Bellamy started working for the sanitation department when he was nineteen and his mother died, because the pay was pretty decent and the hours worked out well for his new schedule, which involved custody of a girl in middle-school. He could drop Octavia off at the school early, which she hated, but he was done by the time she was through with school and he could be around when she was home. It wasn't exactly what he'd wanted, but the job wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. It's hard work, but he's always been a hard worker, and he finishes early enough in the day that as Octavia gets older he can pick up something else in the evenings. All his friends say he's going to run himself ragged, but he likes staying busy. And he's got a sister to take care of.
And there are honestly some advantages. After ten years, he's gotten a few raises, is technically a supervisor or something, and he makes enough that he can drop his other job and start taking night classes. It feels like where he should have been at eighteen, not at twenty-nine, but it's still not bad.
Plus, there are the kids.
He was never one of those kids who was particularly into trucks or trains or anything like that--he preferred fantasy creatures and dinosaurs, honestly. But Octavia went through a pretty intense construction tools phase, so he knew, in theory, that some kids had weird obsessions. He just didn't really know that any of them were into garbage trucks. And, by extension, garbage men.
"It's cuz you're so pretty," Miller tells him, when a five-year-old boy runs away, giggling, after he smiles at him.
"It's a curse, yeah."
They're a big part of the reason he stays working in the actual truck, instead of trying to move into a different part of the organization. He's had some title changes and promotions in the last few years, so it won't look like he's stagnating on his resume, but he kind of likes interacting with actual people. Besides, he's seen exactly how bad government bureaucracy is when he's not directly involved in it. He hates these people enough as his distant bosses; he can't imagine them as a part of his daily life. He'd punch someone in the first month, if not the first week.
So, yeah. It's a good job, and he's happy. It's always a little--there are some people who hear what he does and turn up their noses at him, but he's pretty sure he wouldn't get along with those people anyway, because they're fucking assholes, so it's kind of a nice litmus test. He doesn't need anyone in his life who's going to look down on him for his job.
Which is why he worries when he gets transferred to a new neighborhood, in the suburbs. People have yards here, nice yards, and probably cleaners who take their trash out for them. It's a world he's never really interacted with, let alone as a--well, a public servant. He knows what that means to people like this.
"You know not all rich people are assholes, right?" asks Miller. His dad does home security, and Bellamy knows their family is decently well off. Better than his ever was. "And not everyone who lives in the suburbs is rich."
"Not all of them. But even the ones who aren't assholes probably aren't going to think about their garbage men much."
"Fuck you, I'm a sanitation artist."
Bellamy laughs and flips him off, but it does make him feel better. It's not like he cares about being ignored, exactly, but--he just doesn't do well, with privileged people. They make him feel itchy.
Thankfully, the third house they come to on the first day, there's a little girl who's really, really excited about the truck.
He thinks she's probably four or five, with curly black hair and skin about the same shade as Miller's. She actually runs over at the sight of them, but stops short when Bellamy gets out of the truck. He can see her worrying her lip, and he gives her a wave.
She bolts back to the porch, and he has to smile.
"Now who's too pretty?" he asks Miller.
"She's blinded by your beauty."
"Don't project onto kids. It's creepy."
It puts him in a good mood for the rest of the trip, because at least kids are a universal. They think garbage trucks are cool and don't do well with strangers. It's easy to relate to that.
The next week, the girl is back, but with a blonde woman, probably around Bellamy's age. She feels a little young to be the mom, so he assumes she's an aunt or something m. Or maybe she just got started young. It's not like his mom didn't.
"I can't talk to strangers," the girl says, clear like she rehearsed it. Five, he decides. Definitely five. "You're a stranger."
The woman offers him a smile, almost shy. "She knew Jack, so she was allowed to say hi to him, but--"
"He didn't mention he was leaving?" Bellamy asks. He was reassigned, so he really could have. But, honestly, Jack has been a dick for as long as Bellamy's known him, and not the kind of dick Bellamy likes. Just kind of an asshole.
The woman makes a face that suggests her opinion of Jack also wasn't very high. "We usually just waved to him," she says.
"Well, you can wave to me from now on if you want," he says, crouching down so he's at the girl's level. He offers her his hand. "Hi, I'm Bellamy. My friend in the truck is Miller, but he doesn't usually come out. He's shy."
The girl looks up at her mother, and the woman nods, so she accepts Bellamy's hand. "I'm Victoria. But it's okay if you call me Vicky. And this is Clarke."
So, not her mother, or one of those families where kids call their parents by their first names. It's not like it's his business; he just likes to know things. She's probably a nanny.
"Well, it's nice to meet you both." He considers, and then says, "Do you want to help me put this on the truck?"
She lights up, as if he just asked if he wanted to help him eat an entire cake.
"Can I?" she asks, and then looks up at Clarke. "Clarke?"
"If it's really okay," she says, giving Bellamy a look he can't read.
"I think she can handle it," he says. "So, I'm going to pick this up and put it here," he adds, once Vicky has followed him to the garbage can. "And then I need your help to dump it in the truck. It's a little high, so I need to pick you up."
Vicky's obviously good with that, and when he flicks his eyes to Clarke, she smiles and nods, so Bellamy picks up the girl and lets her pull the lever that dumps the can into the back of the truck. She squeals, delighted, and runs back to Clarke when he puts her down.
"Did you see? Did you see?"
"I saw, yeah. That was awesome. But you should thank Bellamy," she adds, with just an hint of chastisement.
"Thank you, Bellamy!" Vicky says, and he has to smile.
"Sure. We'll be back next week, if you want to help again."
"She definitely will," Clarke says, in a low, amused undertone.
It's surprising how easy it feels to smirk at her, tease back a little. "That's good. It gets really tiring, pulling that thing. I could use the break."
She lets out a soft snort of laughter. "Glad we can help, then. See you next week, Bellamy."
Clarke's social life has been a little lacking since she got Vicky. Not that she--it's hard to say she minds, because she loves Vicky, and saying that she's upset she gets laid less because her best friend died and she ended up with custody of her goddaughter is one of those sentiments that honestly makes her feel like the worst person of all time. And she doesn't feel that way, really. It's hard having the constant awareness that everyone involved has a worse life than they would have if Wells and Maya hadn't been in the accident.
But her social life is far from the worst loss, even if, after a year and a half, she's starting to miss getting laid.
So maybe that's why Bellamy is so hot.
Not that he isn't obviously just hot as a person, with the fucking giant arms and perfect teasing smile and curly hair and dark eyes, to say nothing of the easy way he interacts with Vicky, all the patience and warmth. Bellamy is very definitely objectively hot.
But Clarke is also pretty hard up, and that's the justification she settles on, because--well, as crushes go, it's very sad. She sees him once a week for about five minutes while he picks up her trash.
"But he's really hot," she protests to Monty and Raven. Vicky is asleep and they're having what they've dubbed mom night, where they drink red wine and gossip about how weird Clarke's neighbors are. She wants Vicky to have a yard, but she's still getting used to the suburbs after more than a year.
"Or you're really hard up," says Monty.
"He can be hot and I can be hard up," Clarke says. "Those aren't mutually exclusive. And he keeps talking to Vicky. Being good with kids is a thing for me now."
"It was always a thing for you," Raven says, because she's a traitor. "I remember after the Finn thing you spent like three weeks googling hot celebrity parents and crying. Which was way less productive than the hot rebound sex I had."
"I know you're better at life than I am," Clarke says, but she can't manage any real irritation. Raven's the most competent person she's ever met; there's no shame in being worse at life than Raven.
"Do you want to go on more dates?" Monty asks. "You could go on dates. I can babysit any time."
She has to smile. Monty is Vicky's godfather, and she knows he still feels bad that they aren't trying some sort of rom-com thing where they share custody of her and it leads to all kinds of misunderstandings about their marital status. But Clarke's fine on her own, and Monty has a really demanding job and an apartment he loves and a lot less money than she does. He watches Vicky when she needs it and helps all the time, and that's more than enough. Clarke having sole custody is just a lot easier for everyone.
Raven says she has a bit of a martyr thing going; that might be true too.
"If I ever get a date, I'll tell you," she says. "But we're pretty far from that."
"So let Monty babysit and we'll go out sometime," Raven says, slinging her arm around Clarke's shoulders. "You don't have to date, but you can at least get laid. It's been, what, two years?"
"I don't need another person to get laid," she says, but it really isn't the same, so she adds, "If I start wanting that, we'll figure it out. Right now, I'm just enjoying having some eye candy."
"You should flirt a little too," says Raven.
"Like training wheels," Monty says. "Get back in the game."
"He's a nice guy doing his job. I don't want to make that weird. Who wants to get hit on at work? It's awkward."
"Spoken like a true former waitress," says Raven, and Clarke clinks their glasses together.
"You could still think about it," Monty wheedles. "Read the signals, see if he's into it."
"You're acting like Clarke knows how to read signals."
"You guys are the best, by the way," she says, dry. "I'll keep you posted on the hot garbage man situation."
"Hot Garbage Man Situation," Monty says. "Definitely title of your sex tape."
"Fuck you," she says, and they drink to that too.
She doesn't have much time to think about her personal life after that, though, because Vicky is turning five, and Clarke's very, very invested in making sure she has an awesome birthday. Her birthday last year came a few weeks after the accident, and while Clarke did her best, it wasn't really fun for anyone. They'd been moving and figuring out custody and mourning; the celebration still felt hollow.
This year, she's going to do better.
They spend a lot of time figuring out themes and guest lists and making sure that everything is really exciting. Five is a big deal, Clarke and Vicky agree, because five is half of ten, and ten is old. Clarke's not totally comfortable with the math, but twenty-five felt really big to her, so she can't say she doesn't get it.
She's also mildly terrified of the whole thing, just because there are going to be so many kids, and Clarke isn't really convinced she's good with kids. She always assumed she'd have kids when she felt ready, and she had no idea when that would be, but even though she got Vicky a lot earlier than she felt like she could handle her, they do okay. But Vicky is one girl, and they're good. Allies, if not exactly family.
Thirty kids is a lot, even with all her friends helping out. And there are so many activities. But it's worth it, for how happy it makes Vicky.
And then she says, "What about Bellamy?"
It's the last question Clarke expected; they're working on writing out invitations--or, Clarke is writing them and Vicky is drawing on them--and she isn't thinking about Bellamy at all. It's Wednesday, which isn't when he comes, and Vicky's usually on top of that. Garbage day is her favorite day.
"He's not coming until tomorrow," Clarke reminds her.
"No, but where's his invitation?"
Clarke blinks for a minute, and then finally settles on, "You want to invite Bellamy?"
"It's my birthday," she says, like this is the only argument that matters. "I'm inviting all my friends."
It's the kind of argument that it's very difficult to refute, because Clarke isn't really in a position to tell an almost-five-year-old that the garbage man who talks to her every week isn't really her friend. Really, telling her that anyone isn't her friend feels like a dick move.
"We can give him an invitation," she finally decides. He's a nice guy who's clearly used to dealing with kids; the invitation itself isn't going to offend him, like all of Vicky's overtures of friendship to Jack the dick had. "But he probably won't be able to come."
"Adults are busy. And when you don't work from home like I do, weekends are really important. He probably has errands to do and stuff, or he cold have other plans. We can ask him, but you shouldn't get your hopes up."
It seems like the safest compromise, and it'll probably even be fun for Bellamy, she figures. Vicky does a lot of decoration on his card, a drawing of the truck and of Bellamy and Vicky with a garbage can, and also some dog faces, because she likes dogs. It'll give him a smile.
On the card, Clarke writes, She really wanted to invite you, but don't worry about coming. Thanks for letting her help you out with the trash, it's the high point of her week. And then, she adds, a little hesitant, If you're worried about how to let her down easy, you can give me a call, we can talk strategy, but if you just say you're busy it should be fine.
Putting her number on doesn't really feel like flirting, but it does feel a little weird. Still, she never actually gets to talk one-on-one with him, because Vicky is always there, asking him questions, so if he feels like he needs help this is the only way she can give it. And, honestly, she doesn't know a thing about him, so part of her really hopes he'll call, and then they can chat, and then maybe--
Well, it's stupid. Nothing's going to happen.
But she's really excited for Thursday all the same.
As always, Vicky and Clarke are waiting on the curb at the top of their street, and Vicky is bouncing on her heels in excitement. It makes him grin every time, which is bad just because Miller always notices and always makes fun of him.
"You should just ask her out," he says this time.
"She's like five, it would be weird."
Miller rolls his eyes. "Yeah, that's exactly what I meant."
"Uh huh. Want to come say hi?"
"No, I don't want to have to witness how shitty your game is. It's bad enough in bars."
"Don't be jealous I get laid more than you do," Bellamy says, and jumps out of the truck before Miller can try to start doing a tally. Neither of them has really been doing the one-night stand thing much lately, and he doesn't want to talk about it.
"Hi Bellamy!" says Vicky.
"Hey, Vicky. Hi, Clarke," he adds, because he does have kind of a stupid, irrational crush. She's pretty, and she smiles when he makes sarcastic comments; he's into that.
"It's my birthday next week!" says Vicky, and Bellamy turns his attention back to her.
"Yeah? How old are you going to be?"
"Five!" she says. "And I'm gonna have a party."
"Awesome. What are you gonna do?"
Once Vicky figured out she was allowed to help, she started following him for her whole street, so he'll actually walk with her and Clarke while Miller drives, which is a nice little break. Vicky always has something she's happy to talk about, with Clarke putting in soft interjections about how Vicky needs to breathe and give Bellamy a chance to respond. It's his favorite thing about his new route.
The explanation of the birthday party gets them to the end of the street, with breaks for Vicky to help him load the garbage cans into the truck.
"Thanks for the help," he says, when they're done, like he always does. "I really appreciate it."
"Oh, you can't leave yet!" She tugs Clarke's shirt. "Do you have it?"
Clarke gives him a look he can't read, but hands an envelope to Vicky, who offers it to Bellamy.
"Uh, thanks," he says, blinking.
"It's your invitation to my birthday," says Vicky. "Clarke said you probably couldn't come but it's gonna be a lot of fun."
"Yeah, it sounded good," he says, absent, shooting Clarke a helpless look. Clarke shrugs her shoulders, but offers him a smile, and he figures that means it's--well, it's probably fine. "I don't know if I can make it, but thank you for inviting me. That's really great of you."
"You can tell me next week," says Vicky, magnanimous. "If you can come or not."
"Thanks," he says. "And thanks again for the help." He glances at Clarke, and she gives him a warm smile. "See you guys next week."
He waits until they're done with the whole route and driving back to actually open the invitation, which is adorable, with balloons drawn on the front and even more pictures inside, including one of him and Vicky. There's a day and time for the party, a week from Saturday, plus a handwritten note from Clarke. With her number. It's probably wrong to focus on that, but--he is pretty confused about the whole thing. He's glad he can call her for backup.
"What's that?" Miller asks.
He considers lying, but his life is honestly less fun when Miller isn't making fun of him.
"I got invited to a party."
Miller cackles. "The kid's or the nanny's?"
"Too bad. I bet she'll be there, though."
"I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to go to a five-year-old's party," he points out, which is absolutely the wrong thing to say.
"But you want to," Miller says, and Bellamy flips him off.
He calls Clarke that night and feels like a fucking teenager the whole time, pacing back and forth as he tries not to stress as he waits for her to pick up. She wouldn't have given him the number if she minded him calling.
He wets his too-dry lips. "Hi, uh--this is Bellamy Blake? I'm calling for Clarke."
"Hi! I thought it might be you. Sorry about--I didn't know how to talk her out of it. She made the I'm inviting all my friends argument and I didn't know how to tell her you weren't really her friend."
His laugh is half amusement and half relief that she's talking to him and being normal. "Wait, are you saying we aren't friends?" he teases, and Clarke's laugh sounds a little relieved too.
"Sorry, of course not. I don't know why I thought you might not want to come to a child's birthday party."
"She did say there was going to be a bouncy house."
"I'm trying to make up for my failings as a parent with stuff. I think it's working, so that's nice."
"A parent?" he asks, and immediately winces. There must have been smoother ways to ask that.
But Clarke seems largely unconcerned. "Kind of, I guess. I still feel weird calling myself that. I'm a godparent, her parents were in a car accident last year and--they left her to me, yeah."
He swallows hard. "Jesus."
"Yeah, um," she says, sounding awkward. "Anyway. Thanks for being cool about the party thing. I know it's a little weird, but she gets attached fast."
"No, it's fine, I don't mind." He sits down, lets himself start to relax. "Honestly, it was worth it just to see your face when she invited me."
As he hoped, she laughs again. "I really am sorry. I should have lied and said I'd mail it."
"You should try not to lie to the kid," he says. "Parenting tip."
"Do you have kids?" she asks, sounding curious.
"Not exactly," he says, and then winces. "Fuck, that sounded bad, right? My, uh. I pretty much raised my little sister."
"Oh. Wow. In that case, any more parenting tips? I can use all the help I can get."
"Santa is a huge pain in the ass, as lies go."
"What about the tooth fairy?"
"Are you kidding? O thought losing teeth was the coolest thing ever. She never wanted to give them up."
She laughs again. "How old is she?"
There's a pause, and then she asks, "How old are you?"
"Suddenly I'm not feeling so proud of my ability to take care of a kid."
He smiles. "I didn't get custody of her until I was nineteen, if that helps."
"Not at all. I could barely handle it at twenty-seven. Nineteen would have been impossible."
"Little kids are harder," he says. "And it looks like you're doing fine. She seems happy. A little lonely, I guess, if she's making friends with the garbage man--"
"Shut up!" Clarke says, laughing. "She's really well-adjusted, considering everything. She has lots of friends. She just thinks garbage trucks are really cool."
"Yeah, I get that a lot. I was more of a dinosaur kid."
"I was going through a pretty intense hippo phase at her age."
"They're really cool! Don't make me throw hippo facts at you, Bellamy."
"I'm definitely going to make you throw hippo facts at me. Now I'm curious."
She does, of course, and they go from there, and he doesn't realize how long they've been talking until he starts yawning and checks the clock. It's almost eleven, which is late when you start work at six, and when Clarke finishes with a story from college about her and Vicky's dad trying to pull a prank and being just awful at it, he regretfully says, "Hey, uh, I gotta go."
There's a pause and then she swears softly under her breath. "I didn't notice it had gotten so late. Sorry, I didn't mean to keep you."
"Hey, no, it's cool," he says. "I was having fun. But I get up pretty early, so--"
"Yeah," she says, and he wonders if she feels awkward too. He wants to say he'll talk to her soon, but they don't really have much to talk about. They aren't friends.
"So, I'll just--tell Vicky I'm busy on Saturday?" he offers.
"Yeah, I think that should be fine. I told her you probably would be."
"Okay. Then I'll see you next week?"
He's probably projecting disappointment into her voice when she says, "Yeah. See you next week."
Clarke spends Friday kind of wanting to text Bellamy, which would absolutely be weird. But they talked for more than an hour last night, and Clarke doesn't even like being on the phone. It was really easy to just fall into conversation with him, natural. And she'd like to talk to him more.
Instead, she texts Monty and asks if he'll babysit so she can go out with Raven. She clearly needs to develop a better social life, if this is how she reacts to people. Or just get drunk enough that texting her hot garbage man seems like a good idea.
Maybe she could even get laid, although after an hour of Bellamy's voice, she's having trouble imagining wanting to hook up with anyone else. He's got such a good voice.
Three hours later, she's telling Raven this, while Raven and Gina exchange amused looks.
"How good is his voice?"
"Like an eleven. On a scale of one to ten."
"Tell us about his arms again," says Gina.
"The best arms."
"I can't tell if you lost your alcohol tolerance and you're really drunk or it's been too long since you got laid and you're really horny," Raven observes.
"I think a little of both." She rubs her face. "It's just been a while since I met someone new, let alone someone new I actually liked. And then I feel stupid, because I barely even know Bellamy. But--it was fun. Talking to him."
There's a pause, and then Raven says, "Bellamy?"
"I'm not going to judge anyone's name," she says. "Mine is weird enough."
"Like five-nine, curly black hair, freckles, glasses?"
Clarke frowns. "Is this one of those times when he's standing behind me? And you somehow know that?"
"No, but he'll probably be in later," says Gina. "He's usually in on Fridays."
Clarke puts her head down on the bar. "What."
"He was my Finn rebound," Raven says. "And then he dated Gina for a few months."
"He's a great guy," Gina adds. "So as far as random crushes go, he's probably a pretty good one."
"He's really coming here?" Clarke asks. "And you've seriously fucked him?" she adds, to Raven. She and Gina are less close, so it's less disconcerting to find out she knows Bellamy and has presumably also slept with him.
"Just once," says Raven. "I'd definitely recommend it. You should get on that."
"How did you not mention you know a hot garbage man? There can't be many. You could have guessed it was the same guy."
"I kind of forget that's what he does," Raven says, shrugging. "We don't talk about work much. Mostly we drink and he yells at the TV. You guys should probably just get married."
"I should leave before he gets here," Clarke says. "It's weird, right?"
"You talked to him for like an hour last night, right?"
"And it was a conversation? Not, just, like, him making noises while you talked?"
"It was a conversation, yeah."
"So you should stay here and talk to him, and maybe he'll take you home and fuck you. And, you know. Get married. God, of course he's good with kids. He would be."
"How did you guys meet?" Clarke asks Gina.
"I'm a bartender, that's how I meet most people," she says, amused. "He drinks here pretty regularly. Not in an alcoholic way, just comes in with his best friend Miller to hang out and talk shit while they play pool."
"Oh, the one in the truck," says Clarke. "I've only met him like once."
"This is going to be awesome," Raven tells Gina. "We should take pictures."
Clarke's on edge until Bellamy shows up, so luckily it's only like fifteen minutes before he does. He is wearing glasses, like Raven said, which Clarke hasn't seen before, and a tight blue t-shirt that does great things for his chest and arms, like they need the help. He's grinning, shoving Miller as they both laugh, but when he spots Clarke at the bar, he sobers, clearly surprised. She waves, a little awkwardly, and Raven laughs into her glass, like an asshole.
"I should have had more to drink," Clarke mutters, but Bellamy's obviously coming over, leaning against the bar on the other side of her.
"Hi," he says. "Come here often?"
It's clearly a joke, but she's rattled enough by the whole situation to say, "No, but apparently you do."
He raises his eyebrows at Raven. "Are you talking me up?"
"As little as possible. Hey, Bellamy."
"Hey. Hi, Gina. Can I get a round for me and Miller?"
"What, you're just going to hang out with Miller with all these hot girls here?" Raven demands.
"Well, of you are dating each other, but Miller and I didn't work out either, so--Clarke, you want to play some pool?"
"Sure," she says, and pointedly does not look at anyone else as she stands to follow him. Miller is already leaning against the bar to talk to Raven about basketball, in the pointed way that suggests he's doing it because he doesn't want to talk to Bellamy. It's not subtle, and that's kind of awesome for Clarke, honestly. "I suck at pool, though."
"Awesome, so I even get to win," he says, and snags his own beer.
It's kind of a lot, being so close to him, without Vicky around as a buffer. He looks softer away from work, more relaxed. Maybe it's just the glasses. Or maybe it's the way his smile curves as he drinks his beer, the way he seems happy to see her, and not just surprised.
"So, you know Raven?" he asks, once they've got the table set up.
"Yeah. We fucked the same guy."
"In a threesome situation or independently?"
She laughs. "Independently. We were both dating him. Or we both thought we were dating him exclusively and then we found out we weren't--"
"And then she slept with me."
Clarke has to smile. "So you've already heard this story."
"Small world, I guess. Sorry about your asshole ex. He sounded like a real dick."
"He was worse to Raven than to me," she says. "They'd known each other forever. I was just--the new flavor he wanted to try out. Cold feet or whatever."
"I'm comfortable calling that dick behavior." He lines up his shot and sinks a ball with fluid grace.
"You're going to kick my ass," she declares, and he laughs.
"I'll drink until I lose hand/eye coordination."
"Yeah, it's the least you can do."
Clarke really does suck at pool, in that she's played it maybe twice and damaged the table one of those times. But Bellamy is amused and then, well, helpful, in that flirty way that involves him helping her line up her shots and a lot of body contact. It's no more subtle than Miller and Raven were being, but Clarke is very far from objecting. He's warm and firm and perfect, and she thinks he probably wants to make out. And get dinner after; which is also pretty important to her.
She hasn't had a boyfriend in years; she was on girls for a while. But he seems like he'd be a good one.
Once they finish the game, Bellamy grabs another round and Clarke claims a booth in the back. She's not surprised to see his friend Miller needling him, and she gets distracted for a minute by the way he ducks his head when he smiles, the way his hair falls over his forehead.
Then her phone buzzes in her pocket and she checks all the messages she was ignoring during the game. They're all from Raven (all to the equivalent of you're gonna get laaaaaid) and Monty (did you seriously see that dude how are you that lucky and demands for pics or it didn't happen), and she just shoots off quick, dismissive replies to both of them before Bellamy gets back.
"Your friends teasing you too?" she asks, and his laugh is a little embarrassed, but genuine.
"Basically non-stop. It's how I know we're friends." He taps his finger on his glass. "But I've been politely not mentioning how you knew I was coming even though you might be stalking me, so--"
It's her turn for an embarrassed laugh. "I was asking Raven if I should text you. Your name came up, so--"
"So you were hoping I'd be here?"
"Oh, no, I was asking about it here. She and Gina just said you'd be showing up, so I decided to drink more instead of running away."
"I'm glad," he says, and she ducks her head on her own smile.
"Yeah, me too."
It's almost surreal, just talking to Clarke, which doesn't make any sense, but still kind of does. He's used to her existing once a week in a world that doesn't feel like his, and now here she is getting drunk and flirting in his favorite dive bar, giving every indication that if he asked her out, she'd say yes. That she wants him to ask her out.
They chat about Octavia and Miller, about Raven and Gina, and then about Vicky. Vicky is still a little unreal to him too, and there's a part of him that wishes Clarke really was a nanny or an aunt, someone unrelated, so he didn't have to think about her whole life when he thinks about asking her out.
But he kind of likes her life, really. Vicky is cute, and it's hard not to like anyone who frets about being a good parental figure as much as Clarke does. His own parental figure was so shitty, he likes anyone who puts in the effort by default.
Her phone plays a cheerful note at midnight, and she makes a face. "That's my I have to relieve the babysitter alarm."
"Yeah, of course."
She bites her lip, like she's making calculations, but then she says, "He'd definitely stay, but I don't like staying out all night without telling Vicky. Not that I've done it before, but--"
He reaches over to squeeze her hand on the table. "I didn't date until Octavia went to college, basically. You don't have to explain this one."
"I still want to date," she says, and he can't help his grin.
"Did you have a time in mind?" he asks. "I've got class on Monday and Thursday nights, and you've got a kid, so--let me know when I can buy you dinner."
"Maybe not until after the party?" she says, sounding embarrassed. "We're making our own party favors and stuff so it's kind of busy. Lots of prep work."
"Sure," he says. "Like I said, let me know."
"I'll text you. For unrelated reasons," she adds, quickly. "Just--" She laughs, clearly flustered. "God, it's been so long, I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Did you drive?" he asks.
"Yeah. I'm pretty sober, just--bad at this."
He has to laugh. She's stupidly cute. "I was going to offer to walk you to your car. You know, like a gentleman."
"Yeah, that would be great. I'm not a big fan of the audience."
He glances at their friends, who are not watching quite as blatantly as they could be. Which isn't saying much, but he appreciates it all the same. "Yeah, come on."
It's still too warm outside, but the humidity is gone, and he's got a pretty girl by his side, which means it's a good night by default. Mildly terrifying, but in the exciting way. This could go somewhere. He really wants it to.
"It's really not far," she says. "To my car."
"I mostly just want to kiss you without Miller writing a score on a cocktail napkin and holding it up after."
"Has he done that before?"
"I usually get like a seven."
"That's not bad."
"He rates me lower when I'm kissing girls because he's not into it."
"I thought judges were supposed to be impartial."
"Yeah, he's a shitty judge."
She bites the corner of her mouth. "So, you're--bi?"
"Octavia says I'm pan, but I don't really know the difference. It never really bothered me that much so I just took her word for it."
"Cool. I go with bi."
"Do you know the difference?"
"I experience attraction to men and women differently," she says, with a kind of primness that makes him think she's said this before, more than once.
"Cool. I'm probably pan then, yeah."
"And you've gotten to sleep with Raven, Gina, and Miller?"
"I live a charmed life, yeah."
She stops at her car, which he recognizes from her driveway, and it really is kind of a disappointment. But then she tugs on his t-shirt, pulling him in, and he leans his head down to give her a kiss. She's warm and soft under him, and her mouth opens for him at once, her hands sliding up his chest to tangle in his hair. It's a nice kiss, and he pulls himself back before he can get too carried away with it; she's going home, and not with him. But she's clearly going to be happy to kiss him more later.
She chases his mouth, and he smiles and pecks her again, quick.
"You should go home."
"I really should. But I'm going to text you tomorrow."
"Good." He lets himself kiss her one more time; his self-control might not be as good as he thought. "Drive safe, Clarke."
He waits until she's driven away to go back into the bar, sits down between Raven and Miller. Because she's the nicest of his friends, Gina has a beer ready for him, and he takes a long gulp before he says, "So what's your angle on this one? Supportive? Threatening? Inappropriate dick jokes?"
"I've been trying to come up with some innuendo about how she wants you to take out her trash," Miller says, and Bellamy raises his glass.
"That's about what I expected. Raven?"
Raven shrugs. "She's cute, she's really into you, and I think she'd be good for you. I'd tell you not to fuck it up, but she's really into you, so you're probably good. And you like Vicky?"
"I like Vicky, yeah. Not that I know her that well." He pauses, figures Raven's as good a person to ask as anyone. Before he asks Clarke, anyway. "She invited me to her birthday party. Think it would be weird if I actually wanted to go?"
"To hang out with Clarke?"
"And Vicky. I don't want to just go to a kid's birthday, but--I like the kid, it sounded like she'd be happy if I showed up, and I really want to hang out with Clarke and help out."
"Well, we're going, so it's not like you'd be that creepy adult who doesn't know anybody," Raven says. "I'd say you should come. You're into her, it's cute."
Raven shrugs. "She's been saying she thinks you're hot for weeks. If I'd known it was you I would have told her to go for it even more than I already did."
He grins into his drink, because it's not a surprise, but it's nice anyway. Always good to be sure the person you're into feels the same way.
"That's almost like getting your blessing."
"I believe in your ability to not fuck this up," Raven says, raising her glass. "How's that for a blessing?
On Saturday, Clarke texts Bellamy about the inane cartoon she and Vicky are watching on Netflix while they work on party decorations. Bellamy responds with all his sister's favorite TV shows from when they were kids, and the various ways he thinks they warped her for life, which is hilarious and not as terrifying as she thinks it should be. In a way, it's comforting, hearing Bellamy's stories of his weird childhood, because he and his sister both seem to have turned out pretty much okay. So even if she fucks up, it's not like Vicky is doomed.
On Sunday, Bellamy has to go to some sort of thing with his sister, who is going through a phase where she's trying to be a vegan pacifist, which he says will not work because she loves red meat and fighting people. He spends the whole time sending Clarke horrified texts with pictures of raw vegan products he believes shouldn't exist, and she spends the whole time resisting the urge to ask if he wants to come over. She's not sure how to explain dating to Vicky, because--it's not like Clarke is her mom to begin with. It's not like dating is some unknown thing. Wells and Maya got married so young that most of their other friends hadn't settled into relationships yet m. Vicky is used to getting introduced to significant others.
The whole situation is weird, so on Monday she texts Bellamy, You didn't date until your sister was in college?
He replies, Some of us don't have desk jobs where we work from home, so don't expect instant responses. But I sort of dated before that. Mostly just hooked up. I thought it made me cool to not date. Don't be like me.
Clarke smiles into her phone, and he updates her on weird things people have left on the curb for pickup until he finishes with work, and then he complains about his class, because the subject matter is great but the professor is an asshole, and that takes them into Tuesday.
And then she sends him pictures of their crafts project for the party and he texts, That actually looks pretty fun. She debates for only a second before she tells Vicky, "I'm texting Bellamy."
"Is he coming to the party?" she asks, sounding excited.
"I don't know. I was thinking about inviting him over now."
"I want him to be my boyfriend. So I want to invite him over just to see him."
"Oh," says Vicky. She makes a face. "You never have boyfriends."
"Well, girls are cooler than boys. But I like Bellamy."
"What's he going to do if he comes over?"
"Help us with these," says Clarke. "Maybe have dinner with us and watch a movie. Like when your friends come over."
"But with kissing," says Vicky, making a face.
"Not when you're around. Kissing when other people are around is gross, don't worry."
"Kissing is always gross." She considers. "He can come over. But he should come to my birthday too."
Clarke kisses the top of her head. "I'll tell him that. I'm just going to go call him, I'll be right back."
"Wow, it's so bad you have to call me?" Bellamy asks when he picks up, all teasing, and Clarke's heart actually skips a beat. She has a crush. It's the worst. "Aren't you an artist or something? Shouldn't you be good at this?"
"I'm awesome at this," she says. "It's going really well. But if you think it would be fun, you could come help."
There's a pause, and then he asks, "What did you tell Vicky?"
"That I like you and want you to be my boyfriend. She gave us her blessing assuming you come to her birthday party and we don't kiss in front of her."
He chokes on his laugh. "That seems pretty reasonable. You told her you want me to be your boyfriend?"
"Someone told me to try not to lie to the kid, so I'm trying that. And she's met girlfriends of mine before. Not since I got custody, but--"
"Yeah, that makes sense. Good advice, too. Whoever told you that was really smart. Probably really attractive too."
"And modest, yeah," Clarke agrees. "You want to come over? We'll feed you dinner and everything."
"Yeah, just let me jump in the shower, I'll be there in like an hour."
He shows up looking clean and fresh, his hair still a little damp, wearing his glasses again. He glances around and leans down before he actually asks, "Where's Vicky?"
"Still doing arts and crafts."
"Awesome," he says, and gives her a kiss, warm and sweet, exactly what she's been wanting for the last few days.
Well, not exactly. But the best she's going to get with Vicky in the other room.
"Okay," he says, giving her a smile when he pulls back. "Let me at the party favors."
Vicky takes one look at him and says, "You don't get to help if you're not coming to the party."
Bellamy sits down next to her with all due solemnity. "I'm coming to your party," he promises. "What do you want for your birthday?"
"That sounds like Clarke's call. But I bet you could ride with me and Miller in the truck sometime. If Clarke doesn't mind."
Vicky lights up and looks at Clarke with huge, beseeching eyes. "Can I?"
"Yeah, of course," she says, because she's not a monster. "But we need to finish this first."
And it's nice, in a way that things haven't been nice before. Not that Clarke doesn't love Vicky, not that she feels like she's doing a bad job, but--she still feels like an impostor most of the time, like someone is going to figure out she's bad at this and call her out on it. But Bellamy is good at it, and being with him, watching him help Vicky with the glue stick, it's easy to imagine being a family for the first time.
Not necessarily with him, obviously. But with someone. And that's a relief.
Bellamy helps her make dinner while Vicky plays with stuffed animals, which means dinner preparations involve a lot more making out than usual. Which is also really, really nice. Clarke really wouldn't mind getting to do this more often.
"You're really okay with coming to the party?" she remembers to ask, when he lets her go.
"I wanted to come anyway." He smiles. "There's a bouncy house, Clarke. No way I'm missing out on the bouncy house." But he sobers and says, "I don't just like you, you know. I like Vicky too. If I hadn't thought it would be weird, I would have just said yes to showing up when she invited me. It probably would have made her day."
Clarke has to smile. "You still made her day. A ride in the garbage truck? She's not going to let that one go."
"Luckily, it's really easy for me to do it." He gets pasta into the boiling water and then comes over to slide his arms around her waist, kissing her jaw. "Is she getting a dog?"
"Fuck no," says Clarke, laughing. "I'm not competent enough for a dog yet."
"You know you don't actually suck at this, right? Not to brag, but I'm kind of an expert on shitty parents. You're new at this, but--you're good."
She leans back into him. "It's weird that I value your opinion, right?"
"Nope. I'm wise. Plus Raven likes me, and she's really fucking smart."
She has to laugh. "Yeah, that's true. I can trust Raven." She closes her eyes and leans back into him. He smells like shampoo and soap and craft glue, and it would be so nice if this went well. And even if it doesn't, it'll be nice until it goes wrong. "What are you doing next Wednesday?"
"I'm hoping the right answer is buying you dinner."
"It is, yeah."
"Cool," he says. "That's exactly what I wanted to be doing next Wednesday."
"I thought it might be."
After dinner, they watch Cars, because Vicky naturally assumes it's Bellamy's favorite movie, and Bellamy, in keeping with his policy to not lie to children, says it's not his favorite, but he'd be happy to watch it. Vicky puts her feet up on his leg and rests her head on Clarke's arm and it doesn't really feel like a first date, but it does feel like a great start.
For Vicky's fifth birthday, Bellamy gets her a ride on the garbage truck and a stuffed dog, and she hugs him and tells him how great he is; it's up there on his favorite things ever even before he sees the smile on Clarke's face.
For her sixth birthday, he talks Clarke into getting her a real dog.
"I'm still not competent enough for a real dog," Clarke protests.
"I think you're underestimating yourself. I'm pretty sure dogs are easier than kids."
"Shut up, I'm going somewhere with this."
He laughs and tugs her closer against his chest. "Oh, my bad. Go ahead."
"I probably need backup for a dog. You know, in case I'm not responsible enough. I can't handle a dog and a kid by myself."
He hasn't slept in his own bed for more than a night or two in weeks, and he's not even that upset about the whole suburbs thing, because he's got a beautiful girlfriend and an awesome kid he gets to see whenever he's here. So obviously he's here as much as possible, and it's still not enough.
"You asking me to move in?" he asks.
"Only if you want to get the kid a dog. I'm pretty sure she'd be happy to just get another ride in the garbage truck."
"No way," he says. "I want a dog. I'm moving in."
"Fine, but you're the one who has to top that next year," Clarke says, turning around in his arms so she can nuzzle into his chest. "That's on you."
It's hard to think of anything better than moving in with Clarke and Vicky and getting a dog. But it's pretty late, and he wants to go to bed. And he's got a whole year, anyway. "I'll figure something out," he tells her.
If nothing else, he's pretty sure the best is yet to come.