Bellamy's been acting strange lately.
It's not like Clarke can blame him. Everyone's been on edge for days, since the Grounder escaped, since before that, even. It's like all of the 100—90, Clarke reminds herself regretfully—have taken a huge, collective breath, already preparing for whatever force is going to come sweeping down on them next, ready to drown them. It could be the coming winter. It could be starvation, or exposure. More likely it'll be the Grounders. And the endless waiting for something to happen almost feels worse than something actually happening. Bellamy seems to be taking it harder than everyone else. Clarke can see it now, in a way she never could before, how heavy the weight of responsibility weighs on Bellamy's shoulders. And Octavia takes the brunt of that. Her brother hides his fear and exhaustion by taking control of the one thing he still knows he can do well—protecting Octavia. If she’s managed to slip outside the walls since the Grounder escaped, it’s not for lack of effort on Bellamy’s part to prevent her. He’d set a guard on her day and night, until Octavia finally had enough. Their explosive argument was witnessed by the entire camp, and Bellamy eased up after that, but just a little. Clarke can see all he’s really accomplishing is making his sister angrier and widening the breach between them, but it seems Bellamy doesn't care how she feels about him, as long as she's safe.
Tension is running high, tempers are short, but there are still bright spots. They haven't lost anyone since Dax. There have been injuries, most of them minor, and all of which Clarke easily took care of. She hasn't needed her mom's help with anybody since Finn, hasn't spoken to her mom in days. She's been leaving communication with the Ark up to Raven lately, and she tries to stay far away when she knows it's going on, because she can't stand hearing her mom's voice and seeing Raven's reproachful eyes on her, knowing she's making the poor girl run interference between them. And Raven's not shy about making it known how much she dislikes doing it. Raven respects her mom a lot, and vice versa—Clarke can hear it in her mom's voice. It makes her sad; it makes her wish for the days when she saw her mom the way Raven sees her. But she just can't face her yet.
Bellamy had tried to convince her to, in a sudden fit of…something. Clarke doesn't know what to call it. Concern? Solicitousness? It was after they talked to Jaha and secured Bellamy's pardon, thanks to Clarke's insistence. She has a feeling it was his way of showing gratitude, challenging her to face her fears like she'd challenged him, because someone like Bellamy can't just say a simple thank you and call it good. But she'd resisted, and he let it drop. Sometimes she catches him looking at her with sympathy in his eyes though, like he's expecting a sudden meltdown from her any day. It's worse than Raven's reproachful looks, and something tells her that he hasn't actually let the subject drop.
That would be strange enough behavior on its own—Bellamy, of all people, looking at her with sympathy—but something shifted between them during their trip to the depot. They left uneasy allies, and they returned a united front. Of course they still argue about things, but those things are smaller now, less important. Bellamy had bared his soul to her—melodramatic as that sounded, it was true. She'd seen him at his lowest point, his most vulnerable, and if she'd expected him to immediately revert to arrogant asshole around her when they got back, she'd been disappointed. Well, there's still plenty of that—this is Bellamy Blake she's talking about, after all—but he's just a little different now, especially when they don't have an audience.
But this way that he's acting strange is different than just respecting Clarke's opinion and not acting like a total ass. It started small: sending Miller to the med tent with her dinner rations when she'd worked too many hours straight and skipped a meal, intercepting her at the gate on her way out to get fresh water for her patients and sending someone else instead, asking for lists of medicinal plants she needs to send out with the foraging and hunting parties. Small enough things that she hasn't stopped to question them, especially since they make her job immensely easier.
But today, when he'd come asking for her plant list, she'd informed him she was joining the foraging party this time.
"That's not necessary," he'd said brusquely. "Just tell me what you need."
"Yes, it is necessary," Clarke insisted. "Some of these are difficult to identify, and I don't even know if they grow around here."
"They need you here. We get a dozen new injuries a day."
"Small injuries. Look, it's fine, I've got it covered. Monty and Octavia are getting really good at first aid. They can go half a day without me."
Bellamy was silent for a few seconds, dark eyes studying her as he worked his jaw. Indecision radiated off him in waves. Clarke seized her opportunity. "Okay, it's settled then," and she hiked her backpack farther up her shoulder and stepped to the side to get around the immovable wall of Bellamy that was blocking her exit from the tent. Except walls didn't have arms, and Bellamy did. Strong ones. His right hand had shot out and wrapped around her left elbow, stopping her with an arm across her torso. She could feel the tension in his muscles right through the fabric of her shirt.
"Hold up, Princess," he'd said, and Clarke raised an impatient eyebrow. His head was turned to the side, looking down his shoulder at her, and it was times like these Clarke wished he wasn't so much taller than her. But he looked like he'd just eaten something sour, and that was how Clarke knew she'd won. "Fine. But you stick close to me, or I'm dragging you straight back to camp."
Clarke couldn't keep the amusement out of her voice. "You're going to drag me?"
"I mean it. I'll throw you over my shoulder if I have to," he said darkly, and Clarke's good humor evaporated quickly at the expression on his face. "We can't lose our only medic."
And that made sense, although Clarke could have questioned him about why he's valuing her medical skills so highly now when he would have been eager to be rid of her the first couple of days after the drop ship landed. Except he's different now, or else she finally understands him, so she didn't need to question it. Instead, she nodded her head in acquiescence, and he'd dropped his arm.
Now, however, Clarke wishes she had questioned it, if she'd known what Bellamy actually meant by stick close to me. He's practically glued to her side, gun at the ready. They're at the front of the half-dozen people who make up their little foraging party, and Clarke shifts away from him infinitesimally every time their arms brush, conscious of the four pairs of eyes behind them, feeling like they're boring into her back. She knows that's ridiculous, considering all the other things they have to be worrying about, but she'd rather not draw the attention of other people to how suddenly protective Bellamy seems to be of her.
Clarke sweeps her eyes from side to side across the forest floor, looking for anything that has the potential to be useful, not just what's on her mental list. Monroe finds some berries and Clarke moves over to investigate, deciding between the two of them that they're not poisonous. Clarke straightens and resumes her search as the other girl begins picking them by the handful and depositing them in a bag. There's no guarantee that they're not hallucinogenic like the jobi nuts, but they can't really afford to be that picky yet. Food is food, and they need all the nutrition they can get.
A shrub catches her eye and she veers away towards it, reaching out a hand to run one of the leaves through her fingers. It's about the right size, but the leaf end is too pointy to be witch hazel. Clarke wishes for what feels like the thousandth time that she'd paid more attention in botany class to all the plants, instead of just the main ones that suited her medical interests. If she had, she'd be able to identify this one and possibly come up with some other use for it. Wells would know what it is, she thinks, then regrets it immediately when the hollow ache starts up in her chest again and the prickle of tears threatens behind her eyes. Mourning is a different process down here than on the Ark; she doesn't have the luxury—the privacy or the time—to do it properly. That both relieves and saddens her, but she knows Wells would understand.
She takes a moment to will the dampness in her eyes away, then backs up—right into someone. She gives a little yelp of surprise and twists around to see who it is. Bellamy. Of course. And he's got the most annoying smirk on his face.
"Watch where you're going, Princess." There’s no vitriol in his tone. Somewhere along the line, the nickname has transitioned from a taunt to…something else. Clarke doesn't know what to call it.
"Maybe I wouldn't have to if you weren't breathing down my neck."
Bellamy blithely ignores the challenge. "Any luck?"
Clarke sighs, rubbing a hand across her forehead. "Not yet. It’s got to be around here somewhere."
She knows Bellamy understands what she means, that it's more of a hope than a certainty, but she won't let herself give up on even the smallest hopes these days. Bellamy nods and steps back, clearing a path for her to rejoin the rest of the group.
They're trailing at the back now, Clarke a few steps ahead of Bellamy, when a rustle in the bushes to the group's left has them all in instant defense mode, guns up and fingers on triggers. Clarke reaches for her own gun, which she's been keeping slung over her shoulder, but a strong hand clamps around her arm before she can, yanking her backwards towards the nearest tree. Her back meets the bark hard enough to draw a sharp exhale from her lips, and her eyes meet Bellamy's for a brief second. The intensity she sees there is enough to make her obey him without question this time, so she stills, wedged between the sprawling roots of the tree and the hard muscles of Bellamy's body for several breathless heartbeats. Then he eases back, eyes darting to the others, jerking his head towards the bushes as he takes a few steps towards it. The others follow his lead. Clarke stays pressed up against the tree, remembering Bellamy's threat to carry her back to camp. She slips her gun off her shoulder, eyes glued to Bellamy's white-knuckled grip on his own gun, marveling that it's taken her the better part of a month on the ground to be able to see the fear beneath his constant bravado. He hides it well, but she knows where to look for it now.
A wild boar bursts out of the bushes. Everyone leaps out of its way, wary of its sharp tusks, but Bellamy recovers quickest and takes it down with two rapid shots before it can disappear into the forest. Miller moves to poke at it with the toe of his boot, and a ripple of nervous, sheepish laughter travels around the group. Clarke just lets out a quiet, relieved breath, and Bellamy does neither, mouth clamped into a firm line.
"Nice shot," Miller says, admiration apparent in his voice, then adds happily, "We'll be eating well tonight!"
There are tentative smiles all around, but Bellamy's all business. "Monroe, Bartlett, get it back to camp. We'll keep going." He glances at Clarke. "You still want to keep looking?"
Clarke nods decisively. Just because they have a meal for the night doesn't mean it's any less urgent that she find the plants she's looking for. She slings the gun strap back over her shoulder and notices Miller giving Bellamy some major side-eye, which Bellamy seems oblivious to. Clarke's eyebrows furrow in confusion, and it's only after they're moving again, Bellamy in the lead and Miller taking up the rear, that she thinks she understands why.
The second there was the slightest hint of danger, he'd thrown himself at her. Bellamy’s clearly the proactive type, but that usually manifests itself in him throwing himself towards the danger, determined to protect the group. Except with Octavia. And Charlotte, before. His concern for them was paramount to anyone else’s safety. Clarke realizes what he just did means she may have just joined that very short list, and judging by Miller’s reaction, the others are going to notice. Clarke doesn’t know how she feels about that.
So she distracts herself with her work. Over the next couple of hours, she finds and picks most of the plants on her list, collecting them in her backpack. The witch hazel remains elusive, but she’s not ready to give up on it yet.
When Miller and Connor find a huge patch of wild blackberries and some edible mushrooms, Bellamy orders, “Stay in sight, Princess,” and bends to help them. Always bossing everyone around, that one. Clarke continues her search, wandering at the farthest range she dares, chafing at the imposed boundary.
Finally, she loses patience. “Bellamy, we have to get back before dark. This is going to take a while, and I need to keep looking. If I can just—”
“Okay,” he says, standing up and brushing his hands off on his pants. “We’ll stay in shouting distance, meet you back here in a while,” he tells the other two. “Stay alert. It’s dangerous out here.”
“Sure thing,” Miller says. When Bellamy’s back is turned, he and Connor exchange a look, and maybe Clarke is paranoid, but she swears it’s about her again. She huffs in irritation, turning on her heel and taking off into the trees before Bellamy can catch up with her.
He follows at a distance for a while, staying silent. Maybe he can sense her frustration. All Clarke wants to do is find the stupid plant so they can get back to camp and Bellamy can stop sticking to her like sap on a tree.
“So, what’s so great about this plant you’re looking for?”
Small talk? Really? It’s not like they ever have much time for it, what with going from one crisis to another all the time, expending all their energy on keeping themselves and everyone else alive. Clarke decides it wouldn’t kill her to humor him. If someone had told her a few weeks ago that she’d be wandering around the woods alone with Bellamy Blake, chatting about the merits of medicinal plants, she would’ve told them they were crazy.
“Hamamelis virginiana,” she says, proud of herself for remembering the scientific name. She’d be even prouder if that useless information could help her locate it faster.
Bellamy snorts behind her, and she turns around to look at him. “Show-off,” he says, but there’s a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.
Clarke flashes a tiny, cheeky grin, then turns back to her search. “It’s a small tree. More of a shrub, really. Native Americans originally used the extract to reduce swelling, inflammation, itching, any kind of skin irritation. It’s an astringent, so it has all sorts of medical uses. Some people even used it to treat cancer.” She pauses, looking behind her to see Bellamy’s raised eyebrow. “Yeah, it probably didn’t help much. But we’re not curing cancer here. I’m more worried about broken bones and infections.”
Bellamy shoves a low-hanging branch out of his face. “Ironic, isn’t it? Considering now we’re living on a planet that was drowned in radiation a hundred years ago.”
“At least you haven’t sprouted a second head yet,” Clarke deadpans. “I don’t think I could deal with more than one.”
He’s oddly silent, so Clarke shoots a glance at him. He has a baffled expression on his face. “That was a joke,” Clarke adds patiently, like she’s talking to a child.
“And that was shocked silence. I didn’t know you can joke.”
Clarke makes a face. “Oh, very funny. I’ve been known to on occasion.” She sighs as she clambers over a fallen log. “Just haven’t had much reason for it lately.”
Another bush catches her eye as she skirts around a large pine tree, so she doesn’t hear Bellamy’s reply. She jogs over to it, trying not to get her hopes up, then squats down and runs her fingers gently over one of the leaves. Oval, scalloped edges, a rounder end than the last shrub she’d checked. Light brown bark, multiple trunks emerging from the dirt at its base. Clarke feels a huge smile spreading across her face, the muscles in her cheeks almost painful from disuse. Bellamy’s boots come to a stop next to her, and she cranes her neck back to look up at him. “I found it,” she says, something like triumph infusing her voice.
He just nods, eyes moving to the bush and then back to her face, lingering. Clarke’s smile dims, but only a little. “What?”
“Nothing,” Bellamy replies, then seems to change his mind. “Just—you look different when you smile.”
Clarke doesn’t know what to make of that, so she looks away and whips her knife out. “So do you,” she says, a little tartly, then sets about sawing off small sections of branches. Bellamy offers to help, but she can tell he’s still jumpier than usual out here and decides it’ll be easier for both of them if he just stands guard while she finishes collecting her precious discovery.
When she’s cut as much as they can carry back, she carefully extricates her map and a pencil from the front pocket of her pack, spreading it out on the ground and identifying their location as best as she can. She pencils in a tiny “WH” on top of it. There are two other shrubs that she can see, and others are bound to be nearby. They’ll have to make another trip later with more people.
“It’s getting late,” Bellamy observes, “and we’re miles from camp. You ready, Princess?”
Clarke puts the map away, then shoulders her overloaded pack. “Let’s find the others.”
They start back the way they came, Bellamy trailing behind again. His eyes dart from side to side, checking the trees around them, and he periodically walks backwards too, training his gun on the foliage behind them like he expects a Grounder to jump out at any second. It’s not like it’s beyond the realm of possibility, but his paranoia is making Clarke calmer for some reason.
“You’re going to trip if you keep doing that,” she grumbles, kicking a fallen branch out of the way to prevent that very thing from happening.
“I won’t,” he says in that confident tone she’s come to know so well. “I’ve got the reflexes of a—”
A sound cuts him off, long and low and off in the distance. Clarke freezes. “What was that?” she whispers to Bellamy’s rigid back.
“Grounder horn,” he hisses, then springs into action, taking a hand off his gun to press to her lower back, propelling her along. She quickens her steps, but they’ve barely made it a dozen yards before the sound repeats itself, much closer this time.
Everything happens in an instant. Clarke’s blood runs cold. Bellamy is hissing for her to get down. The new sound is coming from a nearby tree. But it doesn’t sound quite the same. Slightly higher pitched, like a pale imitation….
Before she has time to follow up on that thought, she hits the ground, pack slipping off her arm and a faceful of dead leaves greeting her fall. And everywhere else, Bellamy. He’s directly on top of her, pushing her to the ground, and she can’t see anything but she knows he’s shielding her with his body. His chest is pressed up so tightly against her back she can barely breathe. He’d hooked an arm around her waist, maybe to break her fall, but he yanks it from under her now, going for his gun, no doubt. Her shirt rides up as he does it, hand brushing against the bare skin of her stomach, and this is the worst time to get embarrassed with their lives possibly on the line, but Clarke feels her cheeks heat.
The sound comes again, lower to the ground this time, and Clarke twists her head to the side. It’s a bird, sitting on a nearby branch. She groans in relief. Bellamy must not have seen it, because he has the nerve to shush her. She huffs, blowing a chunk of her hair out of her mouth. “It’s a bird, Bellamy.” With difficulty, she extricates one of her arms and points to it. “Probably a mockingbird.”
He stills above her, like he’s having difficulty believing it. “The first one was real,” he insists in a rough whisper.
“Yes, and far away.” Clarke twists around, using her shoulder and elbow to shove at him. He backs up immediately, sitting back on his knees then scrambling up to his feet, gun still held at the ready. Clarke stays on the ground, facing Bellamy now, leaning back on her hands with her knees up. She realizes belatedly that her shirt is still hiked up around her waist. She clambers to her feet, yanking it down, suddenly feeling irrationally angry at his stupid sudden protective streak. “What the hell, Bellamy?” Her voice is louder than she meant it to be, almost shouting. She brings her hands up and shoves them into his chest. It catches him off guard, and he stumbles back a couple of steps. “What’s your problem?” Her tone is accusing, like she expects an answer. I do expect an answer.
His eyes snap from the bird to hers, immediately on the defensive. “What’s my problem?” he repeats incredulously, like he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
“Oh, spare me,” she snaps, yanking her pack and her gun off the ground and setting off again, knowing he’s right on her heels without even looking. This isn’t the time or place for a rant, what with Grounders out there somewhere, but Clarke can’t stop herself. It’s been a long time coming. “You’ve been doing this all day. All week, really. Barely letting me outside camp, jumping at every little noise, throwing yourself at me if you think there’s danger. I have a gun too, you know. I can pull my own weight.” She stops suddenly, whirling on him. He backs up a step before his forward momentum can send him careening right into her. Still, he’s very close. She tilts her head back so she’s not holding a conversation with the collar of his shirt.
It’s hard to decipher the expression in his dark eyes. It could be anger, or irritation, or embarrassment. Or maybe all of the above. He looks off to the side for a second, raking his hand through his unruly hair. She expects him to protest, lay out a convincing argument about how she’s a doctor, not a fighter, and she should leave that to the experts. Instead, he says in a low tone, “You pull your own weight plenty.” Clarke must look skeptical, because he adds, “It’s a full-time job just keeping everyone healthy and in one piece. That’s yours. Mine is to keep everyone alive.”
“I didn’t see you shoving everyone against a tree back there. Monroe, Miller, anybody else. Just me.” His eyes flicker, just once, so quickly she almost misses it. “I don’t want special treatment, Bellamy. I can’t afford it. Everyone calls me princess already, they’re just waiting for a reason to hate me.” She’s breathing hard, finally getting all of the anxiety off her chest. “I’m not your sister, I’m not your responsibility.”
A strange, puzzled look flashes across his face, eyebrows shooting up to his hairline, and then an arrogant smirk replaces it. “Trust me, Clarke, I’m well aware you’re not my sister.”
That stings, unexpectedly. She frowns, trying to figure out why. It’s not the sister thing, it’s that she thought he possibly cared about her in some way, and she’s been clinging to that without even realizing it. There are so few people left who care about her in any way.
His smirk disappears. “What’s wrong?” His voice is rough, even deeper than it usually is, and a shiver runs down her back. Sometimes she forgets that Bellamy is a man, the only one of the hundred.
“Nothing,” she says in that terrible, uncontrollable tone that means the complete opposite. Bellamy raises a disbelieving eyebrow. Right, he has a sister. He sees right through that. “I just—you don’t have some strange responsibility to me just because I’m the only medic. I was doing fine keeping myself alive until now.”
The hard lines of his face soften, and Clarke watches in confusion as his entire demeanor changes. His shoulders relax and his eyes go warm and his voice is soft. “That’s what you think I’m doing?”
“Well, yeah,” Clarke says, because it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“You’re wrong,” he intones, then walks past her. Clarke gapes at his back for a second, then takes off after him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demands, but he doesn’t answer. He’s walking fast, taking long strides, and she has to jog to catch up with him. When she does, she grabs his arm, tugging on it insistently. He turns to face her with a sigh. Clarke’s eyes take in every detail of his face, trying to will him into telling her what he’s thinking.
He shoves a hand through his hair again, leaving it sticking up at odd angles. Must be a nervous habit. But Bellamy Blake, nervous? That’s a rare sight. “Your medical training is vital, everyone knows that. But I—” Bellamy’s jaw clenches, and he breathes deeply through his nose, like he’s struggling with himself. His eyes never leave hers. “Damn it, Clarke, you should know this. Why are you making me say it?”
Her eyebrows furrow in confusion, because she doesn’t know what it is she’s supposed to know. They stare at each other for a second, his eyes searching her face intently.
A soft, incredulous laugh escapes him and he shifts on his feet, looking upwards then back at her, a rueful smile slipping onto his face. “Fine. I need you, okay? You. Not your medical skills, not your precious map, or your plant knowledge, you. Look, you told me you need me, no one would have survived down here without me? Well, the same goes for you. The exact same.”
Clarke blinks several times. “Oh,” is all she can say, so soft it’s almost inaudible.
“I know I have a temper, I’m impulsive, I act without thinking a lot. Runs in the family.” His lips clamp into a grim line, and Clarke knows he’s thinking of Octavia, of his floated mother. “Everything I did down here in the beginning, it was a disaster. You balance me out, you make me stop and think, you challenge me, and I—I need that.” A shaft of late afternoon sun makes its way through the trees and lands on Bellamy’s face, highlighting his freckles, and the vulnerability in his dark eyes. His walls are down again, just like that night at the bunker, and she did that. She almost wishes they would never go up again, but she’s beginning to suspect he needs them to function. But he’s so different this way. He looks softer, like she could reach out and touch something other than unyielding muscle. He looks lost, like a little boy, like he’s much younger than he actually is.
Clarke wonders, not for the first time, how old he really is, and she’s so caught off guard by his honesty that the question slips out before she can stop it. “How old are you?”
He looks perplexed, taken aback that that, of all things, was her response to his confession. “Twenty-three,” he says slowly, like he’s humoring her. “How old are you?”
“Not old enough,” she whispers hoarsely, “and too old.” Her shoulders slump, so tired of being strong. She puts up walls too, just like Bellamy. “I’ve seen my dad, my best friend, a little girl, too many people die. I’ve tortured somebody. I’ve accepted we’re going to be in a war.” She scrubs her hands across her face, angry at her traitorously wet eyes. “I’ll be eighteen next week, but not before I already did all of those things.”
Bellamy’s forehead smoothes out, like this is finally something he understands. “Hey, hey,” he says softly, and a muffled sob shakes Clarke’s body before she can hold it back. She hides her face in her hands, not wanting to cry, not wanting to cry here, not wanting to cry in front of Bellamy.
For a moment, she stands like that. Hands hiding her face, tangled hair full of dead leaves, shoulders shaking uncontrollably, all alone in a hostile world. And then arms wrap around her, above and below her pack, drawing her into him, and she goes willingly. Her hands drop and clutch at his jacket, and her damp face presses into Bellamy’s shirt, right above his heart. She can feel the slow, steady beats of it under her cheek, and it calms her, anchors her to the ground, keeps her from shattering into a million pieces. He doesn’t hush her, doesn’t tell her it’s going to be all right, doesn’t say anything, and maybe she and Bellamy Blake aren’t so different after all, because he understands what she needs without even being told. Her shaking subsides, but silent tears still stream down her face, soaking into his shirt where cheek meets fabric. He doesn’t seem to mind, so neither does she. One of his hands comes up to stroke her hair, and she swears he’s gently picking out the dead leaves one by one, but she can’t be bothered to lift her head and look. It feels nice and it feels safe, safer than she’s felt in far too long, so she clings to him more, greedy for comfort, greedy for something that belongs just to her when she’s been denying herself everything in the constant quest for survival.
Bellamy’s hand stops running through her hair, and Clarke thinks reluctantly that must mean it’s time to pull away, but then a weight on top of her head replaces it, and he’s resting his cheek on her hair and wrapping his arm around her tightly again, giving her permission to stay, understanding implicitly that she’s not ready to let go yet.
Her outside cheek is stiff from dried tear-tracks when she finally pulls her head back a little, releasing her hands from his jacket to see the zipper has made deep imprints in her palms. She’s staring down at them, forehead resting lightly on Bellamy’s chest, when she feels it. Soft as a whisper, his lips press on the top of her head. They’re gone in a heartbeat, leaving a warm spot behind that expands and pools pleasantly in the pit of her stomach. When they let go of each other, backing up and straightening their backpacks, Bellamy clears his throat awkwardly. Clarke stares at the damp patch staining the blue of his shirt, afraid to meet his eyes.
“Your shirt,” she whispers.
He glances down at it like he hadn’t even noticed, then looks up at her, smiling crookedly. “It’ll dry, Princess.”
She scrubs a hand across her nose, sure that she looks like the farthest thing from a princess at the moment. “Thank you,” she says huskily. “I don’t—”
“I know,” Bellamy interrupts, and her gratitude only increases. He does know, and he’s not going to make her say anything. Their gazes level, and they regard each other silently for a while, something unspoken shifting between them yet again.
The Grounder horn sounds again, still very far off. It snaps them back into action.
“Let’s go,” Bellamy says, voice deep and all business once more.
They’ve taken just a few steps when the sound of someone crashing through the underbrush ahead reaches them, and their guns are aimed in that direction in an instant. But it’s just Miller and Connor, wild-eyed and loaded down with supplies.
“You hear that?” Miller asks. “We heard the first one too, and we’ve been trying to find you, but we got a little turned around.”
“Yeah, we need to get out of here.” Bellamy gestures Clarke ahead of him and takes the rear himself, not tailing her like a shadow anymore. “Lead the way.” Because she’s got the map, and he trusts her sense of direction, and maybe he’s willing to compromise now.
When the camp walls come into view, they all breathe audible sighs of relief. Connor and Miller carry the supplies in, and Bellamy catches Clarke’s elbow, holding her back before she walks through the gate.
“Hey,” he says in a low voice. “I’m sorry if I made things difficult for you with the others. I’ll try to dial it down a little, but no promises. We can’t lose you.” His eyes are boring into hers, rooting her feet to the ground, and she can’t manage to look away.
A small, amused breath escapes her. “That wasn’t much of an apology, Bellamy.”
He dips his chin, acknowledging that. “What can I say? I’m a total ass half the time.”
Clarke tries and fails to stifle a smile at her words repeated back to her. “Just let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours. No hovering, no outbursts, no yelling, no shoving.” They’d both handled it badly, she can admit that now. “Meet in the middle. That’s what we’re good at, right?” She raises an expectant eyebrow.
Bellamy nods again, smiling at the ground, then at her. “Right.”
Clarke turns to go in, eager to get started on her witch hazel decoction. She has a feeling it’ll be needed the second it’s ready.
Bellamy’s voice stops her in her tracks. “One more thing, Clarke.”
She twists around to look at him. The arrogant smirk is back in full force.
“Anyone else but me calls you Princess, I’ll deck ’em.”
He says it like a threat but Clarke knows he means it as a promise. That’s not necessary, she should say, but she can’t. No more than she can stop the grin from spreading across her face at the thought, the one she tries to hide but that still lingers long after she leaves Bellamy behind at the wall.