The rope was digging into his wrists. It held his arms up at an awkward angle, his shoulder blades digging into each other. It was rough, course rope. It was all they had left.
He focused on the itching in his wrists.
He was lucky it wasn’t too hot out. The heat would just make it worse. There was even a small breeze, it rippled through the tear in the back of his shirt, cooling his skin.
He kept his eyes trained upwards, narrowing in on the one white cloud floating by their camp. He didn’t want to see Octavia out in the front of the crowd, no doubt being held back Miller. He’d made sure Miller knew he couldn’t let her out of his sight.
He didn’t want to see the crowd, full of people from the Ark who still knew him as the traitor who shot Jaha and let three hundred of them die. He didn’t want to see it empty of his own people. He didn’t want to look out hoping for her to be standing there, to make sure she was okay, that she was with Spacewalker, and see that she was nowhere to be found.
The cloud had split off into two pieces.
“This isn’t fair!” he heard Octavia yell. “What happened wasn’t his fault!”
She was grunting, trying to pry herself out of Miller’s hold on her, but he kept his gaze on the sky.
Maybe he hadn’t been holding the gun when it was fired, but he didn’t think twice about giving it to a man he knew was unstable.
That’s why they let him take his punishment.
“Let me go in his place,” he had said. There was an outcry at that suggestion. Finn Collins had slaughtered a village, he killed innocent people, he murdered children. It couldn’t go unpunished.
There was only one pair of eyes he saw in that room and they were blown wide in horror. She couldn’t watch Finn go through it. Thirty lashes could kill him. She couldn’t lose him too.
His voice was steady, but her eyes had sent a chill across his skin that he couldn’t shake. “I led him out there. I gave him the gun. The weight of his crimes is on my shoulders, no one else’s.”
It didn’t take much convincing.
Standing with his hand tied to posts and his face turned up toward the sky he reasoned that thirty lashes seemed like a fair deal for the death of three hundred.
The smaller bit of cloud had dissipated, leaving the sky a wide blue blanket with a sole white spot. He squeezed his eyes shut.
The first shock came only moments later. It ran through his body like a currant, all his muscles seizing and releasing, his jaw clenching up involuntarily as all his
breath was shoved out of his lungs.
After the tenth shock, he was seeing white.
It started out as small white dots, spattered across his eyes. Replacing faces, blotting out the sky. Is washed over his vision, a great white wave, blinding him.
It sent his other senses into overdrive. He heard the buzz of electric whip as it inched closer to his skin. He heard his own grunt as it touched down on his back, the whimper that slipped out as it moved away. The shuffling of feet all in front of him as the crowd realized exactly what thirty lashes meant.
He heard Octavia grunting against Miller’s arms, threatening him, trying to get free.
He smelled something foul, before he realized it was coming from him. His skin was fried, burning from the touch of the whip. The sweat dripping all across his back only added to the stench.
Another touch, and the white burned his eyes.
He stayed fairly cognizant until the twentieth shock. Then his mind shut down.
It was a defense mechanism, he knew. He couldn’t focus on the pain and the ropes were no longer itching his wrists.
So his mind melted away from reality.
He was by the ocean. The white wave over his eyes turning into white sand on the beach, hot sand, burning his bare feet. The noises of protest from Octavia turned into screeches from seagulls overhead and his grunts turned into the waves crashing on the sand.
The sun was beating down on his back and all he heard was ringing.
His legs had long since given out. His body was kept from collapsing to the ground only by the ropes tying his wrists to the posts on either side of him. His feet were splayed out behind him, neck dipped into his chest as he couldn’t hold it up anymore.
His eyes were shut and his wrists were aching and his skin had turned from flushed to icy cold and there was no one left in the crowd as the final lash was administered.
“Clarke!” he heard Octavia shout and then he heard two muffled pairs of feet running toward him. He tried to lift his head, to open an eye to see them, to reassure them but his muscles sagged, weary, and he couldn’t find an ounce of strength left to use.
He felt a pair of arms slid under his armpits and grip his shoulders.
“Cut the ropes.” It was Clarke’s voice. He heard a knife slice into the ropes keeping him standing and felt them release one wrist at a time. He didn’t fall. He merely slumped a little into Clarke’s grasp as she held him steady.
“Go ahead of us. Tell my mother to clear everyone out of the med bay.”
“Clarke she’s not going to go for that,” he heard Octavia whisper.
“He’s been on display enough for one day,” Clarke snapped. When she continued her voice was softer, apologetic. “He deserves some privacy after this.”
He didn’t know how Clarke managed to carry him all the way to the med bay. It couldn’t have been easy, he was at least a foot taller than her, and he was all dead weight. He couldn’t try to share the burden of his weight even if he wanted to.
But she managed and when he felt his feet drag against the metal floor of the med bay, all he heard was her own breathing and Octavia’s relieved sigh as she set him on a cot.
He was slumped forward, nearly tipping off, but she made him sit, leaving his back open to the cold air flowing through the room.
“Hey,” she said, and he felt a hand brush his hair off his forehead. “Hey, Bellamy, open your eyes. Don’t fall asleep on me now.”
He tried. His eyes fluttered open for a moment before slipping closed.
“That’s it,” she said. “Keep trying.” Her hand was still on his face, palm pressed into his cheek, thumb stroking soothingly over his temple.
“Clarke,” he croaked. “It’s—”
“Don’t,” she cut him off. “Don’t you dare say it’s fine.”
He shut his mouth. A groan slipped past his lips, and he couldn’t find it in himself to be embarrassed about it. His body didn’t even feel like his own anymore. He was beaten and worn down and weak. His lungs felt like they were clenching in on themselves and he knew, he knew he was just a breath away from crying.
“I’m going to have to cut your shirt off the rest of the way,” Clarke said gently. She squeezed his arm. He realized that she was waiting for his permission so he nodded and she moved off her knees and walked around behind him, knife in hand, and sliced the last bit of the shirt that was held together. It slipped forward on his shoulders and got stuck at his elbows. The rush of cold air that hit his chest as it felt forward sent a shiver running through him. Clarke pulled his shirt off away from his forearms.
“Octavia, can you go get me a rag and some warm water?” Clarke looked over at Octavia who was sitting next to him, masking her worry poorly. Octavia jumped at the chance to do something useful. Clarke grabbed his shoulder with one hand, and his chin with the other, directing his face toward hers.
“Bell,” she said. “Bell, look at me.”
He tried to focus, but her face was blurry.
“God, you’re so stubborn,” she breathed. Her voice was shaky and he wanted to see her clearly but everything was fuzzy so he reached his hand out instead, his hand gripping hers. “We all know how strong you are,” she continued. “You don’t have to be so god damn stoic when you’re in pain.”
His head dropped down to where his arm rested on his knee, and he pulled her hand in his up to his forehead. He couldn’t say it, he couldn’t say how bad it hurt or how much he wanted it to be over, he couldn’t let her know so he just held her hand to his face and breathed her in.
“Clarke,” he whispered gruffly. “Please.”
Octavia came back in then, a pot of warm water and a rag in her hands. She quickly shuffled it over to Clarke, who dipped the rag in the water and pressed it to his skin, wiping away the sweat and grime of his skin, swiping it away from his chest and back.
Octavia kneeled in front of him. “Hey big brother,” she said softly. She put her hands on his knees, and reached out and grabbed his hands.
“Hey, O,” he croaked.
“You’re gonna be okay, Bell,” she said. “You’re gonna be okay because as soon as you are okay I’m going to kick your ass.”
“You made me break a promise, Bell,” she said sternly. “I promised I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. You made me break that promise.” A tear dripped from her eye and he pulled their hands up to wipe it away.
“I’m okay, O. Nothing happened to me. I’m okay.”
“You’re an ass is what you are,” Clarke muttered behind him. A laugh huffed out of him, sending a sharp shooting pain through his back.
“Clarke!” Octavia scolded.
Rested a hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine, O.”
Clarke went back to wiping his skin down, and Bellamy’s head hung back on his chest.
When she’d finished, Octavia had left.
She didn’t want to, but she was exhausted, and Bellamy didn’t want her straining herself for him, so he’d told her to go. He couldn’t muster up the energy to talk to her anyway. His limbs were heavy and his muscles ached and he wanted to let his eyes slip closed and go to sleep until it all faded away.
Clarke handed him a shirt. He pulled it over his head and she helped him stretch it over his back, avoiding the tender skin.
“Why would you ever do something like this?” she asked him.
Every muscle ached. His chest was tightening and he couldn’t look her in the eye.
“I couldn’t let you watch him go through that,” he mumbled.
“I couldn’t…Finn means so much to you. I didn’t want you to hurt more than you already did. I couldn’t watch you go through that.”
He finally looked up at her, and her eyes were wide and glossy. Her brow was furrowed and he had a sinking feeling in his gut that he’d been a little too transparent.
“You have to promise me,” she said. Her hand was reaching out to his face, just where it was earlier, her thumb smoothing out the line between his brows. “You have to promise me that you’ll never do anything like that again. Please.”
She leaned in before he could finish and pressed her lips to his, her hand sinking back into his hair. She pulled back nearly immediately, her face flushed and eyes blown wide.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Clarke—” he started again.
“No, I just…I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not the right time.” He sagged a little lower. “But please, don’t do anything like that ever, ever again. I need you, remember?”
He leaned his head back down to hers. Her fingers were still linked through his hair. He pressed his cheek to hers, letting her flushed skin warm his own. He got it now. What she wanted to say but couldn’t. So he said it back.
“I need you too, Clarke,” he whispered into her hair.