The girl she was two days ago would have cried herself to sleep. This girl, who feels so much less like a child and so much more like a warrior, does not have time for tears. The lack of them doesn’t mean that she sleeps any easier though and by the time dawn breaks over the camp Clarke’s eyes are sore and heavy from staring into the darkness all night long.
Bellamy leaves not long after they’ve broken their fast – a better meal than the gray porridge they’ve been eating at Camp Jaha for the last two weeks, thanks to Lexa’s hunters, though Clarke hardly tastes it. She sees him getting ready across camp, checking the gun strapped across his chest and the one tucked at his side, Octavia tightening the strap of his pack and slipping an extra knife into his pocket when she thinks he isn’t looking. His face is grim this morning, hard and closed off in a way that reminds Clarke of that first week on Earth. It threatens to break something inside of her, knowing she is responsible for this, but she shores up the cracks in her resolve and keeps her distance, concentrating instead on pouring over a map of the surrounding forest with Lexa at her side.
Nevertheless, it is hard to miss when he and Lincoln walk towards the gate. Harder still to miss the way Bellamy pauses and looks back at her, like he is waiting for her to stop him, to call him back and say it was a mistake, that she won’t risk him no matter what. But Clarke has spent the night hardening her heart, spent the morning reminding herself that weakness has no place on this world, and so she simply raises a hand in farewell. Pretends she cannot see the disappointment that washes over his face when he returns the gesture and turns to go. It is not so easy to pretend she misses the glare Octavia sends her way – not when the younger girl comes stomping up to her side to make sure she gets a look at it up close.
“You’re making a mistake, Clarke,” she says, voice as severe as her expression.
“I’m doing what I have to, to save our friends,” Clarke answers. She keeps her eyes on the map, ignores the thunderstorm of a girl beside her as best she can.
“You’re sending him to die!” Octavia shouts. Half the camp seems to pause at the declaration, many of them slowly inching away from the table where the two girls stand. Even Lexa puts a hand against Clarke’s shoulder, whether in support or sympathy or reminder Clarke doesn’t know, before striding away and leaving them to it.
Clarke takes a deep breath, feels herself go blank inside as the air leaves her lungs, and when she turns to Octavia her face is stoic. “He’s strong,” she starts, the speech one she has had running like a loop through her mind all night. “He knows how to handle himself, and he’s smart enough to know when to run. He’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that,” Octavia tells her. She still looks angry but sadness is creeping in too and Clarke has to look away again.
“Bellamy knows we need this, that’s why he’s going,” she says, eyes firmly fixed on the map in front of her again.
“He’s going for you.” Octavia crowds closer, unwilling to let her off the hook. “He’d do anything for you, Clarke, can’t you see that? He’d die for you, and that’s what you’re asking him to do.”
Clarke squeezes her eyes shut tight, hands in fists at her sides. And, just like every time she closes her eyes, she sees Finn strung up on the pole before her, hears the echoes of Raven’s screams, feels blood on her hands. From there it is like a slideshow of death and loss – Wells and Charlotte and Atom, kids from their camp she barely knew, some whose names are already fading from her memory. Last of all is her father, always her father, and the look of shock on his face when the doors opened and he was sucked out into the vacuum blackness of space. She tries to regain that icy numbness from before, tries to push away the red reel of death running through her mind over and over, as she answers.
“If he dies helping to save our people, then at least it will be a good death. That’s more than most of us can ask for these days.”
Octavia physically recoils from the words, and when Clarke manages to look up again she sees that the anger has been replaced by something much purer – hatred. For just a moment she wants to take back the words, but she can’t. She cannot be weak, and if that means Octavia hates her so be it.
“You better hope he comes back,” Octavia says lowly, venom lacing her tone deadly enough that Clarke might be more afraid if she wasn’t beyond fear already. “Or you and me are going to have a problem.”
The words strike a memory in her, a conversation from what feels like a lifetime ago now, back when slowly bleeding to death from an unknown illness was the worst of their problems. It almost makes her smile, the nostalgia of it, almost makes her wonder again what it must be to have a sibling – to love someone the way those two love each other. But then she thinks of the way Bellamy looked at her when she said ‘I can’t lose you too’ and the way he looked when she took it back, and thinks she wants to know as little about love as possible instead, because from what she can tell all it brings is pain.
Octavia doesn’t wait for an answer, spinning angrily on her heel and marching off, one hand on the handle of the knife at her waist and a look on her face dark enough to have even the grounder guards stepping out of her path. Lexa returns moments later, not even bothering to hide that she has been listening to the exchange. She doesn’t comment on it though, or offer advice like Raven or her mother or even Kane would. Instead she looks at Clarke with a blankness in her own eyes that Clarke is starting to find familiar and says, “Are you ready to depart?”
Clarke nods, rolls up the map, and follows.
The army helps, of course, keeping Mt. Weather’s guards from retaking the prisoners, and without Bellamy sneaking in a radio in the first place she never would have been able to pull it off. But in the moment of rescue, when the kids are reunited with friends and family alike, Clarke and Bellamy are both absent.
As soon as the radio connection had been made Miller informed them of Bellamy being taken, told them he had been missing for three days and they didn’t know if he was still alive. The words seemed to break something inside of Clarke, at least that’s the way Raven would later describe it, and before any of them even knew she was moving she had disappeared down a branching tunnel and out of sight. After that there hadn’t been time to worry about her, not when they were all too busy keeping themselves alive. But when they are back out in the forest and patching up the worst of the wounded before heading for camp, it is all too clear who is still missing.
Octavia is about to go back into the mountain herself (“You won’t be by yourself,” Raven says severely, tightening her brace and tucking a gun into the back of her waistband) when movement at the main tunnel entrance pulls their attention and their defenses. So it is with approximately 60 guns and twice as many spears and arrows pointed their way that Clarke and Bellamy reappear – bloody and battered but alive.
The reunion scene is a short one, no time for anything more than a few hard hugs and tears, before they have to move again. The kids may be out but the Mountain is far from neutralized, and spending a night by the entrance to its underground chambers would be folly.
Octavia sticks close to her brother’s side the whole trek back – he’s laid out on a stretcher carried by two of Lexa’s men, having collapsed not long after his return – and Clarke walks stoically behind them. Her eyes stay fixed on the forest floor and she refuses her mother’s attempts to at least stem the blood flowing from the cut on her head. Raven is the only one she lets walk beside her, and for the first time since Finn’s death Raven feels nothing but sadness for the girl at her side, the last of her anger washed away by the ghost of fear and regret still stealing the color from Clarke’s face.
When they reach Camp Jaha, Raven peels away without a word, helping to direct the returned kids where to go for food, for blankets, for medical help. She sees Bellamy being carried to the tent where Clarke was housed on her return, but does not have a chance to check on him herself until later when the rest of the kids are as settled as they are likely to get for some time. When she does approach she finds Clarke outside, blood now gone from her face and a fresh set of stitches in a neat black row next to her hairline, but that same broken look on her face as before.
“How is he?” Raven asks and it sounds rusty, hesitant, like she’s forgotten how to speak to this girl without anger and accusation behind it.
Clarke looks up as if startled, eyes drifting to the door, and Raven suddenly knows she hasn’t yet been inside herself. “He’ll live,” Clarke says eventually, eyes dropping from Raven’s own and back to her hands in her lap.
“So that’s a good thing, right?” Raven asks. She steps a little closer. “I mean, he’s back, he’s going to be okay, that’s like best case scenario here.”
Clarke doesn’t say anything for a long moment, and when she looks up again her eyes are swimming with tears. Raven realizes she hasn’t seen Clarke cry since Finn died, and seeing it now makes something in her own chest ache.
“They had him in a cage,” Clarke says eventually, words shaking out of her like she can hardly speak them. “He was barely conscious, Raven the things they must have done to him, the scars on his body…”
“Hey, hey, it’s gonna be okay, he’s strong,” Raven says quickly, awkwardly lowering herself to sit next to Clarke though her brace is in desperate need of oiling after these last few days in the forest.
Clarke chokes on a laugh that sounds more bitter than anything. “That’s what I told Octavia,” she says, “When I sent him to die. I told her he was going to be okay.”
“And he is,” Raven reminds her.
“But he might not have been,” Clarke insists, “He almost wasn’t. And it’s all my fault. He could have died, and the last thing I said to him was that it was worth the risk – that losing him was worth it.”
She looks over at Raven and her eyes are haunted. Raven doesn’t know how to take that away, doesn’t even know if she should. There is too much between them to ever go back to how it used to be, they have both changed too much since that first month on the ground, and Raven thinks maybe it needs to be this way – maybe Clarke needs to be hurting now, for the reminder that choosing to push love away doesn’t mean you can avoid the pain of it.
And yet Clarke is also her friend, despite everything, and that is something Raven had not been sure was still true until this moment. It is true, though, and Raven doesn’t want to see her hurt any more than she already is.
“But he didn’t die,” she says gently, “So you have a chance to make that right with him.”
Clarke takes a shaky breath and eventually nods, and Raven lets her tuck her head against her shoulder, puts an arm around her and let’s Clarke cry until there are no more tears and the sun is casting a faint pink line over the horizon of a new day.
Bellamy knows she is there, just outside, because Raven (and Monty, and Jasper, and Miller) all tell him so, would have known it anyway by the pinched, sour look Octavia has on her face whenever she first comes in to see him. But she doesn’t come inside and he is under strict orders not to get out of bed (as if he could even if he wanted to) so it isn’t until the morning of the 7th day when he wakes to find her sitting at his side that he sees her again.
She looks tired. Her golden hair is pulled back in a perfunctory braid, her face pale and drawn which only emphasizes the bruises and cuts, the dark purple hollows under her eyes. When she smiles at him it is shaky, unsure in a way he has never seen her before, and he wants to soothe away that look, which is part of the problem isn’t it?
“Hey,” she says, voice as tremulous as her smile.
“Hi,” he replies, eyes drifting over her hungrily, cataloguing her again and taking note of every injury he can see. “You’re okay.”
She laughs at that, and it sounds so much like the old Clarke it makes his chest feel tight. When she takes his hand in hers he almost forgets to breathe. “That’s supposed to be my line.”
“Of course I’m fine,” he manages, though it is awfully hard to keep his thoughts straight with her fingers fitted between his own, “It would take more than a couple of Mountain Men to get rid of me, princess.”
She laughs again but it is watery this time, and before he knows what to do about that he’s got a crying Clarke Griffin against his chest and it’s all he can do to get an arm around her and pat ineffectively at her back while trying not to pull his stitches.
“I thought you were dead,” she whispers eventually, when she’s stopped crying, her lips still pressed close to his heart. “When I saw you in that cage, I thought you were dead Bellamy, and oh god-“
“Shhhh,” he quiets her, shifting so that he can get his hand from her back to her hair, running fingers through it gently. This hurts in a different way, not the physical aches and pains of his injuries, but somewhere deeper, more vital.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly, broken, “I’m so sorry Bellamy. I feel like I lost myself. I was just so sure I had to be strong, and if you had died…”
These are the words he has been too afraid to hope for, and yet hearing them does not take away the pain like he thought they would. If anything it digs the wound a little deeper, because he realizes that hearing them does not change anything, does not make it somehow easier or better to feel about her the way that he does. The way he loves her, and he can admit now if only to himself that it is love, was not diminished by her pushing him away, and so being drawn back in now does not make it more or less than it already is. All it does is make him afraid, for the both of them.
“How can you not hate me?” she asks eventually, pulling away from him and leaving him colder for the loss. “For how I acted, the things I said?”
Bellamy puts one of his hands over hers this time, stares at the point of contact. “I can’t hate you Clarke. You could ask me to go back into that mountain tomorrow, and I’d do it, for you.”
“Why?” she asks, and he looks up sharply, sure she must be mocking him because how can she not know? But all he sees is a plaintive sort of hurt in her eyes, the kind he now knows he would destroy himself to try and take away, and so he finds himself being more honest than he had intended.
“Because I love you,” he tells her, though it is hard to say the words aloud. Her whole face lights up with a mixture of pain and joy that he feels echoed in his own heart, though he knows now the danger of that feeling.
“Bellamy, I lo-“
“Wait,” he says, stilling her tongue and taking a ragged breath of his own. He’s had a week to think about this, and there is more that needs to be said even if it ends up actually killing him to do it. Because while he does not agree with the idea that ‘love is weakness’ he does know now that it isn’t always strength either, not when it has the power to destroy you from the inside out. And he loves this girl, his princess, more than almost anything, enough to make him willing to wreck himself on the rocks of her if only to see her smile. Which is why he has to do this.
“I do love you,” he repeats, forcing himself to hold her gaze while he says it, “But Clarke, I’m not sure I want to anymore.”
Her eyes go wide and her whole body stills, for a moment he is sure she is not even breathing. Then she moves, scooting back from the bed and closing in on herself a little, though she doesn’t pull her hand away from his. She makes a noise, something small and hurt, halfway between a sigh and a whimper, but it is there and gone so quickly he isn’t even sure he heard it at all.
“Say something,” he asks her after another long minute of silence. “Please?”
“I’m not sure what you want me to say,” she whispers back, eyes refusing to meet his. He flexes his fingers against hers and she tenses, but he holds on, refusing to let her slip further away.
“Clarke, I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“You’re mad at me,” she says, “I understand that, you have every right. You should blame me for this, for what happened to you. I get it.”
“You don’t,” he says gently and tugs at her hand til she looks at him again. “I don’t blame you, hell in some ways I think I might even respect you more. What you did hurt me, yes, but I get it Clarke. What we’ve been through down here, the things we’ve had to do to survive? They’d have broken most people, but you’ve always been so strong.”
“Not always,” she admits and he can hear the threat of tears in her voice.
“Yes, always,” he argues. “And maybe listening to Lexa’s ideas about weakness wasn’t the most solid plan you’ve ever had, but you were doing what you thought was best.”
“So then why don’t you want to love me anymore?” she asks. She sounds small, which isn’t how Clarke ought to sound, and he frowns before answering, hates that he is the one who has shrunk her this way.
“Because you’re always going to do what you think is best,” he tells her, stopping her retort with a hand as he continues, “That’s not a bad thing. But it means you can’t promise you won’t ask me to throw myself at death again, and if I don’t stop feeling the way I do it will never stop hurting when you ask it of me.”
“So I won’t ask!”
“You can’t promise that,” he tells her gently, “You shouldn’t promise that. It’s how we work, you and me. We put everyone else first, or we try to. You keep us going, and I make sure you’re here to do it. It’s what’s kept us alive this long, what got our people back.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want to be in love with me for the good of our people?”
Bellamy shakes his head. “No. I’m saying I don’t want to be in love with you because it hurts too much to feel this way, and I can’t change that without changing you. And changing you is something I refuse to do.”
Clarke is staring at him with her heart in her eyes, tears now falling freely down her cheeks, and oh god this hurts too, more than he even expected, but it has to be done.
“Octavia and Lincoln are leaving in a few weeks, to visit the grounder clan by the sea. Lincoln has friends there and thinks that we may be able to negotiate with them to set up a camp, for the 100. I think I should go with them.”
“But that will take weeks!” she argues, “And I can’t leave camp yet, not with so many still wounded, we’re understaffed as it is and-“
“I mean I should go, and you should stay,” he corrects, which stops her. “Maybe the time apart is what we need. What I need.”
“To get over me,” she whispers, doesn’t wait for an affirmation because they both know it’s the truth.
“And if you can negotiate a treaty?” she asks quietly, her thumb tracing absent circles against his own, “Would you ask me to stay here while you take our people to start a new camp?”
“Of course not,” he tells her, “Clarke, we wouldn’t make it without you. You’re our leader. We need you.”
“Some leader,” she scoffs. She pulls her hand away then, tucks it under her thigh and refuses to meet his eyes. “Every decision I’ve made recently has hurt someone. Has hurt you.”
“No,” she interrupts him this time, sniffing quickly and running a hand over her face to clear the lingering tears. “I’m being an idiot. You’re right, you should go with Octavia and Lincoln. It’s a good plan.”
“I’ll come back,” he tells her, knows it is small comfort. She looks at him then and he can see that she knows the lie in his words – he will come back, of that he is relatively sure, but he won’t be coming back to her, not like she wants him to. Not if he can help it, even if it means carving out his own heart and leaving it somewhere along the road.
She doesn’t argue though, just nods once, leans back into his space and presses her forehead to his, squeezing her eyes tight shut with her hands tight pressed to his shoulders. “I’m sorry,” she says once more before she pulls away, before she leaves, looking back at him with tears clinging to her lashes and shadows cast across her face. She looks beautiful, even broken, and he wants to take it back, to tell her to stay.
Instead he says, “I’m sorry too,” and closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to watch her go.
Monty is grinning ear to ear as he delivers the news, and Clarke is halfway to the door before any of the rest of the council can even stand. She would care more about rushing out like this, except it’s Bellamy and it has been six weeks since she saw his face, which is six weeks too long, so she won’t add another second more than she has to, to that tally.
Luckily the halls of the Ark are mostly clear this time of day and so she meets no obstacles as she trails after Monty toward the yard. Jasper jogs over to meet them as they approach the gates, flanking her other side, and she can hear the arrhythmic sound of Raven’s steps approaching from behind. All of this is like white noise in her mind though, when she gets a glimpse of his face through the crowd.
He looks good. His skin is darker, presumably from being out from under the trees these past few weeks, but his eyes look lighter – like he’s started to shed some of the darkness of his ordeal. Her heart gives an uptick at the thought, that maybe he will be ready to start moving forward, maybe he will have forgiven her enough to try. For a moment she feels the urge to run, to dash towards him like she did all that time ago during another reunion, to throw her arms around him and reassure herself that he is real and whole and here.
The thought shatters, stopping her almost-movement so quickly she nearly stumbles where she stands, when she sees him turn, reaching past his sister and Lincoln to join hands with a figure behind them, someone small and unknown and very, very female. The girl laughs at something Bellamy has said and holds tight to his hand, and when he turns back he is smiling too.
His smile falters only a little when he sees her, their eyes meeting for one charged second across the remaining distance, but then it softens into something almost shy, and even though Clarke can feel her heart shattering she manages to smile back at him. When she approaches it is at a more sedate pace and with her three friends in tow. Monty sneaks a hand into her own as they walk, which she squeezes gratefully before letting go.
When they reach the returning group there is a moment of awkwardness, but then Jasper hugs Bellamy hard and they all laugh, the tension dissipating at least a little. When he’s free again Bellamy turns to her.
“Hi,” Clarke returns and finds that she is grinning once more despite herself, because at least he is here and not bleeding or on a stretcher for once. The smile is harder to maintain when he tugs the strange girl forward again until she is standing at his side.
“Clarke, this is Nia. Nia, this is Clarke Griffin.”
“Oh,” the girl says, eyes going wider as she looks Clarke over, “You are Bellamy’s heda.”
Clarke wants to argue that she is more than that, but it has been six weeks and with the way they left it she isn’t sure that is strictly true anymore. She hopes they are at least friends, but maybe even that assumes too much. Being commander is better than nothing, she supposes, so she takes it.
“Welcome,” she says, and extends a hand to Nia while everyone else looks on with a mixture of surprise and apprehension.
“Nia is from the Ocean clan,” Lincoln explains once they have shaken hands without bloodshed. “She’s come back with us to finalize negotiations for the setting up of a camp near her village.”
From the way Nia is looking at Bellamy, Clarke is pretty sure that’s not the only reason she came. From the way Bellamy is looking back, Clarke is also pretty sure it would be more than impolitic to kick the girl out of camp immediately.
There is another awkward little moment, but Clarke isn’t feeling the shock of it all quite so acutely any longer and she can do this, she has to do this, and so with another falsely-bright smile she steps to the side and gestures for the group to step further inside the camp’s walls. “Well, I suppose we should get to the council chambers then, to finish negotiations.”
Nia smiles back equally bright, and seemingly sincere. Bellamy looks more skeptical and stares at Clarke oddly like he’s trying to figure her out. She makes sure not to meet his gaze head on, he’s always been too good at reading her even when she doesn’t say a word, and turns to Octavia and Lincoln instead, a belated, “Welcome back,” on her lips. Lincoln cracks half a smile, which from him is as good as a hug, and even Octavia doesn’t look as angry as she did when they left all those weeks ago.
Bellamy sighs, but doesn’t press her for more and instead leads the charge, walking back up to the Ark with Nia at his side. Their strides aren’t very evenly matched, always a little out of sync with each other, and Clarke takes a small, mean amount of pleasure in that as she falls in at the back of the pack, Raven next to her again.
“You want me to take her out?” Raven asks quietly when the others have gotten far enough ahead to not overhear. Clarke turns to smile at her, finds the other girl’s expression serious which only makes her smile wider, even through the sadness she can feel hovering around its edges.
“No,” she says firmly, tempting though the thought may be. “He’s happy. That’s all I ever wanted for any of us. For him.”
Raven makes a sound of disgust, but bumps her shoulder against Clarke’s companionably. Clarke bumps back, reminds herself not to cry.
Finishing negotiations had mostly been about the leader of the Ocean clan’s insistence that Clarke be the one to sign the treaty, something she is sure just thrilled Bellamy. She makes a show of reviewing the contract, but the truth is she trusts Bellamy in this, and if he’d thought it good enough to come back with then that is enough for her. When she does sign, officially, she and Nia have to toast over Monty’s newest batch of moonshine, and Clarke maybe gulps down more than necessary after clinking glasses with the girl who has been staying every night in Bellamy’s tent.
Leaving Camp Jaha involves less pomp and circumstance, just a group gathered at the gates (35 of those rescued from Mount Weather and a few of their parents, some others that came down with the Ark. No more than 60 total, so many less than they started with but so many more than she could have hoped.) Her mother comes down to say goodbye, tears in her eyes though their hug is still stiff even after all this time. Clarke knows she will miss her mother, but in many ways the distance might be better for them, after everything.
Jaha himself had wanted to make a speech, but Kane and Abby talked him down, and so it is with nothing more than a waving send-off that they start along their own path once more.
Clarke leads the group, pack heavy on her back, filled with medicines and other necessities the Ark could spare. She walks alone for a few moments, Raven is at the back riding in one of the wagons Lexa has gifted them with, the rest of her friends mixed in with the laughing group. She has a moment to wonder if this is what it will always be like now that she is leading them again, this time without a partner at her side. But then Bellamy is there, beside her, the smile on his face brighter and more free than it has been in weeks.
They fall into perfect step beside each other and, shoulder to shoulder, lead their people into a new world.
Luckily there is work enough to go around, and it keeps her busy, not just as camp doctor but also with the day-to-day tasks of fishing, gathering and building. Nia’s people visit for a few days at a time, teaching them how to build baskets for fishing, how to tie the tall grass that grows on the dunes into tight bundles that burn well along with the driftwood they gather.
There are patrols set up, despite the negotiated peace and the promise from the Ocean clan that there are no hostile groups for miles and miles, and more mundane shifts too – cooking, building outhouses, hauling laundry to a nearby stream and hauling fresh water back. Clarke takes a turn at all of them, and if she makes sure to never be on rotation with Bellamy or Nia well, that’s just a perk of being the boss.
It isn’t all avoidance and hard work though. There are happy times too, like when Jasper starts up a sing along at the dinner fire one night, or when Miller finds a hot springs in the woods and they all take turns having their first hot bath in what feels like years. Her friends are all around her again, and they are all healing with each day that passes – both physically and mentally. Even Raven’s leg hurts her less in the more temperate climate that seems to be holding steady along the coast, and her daily soaks at the hot springs don’t hurt either.
Things are good, Clarke thinks most days. Not perfect, maybe, not as good as she once might have secretly hoped they could be, but if losing Bellamy’s love was the price for all of this she can’t say he was wrong to have asked her to pay it.
Sometimes she catches Nia watching her across the fire, expression unreadable, and Clarke wonders what the other girl sees on her face. Hopes it isn’t the rawness of her still-broken heart shining through, or the scars of the past written over her, permanent if mostly invisible. Whenever she catches the look though Nia is quick to turn away, usually back to Bellamy, and so Clarke tries not to dwell on it.
Mostly she succeeds.
All she wants to do is put up this damn hook so she can hang her herbs to dry, is that so much to ask?
“Having a problem there princess?”
Of course this is when Bellamy would decide to appear, drawl heavy with a fond sort of mockery that makes her feel hot all over, though whether it is from embarrassment or frustration or something else entirely she doesn’t quite want to decide.
“Nope, doing fine,” she answers through gritted teeth, glaring at the ceiling and wondering how ridiculous she would look if she jumped to try and hook it in.
This is the first time he’s come to visit since they’ve moved in, the first time they’ve been alone in months, and she hates that she feels awkward around him in a way she never used to. Hates that she wants him to both leave immediately and stay forever in equal measure.
“Come on, don’t be like that,” he tells her, huffing a little in impatience when she holds the hook out of his reach. “Let me help.”
“I’ve got it, thanks,” she says maybe more rudely than she means to, but he’s so close now, the heat of him spilling into her space, and her heart is beating so loud she’s sure he’ll hear it if he doesn’t move away.
“Clarke, stop being so stubborn.”
He reaches around her then, gets her pinned against the wall of the hut, and pulls the hook from her hand with a cry of triumph. Only when he looks down at her with his win lighting up his eyes and a cocky grin on his face does he seem to notice how they’re standing, pressed close together against the curved wall of the hut.
“Uh,” he says, staring down at her, and she swears for a moment his eyes drift to her mouth. She licks her lips nervously and he flushes, red high along his cheeks as he turns his eyes to the wall instead.
She is suddenly tempted to kiss him, which is definitely not allowed, so instead she makes herself push against his chest until he steps away, his eyes drifting back to her face now that there’s a little more distance between them.
“My hook?” she asks, holding out a hand for it when he continues to just stare at her dazedly. He looks down at the object in his hand and seems to come back to himself, shaking his head a little like he is coming out of a dream.
“Where did you want it?” he asks and there is something softer in his voice now, which is even more dangerous than the teasing lilt from before.
She points at the ceiling above her make-shift shelves and he reaches up easily, tucking one end of the wire hook through the crosshatch of sticks so that it hangs down low enough for her to hang her herbs without assistance.
“Sure,” he says quickly, hands in his pockets now that they are empty and backing away from her and toward the door. “Anytime.”
“Was there something you wanted from me?” she asks, voice just as tentative as his own. This whole thing is weird, she hates that it’s weird, and she can’t stop thinking about the way he felt pressed against her, which is less weird and more frustrating.
“What?” he squeaks, face going redder and really refusing to look her way now.
“When you came in here?” she reminds him “Was there something you wanted?”
“Oh! Uh, not really. Just, um, coming to see how you were settling in.”
She can’t help the sink of disappointment in her stomach at this, not that she had actually expected him to show up after weeks of happy canoodling to declare his undying love or anything, but a friendly check up after so much time barely speaking still feels like a sting. “Well, I’m settling fine. So if that was all…”
“Yeah,” he agrees, “That was all.”
She turns to her shelves, starts puttering with the medical supplies stored there so she doesn’t have to watch him leave, but she can still sense him behind her, unmoving. Her shoulders are tight with tension, and she’s just about to say something probably stupid, possibly mean, just to break the silence when he sighs.
“I came because I miss you.”
Her heart is in her throat as she manages to choke out, “Oh?”
“Yeah,” he admits quietly. “We haven’t ended up on any shifts together, and I realized that might not be totally accidental. And I guess I just wanted to tell you that I hope you aren’t doing it for me, because you don’t need to. I’m good now, Nia and I are good, and so if you’ve been avoiding me to make things easier for me, well, don’t okay? I miss talking to you, and I’d hate it if we couldn’t even be friends.”
She keeps her eyes trained on the wall in front of her, cannot look at him and hide the threat of tears burning her eyes. She manages, though, to make her voice steady when she answers. “I miss you too.”
“Yeah?” he asks.
She wants to shake him, or hug him, or something. Wants to make him see that she hasn’t been avoiding him for his comfort but her own, that it isn’t a lack of desire for his company that has kept her away but a fear of what she might do with too much proximity. She realizes, all at once, that Bellamy never really believed she could have loved him half as much as she did, or he would know this already.
But it is too late to tell him, too late for any kind of confession that would only serve to hurt him more, and so instead she swallows past the lump in her throat and forces herself to turn and smile at him. “Yeah. I’ll see what I can do about getting a shift or two switched around, okay? I happen to have a little pull with the boss.”
He laughs at that, a sound she has heard too little of in their time together. “Okay.”
He does leave after this, smile easy on his face again and a wink thrown over his shoulder as he goes. She follows him to the door, watches his easy stride carry him to the center of camp where Nia is teaching some of the younger kids how to build up the fire. He throws an arm around her shoulder, presses a kiss to the side of her head, and Nia beams at him so brightly Clarke has to look away.
“I don’t hate you anymore,” Octavia says eventually, knees tucked up against her chest and her arms wrapped around her thighs.
Clarke pulls her eyes away from the water, rests her cheek on her own knees. “It would be okay if you did,” she says quietly.
Octavia’s expression twists up grumpily. “I know that.”
“Okay,” Clarke says.
“It’s just,” Octavia pauses, bites her lip in a way so similar to her brother that Clarke feels a pang in her heart. The look she gives Clarke when she finds her words again though is pure Octavia. “When you sent him to the Mountain, you broke his heart,” she says without mercy and Clarke accepts the lance of pain because it is true, and she deserves that much. “And when he came back, he was broken,” Octavia continues.
Clarke knows she doesn’t mean just physically, knows better than maybe anyone just how damaged she had left him. “I know,” she says softly.
“I know you know.” Octavia sighs. “When we left Camp Jaha to come here to negotiate for land I didn’t think he was ever going to get over you, and I hated you even more, for taking him from me and then throwing him away like he didn’t matter. But, eventually, he started to heal.”
Clarke knows this too, tries not to picture Nia’s pretty face.
“And then we came back,” Octavia is continuing, slower now and looking at Clarke like she can read the secrets in her heart, “And I realized that maybe his heart wasn’t the only one that got broken.”
Clarke has to look away again, the words scraping sharply inside her chest. She fixes her eyes on the steady rise and fall of the waves before her, concentrates on matching her breathing to the swells until it doesn’t hurt quite so much.
“I’m sorry,” Octavia tells her sincerely, and Clarke doesn’t think she means for speaking the truth or for hating Clarke before.
“Not your fault,” she answers.
“I know that too,” Octavia insists, “But it sucks, for the both of you, and I’m sorry it does.”
They sit in silence again, though there is a companionship between them now that hasn’t been present in a long time and which Clarke finds vaguely comforting. She has missed Octavia, too, after all.
“Is he happy?” she asks eventually, because if anyone would know it’s O and Clarke somehow needs to hear the answer even if it hurts. “With her?”
She feels Octavia shrug beside her, unable to look her in the eye as she waits for the death knell of her hope. “Honestly? I don’t know.”
It isn’t the answer she expected, and Octavia seems to sense this because she shrugs again, before leaning back on her arms to gaze up at the stars in the sky instead. “When we were up there, on the Ark, before everything went to hell, I thought we were happy, that he was happy. But since coming down here…I’m not so sure I even know what happiness means anymore.”
“Me either,” Clarke admits.
Octavia gives her a half smile, sad and understanding, before turning back up to the sky. Clarke lays down beside her eventually, and they watch the stars bright above them and farther away than ever.
It is still hard, at first, as they awkwardly work out how to be around each other again, finding a new path through old habits and past hurts. There are times, especially when they are on nighttime watch together, sitting shoulder to shoulder at the edge of camp and talking in hushed voices so as not to wake anyone, that it feels like it might kill her to keep doing this – to keep pretending not to be in love with him. But eventually it gets easier, and she remembers that before they even liked each other they worked well together, and before love got anywhere near her mind or heart she had learned to genuinely enjoy his company.
She still makes sure none of her shifts are with Nia, not quite ready yet to try and forge a friendship there, and if Bellamy notices he doesn’t mention it for which she’s grateful. Clarke had worried, too, that he would want her to form a relationship with the other girl, to bring them all closer as friends, but when they are together these days Bellamy hardly even mentions Nia at all. Clarke refuses to let herself read into this, though, because at the end of every evening Bellamy and Nia still go back to their hut together.
Yet, despite her best efforts not to Clarke can’t help sometimes but catalog the sound of his laugh when he’s with her versus the sound of it when she sees him grinning with Nia across the fire during dinner. Can’t help but try to quantify the way he looks at the other girl, trying to find in his gaze the spark she used to see when he looked at her once upon a time (the one she swears she sees sometimes directed her way still, mostly when they’re in the middle of a really good argument). She reminds herself of the dangers of wishful thinking, and tries to make herself move on and let go. Bellamy has, and it is time she does too.
She tries, really. When she’s on laundry duty with Miller she tries to admire his strong arms working the soap into their clothing, tries to make herself picture them wrapped around her waist and pulling her in close. It doesn’t work too well though, and eventually Miller asks her to stop staring at him with a tired look on his face like he knows what she’s doing. She blushes and doesn’t look at him again for the rest of the day.
Clarke watches Monty adjusting the still and fiddling with the old gramophone he’s found in the woods, and tries to picture his deft fingers against her skin but he is too familiar to her, already firmly in his place in her heart as friend and family and nothing more.
She even tries to see if she can feel that way about Raven, who she loves more than anyone here besides Bellamy already – who she loves as much as Bellamy really, though in her own way. After all, Raven is beautiful and smart and capable and angry enough to fight with her sometimes which is nice. But in the end, after one moonshine-aided kiss, Raven tucks her into her bed and tells her to stop forcing something that isn’t there, even if it is very flattering to her ego.
So eventually Clarke gives up on the moving on part, and instead focuses on learning to live with the way that she feels. This, too, gets easier and after nearly two months in their new home she finds that loving Bellamy isn’t as sharp a pain in her chest any longer. It is, instead, simply a part of her, a buzzing beneath her skin and a sureness in her heart that feels permanent in a way that is no longer quite so painful.
All of the Ocean clan are invited, and they spend the week before fishing, gathering, and cooking for the event. Monty even brews up a double batch of his moonshine – enough to get them all completely hammered – and they are all well into their cups before the sun sets.
Clarke hovers at the edges of the celebration for a while at first, making sure there are no tensions or missteps at this first real mixing of their groups. Eventually, though, Harper pulls her in to one of their drinking games and from there the night gets a little more fuzzy. She knows at one point Octavia tries to teach her one of the grounder dances, knows she spends some time with her head on Jasper’s shoulder laughing at a joke they both end up forgetting, and that she’d cheered with the rest of them when Wick had finally dipped Raven backward and kissed her.
Eventually the fire and the crowd get too hot though, and she wends her stumbling way back out to the edges before turning towards the dunes.
These have become one of her favorite places of late, the shifting sands holding the warmth of the day long after the sun has set and the vantage point perfect for watching the tide change or the stars rise. She usually finds herself out here alone, most of the others liking to stay closer to camp at night, but tonight when she wobbles up the rise of the tallest dune, the one she thinks of as hers especially, she finds someone already sitting in her spot.
Bellamy turns as she approaches, and his smile is crooked and eyes bright from the moonshine too.
“Hi,” he says grinning at her and patting the sand beside him. “Care to join me?”
She feels like she ought to know this is a bad idea, but can’t for the life of her remember why, and besides she is tired from the walk and not so sure she can stay upright much longer anyway. So she sits beside him, shivering a little when a breeze kicks up from the water. He puts an arm around her, and this too feels like something she ought to protest, but he is warm and solid at her side so she just scoots closer and rests her head against him.
“Having fun tonight, princess?” he asks, old familiar nickname making things feel more unclear in her mind. Still, she nods, feels his cheek come to rest against her hair when she stops moving again.
“Do you remember Unity day?” he asks her after awhile, his voice a murmur that she feels as much as hears.
She fights through the comforting warmth of him to pull up the memory, of a day that had started off happy and ended up sad, like so many of the ones that came after. “Which part?” she asks, “The getting drunk part or the failed meeting with the grounders part? Or maybe the bit where I thought my mom died?”
“Oh,” he says sounding surprised, “I forgot about that last part.”
“Lucky you,” she mumbles but there is no heat behind it, she is too comfortable and happy here to be upset by events that seem like a lifetime ago.
“It was the first part I was thinking about, before everything went to shit.”
“The me being drunk part?” she asks confusedly.
“The you being happy part,” he corrects, arm tightening around her a little. “I was thinking about how that is one of the last times I saw you really smile.”
Clarke wants to correct him but can’t for the life of her think of a single time she’s felt that carefree since.
“I remember watching you,” he continues, drawing her back to the moment. “You were playing some version of quarters, with Sterling and some other kid. I’m pretty sure you were winning, you looked so fucking happy, and I remember thinking you were maybe the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
Clarke feels herself still, her mind clearing, sobering, just a little as he speaks. His words are like a heavy ache in her chest, like the weight of tears building up behind her eyes, spreading a warmth that doesn’t belong to her through her stomach and out to her fingers and toes. “Bellamy,” she says, doesn’t know if it is a plea or a warning.
He doesn’t move though, doesn’t look at her, and when he chokes on a laugh she thinks she can hear the weight of it heavy on his heart as well. “You’re still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen Clarke.”
She has never felt both more happy and more sad in one moment than she does in this one. She wants so much for him to mean those words, for those words to mean something for them, but they can’t. Because Nia is somewhere in camp, laughing and happy and waiting for him to come back. And because Bellamy doesn’t want this anymore, not really. He’s feeling drunk and nostalgic, and she would be a truly awful person to take advantage of that even if she desperately wants to.
“You’re drunk,” she says gently, disentangling herself from him at last and moving to her knees in front of him so she can see his face. “You don’t mean that.”
“I do,” he tells her, and he’s staring at her with so much sincerity she almost believes him.
It is enough to soften her resolve for a moment, after all she’s rather drunk herself, and she reaches forward to frame his face in her hands. He closes his eyes, makes another choked off little sound, half sad half wanting, and presses his cheek against her palm. She wants to tell him that she still loves him, wants to tell him that some days she thinks he is the only really beautiful thing on this whole forsaken planet, but then he opens his eyes again and she sees in his gaze the traces of heartbreak she put there not so long ago. So she swallows her words, presses a gentle kiss to his forehead instead, and then stands, extending a hand to him to help him up after her.
It takes some pulling but she gets him up, finds herself being hugged and hugging back suddenly, nose buried in his neck and the scent of him familiar and heartbreaking all at once. Before she can get lost in it he pulls away though, slings an arm around her shoulders and turns them toward camp.
They separate before they reach the light of the fire, Bellamy’s fingers drifting down her arm as she steps away until the connection is broken. He watches her for a minute, looks like he wants to say something, but in the end he just gives her another crooked smile and turns into the crowd.
Clarke turns away too, not feeling like celebrating anymore.
“What’s going on?” he asks, curious but not yet suspicious as he props his rod and basket up against the wall outside the door. “Are you leaving early for your visit home?”
“Sort of,” she tells him, shoving the last few items in her pack with a sigh before turning to look at him fully. He realizes, then, that she has packed entirely too much for a standard trip, that in fact it looks as if she has removed all traces of herself from the hut, and so the dread is already curling in his stomach when she says. “We need to talk.”
“About what?” he asks, hates that the dread is now joined by guilt, hates that he already knows what this is about because he’s pretty sure that makes this all his fault.
Bellamy isn’t sure what to say to that, even knowing it was coming. This isn’t the first discussion they’ve had about Clarke, after all. In fact, before they ever became a couple he and Nia used to talk about their pasts, and Clarke was obviously a recent part of his so Nia has known all about the history there since before they even kissed.
Since they’ve moved in here together, Clarke has been a more and more frequent topic too. At first it just seemed like genuine curiosity – Nia was trying to fit in here after all, with his people, and with Clarke as their leader it seemed only natural that she would want to know about the other woman. But over time the discussions have more frequently become arguments, about how much time he spends with Clarke, about what he feels about her, about what Nia thinks Clarke feels about him. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times he tells Nia that door is closed firmly behind him, she never seems to quite believe him. It probably doesn’t help that he isn’t sure he believes it himself, most days. But he’s been trying.
“What about Clarke?” he croaks.
“You say she is your heda, and your friend,” Nia says, voice quiet and sad, “But Bellamy, she is more than that. She is your heart. And I cannot compete with that. It’s time I stop trying.”
“It isn’t a competition!” he insists desperately, though he can feel the truth of her words echoing in his chest.
“You’re right,” she tells him and when she looks at him this time he can see their ending in her eyes. “It isn’t. Which is why I am going back to my village, to my people. And why you should go to her.”
Bellamy doesn’t know what to say, and his lack of words seems to be more telling to her than anything.
“I thought, at first, that with time she would be truly part of your past,” she tells him, “I thought that maybe you could learn to love me, to love the life we could build together. But the longer I am here the more I see that it will always be her, whether she returns your feelings or not, for you it will always be her.”
There is no anger in her voice this time just sad acceptance. He tries to come up with an answer for her, tries to come up with a refutation, but he can’t.
“I thought we were happy,” he manages, though he isn’t sure if even that is totally true.
“We were,” she agrees, “At times. You gave me a whole new view of the world, Bellamy Blake, and I like to think I helped to heal your heart. But if we keep doing this we won’t be happy anymore, and I would like us to part as friends.”
He looks at her hopelessly, because he cannot argue with her, isn’t even sure he wants to as guilty as that makes him feel. She smiles kindly at him, though her eyes are still heartbreakingly sad, and kisses his cheek. “Thank you, for all you have given me,” she tells him.
There is a moment when he knows he could make her stay, if he wanted. He could offer to go with her to her village instead, could tell her he loves her and only her, could convince her that Clarke has no place in his heart let alone being all of it. There is a hesitance in her to pull away and if he wanted he could seize that and keep her here with him. Instead he lets the moment slip by and instead takes her hand in his and says, “Goodbye Nia. And thank you, too, for giving me back myself.”
Her smile wavers under tears for a moment but she breathes deep and steadies herself in a way that reminds him so much of Clarke it is suddenly very easy to see why he chose this girl. The comparison would not be one she would welcome at the moment, he thinks, despite how kind she is being about it all, so he keeps his mouth shut and simply walks her to the door. She kisses him once more, a firm goodbye this time, and when she walks away he finds he does not miss her as vitally as he had expected, which is sad in it’s own way. Sad for her, that in the end he could not love her the way she deserved, and sad for him, that his heart is still tied up with a girl who will always have the power to destroy him.
“Where’s Nia?” she asks, tying off another bundle of the grass and tossing it on the pile. “Doesn’t she usually do the morning rounds with you?”
Bellamy bites his lip and turns out to look at the ocean like he’s avoiding meeting her eyes. “Nia went back to her village,” he says after a moment.
Clarke frowns. “For a visit? I thought she wasn’t making the trip for another week.”
“Um, for good actually. We, ah, we aren’t together anymore.” He says the words lightly, and keeps his face turned away so Clarke can’t even read his expression.
“Oh,” she responds lamely, hands pausing over the next bunch of grass.
He does turn to look at her then, and though he looks a little sad his grin is genuine and light. “Oh?” he mocks, laughing when she makes a face at him. “I tell you I just got dumped and all you have to say is oh? Jeez Clarke, I thought we were friends.”
Clarke is still staring at him dumbly, unable to really process his words as a million thoughts run through her mind, most of them selfishly joyful. His smile dims a little, and that more than anything brings her back to her senses. He’s just lost a person he cares about, this is no time for her to be losing herself in fantasies of some grand romantic moment. Besides, he’d said that Nia had been the one to leave, which means it can’t have had anything to do with any feelings Bellamy may or may not have for her. Right?
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks, pleased that she sounds concerned and friendly and not at all desperate for more information.
Bellamy shrugs a little, bends down to pick up a flat rock from the sand and tosses it toward the water. “Not really.”
Clarke isn’t sure what she’s supposed to say now, should she cajole him into sharing his feelings? Offer to hug him?
“Do you want to help me tie beach grass?” she asks, wincing as soon as the words are out of her mouth.
But he turns to her and smiles, bright again. “Sure.”
Every night, since Nia left, he has found her by the fire or at one of the communal tables and taken the place next to her while they eat, discussing the goings on of their camp, the needs of the group, plans for the future. It is so reminiscent of how they used to be, before everything went to hell for the umpteenth time, and Clarke is desperately thankful for it. It also makes her think too much about what it might mean, which is just the first step on a slippery slope to wanting it to mean more than it does, and she tries very hard not to take that step. It should be enough, having him present like this again in her life. It should be enough.
But the thing is, it isn’t just dinner.
Suddenly Bellamy seems to be everywhere she turns, helping out at the clinic, joining her for her nightly patrol, helping her to stoke the cooking fires and give swim lessons and teach basic botany skills to the gathering groups. He’s always around, with his smiles and his hands and his general competence at everything, making her feel flushed and off kilter. She’s pretty sure he knows it too if the smug grins he gives her are any indication.
It’s driving her crazy, but she’ll be damned if she’s the one to bring it up between them. She isn’t going to ruin whatever new phase of friendship they’re entering by spilling her unrequited feelings all over him. Not even if there are times when she isn’t so sure they are unrequited.
Like when he offers to rub her shoulders after they haul in a fresh pile of driftwood for the fire. Or when he trails after her on her nightly walk out to the dunes, bringing along a blanket for them to lie on together while looking at the stars. Or all the hundreds of times he stands a little too close, smiles a little too bright, lets his touch linger a little too long. She hasn’t slept properly in over a week, tossing and turning in bed at night with thoughts of him (some more aggravating than others, when they heat her from head to toes and follow her into her dreams until she wakes up so full of wanting it nearly makes her scream).
She thinks sometimes about pushing his boundaries, too. About letting her fingers linger on his when they pass off tools or weapons, about resting her head on his shoulder when they are sitting around the campfire, about stepping in close and letting her eyes rest heavy on his lips when she says goodnight. She doesn’t though, because he’s the one that put the boundary between them and so he’s going to have to be the one to break it.
He doesn’t break it, yet. But he sits next to her every night at dinner.
Clarke herds the younger kids into one of the huts furthest from the shore, sets Harper and Jasper to entertain them and leaves Miller on guard. She hurries through the rest of the camp, helping to batten down the hatches and keeping a wary eye on the ever-encroaching sea. The Ocean clan had assured them the waves would not ever reach up so far as their ring of huts, but Clarke isn’t about to just trust their lives to that promise. Luckily so far the water seems to still be far enough back, though the waves are violent and choppy, normally blue green water turning gray and frothy under their churning power.
When everything is as secured as it is likely to get, she runs through camp one more time doing a head count. Bellamy is out with a group of six, hunting in the forest, but everyone else should be back at camp by now so when her count turns up one short she feels an icy chill, that has nothing to do with the sudden downpour of rain, shoot through her.
“Where’s Rose?” she asks Jasper, returning to the hut where he is singing with the children and having to almost shout over the storm. His gaze darts around the room, looking for their youngest member’s red hair, and when he turns back to her his eyes are wide with fear.
Harper joins them, noticing the sudden tension. “Who’s missing?”
“Rose,” Clarke tells her, anxious to be back outside and searching. Harper stops her with a hand on her arm.
“Rose gets scared, sometimes,” Harper tells her, sounding frightened herself. “When she is she likes to go down to her ‘special spot’ by the water.”
Clarke heart stops in her chest. “Where?” she asks sharply.
“The rock, down at the end of the dunes,” Harper tells her quickly, “The one that juts out into the ocean.”
Clarke is running before Harper finishes speaking, heart in her throat and panic fueling her more than anything. The girl catches up though, soaked through from just her few seconds outside, and thrusts something into Clarke’s hands. It’s an old life vest, gifted to them by the Ocean clan to use in teaching their people to swim. “You might need it,” Harper tells her, and Clarke nods her thanks before sprinting off again.
The sand is shifting and heavy beneath her, slowing her down, and she growls in frustration as she tumbles down the last of the dunes just as lightning breaks through the clouds over the water, lighting up the horizon. In the flash Clarke sees her, a tiny figure huddled out on a spit of rock now surrounded totally by water. Clarke tugs the vest around her shoulders as she runs, tightening the twine used as a makeshift belt around her waist and kicking off her shoes, and when she gets to the water’s edge she doesn’t hesitate before diving in.
She isn’t the strongest swimmer, even after all this time, but she manages to fight her way through the waves and out to the rock though her breath is coming in short, hard bursts when she drags herself back out of the water. Rose has seen her coming, hurries to her side with tears in her eyes and her face as white as a ghost from fear.
“Clarke, I’m sorry,” she sobs “I shouldn’t of come out here but I got scared.”
“It’s okay,” Clarke manages, fighting to put a smile on her face even as she catches her breath. “I’m here now, we’re gonna get you back to camp safe okay?”
Rose nods, and Clarke feels at least a little relieved that the girl isn’t catatonic with fear.
“Put your arms around me, okay?” she says, “You’re going to hold on tight and I’m going to swim us back to shore.”
The girl does as she’s told, tiny arms wrapping around Clarke from behind and clinging to her back tightly as Clarke scoots back down the rock to the water. She doesn’t even push off, though, before she realizes this isn’t going to work. The combined weight of them is too much for the vest, and every time she lets go of the rock she can feel them starting to sink. Without the floatation Clarke knows she’s not a strong enough swimmer to get herself to shore, let alone the both of them. She fights off despair, willing her mind to come up with another solution as she drags them back up to the rock.
“Why aren’t we going?” Rose asks, her voice a frightened hiccup as Clarke encourages her to release her hold.
“It will be faster if I have you use the vest,” Clarke lies, “That way you can swim yourself, and I’ll follow you.”
Rose, at least, is a good swimmer. If she goes now, before the waves get higher and with the vest to aid her she has a good chance of making it.
“I don’t know,” Rose says uncertainly.
Clarke forces another smile, pulling the vest off and placing it around the girl’s shoulders, tying it tight. “You can do this Rose, I know you can. You just have to be very brave okay?”
“Okay,” Rose agrees, voice still shaky.
“And when you get to shore, you don’t even look back okay? You just run all the way to the camp and find Miller.”
“What about you?” Rose asks, crying again.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Clarke promises.
Rose nods, and they are out of time. Clarke hurries her down to the water again, helps lower her in, and gives her a push in the right direction.
“Swim!” she shouts, sighs in relief when Rose starts kicking, her progress towards shore slow but steady.
It seems to take forever, and twice a wave crashes over the little girl’s head and Clarke is sure she’s lost, but each time she bobs back up and keeps kicking. Clarke wants to cry, from pride and fear, love and despair, all at once. When Rose finally reaches the sand, dragging herself ashore and running for camp just like she was told Clarke realizes she is laughing with relief, and can’t seem to stop.
It’s shock, she’s pretty sure, but she manages finally to calm her breathing enough to drag herself further up the rock, teeth chattering in the cold as she remembers just how wet she is and how hard the wind is blowing. The storm is raging around her, and it doesn’t seem like very long before the waves are lapping at her feet on the rock even when she tucks them higher, but Rose is safe and that is all that matters.
She is pretty sure she’s going to die, and has enough medical knowledge to know that drowning isn’t going to be a pleasant way to do it. Maybe it won’t be so bad though, she thinks, the letting go part at least. Maybe she’ll be lucky, and it will be like falling asleep, with no more worries, no more sadness or loneliness or regrets. She’s not sure if she believes in an afterlife, but if it exists at least she’ll be in good company. The thought makes her smile despite her chattering teeth. Maybe it will feel like going home.
The water is up to her waist, and it’s only her hand shoved into a crevice in the rock that keeps her from floating away as the waves break against her. She lies back, feeling more tired than cold now, holds on and lets herself float. Thinks about how much longer she can do this before she lets go. There is another strike of lightning above her, the whole sky turning white, and she wishes she had at least gotten to tell Bellamy that she loved him, even once, before the water washes over her face and she sinks into the ocean’s embrace.
He finishes expelling the sea from his lungs and then he’s dragging her closer, turning her so he can see her face, even as he continues to gasp in deep gulps of air. His fingers are icy against her skin as they rush over her, touching her arms and chest, face and hair, like he has to make sure she’s all still here. Finally he takes her face between his hands, his eyes a little less wild though still hot and dark with emotion, holding on a little too tight.
“You’re okay,” she says, her fingers coming up to wrap around his wrists, to feel the realness, the solidness, of him under her hands.
“That’s supposed to be my line,” he jokes weakly, and then she’s crying and he might be crying too, and she’s wrapped up in his arms and everything feels safe and right again.
“What the hell were you thinking!” he croaks eventually, voice raw as he pushes away enough to look her in the eye.
“Rose was out there,” she says, which is answer enough really. He looks like he wants to argue, like he wants to yell at her for risking herself, but she knows he would do the same, and he knows that too. Instead he hugs her close again, like he’s never going to let her go. Clarke is okay with that, actually.
“Don’t ever do something like that again,” he whispers. “Promise me.”
“I promise,” Clarke says, even though they both know it’s one she would break in an instant, to save one of their people. That isn’t the point of the promise though, and they both know that too.
For a long time he just holds her, and they ignore the sand and the wind and the cold, just pressed tight together on the beach like they’ve found the last safe harbor here together.
“I’m sorry,” he says eventually, heart in his voice as he speaks the words against her hair.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” she argues, confused at the words.
“No, not for this.” He pulls back again though he doesn’t go far, and his expression is serious as he looks at her. “I’m sorry that I told you I didn’t want to love you anymore.”
“Oh,” she breathes, unsure of how else to answer.
“It was stupid,” he continues, his mouth tilting up a little at the dumbfounded expression she must be wearing. “I thought I could get over you, that it would be better for the both of us, but I was wrong. I never did stop, no matter how hard I tried, and you could have died without knowing that.”
Clarke starts to laugh and Bellamy’s face goes from sincere to grumpy in two seconds flat. “I confess my love for you and you laugh at me?” he grumbles, which only makes Clarke laugh harder, until she’s choking again.
When she gets her breath back she grins at him. “I thought the same thing,” she says through her smile, “I was out there on that rock thinking I was going to die, and the only regret I had was that I never got to tell you how much I love you.”
Now it is Bellamy’s turn to look shocked, though it quickly fades to a hopeful smile. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “I love you, even if you are an idiot sometimes.”
“Well good,” he tells her, grin too wide now to contain, “Because I love you too, even if you are a shitty swimmer who doesn’t know how to keep herself safe.”
She smiles back and then he’s kissing her, lips salty and cold against hers, and she doesn’t even mind the taste of brine between them because his tongue is warm and his arms are tight around her and she can feel his heart beating against her own.
They break apart at a shout from down the beach, Miller running toward them with Jasper and Octavia in tow, and then they’re being piled on top of by the three, all of them laughing and crying all over again. Eventually they get themselves together enough to stand and walk huddled together back to camp to change into dry clothes and get warm. Rose is there too, happy and dry, and Clarke hugs her tight before Bellamy reclaims her arms for himself.
Later, after the storm breaks and they’ve had hot broth forced down them to warm them from the inside out, Clarke and Bellamy walk back out to the dunes hand in hand. The sun breaks out from the clouds just as they crest the highest hill, sparkling brilliant and blinding off the water. It isn’t nearly as beautiful as the smile Bellamy gives her though, and Clarke thinks for the first time that love isn’t pain at all.