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They reach the ocean two years after they come back to Earth. 

Some of the kids decide to stay with their parents, of course. But many of the Camp Jaha residents choose to come with them to the sea. All in all, when they arrive at the coast, the procession is 126 people strong.

Clarke stands on the weathered highway, the weight of the pack on her shoulders suddenly lighter, so much so that she might float away. There’s a beach in front of the road, and beyond that, the ocean is an immense wall of blue.

(Clarke used to live in space, but somehow the ocean looks bigger than the cosmos ever did.)

Her co-leader, her partner, her person, stands beside her. His hair is pulled back from his face in a raggedy bun. A sheen of sweat makes his skin glow. As he looks at the water, his dark eyes are shining.

They reach for each other’s hands.

As the kids start to filter past them, they whoop and yell, dropping their packs and running towards the open water. It’s noon, they’ve been walking for ten days, and it’s the height of summer.

Clarke lets it slide. 

Eventually, they decide to set up camp about two miles inland, in an old park. The trees cut the wind from the ocean and offer precious shelter. They send out search parties to gather materials. 

Most of the buildings are ruins. In the century that the coast has been untouched, flora has grown unchecked. Gardens are now forests. Homes are piles of rubble, much of it useless and decayed thanks to exposure. Still, some things are salvageable, and the camp becomes a quilt of old and new materials.

On one such trip into the ruins of civilization, Clarke and Bellamy marvel at the skyscrapers above them. All the windows blown out, they stand relatively untouched, pinnacles of concrete architecture hundreds of feet above the city now reclaimed by nature.

“What do you think?” Bellamy asks, nodding his head towards one of the buildings on their right.

Clarke purses her lips, shakes her head. “You really expect to get everybody back inside a metal prison?”

Bellamy chuckles. “They might be more open to it in the winter. Lincoln says it’s colder by the sea. More rain. Snow.”

“I’d like to see that,” says Clarke. “Speaking of, we’re gonna need to start hunting again. We could fish too.”

“Hunting won’t be a problem,” Bellamy says, holding out his arm to Clarke’s chest mid-step. They pause as a small herd of deer, at least a dozen strong, wander through the grassy intersection ahead.

Clarke’s response is a grin. “We’re gonna live here, Bellamy. We’re gonna survive.”

+++

Fishing is relatively easy. The oceans are filled with fish. The nuclear fallout has subsided, more or less. Clarke doesn’t quite understand the scientific part of it all. But they can eat the fish. It tastes good.

“Maybe it’s like the whole solar radiation thing, you know?” she says to Bellamy as she filets a ‘tuna’ (Monroe calls every fish she catches a tuna, regardless of species) with a  bone knife. “How our bodies metabolize the radiation so much more efficiently.”

“Even so, these tuna,” he deadpans, and Clarke laughs, “are probably more radiation than fish. Mutant fish.”

“No ill effects though. It’s cool. We’re the only people who could survive on the coast, in a way.” Clarke wipes the blade on the bottom of her shirt. “Mutant fish for mutant people.”

“Hey, I take offence to that.” Bellamy says, grabbing the fresh meat and throwing it into the pan.

Surprisingly, a lot of cookware survived the nuclear apocalypse.

“Shut up and cook your mutated fish,” Clarke rolls her eyes.

As they sit in companionable silence, Bellamy seasons the filet with some salt and dried spices. As she watches him, Clarke can’t help but think about their dwindling seasonings. 

Salt isn’t too hard to come by: they just boil the seawater. It’s actually gotten easier, since Monty discovered an untouched basement filled with a bunch of pots and pans; including a huge vat, perfect for boiling mass quantities of seawater.

Clarke loves Salt Days. The entire camp becomes swamped with the smell of the ocean. The huge vat bubbles away all day, until finally all that’s left is the white sea salt. After a quick grind in a bowl, Monty distributes the fine crystals in little leather bags. Everyone at camp has their own personal Salt Bag, which Clarke finds hilarious.

Even still, as Bellamy slips his pouch back under his belt, Clarke still worries. The fish, tuna, whatever, is sort of dull tasting without any spices. She laughs.

Bellamy looks at her, eyebrow raised. So much of their conversations are non-verbal.

“I was just thinking about how bad it tastes without salt. And then I was worrying about where we’re gonna get spices. We used to worry about finding any food at all, let alone how it tasted.”

Bellamy flips the filet over and it makes a satisfying hiss on the hot pan. “We’ve come a long, long way.”

“Yes,” whispers Clarke, and as she says it, she stares at the swirled black tattoo that peeks out of Bellamy’s shirt. She knows that under the t-shirt, the black markings continue down the left side of his back, in a spiralling, jagged design. She knows it intimately, because the same marks adorn the right side of her back.

It was after the Battle for Mount Weather, which in the end, wasn’t much of a battle at all. Clarke, wild-eyed, desperate for her people, eradicated the population of Mount Weather through exposure. Once they got inside, it was just a matter of opening the doors. When they all died, blistered and burnt, Clarke didn’t blink.

Time and time again, Clarke proved that she would be willing to kill many to protect her few.

After that she taught the Grounder healers how to deal with the Reapers, how to turn them back into the friends and family they had lost—with the help of some borrowed shock sticks for defibrillation. Mostly all of them survived.

It’s Anya who proposes the tattoos as a thanks. The tattoos would mark them visually as allies to the Woods Clan, wearing the status of their truce everyday for the rest of their lives. She offers the marks to Bellamy first, for his ferocity and prowess in battle.

Bellamy agrees, only after negotiating for Clarke to receive tattoos as well. Without her skills as a healer, most of the Reapers would have had to be killed. Anya agrees.

They lie beside each other on their stomachs, bare from the chest up. Four Grounders around each of them, stretching the skin of their backs. The tattooists are old women. Anya explains that they have the most experience with the needle, after sewing together animal skins for all their lives.

Clarke and Bellamy interlace their fingers. The next hours are painful. The old women mercilessly puncture their skin with bone needles, but the actions are quick and efficient. All the while, warm, calloused hands stretch the skin so that the design is accurate. As important as the art is the ritual. The pain is sacred.

When it’s over, Clarke and Bellamy return to camp with matching bandages. Abby has a lot of questions. Most of the delinquents are insanely jealous, except Octavia. Later, she shows Bellamy the black swirl between her shoulder blades, painted on her by Lincoln. He’s only slightly pissed that she didn’t tell him before.

When the tattoos finally heal, they take off the bandages together. It becomes a sort of holy exploration of their skin; fingertips tracing lines and whorls. It bypasses being sexual and goes straight into spirituality. They sleep in the same bed that night, and nearly every night after.

“You gonna eat or what, Princess?”

His low voice shakes her from the reverie. He’s holding out the cooked fish to her. Clarke takes it with an embarrassed smile, ducking her head to hide the blush on her cheeks.

She is nineteen years-old, a leader, a healer, and most of the time she feels like a child.

+++

The first bunker is so serendipitous, she finds it suspicious. Preserved bundles of seeds, from perennials to biennials to annuals? Parsley, rosemary, thyme…all of it neatly labelled and marked.

Clarke empties Dani’s pack onto the table in the Den (Jasper’s affectionate name for the big tent Clarke and Bellamy share). Some clear bottles clank as they fall out. Alcohol. Clarke ignores the booze and rifles through the packages, eyes wide, bottom lip between her teeth.

“Carrots! Broccoli, holy shit.” She whispers. “Dani, this is amazing.”

The black-haired girl becomes shy under Clarke’s beaming smile. “Yeah, I just thought it would be good for the camp.”

“You were right,” Clarke says as she stuffs the packages of seeds back into the bag, “take this to Monty.”

The girl smiles and leaves the tent. Clarke leans against the table, hands to her face. They’re going to have a crop. Like, with an actual harvest. She breathes out a few more times.

The bottles of alcohol on the table refocus her. She picks up one and inspects the old, fading label. Smirnoff. Pure vodka. Perfect for flushing wounds and sterilization. Four whole bottles.

She cries.

Bellamy comes into the tent, fifteen minutes later, back from his hunting trip. He finds her clutching a bottle of vodka and crying.

“Clarke. What’s wrong?” He asks first, then stomps across the tent to stand in front of her.

She looks up at him then, and it all hits her at once. His face is different than it used to be; his jawline is more square, there are deeper wrinkles by his eyes, his skin is so deeply tanned now that his freckles are only discernible when Clarke is this close to him. One black curl hangs beside his face where it’s fallen out of his hair tie. He looks so beautiful it makes her cry more.

“Clarke! What happened?” Bellamy exclaims, peeling her fingers off the bottle and setting it down. “Where did you get this?”

“Bell,” she hiccups, and the smile is watery but it’s there, “I’m so happy.”

Bellamy frowns, putting his hands on his hips. “This is a weird way to express happiness.”

“Dani found seeds. Seeds. We’re gonna have a harvest. With spices! This is the makings of a civilization! It’s just like in that book: survival, inquiry, sophistication. We’re sophisticating! I’m just—I’m so relieved.” It all comes out in a huge rush of breath, forced out of her before the hiccups make her sound hysterical.

Convinced at last, Bellamy grins. “Seeds? Holy shit, Clarke. Miller and I just brought back a huge stag. Is venison and vegetable stew in our future?”

“Well, not our direct future. But very near future,”  Clarke concedes. She wraps her arms around his middle, pressing her nose to his tanktop. He smells like the forest and sweat.

His comparatively huge arms cover her back from shoulder to shoulder as he presses her to his chest. Clarke loves his bear hugs. It’s the most pleasant way to be smothered.

She squeaks when she lifts her and spins in a tight circle. “What are you doing?”

“Harvest dance,” Bellamy replies, still spinning, “obviously.”

+++

The contents of the second bunker are slightly less earth-shattering. It’s actually Clarke who finds it. Dani’s with her, leading the way to the old nuclear bunkers about two hours out from camp, in the fields of rubble that used to be the suburbs. 

The door is rusted shut, but a few hard hits with Clarke’s crowbar and the rusted metal falls off. They flick on their flashlights (powered by a wind-up battery, courtesy of Raven’s unending genius) and descend into the bunker.

It smells like most of the other places they’ve ransacked: dusty, stuffy, and a little dead. The air is so dry it makes their skin itchy.

A bed, some canned foods on shelves. A bunch of children’s toys. In the corner, there’s some kind of wooden thing. Clarke frowns at it.

“Wow!” exclaims Dani, rushing over. “A guitar!”

She picks up the instrument, and plucks at the strings. It’s remarkably close to being in tune.

“You know how to play that?” Clarke asks in wonder. Now that she recognizes is what it is, she moves closer.

There weren’t a lot of instruments on the Ark. Barely any, actually. Whatever was in the space stations before the war, that was what survived. There was recorded music. Clarke realizes that the only live music she’s heard came from the Grounders and their impressive drumming.

“Yeah, my grandpa brought his guitar when he went on the ISS. It was like a family heirloom,” Dani says wistfully. She plucks another string and twists a knob. It sounds a lot better. “Even extra strings!”

“That’s awesome. We’re bringing that back.” Clarke says as she grabs the blankets and pillows off the bed. She’ll take what she can get.

Hours later, everyone is milling about the bonfire as they eat dinner. Having finished her meal already, Clarke searches the crowd for Dani.

She finds the dark-haired girl with a group of friends, chattering away.

“Dani, where’s the guitar? You should play for us, right now!” Clarke puts her hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Dani puts down her food, gesturing to her friends with a shrug. After retrieving the instrument from her tent, she looks at Clarke, that shyness back in her brown eyes.

“Clarke, I don’t know…I’m not that good.”

“What? Dani, I heard you playing earlier. You’re incredible!” Clarke widens her eyes for effect. “And anyways, most of these kids have never even heard live music before. They’ll love anything you do.”

It takes a bit more convincing, but then Dani is sitting by the bonfire. Clarke settles back into her spot beside Bellamy, tugging on his sleeve. He looks over, his expression quizzical.

Dani strums a few chords, just a short little melody.

The camp goes silent.

“Holy shit!” shouts Raven as she stares over. “More!”

Laughter rumbles through the camp. Dani, giggling herself, starts to strum with a little more confidence. Somebody starts clapping along to the beat. Octavia upturns one of the dinner pots, and beats a catchy tattoo with a wooden spoon. Beside her, Lincoln beats his thighs with his hands, laughing.

There’s no words, but it seems like everybody is singing along. It’s Miller who pulls Raven up first, to dance and sway with her in the light of the fire. More kids follow, until half the camp is dancing circles around the bonfire, and the other half is clapping and humming along.

Clarke is awestruck, her face resting on her hands, when Bellamy stands up in front of her.

“C’mon, let’s get it over with,” he says in a gruff tone, but his eyes are crinkled.

Clarke gets to her feet faster than she would later admit. “Is dancing such a chore for you, Bellamy?” 

He has one hand around hers, the other on her waist, and they move closer together in the orange light. “No,” he whispers.

The beat slows down a little. Dani is getting more comfortable with her playing, enough so to switch it up. Bellamy takes the opportunity to bring Clarke even closer, the warmth of his hand possessive where it sits on her lower back.

They move like that for a while, Clarke taking a step back and Bellamy following, always turning together. When Octavia starts to drum up a faster, surprisingly complex beat, Bellamy twists his neck to look at his sister. The smile on her face is staggering.

Dani catches up, and it’s suddenly a fast dancing tune. Miller and Raven are throwing each other around by the arms. The dance spreads, and soon everyone is stomping their feet and throwing their partners. Clarke and Bellamy separate and link back together over and over.

Everybody is clapping and yelling and singing. Someone has broken out a jar of Monty’s moonshine. Clarke is too wrapped up in the song to care. She doesn’t know if she’s laughing or crying anymore.

At the end of the song, which feels like eons later, the camp breaks out into uproarious applause. Dani is smiling and clapping herself. Bellamy only releases Clarke to let out a few claps.

After Clarke helps the group washing the dishes, she wanders back into the Den, fingers pruned. Bellamy is lying on their bed, flicking through a book. Whenever they find novels in the bunkers, Clarke makes it a point to bring them back to camp. She always likes to find him curled with a book.

“Hey,” he says, dog-earing his page and dropping the paperback on the floor.

“I’m tired,” Clarke says, punctuating her statement with a yawn.

This yawn is super-secret code for “I want to go to bed.”

Bellamy responds by undressing, removing all his clothes until he lies in just his black undershorts on the bed. Clarke removes her own clothing at the same time. She stands in her own pair of shorts, her hair now long enough to cover her naked breasts.

Before, when they first started to share a bed, Bellamy’s eyes used to darken every time he saw her undress. He looked at her with respect, but not without hunger. She used to climb into bed and feel him poking into her thigh.

Things have changed. Now he just watches her with a tender, gentle smile. She climbs under the furs, situating herself right into the curve of his torso. His arms naturally wrap around her midsection. Here in his embrace is the warmest place in the world. It reminds her of when they danced earlier.

“Tonight was fun,” she says, turning under the covers so that she can see his face.

“Yeah. Dani is really good at the guitar.” He replies, raising his eyebrows with pride.

“O’s drumming was…unexpected,” Clarke giggles. She reaches her arm up to trace along his shoulder and his back, where the raised skin of his tattoo passes under her fingers.

He shakes with a chuckle. “I’m starting to wonder just how much of a Grounder she really is.”

“Your dancing was just as surprising,” Clarke adds.

“What? I got the moves, Princess.”

Clarke loves it when he’s like this, playful and teasing. It’s a shame that his lighter side only comes out in rare situations. It’s odd to Clarke that so many people in the camp think Bellamy is a hard-ass.

“You definitely got a few moves,” Clarke says after she stops laughing.

“A few? What did I do to deserve this? We both know I have more than a few moves.” He wiggles his shoulders in a weird, horizontal shimmy that makes Clarke snort. “Why are you laughing at my moves?”

The conversation ends when Clarke finally admits that Bellamy has all the moves. She turns so that he can spoon her, and they settle in together.

Later, Clarke hears Bellamy whisper, “maybe not all the moves” into her neck. She can’t tell if she’s dreaming or he’s asleep. Either way, she doesn’t quite know what to make of the comment.

In the morning, she wakes up with him hard against her. It’s comforting. As the dawn light gradually brightens the tent, Clarke looks back at him. His face is soft on the pillow, the hard lines erased by the tranquility of sleep. She inhales his scent and the feeling in her chest swells.

She loves him. She’s known that for a long time now. But this feeling in her heart—this press when she feels him pull her warmth closer—is different.

They’ve been so busy leading together, protecting each other and their people, there was never time for this. Yeah, they share a bed. Clarke can’t imagine sleeping with anybody else. And she doesn’t think Bellamy would want to either. That’s just how she knows him. 

But it’s different now. It’s safer than it ever was. They replaced their sexual tension with something else. There’s no question about their bond. They’re quasi-married, really.

Clarke stares at the tent ceiling. Definitions of love run through her head, and she pauses on every one that matches how she feels about Bellamy. This is how she works: compartmentalizing and sorting everything into neat little boxes. She has time to love Bellamy. But to be in love with him? Maybe not.

She was in love with another boy a long time ago.

It didn’t end well.

“It’s kind of early to be thinking so loud,” he murmurs into her shoulder, “you woke me up.”

She looks at his sleepy, dopey face and that feeling in her heart inflates. “I’m sorry,” she mutters, pressing a hand to his chest.

“S’okay,” he says.

Getting out of bed that morning is the hardest thing Clarke does all week.

+++

Their first loss since they come to the ocean is a shock.

On the coast, life is pretty peaceful. It wasn’t like back at the dropship, where every day they were threatened by Grounders or Mountain Men, or even Camp Jaha. It’s peaceful. The conflicts are few and far between.

That’s what makes it so terrible when Jason dies.

He was one of their youngest, barely more than fifteen. He gets sick after breakfast one morning. Clarke makes everyone dump their meal, just incase the food has gone bad. But nobody else gets sick.

Jason cries and cries. He vomits blood. Clarke doesn’t know what to do. It’s been so long since anyone was in fatal danger, it takes her some time to acclimate. When she does, it’s too late.

By the time Clarke figures out what’s wrong, the ulcer has perforated. Jason is sobbing as she cuts into him. Her hands shake as she realizes she can’t do anything for him, not with the medical supplies she has. The infection has reached most of his organs. He’s septic.

Clarke sews him back up. She wants to give him Monty’s painkiller tea, but she can’t, because she knows it will only make him suffer more.

So instead she stays next to him, smoothing back his blonde hair from his face, holding his hand in hers. This boy, this child, with chubby angel cheeks, fades in and out of consciousness as his body shuts down.

“I’m scared,” Jason says in a moment of clarity.

Clarke grips his hand tighter, comes close to his face. “That’s okay. It’s okay.”

Tears streak down his temples and into the soft hair by his ears. He doesn’t even have stubble yet. Clarke bites back a sob. He’s just a kid.

“I’m going back,” he says. His eyes get glassy.

“Back where?” asks Clarke, as goosebumps prickle on her arms.

“Home,” he whispers, and his last breath comes out of him as he stares upwards, past the tent and into the sky.

Clarke has to be pulled away from his body through the combined efforts of Raven and Bellamy. She keeps her hands fisted by her chest, her body racked with sobs. Both of them hold her, rub her back, soothe her, but it feels like she’s underwater. She cannot be reached.

The funeral is awful. By the time the grave is ready, the sun is setting. They bury the boy by torchlight. Clarke cries into Bellamy’s shirt the entire time, and his arm is anchored around her. Despite her grief, she manages to stand in front of Jason’s grave, and raise her voice to the crowd.

“Jason was—he was just a kid,” her voice breaks off, but she inhales and continues, “I couldn’t save him. But he was peaceful at the end. He went home. He made it back home.”

“May we meet again,” finishes Bellamy, stepping forward to pull Clarke into his embrace.

“May we meet again,” echoes the crowd, and a hundred people stare up into the night sky where they were born a lifetime ago.

After the service, Clarke slips out of Bellamy’s grasp with some muttered excuse, running off to the medical tent. As she cleans the cot down, wiping away any trace of the dead boy, she finds new, hot tears rolling down her cheeks.

Alone and grieving, she sees a half-empty bottle of vodka. Alcohol doesn’t go bad. Or if it did, she wouldn’t care. She wants to feel like shit. She downs the remaining liquid as she finishes cleaning, and it burns her throat. Twice she gags so hard she almost vomits, but her mind flashes back to Jason spitting up blood, and she just sobs instead.

When she wanders back across camp, she’s bombed. Her steps are uneven, and the ground is really slippery despite it not having rained in a week.

“Clarke?” asks somebody, their tone worried. “Are you alright?”

“Fuck off. Go to bed,” Clarke slurs over her words, holding the vodka bottle in her fist.

“Whoa, Clarke, hey,” they raise their hands in surrender. Their entire outline is blurry.

Fuck off!” Clarke bellows, and the sound echoes through the camp. “It’s not my fault!”

“I never said—“

“It’s okay, go to bed,” Bellamy has appeared out of the darkness, and he’s sending away whoever Clarke was talking to. She hates that he’s being so nice to her. “Clarke.”

“They think it’s my fault,” she snarls in his general direction.

Bellamy moves too slowly and too quickly at the same time. She can see him calculating her next move. When she raises the bottle in her hand, he snatches it from her grasp, tossing it onto the soft grass.

“How much did you drink?” He asks.

“Not enough.”

“How much, Clarke?”

“Less than half the fucking bottle, okay? Is that okay with you?” Her tone is so sour her tongue prickles. 

“It’s fine with me if you wanna get drunk, Clarke. How about next time you don’t act so fucking belligerent with somebody just checking up on your well-being?” Now his voice is angry and hard. Clarke relishes in his hostility. 

“They weren’t checking if I was okay. They fucking—they were fucking blaming me. They’re so scared of me now!” Clarke accuses, pointing a finger to a tent, any tent at all. “Turns out Clarke Griffin can’t fix everything! I can’t…couldn’t fix him.”

“Clarke…” comes Bellamy’s reply, and she hates that it’s gentle. “You’re drunk. Nobody thinks that.”

She looks up at him and holds his gaze for a long moment. “I do.” 

The expression on his face is so sad that it makes her look away in shame. She feels like a dying star, collapsing in on herself. She lets Bellamy take her hand and lead her back to the Den.

They end up on the bed, Bellamy sitting up, cradling Clarke on his lap. Her arms curl around his neck, and her face rests on the spot between his throat and his shoulder. The tears have come back now. Being comforted makes her feel weak.

“It’s really not your fault, Clarke. You can’t think that.”

“If I had diagnosed him earlier, recognized the symptoms, I could have saved his life,” Clarke argues, hiding her face below his jaw.

“You don’t know that. You can’t know that.”

“Why are you defending me? This is my job! They depend on me to be able to heal them. And I failed, at the most basic thing. I failed at keeping him alive.” Clarke grabs the fabric of Bellamy’s shirt and crumples it in her fist, tiny sobs shaking her chest.

“Clarke,” Bellamy says, and he moves backwards so that she has to meet his eyes. There’s nothing but tenderness in them, and it makes her heart pound. “You’re just a person. You’re not a god. You do what you can, always. You give so much of yourself away, I sometimes think you don’t leave enough for you.”

New tears fall from her eyes and she wishes she could look at Bellamy and not feel like the world is spinning away from her.

“We’re all just doing our best. And we need you. Even when things don’t work out. I need you too, Princess.” His voice vibrates through his chest and into her body. “I need you not to blame yourself. Grieve all you have to. But don’t take it out on yourself. I can’t see you in pain like this.”

Clarke sniffles, then takes a deep, calming breath. “It hurts.”

“Well, where does it hurt?” Bellamy asks, wiping away one of her tears with his thumb.

Clarke points to her forehead, where a headache is forming steadily. She always gets them after she cries.

Ever so gently, Bellamy presses a kiss above her brows. He breathes out through his nose, and the air passing over Clarke’s face is cool. Her heart thuds in her chest.

She can’t wait to point to her lips and tell him it hurts there, so she just pulls back and then leans in, catching his open lips in her own. As her hands come up to grasp at his neck and face, she puts everything she’s ever felt into the kiss.

She can read every emotion that passes through Bellamy. He freezes, relaxes, leans into the kiss, pulls her closer. All her senses are filled with him. Happy tears run from her eyes.

He tastes like salt and earth and dirt. He is wonderfully human. He is a person, just like her.

He is pulling away.

Clarke follows him until her neck cricks, and she stares at him, neck out-stretched, lips swollen. His eyes are heavy-lidded and dark. He’s chewing his lip.

“You’re drunk.” He says flatly. It’s an out.

“I’m not that drunk.” She counters. She isn’t wrong; she’s been drinking Monty’s moonshine for the better part of two years. The vodka was more of a vehicle for her grief than anything.

Bellamy considers this, eyes narrowed. “You’re sad.”

“It doesn’t matter if I’m sad or happy. I’m in love with you before I’m anything else.” Clarke declares, because she lives in a world that has no guarantee for survival. There might never be a better time.

Bellamy’s expression softens, his mouth opening. He stares at her in wonder. When he looks at her like that, Clarke has trouble believing she’s just a person to him.

He looks at her, and it’s worship.

Clarke realizes now that it always had to be this way; she had to come to him first. He would never ask for it, never push. He would only take what was given to him willingly.

“Say something,” Clarke says, because even in all her certainty, she wants to hear him confirm it.

“You’re in love with me?” He croaks, then clears his throat. There’s a grin threatening to break out on his face.

“Yes,” Clarke nods. She kisses him again just to prove her point.

“That’s good,” he says between kisses, “because I’m in love with you, too.”

“When were you gonna tell me?”

“I don’t know. The sky is still blue whether you say it is or not. It still would have been true if I never told you.” Bellamy murmurs against the skin of her neck.

Clarke half-moans, half-scoffs her disapproval. They could have been at a romantic stalemate for years. What an ass. Her kiss is chastising.

She wants him so bad. Her hands roam everywhere, under and over his clothes. She craves that touch, that burn of him. But still, something’s holding her back. It doesn’t feel quite right to consummate their love right after a death. The grief is thorny around her heart.

“Not tonight,” she says, still kissing him.

Bellamy nods. It’s always her call, when it comes to them.

When they fall asleep together, Clarke wraps her leg across his waist and rests her head on his chest. He traces circles on her bare back, rubbing across her tattoo. She drifts off to the sound of his heartbeat, and it’s the most bittersweet experience of her life.

+++

Clarke stands in front of him, one hand on her hip, brows furrowed together.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks.

Bellamy looks up at her from the bed. “It’s a haircut, Clarke. Not a vasectomy.”

Stifling her chuckle, Clarke takes the ancient pair of scissors off the table. Bellamy’s hair is out of its tie, and falls around his face in curly, wavy locks. It brushes his bare shoulders. In a strange way, the length almost reminds her of another boy, who she lost a long time ago.

The haircut is a great idea.

“It’s pretty long,” she says, holding a curl in her hand.

“I know, I’ve been busy. Please just cut it.” Bellamy’s patience is growing thinner by the minute.

Clarke gets to work, cutting away at the curls. It takes some time, and Clarke has never been the greatest hairstylist, but eventually, the old shape of Bellamy’s hair becomes recognizable. When she finishes, she runs her fingers through it, fluffing it up.

“Well?” Bellamy raises his eyebrows as he dusts stray hairs off his chest.

“Very good. Dangerously close to whatever the hell we want,” she says. He does look miraculously younger with the shorter hair. 

“I didn't think you were gonna go that short, Princess,” he whines, reaching up to touch his hair, his expression suspicious.

“Hush. Cut mine now,” she says, putting the scissors in his hand. Her hair has never been so long in her life, and she’s actually starting to get neck cramps when she washes it. Not to mention she never does anything interesting with it, beyond a ponytail.

Bellamy stands up, pulling his shirt back on. He fluffs up his hair once more, trying to acclimate to the difference. “I didn’t know you wanted a haircut.”

“Me neither. It’s kind of annoying though,” she picks up a wavy strand with a grimace.

“I like it,” Bellamy says.

“Yeah, but you like everything about me,” Clarke shrugs, only half-joking. She turns away from him and throws all her hair over her shoulders.

“That’s a low blow. True, but still a low blow,” he says to her back, “so what do you want? Blunt? I could try to layer it.”

Clarke tosses an incredulous look over her shoulder. “Layer it?”

“Who do you think cut Octavia’s hair?” Bellamy replies, mimicking her facial expression.

“A mystery I never considered: solved.” Clarke turns around again. She holds her hand behind her back, marking a boundary near her shoulder blades, “just cut it here. You can try and layer it, if you want.”

Bellamy starts snipping away, muttering something about ‘the best damn layering you’ve ever had’. Clarke watches as locks of blonde hair drift to the floor, some of them four inches or more. Eventually she closes her eyes, and just lets him work.

He finishes at some point, because his hands stop their calming ministrations around her head. She should get him to cut her hair more often. He’s standing in front of her now, lips pressed together, holding two pieces of her hair out from her face. Satisfied, he lets them drop.

Clarke shakes her head, running her fingers through. It feels so much lighter, she can’t stop touching it.

“Wow. I’m impressed,” she says, after he holds up a piece of glass that she occasionally uses as a mirror. It’s pretty evenly cut. It’s pretty in general. Clarke feels deliciously superficial. “This layering is…you’ve outdone yourself. I’ve seen you fight off four Grounders at once, drink Monty under the table, give rousing motivational speeches, but this…this is your peak, Bellamy.”

Bellamy puts down the mirror, his lips set in a thin line. “If you’re trying to insult me, you should know that I value my hairstyling skills far above my numerous achievements. Have you seen O’s hair? There may not be a lot of masterpieces left in this world—“

“Shut up!” Clarke pushes his chest, her laughter making the move weak.

Bellamy just grabs her hands and pulls her to his body. Ever since her little declaration a couple weeks ago, he’s been more affectionate than ever. Always touching her, holding her, quicker to joke. Clarke can’t complain. All she can do is wonder why it took them so long.

She presses a quick kiss to his lips, that he tries to deepen. But she pulls away before he can catch her. 

He frowns in irritation.

“As much as I’d love to stay in here all day, there’s a bunch of people out there,” she says, flicking her head towards the tent opening.

“Who? What people?” asks Bellamy, tilting his head.

Clarke purses her lips to keep from smiling. “Our people.”

Oh, right. Those people.” He nods like he’s finally come to understand some inconceivable fact. “Fine.”

They kiss again, but Bellamy tricks her. His body crowds in around her, one arm around her waist, the other squeezing her ass. Clarke arches upwards, letting out a little gasp of delight. Right when she starts to get really into it, Bellamy disentangles from her grip, smirking.

“Sorry, but my people need me, Princess,” he explains as he ducks out of the tent, narrowly avoiding the book she throws at him.

Our people!” she yells after him, her heart rushing in her ears. 

His laughter is just barely audible. 

+++

The third bunker—the last one with anything salvageable in it—is mostly filled with books. Octavia returns to camp with three sacks full of paperbacks, hardcovers, and even graphic novels.

Clarke is pleased. If nothing else, they can use the paper for kindling when it rains for four days straight.

She’s sorting the books alphabetically by author, when Octavia taps her shoulder. The dark-haired girl flicks her head toward the corner of the tent, away from Monroe and Calum.

Clarke follows her, crossing her arms over her chest.

“What is it?” she asks.

Octavia has a mischievous smile on her face, the expression so similar to the one her brother wears. “I found something else.”

“Okay. What?”

Octavia reaches into her bag on the floor. She pulls out a briefcase-looking box, and unclips the latches on the sides. Only opening it a crack, she holds it out to Clarke, letting her peek inside.

It’s an art supply case. Pastels. Pencils. Watercolours. Completely untouched.

Clarke’s mouth falls open. She looks from the case to Octavia and back again. The youngest Blake is smiling wide.

“Oh my God, O,” Clarke breathes.

“Take it,” says Octavia. Pushing the case into Clarke’s arms, she lets out a little laugh. “No, seriously, take it. You deserve something nice.” 

Clarke holds it under both arms, tucked into her chest. “O, thank you.”

“It’s nothing,” Octavia shrugs.

After giving the girl a tight hug, Clarke rushes out of the tent and back to the Den. She spends a long time just looking at the case open on the table, running her fingers over the coloured pencils and pastels.

There’s a large pad of paper under one side of the briefcases. It’s smooth to the touch, and filled with so much potential under her fingers. Barely able to contain the excitement brimming within her, Clarke takes the coloured pencils, the pad, and heads to the coast.

That’s where Bellamy finds her, two hours later, cross-legged on the beach. Her mouth is scrunched up in concentration as she shades the waves that perfect mix of blue and sea foam white. 

“O said I might find you here,” he says, crouching down beside her.

“Back on the Ark, I used to dream about the ocean,” Clarke says without looking up, “about drowning in it.”

Bellamy looks over at her warily. The wind from the sea is brisk on his face. He slips off his old jacket and pulls it around her shoulders.

“Thanks. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real. To be here. I want to get it all down,” she explains as she adds highlights to the waves on the page. “You should have seen my cell in the Skybox.”

“What was it like?” he asks, finally folding his legs to sit beside her.

“Drawings on all the walls. Every surface, practically. Always of Earth,” Clarke sighs, putting down her pencil. She leans her head on Bellamy’s shoulder. “They can’t compare to the real thing, though.”

“Yeah, but isn’t art supposed to be a representation? I thought it was about capturing the emotion of a moment. Or something,” he adds hastily, when Clarke gives him a wry smile.

“You are such an academic, Bellamy Blake. But I guess you’re right. When I was in prison, all I could think about was my freedom.”

“What are you thinking about now?” Bellamy asks, gesturing to her drawing.

It’s a coloured sketch of the waves in front of them. A little rougher than Clarke usually draws, but that’s how the ocean makes her feel. It’s something she can’t completely understand.

“I’m thinking about how this is our home now. And how beautiful the ocean is, and how happy I am. But scared too,” she finishes.

“Scared?”

“I feel vulnerable. I have things I don’t wanna lose,” she says, looking pointedly at Bellamy.

Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” recites Bellamy, then he kisses her hair. “And a holy thing, a holy thing to love.”

Clarke feels a lump in her throat build, and she bites it back down. She is happy. In this moment, she is happy. The pains of the future have no impact on the joy of the present, she thinks.

“That’s beautiful,” Clarke sniffles, “what is it?”

“Don’t cry. It’s Judah Halevi. Stop crying,” Bellamy laughs at her when she pushes her face against his chest stubbornly. 

“Don’t say profound shit if you don’t want me to cry!” Clarke yells into his shirt, sounding muffled and distraught.

“I think you’ve gotten drunk on your art, Princess. You are such a maudlin artist,” He says, scooping under her legs to lift her up, “I’m bringing you back to camp before you go on a watercolour bender.”

As he gets to his feet, he grabs the pencil Clarke dropped in her surprise. All her art supplies in her hands, she allows him to carry her halfway back to camp. Then she demands to walk.

Sometime in the next few days, Clarke notices the shadows under Bellamy’s cheekbones, and the curve of his lips when he laughs. It starts as a sketch, but soon she has an entire page filled with Bellamy’s lips and eyes and freckled cheeks.

She wakes up before he does that morning. Beside her in bed, he’s curled up, dark hair stuck up at odd angles, mouth half-open. As quietly as she can, Clarke grabs her sketch pad, and starts another drawing, this one focused on the lines of his neck and collarbone.

“I knew you were drawing me,” he says, his voice groggy and sleepy.

Clarke jumps, startled out of her concentration. He’s got one eye open, but he’s holding the pose otherwise. She keeps sketching.

“You’ve got interesting features, which makes for interesting shadows. Natural chiaroscuro.”

“Sounds sexy. What does it mean?” he grumbles, straining to keep his relaxed pose.

“An interplay of light and shadow,” she says, smiling at him from over her pad.

In the morning light, she sees him just as that, a study in contrasts. His dark eyes, the light glancing off of his cheekbones. It’s deeper than that. Bellamy’s soul is a mix of light and darkness. He exists where the two meet.

Bellamy sighs, fed up with staying still. He takes the pad from her, examining the sketches with narrowed eyes.

“They’re good. But…”

“But what?”

“I’m definitely more attractive than you portray me,” he shrugs. “I mean, if these are for your personal records, you should make me more handsome.”

Clarke makes an impatient noise, snatching the sketchbook out of his hands. “You are such a diva.”

After she closes the pad and places it gently on the floor, she rolls on top of Bellamy, deciding to kiss every freckle on his chest.

Bellamy makes a deep, contented noise. When her kisses trail lower, closer to his hips as she pushes back the furs on top of them, he inhales sharply.

“Clarke…” he says, putting a hand on her shoulder. It’s a question.

Under the heat of his gaze, Clarke grows shy. She straightens up, sitting on his thighs. They’re both in their underwear, bare from the waist up. But that isn’t what’s giving Clarke the shivers.

Bellamy’s face has transformed into a look of such deep intensity and want, it makes her insides twist.

Clarke doesn’t know how to articulate what she wants to do, so she just leans back down, placing an open-mouthed kiss on his left hipbone. His hand tangles in her hair, and he pulls her back up to his face, firm but gentle.

It’s difficult to hold eye contact with him when he looks at her like this. Like there’s something that’s been awakened deep inside of him.

“Clarke, what are you doing?” he groans, when she settles down on top of him, holding to his shape.

“I’m trying to…” she trails off, searching for the right phrase, “…make love with you. To you.”

Bellamy’s grin is bright enough to cast a shadow on the sun. “Really?”

“Yeah. I’m ready,” she says.

What she means is, I killed the last person I had sex with.

What she means is, I am a jagged and broken thing, but we fit together like broken glass.

What she means is, I am ready to be loved completely again.

“Only if you’re sure, Princess,” Bellamy says, folding his hands around hers.

“I am,” she says.

Bellamy flips them so that he’s on top of her, crowding in her space. His lips travel down her neck, kissing, sucking, biting. Clarke’s body feels like a live wire, sparking wherever Bellamy touches her. Her hands grasp at his back, pulling him closer than he already is.

There’s so much passion in every move Bellamy makes; he is made of heat and Clarke feels herself burning up.

One of his hands cups her breast, and he flicks his tongue across her nipple, never breaking eye contact with Clarke. She squeaks and arches into his touch. When he gives the same treatment to her other breast, her eyelids flutter.

“I’ve wanted you for so long,” he rumbles into her skin, “it’s worth every second.”

He rests his chin in the dip of her bellybutton, taking a moment to stare up at her. Clarke runs her fingers through his hair, then presses her fingers to his cheek.

Maybe the burning has always been there; she’s wanted him for so long she just accepted it as background noise. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to take a moment to look at each other. There is a wealth of patience between them.

“Take them off,” Clarke says hoarsely, when his hands touch her undershorts.

Bellamy’s mouth twitches, and he slides the garment up and off her legs, tossing it to the floor. Clarke lies bared to him. She makes no move to adjust her body, to pose. There is no need for posturing between them.

Bellamy’s chest rises with a deep breath, and he kneels down between her legs. His strong arms go under her legs, clamping down across her hips. From this angle, she can see the curl of his tattoo. Beneath his grip, she can’t move. Anticipation wells up.

He looks at her—mouth open, eyes hooded—and he gets to work.

Unsurprisingly, Bellamy is really, really good at what he does. His mouth alone is enough to make Clarke senseless, but then he adds a finger and Clarke is rapidly coming undone. She’s glad for the way his arm locks her to the bed; her body arches and writhes. Her hands fist in his hair and she repeats his name like a prayer, an oath, a rite.

When she falls back on the bed, still twitching, Bellamy raises himself. His mouth is wet and swollen, and Clarke yanks him upwards. When they kiss, Clarke tastes herself on his lips and she moans.

Desperate to make him feel the same pleasure, she rolls on top. He’s still got his underwear on, which is a frustrating obstacle. Pulling the material down his legs, she releases him. He’s bigger than Finn. The thought comes to her unbidden.

She must be wearing an impressed expression, because Bellamy wiggles his eyebrows at her. He looks so cocky in the position—hands behind his head, lazy smile on his face—Clarke grips him suddenly to wipe the grin off his face.

A few short pumps, a lick of her tongue, and his hands are fisting at his sides. When she closes her mouth around him, he indulges himself for a few seconds before he lightly pulls her head up.

“I’ve wanted this for a long time,” he groans, widening his eyes, “I want it to last as long as possible.”

Clarke’s cheeks flush with colour. “Okay.”

She climbs back up his body, straddling his thighs. Hovering above him, she watches him wet his lips with his tongue. After a little adjustment, she guides him into her.

The stretch and the heat of him make her gasp as she slides downwards. Bellamy makes a strangled noise, and his hands grip her hips hard enough to leave bruises. She hopes he does.

Once her body adjusts to his size, Clarke begins to move her hips in tiny little circles, pressing against a spot inside her body that sends jolt of pleasure through her. Gradually, she increases the speed, using her thighs to raise herself up.

“You look so good, Princess,” Bellamy says, once he regains the ability of speech. His voice is gravelly and thick. “You’re so beautiful.” 

A moan escapes Clarke as he begins to thrust up into her. She puts her hands on his chest to stabilize herself, feels the tingling from before begin anew. This time it feels different, grander as it swells.

“Come with me,” she says.

Bellamy puts his arm behind her back and flips them again in one swift movement. He puts one of her legs on his shoulder, and thrusts in earnest. His own moan is shaky, more like a rumble of thunder.

As Clarke feels the pressure building, she finds her eye drawn to the black mark that curls around Bellamy’s shoulder, and the mirror image on her own. With him, she feels complete.They are halves of different wholes, but somehow they fit together.

His thumb starts to rub circles on her clit, and she whimpers.

“Bellamy!” she cries, reaching for his hand as the waves take her.

“I’m here, I’m here,” he whispers, burying himself inside as he reaches his own peak.

Moments pass, until finally Bellamy rolls off of her. Briefly, she misses the warm weight of his body, but then he tucks his arm around her waist and kisses her sweetly.

When they part, Clarke puts her chin to his chest so she can look up at his dopey, thoroughly pleasured face. His hair is all messy, just like she imagines hers to be, and the expression in his eyes is unbearably tender.

“Wow,” Clarke breathes. There’s not much more to say. The testament to their union is wet on her thighs.

Her whole body feels like liquid, and when she lies across him, it’s almost as if she’s melting away.

“You’re something else,” Bellamy says, smoothing her hair down.

Clarke kisses his chest, where she can feel his big heart beating below her.

Later, much later, when they emerge from the tent, Raven walks up to them. She gives Bellamy a big slap on the back, and tucks her arms around both their necks.

“Finally!” she exclaims, kissing both of their cheeks in turn, “fucking finally.”

Bellamy looks over at Clarke bashfully, but she just grins.

“Fucking finally,” she agrees.

+++

When the winter finally arrives, the snow leaves everybody awestruck and shivering. 

Dressed in the appropriate furs, Bellamy takes Clarke’s hand and twirls her in the snowfall.

Two years ago she came back to Earth.

Six months ago she came to the sea.

It’s a good place to live.

A better place to be loved.