The first time Bellamy Blake meets Clarke Griffin, it's at her (and, more relevantly for him, his sister's) graduation party, and she's making out with a very tall, very hot brunette. But the brunette's a girl, so he files her away as off-limits and goes to hang out with Octavia instead of asking her to dance. Since she's Octavia's friend, she was already off-limits, so her being into girls is probably good, because apart from those two things, she would really be his type.
He figures it won't come up much anyway, but it turns out she and Octavia are planning to move in together, which means that she's going to become a fixture in his life whether he likes it or not.
(Various people have attempted to tell him that it's not really normal to hang out with his little sister as much as he does; his response to that kind of criticism tends to be cutting those people out of his life. He has plenty of his own friends too, but Octavia is his sister, and that's more important than anything. He's not interested in hanging out with anyone who doesn't get that.)
He's pretty busy these days, of course. He's getting his masters' and working a couple part-time jobs, but one is at a bar, which means he's guaranteed to see Octavia every time he works, because she knows she'll get at least two free drinks, and the girl can prioritize. The first time Clarke comes along, it's four months after they graduate, and Octavia all but shoves her onto a barstool. "You remember Clarke," she tells him, like there's no way he couldn't. To be fair, she's right.
"Hi," he says. "Nice to meet you again."
"Hi," says Clarke, not making eye contact. She looks a little worn out. It's not particularly encouraging, but Octavia doesn't care about stuff like that. She just grins.
"Great! Rum and Coke for me, vodka cranberry for her, Bell." Bellamy mixes up the drinks; O downs her in one gulp. "I'm going to go dance. Clarke's going to relax and be social. You got this?"
Bellamy can't help smiling at that. Trust his little sister. "Sure, I got this."
Octavia disappears into the crowd, leaving Clarke looking down at her drink now, clearly uncomfortable. They didn't talk much at graduation, just basic introductions, and he helped them move into their new apartment, but it's not like he and Clarke are really friends. But he'd be a pretty shitty bartender if he couldn't socialize with people he doesn't know.
"So, what did she do?" he asks.
Clarke looks up at that, puzzled. "What?"
"Octavia," he says, jerking his head in the direction she went. "To convince you to come out. It doesn't sound like your scene. Blackmail?"
"Oh," says Clarke. "Nah. The usual Octavia." Her fond smile when she says it instantly improves his opinion of her, not that it needed the help. "A lot of guilt about how med school is consuming my life, I'm not relaxing enough, I can't leave her without a wing man, I haven't taken any time to get to know you..." She laughs. "She really laid it on thick."
Bellamy laughs too. "Yeah, that's O for you. So tell me about med school."
It gets easier. Clarke is a little prickly, slow to warm up to people, but surprisingly sharp and funny once she settles in. Bellamy tends to be a little prickly himself, so he can relate, and it's probably broadly good that Clarke is same-sex oriented, because he needs absolutely everything he can get to remind himself that she's off-limits, with her showing up at the bar in low-cut tops twice a week.
(It would honestly help if she was more same-sex oriented. Aside from the graduation party, he hasn't seen her hook up at all. She spends all her time talking to him, even when he tells her hot girls are checking her out. It's not good for his mental health.)
It's December when he finds out about her ex-boyfriend.
They're out at some club on Friday to celebrate the end of finals (which Octavia doesn't even have, but she's the ultimate party opportunist) when Clarke tucks herself into his side, looking panicked. It's the closest he's been to her, and his arm wraps around her without his even fully registering he's doing it. She fits nicely against him.
"What?" he asks, leaning down close to hear her over the music. "What happened?"
"My ex showed up."
He follows her gaze and catches sight of a gaggle of people talking to Octavia--hot latina and a couple white guys, no one he recognizes.
"The worst." She pauses. "Also the best, I guess, I don't have any others. But everyone else says it was pretty bad."
"So, you're trying to make her jealous?" he hazards. He's not going to complain about it, but he's not sure what his role is here. Our breakup sucked so hard, I switched teams? He guesses that's something that could work.
"Not her. Finn. The guy in the hoodie." Her tongue darts out to wet her lips. "She's the one he was cheating on with me."
It takes Bellamy a few seconds to process this. "Oh. Douche."
"It was complicated," Clarke says, which is fairer than he'd be, under the circumstances. "But it screwed me up pretty bad. I haven't really dated anyone since that."
His arm tightens around her; he tries to tell himself that it's fraternal affection that makes him want to bash the guy's teeth in.
He's not having much luck with that.
"Do you want to get out of here?" he asks.
She worries her lip. "Raven forgave him. I forgave him too. I just--I don't want to talk to him. I don't know how to be around him. You know?"
"Sure," he says. "Come on. I'll take you home."
She gives him a grin, all teeth. "I guess I could do worse than him seeing me leave with a hot guy, right?"
He lets out an involuntary bark of laughter, filing away hot guy for later. "Whatever you say, princess."
A block away, he's still got his arm around her. He doesn't quite know how to let go.
"It was kind of an honest mistake," she offers at last.
"He was--he and Raven, the girl he was with. They were high school sweethearts, and they went to different colleges. They didn't exactly break up, not officially, and they still kept in touch, and they hooked up when they were both at home, so she thought they were together, and he didn't. So when he met me sophomore year, he liked me, and we started dating. But I guess he never told her about it." She sighs, watching her breath fog out. Bellamy squeezes her shoulder. "She'd put in for a transfer. She wanted to surprise him. We found out about each other, it was kind of a disaster. I don't think he meant to be an asshole."
"You're a lot more charitable than I would be," he grumbles.
"About everything," she says, giving him a quick grin before her face slips back to neutral. "Raven and I actually got to be friends, she's really cool. And she and Finn have known each other their whole lives, I'm not surprised they patched it up. I just didn't expect to see him. Like, ever again."
Bellamy is doing math in his head. Sophomore year is probably around three years ago. Clarke's first and only breakup was then, and she's apparently not recovered enough to date again.
"I get it," he says. "If I ever see him again, I'm going to knock his teeth in."
She laughs. "You don't have to."
He looks down at her, smiling again, if a little weakly. "Yeah. I really do."
He tries to remind himself that nothing has actually changed. He'd always known Clarke could be bi, or even straight and experimenting, but he tried very hard not to think about it, because there are still all sorts of other reasons he can't date her. Like that she's his sister's best friend and he's not really the dating type. And probably other things. There must be other things.
It's just harder to remember them when he thinks she might be interested.
"Is Clarke okay?" Octavia asks him the next morning, shaking him out of his thoughts.
"You took her home after Finngate," she says, swinging her legs. She came over for breakfast, which he knew was code for something, but he'd hoped wasn't code for talking about Clarke. But of course it was. "Which, thanks, I was hoping she'd find you while I distracted them."
"Sure," he says. "No problem."
"So, is she okay?"
"You saw her more recently than I did."
He shrugs, uncomfortable. "She told me about the guy. I told her I'd knock his teeth in if I ever saw him again. I took her home." He hesitates and adds, "I made her hot chocolate and put her to bed."
Octavia beams her full-on, brightest smile. "I knew you'd take care of her."
He coughs, trying to dislodge a lump in his throat. "Yeah, well. The guy sounds like a douchebag."
"Yup," his sister says brightly. "She did look like she was feeling better." She pauses and adds, "She told me to thank you for taking care of her."
Bellamy's stomach twists up a little, something between pride and nausea. "Tell her if she really wants to thank me, she'll give me that dick's address."
"He's not local," she says breezily. "Or, his parents are, but he's not. He and Raven are home for Christmas. He'll be gone in a week."
"I didn't invite them," Octavia adds, almost defensive. "I wouldn't do that to her. I would have warned her."
"I know." He can't help adding, "I thought she was gay."
The look Octavia gives him is way too knowing for his comfort and sanity. "She's bi. You could have asked."
"And if there's one thing you never are, it's rude," she says, rolling her eyes. "God, Bell. Do you need my blessing? I thought it was implied."
"What," he says, too flat to really be a question.
"I wouldn't be dragging her down to your bar and leaving her with you if I didn't approve of you dating her."
He splutters, recovers enough to say, "Dragging her?"
Octavia rolls her eyes. "Not anymore. Just the first few times. She put up her token I'm Clarke, I'm in med school, I can't have a life, blah, blah, whatever protests, but then I just had to say 'we're going to Bell's' and she was all over it. She reminds me when you're working now. I can't believe you didn't just ask me if she liked guys."
"Oh," says Bellamy. He scrubs his hand through his hair. "Last time I hit on one of your friends, you kicked me in the shins and told me I was gross."
"She was sixteen, you were gross." She takes a sip of coffee. "But Clarke's legal and you'd probably be good together, so if you want my blessing, you have it. Just hook up with here, that's all I ask. I don't want to deal with that in my apartment."
Bellamy stares at his muffin for a long minute, not really sure how to respond to that. "Well," he finally says, "that's the least I can do."
Clarke goes home for the holidays, and he gets a few scattered texts from her, standard holiday greetings, some complaining about her mother, and a hope you're kissing someone good at midnight on New Year's. He's at work when that one comes in, and had gotten a sloppy kiss on the cheek from a drunk girl, but nothing substantial. He texts back, nah, not without my favorite patron here and spends the rest of the night not looking at his phone as a defense mechanism.
He finally checks at closing time and sees, yeah, me neither, which is good enough for him.
And then she's back on the first Thursday of the year, without Octavia, for the first time ever. It makes him probably unreasonably happy.
"Hey," he says. "Happy New Year. No O?"
"She's on a date, if you can believe in. A second date."
That's enough to make him forget all about his whole Clarke situation. Octavia's always joked that Blakes are allergic to relationships; her dating is almost as unheard of as him dating. Maybe it's contagious. "A second date? With who?"
"Lincoln, he's the bouncer at that club we went to last time." It's the first reference she's made to that night with her ex, and it's still about as non-specific as possible. Her eyes dart away from him, and he wants to punch her ex again. "He seems cool. Strong, silent type. But he treats her like a queen."
Bellamy only has vague memories of the guy; he remembers seeing him when they went in and briefly when they left, but he gave up years ago on trying to interact with his sister's love life. "Good," he says. "He should."
Clarke smiles. "She also said you should wait until at least noon to call and grill her because she needs her beauty sleep."
"So that's what she's calling it," he mutters, and that makes Clarke laugh outright.
There's a pause, a little awkward, which is rare for them these days. She says, "How was Christmas?" at the same time he says, "I thought you were a lesbian," and they both stare for a second before she breaks out laughing again. He flushes.
"That's what you were thinking?" she asks.
He rubs the back of his neck. "I was working with the data I had. I saw you making out with a girl."
"The data you had," she says, rolling her eyes. "You could have just asked me," she adds, but it's amused, not accusatory. "I'm bi."
"Octavia told me." He drums his fingers on the bar, not looking at her. "The last time I hit on one of her friends, she stopped talking to me for a week. It seemed safer to keep on thinking you didn't like guys at all."
She's not looking at him, which is just as well. He doesn't talk about feelings, doesn't get crushes on girls, not for years. Back in high school, before his mom had died, he'd dated like he thinks most people do, but once he took over looking after Octavia, maintaining other relationships was just too much work. It didn't feel worth it.
"Apparently it's okay because you're not sixteen," he adds.
She snorts. "Sixteen?"
"She looked older."
That gets a full laugh, and he relaxes instantly. She has to get it, what he's telling her, and it's not so awkward for her they can't be friends anymore. It's a bit of a surprise, really, how much he cares about staying friends with her, but his whole relationship with her has been pretty surreal.
"Sure she did," says Clarke. She hooks one of her fingers around his, this weird, intimate gesture, and squeezes. He feels like he's blushing everywhere, which is ludicrous. "I asked her if she'd mind last month. Octavia, I mean."
He opens his mouth to reply, but a group of girls comes up for shots, and he does them one-handed, like a pro. He learned the trick to get extra tips, but he really just doesn't want her to let go.
Of course, it is really impressive, and he gets extra tips too, so that's a nice bonus.
"Show-off," says Clarke. He just squeezes her finger.
He calls Octavia at exactly 11:59 the next morning.
"God, you're a brat," she says.
"Second date?" he asks.
"I can't believe you made Clarke tell me."
"I can't believe she came home last night. You're a failure, Bell."
"She has class today," he says. "I have class today. You're the only one who has nothing to do on Fridays, O." She's a "social media expert," which seems to mean she works bizarre hours and gets in a lot of fights on twitter. He can't believe she gets paid some days.
He can practically hear her eyeroll. "Did you ask her out?"
"A failure," she says. There's a rustling and some static and then she says, "Lincoln's waking up. Call Clarke! Jesus, you're supposed to be the older, responsible one. I shouldn't have to tell you how to live your life."
"You don't have to, you choose to." He lets his head thunk back against the couch. "I'll call her. Love you, sis."
"Love you too, failure."
He's going to call Clarke, really, but he has class at one, and then he has office hours for the class he's TAing, and then he has reading to do, so it's perfectly reasonable. It's not like he has no idea what to say or anything.
There's a knock on his door at around seven and he finds Clarke outside with a brown paper bag. She holds it up. "Octavia said you liked Chinese."
"I do," he says, stepping out of the way so she can come in. She looks exhausted. "What's wrong?"
"So what are you doing here?"
Her eyes flash, which surprises him, and she puts down the Chinese to shove him in the chest. "Because I like you, Bellamy Blake, and I thought you liked me too, and when I like people I want to spend time with them, and I'm sick of just seeing you twice a week at work, so I brought you Chinese so we can sit on your couch and eat takeout and make out if you want, but not if you're going to be a dick about it." There's a pause and then she says, "I probably should have called to make sure you were free. And interested."
Bellamy starts laughing, can't help it, and Clarke cracks a smile too, still sheepish. "God, you're such a fucking princess," he says. "Of course I'm interested." And then it feels easy to kiss her, just quickly, he figures, since she's had such a long day and still looks so tired, but she throws her arms around him and kisses back with enough enthusiasm that he staggers back a few steps. Clarke is pushy and demanding, just like he thought she would be, and it's all he can do to not get swept away. He tries to slow her down a little, make the kiss something sweeter and deeper, but she's still desperate. "Hey, no rush," he murmurs against her lips.
"Rush," she says, tugging his bottom lip with her teeth. "It's been months."
He wants to agree, but he can see the bags around her eyes, feel the slight tremble that feels more like weariness than adrenaline. He knows she's busy, between school and part-time jobs and whatever else she does, so he just tugs her to the couch with the Chinese. "Well, I'm slowing us down," he says. "My game is awesome. You should be fully awake to appreciate it." He can tell she's going to protest, but it gets caught up in a yawn, and he smirks. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Shut up," she says, without venom, and settles in against his side on the couch. He unloads the takeout and gives her a carton, and she manages to eat and watch about two-thirds of an episode of Law and Order before she falls asleep on him.
He grabs his phone and takes a selfie of the two of them to send Octavia; she replies almost immediately with a picture of her own disgusted face and the message you guys are really pathetic, it is 9 pm on a friday, i cant believe we're related.
He snorts and texts back, well, you're not related to clarke.
Clarke stirs at the noise and stretches; he can hear her back cracking. It must have been a long week. "This wasn't really how I saw this going," she murmurs, settling in closer to his chest.
Bellamy slides his hand into her hair, smiling. "Me neither," he says. "But it could be worse."