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And Then We Were Chasing Comets

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She’s eight years old when he moves into her neighbourhood.

That, by itself, is a pretty strange occurrence considering the exclusivity of Arkadia. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone— Clarke has been going to school with the same exact people she went to preschool with. Her parents are on a first-name basis with most of the residents in town, and practically everyone shows up on their lawn whenever her dad gets the grill out.

It’s exactly the type of small, quaint town that it claims to be.

So, naturally, Mr. Kane coming home from his supposed business trip with a sullen, teenaged boy in tow causes quite a stir.

His name is Bellamy Blake, and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

“I don’t see what’s wrong with him,” Clarke points out, the next time she catches her mom’s grimace in the rearview mirror. They’re going out to get ice cream, and her mom is the one who spots him first, perched on the big tree by Mr. Kane’s yard and peeling at the bark of the massive oak. “Why don’t you like him?”

She purses her lips. “I didn’t say that.”

“Yeah, but I have eyes, mom.” Then, at her continued silence, she adds, “I’m eight now. I notice stuff.”

The noise her mom makes in response is distinctly weary, if a little amused. “It’s not that I don’t like him, honey. He’s just,” she shrugs, nails tapping rhythmically against the steering wheel, “— well, complicated, that’s all. He isn’t from around here. He doesn’t know how things should be done.”

“Because he doesn’t have parents?” she prompts.

“Because he didn’t have the best kind of upbringing,” she says, firm. “But that’s what Marcus is here for, though I can’t say I’m entirely sure why.” Her smile is tight around the corners when she turns to face Clarke, brows raised. Her best end-of-discussion face. “Now, what do you want? Butter pecan or chocolate?”

“Chocolate.” She nods, filing the information away for later. There’s no point arguing with her mom when she had that face on anyway. Bellamy Blake would just be one of those things that they never acknowledged; like why they never invited Mr. Kane over for dinner anymore, or why Wells and his dad moved away after the funeral.

Still, it’s impossible not to notice him from time to time, especially when he lives right next door.

The first time she meets him, he’s dropping a book on her head.

It doesn’t quite hit her- just clips at her shoulder— but it startles her enough that she gives a little squeak, dropping to the ground instinctively. The book skitters past her foot harmlessly, bounces off concrete and onto wet grass.

For half a second, all Clarke can do is stare. Then, she reaches forward, wrapping her fingers around the worn spine before tilting her face toward the vague direction of where it came from.

Bellamy Blake stares back at her, one foot dangling dangerously off a branch and the other pulled to his chest. His hair is a unruly mess at the top of his head, limbs stick-thin and jutting awkwardly from his worn clothes.

Another lengthy pause— sizing her up, if his narrowed gaze is any indication. Then, scowling, he speaks, “Give that back.”

There’s something about his tone that makes her want to scowl right back at him, somehow. So she does. “Pardon?”

That pulls a snort out of him. “Pardon,” he mimicks, shaking his head in disbelief. “You heard me, princess. That’s my book.”

Bellamy’s older than she is, bigger and taller, too, but her dad always told her that there was no sense in being frightened of bullies, so she juts her chin out instead, says, “That you dropped on my head. You could ask nicely, at least.”

He has the grace to look a little chagrined at that, biting at his lip before he asks, soft, “Are you okay?”

She considers it, dropping her gaze back down to the book. It’s tattered and folded in places, the pages yellowing. Bulfinch’s Mythology. “I’m fine,” she declares, frowning. “What’s your book about?”

“It’s just a book of stories,” he hedges, huffing when she begins to turn at the pages, curious. “It’s too difficult for you.”

“Who says so?”

His forehead creases at that, brows knitting together. “I’m ten and I still don’t get some parts,” he admits, crossing his arms over his chest. Then, smirking, he continues, “What are you, six?”

“Eight,” she corrects, drawing up to the base of the tree. “But I’m in the fourth grade.”

“Like that’s going to help,” he snorts, his expression going from sour to surprised when she grabs at a branch, feet dangling mid-air. “What are you doing?”

She grunts, pulling herself up along the trunk painstakingly, “Climbing this tree. Duh.”

He swats her hand aside at that, makes an impatient noise. “Not that one. It won’t hold your weight. Try the one on your right.”

It takes her another fifteen minutes of maneuvering for her to get close to where he is, and by then she’s sweaty and red-faced; his book shoved under her arm and muscles aching from the effort.

“Come on,” he coaxes, dangling precariously from his perch. “One more to go.”

Blowing a strand of hair out of her face, she reaches for the next branch, winces at the rough bark digging into her skin. “You know, they make this look a lot easier on TV.”

“They always do.” He says, dry. It makes her smile, just a little, to have pulled that expression out of him. “Move your foot over to—”

And that’s when the branch gives way under her, a scream escaping as she begins to fall, feet flailing uselessly beneath her—

Just as Bellamy catches at her wrist, yanking her up with enough force that she lands with a thump against his chest, his arms going around her next to hold her steady.

She’s still quivering slightly when he pulls away, eyes full of concern. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Clarke says shakily, sparing a surreptitious peek to the ground far, far below. They’re way up high; higher than she’s ever been, and it makes her feel like she’s getting away with something momentous, somehow. She meets his gaze then, can’t help the bright, sudden laugh that bubbles up against her lips, and then he’s laughing, too, head thrown back and teeth showing, transforming his face entirely.

“I’m Bellamy,” he says, after they’ve managed to pull themselves together, “you know, you didn’t have to climb all the way up here just to return my book.”

She grins back, props his book open in her lap. “I know,” she says, prim. “But I wanted to see what it’ll be like to be so high up.”

“Brave princess,” he intones, taking the book from her but tilting it so she can still make out the pages. Then, clearing his throat, he asks, sounding a little shy, “Wanna hear about the Minotaur?”

She shifts carefully in her seat, sliding her feet out from underneath her so they sway in time with his; matching him kick for kick. “Sure thing, Bellamy.”

+

He’s back in the tree once more, legs crossed and book perched on his lap.

She nearly tumbles out of her bus seat when she spots him, takes the steps two at a time until she’s racing across her driveway and onto his. “Did you start without me?” she demands breathlessly, wrangling her backpack off her shoulders none-too-gently.

“No,” Bellamy grins, sliding a pair of clunky, too-big headphones off and settling them around his neck, “but I might if you don’t get up here in the next twenty seconds.”

“Jerkwad,” she bites out, scrambling to get ahold of the familiar footfalls and pulling herself up fluidly. It’s one of the few things she has gotten better at ever since she has started seeing Bellamy more frequently: tree climbing, Greek mythology, and creative insult-based humor. (Her mother, unfortunately, disapproves of all three wholeheartedly.)

He makes a noise of mock disapproval at that. “Language, princess.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“I’m older,” he says, in that smug, authoritative way of his that makes her want to punch him in the mouth. Still, she lets him pull her up the last few branches anyway, settling in next to him as he licks at his thumb, flicking through the pages fluidly. “When did we last end off?”

She reaches past him to take over, fingers jerking to a stop when she finds it. “Here. Narcissus.”

“Oh yeah,” he groans, huffing, “that guy.”

“You’re just saying that because you only like the tragic, brooding heroes.”

That earns her a light jab in the ribs, a roll of his eyes. “You’re just saying that because you think he’s handsome.”

She wrinkles her nose over at him. It’s the furthest thing from the truth, really, considering how most boys in school were loud and noisy and rowdy, and there was something to be said about how she never liked any of them with the exception of Bellamy and Wells. “I don’t think so. I like the nymphs better. They’re pretty.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, gaze already tracking the words on the page with a kind of single-minded concentration, “I like them better, too.”

They fall into a easy silence after, broken only by the faint tapping of her nail against the edge of the book every few minutes, her signal for him to turn the page. She liked that he never rushed her once despite the fact that he was always a lot faster than her.

(Sometimes, she catches him murmuring the lines out loud under his breath; reciting them in a kind of reverent whisper that made her shiver. He had the best voice for stories, and there was something about listening to him say them that made it feel even more like magic.)

She’s halfway through the page when she hears it— someone calling his name, the sound bouncing and echoing off the trees.

He startles at it, same as her, and it takes her a second to place the voice as Mr. Kane’s.

“Do you—” she frowns, cocking her chin in question, “shouldn’t you answer?”

A beat as he seems to consider this, worrying at his lip. “No,” he says finally, turning his face back towards the book. “He’s probably just calling me in for dinner anyway, and I’m not hungry.”

“Still,” she shrugs, “you shouldn’t make him worry.”

“Trust me, he won’t.” He says, sharp. “It’s not like he’s my dad.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I know,” he deflates, scrubbing at his hair angrily. “Sorry. It’s just— being with him. It’s a little hard, sometimes.”

She nudges the book shut with her elbow, her frown deepening as she considers his words. The thought of it is hard to grasp when she has nothing but her own relationship with her dad to compare it to, but she tries anyway. “Why?”

“It’s just—” he stops, exhaling gustily. Steeling himself to keep going. “Do you know how I got here? Why I’m here with him?”

“No.”

His smile is brittle. “Well, I guess it’s because my mom didn’t want me anymore. She’s, uh,” he ducks his head, searching for the words, “troubled, I guess. And I’m not exactly easy to get along with. My dad’s dead, but apparently Kane was a old family friend of ours, so he took me in when my mom begged him to.”

Her breath catches in her throat, involuntary, and it takes almost all her willpower to keep from blurting out some sort of apology, somehow. It’s not something he’ll appreciate, she thinks. “Oh,” she says lamely instead.

“Yeah.” He picks at the stray thread hanging from his sweater, yanks it free. “He doesn’t really like me, I think. Just feels sorry for me.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t—”

“He does,” he cuts in, though there’s no impatience in his voice whatsoever, just a kind of resignation to it that makes her feel worse, “it’s fine, I don’t care. I just feel bad for messing up his life, I guess. I’m trying to keep from doing anymore damage.”

She blinks. “Honestly? I think you disappearing and not showing up for dinner is probably going to mess his life up more than if you do.”

He weighs her words, arms going over his chest as he declares, sounding a little mullish, “You’re kind of smart for an eight year old.”

“Eight and a half,” she corrects, grinning. “And thanks, though I don’t think it has to do with intelligence. You just like being obstinate.”

“Whatever,” he mutters, sighing as he slides the book under his arm. Then, dithering slightly, “You know, you can take it home tonight if you want.”

“Really?” she squeaks, beaming down at him. “You don’t mind?”

Only so you can finish this chapter,” he says quickly, thrusting the book towards her. “I’ll be really mad if you look any further without me, though.”

She laughs, swinging her leg over the branch so she can position herself for her descent. “Like you’d know.”

“I’m all-knowing like that, princess,” he informs her loftily, shimmying back down onto the ground. “And I’d be able to tell when you finish the chapter on Demeter way faster than I do.”

That’s true, at least, but still

She stops in her tracks, brows furrowing. “Wait. How do you know who the next chapter is on?”

The expression on his face is a little too innocent for her liking. “I may have skimmed the next few chapters,” he admits, a smile overtaking his face at her offended gasp. “Oh, come on, princess. It’s not like I read it.”

“Cheater,” she says darkly, and she thinks she hears him laugh from way down below; the sound trailing her all the way down the pathway and towards home.

+

(He’s there tomorrow, and the day after that, too, and this is how they start.)

+

It’s almost too easy, after that, to become friends with the boy next door.

She knows what they say about him— knows what her mom thinks of him, but it’s hard to keep all of that in mind when he’s teaching her how to skip rocks, or when they’re going treasure hunting in the patch of woods by Harper McIntyre’s house. They finish reading Bulfinch’s Mythology up in his favorite tree by the time spring rolls around, and she’s the one who convinces him to go swimming by the old creek that summer.

Clarke’s never really had a friend beyond Wells, and hanging out with Bellamy was different, somehow. Fun, but also earned. He wasn’t friends with her just because he had too, like Wells.

She had found him all on her own, and now she got to keep him.

At any rate, her father didn’t mind, and sometimes, he got to come over to play video games or watch movies in the den. He always left before dinner, though; mumbling some sort of excuse and slinking out of the door before her mom got home. Neither her dad’s insistence or her whining ever got him to stay.

“You know you don’t have to go, right?” she asks, watching him lace up his boots. “My dad’s making lasagna for dinner. Your favorite.

He ducks his head, avoiding her gaze as he stamps the snow out of his boots on the sidewalk. “I can’t anyway. I have a shift over at the diner.”

That pulls a scowl out of her, the motion involuntary, and he laughs at it, reaching over to ruffle at her hair. She was ten now, and he was twelve, and she hated it whenever he bragged about his job as a busboy at the local diner. Mr. Miller had been so impressed by his work ethic that he had hired him on the spot, age be damned, and it felt like she was missing out, somehow. Being deliberately left out of a huge, new part of his life.

“I bet Miller would cover for you if you just asked,” she continues, trailing after him as he ambles down her driveway, thumbs hooked to the pockets of his jeans, “you could just text him.”

“And miss out on my $7.50 an hour? No way.”

“Why not?” she demands, huffing. “It’s not like you need the money. Mr. Kane pays for everything for you. He even said he was going to get you a car when you get your license.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, clearly, from the way his face clouds almost instantly at it. “Well, that tends to be typical of charity cases,” he snaps, turning away, “besides, he doesn’t have to worry for much longer. I’ll be out of here soon anyway, and I’m damn well paying him back every cent before I go.”

She grabs at his arm before he can twist away, panic rising in her throat. Bellamy never got mad at her. Not really, anyway, but she could tell from the rigid set of his shoulders that there was something different about it this time. This was something far beyond their usual bickering on who had the better comics, or whether she put way too much marshmallows in hot chocolate than necessary. “Wait.

He doesn’t shrug her off, but she can’t help but notice the clench of his chin, the flutter of the muscle by his jaw with every passing second. “What?”

“Don’t—” she falters, her voice going small, “don’t leave like that. All mad.”

“I’m not mad,” he says, brusque. “I’m late for work.”

She digs in her heels, tightens her grip on him. “Bell. C’mon. I’m— I didn’t mean it like that. You know I didn’t.”

His laugh is sharp this time, a little mean. Nothing like the kind she’s used to. “You didn’t mean what, Clarke? You didn’t mean to say that I was some sort of freeloader? Some sort of pet project that Marcus decided to take on, just because he felt sorry for me? Because that’s what I heard.”

“Bell—”

“Forget it,” he interjects, sidestepping past her fluidly. “I have to go.”

He takes off before she can say another word, cutting through the yard and disappearing through the trees.

The next few hours, suffice to say, are the worst of her life. She endures dinner that night with her mom and dad, picks sullenly at her food and fields off their questions with a series of grunts and half-hearted yeahs. They don’t push her on it, which she can’t help but feel grateful for, though she does spot them exchanging worried looks by the time she starts on the dishes.

It’s gone nine by the time she’s done— which means that Bellamy should be closing up in half an hour. Swallowing, she settles back onto her chair, drumming her fingers against her knees. Half an hour. She could hold out for thirty minutes, right?

She fetches her coat ten minutes after, grabs her algebra notebook for good measure.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” she calls out, working to keep her voice nonchalant, “I just have to get some homework help from Bellamy.”

Her dad makes a cheery noise of assent at that, and she’s slotting her key into the lock when her mother draws up next to her, hands braced on her hips. “Right now?”

“What?”

“Pardon,” her mother corrects, and she has to bite back the urge to roll her eyes in response. “I said, do you have to go right now?”

“It’s due tomorrow.” She says pointedly, gaze darting over to the clock mounted on the living room wall. Fifteen minutes. “I’ll make it quick.”

She clucks her tongue against her teeth at that, the sound distinctly disapproving. “I don’t like the idea of you heading over to a boy’s place at this time of night.”

Bellamy, she doesn’t say. You mean Bellamy. But that would just open up a whole other can of worms that Clarke’s just not up for dealing with tonight, so she bites her tongue, forces herself to say, “I’m meeting him at the diner. In public.”

“Why not just ask Harper?”

“She doesn’t take algebra.” She lies, easing the door open with her foot. “I’ll be back by ten.”

Clarke—”

She ducks out before she can say anything else, slamming the door shut behind her.

For half a second, Clarke’s almost expecting her mom to come out after her, lips pinched and face white with fury. Swallowing, she takes a deep breath, forces herself to wait. Five seconds. Four.

But the door remains firmly shut, the faint murmur of voices rising through the open window. Snapping back to her senses, she scampers away, yanking the zip of her jacket up to her neck as she goes.

He’s wiping down the tables by the time she gets to the diner, red-faced and breathless.

Her lips are already forming his name when he looks over, sparing her a quick glance. Then, his gaze slides back down to the table, his voice curt as he says, “The kitchens are closing in ten.”

Resisting the urge to fidget, she forces out a smile instead, dropping into the nearest chair. “Okay. I’ll just— I’ll order in a bit.”

The words on the laminated menu swim before her as she ducks her head down, pretending to study it; vision blurring as she tries to get her breathing under control.

He’s not talking to her. He’s still mad.

Her eyes sting painfully at the thought of it, and she has to force back yet another onslaught of tears. It dawns on her, then, that she might actually lose him; Bellamy, who she’s secretly come to consider as her best friend, and it makes her feel small and cold and terribly afraid.

She’s tracing the letters of peach cobbler when he finally flops down next to her, two silver spoons in hand. Blinking, she drops her gaze over to the table top, to the bowl of mint chocolate chip placed in front of her.

Releasing a shaky breath, she shifts, sliding her hands under her thighs to keep them from trembling. “What’s this?”

“Peace offering.” Bellamy says, mild, reaching over to scrape at the sides before popping the spoon into his mouth. “I’m— I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Earlier.”

The relief that rushes through her is all-consuming, turning her legs to jelly. “I’m sorry,” she blurts, her voice going wobbly. “I shouldn’t— I’m such an idiot, and I shouldn’t have said what I said in the first—”

“Princess,” he cuts in, the words fond rolling off his tongue, “eat your damned ice cream.”

She manages a grin before reaching over to pluck the spoon from his grasp. This time, when he fights her for the last spoonful, she lets him have it.

+

Later, when she’s eleven and he’s thirteen, she will learn that he’s never built a fort.

“You’re joking, right?” Clarke laughs, lobbing one of the many throw pillows on the couch at him. It smacks lightly against his cheek, falls to the ground unceremoniously. “What did you used to do at sleepovers? Actually sleep?”

She’s not sure how he manages to shoot her a dirty look without even inclining his head, but he manages anyway. “Wasn’t invited to any,” he mutters, petulant. “Hate to break it to you, princess, but having to take care of my sister was a full-time job.”

Sighing, she abandons her perch by the couch, reaches over to poke at him with her toe instead. He has an arm thrown over his face, lips twisted into a pout— a picture of absolute misery. She has to bite at her lip to keep from laughing at it because, honestly. What a drama queen.

“Come on,” she says, working to keep her voice cajoling. “It’s one bad grade, Bellamy. Not the end of the world.”

“Sure feels like it.”

“Now you’re just being difficult.”

“I always am.”

“Well,” she points out, flopping down onto the ground next to him, “that’s why I suggested the fort. It’ll cheer you up.”

He turns on his side to face her then, huffing, “How is putting up some blankets and throwing pillows around it supposed to make me feel better?”

She gives a gasp of mock-outrage at that, clutching at her chest, “That’s not what building a fort is about, Bellamy Blake.”

“Whatever,” he grumbles, rolling away to face the wall. “Besides, your mom is probably getting back soon. I should go.”

Grabbing at another pillow, she drops it over him instead, rubbing it into his face until he sputters, jerking to his feet clumsily. Laughing, she dodges out of the way when he swipes at her, leaping up onto the couch instead. “First of all, it doesn’t matter if she’s here, okay? She knows we’re friends. And second of all, c’mon, Bell. It’s easy.”

“I hate you.” He says darkly, but helps her with removing the seat cushions anyway, arranging them to her liking.

Five minutes later and she’s draping her blanket over as the final touch, diving into the cocoon of pillows and sheets next to him.

That gets him to crack a smile, at least, and she pokes at his ribs until it pulls a laugh out of him, too.

“You’re impossible,” he snorts, shaking his head. “And pushy, I might add.”

“It’s the only way to get you to do things other than skulk around, sulking,” she points out, pulling the blankets up to her chin. “You know, my mom will like you a lot better if she could see how you actually are around me.”

“She wouldn’t like me even if I saved numerous orphaned kittens from a burning building.”

“That’s oddly specific.”

He snorts. “It’s the plot to whatever the hell Kane was watching last night with his dinner on his lap.”

“This is why I keep inviting you over to dinner,” she says, mindful of the fact that she’s failing spectacularly at keeping the accusatory note out of her voice, “I know for a fact that he’s not great company.”

“Understatement.” He mumbles, before turning to face her; his face half-pressed into a pillow. His expression is serious in the half darkness of the fort; sombre more than anything. “Hey. You know, it’s not really about the grade. I— I just miss her.”

They’ve come to the point in their friendship where she knows exactly what he’s talking about without the need for explanation, so she just butts her forehead against his shoulder instead. “I’m sorry. Did you— did you get to talk to her today?”

“For all of five seconds before my mom made her hang up.” He says, dropping his gaze down to the blankets tangled around his ankles, “She hates me.”

“Nobody could hate you,” she declares, fierce, “and if they did, they’re idiots.”

His smile is bright in the dark, teasing. “Pretty sure you just called your own mom an idiot.”

“She doesn’t hate you.”

They stay like this for the rest of the night, talking and play-fighting and occasionally breaking for snacks— and she doesn’t mean to fall asleep, not really, but she starts to drift off anyway; lying on her belly and still facing him, mid-conversation.

And right before it all goes dark, she thinks she hears him whisper, his voice apprehensive and breaking on the words, “You know you’re my best friend, right?”

“Yeah, Bell,” she tells him sleepily, before finally closing her eyes, “you’re mine too.”

+

It’s fully dark out by the time he shakes her awake, his form almost obscured entirely in shadows.

“What?” she murmurs, swatting at his arm when he tugs at her elbow, impatient.

“Trust me,” he breathes, and she thinks she catches a glimpse of teeth gleaming in the darkness; a smile. Wide and excited and almost uncharacteristic, for him. “You wanna see this.”

And she does (trust him, that is), so she follows him— out of the fort and through the door, into the yard and towards their tree.

The grass is wet under her feet, the night air cool against the thin fabric of her shirt, and she can’t help but shiver, staring out at the same view that she’s been looking at her entire life. “What is it?”

“Look up,” he whispers, and she does, and oh.

“Was that a shooting star?” she laughs, charging forward. Another arc of light zips through the night sky and she squeals, closing her eyes instinctively. “Bell. Bell. We have to make a wish.”

His laugh is wry, amused. “That was a meteor, Clarke.”

“I don’t care. Make a wish, just in case.”

He’s looking at her when she opens her eyes, his expression serious in a way that she can’t seem to comprehend. (It’s rare, whenever she can’t make out what he’s thinking, and it throws her off for a second.)

She blinks over at him. “Did you make a wish?”

He shrugs, inscrutable as ever— his gaze unwavering when he finally says, “I wouldn’t know what to wish for, princess.”

(It’s the first time that she thinks that he might actually be lying.)

+

The first high school party she ever gets invited to is during summer break; three weeks before school actually starts.

Naturally, the first thing she does is text Bellamy about it.

PrincessClarke: nathan miller?? just invited me to his house party

PrincessClarke: he said to bring whoever I like nvm that I only have two friends, and that you’re one of them

PrincessClarke: u gonna be there?

bellaugustusblake is typing

BellAugustusBlake: I’ll be there if you are

BellAugustusBlake: can’t have princess going to her first high school party alone now, can we? :P

PrincessClarke: ur just saying that so u can keep an eye on me and make sure I don’t get wasted on the spiked punch and embarrass u

BellAugustusBlake: guilty :)

It’s a comforting thought, despite her knowing that the entire party will be spent watching various girls flock to him, giggling and touching at his arm like they did in school. They were still in separate buildings, of course (she was starting high school in fall, and he was already a junior) but she knew what it was like whenever she made her visits. Bellamy wasn’t hugely popular or anything like that, not in the conventional sense (that would require him to hang out with her or Miller less, which he didn’t seem inclined to do) but she’s seen the way people look at him.

He’s grown into himself, over the years— all broad shoulders and dark, floppy hair and taut muscles peeking through his shirt. It really shouldn’t be surprising that people are throwing themselves at him, but he was still Bellamy to her, and his appeal was lost on her every time he opened his mouth.

(Sometimes, though, rarely— she would find herself fixated by the crescent moon scar at the jut of his lip, the sweep of freckles against his sun-kissed skin. On those days, it was a little easier to see what everyone else saw in him too, and she had to fight back a blush whenever he pulled her into a bear hug, or ruffled at her hair teasingly.)

The house is packed by the time she arrives, but she manages to spot him anyway, leaning up against the kitchen counter with Miller. He brightens when he sees her, waving her over lazily, and she has to bite back a smile as she weaves her way through the crowd and towards him.

“Hey,” she beams, sliding into his side; the motion effortless as it is reassuring. His arms go around her shoulders then, easy as can be, squeezing comfortingly. It’s one of the best things about their friendship, she thinks, knowing instinctively how and what they needed from each other.

“Princess,” he greets, with a cock of his chin. “I was just talking to Miller about how he’s corrupting you by inviting you to high school parties.”

“I’ll be starting in two weeks, jackass.

That pulls a smirk out of him, the edges of his mouth twitching slightly, as if holding back on a laugh. “It’s a lot better than jerkwad, I’ll give you that.”

She preens at that, reaching out to swipe at his cup after. It’s mostly foam, but she still winces at the dark, bitter taste of the beer anyway. “Gross.”

“Good,” he says, “saves me the trouble of having to worry. You want a soda instead?”

“What? No,” she groans, pulling away and tilting his cup out of reach, “I’m here to have fun, Bell. I can’t have fun if I’m going to be drinking soda.”

He sighs at that, but relents anyway, ducking out to fetch her a cup.

She insists that he teach her how to play flip cup when he returns, then quarters, too. He’s surprisingly terrible at both, but she gets the hang of it pretty easily. They play against Murphy and Mbege, and she has to smother a laugh at how he got progressively grumpier at each failed attempt; the ball sliding off the rim just so or the cup clattering the floor despondently. She starts drinking for him after the ball hits the ground for the sixth consecutive time, patting at his shoulder consolingly.

Suffice to say, she’s pretty drunk by the time they’re done.

“C’mon,” he murmurs, slotting his hands under her armpits and steering her out toward the door, “I think you had enough.”

“But,” she protests, squinting down at her watch, “it’s not even midnight yet.”

“And you’re wasted.” He says, settling her down onto the lawn chair out front. “I’m going to go bring the truck out front, okay? Stay here. Miller’s got his eye on you either way.”

She lets her head loll back, tilting her face up to the stars. The wind is cool against her flushed cheeks, and the words claw out of her throat before she can help herself, “I’m not a kid, Bell.”

He goes quiet at that, and his voice is wry when he finally speaks, “From the way you chugged those beers? I’d say definitely not.”

Cracking her eyelids open, Clarke meets his gaze, taking him in. She would recognize him anywhere, she thinks. In the dark, or fifteen years from now, or when everything familiar was eventually ripped away from her. He would always be made out of the same sweeping lines and stars that made up her home.

“Good,” she says, wobbly. At this point, she’s not sure what she’s trying to convince him of anymore. “Because two years isn’t much, Bellamy. You’re not— you’re not that much older.”

His hands are warm against her face, fingers deftly sliding a lock of hair behind her ear. It makes her shiver, somehow, and she leans into his touch, sighing. “I know,” he says, and she wonders if she’s imaging the slight tremble of his voice. “I’m just— I’m going to get the truck now, okay? You’re good?”

“I’m good.” She murmurs, smiling sleepily over at him. Everything goes a little blurry, after, and she’s grateful for the fact that she’s seated, at least. Still, it takes her a second to realize when someone plops down next to her, the lawn chair groaning ominously under their weight.

“You okay there?” they ask, mild, and it takes almost all of her willpower to focus on the person at hand. She makes out a bright, easy smile first, restless fingers drumming incessantly against his thigh.

He’s cute, even in her current state, and she ducks her head shyly when his smile grows bigger. “I’m fine.”

“Finn,” he offers, stretching out a hand. “You go to Ark High?”

“I’m starting in fall,” she says, working to enunciate each word clearly. “Uhm. You?”

“Sophomore,” he nods, nudging his knee against hers. “So, how did a would-be freshman score a invite to this party?”

They talk for a little while after that, about high school and Miller and the people there. He’s easy to talk to. Fun. Confident. So when Bellamy’s truck pulls up and Finn asks her for her number, she finds herself giving it.

“What was that about?” Bellamy frowns, sweeping his gaze over her to make sure she’s buckled in. Her phone feels sweaty in her grasp, and she jumps the second it buzzes in her head, a text message lighting up the screen.

“That was me making friends,” she tells him, grinning, before settling back in her seat and hitting at the reply button.

+

She gets her first kiss the week after, and it’s nice.

It’s a little strange at first, if she’s being entirely honest, but then Finn flashes her that familiar smile and she just… melts. He asks her to be his girlfriend, after, and she says yes without really thinking about it. There’s nothing to consider, really. Finn was sweet and funny and cute— exactly the sort of fun, likeable guy that she knew her parents would like and her (few) friends would adore.

Well. With the exception of Bellamy, that is.

“It’s not like I hate the guy,” he snorts, stabbing viciously at the remnants of the pizza they had devoured minutes ago, “but I certainly don’t like him. And I don’t see why you feel the need to try and convince me to.”

Because,” she huffs, throwing her hands up, “he’s my boyfriend and you’re my best friend, okay? I want you guys to get along.”

“Tell him to stop being such a slick asshole then.”

“And you’re not?”

“At least I’m honest about it,” he retorts, shooting her a grim smile, “I don’t go around on my high horse, pretending to be better than everyone else, projecting this sort of guise—”

(She tunes out three minutes in, mostly because it’s impossible to get Bellamy to stop once he really gets going. Thankfully, he peters out eventually, and they go back to playing video games and stealing bites out of her dad’s half-finished cake batter.)

But as it turns out, he’s right.

They’re one week into school when it happens. She’s hovering by Finn’s locker, his books in hand, when she sees a pretty, dark-haired girl walk up to him, beaming, arms going up around him as she pulls him into a kiss.

And Finn kissing back.

Her name is Raven, apparently, and she had transferred over from Phoenix High to be with him. His girlfriend that he never got around to breaking up with.

The whispers that follow her throughout classes are horrible, the pitying stares during lunch worse. Everyone knew, of course, with the small town that Arkadia was, and she found herself wondering idly how long it’d take for the news to get to Raven.

(She was almost tempted to be the one to deliver the blow, but Clarke forced the urge back every time. It wasn’t Raven’s fault that her boyfriend was a cheating scumbag, after all. Sure, her pride was a little bruised and there was a part of her that wanted nothing but to curl into a ball and cry her eyes out, but she vehemently refused to give Finn the satisfaction of seeing her upset.)

Still, she catches him staring at her throughout break with the same pathetic, hang-dog expression that he had been sending her way all day. As if that would be enough for her to even consider forgiving him.

Clarke’s actively trying to avoid his gaze when she feels someone at her elbow; a set of footsteps coming to a halt right next to her.

“Monty,” she says, and it’s almost impossible to hide the surprise in her voice. She knew Monty Green, of course, but in a kind of vague, distant way which meant that they waved at each other in the hallways and shared a A.P. few classes together. Clarke liked him, though, and he had a kind of dry humor that she appreciated. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much,” he shrugs, shifting his weight from one foot to the other; clearly nervous. “I’m just— you have chem after this, right?”

“Yeah,” she nods. Then, in a moment of inspiration, “Do you want to sit?”

He smiles back, setting his lunch tray down. “Sure.”

They end up talking throughout lunch, and he even introduces her to his best friend Jasper after. Sure, there had been a sticky moment when Jasper had sat down, and immediately blurted, “Who’s going to tell Finn Collin’s girlfriend that he had a different girlfriend an hour back?” which had led to him getting a swift kick in the ankles on Monty’s part, but, still. At least she made some new friends.

The news eventually reaches Bellamy after school.

He’s already waiting by her locker by the time she gets out of class, arms folded across his chest and jaw set; raring for a fight. It softens the second he spots her though, and she walks into his arms without hesitation, pressing her forehead against the soft fabric of his worn flannel.

“That asshole,” he says thickly, hands going up to rub soothingly at her back, just how she likes it, “I’m going to punch his face in.”

She gives a choked laugh at that, clutching him tighter. “You’re not getting into trouble on my behalf. And especially not because of Finn Collins.”

“Fine. I’ll just trip him.”

“It’s really fine,” she insists, because there’s no doubt that Bellamy would follow through, at this point, “I’m good, okay? It’s been an alright week. My classes are interesting. I made a couple of friends. I’m— it’s all good.”

That finally gets him to smile. “Yeah, you’re right. Finn, who?”

She pulls away, wrinkling her nose exaggeratedly, “Who?”

“Might have been the pile of dog shit my truck rolled over this morning.”

The laugh that bubbles up to her lips is involuntary, though it dies just as quickly at the sight of a rapidly approaching figure.

Finn.

She can feel Bellamy tense next to her, hackles rising. Finn’s gaze is fixed resolutely on her, though, his expression pleading.

“Clarke—”

“Get the hell away from her,” Bellamy snarls, and there’s a kind of venom in his voice that she didn’t think he was even capable of, “unless you want me to loosen a couple of teeth for you.”

“You don’t—”

“It’s fine,” she cuts in, shooting Bellamy a warning look. “I have something to say to him anyway.”

He backs up at that, though not without throwing one last dirty look at Finn.

“Clarke, you have to believe me, I thought—”

“I don’t care what you thought,” she says, abrupt, and it’s an effort to keep her voice from shaking the entire time, “and I don’t care what you want, okay? We’re done, Finn. You should go back to your girlfriend.”

His expression turns anguished at that, and she has to close her eyes to ignore the painful twist of her gut at it. This is Finn. Her great, supposed-to-be first love. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

“Clarke, please. If you’d just let me explain—”

“We’re done here.” She breathes out, turning away. Then, to Bellamy, “Take me home. Please.”

He doesn’t say anything at that, just slides his hand down to the small of her back to steer her away, his touch hesitant but protective all the same, and for some stupid, unfathomable reason, it makes her want to cry even more than Finn’s words ever could.

They pass Raven in the hallway, her mouth pinched and brows furrowed. Clarke ducks her head, keeps her gaze to the ground.

There’s nothing more to say.

+

Except maybe there is, because the next thing she knows, Raven Reyes is flopping down onto the seat next to hers during study hall.

“What?” she asks, arching a perfectly shaped brow over at her, “something on my face?”

“No,” Clarke manages, after a pointed beat. “It’s just— I thought—”

“That we were both fucked over by Finn? Yeah. I agree.” She cuts in, nonchalant. “I mean, I get the appeal, though. You seem cool. Blake wouldn’t shut up about you, so I thought I’d come and see for myself.”

She gapes, and it takes a conscious amount of effort to keep from rubbing at her ears to make sure that she didn’t mishear that. “Blake? As in, Bellamy?”

“He’s my lab partner.” Raven shrugs, and there’s an almost conspiratorial note to her voice when she adds, “He talks about you like you hung the moon.”

The insinuation behind it makes her blush, though she refuses to contemplate why, as of now. “He’s my best friend.”

“I figured.” She says, fingers drumming out a relentless beat against the tabletop. There’s a slight edge to her voice this time when she continues, “So. You should probably know that I dumped him.”

Clarke sneaks a side-along glance over at her. Her face is carefully blank, knee jigging restlessly under the table.

“I’m glad,” she muses, “because I mean, honestly? You could do a lot better. We both could.”

(And in that moment, Raven’s answering smile is fucking blinding.)

+

They hardly ever hung out in Bellamy’s room, even with six years of friendship under their belts.

It didn’t feel like his room, anyway. He made an concentrated effort in keeping it impersonal— plain sheets, bare walls, and nothing else. The well-worn books on his bureau and the lone photo of him and Octavia stuck crookedly to his desk served as the only indication that the room was his.

A brief stopover, rather than a home.

Still, the rain made it impossible for them to work outside, so they were stretched out on his rug instead; books spread out before them and Bellamy’s old laptop blinking sluggishly to the side.

“Fucking useless,” he grumbles under his breath, shoving at it with his foot. Then, casting a dark look over at her, he adds, “Did I tell you how Murphy thought it’d be a good idea to drop it from the second storey window?”

She makes a commiserating noise at that, dropping her face back down into the rug. “Numerous times.”

“It’s for science, Blake.” He grumbles, in a terrible approximation of Murphy’s voice, “It’s to test out our hypothesis on gravity. Wanna make out after?”

That pulls a laugh out of her, at least, the sound muffled against the worn fabric of the rug. It smelled faintly of Bellamy; of vanilla and mint and fabric softener. “Did you?”

“You’d think that I’ll make out with Murphy when Miller’s around?”

“Good point,” she declares, rolling onto her side so she could butt her forehead against his thigh, “I’d take Miller over Murphy anyday too.”

He bumps her fist at that, grinning. They had taken to the Internet after he admitted that he hooked up with Roan King at a party, and pretty much determined that he was pan after that. It made telling him that she liked girls too a lot easier than she thought it would be. (Not that she had ever really doubted him in the first place.)

“But enough about me,” he says, reaching over to flick at her forehead lightly. “Out with it. You’re upset about something.”

It doesn’t hurt, but she still gives a theatrical wince anyway. She likes making him squirm, sometimes. “I’m fine, except for the part where you decided to mortally wound me.”

He presses his thumb down on the space between her brows, rubbing at it absently. (Ever the caretaker.) “Walk it off, princess.”

“You can’t walk off a fatal wound.”

Clarke.”

She groans, rising up on her elbows and pushing her knees to her chest. It feels embarrassing, somehow, admitting it out loud, but she’s comforted by the fact that it’s Bellamy. Better him than anyone else. “I told you that Finn was my first kiss, right?”

He makes a face, which is his standard response for whenever Finn Collins is brought up. “Yeah.”

“So,” Clarke huffs, throwing her hands up, “I don’t know. I just keep thinking about how he ruined it, okay? And it’s a stupid thought to have, because it’s not— it shouldn’t matter, right? Plenty of people have terrible first kisses. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a indication of their love lives in the future.”

“Yeah.”

“So— I shouldn’t— I shouldn’t be freaking out over it, right?”

He has the nerve to look a little amused at that. “I mean, it’s over and done with, so I’d say no. Besides, everyone’s first kiss is terrible. It’s practically a rite of passage.”

She arches her brow over at him, reaching over to poke him in the ribs. “Was yours?”

“Nah,” he admits, easy, “but that’s probably because Gina is actually a good person, and not, you know. Finn Collins. My first kiss memory wasn’t tainted or anything.”

See.

“It’s not that much of a big deal as you’re making it out to be.”

“Yes, it is.” Her eyes are stinging, for some reason, and she’s not sure why at this point, except that thinking about it makes her feel achy and feverish and fucking sad, somehow. “Because one day this is going to come up in conversation at some cocktail party my mother dragged me to, and everyone is going to have some sort of cutesy, cookie cutter moment to bring up, and mine will be about the guy who cheated on me—”

Clarke sputters to a stop when she feels his fingers against her cheek, sliding down to tip her chin up carefully. Slow and measured and careful; giving her enough time to demur from it.

Her gaze catches on the bob of his throat. When he finally speaks, his voice is hoarser than usual, “You can always ask for a do-over, you know.”

She swallows, can’t help leaning in, the movement almost subconscious, at this point. She always wants to be closer to Bellamy. She just— never thought it’d be in this capacity. She never thought she’d get the chance to. “Really?”

“Sure.” He says, his voice raw in a way that she doesn’t get to think about before he’s kissing her— sweet and soft and good, making her head spin, and it dawns on her then; a thought she never let herself voice when Finn had kissed her, so that’s what it’s supposed to be like

He pulls away first, his hand still resting on her cheek. “Good?”

“Yeah,” she manages, releasing the breath that she didn’t know she was holding in the first place; the slight tremble of his fingers against his face making her brave, somehow. “It was perfect.”

+

They don’t talk about it until a year later, during a drunken session of truth or dare at another one of Miller’s parties.

She’s pleasantly tipsy, leaning against Bellamy’s side as he thrashes Miller at Super Smash Bros when Monty asks, curious, “So, what was it like?”

“Huh?”

Monty nudges at her with his foot, laughing. “You said truth, so I’m asking you about Finn. Finn Collins? Your boyfriend for a hot second, back in the days of the ninth grade?”

She wrinkles her nose at that, the reaction involuntary. “Ew.” Faintly, she can make out the shake of Bellamy’s shoulders at that, laughter rumbling through his form. “What’s there to know?”

He makes a sympathetic noise at that, hiccoughing as he takes another swig from the bottle. “He was that bad of a kisser?”

“No,” she says, the words slipping out before she can stop them, “besides, he wasn’t my first kiss.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” She continues, woozy from the heat and the booze and Bellamy’s warmth pressed up against her, “My first kiss was— it was good. It was fucking ideal. Everything I wanted it to be.”

“So,” Monty snorts, sliding the bottle over to her, “not Finn Collins.”

“Not Finn Collins,” she echoes, resting her weight back against the jut of Bellamy’s shoulder. Surprisingly enough, that prompts him to drop his controller, arm winding around her shoulder as he presses a kiss to her hair instead, soft.

“Good for you, princess.” He tells her, his gaze fixed resolutely on the screen before him, but she swears she catches a glimpse of a smile on his face before he grabs for the controller once more.

+

She’s sixteen when Bellamy Blake sneaks in through her window for the first time.

It’s surprising, to say the least. In all the years she’s known him, he’s always been careful about coming over to her house— painfully aware of her mother’s wariness towards him; always coolly polite whenever she addressed him. He’d ease up in her dad’s presence, but not much else. She suspected that he worried constantly about the day where Abby would insist she stop seeing him. (As if anyone could get her to do anything she didn’t want to do, really, but Clarke understood his fear all the same.)

He’s not even trying to be quiet about it, which unnerves her further. She catches a glimpse of dark, shaggy hair and a worn Arkadia High shirt before he’s ducking through her window; sock-clad feet landing heavily against her floorboards and making them creak ominously.

“Are you crazy?” she hisses, bolting upright, “Bell, if my mom catches you—”

She stops when she catches sight of his expression. “Bell?”

He doesn’t say anything for a good minute or so, just stands stock-still in the middle of her room, hands clenching and unclenching by his sides. His face crumples when she finally reaches for him, though, and she staggers under his weight, catching at his elbows. When he finally speaks, his voice cracks on the words, “It’s— it’s my mom.”

The call had come in just as Bellamy emerged from the shower. Aurora Blake, time of death: May 14th, 11.51p.m. Nobody knew what really happened, but Kane suspected that it was an overdose.

They don’t talk about how Octavia had been the one to make the call, or that the house was to be repossessed. They don’t talk about how no one had been able to contact Octavia’s father either, or that the funeral arrangements would have to be made in Arkadia.

Instead, she just holds him, face tucked into the jut of his shoulder blades and fingers carding through his hair soothingly. Occasionally, he breaks the silence to tell her something about Octavia— that she liked picking olives off her pizza, or that she liked to mark the pages of her books with leaves and sharp little blades of grass.

She’s dozing off by the time he turns over, dislodging himself from her grip. “Clarke.”

“Hmm?”

A beat, long enough for her to think that he’s fallen asleep before he speaks. “I think I’m a lot more worried about Octavia than I am sad for my mom.”

Her hands go up to his hair, pushing it away from his face instinctively. The night is quiet, muted, somehow, and it feels a lot like they’re in their own little world. Sealed off into a space that no one else could touch. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t bring herself to feel embarrassed by the newfound intimacy between them. Sure, they’ve known each other for years now, so touching isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it’s the first time they’ve done this. Face inches apart, breathing in the same air. Touches fleeting and soft and soothing, skirting across his shoulder and along the length of his jaw and the dip of his collarbones. Places she’s never once explored on him.

“Judging from the circumstances, I would say that it’s entirely normal.”

His mouth ticks upwards at that, wry. “I would say that it makes me a fucking awful person.”

“And I would say that you’re wrong,” she retorts, huffing slightly. It’s nice to see that it makes him smile, at least. “God, Bell. Your mom was the fucking worst, okay? You don’t need to forget that just because she’s dead.”

“I haven’t,” he murmurs, pressing down at the pillow so he could look at her properly. “I’m just— fuck.” He rubs at his face, his breathing going heavy, “You know what I thought about, the second after I got over my relief about Kane taking in Octavia?”

She shrugs, pressing closer. “What?”

“I thought about how I’d have to give up on college,” he says, soft. Ashamed. “Because there’s no way Kane could manage to pay off college for me and take care of Octavia. My mom is dead, my sister is a fucking orphan, and all I could think of was myself. Because I’m fucking selfish, don’t you get that? I’m not a good person, Clarke. Maybe I can never be.”

No,” she says, almost shaking with the conviction in her words; her belief in them, “you’re not an awful person for being human, Bell. You’re— you’re wrong. You’re the best person I know, okay? There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t thank the deities and the skies and the goddamn stars that they brought you to me. Because my life without you? That’d be fucking unimaginable. And more than that, I don’t fucking want it.”

He closes his eyes at that, breath shaky against the skin of her neck when he gives a small, short laugh. The noise is distinctly disbelieving, but she feels him relent, anyway, “When did you get so wise, princess?”

“I keep telling you,” she murmurs, pulling him closer, “it has nothing to do with intelligence. You just like being obstinate, that’s all.”

+

Her mom is the one who finds them the next morning, limbs entwined and sheets a tangled mess by the foot of the bed.

It is, quite possibly, the worst thing for Abby to walk in on.

“Mom,” she croaks out, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, “I can explain.”

Her lips seem to thin into a fine line at that, but there’s no reproach in her eyes when she tells her, soft, “It’s okay. Marcus called.”

“He did?”

“Bellamy wasn’t in his room when he went to check up on him, so he figured he was with you.” She says, her gaze sliding down over to him; snoring evenly with his face still pressed against the hollow of her neck, “I told him that I figured the same.”

“Yeah.” Clarke manages, swallowing. “He’s— he’s in pretty bad shape, mom.”

Her breath stirs at his hair, and he shifts sleepily, mumbling under his breath. A part of her is almost tempted to leave that as it is, but they’ve never really talked about Bellamy before— about what he meant to her, and how much he meant to her. It seems like now is a good time as any, anyway.

“He’s going to need me, more than ever,” she starts, glancing up at her, “and I’m going to be there for him, like he always is for me. I just— I just thought you should know that.”

The look she shoots her thoroughly unimpressed, though it’s impossible to miss the fondness in her voice when she says, “You’re telling me all of this like it’s news.

A smile rises to her lips, unbidden. “I was just making sure, mom. Jeez.”

“Though it’ll probably do him some good if you informed him that we have a perfectly functioning door from now on,” her mom points out, dry, before striding over to press a quick against her forehead. “I doubt anyone will be pleased if he broke his ankle crawling through your window.”

“I would. I’d get to laugh at him about it.”

“For all of five seconds, before you realize that a broken ankle will greatly hamper his spending of time with you.” She says flatly, before dropping something onto her bureau. “Give this to him for me, okay?”

She spots the pamphlet first, peeking out from between the pages of a leather-bound journal. The kind they gave out at the hospital, made out of shiny stock paper. This one had how to deal with grief written in bubble letters over it.

Bellamy would hate it.

She has to suppress a snort at that because it’s so typical of her mom. Still, it’s a nice gesture anyhow, so Clarke just nods anyway. “And the journal?”

“That’s from your dad. He thought Bellamy would like it.” She shrugs, frowning slightly. “He said something about all the greats having one of their own.”

It makes her smile, somehow, thinking back to when he first came over, the way his eyes had gone wide when she had brought him to her dad’s study, with all the books lined up neatly on the shelves. He would have gladly let Bellamy take whatever book he wanted home, but he preferred to read them with her instead, up in their favorite tree. “Authors,” she says, at her mom’s quizzical look. “They like to talk about books together.”

Her responding nod is a little stiff, but Clarke thinks she likes the lilt to her voice when she says, “That’s nice.”

“It is.” She murmurs, hiding her smile in the curve of Bellamy’s cheek as he burrows closer— his even, heavy breaths sending her off to sleep once more.

+

They spend the entirety of that summer working on two things: researching college scholarships and preparing for Octavia’s arrival.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” he says, after he catches her looking up local colleges in the area for the fifth time, “I’m not going to be heartbroken or anything if I don’t make it anywhere. I know it’s a long-shot.”

(It’s an outright lie, considering the deliberate nonchalance in his voice. When it comes to the things that he really, truly cares about, Bellamy tends to take on the most aggressively blasé stance known to man. It’s a defense mechanism, more than anything, and one that she sees right through.)

She shoots him a scathing look at it, says pointedly, “You’re acting as if I’m doing this completely and utterly selflessly when I do, in fact, still have my own personal interests at heart here.”

“My mistake,” he teases, nudging at her ankle with his, “you clearly have some sort of personal stake in this.”

“Duh,” she says primly, hitting at the enter button with way more force than necessary, “you still have my copy of The Magicians, you know. I can’t let you run off without returning it.”

“Well, I’ll hate to deprive you of your sixtieth re-read of it.”

“That’s the spirit.”

She’s fully expecting him to go back to researching for bedroom ideas for Octavia (on Pinterest, no less) so she definitely jumps when she feels his breath tickling against her neck, his voice curious, “Why are you looking at MapQuest?”

“I’m— looking up directions for when I head down to New York with my mom,” she manages, jabbing at the keypad fervently in her attempt to summon a new tab, “traffic is always fucking terrible when we make our way down.”

He makes a agreeable noise at that but stays exactly where he is, drumming his fingers against the curve of her shoulder. His palm is large enough to engulf it entirely, and it takes almost all of her willpower to keep from turning her face towards him; from looking at him.

Lately, it feels as if she has gained a new kind of awareness of him, somehow. She shivers every time he brushes up against her, and the casual, easy touches from before feel different, now; electrified in a way that makes her breath catch and her knees shake.

(It’s not a crush. Clarke refuses to believe that it is. But she can’t deny the fact that her pulse picks up whenever he so much as smiles at her now. She finds herself studying every single one of them more often than not, picking out something new about it each time. How the dimple on the left was a little higher than the one on the right when he smiled wide, or how the cluster of freckles below his eye formed a lopsided triangle when his face crinkled up. She could spend fucking forever looking at him, trying to learn every single one of them.)

“That’s weird,” he says finally, cocking his head slightly, “because you have the location keyed in as Mecha U. Which, as we all know, is only two hours away from here.”

She sighs, slumping back. The gig’s up. “An hour and a half, actually.” She amends, biting at her lip. “By car, at least, once I get my license.”

His gaze seems to soften imperceptibly at that, and she thinks she dies a small death right there and then when he envelopes her into a bear hug, his lips stretched up into a grin and dangerously close to her ear, “You’re gonna miss me, princess?”

“Shut up,” she flushes, pinching at the skin of his wrist. He laughs, then, the sound low and gravelly and making her go a little lightheaded from the proximity of it, “you’re such an asshole. I’m not going to miss you at all.”

“You won’t,” he says, pulling away carefully. The smile on his face is warm and soft and so fucking fond that she can’t help but reciprocate, really, “because I’ll be coming back to visit all the time, or you’ll be coming up to see me. There won’t be time to miss each other in between that.”

“You better be right,” she mumbles, ducking her head back down to her screen to hide her blush when he squeezes at her shoulder.

Bellamy gets his admission letter to Mecha U two weeks after, along with a congratulatory note on his partial scholarship. It was a bit of a stretch, but he got a second job working at the campus library, too, and Kane said that they’d make it work. All that was left was to pack up his room, get Octavia settled in hers, and then he’d be gone.

(It’s a good thing, probably. Maybe some distance would help her get over whatever it was that she felt for him now.)

She’s putting the finishing touches to Octavia’s room when she hears his truck pull up in the driveway, the heavy slam of the car door startling her out of her reverie.

Shit. Swearing, she drops the brush back onto its tray, barely has time to tuck her hair behind her ears before Bellamy is barrelling in with a small, dark-haired girl in tow.

“This is your room,” he announces, flashing her a small, giddy grin, “oh, and this is Clarke. She’s a lot better at all that art stuff, so she’s been helping out.”

A beat as Octavia seems to process this, her dark eyes serious, before she’s asking with all the bossiness of a eleven year old, “So, are you my brother’s girlfriend?”

Bellamy’s reaction is instantaneous— dissolving into a series of sputters and unintelligible noises (briefly, she thinks she makes out a indignant Octavia!) before she cuts in, working to keep her composure, “No,” she shrugs, ignoring the heating of her cheeks, “but I’m his best friend.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Clarke affirms, bending at the waist to grab at the recently abandoned paintbrush. God, it’s going to take forever before she can even look him in the eye. Then, with as much enthusiasm as she can muster, “So, your brother tells me you like butterflies. Want to help me with them?”

That seems to grab her attention, at least. “Sure,” she chirps, reaching for the brush, and the next few hours are spent listening to Octavia’s peaceful, mindless chatter as they paint over the walls.

And that would have been the end of it, really, if the universe didn’t actively go out of its way to sabotage her.

She’s mixing the paints to form the lightest, most perfect shade of lilac (at Octavia’s insistence, with her roping Kane into the whole venture by begging him to take her to the hardware store for more colors) when it happens: Bellamy twisting his torso ever so slightly to the side to fill in his half-completed dragonfly, his foot catching against the side of the bucket. Then a breathless, heart-stopping moment when she actually sees the bucket tip, almost in slow-motion, sloshing all over her shoes and jeans.

“Fu— shit. Bellamy.”

He swears at that— a word far more sacrilegious and foul than hers— before dropping onto his knees, “You okay?”

She shoots him a dirty look. “Fine, except that I’m doused in paint.”

The corners of his mouth twitch upwards at that, biting back a smile. “Y’know, I don’t actually see the problem here, princess. It’s a good look on you.”

“I’m purple.”

“You heard me.”

She scowls, flicking a blob of paint over at him. It lands against his cheek, startling him enough that he lands on his butt.

There’s a moment of tense, loaded silence when they’re just looking at each other before it all goes to hell: she’s not sure who moves first, at this point, but then she’s smearing paint down his neck, laughing, and his hands are on her hips, leaving purple-stained fingerprints and she only registers how close they are when she feels his breath wash over her lips, panting slightly.

He breaks first, giving another short, breathless laugh. “Truce?” he rumbles, and she breaks into a full-bodied shiver at the pitch of his voice, the way he’s peering at her through a dark fan of lashes.

“Only because Octavia might have my head for wasting all her paint,” she rasps out, gaze dropping down involuntarily to his lips. Full and pink and stupidly kissable. They had been surprisingly soft, the last time she felt them against hers, and she tries not to think about how different it will be this time with the hint of stubble against his top lip. “It would be all out war otherwise.”

“If you say so, princess.” He murmurs, lips ghosting across her jaw before he’s pulling away, leaving her flushed and wanting and confused, more than ever.

“C’mon,” he says, at her continued silence, “let’s finish this wall.”

“Yeah.” She bites out, taking a step away from him, from the confused jumble of emotions pounding against her ribcage, beating in time with the rapid flutter of her pulse, “Sure.”

+

(Fine, so maybe she has a little bit of a crush on him. But it’s just— one of those things, right? The kind that would fade away with time and distance and other romantic prospects, hopefully.

Everyone falls in love with their best friend, at some point. And, well. It’s Bellamy. It’s not like it’s hard, or anything.

It’s fine. It’ll just— go away, eventually. And until then, Clarke will just have to deal.)

+

He leaves on a Friday afternoon, and it’s exactly as awful as she thought it would be.

To her credit, she does manage to put on a brave face all throughout dinner, hangs back while he says his goodbyes to Octavia and Kane and the rest of his friends. (For someone who once claimed that he was the black sheep of Arkadia, he sure has a significant number of them.)

She’s pretending to busy herself with her watch strap when he finally draws up next to her, fingers curling around her forearm carefully.

For half a second, Clarke can only stare, gaze fixated on on the familiar curve of his wrists, the scars flanking his knuckles from when he burned himself on the diner’s stove. Miller’s dad had brought him to the hospital, and she had been the first person he called when he had been escorted into the ER. She held his hand the entire time they cleaned his wounds, and he never cried once, though she remembers how his hands shook while they slathered coat after coat of ointment on his burns.

When they bandaged his hands, she was the first one to sign his cast. He had insisted that everyone else sign his right arm so she could have space to draw on his left, and she had spent the entirety of those short weeks adding on to it— a landscape of his favorite view of Arkadia, only visible from the top of their tree.

He had been in the forefront of her memories for years, now. The one most featured in all of her best stories, as she was for him. To believe that his leaving could change all of that feels unthinkable, somehow.

(There is no one else. There can’t be anyone else.)

His smile is soft when she finally looks up at him, head cocked. “Wanna walk me to my car, princess?”

She returns it, has to bite down on her lower lip to keep it from trembling. “Sure.”

It’s not a long walk by any means, but she can feel him dithering anyway, slowing his pace to match hers. She bumps her shoulder against his teasingly, and he retaliates by elbowing her in the ribs— their fingers tangling together once, twice, before she’s gripping onto him, holding on as tightly as she can.

He releases a deep, shuddering breath by the time they make it to the door, his voice catching on the words, “Well. This is me.”

She eyes the rusted, banged-up truck, filled to the brim with neatly labelled boxes and Bellamy’s worn flannel thrown over the front seat. He had bought it with his own savings the second he had gotten his license, and it always felt like it was one trip away from being towed to the scrapyard. Then, her voice wavering slightly, “You sure you’re going to make it there without Bessie breaking down on you?”

That pulls a chuckle out of him, the sound wry. “Bessie is offended that you even have to ask.”

“You’re right,” she smiles, unwinding their intertwined fingers slowly, feeling the hard press of his fingertips against hers before she pulls away entirely, “my bad. That car is going to outlive me, at this rate.”

“I think she’s outlived both of us collectively, at this point.”

“Good,” she says, even though it’s taking almost all of her willpower to keep from crying, at this point, “it means that you’re in good hands, right?”

He clears his throat, worrying at his lip with his teeth. “Yeah.”

Clarke manages another short, abrupt nod, backing up a few steps. His eyes have gone soft, longing, and she has to look away to keep going, “I’ll see you soon, Bell.”

“Sooner than you think.” He promises, before turning away to yank at the door.

She makes it another two more steps before she’s turning on her heel, surging into him. His arms goes around her without any hesitation whatsoever, lifting her with the force of it, and she muffles a half-sob into the crook of his neck, breathing him in.

“I’m going to miss you,” she breathes, clutching at him harder, “stupid amounts. So come back whenever you can, okay?”

“Always,” he rasps, burying his face into her hair. Then, so softly she nearly misses it, “Don’t leave me behind, princess.”

He’s the one who’s going, but she understands the sentiment behind it all the same. She felt it, too: the fear of falling out of sync, of forgetting everything that they meant to one another. She wished she could tell him that it would be okay— that they were immovable forces, constant ones; as sure as the tide returning to the sea, or thunder following lightning. Wherever he was, she was sure to follow.

But the words withered on her tongue with every passing second, and the best she manages is a shaky, “Never.”

(It’s enough, she thinks, for now.)

+

As it turns out, Bellamy was wrong: there was still time to miss each other, despite the daily phone calls and texts and the semi-regular visits.

She tries not to dwell too much on it, but it’s disconcerting to have to adapt to the distance; to adapt to not having him near. More often than not, she found herself heading to his usual haunts without really thinking about it— muscle memory and instinct carrying her to where she thought he would be before reality kicked in. She would hear something funny and pivot on her heel, only to face the empty space where Bellamy once was, a ghost of a half-smile pulling at his lips.

Some days, she would catch a glimpse of a familiar silhouette up in their tree, and she would practically feel the air go out of her lungs until she realized that it was just Octavia.

If anything, his absence only served to intensify her distinctly non-platonic feelings for him and it made her want to do stupid things. Desperates ones, where she would rush to his side and kiss him senseless, or tell him exactly how she felt about him.

But that could come at the expense of their friendship, and the thought— even the possibility— of losing him was way too daunting for her to bear. If having him by her side meant swallowing down her feelings forever, well. It would be a small price to pay, really.

She starts dating Niylah Woods in junior year, throws herself into her extracurriculars.

Raven is the one who convinces her to get a part-time job at the outlet mall, and they spend a whole summer learning how to make juice blends and smoothies. Monty drags her to the animal shelter to help out a few times a week, and it doesn’t get all that less lonely but it’s easier, somehow.

She’s on her way home after a gruelling shift at the juice bar when her phone buzzes— her favorite picture of Bellamy (glasses on, stroking at his chin mock-thoughtfully) lighting up the screen.

Swearing, she fumbles for her phone, nearly drops the pile of folders in her arms in the process before getting a grip on things, “Hello?”

There’s a beat, and she thinks she makes out the sound of muffled laughter before his voice comes on, “Princess?”

“The one and only,” she says, droll. “Why, were you hoping for someone else?”

“Your mom.”

She groans, biting at the inside of her cheek to taper a smile. “Classy. Though I must admit that it’s nice to see that college hasn’t improved your terrible sense of humor one bit.”

“You like it.” He says, no hesitation whatsoever, and she hates how her pulse picks up almost instantaneously in response. “What are you up to?”

“I’m just walking home,” she shrugs, grimacing when the motion sends the folders slipping in her grasp once more, “Raven’s car is in the garage today, so I’m braving the elements and going by foot instead.”

He makes a soft noise of surprise at that. “Last time I heard, the weather in Arkadia was positively balmy.”

“Who told you that, Octavia?” she snorts, adjusting the scarf at her neck surreptitiously. “She’s a biased source and you know it. Us normal folk can’t feel their fingers.”

“I’m more inclined to believe the weather forecast considering how someone’s always been a baby about the cold.”

“Me?” She gapes, an indignant squeak escaping, “You’re the one who always needed two blankets at sleepovers!”

His laugh is so heartbreakingly familiar that she can’t help sucking in a involuntary breath at it, her chest tightening in response. God, she missed him. If she closed her eyes, she could just about see it— the crooked lift of his mouth, the dip of his chin. How all his sharp lines and jutting edges smoothed out whenever he looked at her. Soft.

“Yeah, but you needed three. Two blankets and my body heat.” His voice is wry, teasing. “You used to do this thing where you’d curl up against me, remember? Like some sort of fucking cat. Jesus.”

“Well, I don’t remember you complaining back then.” She says, prim, rubbing at her hands to regain some warmth into them. The crazy winds from before have died down, but she still feels frozen solid anyway. Besides, she’s definitely going to milk this for everything it’s worth. “God, it’s so fucking cold. You can’t hear my teeth chattering?”

“No.”

She rolls her eyes at that, yanking her hood up carefully. It’s a pretty useless attempt to stay warm considering how she’s only a few steps away from her driveway already, but it does make her feel slightly better anyway. “C’mon, you’re telling me you can hear me over all this wind?”

“I can hear you perfectly fine,” he says amused, “because you’re a terrible liar, princess.”

She doesn’t register the insinuation behind his words right away, but then she hears the rustle of the branches behind her, and—

There he is.

He grins at her, leaning lazily against their tree, and there it is, that fucking smile. “Miss me?”

She means to say something, really, anything, but all that she manages is a strangled noise before she’s lunging forward, arms outstretched and colliding into him with all the force of how much she’s been missing him. He tips slightly at that, clearly caught off guard before he’s returning the hug with equal fervor.

When she finally pulls away, it’s to wipe at her eyes, pushing at his shoulder with a choked laugh, “You couldn’t have told me that you were coming home?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” he says lightly, nudging at her with his elbow as they fall into step with one another, “And it’s not like I didn’t know what you had going on for the rest of the night.”

“Nothing?”

“Basically.” He smiles, then, jerking his chin towards the truck, “Want to go split a milkshake?”

“More than anything,” she beams, spinning on her heel so she could get a proper look at him. He was wearing his glasses, hair shaggier than before, and he was definitely filling out his shirt in ways that he wasn’t the last time she saw him.

He looked good. (God. She’s in trouble.)

Ducking her head to hide the flush threatening to overtake her cheeks, she turns away, quickens her pace, “You know what I want a little more than a milkshake, though?”

“What?”

“To race you to your truck and rub it in your face that I beat you!” she calls out before taking off, bursting into laughter at his surprised yelp. He catches up to her soon enough, grabbing her around the waist and spinning her, only stopping when their elderly neighbour from two doors down yelled at them for being hooligans.

+

Bessie remained largely unchanged, though it was a little cleaner, and there was a tiny pine-shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

Popping the glovebox open, she gives a little crow of triumph, grabbing at the bottle of pink nail polish she stowed in there forever ago. “You didn’t get rid of it?”

He arches a brow over at her, “You say that as if I clean my truck regularly.”

“You’re right, that is too much to ask of you.” She says, giving an exaggerated sigh as she rifles through the rest of the things: her bobby pins, an old pair of shades, and her favorite watermelon flavored gum (half-eaten, that asshole).

He kept them.

It makes her feel ridiculously happy, somehow, and she has to keep her head bowed to keep her smile at bay. His headphones, a school shirt crumpled into a sad ball—

Clarke winces at the sharp pain that shoots up her knuckles, yanking the offending object out of the pile. It was the journal her father had given him all those years back, the spine cracked and the filled pages fluttering slightly in the breeze.

“You used it?”

“Consistently.” He mutters, flushing slightly when she looks over at him. “Shut up. And don’t read it. Masterpieces take time.”

She can’t help her grin at that, clutching the book against her chest. “Wait. So it’s not a diary?”

“No.” He says gruffly, avoiding her gaze. Then, a little apprehensively, “I’ve been working on it for a little while now. Like— I don’t know. For fun, mostly.”

She can feel her brows rising up to her hairline, excitement building in her chest, “Bellamy Blake, are you telling me that you’re writing a book?”

He shrugs, the tips of his ears burning red. “I guess.”

Gaping, she smacks at his shoulder with it, resisting the urge to tell him to pull over so they could talk about this. “Bell!”

“It’s not a big deal,” he insists, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the road ahead, “and you’re the first person who knows, okay? So just— I don’t know. Chill. It’s not going to amount to much.”

“Can I ask what it’s about?”

That same, elusive shrug. “It’s a secret, princess.” He says pointedly, snagging the book from her before throwing the truck into park, “But you’ll be the first to read it once it’s done, okay?”

“Wow,” she says, nodding. “I’m honored.”

A beat as he sizes her up, his brows furrowing together in exasperation before he says, weary, “You’re going to ask me what it’s about again, aren’t you?”

“Bellamy,” she says obediently, grinning, “what’s your book about?”

He shakes his head at that, shoving the door open before him, “Jesus. You’re worse than Roma.”

She’s halfway out of the door before it clicks, and then she’s scrambling out of her seat to meet him, “Wait, Roma? The girl you went out with that one time?”

That pulls a frown out of him, still struggling with the keys in his hand, “My girlfriend. I told you about her, didn’t I? She won’t stop pestering me about it. I think she thinks it’s actually a journal.”

It’s unfair of her to be upset, to be angry. She’s dating Niylah, for fuck’s sake. Still, she could feel her body going cold all the same, her hands trembling faintly by her sides. “You didn’t.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Clarke amends, looking away. It feels near impossible to keep from reacting, to force down the hot sting of tears, but she does it anyway. “I was just— I realized I forgot to text Niylah to tell her where I am.”

It’s his turn to stare now. “That girl from your biology class? I thought you said it was casual.”

“She’s my girlfriend.” She says shortly, hating the venom in her voice. “I thought I told you.”

A moment of tense, fraught silence. Then, quietly, he tells her, “You didn’t.”

“Must have slipped my mind.” She manages before slipping through the door, turning her face away so she wouldn’t have to look at him.

(They eat their milkshake in near silence the entire time. Thankfully, she makes it back home before the tears start.)

+

The truck’s gone by the next morning, though there is a text waiting for her by the time she gets up.

BellAugustusBlake: Made it back to my dorm. Just thought you’d want to know.

BellAugustusBlake: I miss you, and I’ll see you soon.

She presses her palm against her mouth, muffling a sudden sob. It’s stupid to be angry. She knows it is, and yet she couldn’t get the image of the air freshener dangling from Bessie’s rear view mirror out of her head, or how he wore his glasses more often instead of contacts. Was that because of Roma? For her?

Still, she didn’t have the right to be mad. She couldn’t.

PrincessClarke: Good.

PrincessClarke: I miss you too.

PrincessClarke: … And I’m sorry about how weird I was yesterday. I’ll make it up to you soon, promise.

Her phone buzzes in with a response almost instantly after, as if he had been hovering. Waiting. The thought of it puts a smile to her face, at least.

BellAugustusBlake: Nothing you have to say sorry for.

BellAugustusBlake: Have a good day, princess.

BellAugustusBlake: <3

Nerd. Shaking her head, she traces at the heart with her finger, waits it out for another minute or so before sending one back, too. Then, before she can chicken out, she taps at her conversation with Niylah, bringing it up on the screen.

PrincessClarke: Hey, are you free? We need to talk.

 

+

Senior prom is one of those things that Clarke didn’t think she’d be attending. She missed all the others for some reason or the other anyway, so it would seem fitting for her to miss this one, too. Staying true to tradition, and all that.

But she’s done with her college applications, and Raven finally gets the nerve to ask out Luna Waters, and she says yes, so of course Clarke has to be there now for moral support.

“I don’t see why this means that I have to dress up,” she sighs, yanking at the zipper of option five— a puff-sleeved yellow monstrosity that she’s pretty sure Raven must have picked for her as a joke— “why can’t I just go in jeans? It’s not like I have a date. I’m practically an unofficial chaperone.”

Raven makes a impatient noise at that. “You know you could just ask someone now, right? We’re still a few hours away from prom, and the last time I heard, Niylah is single again.”

“Yeah, and you know I broke up with her a year back, right?”

“For strange, mysterious reasons you refuse to tell us about,” Raven says, without missing a beat, and Clarke has to turn away to keep from meeting her curious gaze. (Explaining the whole, I was very much in love with my best friend this whole time concept does not sound appealing in the slightest.)

“It wasn’t working.” She manages, giving a breezy wave of her hand. Then, pivoting on her heel, “You think I should try the strapless purple, instead?”

That seems to distract her, at least, and they spend the next forty-five minutes going through the rest of the store before Raven finally deems her presentable for prom.

The dress is pale and pink and nothing like she has back in her closet, but she has to admit that she looks nice. (Raven may have even gasped a little when she emerged from the dressing room, before declaring dramatically that it was the one, which definitely helped things along.)

A part of her is tempted to take a photo and send it over to Bellamy, but she resists, in the end. (He hasn’t been talking much about Roma, but she highly doubts that his girlfriend would appreciate it anyway.)

They’re a little late by the time they push through the doors, but it’s worth it to see the bright, downright goofy smile on Raven’s face when Luna takes her hand. They slow dance through all the songs, even the aggressively chipper ones that normally require some form of jumping and hand waving, and Clarke’s on her fifth cup of punch when her phone rings.

She slips it out from the tiny, impractical clutch that she borrowed from her mother, ducking out onto the verandah. “Hello?”

“Hey,” Bellamy says, and she finds herself relaxing instinctively, “listen, I know it’s your big prom debut, so I swear I’m not going to take all that much of your time.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Bell.”

That pulls a laugh out of him. “It’ll be uncharacteristic of me not to be,” he says, wry, and she finds herself grinning anyway, tilting her head back to look up at the stars. If he was here, he would be telling her about them, probably. The thought of it makes her ache, so she casts it away, forces herself to focus back on him. “— anyway. It’s just— something happened. And I wanted you to be the first to know.”

“Let me guess,” she teases, “you realized that elbow patches aren’t that great of a look on you.”

“They make me look distinguished, Clarke.”

“If by distinguished you mean old, then sure, grandpa.

He huffs, and she can’t hold back on her laugh, this time. “Alright, you done? Got your fill of mocking my wardrobe choices?”

“For today.” She quips, leaning back against the wraparound porch. “Go on, I’m listening.”

“So, as you know, Miller is a dick.”

“So are you.”

“Right, that’s why we work.” He says, impatient. “Anyway, apparently, he met this literary agent at the bar the other day, and he thought it’d be a good idea to set up a meeting for me. For my book that he knows absolutely nothing about, by the way.”

She straightens to attention at that, prompts, “And?”

“I let him read some of my stuff and, uh, he must have found it good, I guess, because he said he was interested in possibly publishing it—”

A little shriek escapes before she can contain it, jumping to her feet, “Bell, oh my god—”

“Shut up,” he says, though she senses his grin, more than anything, “it’s not a big deal, but it’s a confirmed one, at least. They gave me an advancement. A fucking advancement,” he laughs, and she presses the phone closer to her ear, wishing she could be closer, somehow. “Anyway. That’s it, I guess. I just wanted you to be the first to know.”

“You should celebrate,” she beams, pressing a hand to her chest. Her pulse is a thrumming, impossible beat at this point, and it’s making her feel like she could run ten miles all at once. “Go get a drink with Miller, or fuck it, champagne or something. You deserve it.”

He gives a low, amused chuckle, and she thinks she can make out the blare of the TV in the background, most likely switched to some sort of documentary, knowing him. “He has a big date tonight. This guy that he’s been crushing on since the dawn of time, I swear.”

“Ask Roma then.”

A long, slightly awkward beat. “We broke up a while back,” he says finally. “It’s just— it’s not a big deal, you know? So I didn’t tell you.”

“Oh.” She manages, once she regained some moisture back in her throat. “But— what happened?”

“It wasn’t working.” He says, soft, and the absolute relief that floods her in the moment makes her stagger, just a little. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t you have a dance partner to get back to?”

“I keep telling you, I’m only here to keep Raven company. But I think she’s a little distracted with Luna, as of now.”

“That’s nice.”

“You know what’s not?” she says, swallowing. Bracing herself. “The fact that you’re up there, with no one else to celebrate with. Because this is big, okay? And I’m so fucking proud of you. I just wanted you to know that.”

He gives a rueful chuckle at that. “I’m fine, Clarke. And I’ll have you know that I’m celebrating, okay? I have Planet Earth on, and there’s half a bottle of wine in my fridge. Maybe I’ll get some Thai takeout. It’s a world full of possibilities.”

“Sounds like you have a thrilling night ahead of you.”

“I do.”

She closes her eyes at the silence that falls, comfortable and easy and nostalgic, all once. “I wish I was there.”

The silence drags on, and just when she thinks he’ll just skirt past it entirely, he tells her, voice breaking, “I wish you were, too.”

And that just about settles it for her, really.

She bursts back into the room, makes a beeline over to Raven. “I need your car. Please.”

Raven, to her credit, doesn’t even hesitate, slinging her the keys fluidly. “It’s on half tank, so you’ll probably have to stop at a gas station mid-way.” She instructs, “There’s a bunch of twenties in the glove compartment, and a couple of protein bars but check the expiration date.”

“Thank you,” she breathes, throwing her arms around her once before she’s flat out running towards the car, heels in hand and cell phone in the other.

She has somewhere else to be, anyway. Somewhere better.

+

Two and a half hours, a trip to the gas station, and a box of powdered donuts later and she is finally pulling into Mecha University’s parking lot.

It’s late enough that there aren’t many people around by the time she emerges, so she doesn’t feel too awkward trekking across the lawn and toward the dorms in her prom dress. Sure, she gets a few stares, but maybe it’s because she’s walking on the grass in her heels.

It only dawns on her that she’s never actually been to Bellamy’s room until she’s at his door, staring down at the dry-erase board hanging by the knob. There’s a whole bunch of quotes scribbled in various states of disarray on it, and she thinks she makes out veni, vidi, vici in his messy, bold scrawl.

“Nerd,” she says under her breath, smiling a little to herself as she reaches out to rap her knuckles against the door.

She thinks she hears a muttered curse from inside, followed by the sound of his familiar gait before the door is flung open and there he is, in all his shirtless glory, hair rumpled and glasses askew.

He blinks rapidly, throat bobbing as he takes her in, “Clarke?”

“The one and only,” she says, tightening her grip on the half-opened box of donuts to keep from doing something stupid, like diving into his arms. “I come bearing gifts, and— oof.”

Her breath catches the second his arms go around her, crushing her to him, and she can’t help feeling a little overwhelmed by the miles and miles of warm freckled skin pressed up against her, the scent of boy and sweat and just Bellamy surrounding her.

“How did you even get here?” he asks, his voice muffled by her hair before he finally pulls away, still grasping at her elbows. “Did something happen?”

“I came to celebrate with you, you idiot,” she laughs, swiping at his shoulder lightly with the box, “I jumped in a car and started driving, and it was crazy impulsive, and I didn’t even pack anything, so. I hope you have a spare toothbrush lying around somewhere.”

He sweeps his gaze over her, and she tries not to shiver at how his eyes seem to darken imperceptibly after. “No promises about the toothbrush,” he rasps, smiling faintly, “but I definitely have a spare set of clothes or two lying around in case you don’t wanna get your gown dirty.”

“What,” she asks, stepping into the room after him, trying to keep the note of self-consciousness from bleeding into her voice, “you don’t like it?”

He pauses in rifling through his drawer, brow quirked. For half a second, she almost expects him to demur from the question, or play it off as a joke.

“You look amazing,” he says instead, voice barely raised above a reverent whisper, and she can’t help that her knees go a little weak at it.

“Thanks,” she says, working to keep her voice nonchalant, then, teasingly, “you too, you know. I think I like this better than the elbow patches.”

The look he shoots her is distinctly exasperated. “Alright, you made your point,” he huffs, tossing her several warm bundles of fabric, “you really hate my one blazer with those elbow patches.”

“I’d say that it reminds me of my grandpa, except that I think it’s a little dated for him, even.”

“You know what? Just for that, I’m putting it on, right now.” He says, narrowing his eyes in challenge, and she can’t help cracking up when he begins tearing through his wardrobe with all the efficiency of a man on a mission.

“I highly doubt my opinion is going to change in all of two weeks,” she points out, twisting her lips into an exaggerated pout. It makes him snort, at least, and she has to hide her smile behind a curtain of hair.

“I was hoping my state of half-nakedness would help,” he says, flapping a arm over his abs as he smirks over at her, and she doesn’t combust but it’s a near thing.

“You wish.” She blurts out, before she’s slamming the bathroom door shut behind her, breathing coming a little heavier than normal.

Anyway.

She wiggles out of her dress carefully, slipping on his jersey and sweat pants. They’re comically huge on her frame, but she secretly sort of likes it. There was something about Bellamy’s broad, sturdy frame that always made her feel safe and cocooned from everything else.

Rolling up the hem of his sweatpants, she ducks out of the door, easing it shut behind her. He’s on the couch now, clothed (unfortunately), and it takes almost all of her willpower to keep from curling up into him. Holding him close. It still feels surreal, somehow, that he’s right here beside her.

“So,” she begins, sinking down onto the couch next to him, “I would suggest we go out and do something crazy, but I also know you enough to know that this is your ideal celebration, especially now that I’m here.”

“I was doing perfectly fine by myself,” he grouses, but puts his arm around her anyway, as if to make ascertain that she’s actually here, “but I guess you’re an added bonus.”

She grins, pushing closer so she could nuzzle her face into the neckline of his shirt. He takes that as a invitation to card his fingers through her hair, soothing, and she has to bite back a purr when he scratches at her scalp, just how she likes it. “What are we watching, then?”

“Depends on if you’re in the mood for Planet Earth or Sixteen Candles.”

“Definitely a bad eighties movie.” She nods, reaching over to snag the bottle of wine off the table and taking a swig.

They make it through about three John Hughes movies before she finds herself nodding off, lulled by Bellamy’s deep, even breathing and the steady thrum of his pulse. She’s not sure how much time passes before she hears him lower the volume, murmuring quietly under his breath before he’s lifting her, one arm sliding under her knees and the other against the small of her back.

Clarke should say something, really, or at least inform him about her not entirely unconscious state— but it’s nice and warm in his arms, and the next thing she knows he’s lowering her onto his bed and laying the sheets over her shoulders, pulling away from her—

She grabs onto his shirt before he can go, tugs at it, “No.”

He stumbles back, chuckling slightly as she twists her fingers deeper into the fabric of his shirt. “You up, sleeping beauty?”

“Yeah,” she mumbles, frowning, “where are you going?”

He sighs, prying her fingers off gently. “The couch, princess.”

“You don’t have to.”

There’s a pause, long enough for her to deliberate opening her eyes again before he speaks, sounding a little pained, “Yeah, princess. I do.”

No,” she scowls, yanking at him with enough force for him to jerk forward, and he barely manages to catch himself at the lip of the bed before she’s pulling at him once more, “c’mon. We can share.”

Clarke.”

She huffs, flopping onto her back. Indecision and apprehension is written all over his face, evident even in the half-darkness of the room, and she hates how she loves him even more for it. “I want to cuddle, okay? I came all the way out here to see my best friend, and he doesn’t even want to cuddle?”

That pulls a smile out of him, at least. “We cuddled plenty just now.”

Bell.”

“Fine,” he says finally, relenting before he’s clambering on as well, sliding an arm around her waist as she presses her face up against his chest, grinning, “but only because you asked nicely.”

“Please,” she mumbles, dismissive, and she’s not sure what possesses her to press a kiss along his sternum, just right above his heart, but she does it anyway— feeling a surge of triumph when she hears his sharp intake of breath, “you love it.”

“Yeah,” he says, after a beat, so lightly that she could have imagined it entirely, “I do.”

+

Years of friendship has proven that Bellamy is a insufferable morning person.

She knows for a fact that he’s always out of bed by eight, at the gym by nine, and back in his room for a shower by ten. It’s not unusual for her to wake up to a snap from him, most likely a post-run selfie, all sweaty and dishevelled and clearly oblivious to the effect he has on her.

(Fine, maybe she has a couple of them saved for good measure, but only so she has sufficient evidence for when she decides to launch a full-scale investigation on how Bellamy Blake’s beauty is unnatural.)

So suffice to say, she’s definitely surprised when she wakes to the sight of his rumpled bedhead.

She shifts surreptitiously, careful not to dislodge her arms from around his waist. A quick glance over to the clock by his nightstand tells her that it’s already half past eleven, which means that they’ve actually slept the morning away.

The thought of it makes her smile, for some reason, and she’s deliberating between getting up and going back to sleep when he stirs, mumbling drowsily under his breath as he turns over— bringing his face inches away from hers.

For half a second, she can only stare, holding her breath instinctively as he yawns, eyelids fluttering slightly. If they were together, she could lean right over now and kiss him awake. Every morning would be exactly like this: sunlight and sun-warm skin and slow, lazy kisses.

(God, she wants so badly in the moment, it hits her like a physical blow to her chest.)

He blinks awake, squinting over at her as she arches a brow over at him. “Morning, sleepyhead.”

His lips curl up into a smile, then, warm and bright and all around distracting. “Hey, princess. How did you sleep?”

“Good, even with all your snoring.” She sighs, reaching over to bump her knee against his, “Remind me to get Octavia a pair of ear plugs for the next time you come home.”

“You’re such a brat,” he snorts, propping himself up on his elbows and stretching lazily, giving her a glimpse of taut muscle and a trail of dark, fine hair leading to—

It’s distracting enough that she doesn’t manage to dodge this time when he tickles at her ribs mercilessly, making her shriek with it, and she only gets the upper hand when she grabs ahold of her pillow to whack at him with it. He rolls out of bed, then, still laughing even after she pegs him directly in the face with it.

Asshole.”

“Princess,” he retorts, dropping into a mocking bow. He jolts when he catches a glimpse of the time, though, blanching slightly, “Jesus, it’s half past eleven already?”

“Trust me, I was as surprised as you are.” She mutters, rolling out her shoulders. “I expected you to be out of bed by eight, doing one of those twisty, long-armed crunches you do at the top of the hill or something.”

“Those are just called crunches, Clarke.”

“That’s not the point, Bellamy.”

“I would be, if you haven’t worn me out last night.” He points out, and she tries not to laugh at how he flushes immediately after, as if only just realizing the implication behind it. “Just— fuck. You want first shower?”

Kicking the rest of the sheets off, she slides out of bed, tries not to get distracted by the way his gaze is trailing her, lingering on the BLAKE stamped over her shoulder blades. “You’re the one with classes, Bell. I say you deserve first shower.”

“If you’re sure,” he shrugs, grabbing at a fresh pile of clothes before pushing the bathroom door open with his foot, “feel free to snoop around, as I’m sure you’re dying to do.”

She makes a indignant noise at that, the rest of her protests lost in the slam of the door, the shower blasting to life seconds after.

“Jerk,” she grumbles, but does take a good look around anyway.

It was too dark to make out much of anything last night, though she’ll admit that it’s nothing she didn’t expect. Books piled up on his nightstand and desk and in haphazard piles on the floor, leather jackets and flannels thrown over various surfaces. He has the same photo of Octavia pinned up on his cork board, along with a mess of post-its and ticket stubs—

She pauses at the sight of her own face staring back at her, reaching out to graze at the edges of it.

He put up a picture of them.

It’s her favorite, too, the one taken last Christmas. They had their arms around each other, and a single, chunky scarf looped around them. Half of her face was obscured from it, but she could make out the sheer delight in her eyes, pressed cheek to cheek with Bellamy. He had been flushed and happy and a little drunk off eggnog that day, and she remembered that he had kissed at her cheek sloppily at one point. She had touched her fingers to the exact spot moments after, trying to memorize everything about it.

And just like that, it’s clear to see— how easy it was to find the fragments of her scattered all over his room. It was in the post-it notes that were actually funny doodles she used to slip under his locker back in high school, each one of them painstakingly saved, even the terrible ones that were just stick figures. The wrapped copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology by his bedside. The reed diffuser by the corner of his desk in her favorite scent, one that he claimed gave him migraines when she had gifted it to him for Christmas.

(He loves her. Maybe not in the way she does, and maybe never in the way that she wanted him to, but he did.)

Biting back a smile, she reaches out, straightening the photo of them just so.

+

Her acceptance letters start coming in a few months after.

She made it to most of the schools she applied for, including the Ivy League ones, so naturally her mother is thrilled. (There’s a minor issue where Clarke knows for a fact that she’s not going to be attending either, but she figures that she’ll break it to her mom soon enough anyway.)

In the end, it all comes down to the fact that Ton DC has the best Arts programme, and that they’re willing to offer her a full scholarship ride. Raven is going to Polis, which is not far off, and Monty and Jasper are heading to Ton DC too, so it all worked out for the best.

(She looks up the distance between Ton DC and Mecha U once she’s come to a decision. Not that it matters all that much, really, but this time, he’ll only be twenty minutes away.)

+

Her room is still a mess of bubble wrap and tape by the time she makes out the sound of Bessie pulling into her driveway; the slam of the car door startling her out of her heat-induced stupor.

Swearing, she jumps to her feet, makes it halfway down the stairs before she’s intercepted.

“Before you say anything,” she demands breathlessly, jerking to a stop, “you should know that I was busy the whole of yesterday, and I had to run errands for my mom in the morning.”

The look that Bellamy shoots her is distinctly scathing. “Princess, are you telling me that you’re not done packing?”

“You know, I really don’t appreciate your tone.” She says primly, swivelling on her heel and bounding back up the stairs, “And unlike some people, I’m not planning on shoving everything I own into boxes without a proper organizational system.”

“I guess this means you’re not moving out until 2025?”

“Fuck you, Bell.”

He trudges in after her, weaving through the minefield of boxes with all the speed of a seasoned professional. “Look, I’m just trying to be realistic here, okay?” he points out, kicking at a box lightly before flopping onto her bed, “Orientation is in a week, and literally everything is exactly where it was the last time I visited. Did you even try?”

She glares, rolling up the sleeves of her sweatshirt defiantly. “Are you going to help or are you just going to stand there and grump at me about it?”

He sighs, but reaches for the roll of bubble wrap anyway. “I’ll cut, you load.”

They work in perfect synchronicity over the next few hours— the kind cultivated from years and years of practice and experience. He knows exactly which box her stuff should go into whenever she flounders, and she has a knack for sensing exactly when he needs the sharpie or the scissors or the tape, sliding it over before he can voice it.

She’s mid-way through sorting her clothes when he clears his throat, fidgeting awkwardly on his perch against her bed. “So, uh. I may have some news.”

It’s the voice he uses whenever he talks about his book— shy and apprehensive and so stupidly unsure that it makes her want to shake him by his shoulders, get him to see how much he has accomplished. “I’m listening,” she says brightly, rolling her socks into a ball.

He bites at his lip, shrugging as he reaches into the messenger bag tucked by his side. She barely manages to catch at what he tosses her way, fumbling with it before she finally regains her balance.

It’s a book. The Comet. Her gaze slides down, catches at the swooping swirls of Bellamy Blake, printed in slightly smaller font—

She squeals, hugging it to her chest. “Holy shit, Bell! It’s— you’re— oh, my god.”

“It’s an advanced copy.” He says, his ears going a little red when her grin goes wider than before, “Uh. Bryan says they’ll be out in stores by tomorrow, but I just thought— well. You’d kill me if you weren’t the first one to read it.”

“Clever,” she laughs, abandoning her towering pile of clothes in favor of joining him on the bed, wiggling close and dropping her head on his shoulder, “can I look at it now?”

“... You can skim it really quickly.”

“I’ll be reading it either way, you know. That’s what you gave it to me for, right?”

He nudges her in the ribs then, huffing slightly. “Yeah, but don’t read it in front of me.”

“Fine,” she concedes, licking at her thumb as she flicks through the pages. Everything about it seems unfamiliar, so far, though she does catch a few mythological and historical references thrown in. Typical.

She’s about to put Bellamy out of his misery and close the book altogether when she sees it, her fingers freezing over the page.

“You,” she pauses, has to swallow to regain some moisture back in her throat, “you’re dedicating your book to me?”

“Yeah,” he says, gruff, and she has to pretend not to notice the flush inching up his neck as he ducks his chin, avoiding her gaze, “you’re my best friend. It’s not— you shouldn’t be surprised.”

“I am,” she says, soft— and before she can talk herself out of it, she’s leaning forward, pressing a long, lingering kiss against his cheek. “Thank you.”

(It’s a little gratifying, she’ll admit, to see the struck expression on his face. He looks like someone clobbered him on the head with a baseball bat and never fully recovered, somehow, dazed and breath coming short. For a second, she thinks he might actually topple over.)

“It’s not a big deal,” he says stubbornly, once he’s regained the ability to speak and she grins, dropping her fingers down to the inscription on the page, tracing it with her pointer finger.

For Clarke.

Princess. Partner in Crime. Stargazer.

+

PrincessClarke: Can’t believe the main character’s name is Helios except that it’s you so of course I can

PrincessClarke: heR NAME IS ASTRID SKJHJHFAJKFHKS

PrincessClarke: YOU’RE SUCH A FUCKING NERD

PrincessClarke: … but I still love you of course <3

BellAugustusBlake: why can’t you just let me die of shame in peace idgi

BellAugustusBlake: nix the commentary, please. I’m begging

+

It’s not like Clarke is a slow reader by any means, but it’s pretty hard to keep at it when she’s planning on moving several thousand miles away in a matter of days.

Plus, it doesn’t help that everyone’s getting on her case about it.

It starts with Octavia— as it always does— barging into the diner just as she’s biting into her sandwich.

She brings her hand up to wave, which is clearly the wrong move to make, with the way Octavia is glowering at her.

“Have you finished it?” she demands, jerking a chair back with her foot and dropping into it with all the dramatic aplomb of someone who has had a trying day.

She pauses, lowering her sandwich pointedly. “No?”

“I didn’t mean the sandwich.”

“I figured,” she says, with as much sarcasm she can muster. (She got along with Octavia just fine, in the sense where she wanted to choke her to death only about fifty percent of the time.) “And no, I’m far from done. It’s a little hard to multitask considering I have to pack eighteen years worth of my existence up into boxes by Monday.”

That earns her a dismissive wave on Octavia’s part. “Okay, but you’re at least halfway through, right?”

She frowns, setting her sandwich back down onto her plate. “I’m on chapter three.”

(The look she shoots her at that is actually pitying enough for Clarke to start worrying.)

+

The fifth time she catches Miller smirking over at her, she calls him out on it.

“You know,” she muses, when he comes over to wipe down the counter (he still helped out on days he didn’t have classes, which, as he likes to remind her, are many), “if you’re going to say something about how this is my third consecutive milkshake, I think I might actually kill you.”

His smirk only grows wider, if that’s even possible. “I don’t have a opinion on your milkshake drinking tendencies.”

“But you have a opinion on something else?”

He gives a careless shrug at that. Then, in a tone way too innocent for her liking, “Read any good books, lately?”

There’s a moment of tense, fraught silence where they’re just staring at each other, waiting to see if the other will break first.

Miller, unfortunately, is a veritable rock.

“I think I liked it better when you were in college.” She bites out, scowling as she throws a crumpled five dollar bill over at him.

“I think I’ll like you better when you’re at college too.” He says pleasantly, without missing a beat, and she makes sure to flip him off as she goes.

+

In the end, it’s Raven who tells her.

“You know it’s about you, right?” she says, in lieu of a greeting— her presence startling Clarke enough that she nearly falls out of the damned tree.

She manages to right herself just in time, steadying the book in her lap carefully before peering down, incredulous, “What?”

“You heard me.” She says, crossing her arms over her chest. Then, at her continued puzzlement, “The book, Clarke. I assumed you would have figured out that Bellamy Blake essentially wrote a book about you by now, but I guess I was wrong.”

It’s impossible not to flush at the insinuation behind it, even when she knows that Raven’s wrong. Still, she composes herself in record time, fires back, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Please.” She snorts, holding her fingers up before ticking them off in succession, “First of all, it’s a book about a literal princess. Never mind that she’s blonde and smart and likes to draw. Total coincidence, right?”

Yes, she doesn’t get to say, before Raven is barreling on, arms waving furiously, “And of course the main character, this sun guy—”

“Helios,” she butts in, rather unhelpfully, if the expression on Raven’s face is anything to go by, “but go on.”

“— Helios is her best friend, and they grew up together and he’s in love with her, like? I’m sorry, are you not seeing the similarities here?”

She groans, rubbing the heel of her hand over her eyes, “I don’t know, Rae. You’re going to have to be more specific here.”

“Hilarious.”

Sighing, she slides the book under her arm, grabbing at the nearest branch so she can shimmy her way down. Raven offers her a hand for the last few feet, but she opts to jump anyway, landing solidly on the grass.

“I know you think you’re right,” she starts, dusting off her hands to keep from having to look at her, “but it’s not like that, okay? He loves me, but,” she gives a helpless shrug, has to bite at the inside of her cheek to keep the emotion from bleeding out into her voice, “not like that, okay? So drop it.”

She softens slightly at that, but clearly not enough to back down. “I think you’re jumping the gun here, Clarke.”

“How?”

“By assuming that your feelings are one-sided in this whole mess,” Raven says, tugging at her arm until she gets the message and sinks down onto the ground next to her, leaning up against the trunk. “I wouldn’t steer you wrong, okay? I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

She groans, letting her head thump back against the wood. “Yeah, right.”

“I mean it,” Raven insists, swatting at her arm until she relents, looking over at her, “I’m telling you, okay? There’s something there. I knew it ever since Finn.”

“Finn?” She gapes, “As in, Finn Collins, world’s worst boyfriend on both counts?”

Raven makes a face at that, “How many Finn’s do you know?”

“One too many.” Clarke grumbles, yanking at the stray thread hanging from her jeans. There’s something akin to hope bubbling in her chest, and her best attempts at smothering it don’t seem to be working, somehow. “Fine, so, hypothetically, if he feels some way for me,” she pauses, bracing herself, “then why hasn’t he made a move yet?”

“I think you’re forgetting the part where he literally wrote himself in as a kitchen boy on a mission to prove himself,” Raven says, exasperated. “Translation: he’s self-loathing and stupidly obtuse and doesn’t think he’s good enough for you.”

“Jesus. He’s such an idiot, if there’s anyone not good enough for him, it’s me—”

“So, are you going to tell him that or what?” Raven interrupts, raising a brow over at her pointedly.

She can only stare for half a minute, chewing on her bottom lip contemplatively.

“You really think Bellamy would confess his love to me by writing a three hundred and seventy five page novel about it?” she can’t help but ask, her voice small.

The sound Raven makes in response is distinctly disparaging. “I don’t have to think so because I read it,” she points out, huffing, “now, go get your over-dramatic, pining boyfriend already, will you?”

+

It didn’t take long to find him, really. She had most of his schedule memorized, and he was predictable, if anything.

She spots his mess of curls first, weaving through the crowd with his face bent over his phone. The sight of him fills her with a confusing jumble of nerves and comfort— nerves, mostly because of the awareness of what she was about to do, and comfort being her knee-jerk reaction whenever it came to Bellamy.

Swallowing, she wipes her palms on her jeans, steeling herself. Now or never.

He catches her gaze before she can say a word, surprise flitting over his features, followed by a smile so bright she thinks she feels her knees wobble slightly in its wake. Jesus.

“Everything okay?” he asks, his mouth twisting into a frown at her approach, “did something happen? Are you—”

“I’m fine.” She manages, her arms going around him instinctively, crushing him closer and breathing him in. Mint and vanilla and home. (It fills her with the irrational urge to cry, somehow.) “I just— I missed you? And I finished your book, and— I got excited, I guess, so here I am.”

He gives a exaggerated, drawn-out groan at that, and she smacks at his chest in response, a laugh escaping involuntarily. “Do we have to talk about the book?”

“You wrote it.”

“I’m still trying to pretend it didn’t happen,” he mutters, pulling away slightly. “C’mon. You wanna go get a coffee?”

“Definitely.” She says, wiggling into his side, his palm settling against the small of her back, easy as can be. “And then you can show me the sights.”

“We have a crappy pond with ducks that bite and modern art sculptures that don’t make sense, princess.” He grumbles, his breath warm against the side of her cheek, “I really hope you’re not expecting Epcot.”

He takes her anyway, despite the complaining— keeps his fingers curled around her elbow when she decides to start feeding the ducks the remnants of her pumpkin loaf, as if seconds away from yanking her from imminent danger. Still, it makes her laugh, warmth blooming in her chest at his the mixture of awe and anxiousness on his face.

“They’re ducks, Bell.” She laughs, nuzzling into his chest when he makes a disgruntled noise, clearly unconvinced, “Honestly, what’s the worse they can do?”

“Bite.” He deadpans, rubbing at her shoulder absently. “I’m not going into detail, but let’s just say I’ve been on the other end of things and it was not pleasant.”

“You know I’ll just get it out of you eventually, right?”

He glances over at her, sighing. Resigned to his fate. “Unfortunately,” he agrees, sliding his hand down to rub at the splash of coffee on her wrist instead. “Just like how I know that this isn’t just one of your normal visits.”

“Huh,” she manages, through the frantic thumping of her pulse, “what makes you say that?”

“The fact that I know you too well,” he says, wry, grinning when that pulls a scowl out of her. “C’mon, Clarke. It’s us. I’ve learned how to read you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She mutters, flicking at his fingers lightly before grasping at them, lacing them together. “Fine, I’ll admit that there is a purpose to this visit. It’s— it’s about your book.”

His face clouds over slightly at that, forcing a smile. “Let me guess: You hated it.”

“Not possible.”

“I’m not going to be upset if you tell me the truth, you know. It needs some work, and—”

“I loved it,” she interrupts, butting her head against his chin, getting him to look at her. It brings their faces stupidly close together, and she only has a split second to regret it before his attention is fully on her. Expectant. Waiting. She takes a deep breath, steadying herself. “Want to hear my favorite part?”

That gets him to smile, just slightly. “I guess.”

“It’s— near the end of the book,” she says haltingly, scrambling for the words that she had spent hours and hours preparing for; everything flying out of her head at the sight of his gaze on her, dark and curious. “When they’re up on the roof.”

Understanding seems to dawn on him in that instant, the muscle of his jaw fluttering slightly. “The shooting star.”

“Right.” She nods, “And Astrid asks him what he wishes for. You said,” her voice cracks, despite herself, and she grips onto him tighter before continuing, “he said he wouldn’t know what to wish for. Because he has her. And she’s everything he could ever want in the whole fucking galaxy.”

He swallows, throat bobbing as he regards her. “Yeah. So?”

“So,” she says, giving a shaky laugh, “was that really you? Was that— was it what you were thinking that night, all those years ago? Or is it just wishful thinking on my part? Is it just me overthinking things, and letting myself imagine that this could be some sort of admittance, or confession, or—”

He reaches up to cup at her cheek, trembling slightly, the words dying in her throat at the look in his eyes. “All of it,” he says hoarsely, his voice raw. “All three hundred and seventy five fucking pages of it, okay? It was a love letter to you. It was everything I could never fucking say, and everything—”

She kisses him before he can finish, her laugh watery against his lips, chiding and coaxing all at once, twisting her fingers into his hair and pulling him into her. His laugh is equally as breathless, hands splaying against her back, fingers tracing the knobs of her spine before finally settling into the dip of her waist, as if he couldn’t decide where to touch her now that he could.

He pulls back first, pressing a kiss at her chin, the corner of her mouth. His hands are still shaking slightly, and she can’t resist dropping one last reassuring kiss against his lips, nipping at it lightly to get him to smile.

“Hey,” she says softly, lining their foreheads up against one another, “took you long enough.”

“Took you long enough,” he retorts, stroking at her cheek. His smile is fucking blinding, “What has it been, six years?”

“And then some,” she agrees, closing her eyes. Taking it all in. Some part of her recognizes that the moment wouldn’t last forever. That, eventually, they would have to go and get on with their lives, their futures. Daunting and changed and new.

But she has Bellamy, and she can’t bring herself to be afraid when he’s right here by her side, holding her hand.

She opens her eyes, smiles. “You’re worth it, though.”

“Yeah, princess.” He laughs, his ankle brushing up against hers as they kick their legs out in tandem— just like that day, all those years ago, and she can’t help but wonder how everything and nothing has managed to change, all at once, “We’re definitely on the same page here.”