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It started with Miller, which is the hardest part to explain later, after it’s spiraled out of control. But at the time it was really no more than a joke. A throwaway joke. 

Bellamy had been distributing guns and handing out guard assignments, looking over his misfit crew of teenage criminals like they were the real deal, because they had to be, because the enemy was out there, somewhere, beyond the gate. The atmosphere was understandably tense. Some of the new guard squared their shoulders and gritted their teeth, and tried to seem bigger than they were. Others just stared at their weapons like they hardly believed the guns were real. And some, like Miller, pretended this whole thing was a joke. Pretended they were in control and not afraid. So when Bellamy told him he was on the night shift, and then dismissed him with the others, he just smirked and said, “You got it, Dad,” as he slung his gun over his shoulder. 

It was a little weird. But at least it broke the tense atmosphere, the looming threat of war and death that had tied up everyone else’s tongue, so a few of them laughed anyway, uncertain and with obvious unease, before they scattered to their various posts. 

* 

“Why dad though?” Bellamy asked, as he finished his second circuit around the dropship ground floor.  

His tone said rhetorical but his face, when Clarke looked up from organizing their medical supplies, said explain this right now . So she thought for a moment and suggested, “Nervous joke about authority figures?” 

“Yeah, I got that.” He may not have always felt like the most obvious leader, but he knew that he was one. “I mean, why not a sarcastic ‘Yes Sir?’ and a…a salute or something?” 

Clarke shrugged. “Miller’s Dad is the head of the Guard on the Ark. Authority figures and parental figures are probably the same thing for him.” 

Bellamy gave her a look like he was about to say something sarcastic in response, but she was only answering the question he had asked, so he held his tongue. He leaned back against the dropship wall instead and conceded, “Everyone’s so tense. I guess they all have their own ways of dealing with that.” 

“Yeah.” Clarke stood up, dusted off her knees, and looked at the new arrangement of their meager medical supplies. She’d changed up her organizational system three times in the last two days and Bellamy had been pacing for about an hour now, a movement that should have been irritating, but which was somehow unexpectedly soothing. “Good thing we’re staying cool, though.” 

“Oh, definitely,” Bellamy nodded. “We’re keeping everything together.” 

* 

They enter the gates of Camp Jaha, and time collapses in on itself. Day blends into day and night into night; they stay up through the dark hours; they sleep in fits and starts in the pauses of the day.  

Mount Weather, where they stood among the carnage of their victory only days, a week, ago, feels an impossible eon in the past. It looms behind them, hazy like a nightmare or fever dream. 

Bellamy makes the Forty-Two his only priority. With Abby injured and medical overrun, Clarke takes to helping Jackson when she can, but still more often than not she's in the makeshift camp too, with the rest of the pardoned criminals, the original survivors of the advance guard. No one knows where to put the teenagers they've rescued, and most of them, after months spent in Mount Weather, the dropship camp, and the Sky Box, have no interest in sleeping alone. So spare bedding is found or made and space is cleared on the floor of the hangar deck, and they make a home among the boxes and debris. 

Octavia and Lincoln make their beds in the hangar camp too, as does Monroe, without question. After thirty-six hours in medical, Raven insists on being moved in with the others, where she agrees to stay off her leg and steadfastly promises it isn't hurting her too much. 

Bellamy stands by the door and looks over them: forty-seven survivors, thin and ragged and tired from what they've seen and done, but still here. Still continuing on. Jasper's fallen asleep next to Octavia; curled in on himself, he looks smaller than his height, and so does Monty, statue-still next to him with his arms wrapped around his knees. Across from them, Miller and Monroe have settled down on Raven's cot. The three of them are playing what looks like go fish with a pack of ratty playing cards Miller dug up from the hangar deck stores. 

At the edge of the group, Clarke and Harper are sitting on a threadbare quilt, Clarke quietly French-braiding Harper's hair. They're close enough for Bellamy to hear Clarke mumble, "Sorry—I'm really not very good at this." 

"It's okay," Harper answers. "My real mom wasn't either. You're doing your best." 

* 

Jasper picked up on the nickname next, which wasn't exactly a shock. Bellamy was admittedly startled the first time he felt a tap on his shoulder and a questioning, "Hey Dad?" behind him, but that was only because he hadn't expected the joke to last more than a day at most.

Then he realized it wasn't actually a joke. A group of eight or ten of them were gathered at the campfire—mostly the midnight guards waiting for their shift to start, plus a couple of insomniacs, plus, for her own mysterious reasons, Clarke—when Monty pointed out, "You basically are the dad of the group, though," an observation that stopped Bellamy cold in the middle of re-lacing his boots. 

"I really don't think I am," he answered. The really made him sound like he was protesting too much and the rest of the sentence was just weak and convinced no one. 

"You're the oldest," Monty pointed out. "Basically the only adult. And you make all of the decisions about what happens in the camp, like who sleeps where and who's on guard when. You settle disputes." 

"You're always around when someone's having nightmares," Jasper added. 

"Right—you're not just a leader. You're...paternal." 

"Clarke does a lot of that stuff, too, though," Harper reminded them. "She's a leader. She takes care of us when we're sick. And," she turned to her and, her voice turning quiet with the compliment, added, "and you always know what to say if one of us is feeling discouraged." 

"So that makes Bellamy the Dad of the group, and Clarke the Mom," Jasper concluded. He glanced over to Monty, then to Harper, then around at the rest of the group, and the way everyone nodded or hummed their agreement gave Bellamy a sinking feeling right in his gut. 

He caught Clarke's eye and knew she was thinking exactly the same thing. This was going to spread through the camp like fire.

* 

Eventually, slowly, the survivors of Mount Weather are assigned permanent sleeping quarters in the former Alpha Station. Some of them leave the hangar camp only reluctantly. But the promise of a real bed and real walls is not easily ignored. 

"You know why they're doing it, right?" Bellamy asks, low, under his breath, as he watches Harper and Monroe fold up the quilt. 

Clarke is standing so close to him that their arms brush against each other. He wants to put his arm around her waist. He wants her to lean against him, so he can hold her up. 

"I do," she answers. "But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing." 

The Sky People are getting restless. They've been on the ground for weeks. They are hungry and destitute. And most of them haven't seen Mount Weather, but they've heard about it: an underground bunker that sustained hundreds for decades, huge gardens, food stores, water, vast unexplored storage rooms. A treasure house. 

They'll need the hangar deck clear to hold their new supplies. 

"This needs to happen," Clarke says. "We're home now. We're with our people and our families again." 

Monty and Octavia are collecting pillows and bedding, methodically working their way down the rows of temporary beds. Monty carries a large cardboard box; Octavia throws the ratty pillows and blankets in. 

"Except," Bellamy reminds her, "most of them don't have families anymore." 

* 

The frost that so worried them melted in a day and a warm front like spring brought no-jacket weather to the camp within a week. "So much for winter," Bellamy declared. He let himself fall down, not without some grace, into one of the dropship seats in the middle of the camp yard. His hunting party had just returned from an overnight trip, but he was letting Miller take charge of distributing their new supplies, and allowing himself a rare five minutes of rest. 

"So much for one frost," Clarke corrected. Cooped up for days dealing with a small outbreak of fever, she was restless now, and couldn't bring herself to stand still. "We don't know which weather patterns are anomalies and which are actually the start of a new season. And all of our data about this region indicates they did have four seasons so we still need to be prepared." 

"I'm not saying we don't need to be prepared." Maybe, if he were in a bad mood, this would have been the start of an argument, a series of escalating misunderstandings between them. But the sun was shining too brightly on his face, and his legs ached in the best way from the morning's long hike back to camp, so he only smiled. "Maybe we can save worrying over the next crisis for when that crisis actually comes." 

For a moment, Clarke's face set into the hard lines that told Bellamy this might turn into a debate after all. But she only pursed her lips and came to sit down in the bucket chair next to his, mirroring his pose with her legs stretched out in front of her. "The next crisis like—when the Ark comes down?" 

Bellamy raised his brows. "Is that a crisis?" 

"No." Her voice sounded uncertain, and she swept her gaze across the dropship site, their tents and work stations and the wall they'd built themselves. "It's going to change everything, though." 

"Yeah." He huffed out a short breath of air. "No arguments here." 

None at all. Even with his pardon, he couldn't exactly say he was counting down the hours until the Ark leadership came down. Would they understand what these kids had done? Would they foolishly destroy it all? Would they institute the same leadership, the same laws, that had created this once rowdy delinquent class, that had formed the angry young man he'd been when he first stepped foot on the ground? 

He'd lost himself so thoroughly in these thoughts that he jumped when he heard Clarke's voice again, unexpectedly light:

"I guess there's one good thing about it." 

"And what's that?" 

He was pretty sure she'd start talking about all of the engineers and farmers and doctors the Ark would send, and what a jumpstart that would be to their community here. But all she did was poke her elbow right between his ribs and say, "No one will be calling us Mom and Dad anymore." 

And he had to laugh at that, more from sheer surprise than at the image of being called Dad in front of a group of real adults. Because that would never actually happen. "Right," he answered. "That's already gone on a lot longer than I thought it would." 

"I know ," Clarke agreed, groaning out the word know in a tone he hadn’t thought she even had in her. "Fox called me Mom when I stopped by her tent this morning. At first, I thought it was the fever talking. But I think it’s just—”

“Actually how they see us?”

"Yeah. Which is weird."

"Incredibly weird."

Incredibly weird—but unlikely, he thought, even as he caught Clarke’s eye and smiled, to go away on its own, before the Ark came down and changed their little camp for good.

*

There’s no shortage of jobs at Camp Jaha and soon, the former members of the hundred have all been put to work. The safety of routine helps to push the past away, and after a few weeks, it becomes hard to believe that those memories that haunt so deeply are even real: the dropship camp, the Mountain, the long trek back and the first hours of hazy uncertainty in a home that did not feel like home.

That is how Bellamy feels, at least. 

He knows more about the Guard than most people in Camp, his old training and his experience on the ground combining into the sort of prestige he could never have imagined when he was mopping floors back on the Ark. So now he finds himself in charge of training sessions and organizing scouting trips, and he even wears a Guard’s jacket, like the one he once stole. He tries not to find this too surreal. He tries to accept that this is what normal means now.

When the living quarters are opened up again, he’s offered one of the better rooms but doesn't want to take it. It seems too big for one person. And he’s used to making do with so much less. 

Clarke won't let him say no. She takes him by the shoulders and looks him in the eye, which makes his breath catch, though he doesn't want it to, and says his name in a gentle and serious way. "Bellamy,” she says. “Bellamy, you deserve this. Everyone has a room. No one is sleeping out in the cold so you can take this."

She's not wrong. They've suffered such losses, their biggest station has more than enough room for their survivors. He knows she's thinking this too because of the sad way she smiles when she squeezes his shoulders.

"These aren’t single person’s quarters, Clarke," he answers. 

He's not wrong about this either, which is why she ends up moving in with him. It doesn't feel weird. It feels like it should feel weird, but it's actually the only part of this new normal that rings true. It feels, he thinks but won’t dare to say aloud, like it's been a long time coming. 

They scavenge up two separate beds but the space between them is slim.

*

Bellamy would like all of them, the remaining members of the hundred, to have dinner together at least once a week. He's not trying to hold any of them back, of course, or tie them too much to the past. They have jobs now, and new neighbors, and some of them, the Alpha and Mecha kids mostly, have reunited with family or old friends. That's healthy and he wants what's best for them. But they only survived out in the dropship camp, the Forty-Two only survived Mount Weather, because they relied on each other. They formed a unit almost like a family and it would be a shame if, now that they've settled into Camp Jaha, all of that were just forgotten.

He tries to explain this to Clarke as they stand in line in the cafeteria. (Lines like these feel a lot like the Ark, though the food on the ground is better, even the meat that he didn't catch and kill himself.) She listens patiently but with a slight smile on her lips, one she tries to hide by glancing away from him whenever he looks over at her.

"What?" he asks finally, as they grab their trays and turn toward the main dining room. "What have I said that's so funny?"

"Nothing. Everything you said has been very sweet."

He wasn't going for sweet. More like practical , or sensible

"Then what's this smile for?" He points in the vague direction of her mouth, twisting his finger in a circle around her lips.

"Nothing," she insists. "Just—you really are like a dad, you know?"

Bellamy's instinct is to argue that point, but he doesn't get a chance. The crowd clogging the doorway clears and they finally get to step over the threshold into the main room, but before they can even glance around for a table, someone is yelling for them.

"Hey!" Raven’s waving her arm to grab their attention. "Mom! Dad! Over here!"

The group, their group , all forty-six of them, have already gathered together in the center of the room. Even without the waving and whistling—Miller thumping the empty chair next to him, Octavia grumbling what took you so long? —they’re hard to miss: it takes four tables arranged end to end just to seat them. Bellamy can imagine the effort it to took to move those heavy, unwieldy things into place. But they did it anyway, not to impress him or Clarke, but simply as a matter of course. 

He stares for a long moment, just taking it in. Then he looks at Clarke.

Her expression, first surprised, then impressed, and suffused all the way through with pride, matches just exactly how he feels.

"Well," she hums. "I guess our children are one step ahead of you this time."

*

When he wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, Bellamy lies on his left side and stares at the gray slats that cover the window, and thinks about how unusual it is to have a window in his quarters. His tiny room in Factory didn’t even have a peephole in the door. He's been awake long enough now for his eyes to have adjusted to the midnight gloom, so he can make out not only the window but the desk and the chair and even his bulky Guard jacket, where he left it after dinner, slung over the chair above his dirt-splattered old boots. And if he turned around, he'd be able to see Clarke, too, lying on her side and watching him, her face round and pale like a spirit's as she thinks her own unknowable thoughts.

He knows she's awake even though they haven't spoken to each other yet. So he's not surprised when her voice, so quiet he wouldn't be able to hear it if they were still up on the Ark, floats out of the darkness behind him and asks, "What's on your mind?"

Bellamy shrugs. He could tell her that he's not thinking about anything, a transparent lie she wouldn't believe, just because it's easier than trying to explain. But this is Clarke. And if he makes some effort to capture this feeling, even part of it, and put it to words, he knows she'll understand, because it resonates within her too.

She waits a long time and doesn't ask again, and finally he says, "I'm thinking about them."

"Which them?"

He almost says the kids , but stops himself in time. "The hundred."

"You think they're awake too?"

Bellamy rolls his body over so he's on his back, then again so he's on his other side and can look at her. He moves slowly because he feels unwieldy and too large for himself, his limbs weighted down by bone-deep fatigue. Clarke blinks at him and then offers the slightest and shortest of smiles. Like she’s glad he’s come around.

"Probably. Some of them."

She’s so close that if he reached out into the space between their beds, he'd be able to hold her hand, or touch her arm. Maybe, if they both slid to the very edges of their mattresses, he could even run his fingertips down her cheek. 

Instead he keeps his hands under his pillow and says, "I worry about them. I worry about them just as much as when the Grounders were attacking or when they were in Mount Weather."

This feels like a deep confession, something almost shameful in him, like an old habit he should have outgrown but can’t let go. So he's surprised when Clarke just murmurs, “Of course you do,” so matter-of-fact, as if she’d known what he was going to say before he did himself.

“Of course I do because I worry too much?” he asks. That’s what O would say. He can hear her voice in his head, a little eye roll at the first words, sliding into a plea at the end. Bell, you’re such a worrier. Bell, aren’t you tired of living like this?

“Of course you do,” Clarke repeats, “because there’s still so much to worry about.”

Maybe she’s talking about the kids who have nightmares. Or the ones who are in mourning, because their families are dead, or the ones who are in limbo, because most of the stations are still missing. Maybe she’s talking about Jasper, who hardly talks to anyone these days. Or maybe she doesn’t trust the peace that’s keeping everyone else calm, while the Guard and the shoestring leadership structure are on edge.

Maybe she's talking about all of it.

He waits a long time for her to say something more. The room is utterly quiet, but he knows she's awake because he can see her eyes shining in the darkness, staring back at him and blinking sometimes, slowly. Finally he just gives up and asks, “Aren't you going to say something encouraging?"

She smiles, and the expression is sadder and more bittersweet than anything she'd allow herself during the day. "No. I worry too."

It’s not reassurance, exactly. Not a promise, not an insistence on hope. But it's enough. It’s all he needs to hear. That he's not alone and that when he falls asleep—if he falls asleep—it will be with the knowledge that she's there with him, only a few feet away, just as scared and uncertain, waiting for dawn.

*

At the dropship camp, being called “Dad” had often felt like being the butt of a joke. In his more pessimistic moments, he’d wonder if he was being mocked or undermined, if it was time to reassert some authority and put a stop to this stupid trend at last. But then he’d hear one of the younger kids ask, “Dad, when are you going on another hunting trip?” with a painful note of hunger to his voice, or he’d catch sight of Clarke, her arm around Fox’s shoulder, trying to come up with something to say to her uncertain words—“I keep expecting them to show up every day, you know, Mom?”—and those thoughts would fall away. He’d think, maybe they need this and his worries would start to feel selfish, and he’d push them aside.   

At Camp Jaha, it's different. Knowing that he and Clarke are Dad and Mom, or some surrogate version thereof, is too reassuring to second guess. The titles are the best reminders he has that their old dropship family still exists, that the hundred are still his people, and that he still has the power to protect them. In his most helpless, most uncertain moments, he takes comfort in the notion. When he can't call back a hunting party gone too long, when he can't cure an injury with the snap of his fingers, when he can't take away the pain of loss or erase a nightmare from someone's mind or even find the right words to ease a breathless crying jag, he can at least remind himself that he’s not a total failure here. He's doing something right. Dad might not have been a title he originally deserved, but that he has it still means he's earned it, and he can’t help but be stupidly, secretly, proud.

What, precisely, it means to be Dad , he can’t actually say. He's something more than a make-believe, playhouse version of a father figure, something less than an actual parent. It's not a role he could explain to anyone, but then, no one ever asks. Outside of their insular group, no one even knows about the old tradition, and as long as the dropship survivors stick to themselves, the status quo remains unchallenged, uninterrogated. 

But the assimilation he first predicted when the hangar camp was broken up is as inevitable as he’d always known it would be. It starts slowly, but continues surely. Groups meld together. Lines blur. And then the questions he'd always been glad never to hear start to be asked.

The first moment of confusion coincides with his first mission outside camp. Whether this is a coincidence or not, he doesn’t know. But since he wasn’t around to watch the awkward events unfold, he has to hear the whole story from Clarke on the evening of his return, as he sits on his bed scraping mud from his shoes and she lounges back against her pillows, engaged in no activity more strenuous than watching him and catching him up on what he missed.

It started, as Clarke explains it, with Miller and Raven getting into some sort of fight over her habit of leaving her tools all over Camp Jaha. “I heard this part from Raven, so I only know the biased version of events,” she adds, and Bellamy gives a little snort.

“I’ll get the other side of the story from Miller later,” he answers, turning his left boot sideways to get a better look at the scrim of dirt right near the sole.

“I wouldn’t.”

He pauses a moment to raise his eyebrows, but Clarke just waves him back to his work. “It’ll make sense soon. According to Raven, she's trying to work, when Miller approaches her about this tool issue. And you know how they both are: they've been stuck in camp so long, Raven can't do most of the work she used to do even around here—"

"They're both stir crazy," Bellamy says, with a little shrug, because he knows exactly what Clarke means. A sense of claustrophobia runs through the whole settlement, but for Miller and Raven, the problem is particularly acute. Miller used to be one of Bellamy’s go-to people for hunting and scouting missions, back at the dropship camp, and even though he’s been accepted into the official Camp Jaha Guard, he’s not exactly second in command anymore. He’s not at the head of the line for the best assignments, the ones that would take him beyond the perimeter walls. And Raven has pushed herself into a remarkable recovery from her Mount Weather injuries, but she’s back to using a cane just to walk and is still barred from most of the work she used to do.

"Exactly," Clarke nods. "I don't know how he actually approached her, but she said it was combative, wanting to know why she can't pick up her stuff and if there's any reason she left a hammer, or whatever it was, in the corridor by the North Wing dorms, and so on. And she told him to mind his own business, he wasn't even on Guard duty, and even if he was on Guard duty, she doesn’t answer to him, and he needs to leave her alone." Clarke pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath, and sighs. Bellamy sets his first boot down and picks up the second, knocking off the biggest patches of dried mud onto the rag he's left on the floor before he moves on to more detailed cleaning. He doesn't prompt her to go on, because he knows she will once she's ready. 

"I guess eventually the fight just devolved into random yelling,” she continues, then, “and that's when Miller stepped back and said something like 'I'm going to talk to Dad about this.'"

“‘Dad’ like Sergeant Miller?" Bellamy asks, glancing up for a moment from his work, slight confusion furrowing across his brow. He's never known Miller to bring his personal problems to his dad. They've rebuilt their relationship with enviable ease—almost watching a loved one die puts a lot of former problems in perspective—but Miller's still the sort of person who solves his disagreements on his own.  And even more than that, problems among the hundred tend to stay within the group. That’s just how it is. 

It stings a little to think that might not be how it is anymore. 

"That's what Richie Mayfield thought," Clarke answers, with a significant look. She isn't smiling, but Bellamy can read amusement, barely held back, in the lines around her eyes and the tilt of her head. "He heard the fight, assumed Miller wanted his father to mediate, and went off looking for him." 

The truth of the situation dawns on Bellamy slowly, and he's not sure if he should find it sweet and touching or just hilarious. The corner of his mouth curves up. "Except that he actually meant..." 

"You. So when Sergeant Miller got there, Miller was completely confused. He hadn't even realized Richie heard him, let alone misunderstood like that, and he was still angry about the tool issue—Raven said it took them ten minutes to sort it all out and that she was laughing so hard by the end she wasn't even mad anymore." Clarke pauses a moment, her own smile so bright and relaxed that Bellamy almost loses his grip on the shoe he's holding only loosely, now, in one hand. "I wouldn't say Raven's Miller impression is accurate ," she continues, "but it is pretty funny." 

Bellamy can imagine, can picture Raven deepening her voice and putting on an exaggerated grumpy face. But he'd rather think about what Clarke must have looked like, watching her, smiling or laughing maybe, giggling like all the cares of the last months had fallen completely from her shoulders. 

He doesn't realize the expression on his own face has become suspiciously fond. 

"So—what did Miller actually tell his dad?" Bellamy asks, abruptly dropping his gaze down to his work again. "Did he explain the whole..." He waves a hand in broad circles. "History?" 

Clarke just shrugs lightly. "I got the impression he was mostly embarrassed, awkward, and incoherent about it and his dad just gave up trying to untangle the whole back story." 

"For now at least," he adds. His voice is low but he's not surprised that Clarke catches the words, or the worry in his tone. 

"Yeah," she echoes. "For now. Does it bother you, that people are starting to notice what the rest of the hundred call us?" 

He hadn't expected the question, so precise and soft, cutting short the quiet pause they'd started to slip into, and for a moment he's not sure what to say. How to explain. 

"No," he manages, at last. He busies himself setting his shoes down, lining them up neatly next to each other on the floor. "I just don't think most of them will understand. What right do we have, to be surrogate parents? Especially to kids who have real parents on the ground?" 

"What right did the Ark have to send us down as radiation level test subjects?" Clarke counters. "The Council made a hard choice, I—I understand that." The memory of her own hard choices flashes briefly across her face, and she pulls herself to the edge of the bed, swings her legs over the side so she and Bellamy are face to face. "But...we had nothing when we came down. No organization, no support—" 

"No rules? Whatever the hell we want?" He won't pretend he didn't try to benefit from exactly that circumstance, but Clarke waves the phrase away.  

"You didn't build a dictatorship, Bellamy." She catches his eye then, and won't let him look away. Her hands settle with unexpected weight on his knees. "We built a family. And that's not going away. And if anyone questions that, that's what we tell them." 

Her confidence feels contagious, at least in the moment, but he still feels that's easier said than done. 

* 

Camp Jaha has no Council, only a Chancellorship, which relies on the fear and confusion of the Ark survivors for its semblance of legitimacy, and a well-controlled Guard armed with guns and shock batons. Day to day life continues anyway, untainted by warfare at least, and stability is an illusion most can still afford to believe. Bellamy sees how thin it is. 

But was it better on the Ark, or was the fantasy just a little better drawn? Some nights he and Clarke sit on the floor in their room, backs against his bed, sometimes his arm over her shoulders or his head in her lap, and draw each other back and forth in this debate. But it's an academic question, in the end. 

What matters is that decisions still need to be made and power exercised; control cannot be abandoned and left to fall wherever it may. So a group, not elected, not named, forms in its own uncertain, clumsy way, and starts to meet every few days in one of the small Alpha Station common rooms on the far side of the ship. There's not a lot of space there, and even less privacy, but the old Council room on Go-Sci is still up in space. Secretly, Bellamy thinks that's probably better. He still doesn't believe anyone would let a janitor from Factory into that secret circle. 

As it is, he has a seat at the table with Clarke, Abby, Kane, Sergeant Miller, and Sinclair, where today they are discussing the long-term sustainability of their food sources  and the possibility of farming. "We need to bring Monty Green into this conversation," Bellamy argues, and to Abby's slightly skeptical look, "I know he's only fifteen and his training's in engineering—" 

"But he was raised on Farm, which makes him more of an expert than almost anyone else in camp at this point," Clarke finishes. "Unless we find Farm Station survivors—" 

"Which is still a possibility," Kane puts in. 

"But not something we can count on," Sinclair counters. "We need to be cross-training people more than we are—" 

"Let's just focus on one problem a time," Abby cuts him off with unexpected sharpness, and everyone's jaws snap abruptly shut. A tense pause starts to grow, as they eye each other warily. But just as Kane opens his mouth to respond, the growing tension is broken by a series of loud shouts and a stampede of running feet. 

Three girls, no more than seven or eight years old, run down the hall, through the doorway, and into the room, shouting and laughing, the second two obviously chasing the first. They pay the Chancellor and the makeshift Council as little attention as they would a room full of statues. Bellamy's sure their boundless energy will carry them all the way through to the opposite hallway without pause, that they'll be gone as quickly as they came, when the second girl finally catches up to the first, grabbing her by the shoulder with just a bit too much force and wrenching her backwards. The target pulls away again and whirls on her heel. Then, before the adults in the room have even gotten over their initial shock, she's tilted back her head and started screaming out, " Mooooom !" at the top of her lungs. 

Bellamy can only spare half a thought—that this is possibly the weirdest thing that's happened to him since he landed on the ground—when Clarke makes the situation even more surreal by standing up. 

She doesn't actually walk toward the girls—because she's already realized her mistake, or because the child's real mother makes her appearance just in time, Bellamy isn't sure—but her cheeks are still blushing a high, mortified red as she sits back down. The woman gathers up the girls, makes several embarrassed apologies of her own, and ushers them out with warnings about interrupting the Chancellor, but Bellamy barely pays attention to her. He's staring at Clarke, who's staring down resolutely at her own hands. 

She doesn't look up until her mother asks if she's okay. From Abby's voice, Bellamy can tell that what she really wants to say is what was that? Clarke wasn't the only one who'd made a jerking, instinctive movement toward a child in distress—Abby, Sergeant Miller, and Bellamy had all reacted too—but she was the only who pushed her chair back and got to her feet.  

Now she only shrugs. "Nothing. Just—" She sits up a little straighter, gives some more volume to her voice. "Just at the dropship, if someone called out 'mom,' it was for me. So I guess I'm just used to responding to it." 

Abby keeps staring like this explains exactly nothing, but Bellamy can see a gentle realization dawning on Sergeant Miller's face. He changes the subject quickly. 

Bellamy doesn't know if Abby talked to Miller's dad later, or to Clarke herself, but when she runs into him in the commons two days later, helping Peter Colton fix the broken shelves salvaged from his old room, she looks at him with an expression that is equal parts affection and respect. 

* 

Most people don't ask the question outright. They ask it in the form of perplexed expressions or lingering furrowed-brow stares, like they know there's something weird about Bellamy and Clarke and the prison station kids, but they don't want to just come out and say it.

Kyle Wick is one of the few who’s upfront about how confusing he finds them.

He's joining Raven, Clarke, and Bellamy for lunch after a long morning of setbacks and half-starts on the medbay repairs, and at first, all four of them exhausted and hungry, conversation is slow. It's only when Monty stops by with a quick message from Sinclair and a heads up that Octavia is asking around about getting her hands on a horse that Wick's face takes on a new, alert, curious look and Bellamy knows he's starting to form the usual questions in his head. The look becomes more pointed when Monty leaves them with a quick, "Enjoy your double date with Mom and Dad," shot over his shoulder at Raven. 

"It's not a—" Clarke starts to call after him, but he's already gone. Bellamy can feel the tips of his ears getting red as if he were no older than fifteen again himself, and the whole table is shrouded by an awkward uncertainty.

He’s searching around for literally any topic of conversation when Wick asks, “What's that about anyway?" with an abrupt heartiness that at least finally breaks the strained pause.

Raven tilts her head. "What was what?"

"He just thought he was being funny, with the date thing," Clarke adds. She looks like she's blushing, too, and Bellamy's not sure if that makes the knots in his stomach ease or tighten. It's not like the kids haven't made jokes like that before—he's always figured that they're just part of the mom-and-dad tradition, just a little bit too easy, too obvious, to ignore—but not usually in front of outsiders, like Wick. So maybe that's what bothers her.

Or maybe it's because they had to grab a small table in the corner of the room, not quite big enough for four people, and his knee is touching hers under the table. Maybe it's because they've been here for fifteen minutes at least and she still hasn't even tried to pull away.

"No, I mean, the 'Mom and Dad' thing," Wick says. "I've heard Raven call you that, too. 'I'm having dinner with Mom and Dad tonight.' 'Dad's on patrol this morning.' 'I think Mom's in medical.' That sort of thing. What's the story behind that?"

Raven shrugs and answers, “It’s a dropship tradition,” as if it were obvious. “It’s sort of a joke but also just…it makes sense. Because that’s what they are within the group, the parent figures who make decisions and keep everyone in line, kept everyone sane when things got scary and uncertain.” She glances across the table at them, just for a moment, then adds, “For a lot of those kids, that was more parenting than they’d ever gotten at home.”

Wick obviously knows her well enough to know that she’s talking, in part, about herself, because his face takes on a serious cast and he gives her shoulder a short, wordless squeeze.

“Anyway, it’s just a habit by now,” Raven continues, with a forced lightness, as she picks up her fork again. “I don’t even know how it started.”

“It was Miller,” Bellamy says. He does remember, with an almost frightening clarity, standing by the wall they’d built themselves, shouting out the watch schedule while the sky turned twilight gray above him. He remembers the way Miller said, “You got it, Dad,” with every bit of his inflated confidence on display, and the nervous laughter that ran through the rest of the group in response. It’s hard to believe it was months ago. Harder still to hide the sense that he’s lived a lifetime since.

“No it wasn’t,” Raven answers, and snaps him out of his thoughts. She sounds completely incredulous, and when he looks over at her, she’s staring at him with an almost combative look on her face. “There’s no way it was Miller who came up with the idea.”

“He did, though,” Clarke insists. “He was the first one to call Bellamy ‘dad.’ He wasn’t the one who spread it through the camp but he started the whole thing.”

“And the first person to call you ‘mom’ was…Harper?” Bellamy squints his eyes for a moment, trying to remember.

“Mmmm,” Clarke hums, nodding. “I think so. But by then it was already moving past the point of a joke.”

“Mostly,” Bellamy adds. "Sometimes it's hard to tell." 

Clarke opens her mouth to say something more, thoughtful expression around her eyes like she's just remembered some other obscure detail of the past, when Wick interrupts, "You know what, nevermind. I think I understand now." 

"Your engineer's brain finally caught up with us?" Raven asks, arching an eyebrow. 

"Ha ha. You're hilarious as always, Reyes." 

Bellamy doesn't ask what he's done in the last few minutes to make himself seem fatherly, because he doesn't really want to know. Because, more specifically, he gets the feeling Wick's comment wasn't really about that at all. It was about him and Clarke; how they exchange a quick glance of bitten-back, fond smiles; how when they look across the table again, Wick and Raven are watching them, like they know some open secret he and Clarke have missed. 

* 

Monroe turns seventeen at the end of what Lincoln tells them is an unseasonably warm early-winter week. Most years, the TonDC region would have seen its first snow by now. But so far they've only woken up a few mornings to frost and felt a handful of deep bone-chilling winds. 

Bellamy hasn't been on the ground so long that he doesn't still feel a thrill when a gust blows around him, ruffling his hair and making goosebumps rise on his skin. 

They wait until the sun goes down, then grab up extra blankets, hats and gloves where they can find them, and light a roaring fire in the main fire pit. Bellamy stands back a little and watches as the others start passing out mismatched mugs and cups. He doesn't realize Clarke has come to stand by his side until he feels her hand on his arm. 

"Worrying about the cold?" she asks, and he can practically hear a silent, teasing dad at the end of her words. 

"Counting who's here," he answers. His voice sounds gruff, but when she links her arm through his, he pulls her a little closer, his hand over her hand. Octavia is one of the few who still hasn't arrived. He can tell that Clarke, after a quick glance around the group, notices this too. He'd like to keep his post and keep watch for her, but Monroe has saved them both seats next to her, close up to the fire, and it seems rude to say no to her at her own party. 

The last stragglers show up before too long anyway, including Monty, with a full container of the moonshine he hasn't made since Unity Day and, not long after, Jasper and Octavia, who approach the group with a peculiar calm that immediately makes all eyes turn to them. 

The first sight of them is shocking, in a way that Bellamy would later be hard-pressed to define. It's not just that Jasper's shorn his hair almost completely off, or that the haircut and the too-big sweater he's wearing highlight how thin his face has become. It's not even the way he stares at them, hard and distant, like he's daring someone to speak. And it's not that Octavia's wearing Grounder braids in her hair, and the jacket Tri Kru gave her before the alliance broke, because this is nothing new. It's that neither of them look anything like the kids who first stepped out of the dropship door. The reality of the passage of time, and the pain of transformation, hit him all at once—which is perhaps appropriate, given that they've gathered for a birthday, after all. A marker of a new year beginning.

"Are you going to join us or not?" Monty asks, finally, a hard edge of impatience to his voice. 

That seems enough to break the spell, and Jasper and Octavia join the rest of the crowd, Jasper plucking a cup of moonshine from Monty's fingers as he passes by. He stops behind Monroe and tries to give her a brief, one-armed hug, but she pulls him into a longer, closer embrace. "I like the new hair," Bellamy hears her whisper. 

"So did we miss the singing or what?" Octavia calls out, from the spot she's found next to Lincoln.

"There's not going to be singing," Monroe answers. The words sound like a threat, but Octavia is unfazed. 

"It's not a birthday if there's no singing." 

A few others chime in, all in favor, and eventually Monroe relents. Then forty-seven voices erupt in a slightly out-of-sync and very off-key version of Happy Birthday, loud enough to be heard all through the camp. Bellamy can hear Clarke's voice ringing out clearly next to him. She's not a very good singer, but like the rest of them, she sounds nearly jubilant by the final happy birthday to you , and the heavy feeling pressing against Bellamy's chest starts to ease. 

"You know who would have really liked that?" Jasper asks, as the final stragglers' last notes die out. He's taken up a spot on the ground in front of Raven, hands outstretched toward the fire. "Fox. She loved to sing." 

Tension threatens to seep back into the pause that follows. Bellamy watches as the others flick their eyes across the circle, into the shadows, like they're waiting for Fox's ghost itself to appear. Like they can feel it, feel her still with them.

Bellamy feels Clarke's hand slide into his, her skin cold and rough as her palm presses against his and their fingers intertwine.  

Then—"You're right," Monroe announces, voice full and brave in the silence. “She would have loved this. So would Sterling.”

“And Roma,” Bree adds. She is already lifting her mug.

“And Finn,” Raven says, almost defiant.

Their group seems to grow as each new name is said, invisible ghosts of the fallen crowding in, as those who have cups toast them. There weren’t enough mugs to go around, so pairs and trios have to share. It’s Clarke who’s holding theirs and Clarke who raises their drink high for Wells.

Memories flow easily into the spaces they’ve made for the dead. Stories that were almost forgotten are unexpectedly resurrected and then shared. They are bittersweet sometimes, and shaded always by loss, but still, as the hours wear on, they’re laughing more often than they’re crying. Bellamy loses track of time. He loses track of himself. All he knows is that sometimes he has to double over to catch his breath; and sometimes someone will jostle him, and he’s not sure who; and sometimes his knee bumps up against Clarke’s and for a while her head is on his shoulder, and for a while his arm is around her waist. And he’s pretty sure that once, or maybe more than once, she pushes a stray curl out of his eyes with gentle fingers.

The party doesn’t break up until after the first shots of pink and yellow sunrise have broken through the sky. By then, exhausted if no longer tipsy (the moonshine ran out hours before), it’s all they can do to douse the fire and say their goodbyes, their joking versions of goodnight. The others hug or kiss, pull each other off in one direction or the next, get tangled up in each other’s limbs and pull away confused and laughing. Slowly disperse. 

Bellamy and Clarke hang back. They wait until the others have all disappeared and only the early morning patrol are left, black shadows on the periphery of their vision, before they even think of turning back to Alpha Station.

By then, Bellamy’s sure he’s only still on his feet because he’s got his arm around Clarke’s waist. And he’s equally sure that, if she weren’t leaning so heavily against his side, she’d be curled up on the ground, asleep, herself.

“You ready to go home?” she mumbles, and glances blearily up at him.

“You have no idea.”

She laughs, a cute and exhausted little laugh, because she very obviously does.

Outside the door to their quarters, he stops her before she can key in the code and walk in. Maybe he’s an idiot—she’s looking at him as if he were, asking him if something’s wrong—but he just has this feeling, this feeling that if he doesn’t say this now he never will. Her hand is still in his, and it’s enough to ease his last few lingering doubts. 

“If I kissed you now,” he asks, “would I be completely misreading the mood?”

A smile like realization dawns across her face, and she shakes her head. “You would not.”

She leans up on her toes to meet him, just as he leans in.

His hands at her waist keep them both steady, while her fingertips linger against his cheek and jaw, as if she expected he might try to pull away at any moment, and she would have to pull him back in. But he doesn't. Wouldn't dream of it. They stay just as they are for a long time.

As they kiss, they become different people. They are no longer surrogate mom and surrogate dad. They are not leaders or soldiers. They have never taken human life, nor saved it. Instead, they fall back in time, until they are little more than kids themselves, coming home late from a party with their friends, lingering together in the hallway just outside the door because they cannot bear to say goodnight. Because they cannot bear for the night or the moment to end.