If I told you a secret, you won't tell a soul,
Will you hold it and keep it alive?
‘Cause it's burning a hole,
And I can't get to sleep, and I can't live alone in this life.
He burst into the medbay, bringing in the cold with him. Jackson frowned, but Clarke spared a glance from her patient to smile briefly at him. “What’s up?” she asked.
“The people from the Ship made their demands."
She nodded. Wells wasn’t on the council yet, but he would be eventually, and he’d been invited to join them in their meeting that morning with the leaders from the Ship. “I figured they wouldn’t beat around the bush,” she said. “So. What is it they want?”
He didn't reply.
She glanced at him. "What?" The look on his face wasn’t right. “What is it?” she asked. “What did they ask for?”
“You, Clarke." He swallowed visibly. "They want you.”
It didn’t take her long to realize what he meant, and she didn’t wait to hear him say it.
Clarke stalked from the medbay, breaking into a sprint after a moment; she stormed into the Ark, into their apartment, and was face to face with her mother. “Tell me that Wells doesn’t know what’s he talking about,” she demanded. “Tell me that you didn’t agree to marry me off as soon as they asked you to.”
The look on her mother’s face was her answer. “Clarke.”
“No. Mom, no.” Her heart thudded in her chest, making her blood run too hot, too fast.
“It wasn’t something that we agreed to lightly, sweetheart; you have to know that.” Her mother was desperate, reaching for Clarke when Clarke started to shake her head. “I promise you that we didn’t expect this, and we tried to fight them on it. But they said this was it. Either we sealed the alliance with a marriage, or—”
“It doesn’t have to be me!” Clarke exclaimed.
“It does eventually,” she replied. “Clarke, you know that. The grounders use marriages to solidify their alliances, and you know that you—that eventually you were going to be asked to marry for an alliance. It’s the cost that comes with leadership. It’s what everyone expects from you with a mother on the council, and—”
“You made the decision to be on the council, Mom.”
“You can’t put that on me like it was never anybody’s choice,” Clarke said. “It was your choice, and now I have to pay for it? I’m not a leader, Mom. I didn’t sign up for this.”
Her mother stared at her with soft, wet eyes. “I know. I’m sorry. I hate this, too.” She paused. “But—but this way you at least get to stay with our people, Clarke.”
“What are you—? They aren’t our people!” Clarke exploded. “They might be from the Sky, too, but—” She shook her head. She couldn’t believe this. She knew that alliances on the ground were sealed with marriages, and she’d always assumed that Wells was going to end up in an arranged marriage. But she’d never thought her parents were going to ask it from her.
Her mother touched her arm. “Clarke.”
She jerked away, crossing her arms tightly over her chest. “I won’t, Mom. I won’t.”
It was quiet.
“We need this, Clarke. The grounders tolerate our existence. But they refuse to trade with us, and they are ready for a war with us at the slightest provocation, and the people from the Ship have a relationship with them. They’re in a position to convince the grounders to trade with us. To trust us. We need that. We need an alliance with the Ship, and this is what they want.”
Clarke stared at her. “Why does it have to be me?” she asked.
“They asked for you specifically. They insisted that we give them a show of good faith, and give them our—our princess.” It came out a whisper, and she went on hastily, reaching for Clarke. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said. “I am. I don’t want this, but—”
She wasn’t going to listen to this. She couldn’t.
She turned on her heel, ignoring the pleas from her mother.
Her father wasn’t easy to find, but she heard his voice at last, drifting from the tent that was set up in the center of the camp, the tent for the people from the Ship. Sudden, overwhelming hope rose up in Clarke. Her father was trying to save her.
She reached the flap of the tent, and the voices grew clear, distinct.
“—never agree to it,” said a woman. Clarke didn’t recognize the voice. “I know you believe that everything could be peace, love, and harmony if only we tried, but she’s never going to try. Her mind’s made up. I can’t change it for you.”
“You don't know that.” That was her father. “Just tell her—”
“Aurora, please,” he begged.
There was a broken, desperate note in his voice, and it scared Clarke. She’d never heard her father beg. If the woman replied, Clarke didn’t hear; she was startled when the flap was torn up suddenly, and a woman stalked from the tent. Her eyes caught on Clarke, and she paused.
She was younger than her voice made it seem, tall, thin, and pretty, wearing her long dark hair in a ponytail, and she looked at Clarke with a sharp, expressionless face.
“Excuse me,” she said, passing Clarke.
Clarke stared after her for a moment, only for her father to emerge from the tent.
He sighed when he saw Clarke.
“Tell me this doesn’t have to happen,” she said. “Tell me that you’d never agree to it, or that you convinced that woman not to ask for it. Tell me this isn’t going to happen.”
His face seemed to grow impossibly old, impossibly sad.
“Dad, no. Dad—!”
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said. “I’m not on the council. They won’t listen to me.”
Clarke stared at him. Tears built in her throat, and he reached for her. She stumbled away from him. That was it. Her parents were going to let it happen. That left Wells. She needed to find Wells, see if he might be able to sway his father. That was her last chance.
She didn’t sleep that night. She couldn’t, trying desperately to find a way to stop this.
The plan was for her to meet with those from the Ship in the morning.
If she got her way, that meeting wasn’t going to end in a marriage. She argued with her parents, listened to Wells argue with his father. But they were brushed off, told that it wasn’t a discussion. “What happens if I refuse?” she asked, and Jaha sighed at her, saying that wasn’t an option. Clarke tore into him, insisting that it was.
It ended when Kane broke in, snapping at Clarke to think about what this was for.
“We know you don’t want this, but this isn’t about you. This is about our people. They can’t survive another winter without help, Clarke. From the Ship, and from the grounders. This is how we get help. It’s asking a lot from you, but you can’t be so selfish that you’d doom everyone to save yourself.”
She looked at Wells, and he dropped his gaze. It was a blow to her chest.
If he were in her position, he’d agree to it.
She looked at her father, who opened his mouth, and she looked away quickly. “Fine.”
In the morning, she filed into the tent after her parents without a protest.
There was a table set up, and Clarke stood between her parents with Chancellor Jaha on the left, and the people from the Ship across from them. Clarke knew that the older, blonde woman was the leader; they called her Commander Sydney, stealing the title from the grounders. There were guards behind her, and a woman to her right.
Clarke recognized her. Aurora.
The Commander swept her eyes over Clarke, offering up a slow, warm smile. “I assume this is the lovely Clarke,” she said, holding out a hand. “Diana Sydney. I’m Commander of the Ship. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clarke.”
Clarke nodded, shook her hand.
That was sufficient for Sydney. She turned her attention to Jaha, and they confirmed that everything was agreed on. To begin their alliance, those from the Ark were going to provide the people of the Ship with medicine, radios, and guns. In exchange, those from the Ship were going to provide the people of the Ark with food, and an introduction to the commander of the grounders.
“It’s settled,” Jaha said.
“Yes. Now that leaves us to seal the alliance.” Sydney turned to Abby. “Aurora tells me that you want to give your daughter a choice in husbands. I don’t see a problem with that.” She looked at Clarke, and smiled kindly. “Obviously, we can’t let you have your pick from our camp. But we can give you a choice: my son, or my second’s son.”
It was silent. Was she supposed to choose right then, right there?
“Can I meet them?” she asked.
Sydney's smile widened. “Of course, dear. Both accompanied us to the negotiations. If we’re finished, I don’t see why you can’t meet them right now.”
She was given a minute to return to her apartment to freshen up. She grit her teeth rather than glare at Sydney, but she went to her apartment, and she changed into a sweater and jeans; it wasn’t much, but it was better than the scrubs she’d had on for the last two days.
She re-braided her hair, too. There. She’d made an effort.
Honestly, she didn’t know what to expect from these boys.
She was a toddler when everyone came to the ground. Some made the trip in the Ship, and others came when the Ark was brought down. The split didn’t happen until everyone was on the ground: half the people chose to stay with the Ark, living under the council, and half the people chose to create a settlement at the Ship.
Clarke didn’t know what the circumstances that surrounded the split were.
But she knew that the groups weren’t friendly; communication between them was sparse.
She approached the tent to see that a boy stood near the entrance. She swallowed thickly, refusing to wipe her palms on her jeans when he saw her. He was attractive from a distance, and really, really attractive up close: thick yellow hair, dimples in his cheeks, and broad, stocky shoulders.
“Clarke,” he greeted.
“Hey,” she said. She didn’t know his name. But this could be her husband.
“Graham Sydney,” he told her, reaching out to shake her hand. If he cared that her hand was clammy, he hid it well. In fact, he held onto her hand for a moment, and his thumb brushed the back of her hand. “I know this is a little awkward, but it’s great to meet you.”
“Here.” He released her hand to pull something from his pocket: a small, square bottle of peach nail polish that he held out to her. She took it gingerly. “It’s for you,” he said, nodding. His lips twitched with a smile. “I thought this whole thing might throw you for a loop, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get you a present.”
“Thank—thank you.” She managed a smile.
“You’re welcome,” he said, smiling widely in return. “Do you want to go for a walk?”
She agreed, and they started to circle the camp. He started up a conversation about the Ark, asking her how things worked, and explaining what things were different at the Ship. He asked about her, too: what she liked to do, what she remembered about space.
They were nearly at the tent when she brought it up.
“Do you have a problem with this?” she asked. “I mean, having to be married off.”
He shrugged. “Not really,” he said, and he smiled. “Not now that I’ve met you. You’re gorgeous, you know.” He reached up, brushing the hair from her face.
She froze, startled.
But his smile didn’t waver. “It was nice to meet you, Clarke. We’ll talk later?” He raised his brows hopefully, and she nodded, smiling tightly. He disappeared into the tent.
Suddenly, her mother was at her side. “How was he?” she asked, anxious.
Clarke blinked at her. “I don’t know,” she said. He hadn’t been as awful as he could have been, as she’d feared he would be. “Nice, I guess.” She fingered the nail polish in her pocket, and the heavy, anxious knot in her gut clenched, twisted, and grew. “Charming.”
Her mother nodded, murmuring that she’d see Clarke later, and Clarke didn’t realize why she seemed to leave as quickly as she came until she realized that another boy stood nearby, waiting for her attention. He was taller, and she guessed he was a little older, too.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m Clarke.”
He nodded. “Bellamy.”
He was attractive, too: tall, sporting a mop of dark, messy hair, freckles on his face, and a five o’clock shadow. But it was hard to look past the scowl that sat on his face, or how clearly uncomfortable he was right now, standing with tight shoulders, and crossed arms.
She didn’t really know what to say. “It’s nice to meet you,” she offered.
It was quiet.
“Well, um.” She cleared her throat. “Did you bring me a present?” she tried.
His brows drew up together. “Do you need a present?” he asked.
She flushed. “No, I wasn’t—” She shook her head. “Never mind. Do you want to go for a walk?”
He gave a curt, jerky nod, and she fell into step next to him. She wanted to look at him, to study his face, his posture, but she didn’t have a reason to look at him, and things were awkward enough already. She chewed on her lip, staring at her boots, and they walked in silence.
This could be her life for the next fifty years: scowling, and silence.
“Can I ask why you agreed to this?” she said at last. Clearly, he wasn’t happy about it.
“Who said I agreed to this?”
She huffed. “Right. Okay, then. Never mind.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
He sighed. “My mother told me to,” he said, and she looked at him. But his gaze wasn’t on her. She nodded. It wasn’t hard to recognize that his mother was Aurora. It made sense, and he looked like her, too, in the way that he seemed to carry his shoulders, in the tight, blank look on his face.
They didn’t talk for the rest of the walk.
But when the tent was in sight, he paused. She paused, too, looking at him in time to see him scrub at the back of his neck. “Look,” he started. “You wanted a choice, and now you’ve got one. If you don’t want to marry Graham, you can marry me, and I’ll—and I'll do right by you. I mean, I’ll—you’ll be my wife, and I’ll respect that.” He swallowed visibly, and that was it. He was done.
She blinked at him. “Okay,” she said. She nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”
He went into the tent, and Clarke went over everything in her head, knowing which she was going to pick before her mother appeared at her side to ask.
She was tempted for a moment to refuse completely. She stood at the table, looking at Commander Sydney, looking at that pleasant, expectant smile on her face, and anger squeezed at her chest. She wanted to wipe that smile off, wanted to say I choose neither. It’s off. I changed my mind. You can’t have me.
But her mother’s arm brushed her shoulder, and she wasn’t allowed to refuse.
“Bellamy,” she told them. “I’d like to marry Bellamy.”
Her choice was greeted with silence. Sydney stared at Clarke. Her warm, friendly smile was frozen on her face, and Clarke knew she hadn’t made the choice she was supposed to. But she’d made it, and Sydney nodded after a moment, remembering her smile, and breaking the silence. “Okay.”
Clarke was dismissed.
Her gaze flickered to her father, only to see that his gaze was on Aurora, and she heard his plea in her head. “Aurora, please.”
It wasn’t until she left the tent that she allowed her throat to close with panic, and tears to burn her eyes. But she wasn’t going to cry. Not yet. She curled her hands into fists. She didn’t need everyone to see her burst into tears, especially not Bellamy or Graham, who stood nearby, who stared at her when she passed, and watched her beat a hasty, stumbling retreat into the Ark.
She hid in her room through the afternoon, and into the evening. Her father knocked on her door, coming in hesitantly, but the lights were off, and she was in bed. He left.
It didn’t seem real. How could this be real? How could it have happened this quickly?
In the end, she got less than a week.
Four days, and that was it. Her time was up. There wasn’t a reason to wait.
Her mother owned three cotton dresses, and she offered to give Clarke her favorite, but Clarke refused. She didn’t need a dress to marry; this wasn’t exactly a wedding she’d dreamed up. But she took a bath, and allowed her mother to put her hair in some fancy, braided twist.
The ceremony was beside the large, communal garden.
Bellamy was cleaned up, too, and Clarke looked away quickly when she saw him reach up to rustle his hair, only for his mother to slap at his hand. He approached Clarke a moment later, and thrust a bouquet at her. She blinked in surprise, accepting it slowly.
She didn’t know where he’d gotten flowers in September. “What are these for?” she asked. Her breath rose to the sky in soft white puffs.
“I thought you wanted a present.”
She bit in a scoff. “I didn’t mean it to sound like I expected a present,” she started.
But her explanation was cut off when, suddenly, everyone was ready to go, and it was time for the ceremony. Mrs. Kane officiated, reading from her book, rambling about unity, the need to nurture the Earth that nurtures us, and love that brings life into being.
Clarke stared at her bouquet. She liked the little purple flowers. Sunflowers, right?
The vows were short, perfunctory; Clarke was asked to say I do, and she did.
There were rings, too: Bellamy’s fingers were warm against her hand when he slipped a ring on her finger, and she put a ring on his. They were instructed to kiss. His lips were dry, pressing against her mouth for a moment, and that was it. They were done.
She was a wife, and her husband was a stranger.
Thankfully, there wasn’t a celebration after the ceremony. There didn’t need to be. But it meant that when the ceremony was over, so, too, was her reason to stay in the camp. It was too much, too fast, but it didn’t matter. She was a sacrifice, and it was time for her to be sacrificed.
Nobody cared about the weight in her stomach, or the terror in her chest.
Her father pulled her into a hug, and she wanted to believe that he cared. But he allowed her to step from his arms, and she couldn’t look him in the eye. He wasn’t going to stop this. Nobody was. Her mother tried to give her a hug, but Clarke was stiff in the embrace.
She knew this wasn’t on her mother, but she couldn’t help it.
She hugged Wells. “Don’t hate her,” he murmured. “I was there when they dropped the bomb, and she argued with them for hours, saying you were only a teenager, and they couldn’t demand this. She loves you.” He paused, tightening his hold on her. “I do, too.”
She closed her eyes, clinging to him. “Don’t forget about me,” she whispered.
“Never,” he said. “Never.”
She pulled away from him, and it was time to go.
Bellamy told her it was going to take the afternoon to get to their camp, surprising her; she’d thought it was further. But it didn’t matter what the distance was, did it? They started off at a good, focused clip; the guards led the way with Graham, Commander Sydney went in step with Aurora in the middle, and Bellamy was at the back, walking with Clarke.
The trees grew thick around them, and the sounds from the Ark faded within minutes.
Bellamy nudged her shoulder, nodding his head to point, and she followed his gaze to see the top of the Ship where it rose above the trees. If he hadn’t shown it to her, she would’ve missed it entirely, and it surprised her when suddenly they were at the settlement; it seemed to emerge from nowhere.
From the start, the differences between the camps were glaring.
The walls that surrounded the Ark were more a fence than walls; they were stakes of wood, circled in barbed wire, and came up only to your waist. But the walls that bordered the Ship seemed to make the place into a fortress: they looked to be hobbled together from scraps, creating a thick impenetrable barrier that rose up to the sky, hiding the grounds of the camp from view. Guards stood on the wall, shouting at people within the camp to open the doors.
Her heart jumped into her throat, and she tried to school her features.
They weren’t greeted with the clearing in the woods that she expected.
Instead, the settlement was built around the trees.
She was surprised, too, at the size of the actual black, crashed ship: it was much, much smaller than the Ark was. She knew immediately that everyone in the settlement wasn’t able to live in it, which explained the small, brown cabins that spread through the trees like spokes on a wheel from the center of the camp.
The people were different, too.
They seemed younger, and louder, and darker with the sun, looking at Clarke with wide, curious eyes. She heard a laugh from above, and glanced up to spot a girl with long brown hair down her back, perching in a tree. Clarke smiled, earning a giggle from the girl.
“I thought you wouldn’t be back for another week!”
Clarke snapped her gaze from the trees in time to see a thin, pretty girl pull Bellamy into a hug. “I missed you, too,” he said, smiling. “Hey, um—” He stepped away from her, turning to Clarke, and the girl raked her eyes over Clarke. “This is my sister, Octavia,” he introduced. “O, this is Clarke. My . . . wife.”
Octavia nodded. “Wait, what?” She gaped at him, at Clarke.
“Surprise,” Bellamy said.
Aurora cut off his chance to explain, appearing at their side. She hugged Octavia, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, and looked at Bellamy. “We need to get a cabin ready for you,” she told him. “You can’t live with us when you’ve got a wife. How about the one behind the clinic?” She glanced at Clarke. “I assume you want to work in the clinic,” she said, and Clarke nodded.
She hadn’t thought about it, but. Yes.
Her mind was stuck on the words you’ve got a wife. She was a wife.
She was going to share a cabin with her husband.
Aurora asked Octavia to show Clarke around the camp in the meantime. She agreed, starting in on Clarke as soon as they were alone. “Okay, Princess. That’s the clinic, that’s the butcher’s. Follow that path, and you’re at the garden. Now what’s the deal? I thought the plan was for you to marry Graham.”
The way she said it annoyed Clarke.
“It was,” Clarke said. “But I wasn’t in on the plan. Neither were my parents. They agreed to marry me off, but they wanted me to have a choice, and the Commander agreed to it.”
Octavia stared at her. “Why’d you choose my brother?”
“It was him or Graham,” Clarke said.
“Right. So. Why’d you choose my brother?”
She didn’t know what to say. She knew her choice didn’t make sense. That usually she went for the sweet, charming boy, and that was Graham. But there was a color to his charm that she didn’t like, and there was the look on Bellamy’s face when he gave that speech, and “I liked him,” she said.
It took a moment, but Octavia nodded. “Okay. Come on. I’ll show you the kitchen.”
The sky grew dark within an hour.
Dinner was stew, and people grouped off with their food, sitting at the fires that burned in bins around the camp, or going into the cabins. Clarke sat around a fire with Bellamy, Octavia, and Aurora, slurping up the stew eagerly, and trying not to moan at the taste. She'd had venison before, but it'd never tasted that good.
She followed Bellamy to their cabin as soon as they finished with dinner.
“It’s not the Ark,” he said, and his voice was low, defensive.
It was smaller than the apartment on the Ark where she lived with parents, but there was a fireplace, and the cabin grew warm quickly after Bellamy started a fire. There was a table with chairs, a trunk, and a wardrobe, furs in a pile that she realized was meant to be a bed, and, under the window, a bookcase that was lined with books.
She was stunned. The library on the Ark didn’t make it the ground.
“Where did you find these?” she asked, brushing a finger carefully against the spines.
He shrugged. “I found a few in a bunker, traded with the grounders for a few.”
“Can I?” she asked, glancing at him.
“Um, sure, yeah. Yeah, of course.”
She pulled a book off the shelf. The cover was leather, and the book was bound with neat, looping stitches. “Did you do this?” she asked, opening the book. The pages were yellowed with age, and she turned them gently. The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.
“My mom used to be a seamstress,” he told her. “She taught me how.”
She looked at him and saw that he was focused on the fire, poking at it with a stick.
Her eyes drifted to the bed.
She looked away quickly. She took the book to the table, sitting with her back to the bed, to Bellamy. She heard when he climbed into the bed, but she didn’t move a muscle until the fire started to die, taking the light she needed to read, and allowing the cold to seep in.
She closed the book, and turned to look at the bed.
Bellamy was curled under a fur, facing the wall.
She toed off her boots quietly, and placed them next to where her bag sat on the trunk. She’d brought her pajamas with her, but she didn’t want to change into them now. She climbed onto the fur with her jeans, sweater, and jacket on, and confirmed to her relief that Bellamy was asleep, breathing slow, deep, and even.
She wanted to slip under a fur, but she didn’t want to wake him.
Instead, she curled up on the blankets with her back to him.
Suddenly, it was dark, and quiet, and everything was perfectly, frighteningly still.
Once when Clarke was a child, Kane visited the Ship. She listened to him on the night of his return, talking with her mother in the kitchen while Clarke was in bed. She didn’t remember a lot, but she remembered how he’d called the people of the Ship uncivilized.
Now that she’d seen their settlement for herself, she understood what he meant.
She curled her hands into fists. It wasn’t that she loved the Ark, but she missed it terribly in that moment, realizing that it wasn’t her home now. That this camp and this cabin were supposed to be her home, that this was her life now, and it was permanent. She felt the sob rise up in her chest. How did this happen? How did she end up in this bed?
She pressed her lips together, swallowing to keep her tears at bay. It didn’t work.
Her body shook with tears, and she began to cry, but she kept her mouth shut, staying as quiet as possible, and curling into a ball to try to keep the sobs in close. She told herself to stop, to take a deep breath. There isn’t a point in crying about it. But she couldn’t stop.
She must’ve fallen asleep eventually, but it wasn’t a heavy sleep.
The moment his weight on the bed shifted, she woke. Hands brushed her back, and she panicked, trying to even her breath in hopes that he’d think she was asleep. The fur moved, sliding out from under her, and she understood when he pulled it up and over her.
His hands brushed her side, tucking her in.
Then his back was to her, and the room was quiet, still.
The fur was soft, tickling her neck. She burrowed into it, and sank to sleep at last.
Breakfast an the Ark was always wide, flat pancakes with eggs. But there was bacon at the Ship, and Clarke tried not to shovel it in, wiping at the grease on her cheek.
He pushed his bacon onto her plate with his fork, and moved to his feet. “Do you know the way to the clinic?” he asked. She nodded, and he took off, leaving her to herself. Suddenly, it felt like every single eye in the camp was on her. She ate quickly, dropped off her plate at the kitchen, and started for the clinic.
The doctor was nice, showing Clarke around.
They started to sort through the supplies from the ark, and Dr. Adams explained that he wasn’t, in fact, a doctor. “But I used to work in the clinic on the Ark when it was in space, meaning I was the closest thing we had to a doctor when we started up at the Ship. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but it’s good to have you to help. Do you know a lot?”
“Not a lot. I was only an intern at the Ark.”
“That’s better than where I started from,” he replied. “I was the janitor.” He smiled.
He explained a lot to her that morning. That children were in school until fifteen, and that was when they took up a trade: cook, guard, smith, or the like. He talked about the livestock that they kept, and explained that the dogs she’d seen belonged to the guards. He made easy, light conversation, and a patient came in before long.
It was a boy around her age, complaining to his girlfriend that it wasn’t that bad.
“Shut up,” she replied. She turned to Clarke. “He twisted his ankle.”
Clarke nodded. “Let’s have a look at it.”
He sat, rolling up the leg of his jeans for her, and she frowned at his red, swollen ankle.
“I’m Finn,” he said. “You’re the princess from the Ark, right?”
“Nice to meet you, Clarke. I’m Raven, and it’s sprained, isn’t it? It’s sprained.”
Clarke turned his foot, making him wince, and she nodded. “It’s sprained.”
Finn sighed, and “you’re an idiot,” Raven said, turning to Clarke to explain how, exactly, that idiot sprained his ankle: "he scaled a tree to pick a flower, and lost his footing."
“It was for you!” he exclaimed.
“Did you fall on your ass for me, too?” she replied.
Clarke smiled. She wrapped his ankle for him, and found crutches for him to use, telling him he needed to stay off his foot as much as possible for at least a week. He started to protest, but Raven cut him off. “You work in the forge,” she said. “We’ll get you a stool. Thank you for this,” she added, looking at Clarke.
They were at the door when Finn called over his shoulder. “Nice to meet you, Princess!”
He flashed a grin at her, turning away before he caught her glare.
She liked the pair, but doubt crept up on her when they were gone. That was what people at the Ship knew about her, wasn’t it? That she was the princess from the Ark, and she was there because her people were desperate, and they used her to buy a friendship with the people of the Ship.
It made her want to stay in the clinic, hiding from everyone.
But her stomach growled when it was time for lunch, and she wasn’t going to hide.
She made her way across the camp to where the food was set up, steeling herself for the looks from everyone. She got her food, and turned to find a place to sit when she heard their shouts. “Clarke! Hey, Clarke!” Her gaze landed on two gangly boys, waving her to where they sat with big, matching grins on their faces.
She headed for them. “Hi,” she said, hesitant.
“Hey! I’m Jasper, and this is Monty. It’s Clarke, right?”
She nodded, and sat on the log across from them. They asked her about her day, and “you work in the clinic, right?” Monty asked. She nodded, asking where they worked. Monty worked in engineering, and Jasper in the greenhouse. They joked about their jobs, about their lives on the Ship, and they were fun.
She returned to the clinic after lunch, and Bellamy showed up when it was time for dinner.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“Good,” she said. He nodded. That was it. That was their conversation for the night.
They got their food in silence, and started to eat in silence.
But their silent, awkward dinner was interrupted suddenly when a high-pitched, giggling shout rang out, and children ran up to them, chanting for Bellamy, saying it was Friday, Friday, Friday, time for a story, Bellamy, time for a story! There were at least a dozen eager, buzzing children, vying for Bellamy’s attention; a girl with frizzy red hair in braids hugged his back while a chubby, toddling boy scooted under his arm to cling to his waist.
“Who wants to hear a story about Cleopatra?” Bellamy asked.
They cheered, jumping in circles for a moment before they settled at his feet.
It was like a flip was switched, and they were quiet, looking up at him.
He started to tell a story about Cleopatra, and Clarke smiled at the faces that he made to accompany the voices he gave the characters, the way that he gestured with his hands.
The story was good, and he was good at telling it.
It entranced the children; they stared at him with little, gaping mouths.
Their parents emerged from the dark to haul them off when the story was done, but a few escaped their parents to hug Bellamy, kissing at his cheek, and saying thank you when their parents told them to. The sky was black above them when they headed to their cabin at last.
“I liked your story,” she told him.
He nodded. “Cleopatra was a badass.”
He started a fire while she was at the pump behind the cabin, washing her hands, her face. But she was in the clothes that she’d come to the Ship in, and she wanted to change. She waited until he was at the pump, and she was alone in the cabin for a minute, hurrying to change into fleece pajama bottoms, a sweater that her mother knit, and fresh, clean socks.
She was at the table with her book when he came in.
Her back was to him while he changed, and she heard him collapse onto the bed.
Again, she waited until the fire started to die before she joined him under the furs. But it was easier to drift off that night, listening to Bellamy breathe steadily in sleep. Heat radiated off his back, and she thought sleepily that she’d done it. She’d survived a day.
It was easy to fall into a routine. She learned her way around the camp, started a schedule with Dr. Adams, making is possible for him to have afternoons off, and her to have evenings off. She started to learn, too, the ways that the Ship was different from the Ark.
There wasn’t a curfew. The guards were allowed to joke on duty, to talk to you.
Laundry wasn’t a detail at the Ship like it was at the Ark; instead, people did their own laundry, and Bellamy showed Clarke what to do, how to scrub your clothes, to rinse them, to ring them, and to line them up along twine that was strung up behind the cabin.
But his mood was sour for days after that.
It started when she told him that she didn’t know how to do laundry; he turned mean, and he became short with her, treating her like she was stupid, like she was useless. It made her angry, and it made her want to cry, and it made her angry that she wanted to cry.
She didn’t get it, didn’t get him.
They didn’t talk for a week. If he was going to be mean to her, she was going to be mean to him.
“Okay, you’ve been at the Ship for a month,” Jasper said. “How do you like it so far?”
“It’s nice,” Clarke said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone’s been really nice.”
Jasper nodded. “Bellamy told us to be.”
“Not that we wouldn’t have been otherwise!” Monty added.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Jasper said eagerly. “You’re cool.” He grinned.
She blinked at him.
In the month she’d been at the Ship, she’d gotten to know Bellamy’s friends.
There was Miller, Atom, Colin, and John, who were on the guard with Bellamy. Harper, who was quiet, and nice, and didn’t ask Clarke about the Ark constantly. Raven, who Bellamy liked, and Finn, who he didn’t. There was Octavia, too, and Jasper, and Monty.
Since the moment she’d met them, every single one had been truly, genuinely nice to her.
She asked Bellamy about his day at dinner that night.
He paused. “Good,” he said. He chewed his jerky. “How was, um, how was your day?”
Only a week later, she couldn’t find the plant that she needed for a poultice. She described it to him, and they left the camp that morning, traveling an hour to where a creek cut through the trees. She saw it immediately, growing in the mud along the bank, and slid down eagerly to get it.
They could’ve returned to camp at that point, but they didn’t.
They walked along the creek, stopped to have the lunch that they’d brought.
She told him about when she was little, and she used to sneak under the fence that circled the Ark, searching for treasure in the woods, and she kept a collection: feathers, and buttons, and stones, a spoon, a ring, a mirror with a handle and a pretty pink, pearly back.
“How old were you?” he asked.
She shrugged. “It started when it was eight. I went nearly every day that summer. After it got cold, I stopped. But I’d go every once in a while after that until I was, I don’t know, eleven? I couldn’t fit under the fence after that.” She smiled. “I didn’t learn until later that my father was in on it, and he’d follow me to keep me safe."
She didn’t want to think about her father, though.
“I used to do the same for Octavia,” Bellamy said. “Except that she didn’t bother to sneak out. She’d mosey on out, and I’d have to follow, and tell her not to touch the two-headed dear, or the weird glowing plants, or the giant hornet nest, ‘cause, you know, apparently, it wasn’t obvious that it was a bad idea to touch the giant hornet nest.”
“Did she listen to you?” Clarke asked, amused.
“Let’s not talk about the places I got stung.”
Clarke laughed. “She’s lucky to have you.”
“Tell her that,” he grumbled.
It didn’t occur to her to ask until later, returning to the ship. “How old is Octavia?” She looked at him curiously. She’d assumed that Octavia was around her age, but she couldn’t be. Octavia had to have been born on Earth, which meant that she had to be, what, fourteen? But that was crazy. She couldn’t be fourteen.
“Seventeen,” Bellamy said.
Clarke frowned. “How does that work?” she asked. Did Aurora adopt her?
He looked at her, and it took him a moment, but he realized what she meant. He sighed. “She was born in space. My mother didn’t have the heart to abort her like she was supposed to. She had her in our apartment, and we hid her under the floor for two years.”
It was quiet. She tried to imagine it for a moment, hiding a baby under the floor.
She looked at him. “Do you remember it? Space?”
“Not a lot,” he said. “I remember Octavia’s birth, and the trip to the ground.”
“Do you remember when the camps split?”
He glanced at her.
“I don’t,” she told him. “Nobody talks about it at the Ark.”
He nodded. “I remember,” he said. He paused. “The Ark wasn’t supposed to come to the ground. They didn’t know it could. But the Ship wasn’t going to be able to transport everyone to the ground, and they were forced to have a lottery to see who’d get to go, and who’d be left in space.”
She looked at him. Why didn’t she know this?
“People knew that was the way it had to be, but it, um, it got complicated. There were people who wanted to give every single child a ticket on, and people who didn’t, and there were people who thought the lottery was rigged to favor certain people. Doctors. Engineers.” He glanced at her. “The people with power, privilege.”
She stared at him. “Was it?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling humorlessly. “I was seven.”
She nodded. “What happened?”
“It got nasty, and a group said fuck it, and took the Ship. They detached from the Ark before they were supposed to, dooming the Ark, and those on it. That was when the people on the council figured out that they might be able to bring the Ark down, and they did. They had to. It was that, or die.”
“I came on the Ark,” she said.
He nodded. “You were supposed to come on the Ship. I wasn’t.”
“But you did.”
“I did.” He looked away from her. “The split didn’t happen on the ground. It happened in space. It happened when we got told to die, and, instead, we doomed you to die.”
“We didn’t, though. In the end, everybody made it to the ground.”
“Right. But that doesn’t change the fact that your mother is always going to look at the Commander, and see a villain, and that my mother is always going to look at the Chancellor, and see a villain.” He glanced at her, but she couldn’t read his expression.
She knew, though. She knew who was the villain to him.
She’d started to learn her husband in pieces.
She’d picked up facts about him, collecting them like feathers, stones, and buttons.
She knew that he loved history, and Octavia. That he was proud to be a guard, and toted a gun with him everywhere. That he loved apples, and he’d eat them dried, cut up, in a stew, or straight off the tree. That his freckles were darker in the sun, and that she liked the way the skin at his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
She knew that he despised the Ark, and the privilege he’d assigned to it.
But she thought he might like her.
It wasn’t a week after their trip to the creek that he came to see her in the clinic after lunch, which was a first. His cheeks were pink from the cold, but his temples were damp with sweat. She finished with a patient, and started for him. “What’s up?” He didn’t look sick, or injured.
“Got you a present,” he said.
“What? Why?” She blinked at him curiously, smiling a little.
“I thought you required presents.”
He grinned, presenting her with a small, metal key. “I found it in the woods.”
“I’ve never actually seen a key like that in real life,” she said, taking it from him. It was warm to touch; he must’ve had it in his pocket. “Thanks,” she added, and he nodded, clearing his throat a little, and left as quickly as he’d come, saying he’d see her at dinner.
December arrived, and Clarke woke up to find that the ground was dusted in snow, and it continued to fall in fat, fluffy flakes. It melted easily this time, but this was the start.
Three days later, the ground was frozen when it snowed, and it stuck.
Children were gleeful, running amok in the snow that piled up.
But the cold began to seep into everything, and everyone. There was a line at the clinic every single morning, and Clarke was faced with red noses, nasty coughs, and tired, pleading eyes. People were grumpy, and food was short, and everything was so, so cold.
Clarke piled on clothes, trying to keep the cold at bay.
It got to the point that she thought she’d never be warm again.
Bellamy tended to the fire throughout the nights, getting up periodically to prod it to life when it started to die. It was the coldest at night, yet that was when Clarke was the warmest, hiding under warm, heavy furs. Or that was the case at first. December faded into January, and it got colder out, and the cold snuck into the cabin.
It wasn’t her fault that she began to inch into Bellamy’s warmth at night.
For months, she’d kept to her side of the bed, and he’d kept to his.
But she was desperate to be warm, and Bellamy was a furnace, radiating heat.
It wouldn’t hurt to get just a little closer, to soak in just a little more. He might notice, but he wouldn’t say anything if he did. He was good at that, at not saying anything. She moved in little by little, scooting into his warmth inch by inch, and sighed at the feeling.
It woke her when he got up, and it took her a moment to realize he was at the fireplace, tending to the fire. Good. It’d gotten especially cold since she’d gone to sleep.
She curled up, closing her eyes.
He returned to the bed, crawled under the blankets, and pulled Clarke into his chest.
She tensed at his sudden, overwhelming closeness. “Go to sleep, Clarke,” he grumbled, but his arm loosened slightly, giving her the chance to slip away. She didn’t. He was warm, and he smiled like smoke, and soap, and that warm, familiar Bellamy smell, and she closed her eyes.
Bellamy hadn’t got his in, but she was a master at this. She rolled her shoulders, digging her heels into the ground, and swayed a little on her feet. Bellamy touched her hip to steady her, and held out the little plastic ball. She took it, narrowed her eyes at the cups.
“You got this,” he told her, and his breath fanned hotly against her cheek.
She nodded. Took aim, and tossed the ball.
It sailed in an arch, landing with a plunk in the cup in the middle.
The group around them roared their approval, cheering, and Clarke pumped a fist in the air in victory, tilting her head up to grin at Bellamy. He grinned, too, wrapping an arm around her shoulders from behind to pull her into his chest, and she leaned against him.
Raven thumped Jasper on the back, telling him to “drink up!”
Clarke raised her eyebrows at him.
“I see how it is,” Jasper said, downing the drink. “It’s on.” He pointed at her. “It’s on!” He tossed a ball, getting it in a cup, and slapped his hand in time with Monty. Clarke drank up. It was sweeter than alcohol at the Ark, and it settled warmly in her stomach.
It made it easy to forget that it was February, and freezing out.
Monty didn’t get his shot in, and Clarke whooped.
Bellamy kept her tucked into his chest when he took aim, and it bounced off a cup in the corner, and into the next. “Oh! Oh!” Clarke shouted. “Did that hurt? Did it hurt?”
Harper laughed while Jasper sighed loudly at Clarke.
Clarke sank her shot into a cup, making the crowd shout at Jasper to “send it back!”
There were parties at the Ark, but they weren’t like this: in the dark, in the snow, around a bonfire that leapt impossibly high, reaching for the white pinprick stars, loud, and drunk, and happy, dancing to music beat out on drums, and playing silly, stupid games.
Bellamy missed, but Clarke got her ball in, leaving the boys with two measly cups.
Jasper grabbed at his hair. “This is impossible,” he said. “It’s impossible to beat her.”
“We’ve got this, man!” Monty exclaimed.
“She’s a ninja!” Jasper hissed, turning wide, glassy eyes on Monty.
Monty grabbed his shoulders, and shook him. “Get it together, man!” he shouted. “We’ve got this! Don’t let her get in your head!” He stabbed at his head with his finger. “Her reign as the beer pong champ is coming to an end, man. We’re ending it! We’ve got this!”
“We’ve got this,” Jasper said, nodding. “We’ve got this. Let’s do it. LET’S DO IT!”
He turned to the table, bit his tongue between his teeth, and tossed a ball. It missed.
Clarke laughed, and Monty coached Jasper to “walk it off, walk it off!” before he missed his shot, too. Bellamy got his, and Clarke licked her lips, narrowed her eyes, and aimed. Jasper screamed to throw her off, but it didn’t work. The ball sank into the last, lone cup.
She threw her arms up at the cheers, stumbling into Bellamy’s chest.
He laughed, and she looked up at him. “I’m super good at this game,” she told him.
“I noticed.” He smirked.
Octavia grabbed Harper, pulling her up to play against them next. Octavia was better than her brother, but Harper was terrible. Still, it was close; once Clarke started to see in double, things got dicey. It came down to one cup versus one cup, but they took it home.
Bellamy got the shot that won, and Clarke smacked a kiss to his cheek.
“I think it’s time to call it a night,” Bellamy said.
She blinked at him, and sighed, nodded. “Fine.” She didn’t know when, but she seemed to have lost feeling in her fingers, and she was dizzy with the pull to sleep when she closed her eyes for a second. “But you might have to carry me. My legs seem to be off.”
She screamed a moment later when he scooped her up.
“Sleep tight, Princess!” Finn yelled.
She waved at him, and Raven laughed, making Clarke laugh, and her head lolled against Bellamy’s shoulder. Her gaze caught on Graham, sitting with a girl in his lap. He saw her, and he winked. She dropped his gaze quickly, unsettled. “I don’t like him."
“Who?” Bellamy asked.
“That clears it up,” Bellamy said.
The noise from the party seemed to fade abruptly, taking the warmth of the bonfire with it, and Clarke curled into Bellamy. It was funny, being carried like this. She liked it. “This is nice,” she told him. She closed her eyes, and she didn’t remember going to bed.
It figured that she was going to be hung over when Commander Sydney came to the clinic. Clarke hadn’t seen her in months, only to turn and find herself face to face with her.
“Commander,” she said, startled.
Sydney smiled. “Hello, Clarke. How are you?”
“I’m well,” Clarke said. “How are you? Is something the matter?”
“No, dear,” Sydney replied. “I didn’t come for your care, although I’m told it’s excellent. Actually, I came to check on you. I realized that we haven’t spoken since you came to stay with us, and I wanted to know how you’ve settled in. I hope things have been good.”
“Um, yeah. Yes. I’ve settled in, and things are good.”
“Good. Good.” Sydney smiled, and this time there was a bright, conspiratorial gleam in her eye. “I heard you enjoyed yourself last night,” she said.
“Oh, um.” Clarke flushed. “Yes. I did.”
Sydney laughed. “It’s good to be a teenager once in a while, isn’t it?” She brushed a hand over Clarke’s arm, and her face seemed to soften. “I know I told you this when you arrived at the Ship, but it can’t hurt to repeat it. If you need anything, I want you to come to me. I mean it. I want to the Ship to be home to you.”
Clarke nodded. “Thanks.” She paused, and Sydney saw. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Please,” Sydney said.
“Why did you want me? Why did you want to seal the alliance with a marriage?”
It was something that she thought about a lot. They demanded that the Ark give Clarke to the Ship in marriage, yet they hadn’t asked Clarke to do a thing for them since she’d arrived at the Ship, and it bugged her. What was the point? What did they want from her?
Sydney seemed to assess Clarke. “That’s how it’s done on the ground,” she said at last.
“Right,” Clarke said. “But we aren’t grounders.”
“I like to think we might be,” Sydney replied. “Just a little bit.” She smiled. “But I know it was a lot to ask you to leave your family, and your friends, and you deserve to know why. Marriage brokers peace between families, Clarke, and it’s my hope that it’ll broker peace between camps.”
“That’s what you want from me,” Clarke said. “To broker peace for you. That’s my job.”
Sydney smiled. “Your job is to make a life with us,” she said. “Make us your family, and the family you were born into might start to consider us family, too. That’s it, Clarke.”
Clarke nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Sydney echoed. “Have a good day, Clarke. Let me know if you need anything.”
The last, dreary days in winter brought their worst. Atom was the first to come to Clarke, complaining that his back was sore, and he thought he might have a fever, and she recognized the symptoms immediately. He was the first, but influenza was contagious.
In days, the flu seemed to swallow up the camp.
Clarke was ready, though.
She used a kerchief to cover her face, wearing it like a bandit.
She coached people to wash their hands thoroughly, put the sick to bed in the clinic, giving them fluids, and blankets, and cold, damp towels to ease their fever, and she stayed up through the night with the children, checking on them constantly, singing to them, having them sip at tea to help with their pain.
Aurora caught it early. Bellamy was a terror about it.
He adored his mother, and it made him that person.
“If she’s got a fever, isn’t the blanket going to make it worse?” he asked. She told him the blanket was for the chills, but he wanted to know what to do about the fever, and her cough seemed worse than it was supposed to be, which meant she might’ve gotten pneumonia, right?
Clarke sighed. “I’d know if it turned into pneumonia,” she said, “and it hasn’t.”
Didn’t he have a place to be, a job to do? Didn’t he need to be a guard, or something?
“What should we do for her pain?”
“Help make her comfortable, which I’ve done,” Clarke said.
He frowned. “What about moonshine? Murphy said—”
“Murphy isn’t a doctor,” Clarke replied.
“It couldn’t hurt to—”
She lost it.
“Out!” she yelled. “It doesn’t help your mother for you to hover, and harass me. Out!”
She began to push him to the door, and he scoffed, and grumbled, and reminded her that it was his mother, and she told him that it was her mother-in-law, and she yanked the door shut as soon as he crossed the threshold, cutting off his response. She sighed. There.
It surprised her when Aurora gave a soft, low chuckle.
Clarke smiled, and it was quiet.
She checked on the tea that she’d left to steep, and returned to Aurora, who sighed when Clarke pressed a cool, damp cloth to her neck, her cheek. She opened her eyes, looking feverishly at Clarke. “Has he been good to you?” she asked.
Clarke stared at her. “Yes,” she said softly. “Yes.” She smiled.
“Good.” Aurora coughed, and closed her eyes. “My boy,” she murmured.
The disease continued to spread wildly across the camp. Clarke was dead on her feet, but she hadn’t lost a patient yet, and she wasn’t about to. Aurora recovered, and Raven brought Finn in; he was surprisingly pliant, doing what Clarke told him to, and giving her big, feverish smiles.
“How’s the pain?” she asked, checking on him.
“I’ll live,” he replied.
She made him sit up to drink the tea, and he stared at her intently with red, tired eyes, and this flushed, dopey look on his face. “What?” she said, amused. She checked his fever.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Try to sleep,” she told him.
Two days later, Clarke lost a patient. He was older, and he died in his sleep. It set off a chain: a woman suffered a miscarriage at five months along, a two-year-old boy was next, dying in Clarke’s arms, and a man with two young kids died from complications with his heart.
She knew it could be worse.
Her mother told her once about that first, awful winter on the ground, how they weren’t prepared for the cold, and there wasn’t enough to eat, and the flu picked them off like flies. If it was bad at the Ark that winter, Clarke couldn’t imagine how terrible it was at the Ship.
Still. The fact that it could be worse didn’t make their deaths easier.
The exhaustion began to weigh on her, and Bellamy noticed. She knew she looked like a wreck, had circles under her drooping, bloodshot eyes, and it didn’t help that she hadn’t slept in their cabin in weeks. He started to bring her meals to her, and insist that she sleep for at least an hour in the afternoon, and longer at night.
But he was next to catch it.
He was healthy, and strong, and she knew he was going to be fine, but it made her panic slightly, seeing him on a cot in the clinic with a flushed, sweaty face. She checked on him more than she needed to, pressing her ear to his chest to hear him breathe in, breathe out. She sat with him, and ran her nails along his arms lightly; her mother used do that for her.
To her relief, he made it through the worst of the fever.
That was when she learned that if Bellamy didn’t have a fever to put him out, he was awful when he was sick. He complained about everything, turning into a bratty, petulant five-year-old with a cough.
Honestly, it was worse than when his mother was sick.
But it figured that a mama’s boy like Bellamy was a menace when he was sick.
She always thought the way people acted when they got sick said a lot about them. Did they suffer in silence, or act like death was near? Did they want to be cared for, or did they refuse to admit that they were sick? Did they take it in stride, or turn into whiny little kids? She used to roll her eyes at those patients.
But she found it amused her when it was Bellamy.
She didn’t know why; it might’ve been the relief that he really, truly was going to be fine.
He shifted restlessly in his cot, grumbling until she came to check on him, but, naturally, he was impossible to please once she was there, trying to make him feel better. "Do you want some tea?" she offered.
He glared at the suggestion. "Do you have some secret, special tea that'll make my back not hurt?"
She gave him a look. "No, unfortunately."
"Then I'm fine," he said, rolling over to face away from her.
She sighed. "How about water?"
"What about Miller? To keep you company?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Then what is it, exactly, that you'd like me to do for you?"
"Nothing," he said, sulky. She leaned over the cot, grazing her nails up his arm, and he ignored her. She straightened. He'd be fine, and he'd get over his whiny, woe-is-me shtick soon. Hopefully. But when she started to leave, he made a noise in his throat. "Where are you going?"
She raised an eyebrow at his back. "To tend to the sick."
"Is that so? Well, you've handled it so stoically that I've hardly noticed."
He muttered under his breath, hunching up his shoulders a little.
She heaved a sigh, and sat on the edge of the cot, rubbing his arm. He turned it slightly, and she bit in her smirk. Ah. There it was. He wouldn't say it, but that was what he wanted. She scratched his arm, trailing her fingers to his back after a minute, and pushed her hand up under his shirt to graze her nails across his bare, clammy skin.
"How's that?" she asked.
"'S good, I guess," he mumbled, and she rolled her eyes, but she stayed with him until his breathing slowed with sleep.
In a week, he was on his feet.
February started to wind to a close, and it seemed to take the flu with it. Bellamy returned to work, Jasper hadn’t caught pneumonia like Clarke worried he might’ve, and she allowed herself to sleep for nearly six hours that night. She felt like a new woman when she woke up.
Bellamy brought her breakfast in the morning, which he hadn’t done since before he got sick. The clinic was empty other than Clarke, sitting on a cot with a book, and Fox, who slept with her head in Clarke’s lap.
“How are you feeling?” she asked. It wouldn’t hurt to monitor his health for a while.
“Good,” he said, nodding.
Clarke smiled. “Good. I think the worst is over now,” she told him. She glanced at Fox, drooling a little in her sleep, and back at Bellamy. “We’ll be okay,” she said.
“We’ve never survived like this before,” he said. He paused. “That’s on you.”
Her neck warmed a little at his gaze. “I’m glad I could help,” she replied.
He nodded, moving to his feet. “I should get back to work.” He seemed to hesitate, then leaned forward suddenly, and pressed a kiss to the line where her kerchief cut across her cheek. He left, and she let out the breath that had caught in her chest, smiling at nothing.
Gifts began to show up at the cabin for Clarke that afternoon.
There was sweet purple honey, a scarf, moonshine, a notebook, salt that Bellamy told her somebody must have traded with the grounders for, gloves, a little music box, a brown teddy bear. Clarke hugged the bear to her chest, and Bellamy said it belonged to Micah.
She remembered Micah. “He didn’t need to give me his teddy,” she said.
“He wanted to,” Bellamy replied.
She crossed the camp to thank the boy, and realized the change with a start; it was in the way people looked at her, the way they talked to her: suddenly, she wasn’t a stranger from the Ark. “Clarke!” Micah cried, eager to show her that he’d lost a tooth, and his mother smiled at Clarke.
Clarke smiled, too, exclaiming over the gap in his teeth until he was pink with pleasure.
The ground started to thaw at long, long last in March. The days were longer, the trees were greener, and the camp seemed to breathe out in relief, knowing they’d survived the winter, and spring was on the way at last.
It wasn’t long before people began to leave the camp for a day at a time in droves.
They wanted to be out, to enjoy the weather.
“Is that a bicycle?” Clarke asked.
It was an old, mangled contraption, leaning pathetically against the cabin; the frame was rusted, bent slightly in the middle, it looked like a handle might have been chewed on, and the cushion was torn off the seat. But there were two wide, rubber tires, and it was a bicycle.
Bellamy nodded. “Octavia wants me to put air in the tires.”
“Can she ride it?”
He glanced at her, and a smile stretched slowly across his face. “Do you want to?”
They left the camp that afternoon with Octavia, and Raven, too. They heaped advice on Clarke while they made the hike to the clearing, telling her it was a mistake to try to pedal slowly, and you’ll fall if you try, and you have to be careful not to jerk the handles, or you’ll crash, and if you panic, stick your legs out, dragging them on the ground to stop.
Honestly, they made it worse. She was a mess, straddling the bike at last.
Bellamy gripped the handles over her hands. “Start to pedal, and I’ll go with you.”
She put her feet on the pedals, tightening her grip on the handles.
“Go on,” Octavia said, amused.
It took her a minute to get a feel for how to do it, but she began to pedal, and Bellamy kept the bike up, walking alongside her. “If you want me to let go, you’ll have to go faster.”
“I don’t want you to let go,” she replied.
He grinned, leaning forward slightly, and started to run; it forced her to pedal harder, and it made her blood pump faster, and she laughed a little. He let go, and she made it a foot before the bike started to careen dangerously to the side, and she threw her legs out, dragging her feet along the ground, and jolted to a stop with a hopping, graceless motion.
Raven burst into laughter.
Clarke pressed a hand to her heart. “I think I might’ve had a heart attack.”
She refused to allow Bellamy to steer after his betrayal, and she gave the job to Octavia. It was a mistake. Octavia took off at a run, and Clarke pedaled madly before, abruptly, Octavia was gone, and the bike reared up like it was about to flip, making Clarke scream.
The crash was spectacular.
“Oops,” Octavia said, and Raven clapped.
Bellamy jogged to her, hauling her up along with the bike. Her elbow was scraped up, and her calf, too, but she’d gotten a rush in those seconds before the crash, and she grinned breathlessly at him. “I’ll take that to mean you aren’t ready to give up,” he said.
“Nope,” she replied, settling on the seat.
In the end, she returned to camp with achy, overworked calves, scrapes up her arms and down her legs, a bruise on her shoulder, her knee, and her hip, and a twinge in her back, and she hadn’t really managed to bike on her own for longer than ten or fifteen seconds.
She didn’t care. She was on a high. She’d ridden a bicycle, and it’d felt like flying.
It took her a while to fall to sleep that night.
She grinned in the dark, and when Bellamy started to snore like he did when he slept on his stomach, she didn’t wake him to make him roll over. She was filled with sudden, giddy affection for him and his snoring, and she kissed his shoulder, cuddling into his side and resting her cheek on his back.
She woke in the morning to feel his erection against her thigh.
It wasn’t the first time, and it didn’t startle her like it used to. Instead, it made a warm, nervous feeling tug in her stomach, and she pressed in closer to him, falling back asleep.
They traded with the grounders regularly, but this was different. This was a festival.
“It’s like a three day party,” Octavia said.
It happened once in the spring, and once in the fall: the grounders from every single tribe met in a meadow nearly a week’s trek from the Ship, and for three long days they traded in the day, celebrating at night with competitions, drinking, and dancing, and games for the children.
Clarke was ready to go as soon as Bellamy described it to her.
The group that went from the Ship was large, bringing a cart with items to trade, and they arrived to find the clearing was packed with grounders.
Clarke didn’t know where to look first.
The grounders knew Bellamy, shaking his arm, and pounding him on the back, and they spoke to him in a language Clarke didn’t know. He’d gesture at Clarke while he replied, introducing her, and they’d grin, and nod, and clap him on the shoulder. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out what the word for “wife” was, or “congratulations.”
They traded for cloth, and for livestock.
Bellamy found a book, too, and traded for several glass bottles that Clarke wanted.
In the evening, Octavia got drunk on bitter heather beer, and she decided to haul Clarke with her everywhere. She pulled Clarke away from Bellamy to introduce her to Nyko, who turned out to be a healer, too, but she didn’t give Clarke a chance to talk to him; she dragged Clarke into a dance with the women only, and to meet Indra after that.
She pushed a cup with beer into Clarke’s hand, pointing to a man.
“That’s Lincoln,” she whispered.
Clarke looked at her, and there was a bright, mischievous gleam in Octavia’s eye. Clarke grinned, and Octavia pressed her nose into Clarke's cheek for a second in happy, drunk camaraderie before she dragged Clarke over to introduce her to Lincoln. She seemed to introduce Clarke to everyone that night. She spoke the language of the grounders better than Bellamy, who was slower when he spoke, halting; Clarke couldn’t pick it up when Octavia spoke.
In the morning, she repeated to Bellamy what it was that Octavia called her repeatedly when she introduced her. “What does it mean?” she asked.
The line of his lips curled up slightly. “Sister,” he said.
She bit her lip, pleased. “Oh.”
Bellamy grinned, reaching out to tug on a braid that Octavia had put into Clarke’s hair.
Miller was allergic to pollen, and it put him out for the count for a week in May, forcing the guards to cover his shifts in the evenings. Bellamy took a shift on Wednesday, and Clarke realized with a start that it left her with the cabin to herself for an evening. She knew immediately what to do.
Take a bath.
Now was her chance. Bellamy was gone on excursions away from camp for a day at a time, but he was always, always back in the evenings.
It took her a while to start a fire, but she got it going at last.
She brought in the tub from where it lived at the pump behind the house. It was cold, and muddy, but she let it warm next to the fire, and wiped it down, and she began to pump water into the bucket that Bellamy used when he shaved, slowly filling up the tub with it.
She was shaky with excitement when she finally stripped off her clothes, climbing in.
The water was chilly, but the fire warmed the cabin, and it was perfect.
Monty gave her soap a while ago to use on her face, and she used up the bar that night, washing the grime off her skin; she ran her cold, soapy hands through her hair, too, tugging out knots until she was numb with the cold, and she was forced to leave the tub.
She’d forgotten what bliss it was to be clean.
She put on clean, dry pajamas, and stole a fur from the bed to wear on her shoulders.
Bellamy wouldn’t like it, but she’d dump the water in the morning. He’d live.
She curled up on the bed with a book, and that was where she was she heard them. The door started to open, and Clarke glanced up, only for the door to still before their voices drifted in from the cold. Clarke frowned a little; she didn’t recognize the voice of the girl.
“—haven’t gotten to hang out with you in a while,” she said. “I miss you.”
“Roma,” Bellamy said.
Her response was soft, muffled.
Clarke found her spot on the page. The libertarian ideas that took root in Virginia were very far removed from those that went to Massachusetts. Roma laughed. Clarke tried to focus. The Virginians thought of liberty as a hegemonic condition of dominion over others.
“—my cabin,” Roma said. “Trina won’t care. I know you want to, Blake.”
“I have a wife,” Bellamy said.
Clarke stared at her book, but the words seemed to swim on the page.
“In name,” Roma replied.
It was quiet, and Clarke wanted desperately to see Bellamy’s face.
“Come on, Bellamy,” Roma pushed, and her voice was clear, smug. “When was the last time you had a good, long fuck? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I don’t mean the last time you got the princess under you, and she lay there and took it. I mean—”
“If you want to get fucked,” Bellamy growled, “find somebody who isn’t taken.”
The door started to open completely, and Clarke panicked.
She played at sleep, dropping the book, rolling over, and closing her eyes.
Her heart continued to hammer loudly against her chest, but she forced herself to breathe in deeply, evenly, and opened her mouth a little. She didn’t have to bother. Bellamy ignored her, stomping around the cabin. “Dammit, Clarke,” he muttered, and she listened to him drag the tub out the door.
The conversation played on a loop in her head.
He returned, and his footsteps crossed the cabin. Stopped, and it was quiet.
She didn’t know for certain, but she knew for certain: he stood over her, staring at her. She allowed herself to move sleepily when she felt him at her side suddenly, when he took the book, and tucked her into the furs. He tended to the fire, prodding it back to life, and undressed.
He crawled into the bed next to her.
She remembered that speech he’d given her, how he’d told her you’ll be my wife, and I’ll respect that, and there was a knot in her stomach when he curled an arm over her side. She didn’t know why it made her want to cry suddenly, having Bellamy hold her like he always did.
She wasn’t going to think about it. There wasn’t a reason for her to think about it.
But she thought about it.
It was pride that she'd felt when Bellamy told the grounders that she was his wife. She was proud to be his wife, proud that he was her husband. Only he was her husband because his mother told him to be. He was tied to her through obligation, and that was it.
Then there was Roma, and bitterness rose up in Clarke.
She slept with my husband.
Not while he was her husband, but. She was tempted to ask Raven about her.
She didn’t know how it started, but Raven came to keep Clarke company in the clinic a lot, bringing her devices to fiddle with while Clarke sterilized tools. On particularly long, lazy days, they’d take a break from work, snacking on honey or strawberries or granola.
Spring was busy for most at the Ship, but it wasn’t for them, and they basked in it.
It was on one of those days that Raven asked. Clarke finished her explanation of how the plumbing on the Ark worked, and it was quiet before—
“Do you miss it?”
Clarke blinked. “The Ark?” she said, and Raven nodded. “I used to. I used to miss it a lot, my parents, my friends. But I had to—" She sighed. "It was like the only way I could deal with it was not to think about it. Only now I’ve not thought it about for so long that I don’t . . . I don’t know.”
“If I were you, I think I’d hate them," Raven said. "My parents.”
“I’ll admit, I wasn’t nice to my mom when I left,” Clarke said, and she reached for the jar of honey; Raven passed it to her, and Clarke dipped her finger in for a taste.
“Did they try to fight it?” Raven asked. She paused. “Did you? I mean, not to pry—”
Clarke shook her head. “It’s fine. Yeah, I fought it, and I think they tried to fight it, too, or they did at first. It happened really quickly, though, and it—” She tried to think about how to explain it. “Things are different at the Ark. I don’t mean, like, the technology, or the way the council works. We’re raised to believe in different things.”
“Duty and sacrifice,” Clarke said. “It’s everything at the Ark. You don’t come first. Your people come first. You don’t make choices for you; you make them for everyone. The rules, doing what’s right, and doing your part, that's what we’re taught. It’s everything we know, and I guess it works.” She shrugged. “It keeps us alive.”
“I don’t think I could do it,” Raven said. She took the honey, spooning out some with her pinky.
“Well, you were raised at the Ship.”
“Right, and what do we believe in?” she asked. She looked at Clarke, amused. “Since it sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.”
Clarke smiled. "Freedom. I don’t know if you guys see it, but. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything you do.”
"That sounds about right.”
It was quiet, and Clarke thought about it. “I do,” she said at last. “I do miss it. I miss my friends, my one friend especially, and I think I miss—I miss what it felt like to know without a doubt that you belonged.” She didn’t know where she belonged now. It wasn’t at the Ark, but it wasn’t at the Ship.
Raven nodded, and they continued to dip their fingers into the honey. “Hey.” Raven looked at Clarke. “You know we’re friends, right?”
Clarke smiled, glancing at the jar. “I know,” she said. “Um. Do you know Roma?”
“Do you like her?”
Raven shrugged. “She’s okay. Why?”
“No reason,” Clarke said. “I, ah, I heard Jasper say her name, and I realized there was somebody at the Ship I didn’t know yet.” She smiled, and Raven nodded.
She wasn’t going to think about it. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to think about it.
Graham came into the clinic on Friday, sporting a torn, bloody arm. “You should see the boar,” he said, grinning. She gestured for him to sit, cutting his shirt away from the wound. The gash was narrow and deep, circled by a swollen, purpling bruise.
“You’ll need stitches,” she told him.
He nodded. “You look nice,” he said. “I’m used to seeing you in scrubs.”
Clarke smiled tightly. “Aurora made it for me.” It was a pretty shirt: soft, light cotton that was dyed green, and embroidered with white thread, and little white beads. She’d been stunned when Aurora gave it to her, having never owned new clothes before, and knowing Aurora had traded with the grounders for the cloth, the thread, and the beads.
“How have you been?” he asked. “We never really hang out.”
Were they supposed to?
She wiped away the last of the blood that stained his skin. “Fine,” she replied after a beat. “Busy.” She threaded a needle. “This is going to hurt,” she warned, and she pinched at the wound, starting to sew it shut.
His jaw locked, but he didn’t complain.
It wasn’t until the wound was wrapped, and he was on his way to the door that he turned, and told her they could hang out. “I’d like to,” he added. “Just because we aren’t married, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” He smiled, and she nodded.
“I’ll need to keep an eye on those stitches, and make sure they aren’t infected,” she said.
“Then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told her.
She was late to leave the clinic that day, meaning the kids beat her to Bellamy, and they were engrossed in a story about a woman named Silvia when she joined them with her plate; Clarke didn’t know the story, but she settled in to listen, lifting up her plate when a girl wanted to sit in her lap.
Bellamy came to sit beside her after he was finished, and the children were gone.
“Hey. How was the clinic?”
“Good,” she said. “It got busy right at the end of the afternoon.” She paused. “Graham came in with a gash on his arm.”
Bellamy nodded. “Atom said he got into it with a boar.” He reached over to pluck a small potato wedge off her plate.
She bit her lip. “Do you like him? Graham.”
He glanced at her, and it took him a moment to reply. “I used to,” he said.
“He seems skeevy to me,” she admitted.
“Octavia says that, too.” He stole another potato wedge. “Guy’s an ass.”
“It’s weird to think I could’ve married him.”
He frowned slightly. “Yeah. Let’s not think about that. I probably would’ve had to beat the shit out of him. Repeatedly.”
It was stupid, but she smiled. He reached for another potato wedge, grinning at her when he popped it into his mouth. Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, swiping the last of the jerky off his plate, and she smiled smugly at him when she sat back, biting a piece off.
It bothered her for weeks before she mentioned it to him. “You need a hair cut,” she said.
He glanced at her, surprised.
But there wasn’t room for him to argue. His hair was curling down his forehead, around his ears, and at his neck. She didn’t think he’d had it cut since she’d met him.
“Okay,” he said. “I can get my mother to do it.”
She nodded. “Or I can,” she said. “I mean if you want, I can cut it. We can do it right now.” It was the morning, and they were at breakfast. But he wasn’t due to lead a small hunting party for close to an hour, and she was allowed to take a morning to herself; Dr. Adams could run the clinic for a bit.
He agreed, and went to pick up scissors from his mother.
But once he’d given her the scissors, sat in a chair, and was ready for her, she paused.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She bit her lip. “I’ve never cut hair before,” she admitted. He laughed. She pushed at his shoulder, and told him to face forward. “How hard can it be?”
She fingered his hair, measuring a piece with her fingers, and nodded. She could do this.
In the end, she wasn’t certain she’d done a terrific job. But he was a boy, and it’d grow out, and at least now he didn’t look like a shaggy, unkempt puppy. She was nervous to show it to him, though. She ran her fingers through his hair, trying to fluff it up slightly.
“Okay.” She came to stand in front of him, handing him the square, wood-backed mirror that he used to shave.
He looked at his reflection, turning his head a little. He glanced up at her, and she met his gaze hopefully. But his gaze flickered to the mirror, and back to her, and back to the mirror. She started to get anxious, opening her mouth to assure him that she could fix it, and his lip twitched. “How nervous are you right now?”
She huffed, and he grinned.
“It looks good,” he said, lowering the mirror. “I like it.”
“Good.” She couldn’t help but smile in relief, and she reached out to brush at his hair, smoothing it down a little. Her fingers grazed the side of his face. He stared at her, making her neck start to warm, and she meant to drop her hand, and drop her eyes, too.
But he wouldn’t let her. He stared at her, and she couldn’t look away from him.
She stroked his cheek with her thumb.
He rose up to his feet suddenly, seeming to tower over her, and he’d stood this close to her before, but it’d never been like this. She tilted her head up to look at him; his gaze was heavy, drifting from her eyes to her mouth. Her lips parted inadvertently.
She surged up, and he leaned down.
The kiss was slow at first. Slow, and soft.
It ended, but she didn’t pull away from him, and her nose brushed against his when she lifted her gaze up to his. His pupils were wide, black, and heated.
They crashed into this kiss; she opened her mouth under his, and his lips moved roughly, making her desperate for more.
She’d never been kissed like this before. She grabbed for his arms to steady herself when she swayed on her feet, digging her fingers into the sleeves of his shirt, and his hands came up to cup her face, to slide into her hair, and he stepped closer, closing the distance between them.
He kissed and kissed her, and she was in a daze when he drew away at last.
He pressed wet, warm lips to her cheek, leaning his forehead against hers, and they caught their breath together.
His hands grazed down her back. “I’ve waited a really long time to do that,” he told her, straightening.
She nodded. “You shouldn’t have waited,” she said.
He smiled, and reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. She bit her lip, making him start to shake his head at her. She burst into laughter, and he smothered the sound immediately, covering her mouth with his. “Now that you’ve let me start, I’m not going to be able to stop,” he mumbled.
He sucked her lip into his mouth, and she couldn’t answer.
His hands skimmed down her sides, settling on her waist; she nodded into his kiss.
“What?” he asked.
She pulled her hands from his hair, breaking their kiss to reach for the bottom of her shirt, and his hands hovered at her waist when she yanked it up over her head, leaving her in her bra. He stared at her face for a moment, dropping his gaze slowly to her breasts. “Your turn,” she breathed.
He pulled his shirt off hastily, tossing it, and she surged into him for a kiss.
She ran her hands up his back, and his hands were on her hips, her sides, sliding around her back to undo the clasp on her bra. She yanked the straps down her arms, and he pulled her to him roughly, making her gasp into his mouth at the feeling of his chest against the tips of her breasts.
He stumbled towards their bed with her in his arms.
They dropped onto it, fumbling to get their clothes off, and she pushed him onto his back a moment later, straddling his hips. His erection pressed against her ass, making excitement shoot up her spine, making warmth pool between her legs; his hands traced up her back to tangle in her hair while she bent over him and littered kisses up his stomach, his chest.
It happened quickly.
His hands moved to her breasts, rubbing his thumbs against her nipples. She rocked against his stomach, trying to get the friction she wanted, and he cursed; his hands dropped to palm her ass, drawing a whimper from her before he rolled them over.
She wrapped her thighs around his hips, and he thrust into her.
She gasped at the pain, freezing under him.
“Fuck, Clarke,” he said, looking at her with wide, panicked eyes. “You—”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she panted.
He paused, watching her face when he pulled out and started to push back in gently. But it hurt, and she winced, blinking at the tears that burned her eyes. “Shit,” he breathed. “Shit, Clarke, I’m sorry.” He pulled out, grimacing, and rose up to sit back on his heels.
“I—” But she didn’t know what to say, and she stared at him. Oh, God.
“You’ve never had sex before,” he said.
“Who would I have had sex with?” she exclaimed, embarrassed. “But I thought—” She couldn't finish.
She'd thought it wouldn’t hurt that badly. She’d heard it hurt the first time, but she hadn’t thought it would with Bellamy. Not after the way he’d kissed her, and the way he’d touched her, and how it’d made her feel; she’d never felt like that, including that time with Wells in the dark when they were drunk and sixteen and stupid.
Bellamy reached out to cup her face in his hands.
The slightest, smallest smile pulled on his mouth, and it took her breath, looking up at him, and seeing the way he looked at her with such sweet, sudden fondness.
“Okay,” he murmured. “Okay.” He leaned down to kiss her. “Tell me what you like, and what you don’t. Got it?” He caught her gaze.
He kissed her throat, trailing his mouth to the top of her breast, and he started to cover her in warm, sucking kisses, dropping them across her breasts, her stomach, her hips, brushing his hands up her thighs. It made her breath come hard, and she curled her fingers into his hair possessively. She loved his hair.
“Tell me where you want my hands,” he said. “Where do you want me to touch you?”
She swallowed thickly. “My—”
He bit her stomach, lavishing his tongue over the spot, and she couldn’t think.
“What?” he breathed. “Your breasts? Your ass? Your thighs?”
“—ass,” she said.
She felt him smirk into her skin, and his hands slid around her thighs to squeeze her ass, pressing the pads of his fingers in until she whimpered, only to arch off the furs with a gasp when his breath fanned between her legs, and he pressed his mouth to her clit. Her thighs clamped around his face, but he smoothed his hands up, and spread them, holding them open while he swiped his tongue between her folds.
“Does this feel okay?" he asked. “Tell me if it doesn’t.”
“It does,” she said, panting. “It does, Bellamy. Don’t stop—”
She bucked against his face when he pressed his tongue flat against her, and he kept at it.
He pushed his tongue into her, thumbing at her clit, and she tried to tell him what she liked, and what was off, or uncomfortable, but it was impossible to focus, and she thought she liked everything until he licked her that way, and “that,” she breathed, that was what she liked.
The sharp, tantalizing pleasure built slowly at first, only to spiral from her control in a sudden, pointed burst, and her back arched off the bed completely while the feeling washed over her. She was breathless after, blinking dazedly at the ceiling of the cabin.
Bellamy rose, kissing her only to draw away to look at her with dark, hooded eyes.
He snaked a hand to her breast, and raised a palm to her mouth. “I need you to get some spit on your tongue, and lick this for me,” he said. She nodded, holding his gaze while she licked his palm, and his eyes stayed on her when he took his dick in his hand, jerking off against her stomach.
She touched his thigh, grazing her fingers up to his ass.
But she wanted to kiss him, and she shifted, reaching a hand up to cup his neck, to bring him into kiss. He started to come, spurting across her stomach.
It took him a moment to catch his breath, and a pleased, lazy grin crept onto his face.
“How was that?” he asked. “Was that good?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know it was,” she said, and he opened his mouth to reply, but she didn’t give him the chance; she tugged at his shoulders, pulling him into a hug. She was sticky, and sweaty, and beginning to remember that it was eight in the morning on a Tuesday, but she didn’t care.
“We have to go to work now,” he murmured.
She blinked. Yes. They did, and it seemed like the funniest thing in the world at that moment. It was eight in the morning right now. She broke into laughter, falling back onto the furs, and Bellamy grinned down at her.
The day was wasted for Clarke after that. She wasn’t able to concentrate on her work. It got to the point that she saw Monroe’s wrist was sprained, started to think about about Bellamy while she fetched a wrap, and tried to wrap up the other, perfectly normal wrist.
It didn’t help that Bellamy found excuses to stop in to see her throughout the afternoon.
They ate their dinner in a rush, and were in their cabin in minutes.
He kissed and bit and sucked at her breasts, leaving purple, possessive marks, and he fingered her until she came apart on his hand with her face in his neck. She started to learn his body that night, too, mapping the planes of his back, the muscles in his arms, the scars that were hidden in his soft, dark skin, and he showed her how to jerk him off.
In the days that followed, he became affectionate with her in a way he never was before.
He came to stand beside her while she talked to Monty, and he stood closer than he ought to, making her heart beat faster than it was supposed to, and she had to cross her arms over her chest to try to keep it quiet. He rested a hand on her knee while they ate; he touched a hand to her shoulder after they finished a conversation, and parted ways.
He’d touched her like this on occasion in the past.
But it had been rare, and it had usually served a purpose: she was cold, or drunk.
He was at the clinic with the excuse that, well, actually, she didn’t know what his excuse was, and it didn’t matter. Miller came to fetch him, and Bellamy nodded, turning to go, only to give Clarke a quick, dry kiss before he went. There was an ease to it, a familiarity, and it made her heart expand until it pushed on her lungs, stealing her breath.
She skated her fingers lazily over his stomach that night, and she wanted him to know.
“I like it when you kiss me,” she told him.
His chest rumbled slightly with a chuckle. “That’s a relief.”
“I don’t mean when we make out,” she said. “I mean, I like that, too, but I meant I like it when you kiss me casually.” She bit her lip, resting her chin on his stomach when she turned her head to look at him. “Like it’s a habit,” she added. She hoped that made sense.
He smiled. “Noted.”
She kissed his stomach, scooting up to kiss his mouth.
She started to rock against his thigh when he deepened the kiss. “Bellamy,” she breathed, feeling his erection press into her stomach. But his response was to palm her ass, and slide a hand between them to play with her clit. He fingered her, rutting against her leg while she came with his finger curled inside her.
In the morning, they ate oatmeal for breakfast, and he kissed her casually before he headed off to go hunting.
Summer came with a thick, muggy wave of heat at the end of June, and Clarke basked in it.
She'd always loved summer.
She loved how long the days were, and how plenty the food was, and it turned out that summer at the Ship was better than summer at the Ark. People relaxed in the heat, and they were allowed to. They were allowed to stay up late into the night, smoking, drinking, and playing poker with peaches.
Clarke drank cold strawberry beer with Raven in the clinic at three in the afternoon, and nobody cared.
Her skin burned, peeled, and browned, and her hair was bleached to white.
Octavia, Raven, and Harper took Clarke to the lake in July, terrifying Clarke when they broke into a run suddenly to jump into the water from a narrow, rocky ledge. But they surfaced a moment later; Octavia yelled at Clarke to get her little white butt in the water.
Raven floated on her back, grinning up at Clarke while the water lapped at her face.
They learned to swim at the Ark, but it was in a small green lake by their camp, and it wasn’t like this. This was different; this was a dark, seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of the forest, and Clarke knew now why they’d called it the blue hole on the way there.
Clarke jumped, and Octavia, Harper, and Raven cheered, whistled, and whooped.
That night, she straddled Bellamy, and pulled her shirt up over her head.
She ran her hands up his chest; he hadn’t bothered to wear a t-shirt in days, which she’d learned was something the boys at the Ship liked to do in summer. His skin was warm and dark and sweaty under her palms, and she leaned down to lick her way up to his throat.
“You smell like the lake,” he said, dipping his fingers under her shorts to palm her ass.
“I hope that turns you on,” she replied, and she sat up to stare at him sternly, “because I’m not going to jerk you off tonight, or watch you jerk yourself off. No more of this whole you get me off in ten different ways, and I’m not allowed to do a thing for you.”
He smirked. “Nobody said you weren’t allowed.”
“Good,” she said, nodding. “Then you aren’t going to make this difficult. Now. Either we’re going to have sex, and I mean good, old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex, or I’m going to use my mouth on you.” She glared, daring him to try to argue with her about it.
He grinned. “Do I get to pick?”
“Do you have a preference?”
“Dammit, Bellamy!” she said, exasperated. “This is about you! Pick!”
He reached a hand up to pluck at her nipple, flipping them without warning a moment later. “Okay,” he said, moving his hands to her shorts. “I’m up for some good, old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex.” He kissed her. “Literally,” he breathed, bucking against her.
She shoved at his chest when she realized the joke, and he smothered his laughter into her cheek.
It was better that time, having him inside her.
He dipped his head between her legs, sucking at her clit until she started to thrash against the bed. He crawled up her to kiss her on the mouth before pushed into her, and he went slowly, giving her time to adjust, grinding against her once he was in her completely. She rocked against him, and her discomfort gave way to need, to pleasure.
She held onto his arms, staring up at him, and she couldn’t look away.
His gaze stayed with her when she arched her neck, pushed her head into the furs.
She came when he thumbed at her clit, and she hugged him to her chest after, burying her face in his neck while he thrust into her, and came inside her.
Afterward, she lay on her back, and he was on his side next to her, propping himself up on his elbow to look at her.
“Do you want me to get you tea in the morning?” he asked softly.
She blinked. “What for?”
“To prevent, you know,” he said, nodding.
It took her a moment, but she understood. “Oh, um.” She flushed. “Is that—is that allowed?”
He frowned. “What? Yes. Why wouldn’t—?” His mouth seemed to thin. “I take that to mean it isn’t allowed at the Ark,” he said, grim.
“It’s important to rebuild our population,” she replied. “That’s what we’re told.”
“Well, the Ship doesn’t regulate that stuff.”
It made sense. She hadn’t thought about it, but it made sense. “Then yes.” She gave him a tight smile. “Could you get me some tea? Tansy tea, right?”
He nodded. “But you, um. You want to have kids eventually, right?” he asked, brushing a hand up her stomach to cup her breast.
She stared at him. It hadn’t occurred to her to think about it like that before. She’d always assumed that she was going to have children eventually because, well, it was important to rebuild the population. But she’d never thought about whether she wanted to.
He waited, and his face was unreadable.
She thought about the children at story time on Friday, circling Bellamy with such excitement, such adoration, and how much she secretly loved it when one of the children climbed into her lap to listen to the story, and she'd have this warm, trusting weight in her arms.
“Yes,” she said. She smiled. “Eventually, I want to. Yes.”
He grinned, leaning in to kiss her. “Okay.”
She woke up later to feel his erection pressed into her back. Sleepily, she rubbed against him, and it made her laugh when he growled into her neck. He rose up, and his hands were on her hips, tugging her up, too, until she was on her hands and knees with her ass in the air, and he slid into her from behind.
It didn't take her long to realize that she liked it like this, oh, God, she liked it like this. She pushed into his thrusts, found herself spiraling when his teeth flashed against her neck, and he grunted her name into her skin when he started to come, too.
She woke in the morning when a kettle started to whistle, and the cabin was flushed with warmth from the fire that Bellamy had started to boil the water for her tea. She smiled.
He came into the clinic that afternoon with a peach. “I brought you a present.”
She sighed. “Can we never forget that?”
She gave him a look. “Well, I don’t want your present.”
He smirked. “Your loss.” He started to eat the peach, licking the juice off his lip.
She snatched it away from him. “Go away,” she said, and she bit into the peach. “I’m working.” Her mouth was full when she said it, which wasn’t helpful.
“You’re welcome." He grinned, tugging on her ponytail before he left.
Raven smiled at her. “Shut up,” Clarke said.
The heat started to grow insufferable soon after that, but there was ice in the cellar beneath the kitchen, and Monty used salt from the grounders to make peach ice cream. It was the most amazing, delicious thing she’d ever had in her life; she ate it until she thought she might be sick.
Eventually it got to the point that she couldn’t bear to be in the hot, stuffy cabin.
They stayed under the stars for hours at night, waiting for the world to cool.
She used a lantern from Aurora to read the last of the books like that, sitting in a plastic lawn chaise that stuck to her skin with her sweat while Bellamy smoked with Murphy, and crickets made a ruckus around them. “Annie, I love you. But it's after eleven and we must be up before six. Let's get some sleep, sweetheart.”
Bellamy laughed, and Clarke smiled into her book at the sound.
If she could stop time, she thought she’d stop it at that moment, and stay in it forever.
In the end, Atom slipped up. Miller was in the clinic to have Clarke look at cut on his leg that he thought might’ve gotten infected, and Atom came in to deliver a message about Miller’s shift. He was on his way out the door when he asked. “Hey, are you going to the Ark?”
“Ah, no,” Miller said, glancing at Clarke, and Atom nodded.
He left, but the damage was done. “People are going to the Ark?” Clarke asked. “When?”
Uncomfortable, Miller scratched at his neck. “Tomorrow."
She blinked. “Was anyone going to tell me?” she asked. "Was my husband?"
Miller stared at her, and she could see the wheels in his head turning, knew he was trying to come up with something to say. She stormed from the clinic before he could. Bellamy was at the edge of the cabins, helping to repair a roof, and she tore into him immediately.
“Miller told me that a group is going to the Ark tomorrow."
He stared at her, and it was clear this wasn't news to him.
“Were you going to tell me?” she exclaimed. The look on his face was the answer. Disbelief sprouted into her chest, making her heart pick up. “Why not?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s to trade.”
“It’s to trade,” she repeated, and she knew. “This isn’t the first time.”
He sighed. “No.”
“How many times have people gone?” she said. “How many times have you gone?”
“How many times?”
“We go once a month.”
She gaped at him. “Once a month. Once a month?” He left the camp to hunt at least twice a week, and he was gone for the day. The trip to the Ark could be made in a day; a group could make it to the Ark and back in a day, in fact. “You go the Ark once a month when I think you’re hunting, and you didn’t see the need to tell me,” she said.
He pursed his lips, and it infuriated her.
“How long? When did this start?”
But she knew the answer. He didn’t have to say it. He did, though. “Since last September." Since the start. Since she came to the Ship, sealing the alliance.
“Why was it a secret?” She stared at him, and he didn't offer up an explanation, didn't even look like he wanted to. “Why couldn’t I be told?" she demanded. "Why didn’t you tell me?” She needed to get that look off his face. “What if I wanted to come?”
“You aren’t allowed to come,” he said at last.
“I’m not allowed to come. Right. Okay.” She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to mask her confusion with anger. “I wasn’t aware that I was a prisoner. That’s good to know."
"Who decided that?” she went on, glaring at him.
“I see. Does she have a reason?" She curled her hands into fists. "Does she have a reason, Bellamy?”
His jaw twitched. “You aren’t allowed to come until you’ve had a child.”
For a moment, she thought she hadn’t understood. “What? Why?”
“Once you have a kid, they'll know you're tied to us. For good. They'll know that you belong to us.”
She blinked. “Right.” Her lip trembled, and she clenched her jaw, trying to keep it together. But the truth was starting to sink in, and it made her sick to her stomach. “I guess that makes sense," she said. "Everybody knew, right? Your sister, and Raven, and. You.” It wasn’t a question. She knew the answer.
But he seemed to crack at last. “Clarke—” He reached out to touch her arm.
She jerked away from him grasp.
She’d made a home with them for nearly a year, yet she remained the princess from the Ark to them, their prize, owned. Suddenly, it hurt to look at Bellamy. Her husband, the keeper of the princess. She turned away from him. She needed to get back to the clinic. There was work to do.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I get it. I do, I get it.”
He didn’t try to stop her.
Raven showed up at the clinic in the afternoon. “Hey. I didn’t see you at lunch. Did you skip it?”
“The clinic was busy,” Clarke replied.
“I figured.” She smiled. "It’s why I brought you a snack.” She pulled a kerchief from her pocket. It was cornbread, and what looked like rabbit.
Clarke nodded. “Thanks. You can put in on the table.” She kept her gaze on the tools that she’d begun to sterilize before Raven arrived.
“Are you okay?" Raven asked. “You’re being weird.”
“Okay, well—” She stopped. “Clarke, are you—are you crying? What the hell’s going on?”
“No, you aren’t. What’s going on?”
Clarke spun to face her. “Did you know that a group goes to the Ark once a month?”
Raven stared at her. “You didn’t,” she said. Clarke smiled humorlessly. “I thought you knew.”
“Right.” Clarke turned away from her.
“I did,” Raven insisted. “Why wouldn’t you know? Hey. Clarke, I didn’t—”
“Can you just leave?” Clarke snapped. She closed her eyes, breathed in. “Can you please, please just leave?” she asked. “I can’t do this right now. Please.”
It was quiet for a moment. Clarke stared at a scalpel.
“Okay,” Raven agreed. “But I thought you knew.”
Clarke stayed in the clinic through dinner. She wasn’t hungry. There wasn’t a reason for her to return to the cabin to sleep either; there were perfectly good, empty cots in the clinic. She told Dr. Adams that she’d cover the clinic for the night, leaving her with the place to herself.
She woke in the morning to find a plate of food under a kerchief on the table next to her cot. It was cold, and she knew he must’ve left it hours ago. It didn’t matter; she ate it anyway, and went to greet a patient. They streamed in throughout the day, keeping her busy.
She picked up dinner for later at lunch, and slept in the clinic that night, too.
She did the same the day after that, only he showed up in the evening.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She didn’t look at him.
“I should’ve told you. I know I should’ve told you, and I’m sorry.” Bellamy paused. “Can you—can you come home now?”
She bit her lip. She didn’t want to sleep on a cot in the clinic. She wanted to go home. She wanted to have a home. “Okay,” she said. “I need to finish up with this first, though.”
He waited at the door for her while she finished her task, which really wasn’t that important, but she’d started sorting bandages by length, and she’d finish sorting bandages by length. She did, and they walked side by side in silence to their cabin.
They were back at the beginning. They didn’t talk, they didn't touch. She avoided his eye, and he slept with his back to her. For a week, there was silence between them.
It startled her when he cleared his throat abruptly on a Wednesday.
She’d come in from washing her face at the pump, was patting her face dry with a towel, and she glanced at him, uncertain.
“I’m leaving for a week,” he told her. “Octavia is going to stay with the grounders. To train with them, be a second. I'm taking her.”
“Oh. Oh, wow.” She knew it was something that Octavia had wanted to do for a long, long time, but she hadn’t realized it was about to become a reality. She'd thought that Aurora was refusing to allow it. Apparently, Aurora had changed her mind. “Okay. When are you going?”
“In the morning.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Also. I talked to the Commander. She said that she planned to go to the Ark with us in October, and that you could come, too, if you want to. In October.”
She stared at him. He'd talked to Sydney for her.
“It was the best I could do," he muttered, and he turned, starting for the door, no doubt to use the pump himself.
But she surged after him. In three quick strides, she caught up to him, and she wrapped her arms around him from behind.
He swayed on his feet slightly, stopping, and she closed her eyes, rested her cheek on his back.
Slowly, his hands came up to touch her hands where they were hooked across his stomach.
"I'm sorry," he murmured.
"Me, too." She stepped away after a beat, allowing him to turn to face her.
“I don’t want you to resent me,” he said. It was hard to see his face clearly when the only light in the room was the lantern, casting shadows, but his voice was rough, low. “Or our marriage. I know it was arranged, and you didn't get a choice, and—” He stopped. “I need you to know that if we’d grown up in the same camp, and we’d gotten a choice, I’d have chosen you.”
She swallowed thickly. “I’d have chosen you, too,” she whispered.
She hadn’t thought about it before, but she knew without a doubt that she meant it.
“Yeah?” he said, smiling slightly.
She nodded. “Yeah. Yes.” She smiled, too, and it made his smile widen. He reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
She took his face in her hands, leaning up on her tiptoes to kiss him, and he stepped in closer, wrapped her up in his arms, making her want to cry for no reason when he turned his face, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. She laughed a little, squeezing his shoulders.
His lips slid across her cheek, and he kissed her.
It was a slow, consuming kiss, taking her breath; it was a kiss that made her melt into his arms, and made her want to get closer still, want to melt into him completely.
She started to back up, taking him with her, and they sank onto the bed.
He undressed her, dropping kisses along the skin that he uncovered: to her ankle, her calf, and the side of her knee, to her hip, to her stomach, to where her heart beat wildly, trying to escape, trying to reach him. It left her shaky in his arms, fumbling to undress him in return.
He sat with her in his lap, and he kissed her while she sank onto him.
She hugged his neck, thinking I’d have chosen you.
She thought it over and over, hoping he could taste it in her kisses. If she could do it all over again, she’d choose him all over again.
He left with Octavia, Atom, and Colin in the morning, and she watched him go, crossing her arms against a chill. It was cooler today than it’d been in a while. Breezy. Summer was on the way out.
She found Raven at lunch, and sat beside her hesitantly.
Raven eyed her. “You better now?” she asked.
Clarke nodded. “I’m sorry I took it out on you.” Raven shrugged, and that was that.
Things were busy at the clinic that afternoon, and into the evening. Dr. Adams arrived for his shift, but Clarke didn’t leave yet; he needed the help, and it wasn’t like there was anywhere she needed to be. The place cleared out around eleven, and Clarke started to clean up.
“That seems like a chore that’ll keep until morning.”
Clarke jumped, and her gaze landed on Graham, leaning against the entrance to the clinic. “You startled me,” she said.
He smiled. “My bad.”
“Do you need something?” she asked.
“Nope. But I saw you from a distance, thought you might want me to walk you to your cabin. It’s late. That’s when the monsters come out.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “I think I’ll be okay,” she said, turning away from him to dry off the tray that she’d sterilized.
“Just in case, I’m happy to do it,” he replied. “It’s on my way.”
“It’s not. My cabin is about three feet away.”
“I like to take a more interesting, roundabout route to my cabin.”
“I’m not going to be done for another twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.”
He moved to sit. “I’ll wait.”
She pursed her lips with her back to him, slowing her movements in hopes that it’d piss him off. But he stayed in the chair until she was finished at last, and rose to his feet with a grin when she started for the door. He tried to start a conversation while they walked. She wasn’t impressed.
“I heard you were in a fight with your husband,” he said.
Her gaze snapped to his.
He shrugged. “People talk.”
“Well, people don’t know what they’re talking about,” she replied.
They started to pass between the cabins that separated her cabin from the clinic. The trees were thicker, and her cabin was in sight, and Graham moved suddenly, cutting her off, and stepping in way, way too close.
She reared back. “What are you—?”
“Come on, Clarke. I’d have gotten you drunk, but Blake is always all over you when you’re drunk. Though we don’t have that problem tonight, do we?”
She gaped at him. “Get the hell away from me,” she said, starting around him.
But he grabbed her arm, and when she tried to yank it away, he grabbed the other, spun her, and had her back to his chest, her arms twisted in his grasp, and his breath on her neck a moment before he slammed her into the wall of a cabin, trapping her against it.
Did anybody live in that cabin? Somebody must.
She tried to jerk away from him, but she couldn’t, tried to kick his leg out from under him, but she was pinned to the wall.
Panic rose up in her until she was blind with it.
“Get off me!” she yelled, struggling to push him off with everything in her. “GET OFF ME!”
“Shut the fuck up,” he hissed, and his hand sank into her hair to grip a fistful, and slam her face into the wall. She gasped at the pain, tasting copper in her mouth.
“Do you really think you can do this?” she panted, trying to buy time, to think.
“You were supposed to be mine,” he snarled. “My mother agreed to a choice when your daddy insisted, but that was because we didn’t think you’d choose Blake.” He kept her against the wall with his body, and a hand on the back of her neck, but his hold was slightly, slightly looser when he snaked a hand over her leg, and she dug her toes into the dirt, getting ready.
“Why would I choose you?” she spat.
He laughed into her cheek, smearing his spit on her face when his lips brushed her skin. “I’m the king, Princess. That’s why. Do you know what Blake is? He’s a guard. He’s a dog meant to serve. He’s—”
She wrenched her arm up, elbowing him in the throat.
It threw him off for only an instant, but it was enough for her to be able to turn, to ram her knee into his stomach, to get away from him. She didn’t make it a foot, though.
His fingers clamped around her wrist, and he yanked so hard, so suddenly that it knocked her off feet, and his foot came up to slam into her ribs, swiping the breath from her.
She gasped a scream, and he hauled her up, into the wall, and—
“Get off her!”
Clarke cried out in relief. Miller. Miller.
But Graham didn’t release his hold on her. “Nate,” he greeted. “Where’s Dax? I thought he was on patrol tonight.”
“He is,” Miller said, and the horror on his face was beginning to fade, to solidify into something else. "So am I." Into anger, and grim, hard determination. “Get off her," he repeated.
“Get lost,” Graham replied. “This isn’t your business.”
Miller raised his gun.
“That was an order,” Graham snapped.
“I don’t answer to you,” Miller said. “I answer to Bellamy. Even if that wasn’t his wife, Bellamy doesn’t stand for rape, and neither do I." His voice was tight with anger, slow and purposeful and unrelenting. "Get. Off. Her.”
“It isn’t rape if she wants it,” Graham said, leering.
“She doesn’t want it."
Graham sneered. “What the fuck would you know about it, queer?”
Miller stared at him, and his face grew harder, meaner; his nostrils flared, and he shot the ground by Graham’s foot.
Graham jerked away from Clarke in surprise, and she stumbled away from him, towards Miller. “The fuck is the matter with you?” Graham yelled.
Miller glared at him.
Graham shook his head. “You should’ve minded your own business, Miller,” he spat, but he’d started to back away from them. From Clarke. “You’re going to regret this.” His face was contorted with hatred, but Miller didn’t reply, and Graham left, disappeared into the dark.
Clarke hugged herself, looking at Miller. Breathe in, breathe out.
He met her gaze, and the fight seemed to leave him.
He took a step towards her and reached out a hand, only to let it drop. “Come on,” he murmured. His eyes had gone soft now, anxious. “Let’s—let’s go to your mom.”
He took her to Aurora. It was late, and it took a minute for Aurora to open the door.
She blinked at them in confusion.
But her mouth thinned when she took in Clarke’s appearance.
“Come in,” she breathed, stepping back. Her cabin was lit up with candles; a book lay open on the table. “What happened?” Aurora asked, looking from Clarke to Miller.
Miller opened his mouth, but Clarke didn’t need him to answer for her. “Graham attacked me,” she said. Her heart beat a little fast, a little panicky; she swallowed thickly, willing away the tightness in her chest. “I was at the clinic later than usual, and Graham came in, insisted that he walk me to my cabin, and—and he cornered me. I got a punch in, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Do I need to make you tea?” Aurora asked. Her expression was soft, calm.
Clarke shook her head. “Miller found us. He stopped him.”
“Good.” She paused, looked at Miller. “Could you wait outside for little while, Nathan?”
He nodded. “Yeah, sure. Of course.” He glanced at Clarke on his way out, and she managed a small, tight smile for him before the door shut quietly behind him.
Tears burned in her eyes.
She tried to wipe at them subtly, turning her face from Aurora.
It didn’t work. Aurora crossed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around Clarke. Clarke was stiff for a moment, starting to say that she was fine. But she wasn't, and she couldn't help it: she started to cry, sinking into to Aurora's arms, and Aurora rocked on her feet, rocking Clarke.
“Baby,” she murmured. “Oh, baby.”
Clarke didn't know how long they stood there, how long it took her to get it together.
She did eventually, though. She breathed in deeply, and breathed out.
She pulled away from Aurora to wipe at her eyes. But she remained in the circle of Aurora’s arms, and met her gaze head on. “I’m fine,” she said. “I don’t want to cry.” She sniffed. “I’m not going to cry.”
“Okay,” Aurora said. “How about a bath?”
Clarke nodded, and Aurora gestured at her to sit. She brought in a tub, and Miller was recruited to bring in water by the bucket to fill it; Aurora took several large, round stones from a pail over the fire, dumping them into the water. To warm the water, Clarke realized.
Once the tub was full, Miller left, but Aurora didn’t.
She nodded at Clarke.
Clarke began to undress, and Aurora helped her to pull her shirt up over her head. It made her neck warm, having Aurora see her naked. But she thought about Octavia, stripping off her clothes at the lake to dive in naked, and the way that Harper pulled up her shirt to show Clarke a scrape on her back only a week ago, uncovering her breasts shamelessly.
The modesty that was encouraged at the Ark wasn’t taught at the Ship.
Clarke pulled off her clothes, revealing the bruises that swelled along her ribs, and she felt clumsy and exposed, climbing into the tub. But she sank into the water, and when Bellamy’s mother started to card strong, soapy fingers through her hair, she let out a breath, closed her eyes, and forgot to be modest.
She started to cry again, and Aurora let her, stroking her hair.
It was quiet for a while. The water started to cool, and Clarke stepped out, into a towel. Aurora gave her warm, clean clothes, and had her sit on Octavia’s bed; she began to brush Clarke’s hair, combing the knots out softly, expertly, and Clarke found her voice.
“What's going to happen to him?”
Aurora took a moment to reply. “There are two crimes that we punish with death,” she said. "Murder, and rape.” She paused, twisting her fingers in Clarke’s hair, starting to braid it. “That's why Diana is going to deny that he touched you, or if you insist he did, she’ll insist you wanted him to.”
Clarke swallowed at the sick, heavy feeling in her stomach. “This has happened before,” she said.
“Yes. Usually the girls are afraid to say a word against him. I convinced one to, promising I was behind her, but it didn't matter. Diana wouldn't hear it.”
“Does that mean I'm not supposed to say anything?” Clarke asked, and anger, frustration, and tears seemed to swirl in her chest, pressing up. That couldn't be what Aurora was asking her to do. "I'm supposed to pretend it didn't happen,” she said, “and live with the fact that it’s going to happen to somebody else?"
“No,” Aurora said sharply. She stared at Clarke. "What do you know about the trip to the ground?" she asked. "Do you remember it?"
Clarke blinked in surprise. “No, um. Bellamy told me about it.”
Aurora waited, pushing after a moment. “Did he tell you about the lottery?”
She nodded. “He told me that people thought it was rigged.”
“It was.” Aurora paused. “Once everyone got their tickets, Diana started a campaign to allow every single child onto the Ship. That's how I met her; I was desperate to get my kids on. The council folded under the pressure. That was when we got to look at the list, and saw what every single child who was about to become an orphan had in common.”
Clarke thought about Bellamy, about what he’d told her that day, and how he’d softened it.
If this was the truth, the villain wasn’t a matter of perspective.
Had her parents known the lottery was rigged? No. No. They couldn't have.
“We got to the ground,” Aurora said, “and I—I and everyone like me was ready to follow Diana. How could we not? She'd fought for our kids, saved our lives.” She finished with Clarke's hair, tying off the braid. “It wasn't long before I started to wonder why she'd done it, whether she'd truly cared about our kids, or she'd done it because she wanted the sway it'd give her when we made it to Earth.” She sighed, and Clarke turned to look at her. “For a long time, I told myself it could be both. But it wasn't.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Clarke asked.
Aurora reached out, touching Clarke's arm. “I'm telling you this because we've been hiding from the truth for a very, very long time, and it's going to hurt to stop.”
Clarke stared at her.
But that was it; she didn’t go on. Instead, she rose to her feet, crossing the cabin. Clarke watched her, saw her take out a bottle, pouring the drink into mugs. She returned to the bed, and gave a mug to Clarke. She took a sip hesitantly, and it burned down her throat, into her chest, leaving a heavy, shadowy warmth.
She knew it was alcohol, but she’d never had anything like it before. “What is this?"
“It’s something that your friend Monty isn’t able to make,” Aurora said, smiling wryly.
It was quiet, and Clarke took another slow, hesitant slip. She looked at Aurora, staring off into space. “That day at the Ark when my parents agreed to marry me off,” Clarke said. Aurora glanced at her. “I heard my father talking to you. I heard him beg you for something.”
“What was it?” Clarke asked. “What did he want you to do?”
“He wanted me to convince Diana to give you a choice,” she said, "and to offer up my son, so that you could choose him.”
Clarke frowned. “Why?”
“I think he hoped that Bellamy would be good to you. It wasn't that he knew Graham wouldn't be, but I guess . . . ” She paused. “Did your father ever tell you about a man who was floated on the Ark, Thomas?”
“Um. Actually, yeah. They grew up together, and they were friends, but Thomas was floated right after they turned eighteen, and he assaulted a guard. It was the story my father used to explain to me how things were different when the Ark was in space. How good people got floated because it was the way it had to be."
“He assaulted a guard, yes,” Aurora said, “because that guard assaulted me. He would’ve raped me, but Thomas stopped him. Thomas killed him."
Her father hadn't told her that.
“I don’t think he meant to kill him, but Thomas always had a temper, and he lost it when he came into the apartment, and I was crying, and that guard was—” She cut off, shaking her head. “He killed him.”
“Okay,” Clarke said. It was sad, but. “What does—?”
“Thomas wasn't in love with me,” Aurora said. “I know what love feels like. I had it with Octavia’s father. I liked Thomas, and he cared about me, but it wasn’t love. He was willing to marry me, though. It didn't matter that he didn't love me, or that he was a world above me in class. He’d gotten me pregnant, and it was the right thing to do.”
Aurora smiled a little; she must’ve seen the understanding dawn on Clarke.
“Thomas was a good man. I guess your father hoped that Thomas’s son was a good man, too. The kind who’d take care of a girl even if he didn’t love her.”
“He is,” Clarke whispered. “Bellamy is a good man.”
Aurora smiled. “I know.” She drank what was left in her mug, setting it aside, and reached for Clarke’s hand to take it in both of hers.
“What?” Clarke asked.
“I’m sorry that you were taken from your family, and everything you knew. I’m sorry you were traded like cattle, and forced into a marriage you didn’t ask for. Truly, I am. Even if my son were the best man in the world, it wouldn’t make it right.”
Clarke frowned. “Aurora—”
“It’s too late to change the past, but it’s not too late to change what happens next, and I need your help for that. We need your help. Bellamy, Nathan. Our people.”
“I don’t—” Clarke shook her head. “What do you mean?”
“Diana. Her son, the guards who follow him. This isn't only about how depraved Graham is,” Aurora said. “They are going to destroy everything that we’ve built for years. We survived the trip to the ground, and war with the grounders, and war with Mt. Weather, and it’s going to be Diana who kills us.”
“How?” Clarke asked.
“Her plan for us,” Aurora said. “For the grounders, for the Ark. If you don’t want to do it for us, do it for your people. It won’t be much longer before Diana makes her move to take over the Ark. She’s been waiting for years for the chance. It’s why she wanted you.”
“I thought she wanted me to broker peace.”
“No, sweetheart. No. She wanted you to marry her son, and become her daughter. She wanted you on her side, so that she’d be able to use you to control them.”
“That’s insane,” Clarke said.
“It’s still her plan, Clarke. She’s waiting for you to fall in love with the Ship, then she’ll make you fall in love with her. It’s what she does. It’s why people follow her; it’s why we’ve followed her for seventeen years. You think she won’t be able to get to you, but she will. It’s only just begun.”
Clarke stared at her.
“She wants the Ark, and there are people on her side. There are people my age who want the technology that comes with the Ark. Bellamy and your friends, they couldn’t care less about technology, or the Ark. Why would they? This life is everything they know, and they’re happy. But there are people who were raised on the Ark, who want the amenities it has, and they’ll follow Diana. Diana, who wants to own the Ark because she wants to own the Ark, and would kill to get it.”
It was quiet, and Clarke knew that Aurora had said her piece.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” Clarke said. “But I’ll do it."
"Not for the people at the Ark, though. For my people.”
She was overwhelmed with everything that Aurora had poured into her lap, but she meant it.
She didn't know what to believe anymore, but she believed that.
Aurora smiled, and Clarke nodded. If she could’ve chosen her people, she’d have chosen them. The Ship. Her friends. Bellamy. She did get a choice, and she chose them.
Aurora offered to have Clarke stay the night with her, but Clarke shook her head. She wanted to go to her own cabin, to sleep in her own bed. In their bed. Bellamy wasn’t there, but she’d be able to sleep in furs that smelled like him.
It was close as she could get.
Besides, she needed time to herself, time to think.
Aurora hugged her before she left, pressing a gun into her hand. It was small, fitting easily into Clarke’s waistband.
Miller walked her to her cabin. She paused at the door, and realized her mistake. Her assumption. She wanted to be alone, but she didn’t want to be alone. She should’ve stayed with Aurora rather than ask Miller to—
“I’m going to wait right out here,” Miller said. “The whole night. I’ll be right out here.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to,” he replied.
She leaned up, kissing his cheek, and he nodded at her before she went into the cabin.
It was dark, but the window was open, allowing enough pale moonlight to stream in for Clarke to find her way to the table, and light the lantern. She stood for a moment. Her mind churned with everything that had happened, with everything that Aurora had told her, and she closed her eyes.
The bruise on her cheek throbbed dully, and his face loomed at her in the dark.
Bellamy would tear him to pieces when he found out.
I’m going to tear him to pieces.
She went to the trunk, finding a t-shirt that belonged to Bellamy. It was stiff from being dried out in the sun, and smelled like soap. But it was Bellamy’s. She pulled off the clothes from Aurora, shrugging into the shirt, and took the lantern with her to the bed. She curled up under a fur, staring into the shadows that played on the ceiling.
She thought about the Commander, and her warm, easy smile.
She thought about Graham, leering at her.
She thought about Bellamy, and the dimple in his chin, the way his mouth stretched when he grinned. The way he’d jogged along beside that bicycle, and the relief on his face when she’d told him she wanted kids eventually. How he’d sounded like a little boy when he’d asked if she could come home now.
She thought about her father, begging. “Aurora, please.”
Thank you, Daddy, she thought.
She remembered the look on Sydney’s face when Clarke said Bellamy’s name.
She rolled over, and her knee pressed into something. She frowned, reaching into the fur; her hand clamped on it, and she pulled it out: a book, one she hadn’t seen before.
But she recognizing the stitching that held it together.
She opened it carefully, finding the note on the first page of the first chapter. His writing was small and slanted, and it was the stupidest, most pointless note in the world. To Clarke, This is for you. It’s a present. You’re welcome. From Bellamy. She brought the book up to her face, pressing her nose to the script.
She read it over again, smiling.
Her eyes dropped to the text of the book. Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. It was going to be good. She knew it was going to be good.
But she couldn’t focus now, and she closed it, holding it to her chest.
Her mind wandered to Thomas. To the girls who hadn’t gotten away from Graham. To Aurora’s steely, steady gaze, and how she’d told Clarke it wasn’t too late to change what happens next, to stop the plan that the Commander had for the Ship, for the grounders, for the Ark.
She tightened her hold on the book. Come home, Bellamy, she thought. The curtains over the window fluttered with a breeze, bringing in the cold. We’ve got a lot to figure out.
So take me, don't leave me,
Take me, don't leave me.
Baby, love will come through,
It's just waiting for you.