our friends are all watching,” she said, her hands slipping down his sides and around to his back. All his lovely bare skin.

His eyes darkened and he leaned in to her ear. “You’re not wearing any underwear.”

She looked up at him through her lashes. “Oops.”

He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the house. “I’m going to get her into some dry clothes,” he growled at everyone.

“I’ll watch the kids!” Octavia said, her voice filled with laughter.

“Well played, Griffin!” Raven called. “Well played.” She started clapping. Then everyone was clapping. Bellamy shoved her into the house with their friends’ applause ringing in their ears.

Chapter Text

“That,” Bellamy declared, after he shoved Clarke into her bedroom and pushed her wet body up against the closed door, “was not fair.”

She unbuttoned the shirt that he had covered her with and let it fall from her shoulders to the floor, then leaned back against the door, in her nearly transparent, soaked dress. He trapped her there, with one hand pressed up against the door, on either side of her shoulders, and growled. "Clarke."

She didn’t try to get away.

“I’m an asshole, remember?” she said, and smiled, her eyes traveling over his bare chest, and sighed. “And I really want to have sex with you.” She met his eyes then, wanting him to see the truth. His eyes were dark with desire, a muscle jumped in his jaw. “You can touch me, you know.” She heard his nails grate on the wood.

“I thought we were taking it slow,” he said through his clenched teeth, his eyes drowning hers.

She nodded. “We are. That’s why I’m not pulling out my secret weapon.” She ducked her eyes and then looked back up at him through her lashes, laughing. “I was told you can’t resist my boobs.”

“Raven has a big mouth.”

“You knew that already. She tells me everything. But I think I figured something out.”

“What did you figure out?” he asked, huskily. His eyes travelled to her lips.

“I thought we were taking it slow for me, so that I could get over Finn and discover who I was and, I don’t know, get my head on straight.”

“That’s not why?” he asked, watching her mouth as she spoke.

She shook her head. “No,” she raised her wet hand and finally touched him, cupping his cheek in her palm. “It’s part, but I’m getting better. We’re taking it slow now because I broke your heart when I chose Finn and left you.” Bellamy dropped his head to look at the floor, his eyebrows drawn together. “I should have chosen you back then, but I didn’t, and this is the way life turned out and we have to deal with that. I have to deal with how I hurt you.”

He looked back up at her, his face serious now, and his hands fell heavily on her arms, holding her. He opened his mouth to speak, but only shook his head. Pressing his lips back together, silent.

“Bellamy,” she said. “We’ve been playing this little flirty game, and it’s been fun, but I’m not playing a game with you. You and I, we haven’t always been. It wasn’t love at first sight. We hated each other at first. But we became friends. We have a long history and we earned our relationship, our trust, even that one night, but when I left with Finn, it didn’t mean I didn’t care for you. I did. A lot. I still do.”

He shook his head. “Why are you telling me this, Clarke?”

It was Clarke’s turn to run out of words. She huffed and dropped her hands. “Because I don’t want to force you to have sex with me.”

His eyebrows rose up into his forehead. “Clarke, you’ve got to know that I’m dying to fuck you. I can assure you, you wouldn’t be forcing me.”

“I do know that,” she said and her eyebrows drew together. “But I also know that you don’t want to just fuck, so I guess I need you to know, that’s not what it is. It’s not just because you’re gorgeous and sexy and I want to get laid, I want…” she didn’t know how to get the rest out. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. Her eyes wandered the room instead. The old wood furniture, the sprigged floral wall paper from the last owner, the white curtains with sun streaming through them. The bed.

“What do you want, Clarke?” Bellamy said, as soon as it was clear her words had faltered.

“I want to take the next step, Bell,” she said, her heart suddenly beating faster and her face heating up. In this quiet bedroom, alone with him, with no one watching and no kids or friends coming to interrupt, she knew she had to say it. “Bell, I’m falling in love with you.”

She could see his chest swell as he breathed in. The corners of his lips curled up in a gentle smile. He touched her hand with one finger, then swept it up her arm, slowly, barely touching. Goosebumps rose in its wake. She shivered. “And what do you imagine this next step would look like?” he whispered.

When she looked up at him this time she wasn’t holding back. She wasn’t teasing. Her eyelids fluttered in reaction. She huffed out a laugh, took a breath and rose her hand to his waist. “Aside from making love to you, I was thinking maybe you could have dinner with us one night a week, instead of only showing up on my porch after the kids go to bed and making out in the shadows?” She felt her cheeks heat up and looked away from him, afraid for some reason that he would be able to read that it was the thought of having him eat with them at their dinner table that made her heart speed up, and not the making out. It was silly. “Just, start to be a part of the family,” she said, quietly. Foolishly.

He put his finger to her chin and lifted her head to look at him. “I would like that,” and his voice was thick with emotion. He knew what it meant, even without her saying it. She felt her eyes prickle with tears. She bit at her smile, to try and stop it. “What about you, Bellamy? What do you imagine the next step would look like?”

He stroked down her neck with the back of his fingers, resting his hand on her collarbone. “I’d like to maybe start having sleepovers.”

She took a breath to tell him she wasn’t ready to have her kids wake up to him in the house, but he stopped her with his finger on her lips.

“Not when the kids are around. The girls have been talking about slumber parties, and Lincoln has promised to binge watch Star Wars with Leo, and lots of candy and popcorn.”

Clarke blinked at him. She hadn’t thought about that. She should have thought about it. She was just so used to always being responsible for Leo and Violet, she never really thought about someone taking over. “Are you sure Octavia is okay with taking the kids over night?”

He chuckled. “Who do you think told the six year olds about slumber parties? Are you okay with it?”

“Hmmm,” she hummed, without meaning to, as she thought about a night without kids, with only Bellamy.

His smile quirked up another notch. “Because I really want to sleep with you. Not just have sex.” His hands were back on her shoulders, stroking up and down. “I want to sleep with you, my arms wrapped around you, smelling your skin, your head on my chest. I want to be there while you dream. I want to wake up and see you sleeping, and kiss you awake. I want to make coffee for you, and french toast, and sit at the kitchen table with you while you wear my shirt and nothing else, and then take you on the kitchen counter and make you scream my name.” His voice was husky and barely audible, but she heard it.

She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t respond. She could only nod. “Y-yes.” She said when her words came back to her. “I would like that too,” but her mind was leaping ahead, to what that could lead to. “But you know I’m not ready to move in with you, right?” He pulled back from her, a sharp look in his eye. She grabbed his wrist.“Do you want me to move in?” she asked. “Are you ready for that?”

He chuckled and raked his hand through his hair. “No. I’m not either. I guess I’m just not used to discussing things so much. I’m not used to planning out fucking someone.”

She stepped up to him, so that her breasts in her wet dress were pressed right up against his chest. She slid her arms up to his neck. “Except that’s not really what’s going on here is it?”

His breath caught as he pulled her even tighter to his chest. “No. It’s not.”

“I’m sorry it’s so weird. It’s just that I’m not just looking for a fuck, I’m looking for you, Bellamy Blake… but I’m not just me, Clarke, I’m also Leo and Violet.”

“I know…” he leaned his forehead down to touch hers. “They are awesome kids, I want—I wish—I’m so—“ He pressed his lips together and refused to go on.

“What? If it’s something about my kids, you have to tell me. I need to know.”

“Dammit, Clarke. I’m so mad they’re his. They should have been mine. Fuck.” He hid his face in the crook of her neck and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m sorry. I know it’s awful to still be so jealous of Finn, to want what he has. I just can’t help it.”

Clarke pushed him back from her.

“Clarke, I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean—“

“Stop talking about Finn,” Clarke growled. “Stop talking about the kids.” She was breathing heavily, her lips parted. “Bellamy,” she whispered, “please make love to me.”

He smiled. “Yes.” Then he was pushing her back against the door, his lips devouring hers, her arms wrapped around his neck like she wouldn’t ever let go. He reached down and pulled at the hem of her dress, slowly hiking it up until it reached her hips. He thrust his tongue into her mouth at the same time he pushed his thigh between her legs. She rubbed against him.

“This dress is coming off,” he murmured against her mouth. “It did its duty.”

She nodded wordlessly and raised her arms, allowing him to pull it up over her head, dragging over her wet body. He threw it onto the floor with a wet squelch and they both laughed.

“Feel free to shoot me with a super soaker any time you want to have sex, Princess.”

She threw her head back and laughed. “You say that now…oh!” and she was silenced by his hot mouth on her cold, wet nipple. His other hand going to her other breast and massaging, rolling her nipple between his long fingers. “God!” she gasped, tangling her fingers in his curly hair. “Fuck me, Bell. Let’s not wait any longer.” He hummed against her nipple and spikes of pleasure shot through her.

He swept her into his arms and carried her the few steps over to the bed and then tossed her down on it. She bounced just a little bit, laughing, then sat up on her elbows while he climbed up onto the mattress after her, climbing up her body, kissing her bare skin all the way up. He hovered over and kissed her deep, and long.

“How slow were we taking this again?” she panted, when they finally broke the kiss, her eyes glinting.

“I could take all day…” he said.

“Interesting,” she said, trailing her fingers down his abs to the button on his pants.

“…But everyone is still out there in your backyard.”

“Riight. Okay, Blake, off with your pants.” Her hands made quick work of the zipper. “Slow is over rated.”

He laughed huskily at her. “Look at you, princess, always trying to get into my pants—“ he gasped as her fingers closed over him. “Clarke,” he moaned, “I want—“

“No more talking, Bellamy,” she commanded, and for a while, there wasn’t.

Chapter Text

The days built themselves up until Clarke turned around and she had a life. It was a surprise to her to realize what a life it was. The kids started school and Leo blossomed in Mel’s class, shedding his quiet, slightly anxious persona that she couldn’t help but feel had come from everything being so up in the air and stressful the last few years of his life. He’d found some other boys in the neighborhood, and spent hours playing with strange cartoon card games and random adventures that had small packs of kids show up in various yards on various missions until they were all called home for dinner.

Violet and Penny had developed a slightly terrifying best friend/found cousin/partnership where they ruled over their first grade class with iron fists. She, Octavia and Lincoln had been called into school to discuss the problem, when the girls had caused a rebellion in the playground because they didn’t want to stop their game of freeze tag that they were winning. They’d managed to convince the girls that they needed to use their powers for good instead of evil, and since then, they’d been stopping fights and getting six year olds to clean up and anything else they could to help the teacher.

Clarke herself had fallen into an easy routine. Friday nights, the kids slept over at Octavia’s, and she slept over at Bellamy’s. Saturday was the day they hung out with their friends, at rotating houses or town events. But Sunday was family day. It was Clarke and Bellamy and the kids, just spending time together, sometimes taking day trips, sometimes staying around the house. And then they’d make dinner together and eat with the kids and Clarke would get the kids ready for bed. When they were asleep, she’d come down stairs to Bellamy sitting on her couch, remote in hand and a drink waiting for her, and she’d cuddle into his side and they’d watch documentaries or zombies and it was always the best day of the week, even if he had to kiss her goodbye when their shows were over and headed back down the street to his house.

During the week, they kept their time limited to his nightly walks with the neighbor dog, whose name was Cornelius and who loved goldfish crackers. Clarke and Bellamy would catch up on their days and talk in the shadows of the porch, and then they would kiss goodnight and he would continued on his walk. She always missed him as soon as he took the first step off of her porch, but this was the way their relationship was going right now and it was good.

He had his teaching schedule and his scholarly writing, and she had her weekly coffee shop schedule, mostly during the days, but once or twice a week at night, and then she’d use the free days while the kids were at school to paint. She started filling up the dining table with her canvasses. She wasn’t sure how she went from painting pretty landscapes to painting the landscape of her own heart, but it mystified her and thrilled her at the same time. One day when Lincoln and Octavia were over, Lincoln found himself in her dining room, looking at her paintings.

“These are really good, Clarke. You’ve grown up a lot,” he said, looking at a particular canvas that she had covered with words, and then painted over with milky white, so you could just barely make out the letters below it.

“I should hope so,” she said. “I’m a grown up now with two kids to take care of.”

He rolled his eyes at her, not really impressed with her sass, considering he lived with the sass master. “I mean as an artist. You never really had anything to say before. Now you do.”

She frowned at the painting he held in his hands. “I don’t know what I have to say,” she said.

“Maybe. But you’re saying it all the same.” He put the painting down. “You know, I have a hoarding problem with art supplies and Octavia’s been trying to get me to clear out my studio. Would you like some of my old supplies?”

“Lincoln! That is so nice of you, but you’ll need them, won’t you?”

“No, I really won’t. Before the kids came along, I had a tendency to, well collect all sorts of supplies that I thought I might need, for projects I never went after… but once I had the girls, I kind of settled down. I’m moving more into pottery, sculpture, things I can really get my hands into. Octavia is kind of on a warpath. She says I could open my own art supply store. I’d rather give them to you than have her toss them out. And I know you’re in an experimental phase, so maybe you can find something in my junk.”

“I couldn’t—“ Clarke started to say, but was immediately silenced by a huge hug.

“You have to!” Octavia said. “This is perfect. You can have all his crap that he doesn’t use and I can have some space in the studio for my sewing machine. The family that makes together stays together. It’s settled.”

“Settled. See, Clarke?” Lincoln grinned and started backing out of the room. “I think I’ll go find the girls and get them packed up to go home.” He winked at her before he ducked out. Clarke had a bad feeling about this.

“I don’t want to take all Lincoln’s supplies, Octavia, he might need them…”

“You need them. He doesn’t. Look, if you feel guilty or something taking it from us, you can pay us back with a painting. I want a big one. I want to see those gorgeous little images taking up a whole wall. I want free and expansive. Lincoln has a bunch of big canvasses he never even used. Use one of those.”

“Is there anything else you want,” Clarke asked sarcastically. “Maybe a color scheme to match your eyes.”

Octavia rolled those eyes. “I’ll leave that up to the artist. I want one of your paintings. I just demand you go bigger.”

“God you’re bossy,” Clarke shook her head. Wanting to be annoyed but feeling the excitement buzzing in her stomach at the thought of painting large. Something expansive, like she said, about breaking free from confinement. About limitless space and freedom, finally. Large brush strokes and colors like air.

She wasn’t sure how it happened, but suddenly Octavia was kissing her on the forehead. “Well, I see your head has gone somewhere else. I’ll get the girls and get out of your hair. I’ll grab Bell sometime this week and have him drop the stuff off for you.”

Clarke blinked. “No. Don’t do that. He’s busy with his classes and grading and writing. I can come get them. This is such a wonderful favor. I don’t want to be a bother.”

“When are you going to stop acting like you’re imposing on us, Clarke? We’re family.”

Clarke felt tears start and Octavia wrapped her up in a hug. “I was so mad at you when you left, Clarke. I felt like you betrayed us. You were ours. And you went with Finn. Bell was devastated.”

“Octavia…” Clarke started, not wanting to go into this again.

“No. Listen, I’m not done. He was devastated but he wouldn’t let us hate you. He said you needed to do what you needed to do. He cared about you that much, that you went off and lived your life, even though it hurt him. He wanted you to find happiness.”

“Octavia, stop…” Her words tore into Clarke’s heart. She pulled back.

Octavia grabbed Clarke’s wrist. “I was right. No matter what happened while you went off on your walkabout with Finn, whatever he did and whatever you didn’t do, and no matter who you brought back with you, you’re back, and that’s proof that I was right. You’re ours. And so are your kids. Okay?”

Clarke looked her in the eyes, her glinting, challenging, narrowed, don’t mess with me eyes. “Okay. ” she agreed, trying to keep the smile off her face. “Thanks for the art stuff. And the job. And the day care. Geez, Octavia. Without you, I’d have nothing.”

“With us, you have people.”

Clarke nodded. “You are my people.”

Octavia cocked her head. “What about Bellamy?” She asked, always the protective sister. “What is he?”

“Octavia…” She had known this conversation was coming. It was a miracle that it had taken so long.

“Is he your people too?”

Clarke snapped at Octavia. “Of course he’s my people.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say more, but she hadn’t even said it to Bellamy yet, not really, not all the way, and she wasn’t about chit chat with Octavia about it.

“Because he looks all strong and handsome and charming, and he’s always busy taking care of everyone else, but he hurts too, and he deserves to have someone taking care of him, and that’s me. I’m looking out for him. You’ll always be our people, that’s not the issue here, the issue is Bellamy.”

This time it was Clarke who gripped Octavia’s arm. “Believe it or not, I’m looking out for his heart as much as my own here. Bellamy is MY people. Bellamy is mine.” Clarke choked on the last word. Blinking her eyes against the sudden weight in her throat. She dropped Octavia’s arm and looked down at the ground. He was hers. And she was so deeply his, she couldn’t remember what it felt like to not be. It had been coming on for so long, for years, not just the last couple of months back in Ark. He had belonged to her and she had belonged to him even when she had been dating Finn, when she had married him, when she was afraid to even call Bellamy on the phone from hundreds of miles away because then she wouldn’t be able to hide from herself what she was missing. She had been missing him.

She wasn’t falling in love with him. She was deeply, irrevocably in love with him. She loved him like a part of her being and that love was opening up inside of her like the dawn and it frightened her. No amount of setting limits on the time they spent together was going to stop it.

She could feel Octavia watching her, but she couldn’t meet her eyes. “It’s okay, Clarke. I believe you.” Octavia stepped in for a fierce, brief hug. When Clarke finally looked up, Octavia was beaming at her, as if all was right with the world.

“You don’t understand, Octavia. You found Lincoln and it just fit. You never struggled like Bellamy and I did, with broken hearts and failed relationships. Love is such a risk. It’s such a gamble, betting on that other person, betting that they will be what you need and you will be what they need. And some crisis won’t knock it all down or the monotony of life won’t make it all into a chore and he’ll find out I’m not that great anyway and find someone else better. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to work at it, it just turns out wrong.”

Octavia stopped smiling and fixed Clarke with her piercing gaze. “But this is Bellamy.”

Clarke blinked. Bellamy.

“Octavia, the girls are chomping at the bit, here,” Lincoln called from the front door. “Bye Clarke, we’ve got to get them out of here before the melt down.”

Octavia leaned over and kissed Clarke’s cheek. “It's Bellamy. Just remember that, okay? We’ll see you later.”

***

Soon after dinner, Clarke’s doorbell rang. There was Bellamy, leaning against the doorjamb, looking bashful.

“Sorry,” he said, running his hand through his hair and looking up at her through his eyelashes. “I know this isn’t one of our scheduled times, but Octavia kind of demanded I get the stuff out of her house and bring it over here tonight.” Clarke’s heart squeezed at the sight of him.

“She doesn’t waste any time, does she?” She knew she had a big smile on her face. Seeing him there in her doorway, unexpectedly, made her happy.

“Nope. But I can come back with it another time.” She reached out and took ahold of his shirt. She didn’t like him feeling like he didn’t belong there because it was not his scheduled time. She all of a sudden didn’t like that he had scheduled times.

“No, it’s okay,” she said, pulling him towards her. “You can stay,” she smiled up at him, pulling him down for a kiss. There was a clatter from the dining room, and she had to laugh. “But I do have to read with the kids right now. And then get them ready for bed.”

He grinned at her, and kissed her. “I know.” It was a much shorter and far more chaste kiss than the one she had been going in for and she made a face. “I know the rules. I’ll just unload this stuff into the garage while you take care of the kids, okay?” She let him go and he went out to the garage and Clarke read to the kids but in the back of her head, she kept hearing it over and over again. “I know the rules.”

For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what purpose those rules served.

When the kids were tucked into bed finally, she made her way out to the garage, with two bottles of home-brew. He was standing there, next to a huge pile of boxes and canvases and equipment.

She stood next to Bellamy and handed him the beer. “That is a ridiculous pile of crap,” she said.

“Octavia agrees with you. She says it’s your crap now.” Bellamy grinned at her and bumped her hip with his. She turned into him and wrapped her arms around his waist, tilting her chin up for a kiss.

He obliged. Kissing her until she was dizzy. She pressed into him and he started to raise her shirt. She moaned into his mouth, eager, until he touched her exposed back with his cold, wet beer bottle.

She squeaked and jumped away from him. “You prick.”

He laughed at her. His face lit up with a huge smile. Open. Happy. “Yeah, I’m a prick,” he said. And she had to smile back at him. “But I’m your prick.”

“Yeah, you’re mine,” she said, and couldn’t help but come back in for another kiss.

“Uh uh,” he said. “Not gonna happen.” He smirked at took the beer bottle out of her hand, taking a swig before putting it and his own onto one of the boxes piled in the middle of the garage. “Okay,” he said, opening his arms to her, “Now you can have me.”

She melted into him, wrapping her arms around him and resting her head on his chest so she could hear his heartbeat. He was still chuckling at his trick. “I’m yours, Bell. I love you.”

He stopped laughing. “What?” he said and pulled her back by the shoulders so he could see her face. “Are you sure?”

“No,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m lying.” She saw the shadows of doubt in his eyes, and couldn’t tease anymore. She put her hand to his heart. “Yes, I’m sure, Bellamy. I love you. Okay?”

“Okay.” His laughter came back, softer this time, like his eyes. He put one hand to her cheek, his thumb stroking her cheekbone. “I’m going to build you a studio in here, you know that right? Some shelves over there, some racks, too. I was checking out Lincoln’s studio and I can do that here.”

“Bellamy, you don’t need to do that. I can make do.”

His eyebrows drew in together. “I want to, Clarke. It makes me happy to do things for you. Did you know that? Making your life better makes my life better.”

“You have a life and you can’t give that up to take care of mine.”

He took a big breath and pinned her with his dark eyes. “I’m going to tell you a secret. I am working on an idea for a new book, and at this stage, I like to build things with my hands. Let one part of my brain work while the other part sorts out ideas. I keep a notepad nearby and write down ideas as they come. I want to make you a studio in here for myself.” He gathered her up in his arms, pulling her waist in to his. She kept her hand over his heart. “It’s simply not as satisfying to just bang on a piece of wood. I need to be constructing something lasting. I’m using you for your garage space, Griffin. It’s also starting to get cool, and that means I can do my carpentry out of the elements instead of in some backyard somewhere. I do actually think Raven might like a treehouse, now that I think about it.” Clarke laughed. He looked down on her fondly. “So let me build you your studio. Okay?”

She smiled. “Okay. But if you’re going to build a studio in here, I’m going to feed you while you’re doing it. You will have dinner with us.”

“During the week?” he asked. She nodded. “With the kids?”

“Yes. All of us, together.”

“Did you ask them? You can’t just bring strange men into their lives.”

“Woah. You’re not some strange man. You’re you.”

“No. I know, it’s just, when I was a kid, my mom—“

“Bellamy,” she stopped him. “That’s not what’s going on here. We’re taking it slow. I’m looking out for Leo and Violet. You are looking out for them, too. We’re okay here.” She brushed a lock of his hair back, and smiled softly. Octavia was right. He needed someone who would take care of him, too. “But I’ll check with them if that’s what you want.”

He smiled. “It’s a deal,” and then leaned down to kiss her and her arms curled around his neck.

“Hey! Wait.”

“What is it princess?” he said, pressing little kisses to her jaw and neck.

“You didn’t say it back.” Her voice was quiet.

“You know how I feel,” he said near her ear. His warm breath making her shiver.

“I—yes,” she whispered, “but—“

“If ever you don’t feel loved by me, I want you to tell me.”

“Okay.” Her eyebrows drew together. “Bellamy… everyone has been telling me that you’ve been in love with me for twelve years. Not just when I was still in Ark, but even when I was gone.” She felt his arms wrap around her back and pull her in close. He hid his face in her neck. “But you’re not ready to say it.” It was a statement, not a question. He didn’t answer but she could feel his breath against her skin. She tangled her fingers in his hair. “It’s okay,” she whispered in his ear. “When you’re ready.” She kissed his jaw. She hugged him tighter.

They stood like that for a while until she could feel his heart calm. She felt loved in his arms, and she loved him.

“What if I wait too long?” he asked quietly, when she had thought all their words were done.

She pulled back to look at him, then shrugged, with a small smile. “I’ll be here, okay?"

Chapter Text

“What is he doing here?” Octavia growled and the entire room full of people were silenced by the fury in her words.

“Dad!” Leo cried, and knocked over his chair at the kids table in his eagerness to run Finn, standing there in the doorway of the dining room. A horrified Harper standing behind him, mouthing “I’m sorry,” while holding the cans of jellied cranberry sauce that she’d forgotten in her car, but Jasper had said he had to have for Thanksgiving.

“Daddy!” Violet ran to him. The other children still sitting at the kids’ table, all staring after them.

The adults were staring, too. Silent. They watched Finn’s reunion with his kids, as he picked up Violet and hugged her, one arm still around Leo, both of Leo’s wrapped around his waist. “I missed you guys so much!” Finn said.

Clarke just stood there, in the doorway to the kitchen, a dish of sweet potatoes in her oven-mitted hands, staring.

“What’s the hold up?” Bellamy said, coming from behind her with the turkey. Seeing Clarke frozen, then tracking her horrified gaze across the room. “Fuck,” he said. Then looked back at Clarke. “Okay.” He nudged her out of the way with his shoulder and put the turkey in the center of the table, catching Octavia’s furious glare. He raised one finger and pointed it at her in warning, then turned back to Clarke, taking the dish of sweet potatoes and putting it next to the turkey. He turned back to Clarke. “Clarke?”

Clarke looked at Bellamy, tearing her eyes away from Finn. In her house. Her heart was beating too fast and her head felt like it wasn’t quite connected to her body. His face was concerned.

“Do you want me to get rid of him?” Bellamy asked, seriously.

She let her breath out. She had been holding it. Maybe that’s why she was so light headed. She closed her eyes and filled her lungs with air. “No,” she said to him quietly. “He hasn’t seen the kids in months. I never actually wanted them to lose their father. I can do this.”

He had his hands on her arms, looking into her face. She knew he was trying to see if she was okay for real, or just saying it to be brave. His touch actually did steady her and she smiled at him.

“Finn,” she said, and he looked up at her from where he was buried in hugs, his arms wrapped around Leo and Violet.

He smiled at her and it gave her a pang to realize that he had tears in his eyes. “I missed them so much,” he said.

“You could have told us you were coming. I didn’t even know you were in the country.”

“If I had told you I wanted to see them would you have let me?”

“Of course I would!” she said. Damn Finn. As if she would keep her kids away from him. As if she was the bad guy here.

He looked down at the kids then back up at her. “I shouldn’t have left,” he said. “I was wrong. I thought it would solve something. I thought it would make sense of the mess. It didn’t. I’ve been assigned back to the states.”

“Are you staying, Daddy?” Leo asked. Clarke noticed the worry in his voice. Damn Finn. They’d worked so hard on Leo’s anxiety. Would Finn’s return just make the fear come back?

“I’m staying, Leo,” he said. “I’m staying, Violet.”

Clarke couldn’t speak. Everyone stared at her. All the eyes looking to her made her throat go dry, but especially her kids’ eyes.

“Mommy!” Violet said, “Daddy’s staying!”

Damn Finn. Clarke smiled, she knew it wasn’t a natural smile. Her head was screaming but she pasted the smile on her face anyway. “Do you—“ she had to swallow, “Would you like to stay for Thanksgiving dinner with us, Finn?”

It was like the whole room stopped breathing.

Finn smiled, his relief was palpable. “I would like that,” he said. “I missed my kids so much.” He grinned at them, and they smiled back at him. He still had his charm, but she was not charmed. “Can I sit with them for dinner?”

“That’s a good idea, Finn,” Raven said, standing up and coming over to him, her large brown eyes looking at him with biting intensity. “We’ll set you up another place at the kids table so you can be where you belong.”

“Raven,” Finn snorted. “I missed you.”

“I’m sure you did,” Raven said, and even that sounded knife edged. Clarke watched as Finn hugged Raven, his oldest friend and then she realized Bellamy had snuck away. Her heart jumped.

She slipped out of the dining room and into the kitchen and there he was, his arms braced on the counter, his head bent down.

“Bellamy,” she said. He didn’t move.

“Why did you let him stay?” he asked.

“He’s their father,” she answered, wanting him to understand.

“He left them. He left you.”

“I know, but I have to give him the chance, for them.”

“Why?” He finally looked at her, his eyes full of pain.

“Because he’s their father. And they deserve for him to have a place in their lives. I have to do this for them. I know how much they’ve suffered because they haven’t had him. And I know you understand this.”

He dropped his eyes again. She came up to him and put her arms around him, kissing his neck from behind. “This has nothing to do with how I feel about you, you know that, don’t you?”

He covered her hands with his own. “I know.” He sighed deeply. “Let’s go have our dinner. We’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah?” she asked.

He turned in her arms and took her face in his hands. “Yeah,” he smiled broadly. She didn’t believe him, but he kissed her, making her melt into him with the heat of his passion, his intensity, his love for her. And then before she could recover, he grabbed her by the hand and took her back out into the dining room, where he presided over the giant turkey, and she went straight for the wine.

***

They finished dinner, and dessert, and while her friends took care of cleanup and her own head was buzzing with what she could admit was far too much wine, Finn pulled her out onto the porch to have “a conversation.”

“Clarke,” he started, with the tone of voice that she was far too familiar with, the one that said she had messed up again, she had made the wrong choice, she had been too “Clarkeish.”

“What?” she snapped and put her glass of wine on the banister, perhaps a little too roughly, splashing the porch just a bit with red.

“You’re with Bellamy.” It was an accusation.

“Yes I’m with Bellamy,” she hissed. She kept herself from yelling. She was proud of herself for that. “I love him.”

“What else is new?”

She picked up the glass of wine again and, fuck it, drained the whole thing in one swallow. “You little prick,” she said, mindful of her volume because her children who LOVED him were still inside, playing a game of Apples to Apples with their cousins and Octavia who had ears like a fucking hawk. “You have always been jealous of Bellamy and always tried to keep me away from him, and the rest of my friends, for that matter.”

“Of course I did. He’s been in love with you forever. As if I couldn’t tell that from the very beginning. I knew if I gave him the slightest chance he would have stolen you from me. And now, in the end, there he is. And he got just what he wanted. I can’t believe you fell for his shit.”

Clarke started laughing. “Stolen me from you? As if I was your possession? As if I had no say in who I was with?” It was just too ridiculous. She reached for her wine but it was empty. Dammit. “I can’t believe I fell for your shit, Finn. Did you ever even love me, or was it just some sort of sick competition you had with Bellamy? He wanted me, so you had to have me?”

Finn looked offended. “Of course I loved you, Clarke. I loved you with every part of my being. It physically hurt me to be apart from you.”

“So what happened, Finn? When did that stop being the case? When was it that you really just wanted to not be around me any more?”

“I don’t know,” he said. And his voice was quiet, and sad. Not angry at all. Not as angry as she felt, as she felt she deserved to be. “It just got so hard. And you were always so…”

“So what?”

“So you. So sure of yourself, of me. That I could be this thing that you needed. That I was something I didn’t think I could be.”

“Wait. You treated me like shit because I believed in you?”

He shook his head, but she didn’t believe his denial. She didn’t know why she’d ever believed anything he said. “That’s fucking bullshit.” God she wanted more wine.

“I want to see my kids, Clarke. I’m back in DC and I’m staying.”

“I’m really tired of being the reasonable one,” Clarke said.

“What are you saying? You aren’t going to let me see my kids?”

“You fucking asshole. Of course I’m going to let you see your kids. But you can be sure I’m not going to let you walk all over me while I’m being nice and reasonable so you can make yourself feel like the good guy. You’ve been fucking me over for ten years and I’ve finally figured out that I never deserved any of it. Not the name calling or the being ignored or the being yelled at or your fucking cheating on me and leaving me. You can have visitation, once you’ve proved you’ve got a decent place for them to stay and you’re not just going to ditch them again to go running off with someone who doesn’t question you, off to some other country to save the world so you can feel good about yourself.”

“You’re drunk, Clarke. I don’t appreciate that.”

“I don’t give a fuck what you appreciate, Finn!’ she yelled. She heard her voice echo down the quiet street of her home. “I don’t give a fuck what you appreciate,” she repeated, quietly this time. “I deserve to be drunk, after you showed up, uninvited after six months of your fucking absence. Like I said, you can have visitation. I want my kids to have a dad.”

“You want your kids to have Bellamy Blake as a dad.”

“I wish!” she snapped at him. “I wish I had called him that night I was mugged. Do you have any idea how much I regret calling you? How much I wish they were his kids and not yours?” she felt tears rising in her throat. She was. She was drunk. It was too much. She couldn’t deal with this. She wanted Bellamy and instead, she had Finn. “Dammit.” She said.

“But they are my kids.”

“Yeah. They are. And we’ll get you visitation rights, Finn. We’ll work this out. But you and me? I don’t want to play these games anymore. So you need to talk to my lawyer about this, and we’ll work it out that way. We are not a thing anymore. Your jealousy of Bellamy is inconsequential. My anger at you. Whatever it is that made you do the things you did? It doesn’t matter. Go say good bye to your kids tonight. We’ll set something up for you to see them again soon, but we’ll do it through our lawyers, okay, because I just don’t want to play.”

He gave her the look, the disappointed look. She rolled her eyes. “Good night, Finn. Say good night to your kids and Raven will show you out.”

She turned on her heels and went down the steps of her porch, into the night. He had stayed too long in her house, in her life. She texted Raven—get him out of here. And went to go hide in her garage.

 

***

When she went into the garage and turned on the lights, Bellamy was already there, sitting at his workbench in the dark. Technically, it was her workbench, but when she’d let Bellamy build her a studio in her garage, she’d asked him for the workbench, for woodworking projects, and whether he knew it or not, it was always intended for him.

“Bellamy, thank god,” Clarke said, and breathed a sigh of relief. She went up to him put her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder.

Maybe it was the wine in her system, but it took her a while to notice that he didn’t put his arms around her. He stayed, stiff and still under her embrace. She pulled back and looked at him.

“Bell?”

His face was somber. He didn’t meet her eyes.

“He wants you back,” he said.

“What?”

“It’s okay. I know. I even understand. You have to do what’s right for Leo and Violet.”

“What?” she said again. There were no other words in her head. Nothing quite made sense.

“I know you’re not over Finn, Clarke. I’ve always known. I guess I was always waiting for this day to come.”

She blinked at him, her eyes nearly bulging out of her head. She could not believe him. “What?!”

“I don’t blame you. I won’t argue about it, I’ll just…”

And he wasn’t even looking at her. Staring at his feet, he shook his head and waved his hand as if he was conjuring up some sort of disappearing act.

She could feel her ears burning, rage, frustration, wine, whatever it was, she balled up her fist and punched him the chest.

“What the fuck!” he yelled, after nearly being knocked to the floor with the surprise hit. He rubbed his chest, looking at her, offended. She didn’t think she’d hit him that hard. He was just so wrapped up in his mopiness it shocked him.

“You fucking asshole! You think I’m going back to him?!” She stepped right up to him and shoved him. He took a step back. “Who the fuck do you think I am?”

“Stop hitting me.”

“You think I’d leave you,” she took another step towards him and shoved him again. He stood his ground this time and glared back at her. “For him?” she reached up to shove him again and he grabbed both her wrists, looking at her, finally, warningly.

“That’s what you think of me?” She asked, and it came out a whisper. “That’s what you think of my love for you? That I’d just throw it away and go running to him?”

He pulled her wrists to his chest and she came with him. “You did it before.”

She felt the tears spill out of her eyes, without her consent. She didn’t want to be crying right now. She wanted to be angry. At Finn, at Bellamy, at herself. “I didn’t know then. And I made the wrong choice. Dammit, Bellamy. I can’t go through life wishing I’d done it differently. I fucked up then. I know it, but I can’t change it.”

“I should have told you how I felt back then,” he said, still holding her wrists, looking into her eyes with such intensity. “If I had, maybe you wouldn’t have gone back to him, maybe you wouldn’t have married him, but I thought I had time, I thought you would see through him, I thought it would work out for us.”

“Honestly, Bellamy, I don’t even know if that would have worked. I believed in him then. I loved him. I thought it was right. I was so young, then, and I didn’t know what would happen.”

He looked like his heart was being ripped apart. He let go of her wrists then. His hands rose to her arms, ran up and down them. He looked so worried and took a deep breath to speak, as if it was painful. “Clarke,” he said, “Clarke, I l—“

“No!”

He drew back in shock at what she knew he thought was her rejection.

She wouldn’t let him go. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “No. Don’t say it now. I don’t want you to say it because you’re afraid you’ll lose me. You won’t lose me. I promise. Don’t say it because Finn showed up. Because you feel some sort of competition with him—“

“I’m not competing with him.”

“Then I don’t want how you feel to have any sort of connection to him. Please, Bellamy. Please. I don’t even know if how he felt about me was real, if it wasn’t just some sort of jealousy of you. If my whole marriage wasn’t just some possession thing. I don’t even care if I’m being stupid right now, if I’m being a bully or what, please, just wait, until it’s just about us, just about you and me.”

His face softened, and he lowered his forehead to hers. “Okay,” he said. “You and me. I trust us.”

She let her breath out, heavily. “Good,” she said. “Raven will get him out of the house. He’s going to want visitation rights and that is good, that is the right thing to do for the kids.”

“And for you. It’s the right thing to do period. It’s wrong to keep a person from their kids, no matter how much they pissed you off.”

She closed her eyes and nodded. “You’re right. I forget sometimes when I’m so angry.”

“And that’s okay, too. You can check in with me, if you think you’re too angry to think straight.”

“What if you’re too angry?”

He laughed. “That’s why I have you, right? We keep each other’s heads straight.”

She melted into him, so relieved that they were okay. The tension of having Finn show up in her house had really gotten to her, but here they were, just them. And it was just right. “Bellamy,” she said into his chest, “you’re wrong. I am over Finn. I don’t love him anymore, I don’t want him anymore and I’m not sorry we’re divorced.” He hugged her and she looked up at him. “But I’m not over what he did to me, or who I let myself turn into. I think that’s the worst part, that I turned into this person I didn’t recognize.”

“You know, Clarke, I kind of like you even better now than I did in college. You always act like you lost something over the last ten years, but not only do I recognize you, but I also see how much you’ve grown.”

Clarke wrinkled her nose at him. “Stop.”

He narrowed his eyes and cocked his head at her. “You stop.”

“Make me,” she teased, her hands caressing his skin under his shirt. She smiled against his neck, before biting him, just a little.

He laughed. They’d be okay.

Her phone chimed and she took it out. “Thank god. Raven got rid of him.”

Bellamy sighed. “We should go back in now.”

“We could stay out here…” she said, opening his collar a button and sucking on his collarbone.

“Clarke, your kids are still up.”

“They’re busy,” she said, popping one more button.

“All our friends are here. And it’s Thanksgiving.”

“Mmhmm,” she went for two buttons, this time, pushing his shirt open as she kissed down his chest.

Bellamy’s phone chimed and he checked it. His hand clutched at her hip.

“What? What is it?”

“Octavia. Apparently Lincoln thought she might actually do some physical harm to Finn and he and Jasper locked her upstairs in Violet’s room until she calmed down.”

“But Finn’s gone now.”

“She’s not calmed down.”

He showed her the text from Jasper. Full of exclamation points. She giggled.

“I feel responsible. I’m going to have to break out my chocolate truffles. I was hoarding them, but this is an emergency. We’ll sit the kids in front of The Grinch and go open another bottle of wine so we can trash talk Finn in peace.”

“That should work.” He smiled down at her, his eyes deep and warm. The words were there, even if he didn’t say them.

“Let’s go back in,” she said, and her voice was soft and promised more, later, and every day.

Chapter Text

The week before Christmas, when school was finally let out, and they could all stay up late and not have to worry about going into school or work early, they had a Raven’s Night.

“Raven, why do you get a night?” Clarke had asked her when she first brought it up.

“Because you work with Octavia and she watches the kids and Bellamy is over here on a regular basis with all of you and I’m stuck over there in my house without kids and working in my garage all the time and I don’t get any Clarke, Leo or Violet time and that is about to end.”

If Raven were the type of woman who pouted, Clarke would have teased her about her pouting, but Raven was the type of woman who punched you in the arm to express her feelings and blew things up when she was frustrated, so Clarke wisely stayed silent.

“Well, you’re right then. We need a Raven’s Night. What will we do on your night?”

“Obviously we will have chocolate chip pancakes for dinner and hot cocoa and peppermint sticks in front of the fire while we watch movies from our blanket fortress on the floor of the living room.”

So that is what they did.

The peppermint sticks were half melted in the cocoa and the smores were just sticky remnants left on lips while Clarke and Raven watched Violet dance along with Enchanted when a swift knock came at the door.

Clarke fumbled with the remote control and turned off the show before looking at Raven.

“Who the hell is knocking now?” Raven said.

Clarke scrambled up, careful of her freshly painted magenta toenails, and opened the door.

“Bellamy!” she said delighted with his broad presence on her porch. He hooked his arm behind him and pulled a bundled up Leo from out of hiding. She blinked. “Leo!” She was not delighted. She glanced up the stairs. “I thought you were up in your room! What are you doing out there?” She looked up at Bellamy in confusion.

“He came knocking on my door,” Bellamy said, his lips pinched together, shooting a disapproving look at the boy. “I kind of got the feeling you didn’t know.”

“You snuck out!?” Clarke was flabbergasted. She looked up at Bellamy in surprise. “He snuck out!”

When she looked down at Leo, his face was crumpled into a frown.

“How could you do that, Leo? You know you’re not allowed to leave without telling me, especially not at night? Anything could have happened to you and what then?” she grabbed his arm and dragged him in the door. “I wouldn’t have known. I wouldn’t have known what happened to you. You can’t go wandering around at night without telling me. ”

“Clarke, he came to me,” Bellamy said, stepping in behind him and closing the door to the cold air. “He didn’t go wandering.” She gaped at him.

“It’s not the point, Bellamy, he just left without telling me!”

“No, I get that,” Bellamy said in his soothing voice, raising a hand to her arm, “It’s just that—“

“I’m not a girl!” Leo interrupted. His crumpled face was bright red with frustration. “I don’t want to watch princess movies and paint fingernails and dance around.”

“Damn, kid,” Raven said from the living room. “I would have brought fireworks if I’d known that’s how you felt. We could have made it go boom. I like princess movies, but I like other stuff, too. Raven’s night doesn’t have to be girly.”

“We can’t have fireworks, Raven, it’s freezing out. But, okay, fine if you don’t want to do girly stuff you have to speak up, you can’t just take off—“

“Clarke,” Bellamy interrupted. She glared at him. It was hard to stop the rapid beating of her heart. She knew that Leo was safe, but the thought of him just walking out was still scaring her. He wasn’t the little baby anymore attached to his mom’s hip. He wasn’t scared anymore to be without her. He was growing up and he just went out, on his own. It frightened her. “Clarke, can I talk to you for a minute?” She looked up at Bellamy and his expression was serious, pleading even.

Clarke frowned, felt her nostrils flaring. She glared at Leo. “You are NOT out of the woods young man,” she said, then turned her anger onto Raven. “You do not take your eye off of Leo.”

Raven raised both her hands. “No problem, boss,” she said. “I’m on Leo. I can assure you, I take my duty very seriously. Come here, kid,” she wrapped her hand around his arm and yanked Leo back to the couch where she basically tossed him into the corner. He fell over a bit, not really expecting to be manhandled by Raven. Clarke knew Raven, and although she was slight, she was super strong and no nonsense. She nodded. Refraining from telling her old friend to kick her son’s ass, only because Raven would probably give him a tongue lashing all by herself, without any prompting from Clarke, and it would be much worse coming from Raven, who Clarke knew Leo had a case of hero worship for.

Clarke turned to Bellamy. “Fine,” she said, “Let’s talk.” She couldn’t help the snappish voice she turned on him. It wasn’t his fault, she knew it wasn’t. He had even brought Leo back, but she was feeling protective and defensive and angry all at the same time and Bellamy was the safest target she knew.

Bellamy opened the front door and drew her out onto the porch. “What the fuck, Bellamy, it’s freezing out here.” He just shook his head at her, taking off his coat and draping it over her shoulders. Despite the seriousness of the situation, she loved being enveloped in his coat, still warm with his body heat, smelling like him. She bit her lip to keep from smiling. “Speak,” she demanded, much harsher than she needed to be.

“Let him come with me,” Bellamy said. “I’ll keep him tonight and you guys can have your girl’s night.”

“What?” His words snapped her out of her anger, and her delight in the warmth of his coat, too. “Huh?” It didn’t make any sense. “He’s in trouble. He walked out of the house and down the street after dark without telling me. He’s totally grounded.”

“Yeah, Clarke, but…” Bellamy paused, and his eyes looked into hers, trying to get her to understand. “Clarke, he came to me.”

She shook her head. “Yeah, without asking.” She didn’t understand the point he seemed to think he was making.

“No. He came. To me. He wanted a…” Bellamy stopped, unable to continue.

Clarke blinked. “He wanted a dad.”

Bellamy’s neck turned red and his eyes got bright. “He wanted a guy, Clarke.”

Bellamy was trying not to cry, but that didn’t mean Clarke couldn’t. She wiped the sudden tears from her eyes. “Do you want the job?”

He breathed out in a huff. “I’m not his dad, Clarke. I know that.”

She stepped up close to him and leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him, trying to bring him as close as she could, warm him up with her own body. “Do you want the job, Bell?”

The muscle in his jaw clenched. “You know I do,” he whispered.

She laughed to hear him, a spikes of joy radiating through her. She tucked her nose into his neck. “I love you so much, Bellamy, and so do they.” His breath left him and she kissed him underneath his jaw. “Why don’t you take Leo, and have a guys night tonight, while we finish our pedicures and princess movie, yeah?”

He didn’t speak. Just nodded his head jerkily.

“Okay, it’s settled.” She tried to step back from him and go inside, but he held onto her, not letting her go. He shook his head, slightly and she realized he was trying to regain his composure.

Her own breath left her. She kissed the side of his neck, his cheek, his shoulder, and hugged him tight to her. When they were finally both cool and collected, they went back inside.

Leo was sitting on the couch, his arms crossed and looking stubborn, and Raven sat next to him, her eyebrow arched and her own arms crossed. Shooting Leo dark looks. Apparently she had not been quite prepared for Leo’s obstinate attitude.

“Leo…” Bellamy said, his voice low and stern.

Leo turned to Bellamy, glowering. “What?”

“I suppose you have some comic books in your room?”

“Yeah.” Leo said

“Well go get them,” Bellamy said. “And don’t forget your pajamas and your sleeping bag. Because I’m sleeping on the couch and you will be sleeping on the floor.”

Leo blinked. “What?”

“Are you turning down my offer of guys’ night, Leo?”

“No!” Leo clambered up from the couch, a big smile on his face. He ran to Clarke and hugged her and then raced off upstairs.

“Violet,” Clarke said, knowing that the girls had been playing with the sleeping bags. “Do you know where his sleeping bag is?” She nodded. “Can you go help him find his?” Violet nodded and ran up after him.

“You sure you trust me with him, Clarke?” Bellamy asked.

“Are you kidding me? You raised Octavia. If you can handle that, you can handle Leo.”

Bellamy laughed and she hugged him again.

“Well that sucks,” Raven said.

Bellamy and Clarke turned to her. “What does?” Clarke asked, leaning into Bellamy, his arm wrapped around her shoulders.

“I don’t get either of them. I just could not compete with Octavia since I have no cousins to give Violet. And it looks like Bellamy gets Leo with all that man bonding. Fucking Blakes. Stealing my kids.” She snorted. “Well you two had better get on it.”

“Get on what, Raven?” Bellamy asked, rolling his eyes at her.

“Making me a new kid, dammit. I get the next one.”

“Raven!” Clarke scolded, embarrassed. Bellamy hadn’t even been able to tell her he loved her yet. She didn’t want to start talking about babies, even though the thought warmed her belly.

But Bellamy just pulled her in closer and nuzzled her hair.

Raven looked at the both of them and flat out smirked. She was far too pleased with herself.

Chapter Text

When the door bell rang on Christmas morning, with the kids all full of candy cane energy and soon to be opened present excitement, Clarke opened the door with trepidation.

When she saw Bellamy, she sighed in relief and pulled him into tight hug. “Thank god it’s you.”

He laughed against her hair. “That nervous about seeing your mom?”

“You have no idea, Bellamy. It’s ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense. I mean, I know we haven’t spent much time with each other for, like years, but she never did anything wrong, and I know at least part of our distance was coming from me. What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing,” he said, and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into the kiss, and he kissed her eyelids. First one, then the other. It made her smile, slowly, gently, joyously, and then she felt his lips on her own, and it was the sweetest thing in life.

“Bellamy!” Violet called from the living room. “Bellamy! Did you bring us presents?”

Clarke felt the smile against her lips. He lifted his head and called, “You mercenary little girl, first you harangue Santa, and now you’re working on me.”

Clarke laughed as he stepped back from her and took off his coat, hanging it up on the coat tree. He picked up the bags he’d brought in with him, carrying them into the living room. The christmas tree was fat and took up all of one corner, with bright multicolored lights that blinked frenetically and a mishmash of hand made ornaments, clashing, brightly colored hanging balls and dangling tinsel. It was a mess and it was the best Christmas tree she’d ever seen.

“I’m not a mercenary,” Violet said, pouting. She wore hello kitty footie pajamas and an eyepatch with a skull and crossbones scarf wrapped around her head. “I’m a pirate.”

Bellamy laughed. “You sure are.”

Leo said, sitting cross legged on the floor, wearing The Force Awakens pjs and holding up a set of figurines, grinning. “Star Wars.”

“Awesome. Santa was good to you guys.”

“These were in our stockings. We’re allowed to play with them,” Leo said just a little bit defensively. “But Mom won’t let us open presents until Grandma gets here and we all eat breakfast.”

“Well I can’t wait to eat breakfast, it smells great in here.”

“Blueberry french toast casserole,” Clarke said. “And bacon.” She smiled. “And mimosas.” She laughed nervously.

“Break out the mimosas, Clarke.”

“Oh, I already have.” She ducked into the kitchen for a moment and came back with two glasses, handing him one and then grabbing his hand and leading him to the couch where they could sit together, and watch the kids play with their stocking stuffers. This was so good. This Christmas morning, sitting with Bellamy, with her two kids happy and peaceful. It was so the opposite of the tension of most holidays of the last ten years, and Finn’s insistence on having things just so, and the eventual blow ups he’d have, and how he’d withdraw from just being there with her, with the kids, happy.

She relaxed against Bellamy, his arm curved around her shoulders and playing with the ends of her hair as the kids put on little shows and displays of their new toys.

When the doorbell rang, Clarke stiffened against Bellamy. He nuzzled her ear. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “You’ve got this. I love you. I’m here.”

She nodded and took a deep breath, heading to the door to let her mother in. She was midway through her greetings, taking Abby’s coat and hanging it up, the kids running up to hug their grandmother hello when she realized.

Bellamy had said he loved her.

She looked up to see him standing in the doorway, watching the family reunion, an easy smile on his face. He wasn’t even looking at her. He didn’t even realize he’d said it.

She went over to him, putting an arm around his waist and looking up into his face. He crinkled his eyes down at her with happiness, watching Leo and Violet get reacquainted with their grandmother. Clarke felt like she was floating.

“Mom,” she said. “This is Bellamy Blake.”

Abby looked up and walked over to him, her hand out to shake his. “I remember you, it’s good to see you again, Bellamy.”

“And you Dr Griffin, although I seem to remember you weren’t too thrilled with me when Clarke was in college,” with his trade marked smirk

Clarke winced, sure that his comment, would get Abby’s hackles up. She was under no illusions. All three of them had sharp tongues and strong opinions and hair trigger tempers, but to her surprise, Abby just laughed and pulled Bellamy into a hug. “Call me Abby,” she said. “Looks like I bet on the wrong horse, Bellamy Blake. Thank you for taking care of my daughter.”

Bellamy looked at Clarke and they shared a confused look before he put his arms around Clarke’s mom and hugged her back. Clarke shook her head, just as puzzled. Abby stepped back and smiled.

“You have a lovely home, Clarke.”

“It’s nothing fancy.” Abby lived in a penthouse that had actually been featured in Architectural Digest. Clarke's house was worn couches and loads of books and blankets and vintage furniture.

“It’s a home,” she said, her eyes glistening, before she cleared her throat and looked around. “Will Raven be here?”

“She…” Clarke started, confused, “she’s coming over later. She likes to sleep in late and thinks any holiday that requires early rising is barbaric.”

Abby laughed. “I can’t say I disagree,” she said.

“Do you know Raven, Dr— Abby?” Bellamy asked.

“I do. We’ve been correspondents for quite some time, since before the kids were born, actually.”

“But… why?” Clarke had to ask.

Abby pinched her lips closed and shot a glance at the kids, who were wholly invested in removing the brightly wrapped presents from the bags that their grandma had brought and placing them on top of the huge pile underneath the Christmas tree.

“Raven was… concerned about you, so she got in touch with me.”

“And you’ve been talking to her ever since?”

Abby simply smiled and nodded. “She’s a lovely woman. How about we open up our presents?” she said.

The kids cheered.

“No, mom! We have to have breakfast first! And, let me get you some coffee, or a mimosa… there’s no rush.”

The kids groaned. They had been so close to getting to rip open all the presents.

“Nonsense. Why do we have to wait?” Abby asked.

“Yeah, Clarke,” Bellamy turned to her, unable to keep a huge smile from his face. He quirked his eyebrow at her. “Why can’t we open presents now?”

Clarke blinked at him, at them, all of them. At her life, at her home, her family. “It’s—it’s tradition…” she said.

“Dad always said we had to wait, to practice delayed gratification, because that was the sign of an evolved human,” Leo said, with just Finn’s inflection.

Bellamy choked and Abby patted his back, saying, “How… interesting.” Bellamy looked at Abby and she rolled her eyes. Bellamy snickered. Clarke’s mouth dropped open. Bellamy and her mother were bonding.

“No, we wait,” Clarke said, rediscovering her voice, “because it makes the anticipation and joy of Christmas last longer. Okay?”

The kids groaned again.

“How about one gift each, Clarke?” Bellamy smiled at her, his eyes so soft, so full of love. “Then we can have breakfast, and finish opening afterwards?”

Clarke nodded. She was so happy, there were no words.

The kids cheered and Abby headed to her presents that the kids had just laid out under the tree.

“Can I get you a mimosa, Abby?” Bellamy asked.

“That would be lovely, Bellamy, thank you,” she said from where she was kneeling in front of Christmas tree.

Before he went into the kitchen, Bellamy sidled up to Clarke and put his arm around her. “See?” he said. “Everything is good.” His eyes sparkled at her and she gasped, breathless for a second.

“I love you,” she whispered.

And he smiled, kissing her lips with the lightest touch, before taking her glass out of her hand. “Let me fill up your glass.”

“Yes.” She said. Yes.

***

It was late that night. Raven had come and gone, as had Octavia, Lincoln and the cousins. The kids were long asleep, and her mom had gone to her hotel room. Clarke lay wrapped, naked, in Bellamy’s arms after they made love slow and sweet. He pressed kisses into her hair. She could tell he was this close to sleep and maybe that was what brought the words to her lips.

“Move in with me,” she said.

He drew in a breath. He wasn’t that close to sleep, apparently.

“What?” he asked, leaning away to look at her face.

“Move in with me. I love you. The kids love you. I don’t want you to have to sneak out before dawn and crawl back to your house so the kids don’t see you. I want you to be a part of our family.”

“Clarke, are you sure?” He looked at her with such concern, a stab of uncertainty went through her.

“Bellamy, move in with me.” She blinked at her own tone of command, but he grinned.

“Clarke, I can’t—“

She sat up, holding the covers to her chest. “I’m sorry. It’s too soon. You aren’t… you don’t…” Clarke suddenly felt ill. He didn’t want to live with her. She was so stupid. Everything was great the way it was. Why did she want to ruin it?

“Hey,” he said, sitting up next to her. “Stop it. Don’t go off in your head. I can’t move in with you until…wait.” He leaned over the bed, searching for something on the floor. Grabbing for his pants he pulled something out of the pocket, and then sat back up in the bed, next to her. He turned to her and took her hand in one of his, holding the other around a box in front of him. “Shit. This is all wrong. I wasn’t going to ask you until I could actually tell you— dammit— until I could get the damn words out— shit, Clarke I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Clarke could see what was in his hand, the little blue velvet ring box. She knew the words he was having trouble getting out. Her heart had sunk a moment before but now it was like a sun was rising inside her chest. “Bellamy, you already told me you loved me.”

“What?”

“You said it. When my mom rang at the door. You said I had this, you loved me, and you were there for me.”

“I did?”

She huffed a laugh and raised her free hand to his face. She nodded. “I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

She could see him searching his memory. “I said it.” His deep brown eyes met hers and they were so warm and full of love. “I did. Because I do. Love you.” He blinked and a tear rolled down his cheek. She wiped it away with her thumb.

“I know you do. You show me every day in a million ways. I don’t even need the words.”

“But I need to say them,” he said, gravely. “So I know I’ve said them.”

“Okay, but just so you know, I liked it when you said it without thinking about it. Like it was just natural, just the way things were. Not even worthy of comment.”

“Clarke, shut up.”

She nodded, and was silent, turning to face him and biting her lip.

He looked at her teeth as they grabbed her lip and swore. “Shit, Clarke, I love you. Dammit, will you just fucking marry me?”

Clarke burst out laughing. “You’re such an asshole,” she said and grabbed him around the neck, pulling him down on top of her. “Hell, yeah.”

“Okay, good,” he breathed, “then I guess I’ll move in with you,” and kissed her long and deep. “You’re never going to get rid of me now.”

“Never,” she said.

 

 

finito

Chapter Text

“Hey babe,” Bellamy said, poking his head into her garage turned studio. “I’m taking the kids down for some ice cream. So if you come out and find the munchkins missing, we’re going for the sugar high.”

Clarke just stared at him. Still a little bit in awe that he was there. That he was who he was. That he was watching her kids, as well as his own nieces, without even being asked. He’d shoo’d her into her studio to paint, simply because he knew how much she loved it. When she was married to Finn, he’d rarely watched his own kids, always thinking his time was too valuable, always off on his important adventures saving the world. And here was Bellamy, history professor, who’d rather spend hours playing with a bunch of little kids than doing the serious work of academia.

She opened her mouth to say something, she wasn’t sure what, but Bellamy just smiled, descended upon her to kiss her passionately, and said, “I’ll bring you back a scoop of mocha chip.” He was getting ready to swoop away again when she grabbed at his sleeve and held onto him.

“I love you,” she said, because she wanted him to always know how she felt, after she left him to marry Finn ten years ago, even if he still had a hard time saying it back sometimes.

He pressed his forehead to hers and she felt his indrawn breath. “I’ll show you how I feel about you tonight,” he promised.

Clarke curled her fingers into his hair and smiled. “You always show me how you feel, Bell.”

He kissed her again and broke away when they heard a bunch of little girls screaming.

“BELLAMY!!” Leo hollered, never very good at wrangling a bunch of little girls, being an 8 year old boy, and having no patience for them.

Bellamy laughed and pulled away. “I’d better go before one of them attacks him.”

“My money’s on Penny. She’s as fierce as your sister.”

“Don’t you sell out Violet. She gets her killer instinct from you.”

Clarke snorted. “Yeah, that’s me. Commander of Death.”

Bellamy pinched her side and she yelped, threatening him with her paintbrush full of oils.

“You scare me for sure. Maybe it will be the little one who brings your son down with her sweetness and kisses.

“Sophia definitely gets that from Lincoln,” Clarke said.

“BELLAMY!!” Leo called again.

“I’m shocked that you don’t think she gets her sweetness from her uncle,” he grinned.

She snorted. “Okay there, sweetness. Remember my mocha chip or you will regret it. And go save my son.”

“Yes sir, Commander of Death.”

Clarke rolled her eyes and threw her paint rag at his retreating back. She heard his laughter as he gathered up the kids and stuffed them in his car for the ice cream run. She couldn’t stop smiling.

Bellamy had been living with Clarke and her kids for three months and everything was blissful. Violet thought Bellamy had hung the stars, possibly literally, as he would take them out into the backyard and point out the constellations and tell the stories of how they’d been placed up there by the gods. Leo, being 8, and a whole two years older, considered himself above such fantasies, but still managed to follow Bellamy around whenever he was home and not working in his office. The office that he’d carved out of a space in the attic. Clarke had felt terrible, relegating him up to the third floor unfinished space and it’s steep staircase (really a ladder), but after he had renovated it, it had become the coziest spot in the house, with the angled roof and dormer window and ranks of bookshelves. Clarke was almost jealous.

Except he loved it when she curled up on his cozy chair to work on her sketches or read while he was writing at his desk late at night after the kids went to bed. If she fell asleep there, he’d rouse her with a kiss and guide her down the stairs and into their bedroom and make love to her, so softly, so sweetly, it felt like a dream.

Bellamy Blake was a dream.

She knew it was just the honeymoon phase and soon the little problems of daily living would sneak in and the things that they’d once thought were endearing would turn annoying. She knew that they’d get sick of having each other around and tired of being on their best behavior. That he’d want her to back off and give him some space and she’d get resentful of the time he spent on his work. Right? That was what had happened with Finn, after the kids had come and life had gotten too real.

But the kids were already there, and life was already real and grown up and they were already managing the bills and schedules and jobs and all that boring, dull adult stuff that had made Finn roll his eyes and tell her to figure it out. But Bellamy had never done that. He’d pushed her to make sure they were clear about finances, making sure that she was taking care of herself and her kids, and he was contributing fairly to the household, even though she had been the one to set everything up. Because he didn’t want to take advantage of her. That’s what he said. He was looking out for her, all the time. And it made her want to take care of him. And that would end at some point, right? Like it had with Finn?

But she’d never felt this way with Finn. She’d never felt this at peace, or accepted, or relaxed. She never felt like Finn had her back, she’d always been there for Finn, but could never depend on him to be there for her. But Bellamy was her partner in all things.

Clarke shook herself out of her day dream, she was supposed to be painting, not sitting here playing with her engagement ring, thinking about Bellamy. It was definitely a honeymoon period, right? Nothing could actually feel this good and last? No one could be as perfect as he was.

When her cel phone rang she jumped, already sliding back into her daydream. She shook her head and answered.

“Hi mom, whats up?”

“Nothing,” Abby said. “Nothing.”

Clarke read the nerves in her voice. She was feeling too good to let her stress her out. She decided to head it off. “If you’re calling to tell me that you and Marcus are getting serious, it’s okay. I already know. I will gladly accept him as my step father. He makes you happy, and you deserve some happiness.”

Abby laughed, taken off guard. “Well thank you Clarke. That’s the first time you’ve ever…never mind. I’m glad you can accept Marcus, but that’s not actually why I called, although your reaction, well, it just confirms my decision.”

“What? What decision?”

Abby took a deep breath. “Well, before your father died, when we were having those issues with Finn…”

Clarke felt her mood drop. When Violet had just been born, her parents and Finn had had a falling out. No one had ever really said what it was about. They didn’t want to worry her, it was nothing, but Finn had made it clear that he thought her parents were meddling and judgmental and he didn’t care to be around them. There had been so much tension around it that it had just been easier to… not visit them in New York. To not invite them to DC. To just… not.

“…And we decided to change our wills.”

“Huh?” This was not where Clarke had expected this conversation to go.

“You should have gotten a good deal of your father’s estate when he died, Clarke.”

“I thought it went to you, as his wife,” Clarke said. She hadn’t cared about money. She had only cared that she’d lost her dad, when they’d been estranged. The familiar pang shot through her. “I didn’t want the money, mom. Although Finn was pretty angry.”

“Good,” Abby said. And the word was more vicious than she was used to hearing her mother speak. “Then we were right to keep your inheritance in trust until we were sure.”

“Sure of what, mom?”

“Sure that you and the kids would actually get it,” she snapped.

“What?”

“That’s what it was all about, Clarke. Finn wanted us to bankroll his global adventures. He actually thought that you would follow him around the world saving everyone, with babies tied to your hip. And we weren’t going to pay for him to uproot you and the kids to feed his ego.”

It had been his plan, she remembered, and she’d been relieved when he’d stopped talking about it, even if it mean he was distant with her. But still. “You did that without telling me?” Clarke asked, a little shaken. “What if that had been my goal, too?”

“Clarke, did you want to travel the world with two babies?”

Clarke didn’t say anything and her mother didn’t belabor the point. “I didn’t call to bring up water under the bridge. I called to tell you that I’ve talked to the lawyers and signed all the papers. The money is all yours.”

“Money.”

“Yes. Your father’s entire estate. I never needed it. I never wanted any of it. I have plenty. This is for you. This is for you to start over. You can do whatever you want with it. Never work again. Buy a bigger house. Have a huge wedding. Travel the world with Bellamy… if that’s what you want,” she paused just in case. Just in case she really had wanted to travel the world with Finn. Which she hadn’t.

“Money,” she said again.

Abby sighed with relief, it seemed. She had been holding onto this for so long. Clarke could almost not believe it. “Yes, Clarke. Your inheritance. It’s all yours. Free and clear. You are a wealthy woman.”

“I want to go back to school.” The words came out of her mouth without conscious control.

“Oh,” Abby said with delight. “You want to try med school again.” Clarke could hear the smile in her voice.

Clarke stared at the paintbrush that was still in her hand. Cerulean blue. Like the sky. Like hope. “No. I want to go to school for art.”

There was a pause on the other end. “That’s great, honey.” Her voice was different now. Almost like it was full of tears.

“You don’t think I should?” she asked, like a challenge almost, remembering the discouragement she’d gotten when she considered taking art when she first went to college.

“No,” Abby said. “Oh, honey. No. I think it’s great. Art has always been something that made you happy. And I’ve seen your paintings. I do follow your instagram. They’re beautiful.”

“Octavia made me join.” Clarke didn’t know what to say. She might be in shock a little.

“You should do it. You should go back to school for art. It’s a great idea.”

Clarke laughed. She didn’t know why. “Because you gave up on me being a doctor?”

There was another pause. She could almost see her mother cocking her head at her sternly. “Because it makes you happy and you deserve to be happy.”

“I am happy, mom,” and all of a sudden she was crying. “I’m so happy. I don’t believe it I’m so happy.”

Her mom was silent for a while. “That’s all I ever wanted for you, honey,” she said. And after settling a few details, they said goodbye.

When Bellamy came home with the girls in tow, Clarke was sitting, silent, in shock a bit, on the couch. He handed Clarke her mocha chip ice cream while the kids went outside to play.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked as he sat next to her, a hand on her knee.

She looked at him. And she didn’t know what her face said to him, but he looked more worried and squeezed her knee. “Clarke, everything okay?” He leaned in.

She didn’t know what to say.

He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and held her close to him. “Tell me,” he said softly. She could tell he was worried.

She shook her head and huffed out a laugh. “We’re rich.”

She watched his face. The incomprehension. As if the words she said didn’t track. He blinked at her.

She laughed again. This time for real. “We’re rich, Bellamy. Rich.”

“What?”

She took his hand off of her knee and started playing with his fingers. He had a new cut from his latest woodworking project. She loved the calluses on his fingers. “I’m getting my inheritance from my father. I wasn’t expecting it. They’d been holding it in trust until Finn…”

“What?”

“Until Finn went away. Oh my god, Bellamy. My parents though Finn was trying to steal my inheritance. They thought he was a gold digger!”

“What’s happening here?”

Clarke turned in her seat, taking his hands in hers. “They were holding my inheritance in trust until they were sure that Finn wouldn’t get it. And now it’s mine. Everything my father had. The savings, the property, the investments.”

“You’re rich?”

She laughed. “Me? Us. We’re rich.”

He shook his head. Disbelievingly.

“What do you want to do, Bell?”

He laughed. “Have meatloaf for dinner? That one with the sauce you make?”

She fell into his lap then, wrapping her arms around his neck and tipping over the other side of him on the sofa, until she’d pulled him down on top of her. He wrestled his elbows up until he was propped above her. She combed his hair back from his face with her fingers. “I think I want to go back to school to study art studio.”

He breathed out a laugh. “Yeah? That’s great. Really you should. I’d love to see you taking your art seriously. But mostly I just love to see you doing something you love.”

“Really? It’s not too unrealistic? My mom thought at first I wanted to go back for med school.”

He snorted. “Med School? No way. She’s still thinking of you as a kid.”

“It used to be my dream. But my dream got taken up by living and now it doesn’t fit. Should I feel sad about that?”

“I don’t know, Clarke. I got my dream. Doesn’t quite seem real.” He kissed her so softly then. And she knew he meant her. She cupped his cheek in her palm. Her heart could barely fit in her chest. “Is this real? You’re rich?”

“You always knew I was rich. You used to mock me for being a spoiled princess, remember?”

“But that was a lifetime ago and you stopped being rich. And you were having such a hard time.”

“And you had a hard time growing up and you stopped struggling and got more secure. Things change.”

“No, I always feel like I’m struggling, even when I’m not. That never changed.”

“Well now you’re marrying into old money. Gosh. I don’t even know what it’s like to be an adult with money. As a kid I took for granted. Anything I wanted I got.” Clarke slid out from under Bellamy and shoved him to sitting. “What do you want Bellamy Blake? I’ll give it to you. That’s what I want to do with my money. I want to give you that feeling.”

He laughed and looked up at the ceiling. “There is absolutely nothing I want that I don’t have right in this moment. A job I love. A comfortable home. The kids. You. This is everything.”

She nodded and tucked herself up under his arm. “Yeah. It’s pretty perfect. I figure we’ll get past this honeymoon phase soon and you’ll get sick of me or I’ll get frustrated with you or we’ll get tired of this pack of kids or something will happen.”

“I would tell you nothing will happen, but something always happens.”

“My god what is wrong with us? This is a banner day and we’re sitting here waiting for the apocalypse.”

“You know,” he said, pulling her into his side and nuzzling her ear. “I’m so happy with you. Maybe we suffered enough. Maybe now we get the happily ever after story.”

She turned in his arms and kissed him deep and long. When they pulled apart for air, she ran her fingers down his cheekbone. “I’m not sure I believe in happily ever after. But we’re happy right now, and that’s the best story I can imagine.”

He smiled wide and bright and she was dazzled. “I have a good story,” he said and the smile turned dangerous as his hand slipped under her shirt.

“MOM!!!” came the yell from outside. They both jumped.

“I forgot they were out there,” Clarke said.

“UNCLE BELLAMY TELL VIOLET TO GIVE IT BACK!!”

“I got all wrapped up in you. I’m going to be a terrible step father.”

“Yeah right.” She snorted. “You’re the best dad and uncle ever. And you’re going to be the best husband, too.”

“God,” Bellamy panted and kissed her hard.

The screaming started again.

“WOULD YOU BRATS STOP MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!!! MOM! BELLAMY TELL THEM TO SHUT UP!!!”

Clarke and Bellamy cracked up and pulled each other up off the couch. The kids barreled into the kitchen squabbling and bickering.

“Still happy?” Clarke asked Bellamy.

“So happy,” he said, before running to separate Violet and Penny before they got into an epic battle. Clarke sighed happily and followed him, ready to lay some peace down, whether they liked it or not.