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we're too good at goodbyes

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SIX YEARS LATER

 

“We’re ready for take-off,” Raven says from the controls. Bellamy can hear her grin as she raises her voice to shout, “Or take-down. Who’s ready to go back to Earth?”

There are whoops behind him from the rest of them. Bellamy just nods.

Raven raises an eyebrow at him. “A little more enthusiasm for the months I put into fixing this piece of junk would be nice.” She looks him up and down. “Everyone else is wearing their nicest clothes and you still look like you rolled out of bed. It’s like you don’t even care.”

“Just get us down to Earth, Raven.”

Raven places her hand on the lever, pauses, and offers him a sly glance. “You should at least go shave for once. Make yourself a little more presentable for Earth, and maybe she’ll decide to keep us this time.”

Bellamy doesn’t smile back. “Cute. But no time. Now pull the damn lever.”

And she does, but he finds himself dwelling on her words upon re-entry. The truth is, Bellamy had all the time in the world to shave regularly while they lived in space, but he didn’t. Which might seem strange, considering he had certainly always found time for it while they were on the ground.

Through all the highs and lows that life on Earth presented, he somehow always managed to find a few minutes with a mirror and a razor or knife to keep himself clean-shaven. He clung to the ritual religiously. It was his way, he supposes now, of trying to keep his reflection looking the same as it always had. Because with each passing day on the ground, with each terrible decision he made, with every life lost because of him, Bellamy found it more and more difficult to recognize himself.

The day he left Clarke behind, he stopped trying to.

His first thought when he sees her again is, that girl looks like Clarke, if she cut her hair.

It’s a ridiculous thought to have, especially when they’re under heavy fire, but then the girl actually turns around, hair flying. Her bright blue eyes fix on his. And his heart drops through his stomach like a bowling ball.

That is Clarke.

His mind hardly has even a second to reel with disbelief at what he’s seeing— is she real? Is she just another hallucination? Did he die already and she’s just here to welcome him home?— before a Colony soldier’s bullet sprays the dirt right in front of him, and he goes back into survival mode.

Clarke is shouting something at him. He runs towards her, forgetting himself, and that’s when he realizes she’s dragging someone with her. A little girl, blood staining her torso, limp and breathing shallowly in Clarke’s arms.

He finally tunes in to what Clarke is saying. “I know a way out!”

He looks into Clarke’s eyes and it all clicks in his brain; this is real, live, breathing Clarke Griffin. She looks older, different than he remembers, and more beautiful than his imagination would ever be able to conjure.

He doesn’t recognize the girl, but Clarke clearly isn’t interested in leaving her behind. So he kneels and picks her up in his arms. “Lead the way,” he tells Clarke, and they run.

It takes a lot of effort before they finally escape the Colony (again). Once things are relatively quiet, he follows Clarke as they stagger into a quiet cave. And he watches the back of Clarke’s head and feels numb, unable to truly process it yet.

Clarke collapses on the ground and beckons to him frantically, and he gently sets the girl down beside her. Clarke immediately bends over the girl’s wounds.

He doesn’t know what to say. The young girl is bleeding heavily, and far too pale.

Of course he expects Clarke to try and save her. He expects her to ask him to find something to dress the wound, or water, or something. But Clarke is tripping on her words, hands shaking. “I— I need—” She’s near incoherent. “Please. Madi can’t die.”

The whispered plea reaches his ears and tugs his heartstrings. Her eyes beg him, and he once again wonders what this girl— this Madi— means to her. Clarke had risked her life to try and drag her out of the line of fire. There is so much more to this story that he doesn’t know.

But Bellamy doesn’t need to know the history. From the look in Clarke’s eyes, he understands at once, without her having to say anything more.

He gets to his feet. “Tell me what you need.”

Bellamy doesn’t say a lot while Clarke works. He just hands her things when she needs them. Every time their hands brush, she feels an electric shock.

Madi’s finally stable, or at least as stable as Clarke would be able to get her with the supplies she has. She leans back on her heels and wipes her forehead. While she was working, Bellamy had gotten a fire going. The crackling is the only sound between them as Clarke settles back. She sneaks a glance at him; he’s staring into the flames with a closed off expression. His hair is long and curly against his forehead, and he’s got scruff, too. As handsome as ever, maybe more. A small scar on his temple that she doesn’t remember.

He’s so familiar, yet… so foreign. She’d imagined their reunion a dozen different ways over the years, but never had she imagined it could be like this.

Awkward.

Bellamy is the first to break the silence. “How did you survive, Clarke?”

His voice is flat, not gentle like she remembers. She tries to work moisture into her mouth.

“The nightblood worked,” she tells him. “I was… it was bad, for a while, but then I healed.”

He’s quiet, then: “I’m glad you’re alive.”

She frowns slightly, because the thing is, he doesn’t quite sound it. Before she can really wrap her head around that, he adds, “We all made it back to the Ark. Thanks to you.”

She sits up. “So everyone’s— still alive?”

“Hope so,” Bellamy says blandly. “The mining colony was waiting when we came down, Clarke. We tried getting away, but…”

“The Colony has them?” Clarke swallows. She and Madi had barely managed to escape themselves. “What do they want with them? I thought they just wanted to take over our land.”

His bland expression breaks for a bitter smile as he prods at the fire with a stick. “Yeah, well, they want to get rid of any more complications that might come up. Meaning us.”

“Us?”

Bellamy nods once, still not looking at her. “Well, what’s left, at least before they realize there’s still a bunker. You. Me. And… Madi?”

It feels strange to hear Madi’s name from his mouth. Moreso because it’s the first time in this entire conversation where his tone becomes soft. And then he glances over at Madi, who’s still sleeping peacefully, and Clarke can see the tension of his shoulders easing a bit.

“Madi,” Clarke confirms eagerly. “She’s been with me for years.”

He looks back at the fire. “Where’d you find her?”

He’s feigning disinterest but she can see past it. “She was an undiscovered Nightblood. It’s a miracle she survived so long as a child on her own.”

Bellamy nods again, and Clarke finds herself discouraged. The disconnect between them leaves her feeling disoriented. Her and Bellamy are not supposed to be like this.

But then again, they only really knew each other for barely half a year. He’s been gone for six. She’s only been part of a small part of his life. The thought makes her feel very small.

Meanwhile, the silence stretches between them. Bellamy finally says, “It’s late. You should get some rest.”

Clarke rubs her eyes. She doesn’t want rest. She wants to fix them.

But Bellamy’s already turning away towards the mouth of the cave, apparently deciding to be first watch, and it occurs to her that maybe the truth is that they simply have grown too much to recognize each other anymore.

The thought is so depressing that she chooses sleep over being awake to think it.

In the morning, Madi’s still asleep and still stable to Clarke’s relief. Leaving her and Bellamy to their tense, awkward silence. But the bright sun shining through the cave’s entrance makes her feel a little more hopeful about the situation. Clarke determinedly latches onto the one thing she thinks will bond them together while he’s boiling water for breakfast tea. “So, what’s the plan to save them?”

He looks up at her then. “What plan?”

“Our friends. The others who were captured,” Clarke says. “Aren’t we going to try and save them?”

Bellamy returns his gaze to the campfire. “No.”

“No?” Clarke is at a loss. “What do you mean, no?”

“It means,” Bellamy returns, his tone once again maddeningly flat, “that we don’t have the firepower to go against these guys. You saw what happened last night.” He jerks his head in Madi’s direction. “Trying to go after them now is suicide. We have to lay low and wait for an opportunity.”

She stares at him in shock. She almost can’t believe the words came from Bellamy Blake’s mouth. “That opportunity might never come!”

“Then that’s just how it is,” Bellamy snaps. “If you want to walk in there and die and feel heroic, then be my guest. But I owe it to them to stay alive and find a way to get them out.”

“While you’re so busy trying to stay alive the Colony might decide to kill them,” Clarke shoots back, and then, desperate, “Our friends, Bellamy! Every minute we don’t act is another minute before they die!”

Bellamy’s jaw tenses and he glares at her. But she’s unrepentant.

How can he not feel the same way? She yearns to see them all again. It’s been so long. She’s missed her people so much she can hardly stand it. And she’d never have thought Bellamy would be the one standing between her and finally seeing them again.

“We’re not doing it, Clarke. End of discussion.”

She can’t help the spiteful words that fly from her mouth: “I never thought you’d be one to back down from a fight.”

Bellamy’s on his feet within the instant, nose-to-nose with her. “I’m not backing down,” he hisses. “I’m doing what you would’ve done.”

“This is not what I would’ve done!” Clarke shouts. Just then, there’s a stirring behind them, and then a sleepy voice.

“Clarke?”

Both Bellamy and Clarke whip their heads in the direction of Madi, who’s sitting up a bit, squinting groggily. “Clarke, where are we?”

Clarke forgets momentarily about her problem with Bellamy and comes closer to Madi to check her temperature. “Madi, it’s okay. Lie down. We found shelter. No one’s after us.”

Madi relaxes a bit, then winces, clutching her ribs. “My—”

Clarke stops her. “You’re going to be fine. I fixed you up.”

Madi’s eyes travel from Clarke to somewhere above her shoulder. She tenses. Clarke understands why. There’s a stranger behind her, and he last strangers they encountered in the past few years were the Colony.

Clarke knows she could just say, he won’t hurt you, he’s okay, he’s a friend. But she chooses the shortest route. “This is Bellamy.”

Madi’s eyes get a little wider and Clarke’s head catches up with what she’s just said. She internally winces. She’s said a lot of things about Bellamy to Madi. A lot of them were said under the influence of melancholy and nostalgia and once in a while, alcohol—

Bellamy,” Madi says, sitting up even more. “Really?” and Clarke turns to see Bellamy smiling slightly.

Clarke’s breath catches. Smiling. He almost looks like the Bellamy she knew again.

He kneels at Madi’s side. “Hi, Madi,” he says gently. “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course I do,” Madi says matter-of-factly. Clarke tries to give her a warning look but the younger girl isn’t looking at her, she’s looking at Bellamy. “You were on the ground with Clarke when all that stuff happened. You were friends. Best friends.”

Clarke lets out a breath. That description isn’t too bad.

Bellamy looks surprised. “Yes,” he says, soft, “I guess you could say we were.”

Clarke’s heart pangs at the past tense. She clears her throat. “When stuff happens like the stuff that happened to us, it would be hard not to become friends with your allies,” she tells Madi authoritatively. “We were just trying to survive. All of us who came down on the dropship became family to each other eventually.”

Madi’s grinning and Clarke doesn’t much like the mischievous nature of it. Wanting to get off this topic, she stands. “We should find the Rover.” At Bellamy’s questioning look, she explains, “We had to leave it when the Colony caught up to us, but it’s got all our supplies in it still. I bet it’s still sitting under that tree.”

Bellamy decides he likes Madi. She’s funny, and quick-minded, and sticks her tongue out at Clarke when she reprimands her. Plus, she knows how to use a rifle.

“Did Clarke teach you how?” he asks her the following afternoon, while he’s lying on his stomach next to her in the tall grasses. Madi is aiming with her rifle at a target she’d pinned on a tree in the distance. Clarke’s napping some ways away, so he feels comfortable enough to talk.

“Yeah.” Madi pauses and fires. She hits the target, although it’s just the edge. Frowns and reloads. “Clarke said you taught her how.”

Bellamy blinks, put a little off guard that Clarke would tell her that detail.

Madi catches his surprise and gives him a sly glance. “You’re in a lot of Clarke’s stories, actually. Most of them.”

“Is that right.” His words are clipped; he can sense where this conversation is going.

“Yeah.” Madi puts her gun down. “She never said it, exactly, but I could always tell you were her favourite.”

Bellamy says nothing. Madi goes on.

“She told me the stories about you over and over. There was this one story she used to tell me a lot.”

He doesn’t want to hear this. He doesn’t.

“It was when the Mountain men were still a problem. She closed the dropship door on you and left you to die, basically. So she expected you to be angry about it when you met again. But you weren’t. You understood why. You didn’t blame her for it. You loved her for it, instead.”

He can’t seem to move. His heart, so carefully stitched back together, feels dangerously close to bursting back open.

“One time,” Madi continues in a hushed whisper, “when she was drinking, she started crying in the middle of telling it and said that looking back, that was probably when she started—”

“Madi,” Bellamy interrupts in a strangled voice. “Please. Can we talk about something else?”

Madi’s eyes grow wide. “Sorry.” There’s a tense silence for a moment before she says, seemingly unable to help herself, “You know, I thought you would be taller.”

Clarke is very stiff around him. Bellamy supposes he’s partially to blame for her standoffishness, because of how he’d acted during their initial interactions. And while some part of him longs to see her smile because of him, that part is very muted. Mostly he’s glad that things are this way. Glad for the distance between them.

It’ll just make it easier when she’s inevitably torn away from him again.

They finally find the Rover a few days later, and it’s not alone.

Raven and Monty, unbelievably, are with it. Bellamy freezes in his tracks.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” Raven laughs. Bellamy shakes himself out of it and goes to hug them.

“I thought they had you,” he says hoarsely after he’s pulling out of his embrace with Monty.

“Almost,” Monty replies. “But you wouldn’t believe what Raven had—”

“One of those bombs I made on the Ark,” Raven says proudly.

“We got out—”

“And long story short, we’re here and we’re hungry,” Raven shouts. “I’d even go for some of Echo’s gross stew right now.”

Bellamy laughs with them, the stories from the Ark rising back to the surface, relief flooding him to find them safe and sound. But the laughter from Raven and Monty dies when they spot who’s behind him.

Bellamy feels oddly unprepared for this. “Clarke’s alive,” he tells them unnecessarily, and turns to look at her.

Clarke has her arms wrapped around herself, standing some distance behind the reunion. She looks a little lost.

Raven and Monty stare at her for a long moment before they run to her. Bellamy stays a respectful distance away, watching Clarke hug each of them in turn, exchange words. But he’s sure he doesn’t imagine that she looks a little uncomfortable.

Clarke feels more disoriented than ever as she sits in the back of the Rover that night.

Seeing Bellamy with Raven and Monty, talking around the campfire, so clearly at ease with each other causes a knot to tighten in her stomach. Once upon a time, the relationship between Raven and Bellamy had been chronically strained. And now, they seem so close. Raven’s brought him a sword from their ship, and from the way Bellamy weighs it in his hands, it seems he knows how to use it.

Monty wanders from the trees and says, jokingly, “Never thought I’d miss going to the bathroom in the woods,” and Bellamy smiles and Raven laughs and Clarke knows she’s missing something here.

And she’s just been seeing a glimpse of it, this comradery, those inside jokes. They’ve had six years with each other. Clarke will never be able to compete with that. The six months on the ground are a joke next to the family that’s formed on the Ark.

She’s never felt so alone.

Madi sits next to her with a leg of wild turkey, munching happily. “Want some?” She offers it out.

Clarke shakes her head. “I’m not hungry.”

“You should go sit with them,” Madi says. “Don’t you have six years to catch up on?”

“I don’t think they really need me around.” Clarke hugs her knees and watches Raven toss her head back and roar with laughter at something Monty’s said.

“Then why does Bellamy keep looking at you?”

Clarke scoffs. “He’s not looking at me.”

“Well, of course you didn’t notice. You’re too busy sitting here feeling sorry for yourself.”

Clarke wishes Madi weren’t so perceptive. “It’s getting late. You should go to bed now.”

Madi sighs loudly but lets it drop. In return, Clarke lets the bedtime suggestion drop.

After a minute, Madi wanders off, and it’s Raven who sits down beside Clarke in the back of the Rover and coughs before saying, “I don’t think I’ve said this before, but I’m glad you’re not dead.”

Clarke smiles a little. “I’m glad to see you alive again, too.”

Raven nods and swings her legs back and forth a minute. It’s a little awkward. Clarke doesn’t know what to say to her— six years makes a lot of difference in a person. Like the fact that the mechanic almost sounds gentle as she says, “We were all messed up after, you know. We missed you.”

“You’re laying it on kind of thick, Raven.”

A smirk tugs at Raven’s lips. “It’s true, though. Especially for Bellamy.”

Clarke’s smile fades slightly. “I’m sure he ended up fine.”

“Well, he sure acted like he was okay,” Raven agrees. “And that’s how we knew he had it the worst.”

Clarke picks at a frayed end of her sleeve with feigned interest. Not sure how to respond. She doesn’t need to— Raven bumps her shoulder once and changes the subject.

Madi finds Bellamy later that night, when Raven and Monty had both gravitated over to catch up with Clarke, and she plonks down next to him. He jumps a little; he’d been pre-occupied with Raven and Monty’s pleas to go looking for the rest of the group. It seems they’ve had an inside look at the miner’s ship, and the extra information is making him re-evaluate the possibility of rescuing the others.

“Hi.”

Bellamy offers her the cup of tea he’d been about to drink. She shakes her head. He asks, “Is Clarke okay?”

“Why don’t you go ask her yourself?”

Bellamy doesn’t answer.

“Look, I just want to know if it’s true,” Madi says. “So answer this question, okay?”

Bellamy eyes her warily. “If what’s true?”

“If you love her.” Madi’s eyes are unwavering on his. “Because that’s what Clarke deserves, you know. She’s been through too much for anything else.”

It’s a while before he can find it in himself to answer. “You’re right.”

Madi blinks.

“She does deserve that,” Bellamy clarifies, and rises from his sitting position in front of the fire. “Night, Madi.”

And he goes to bed.

Clarke feels rather morose the next morning. Early as the sun rises, she leaves her blankets a rumpled mess behind her and marches into the woods to pick some berries for breakfast alone, wanting to clear her head.

She’s not even twenty minutes into it when someone crashes through the bushes. She wheels around, alarmed, only to find Bellamy standing still in front of her, wide-eyed and breathing heavily, like he’s been running.

She stares at him.

“You were gone when I woke up,” Bellamy says, tersely.

She turns away and goes back to picking. “So?”

A muscle ticks in his jaw. “You didn’t tell anyone you were going.”

Clarke frowns in irritation. “Well, I’ve never needed to get anyone’s permission. Besides, Madi knows I usually go foraging in the morning. If you’d woken her up you would’ve known that.”

He rubs his jaw with one hand. “I called your name.”

“I didn’t hear.”

“I thought you were gone.”

The way he says it, sounding slightly choked, gives Clarke pause. “I’m just picking berries, Bellamy.” Her voice is gentler than she intended.

Instead of replying, Bellamy kneels beside her and begins picking berries as well. He’s fairly adept at it, but not as fast as her. They forage silently for the next few minutes, both taking special care to stay out of the other’s way.

Finally, Clarke can’t take the silence anymore. “So… you know how to swordfight?”

She can feel him looking at her but takes care not to look back. Their faces would become too close if she did.

“I learned.”

He doesn’t elaborate. “From the others?”

“There wasn’t much else to do up there.”

She steals another glance at him, endlessly frustrated at his lack of enthusiasm in keeping up a conversation with her. “Are we going to find the others, then? To rescue them?”

Bellamy tenses. “I’m still thinking about it.”

“We have more information now, though. Raven and Monty know the layout of the prison.”

“So we die with a map in our hand. Big comfort. We’ll do it when I decide we’re doing it and not before.”

That stings more than anything else he’s said. Clarke reaches her breaking point. “You can’t be serious about all this.”

“I am.”

He’s still not looking at her. She wants a response from him. “What happened to ‘if your mom doesn’t sanction a mission I’m going by myself’? What happened to going out of your way to save people you hardly even knew?” Her heart breaks. “What happened to you, Bellamy?”

Bellamy’s eyes flash, and Clarke regrets her words immediately.

He stands up and throws his last fistful of berries into the gathering bowl beside her with unnecessary force. “Six years happened, Clarke!”

Clarke stands up as well. “I get that, but—”

“Six years where I was just trying to follow your final order,” he grinds out, bitterly. “You don’t get to come back from the dead and tell me I was doing it wrong.”

She gapes at him. “What order?”

“Of course you don’t remember.” He runs a hand over his face. “You told me to use my head. I’ve been trying to do that all this time. Trying to be you.”

His voice breaks. Clarke steps forward, automatic.

“That’s not what I meant. Ever,” she says, gently. “You’re a good leader because you’re not me, Bellamy. You speak and act with your heart and I always admired that about you. But sometimes it gets you in trouble, and I just wanted you to keep it in mind in case I... wasn’t there.”

A muscle in his jaw works. “So what are you saying, Clarke? That now that you’re here, I should just switch that part off again?”

“No!” Clarke hates the fact that there’s almost an honest intent disguised in the contempt of that question. Like if she asked him to, he might try. “No, of course not I’m not saying that. We’re both different people now. And that’s okay. It’ll just take some getting used to.” She takes a deep breath. “I want to try, Bellamy. I want us to get to know each other again.”

For a moment, his face softens. For a moment, she thinks everything will be all right.

Then the gunfire starts.

They had become too complacent, Clarke thinks. She had thought that the Colony was content for now to stay in the territory they had landed on. She thought the land they’d been occupying for the last little while was safe.

Apparently not.

“You’re the leader, aren’t you,” one of the Colony soldiers barks at Clarke, jabbing her side with his rifle. “Take us to the rest of your group.”

“We’re all there is,” Clarke says as another ties her wrists with rope.

“We’ve seen you with the younger girl. And we saw some of the others escape,” the soldier sneers. “Do you think we’re idiots?”

Bellamy coughs in the background, which, Clarke knows from experience, is his way of laughing when his mouth’s halfway full of blood.

Clarke tries to give him a look to tell him to stop provoking them. He stares back blandly and she knows her attempts are useless. She has a suspicion that he’s attempting to divert all the soldiers’ aggression towards himself, so that it won’t come to her. At least, that’s what she’d think if this was the old Bellamy. She supposes she doesn’t know if it’s still the same tactic.

At least he hasn’t been shot yet. She turns back to the leader. “What exactly is the problem with sharing this land? There’s plenty of room for all of us. There’s no need for any of us to fight, don’t you see that?”

“She really does think we’re idiots,” says another soldier. The leader swings his gun in Clarke’s face. She sees Bellamy tense in the corner of her eye but doesn’t dare look his way.

“Alright, okay,” she soothes, holding up her bound wrists in a placating gesture. “I’ll take you to them. Just please don’t hurt me.” She adds a quiver to her lip for effect.

The soldier grins. “That’s right, blondie. If you just do as we say, we can all walk away from this.”

On the contrary, Clarke thinks grimly.

“Where are we going?” the soldier asks suspiciously twenty minutes into their hike.

“Just a little further south,” Clarke says innocently. She hears the sound of coughing behind her. The second soldier has been coughing quite a lot for the past ten minutes. More than the leader or Bellamy has been coughing. “You won’t hurt them, right?”

“Course not,” the soldier says in a somewhat weak voice. “We just want to talk. Negotiate terms.”

Clarke almost snorts. “And what about the rest of my friends? Where are they?”

She pays attention to how he answers. “They’re being held.” He sounds grumpy about it. Interesting.

Then he coughs again. Clarke dares to give him a glance. He looks rather pale.

There’s a thump behind them. They both look.

The soldier escorting Bellamy has fallen face down in the grass. It might have looked like it was Bellamy, if Bellamy didn’t look like he was about to fall down himself.

Clarke sees the moment the soldier beside her realizes she’s led them into a still-irradiated zone. He wheels on her, eyes wide. “You—”

Before he can say anything else, Clarke brings her hands smashing down on his nose and he screams.

Unfortunately for her, her next attack— a kick at his knee— is dodged, and then his hand is on the gun at his side, aiming at her.

“You bitch,” he wheezes, and pulls the trigger.

Clarke ducks instinctively, but the radiation has done enough damage already that he misses, the shot going wide. In the next moment, Bellamy crashes into him. They grapple. The next shot sprays blood between them. For one terrifying moment Clarke thinks it’s Bellamy’s, but then the Colony soldier pitches backwards, a rosette spreading quickly over his shirt.

But Bellamy isn’t in much better condition. He staggers over to her, bloody and beaten from both physical hits and radiation, and starts patting her down.

“Did he shoot you? Did he?” he keeps asking her over and over. She tries to answer him, but his hands all over her upper body have a disorienting effect.

“No, I’m fine,” she insists. “Bellamy, we have to get out of here before the radiation—”

Bellamy clean passes out as soon as the words “I’m fine” leave her mouth.

Clarke has to drag his body out of the irradiated zone. Once they’re back on her territory, and she checks his vitals several times, she allows herself to start feeling guilty.

Even though, in a lot of ways, this was Bellamy’s plan. Monty had told her once how Bellamy had gotten rid of Chancellor Pike by leading him into a trap. She had simply tweaked the strategy. There are plenty of areas close by that are still feeling the effects of the death wave more than the territory she resides in, and the borders are definitely blurred. Her advantage was the nightblood, and her knowledge of the land. The Colony people didn’t have either. It was all she needed to get the upper hand in a fight.

But unfortunately, saving their peoples’ location meant sacrificing Bellamy’s health. It’s not the first time she’s made a decision like this and six years hasn’t made it leave any better taste in her mouth.

She’s trying her best not to cry when he awakens hours later, in the cave where she’s set them up in. While he’s blinking blearily at the ceiling, she whispers, “Bellamy, I’m sorry.”

He’s still lying down, but even in the darkness, she can see his expression soften. “You don’t have to say that to me.”

“You deserve an explanation.”

“I knew what you were doing the minute I saw the direction we were going in,” Bellamy replies. “And I’m glad you did that instead of giving up where Madi and the others were.” He sits up. “We should go back and warn them. For all we know, the Colony—” He coughs, a wet sound.

That’s not good. Clarke’s at his side in an instant with a bowl of water from her pack. “The Colony can wait.”

Bellamy ignores this and struggles to his feet. Clarke’s actually kind of amazed at how robust he must be to shake off the radiation poisoning so fast. But then he sags against the wall and closes his eyes.

“Bellamy. Sit. I said it can wait.”

Bellamy rubs his eyes. “It can’t wait, Clarke,” he replies, ragged. “Nothing in this damn world has ever been able to wait.”

Clarke’s heart hurts from how tired he sounds. He’s right. There is never any break for them, never any time for them to look inwards and fix themselves, because the world always demands that they spend their effort elsewhere.

They both need a distraction. She clears her throat. “I’m going to find us some water. We can wash up before we go.”

Clarke makes Bellamy stay inside while she goes to search for water. He would argue more about it, but honestly, he can hardly stand, so he just pretends to relent.

She comes back with the news that there’s a stream nearby, and they go.

The stream is very narrow, and Bellamy kneels at one side while Clarke kneels some distance away at the other. For a long time, they slowly wash away the blood on their hands in silence.

He can see that her decision is weighing on her, but he understands. Always had, and now that he’s been in her shoes more than once over six years, it’s even easier to.

Bellamy is just finishing washing the Colony soldier’s blood off of his arms when he hears Clarke sniffle.

He turns his head to see her sitting on the ground like himself, hunched over, but her hands are no longer scrubbing. She’s staring into the water and he realizes with a jolt that she’s silently crying.

He stops washing his hands. “Clarke?”

Clarke starts at the sound of his voice and blinks several times. And then she wipes her face with the back of her arm and when she reveals her face again, it’s almost impassive.

“I’m fine,” she says.

And he would believe her, if he hadn’t seen her do this exact thing back in the day when she was close to breaking down around other people. But back then, Bellamy wasn’t other people. When Clarke broke down around him, she didn’t force herself to hide it. They didn’t need to. There was no judgment between them.

The fact that she would try and hide it now—

He suddenly views his own actions for the past weeks as horribly selfish. He’s been trying to keep his heart safe from her, and in doing so, he’s left her alone, confused, and hurt. And yes, maybe that’s what she used to do to him. But ultimately, she had always corrected it, hadn’t she?

His hands tremble. Damn their differences, the years of their separation, and the distance between them. Bellamy is physically incapable of sitting here, while Clarke is suffering over there.

He rises from his spot and reaches hers. Her eyes are lowered to the water even as he crouches down across from her, on the opposite side of the stream. She isn’t making any move to wash her hands anymore. She looks so weighed down by the world and he wonders why he didn’t see it before. Why he didn’t care.

Bellamy wants to say sorry. But he can’t. He’s afraid he’ll start crying instead, and then they’ll both be breaking down, and that simply won’t do.

Instead, he grabs the bar of soap from the ground and dunks his hands in the water, grabbing hers in the process.

“This alright?” he asks, and then realizes he sounds too brisk. Clears his throat awkwardly and goes gentler, in a tone that’s been severely underused for six years. “Clarke?”

Clarke lets out a deep, shuddering sigh, and he takes it as a yes.

Her hands are limp as he cradles them in his own, as he runs the soap over her skin and scrubs at the bloodstains and dirty with his thumbs until her natural tone peeks through. He can feel her watching the top of his head intently as he works. The only sound is the burbling of the brook, the splashing of the water over their hands, and the sound of their own breathing.

When Bellamy’s certain Clarke’s hands are clean, he lets go and pulls his hands from the water. But she catches his wrists.

He pauses. Her pale fingers can barely wrap around his wrists, but she’s holding on.

Clarke takes a small towel from her side and begins to dry his hands, running the light cotton cloth over his palms and fingers and forearms until his hands are as dry as they were before they joined hers. Her hands are so small, so pale on his. Her touch is making him feel light-headed but he can’t find it in himself to ask her to stop.

When he can finally summon the courage to look her in the eye, he thinks that the two of them stripped something else away between them besides just dirt and blood.

Clarke is crying again, and he would probably be one of the last people on Earth to understand that it’s a good sign.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” he murmurs as they stand. “Is it the Colony?”

Clarke shakes her head. “You wouldn’t want to hear it.”

A part of him screams its agreement, but the other part runs his thumb down the inside of her wrist and reassures her, “I do.”

She hesitates, and then, “It’s stupid.”

“It’s not.”

She giggles a little, tearfully. “You haven’t even heard what it is yet.”

He grins back. God, was she always this radiant? “Then get the hell on with it, Clarke.”

She leans into him a bit. After a moment, she murmurs without a trace of laughter, “Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like if we knew each other in peacetime?”

A lump is growing in his throat, and he can only nod. Because he has.

Especially when he thought she was dead. He’d tortured himself with the fantasy of them living in a different universe, the thought that maybe they could’ve had time to get to know each other if life hadn’t been like this. And yet, even then, he knew it was just that: fantasy.

“But it’s not our life. To hell with peacetime,” he tells her. “The Ark was peacetime. And it never did anything for us.”

His mother dead, his sister under the floor. A life of tiptoeing around rules under the fear of someone you loved getting floated. The clear lines between the well-off and the not so much.

And, of course, he and Clarke never would have met. Not really.

Clarke bites her lip, looking chagrined. “I’m sorry for even saying that. I didn’t think— I mean, your life was hard even before— ”

“Life is hard for all of us, Clarke,” Bellamy cuts her off, because he doesn’t want her pity. “ But it has its moments.”

He holds her gaze as he says it.

Clarke’s lips part. “Even now?” Her voice is fragile, barely a whisper. “When everything’s different? When we’re different?”

“Different can be good,” Bellamy replies, and realizing the truth of it only when he says it.

They head back to camp together after that, and while it’s not the same as it was before— the silence between them is comfortable. It gives Clarke hope that maybe they can claw their way somewhere— not back to the same relationship they had— but something entirely different, equally as good.

She steals a glance at him as they go, his strong profile, the lines of his body. Or maybe better.

When they warily approach their camp, they’re relieved to find Raven sitting at the Rover. When she sees them, she jumps up from the hood, eyes wide.

“Oh, thank god.”

She radios Madi and Monty to tell them that “Clarke and Bellamy are back, no thanks to the radios they didn’t bother taking with them,” and once they’re all together, they decide to move camp. The Colony is just getting too close.

“We can’t keep running forever,” Clarke muses as they drive farther, farther east and away from the Colony’s slowly-creeping-forward territory.

“We won’t,” Bellamy says at the wheel, and everyone looks at him.

“We’re going to rescue the others,” he says, and Madi whoops in the backseat. Clarke can hardly believe her ears. “But first we’re going to find the bunker group.”

“Reinforcements!” Madi understands immediately. “The Colony doesn’t know about them yet.”

“Won’t know what hit them,” Bellamy agrees. Pauses and hesitates to give Clarke a glance. “What do you think?”

It’s a peace offering, from their arguments before.

Clarke beams. “I think it’s a great idea.”

They set up camp for the night a few hours away from the ruins of Polis, near the river. Clarke, Madi and Raven go to take a bath first, and then Bellamy and Monty. Meanwhile, Clarke and Madi pull out some blankets for everyone and flatten the seats in the Rover. Since they’re leaving the next morning to find the bunker, they haven’t bothered setting up tents. They’ll sleep in the vehicle.

When Bellamy and Monty come back, it’s starting to rain. Clarke’s taken aback to see Bellamy’s scruff is gone.

He smiles when he sees her mouth drop open a little. “Does it look that bad?”

On the contrary. She has to resist the urge to leap out of the Rover and run her hand down the angle of his gleaming jawline. Clarke always remembered Bellamy as being beautiful. But with the scruff gone, she’s forced to compare that version of him with the version standing in front of her.

And something tugs in her pelvis when she realizes she likes it, and not necessarily in a friendly kind of way. Six years has put more of an angle to his cheekbones, a wider set to his shoulders, and added muscle to his arms. Not that he had been overly young looking before, but he’s grown into his attractiveness more than she thought possible.

Bellamy’s smile has been fading as the seconds tick by without her answer. In fact, he’s beginning to look self-conscious, and runs his large hand over his jaw. “It’ll grow back,” he mutters.

“Don’t,” Clarke blurts, and he looks more confused. “I mean, if you want to, go ahead. I think you look nice either way.” She clears her throat. “But I do like it.”

She can’t be sure, but she thinks Bellamy blushes just a little.

Raven coughs something that sounds like “smooth” and crawls into the backseat of the Rover.

Clarke wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of the rain beating on the ceiling of the Rover. Madi sleeps soundly next to her. For a moment she puzzles over what woke her up. Then she sees that the driver’s seat, next to where Monty’s sleeping, is vacated.

Bellamy.

She instantly chastises herself for panicking. He’s probably gone to the washroom. He’ll be back any moment.

The minutes tick by, and Clarke gets increasingly antsy.

Where could he have gone? It’s the middle of the night, and the only way to go was out.

But why would he just… She’s tugging on her boots frantically before she can even finish that sentence.

She clambers over Raven to get to the door, who mutters something sleepy and unintelligible.

“I’ll be back in a second,” Clarke reassures her, and flings open the door.

As soon as she steps outside, she realizes she didn’t think this through. The rain is pouring in sheets, and freezing cold, and she’s drenched in seconds. And she can’t see a thing, it’s too dark.

She slams the door shut. “Bellamy?” She calls, and zeroes in on his boot prints in the ground, leading out from the driver’s side. Only one set. He left of his own volition.

For some reason this only makes her more frantic. She breaks into a run, calling his name.

Then she hears her own being called back.

She spots him immediately. It was too dark to see him before, but he’s walking towards her through the clearing. Relief crashes into her, giddy and unadulterated and full of answers to the anxieties she’d been refusing to think about— he’s here, he hasn’t left, he’s with me.

Because of that, she can’t help but run to him. Bellamy doesn’t seem to question why she’s hurtling towards him like a maniac. Maybe because she’s smiling so hard.

Instead, he stops short to receive her, and she jumps into his embrace, flings her arms around his neck and nuzzles her face into the wet shoulder of his jacket, into the damp skin of his throat. His strong arms come around her middle, holding her tight to his body, enough to almost lift her off her feet; and this, this is the reunion they should’ve had.

“What were you doing out here?” she asks breathlessly after a moment. She can’t find it in herself to let go.

“We left our clothes out to dry on a rock, remember?” Clarke finally notices that he’s wearing his backpack. Presumably full of their clothes they’d washed earlier in the evening.

“Oh.” She remembers that now. “Well, I’m betting they’re not very dry now.”

“No,” he agrees, voice muffled into her hair.

She smacks his shoulder. “We could’ve gotten them in the morning. You should’ve at least told someone.”

“I was right here the whole time,” he protests.

“I didn’t see you.” She presses her nose into the droplets of water rolling down skin of his newly smooth jaw and inhales. “I can’t believe I didn’t see you.”

She doesn’t mean for her voice to sound a little wanton. Bellamy pauses in their swaying. Then he loosens his arms, enough that there’s no pressure pinning her to his chest anymore. She slides down his front to the ground. The contact is brief, but she still inhales sharply at the feel of him.

She doesn’t remove her arms from around his neck.

Bellamy doesn’t move away from her, either. He’s breathing a little unsteadily. His gaze is heated as he studies her, and then, quite suddenly, he leans in and presses his forehead against hers.

For a moment, neither of them move any further. For a moment, they share the same oxygen between them, so close that water drips off one of them and onto the other. So close that Clarke can hear Bellamy’s breathing hitch when she finally tilts her head and closes the small distance between them.

She just presses her lips into his and that’s it. His lips are just as soft as they look. The damp curls at the back of his head feel just as silky as she thought they would, when she threads her fingers through them. And Bellamy returns that tender kiss just how she thought he would: slowly, and sweetly.

They part, back to foreheads leaning against each other, and the sound of rain rushes back into Clarke’s ears. His eyes are closed.

Then Bellamy says hoarsely, into the space between them, “I thought you died, Clarke.”

She brushes her thumb over his cheek and feels a warm wetness there instead of the cold. “I’m right here,” she tells him, almost unable to recognize the huskiness of her own voice. Bellamy trembles at the sound of it.

“Six years,” he whispers. “That’s how long it took me to accept you were dead.” His hands run almost reverently up and down her back. “But you’re not.”

He sounds disbelieving. “I’m right here,” she repeats. But he’s not done.

“Please don’t do that again,” he says, voice breaking, squeezing his eyes shut at a promise they both know neither of them would ever be able to make. Quietly, almost to himself, he says, “I can take anything else. Leave, if you want. Go off with other people. Take everything with you and run. Just as long as I know you’re alive—”

“I’m not going anywhere.” She presses closer and takes his face in both her hands. “I’m. Right. Here. Bellamy.”

This time he’s the one who kisses her, and this time he surprises her with the fierceness of it. His hand curls around her thigh, hikes it up, so that they’re even closer. Now it’s sloppy, open-mouthed, desperate kisses, faces slick with rain, clothes drenched to tissue-thinness between them. And Clarke matches his wildness with ferocity of her own, wanting to prove to him that yes, she is alive, she is here.

When they part, she thinks she’s convinced him. He looks much calmer that way, but the fire in his eyes has not been tamed. They kiss again, taking their time with it.

They break apart again only when they hear Madi calling their names distantly, from the direction of the Rover. Clarke makes a noise of frustration; she’s burning up inside.

“Sleep now,” Bellamy murmurs, and ducks his head to mouth at her pulse point. “That... later.”

Clarke tilts her head back to the rain, eyes closed, as his lips start descending further down. “When I said we should get to know each other again, I didn’t really mean like this.”

He huffs his amusement against her collarbone. “Well, we need a new starting point this time around.” He pulls away and meets her eyes, suddenly solemn. “But it’s not about that. Right?"

Clarke touches his cheek tenderly. “Of course not."

Madi calls her name again, and they step away from each other.

“We’ve been gone too long. What do we tell them?” Clarke murmurs, looking in that direction.

“That we got lost.”

She grins a little. “And when they don't believe us?"

Bellamy shrugs. “We got lost,” he repeats, holding her gaze. “And then we found our way back.”