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now i've got you in my space

Chapter Text

if there are boundaries i will try to knock them down

Clarke finds herself hunched over her toilet in the morning, holding onto it like her life depends on it (and at the moment, she kind of feels like it does), hurling the contents of her stomach into it. As awful as it is, it offers her a respite from dredging up the memories of last night, particularly how much she'd humiliated herself and how much her best friend didn't care about her.

It's not much of a break, but it helps, at least until she's standing in her kitchen again, reliving, remembering every word, every action, every intake of breath. It might be worse than the night as a whole.

Might be, except nothing could be as bad as that.

She changes out of her clothes slowly, almost absently, only noting that she'd fallen asleep with that stupid fucking sash still on, and wonders how much she's ruined everything.

Needless to say, the last person she wants to see is Bellamy Blake, so luck would have it that he's the first person she sees. Camped out in front of her door, he scrambles up from the floor and holds out a cup of coffee and an Anya's bag.

"Clarke," he says, relieved. "How are you feeling? Are you okay?"

Instead of answering his questions, she closes the door — or she tries to, until he gets in her way. "Please, I just want to talk to you. I want to apologize—"

She puts more pressure on it, but he's an immovable object. "I don't want to talk to you," she says, her voice a little hoarse.

"It'll be quick—"

"No. I don't want to talk to you."

"Ten minutes—"

"You could've talked to me last night, but you didn't. You left," she reminds him. She isn't trying to push the door anymore, but she keeps her back pressed against it, squeezing her eyes shut. "Actually, you could've just shown up at Dropship like we'd planned."

"I know—"

"I don't care," she lies. "Whatever you think you could say to make this better, it won't." Bellamy reaches over, placing a hand on her arm, and Clarke jumps and flinches away from his touch. The door swings open, the bag of food drops to the floor. She can see the hurt written across his face. It isn't enough to change her mind.

"How can I fix this?"

"Maybe you can't." Bending down, she picks up the Anya's bag, handing it back to him. "Maybe I don't want this to be fixed."

He sounds hollow. "Do you mean that?"

She doesn't. She doesn't want any of this to be happening, except it is. "I don't know. But right now, I don't want to see you."

Bellamy gives up first, stepping back and nodding at her. "I'm so sorry," he says, all regret, all apology. She doesn't know how to deal with that, so she just closes the door.

*

Hours pass. She manages to eat some cereal, but without much of an appetite, the bowl goes into the sink. She's antsy, trapped, and bored. She can't stop thinking about the way he looked at her. She keeps wondering if he's still sitting outside her door.

With nothing else to do, she makes the split second decision to drive back home. Spending another second in her apartment hurts more than she wants to admit and although she has the house to herself, the fact that it's not in Arkadia makes it a much better place to waste away her spring break.

Bellamy isn't there when she opens the door. Clarke tells herself it doesn't matter.

Home is so much the same, it actually exacerbates her situation. Driving to the grocery store takes her past the high school, the park, the public library. It takes her past the old Blake house, now rented out to a different family. It takes her past every memory she has of growing up with Bellamy. This town is Bellamy and this realization stuns her so much that she abandons her trip to the store, drives back home, and collapses in her childhood bed.

She can just order in tonight.

*

After one day of wallowing, she's had enough. She's never been a good wallower, preferring the tried and true method of bottling everything up and then letting it out at an inconvenient time. When she found out Finn had been cheating with her, she'd pretended she was fine and then ended up crying on Bellamy. When Lexa broke her heart, she refused to talk about it and then got a(n ill-advised) haircut. She has no desire to cry on Bellamy because he'd broken her heart or to cut off her hair again, so the entire experience is a foreign one. Therefore, she improvises.

Most of her improvisational energy goes into cleaning and organizing. She vacuums the living room, cleans the bathroom (and tackles the bathtub), rearranges the kitchen (and then returns it back to its original state), and does all of the laundry she'd brought home from Arkadia. The productivity is the best kind of distraction; not only is everything cleaner and nicer, she's too exhausted by all of her work that she falls asleep by ten.

Without anything left to comb through, day three is spent drinking through her mom's wine, eating the last of her stale pizza, and making wildly extravagant purchases that she's going to return when they arrive. Maybe, she thinks, she's not done wallowing.

*

Her 21st birthday dawns with the ring of the doorbell. It actually rings a few times, patient as she drags herself out of sleep and routine as she half checks to see if she's presentable enough to answer the door. It's good enough.

The last person she expects to be on the other side is Bellamy Blake, but there he is, dressed in a green Arkadia hoodie, and carrying a plastic bag. He smiles cautiously at her, but her brain isn't working well at the moment, still stuck on the sight of Bellamy showing up at her house, two hours from Arkadia.

"Happy birthday, Clarke," he says.

"What are you doing here?" She squeaks out, her hand tightening on the door as if it protected her from him. It's still open wide enough that he could easily step inside if he wanted to, but he wouldn't, not if she doesn't want him to. She doesn't know if she wants him to.

He shifts a little on his feet. "It's your birthday."

"Yeah, but… you're supposed to be in Arkadia," she says, unsure of what's happening, what she's supposed to do with this. I don't want to see you, she thinks, remembers saying, except now that he's here, she knows it's not true. He's on her front steps. Her eyes sneak down to the bag. "What's that?"

Lifting it so it's eye-level with her, Bellamy peers around the bag and answers, "It's uh, well, there's 21 cupcakes in here. I tried to get as many flavors as possible and uh," he lowers it, "just, happy birthday."

She can't stop looking at the bag. "You said that already."

"You should hear it more than once. It's a big day." He hands the bag of cupcakes to her. "Here." Is she supposed to take them? Decline them? Was there protocol for this, a what to do when your best friend who you're in love with but also fighting with gets you cupcakes for your birthday? Conflicted, all she can do is take the bag, cradling it in her arms.

"Thank you," she says softly, eyes cast down. It would be a bad idea to invite him in. "And um, thanks for stopping by."

She misses the disappointment that flashes across his face, but she sees him taking a step back. Given that movement, Clarke begins to close the door, stopped only when he steps forward.

"Hey, Clarke?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm really sorry. About that night," Bellamy sighs.

"Bellamy—"

He keeps going, quickly like he thinks she'll stop him any second. "—And how I acted towards you and also, you know… how I've been treating you this whole year." Her eyes find his in surprise. "I know you don't want to talk to me. I know you don't want to hear anything I have to say. But I went home and that was all I could think about…"

"Please. We don't have to talk about this," she says hastily, not wanting to rehash this now, so early in the morning, on her birthday. "At some point, I do want to talk about it, but not now—"

"I have to say it," he goes on, eyes pleading. "Because I don't want you to think that I don't care about you or that I'm okay with what I've done, all right?"

Nodding mutely, she hugs the bag to her chest.

He continues. "I'm just sorry. And I'll apologize every day if I have to." She hugs the bag closer, though careful to not crush the box of cupcakes inside.

She doesn't have anything to say. Her brain's going a mile a minute, spinning out scenarios, turning over words, assessing the sincerity of his words, weighing over all the options. Bellamy takes the silence as a discouragement, his face falling. "Right. Uh, I'll let you go back to… whatever you were doing. Happy birthday. Again."

Before he can get too far, Clarke can't stop herself from calling out, asking, "How did you know I was here?"

He turns around, shifts a little on his feet. "I kinda just gave it a shot. I stopped by your apartment and you weren't there and I tried to get a hold of you—"

"I lost my phone."

"Yeah, I remembered. I tried a few other places and then figured, hey, maybe she's here, and then I saw your car was here…"

"Good guess," she says. He'd driven two hours to see her.

Bellamy stares at her for a second and then jerks his head in a nod, turning back around to get to his car. Clarke thinks about stopping him, thinks about whether or not she wants to risk it, thinks about how much she misses him and how much it'd hurt when he chose Echo over her again.

She's still cradling the bag when he starts backing up and waves a goodbye at her.

*

Bellamy rings her doorbell a few hours later. She doesn't know it's Bellamy, but when she opens the door again, Bellamy's right there. This time, he doesn't wait outside, instead storming in and barrelling past her.

"Come on in," she says dryly, closing the door. "Make yourself at home."

"I don't want it to be like this between us," he says plainly, immediately.

"You just barged into my house."

"You know what I'm talking about."

"I've already told you how I feel about all of this. You've already said what you wanted to say."

"That's not all I wanted to say. That's not enough to make things better!"

"Don't do this now. I don't want to do this."

"You can't push me away forever."

"Why not?" She crosses her arms. "You did it just fine."

He purses his lips, biting back whatever he was about to say. "I deserved that."

"Oh, good, we agree." He shoots her a frustrated look, but she doesn't relent. "I'm allowed to be mad at you."

"I wish you were mad at me! I'd rather you be mad at me than… freeze me out!" She opens her mouth to protest this characterization of her actions, but he beats her to speaking. "I know you're right. You're my best friend and I lost sight of that and I took you for granted and—I did—" he shakes his head. "Please believe me."

"It's not that simple," she says, biting her lip.

"How can I make it simple?"

"It doesn't work like that!"

"Then tell me what it'll take to make you believe it!"

"I don't know!" It explodes out of her, taking both of them by surprise before she angrily bats away her hair from her face. "I want to just accept it, okay? Do you think I like feeling this way? Do you think I want to be mad at you? That I don't want to see you? I think the bigger problem is that I want to see you, all the time, and you're not there!"

"I'm here now. I'm right here, I'm going to fix this, and I'm going to make it right again."

"And what are you going to say when this happens again?" Because it will. Because it did.

"It isn't going to happen again."

"You don't know that!"

"I won't let it happen again. I got caught up with—with everything, but I hate that I hurt you and I would never hurt you like that again. I won't."

"You can't promise that," she says tiredly. "If you do this again, it's not you that gets hurt here. It's me and maybe I'm just being selfish, but I don't really want to go through that again."

"You're my best friend," he pleads. "I can't lose you."

Clarke breathes out in exasperation. It's not fair. It's not fair that he can just show up and say all these things and expect her to forgive him. It's not fair that she already knows she's going to. "You're not going to lose me. I'm mad at you and I don't believe you, but I'm not going to cut you out."

"Then give me a chance," he says, "to make it up to you."

Crossing her arms, she takes a long look at him. The fact of the matter is, she knows he means it. It's up to her whether or not she believes it. She doesn't know if she does, but she wants to. Maybe that's enough.

"Fine," she eventually yields. "But I'm still mad at you."

"You've been mad at me before."

"Yeah, but not like this."

He nods solemnly, silently, properly chastised. It makes her feel awful. "I don't want to be mad at you."

"I understand why." Running a hand through his hair, he adds, "Fuck, I'm mad at myself."

"Don't worry. You could always bribe yourself with cupcakes," she says with a raised eyebrow.

"I wasn't trying to bribe you," Bellamy says defensively. "It's your birthday and I already ruined our plans, so I think cupcakes was the least I could do."

Truthfully, she hadn't touched the box of cupcakes since she'd received them. She'd set them down on the coffee table and engaged in a one-sided staring contest with it. Tentatively, Clarke walks over and taps on the box. "Are there really 21 cupcakes in there?"

"I counted them three times."

"Oh." She opens the box a crack, spying one with perfect, pink frosting. "Where'd you get them?"

"That place we got Madi's cake that one time."

She perks up a little. "I love that place."

His mouth curves into a smile. "I know."

Clarke hesitates for a second but then opens the box fully. The cupcakes are beautiful, each of them different, and it makes her smile. Before she looks back up at him, she tries to school it back to a neutral expression. "You can sit down."

"Are you sure?" He shifts on his feet.

"Yes." She motions for him to sit on the couch, but she stays standing. "But only because you brought me cupcakes."

"The girl who worked there said it might do the trick."

"Well, she should probably get a raise." Unbidden, and against her best effort, a smile creeps onto her face.

"I'll go back and let the manager know," he says with a slight laugh, the sound of which physically breaks their standstill. After a moment of silence, he gestures towards the door, "Sorry about coming in here like that."

"It's all right. You didn't break the door, so you're in the clear."

"What if I had?"

"Then I wouldn't be sharing my cupcakes with you."

"You aren't sharing them now."

She walks over and plucks one out of the box. "Spoke too soon."

He takes the cupcake doubtfully, seemingly waiting for her to take it back. When she doesn't, he bites intoit. "This was your present."

"I can't eat them all by myself."

"You don't have to eat them all in a day."

"Just enjoy the cupcake, Bellamy." He chuckles, more to himself than anything. The air around them feels weird, stilted, but it also feels like the awkwardness is fading away, albeit slowly. She still feels a little adrift, but the deep fury resting in her bones is fading. Bellamy interrupts her thoughts. "Clarke?"

"Yeah?"

"I really, I really am sorry I left you like that." And then, because he must've thought she'd somehow forgotten, "At the restaurant. I ruined everything."

"Yeah, you did," Clarke agrees, taking in the shame that settles across his features. "I kept thinking that you were just late or you were stuck in traffic. I kept making all these excuses for you. You should've just told me you didn't want to hang out with me."

"It wasn't that." He picks at the cupcake wrapper. "I was really looking forward to it. And then last minute things—came up and I fucked up."

She's not going to ask. She's not going to listen to him talk about moving away with Echo. "I called you and you never answered."

"I must've been driving, I don't know. I didn't really see them until I got home. From your place later." He hastily adds, "Not that that makes up for it. I just genuinely didn't see them."

"Okay." She looks down at her hands, wishing an apology made it all better. "I only went to the party because I just wanted to do something. And it was fun."

His tone darkens a little. "You could've gotten hurt."

"But I didn't." He opens his mouth to object. "I'm not going to go to another one. The morning after was enough reason not to." She grimaces at the memory of puking into her toilet.

"If I hadn't abandoned you like that," his voice grows a little frustrated, "then you wouldn't have been put in that kind of situation. God, I'm sorry, I'm so—"

"Hey."

He stops.

"I don't think that'll help anything," she says, not unkindly. "And honestly, I really want to put that whole… fiasco in the past." Thinking about it only dredged up something she'd much rather forget. "So since it's my birthday, let's make a deal. I accept your apology, but you've got to stop bringing it up."

Though begrudgingly, he agrees nonetheless. "All right."

"Shake on it?" She extends her hand and he grasps it, shaking it seriously. His hand engulfs hers. Clarke retracts it first, annoyed that just that brief touch has such an effect on her. Lapsing into silence, with only the sound of the ticking clock behind them, Bellamy's sudden laughter startles her. "What?"

"I was just thinking about time we went mini golfing and you got your ball stuck in the windmill—"

"And they wouldn't let me get it out?"

"So you had to use another one, but then it wouldn't stop rolling around enough for you to putt it."

"That ball was cursed!"

"Then why didn't it happen to me?"

"You cursed it!" He laughs louder at that and Clarke joins him, unable to contain it any longer. It's not even that funny of a story, but somehow it is. Through the waning of her laughter, she says, "That was really fun."

"It was. It was also the last time you thought seriously about becoming a golfer."

"I thought it'd be in my genetics. My dad was so good."

"Your dad was good at actual golf. It's gotta be different." She lets out an offended gasp.

"I'm good at actual golf!" Bellamy shoots her a look. "I was good that one day," she amends. "What even made you think about that?"

"I don't know," he says. "It just popped into my head."

"It'd be fun to go again," she admits. "We used to go all the time in high school."

"Why don't we?" He says suddenly, all excitement that he has to temper when she looks at him. "I mean, only if you want. You said it'd be fun and it's your birthday, so—"

"You'd want to go?"

"I really want to."

"Why?"

"Because," he says, with certainty in his voice, "it'd be fun. And you should have fun and I've got a lot to make up for."

"Well…" Clarke says, drawing out the word, even though her mind is already made up, "I'd have to change first."

"I can wait."

Her grin is wide by the time she makes it to her room, turning around so she's facing him again. It would be fun. "I'm definitely going to win this time."

"Ah, delusions. I wonder what that's like."

*

"How are you so bad at this?" Bellamy marvels, undeterred by the glare she turns on him. He's got his golf club perched on his shoulders and it's actually unfair and unbelievable how good he looks like this. She's not going to focus on it, but it bears mentioning.

Her anger has all but gone by now, washed away by shared jokes and gentle mocking. Their talk earlier, combined with the subsequent car ride to the mini golf course, did most of the work necessary to dull the anger. I's so easy to fall back into their friendship. She doesn't tell him that she keeps thinking about when it'll fall apart.

"I'm sorry I don't spend the wealth of free time I have practicing how to play mini golf," she grumbles, lining up her club and squinting ahead.

"Maybe you should," he says, coming closer until he's standing next to her.

"If you're trying to intimidate me, it's not going to work."

"What's with the suspicion? I'm already way ahead of you."

"For now—" Clark cuts herself off, nearly jumping as Bellamy crowds behind her, his hands going over hers on the club. Remarkably, her voice is even when she asks, "What are you doing?"

"Taking pity on your golf skills." His voice is close to her ear and she's all too aware of the way his body fits against hers. It was one thing before she told him about her feelings, it was another thing entirely after that.

She lets him guide her through a putt and as soon as the ball starts rolling, she extracts herself from his hold. From his face, he definitely knows why that happened. "I'm beating you fair and square, Bellamy," she says, tucking her hair behind her ear and hoping her cheeks aren't engulfed in heat.

"Right, uh, remember this when I set a record score." He busies himself with looking at the floor and after a moment, moves towards the flag instead, placing his club down. "We're going to hold up the line."

"What line? There's no one else here."

"Metaphorically, Clarke. Now take your shot." It goes in. "Maybe there's hope for you yet."

She tucks the earlier incident away. "Don't underestimate me."

"I never do."

*

Bellamy comes back the next day and they ransack her mom's liquor collection. He's been staying with the Greens; she knows because Monty's mom had forced him to bring over some food for her to share, so he's nearby the entire time. She doesn't ask him what Echo's doing, beyond an initial inquiry, and he'd said that she was working. She's clearly not here, which is a huge, and somewhat guilty, source of relief. The moment she keeps expecting, the instance she thinks will come, when he'll lose interest, doesn't come.

Clarke claims the hundred dollar scotch, while he sticks with wine, but by the end of the night, they've switched. They put on some terrible reality show and heckle the screen. She takes extra care to keep her hands to herself, just in case her brain has any funny ideas. When he crashes on the couch, she drags herself to her room.

On Saturday, they don't do much but complain about their hangovers. Netflix plays in the background, though they aren't paying much attention to it. Bellamy pretends to be working on a paper, but the last she saw, he was going through Spotify and humming to himself. Laying across the couch, she's sleepy enough that she's not minding her words.

"Bellamy?"

He looks up from his place on the floor, turning his head slightly. "What's up?"

"I'm going to miss this."

"Miss what?"

"Hanging out like this." At this, Bellamy shifts his body entirely to face her.

"Are you planning on not hanging out with me anymore?" He asks, clearly trying to go for nonchalant but not succeeding at it. She smiles.

"No plans for that, but…"

"But?"

"It's going to be different when we go back to campus," she says, moving so she's more comfortable on the couch. His eyes never leave hers and it's still disarming.

"Well, we won't be at your mom's house, that's true. Unless we take a day trip, but I think your mom might object."

"I mean," she says, rolling her eyes, "it won't be just the two of us anymore."

His face grows serious. "I told you I'm not going to fuck this up again and I meant it, Clarke."

"It's not…" Clarke begins, although it is partly that. She's been trying not to think about what it means for them when they go back to school, but when she has nothing to distract her, she sometimes slips into it. "Okay, I know. But you're graduating soon too. And you've got plans, like to move away and—"

"Hey, hey," Bellamy interjects, "I haven't made any plans."

She gives him a look. "So you missed my birthday plans for nothing?"

"No, I mean, yes, I saw some places, but it's not like I'm moving there."

"Have you, um, been thinking about moving lately?"

"Me? Not really."

"Then," her eyebrows furrow, "I don't know, why'd you go?"

"I thought…" he scratches at his beard, "I thought it might be something I wanted."

Clarke tenses up. "Was it?" A chorus of no no no no's invade her thoughts. "I mean, you still want to go to grad school, don't you?"

"That's the eventual plan."

"So DC would be a great place for it. They have all the museums and the best archives and I've heard a lot of great things about the programs—"

"I think you're getting ahead of yourself here," he says, laughing. "That's years off. I'm not ready to leave Arkadia yet."

"Okay." She bites the inside of her cheek in thought. "What are you going to do in the meantime?"

"I don't know," he says simply. "To finish the semester and not have to think about school for a few months. Then who knows?"

"That isn't like you," she says, because it isn't. Bellamy's always been someone who's had a firm map of his future. He'd wanted to teach ever since his senior year of high school.

"Things change."

A melancholy sets in. "I feel like there's so much I don't know about you now."

His responding look is an appraisal and consideration in one. "I could say the same about you."

"Nothing's different about me."

"I didn't see you for an entire year."

"That I spent studying and missing you—guys."

"That doesn't mean I don't want to know about it."

"It's all really boring," she tries.

"So was my year," he shoots back.

She snorts. "Right."

"You know what the best way to fix this is?" When she nods, he continues. "Ask me about it. I'm not that much different."

Clarke stays quiet for a long few seconds before she nods. There's a lot she wants to ask, a lot of questions that immediately pop into her mind, but they seem too heavy for this. Maybe for another day. Maybe for a day she'll be okay hearing the answers. The question she decides on is, "How long did it take to grow that beard?"

His resulting laugh is loud, surprised, and boisterous. It warms her to hear it. "You wanna guess?"

"Eight months."

"You've got no faith in me, do you?"

"Of course I do. Just not in this."

*

There remains a part of her that expects Bellamy to go back to the new normal. It's not fair to him, obviously, because he'd spent so much time telling her it wouldn't happen, but as an irrational fear, she can't exactly control it. Especially with spring break ending, she's just waiting for the first sign that spring break was spring break and coming back to school means reverting back to what she's had to get used to.

It doesn't come. Bellamy brings her lunch when he can; he makes every study session; he stops by her place after classes; their Saturdays are back to normal. But more than that, it's their conversations that return to normal. She had never really known how much their conversations had suffered until she stops tensing at the possibility of him bringing up Echo or casually dropping in something new about him that she doesn't know.

(There's still a topic they avoid, but if she gets her best friend back at the expense of never talking about her confession and its implications, then it's not really a hard decision.)

*

March bleeds into April fast, bringing better weather but also heralding Clarke's annual spring sinus cold. No matter what she does to prevent it, and she's even tried the tips that are obviously a scam, it comes without fail. Everyone practically sets their calendar by it. Start of April, Clarke gets sick, moans about it for a week, ends up cleaning out the CVS sinus medicine aisle, and it goes away after about two weeks of misery.

This year, it hits right on schedule, so after a hellishly long class during which she spent most of the 75 minutes trying not to blow her nose in the back of the room, she drags herself to CVS. Focused on getting in and out as fast as she can, she's a little brusque when she rattles off an, "Excuse me," to the person blocking her way. "Oh," she says a second later, when Echo turns around and raises an eyebrow at her.

"Great," Echo says, crossing her arms. "Clarke." She pronounces her name with an unmistakable air of distaste.

"Echo," she returns, trying to scoot around her so that she can grab her medicine and go. Echo doesn't budge. "Can you move a little, I just need to—"

"Have you seen Bellamy lately?"

Taken aback by her question, Clarke edges away from her and gives her an odd look. "Yeah, I saw him last night at Grounders."

"Of course you did."

"All right, then, if you could just—"

Echo cuts her off. "Look. When you see Bellamy, tell him he can't avoid this forever."

Her eyes narrow in response. "Why don't you tell him yourself?"

"If he was talking to me, I wouldn't have to ask you," Echo retorts.

"I don't know what's going on here, but whatever it is, I don't want to be in the middle of it."

"You could've fooled me."

Clarke narrows her eyes. "Excuse me?"

"Never mind. I don't have time for this," Echo says, stepping to the side. She knocks her shoulder into Clarke's as she walks away. "Just let him know that he'll have to talk to me sooner or later."

"Like I said, tell him yourself," Clarke demands, her words losing any impact when she sees that Echo's already halfway across the store. Grumbling to herself, she tries not to puzzle over whatever that was. Instead, she grabs her medicine and goes.

*

"Something weird happened today," Clarke says later, curled up on her couch, while Bellamy's in her kitchen getting soup for her. His soup is as famous as it gets within their circle of friends and it's also the only thing that ever makes her feel better during her cold. It's probably just a placebo effect, but it tastes so good that she pretends otherwise. He'd shown up earlier with a thermos in hand and insisted on giving it to her. She hadn't complained.

"Yeah? How weird are we talking? People putting ketchup on eggs or Murphy getting a soul?"

"I think your scale's off because both of those are equally on the weirdest side of the scale."

"For the last time, ketchup on eggs is not as bad as you think it is."

"You can't see me right now, but I'm—" She sneezes in the middle of her sentence, once, twice, five times in a row, because Clarke's one of those people who can't just sneeze once and be done with it. "Never mind," she says, sinking into the couch and groaning as she pulls her blanket tighter over her.

Bellamy reappears a minute later, kneeling down next to the couch and placing a bowl on the coffee table. He reaches up and covers her forehead with the back of his palm, his face creased with worry. Her face heats up with the contact and shakes herself away from his touch. Every time she thinks she's getting better at this, she's cruelly reminded that she's not.

"Don't die," he says softly, retracting his hand.

"No promises," she mumbles back, and as if on cue, she sneezes a couple of times.

"Okay, sit up," Bellamy instructs as she blinks through her itchy eyes. He hands her the bowl of soup and a spoon. "Eat this."

The bowl is warm between her hands. Foregoing the spoon, she sips at the soup, almost sighing with relief when she tastes how good it is. Just another thing she'd missed while she was gone. "I hope you don't mind me using you for your soup."

"As long as you're honest about it," he says easily, moving to take the space next to her. "How did you survive this last year?"

"I tried a bunch of Korean home remedies and when that didn't work, suffered through it."

"You must've been cursed by a witch at some point."

"In my past life, probably."

"That's the only explanation that makes sense," he says, laughing. "Oh, right, what was the weird thing that happened today?"

After a gulp of soup, she answers, "I ran into Echo. She was… she said I had to tell you that you couldn't avoid her forever or something like that. I thought that was weird."

Bellamy pinches the bridge of his nose, instantly irritated. "She shouldn't have dragged you into this."

"Into what? What's going on?"

He heaves a sigh. "We've been… fighting. It's nothing."

"But you're avoiding her," she points out. He doesn't deny it, just shrugs. After a period of silence, Clarke speaks up again, hesitant. "I know it's… weird," which is the first time she's said anything about her confession, "but you can talk to me about it. I mean, if you want to."

Gratitude flashes across his face, though it takes him a little bit to actually start talking. "Echo wants to move when we're done with school. That's why I was in DC looking for places, because she wanted us to move there—" Clarke suppresses her instinctual protest, "—and I told her that I had no plans to move, which led to an argument and she thinks me not wanting to move somewhere where I have no job or any idea of what I'd do there is me not committing to her." Bellamy shakes his head. "Obviously, I said it wasn't true, but she said—she said some things that are hard to take back so yeah, I'm avoiding her. I'm sorry she got you involved in it."

"That's silly," she eventually says, her lips ghosting over the brim of the bowl before setting it down on the table. "Of course you're committed to her."

"I don't know," he says, more to himself. "It's been impossible to have a conversation with her since then."

"Well, you can't avoid her forever."

"You don't know that."

"I've tried that before and it doesn't ever pan out."

"I'll try harder then."

"Bellamy."

"Clarke."

"You can't avoid her forever."

He sighs, loud and heavy and dramatic. "I know. I'll talk to her at some point. I will!" Bellamy adds when she gives him a skeptical look. "Sorry, though. For making you listen to that."

She shakes her head, denies his apology. "We're friends, Bellamy. We should be able to talk about that stuff, no matter—yeah." Her fingers twist around her blanket.

Bellamy turns to look at her, but he says nothing. His eyes stay on her face, searching, scanning, finding. He reaches over and brushes her hair away from her face, tucks it behind her ear. She's fairly sure she stops breathing. "Clarke—"

She sneezes and sneezes and sneezes, effectively cutting through the spell of that moment. Bellamy's frozen, except for the blinking of his eyes.

"Well," he says, backing away slightly. "If I catch this cold, I know who to blame."

"I'm so sorry," she says mournfully, grabbing a tissue and wiping her nose with it. "You should probably go before that actually happens."

He laughs and moves to the other end of the couch. "What if I just sit over here?"

She already misses his proximity, but it's a good idea for numerous reasons. "Then you can't blame me if you get sick."

"No promises."

*

Bellamy breaks up with Echo a week later.

Clarke absolutely does not let herself think about what it means.

*

"That was fun. It's nice when we do something you're terrible at," she giggles as she opens her apartment door. They've just come from bowling with their friends and while it had been no one's first idea of fun, it had turned out to be fun. Clarke's silently grateful to Harper for suggesting it, even if it had started out as a joke, because in the month since Bellamy's breakup, she's tried to think of things to do to distract him from moping about it. Her movie collection is dwindling fast. But he doesn't seem to be too distraught over it, or if he is, he isn't expressing it where she can see it. Still, it worries her, and as his friend, she wants to help him through it.

If it alleviates some of the guilt she feels about her happiness in this post-relationship world, then that's a bonus too.

"Did you plan this with Harper? You can tell me the truth." He has his hand on the small of her back, leading her inside her place. She wouldn't think twice about this gesture, except he's been like this all night, close and touchy. A hand on her knee, a squeeze of her waist, an arm draped around her shoulders, his face close to her neck. It's a lot for her to handle, especially in this post-relationship world.

"A mastermind never reveals her secrets."

"That's not suspicious at all."

"You're just paranoid."

"It's not paranoia when it's true."

She rolls her eyes and starts heading towards her room. Over her shoulder, she calls back, "How certain are you that I have this mythical book you won't accept you've lost?"

"I haven't lost it, Clarke."

"I don't remember you leaving it here at all."

"It was that time you thought pulling an all-nighter to finish your essay was a good idea and then you couldn't stay up so you made me come over to keep you company—"

"Made you?"

"Easily convinced me to come over to keep you company. Better?"

"Yes. Start making the popcorn?"

"Second cabinet to the right?"

"Yep."

While Bellamy busies himself in her kitchen, Clarke heads into her room. By the time he's done, she's looking through her closet for his book.

From her doorway, she hears, "Why would it be in your closet?"

"I'm actually just using this as an opportunity to organize my closet."

"I should've suspected." She hears him sit down in her desk chair. "No book?"

Clarke pokes her head out and points to her bed. "You were right. Found it mixed with my books." She doesn't have to look at him to know he's got a smug look on his face.

"I had a feeling."

"You're insufferable," she says, hauling a box out of the closet.

"I've heard that before."

"We've actually formed a club where, among many other topics, we discuss how insufferable you are."

"Yeah? You do? What else do you say?"

"That you're a bit of a know-it-all."

"Classic."

"And that you're too much of a worrier."

"I worry just enough."

"That you shouldn't be trusted to make major facial hair decisions without a consensus vote."

"I told you I'm shaving it off soon," he complains.

"Soon like tomorrow? Soon like you'll let me do it right now?"

"Soon like if you keep this up, it'll be never."

"Fine, I'll stop bothering you," she huffs dramatically. Bellamy rolls his eyes at her, which means she has to stick her tongue out at him. They're very mature people. "I just think you look better without it."

He blinks at her. "You do?"

"Yeah, I mean, you can't deprive everyone of your jawline—"

"Have you been thinking about this a lot, Clarke?" He's got a smirk on his face now, half-smug, half-delighted.

"The people want to know."

"People named Clarke Griffin?"

"I believe she's one of them."

He laughs a little and she grins at him, quick and easy. Oh yeah, and flirting. That'd happened a lot more lately as well. And then, like always, guilt prods her to a curiosity and a concern. A pause, and then, "Hey, you're doing okay, aren't you?"

"I don't care that much about bowling, Clarke."

"About the other thing."

"You can say breakup. I'm not going to fall apart." She blushes.

"No one would blame you if you did."

"As nice as that is, I really am okay." She doesn't buy it, but he doesn't look like he's lying. She'd know if he was. "It was the right decision. And honestly, I should've made it earlier."

Her hands open up the box in front of her, mostly so she has something to do. Absently, she notes that it's the junk she forgot to unpack from Korea. "Why do you say that?"

Contemplative, he flips through a few pages of his book before answering. "I realized a few things and it didn't feel right anymore. But then I got scared."

There's too many questions that immediately pop up, the words racing each other to the tip of her tongue. She pulls them back at the very last second and asks none of them, because what purpose would What did you realize? and What are you scared of? serve? Instead, she nods like she understands. "Breakups are hard."

"Understatement."

"At least yours was mild."

"I wouldn't say that."

"You didn't have to find a new place to live or find out that you were the other woman." Not that she's speaking from experience or anything. Bellamy rolls his eyes and drops his book back onto her desk.

"She dumped her coffee on me," he says, both of them cringing at the same time.

"Was it still hot?"

"Lukewarm."

"See? Mild." They share a smile before Clarke returns to the box, busying herself with its contents, rifling through all the knicknacks she'd picked up from her year abroad. There's an alarming number of socks in here. Her eyes catch on something, a book. "Oh my god," she says, pulling it out of the box.

"What?"

"I completely forgot about this."

"Forgot about what?"

Leaping up, she bounds over to Bellamy and presents the book to him. "Your souvenir."

"But you already got me something."

"I know, but those were things I got for everyone else too, and," Clarke begins to flush with embarrassment, "I saw this and I don't know, it just really reminded me of you. I mean, I kept seeing stuff and having it remind me of you so I got it and now it's probably stupid—"

"Clarke," he says, taking the book from her and opening it. It's a collection of paintings that, when she first found it, tucked in the back of this bookstore in Seoul, she'd idly flipped through, but then her eye had caught on a page. It had reminded her so much of Bellamy and from that point forward, each painting in the book only reinforced the association. He flips through it now, his eyes carefully scanning each page. He looks up. "You thought of me?"

"Like that's a surprise?" Then, softer, she adds, "I thought of you all the time."

He sets the book aside and stands up, his eyes intent and set on her. He's in her space now and Clarke doesn't back away. "You did?"

"You don't know how many times I wished I could just… fly home so I could see you."

"I," his voice catches, drops, "I wish you had."

Her throat is dry all of a sudden. "Did you," she falters, nervous, "did you think of me?"

His mouth is on hers practically the second she finishes speaking, his body crowding against hers, his hands holding her face. She squeaks her surprise, taking a second to fully comprehend what's happening while Bellamy keeps on kissing her. When her hands slide up to hold onto him, one clutching the hair at the nape of his neck and the other pressed tight on his back, urging him closer, she stops thinking about it and just kisses back, frenzied and frantic, deep and wanting. He deepens the kiss at the same time he pushes her back towards her bed, fisting her hair in his hand, and she nearly trips over her own feet to pull him back with her, falling onto the mattress with a giggle that's swallowed almost immediately by his mouth.

She whimpers when he breaks the kiss to ghost his lips against her jaw, down her neck, along her collarbone. "Bellamy," she breathes, rushing to pull his shirt up, to get her hands on his skin. Clarke scratches her nails against his stomach and he groans against her ear, a sound so low and deep it makes her buck her hips up against him.

"Bellamy," she says again, squirming under him while he's trying to take her shirt off. "I want—I want—"

"You've gotta stop moving like that," he says, pulling back, breathing hard. His eyes are dark, darker still when he sees how her chest is heaving, how a mark is blooming on her neck. The remnants of her lipstick is smudged onto his face but before she can laugh about it, he kisses her again, dirty and insistent. It really is everything she's dreamed of, so many times, from the way he kisses (alternating between hard and certain and soft and teasing) to the way he touches her (fingers skimming along her skin, light and airy, waiting for her to say yes), and she gets lost in just kissing him. Her fingers tangle in his hair and she lets him press her down into her sheets and she can't get enough of him; Bellamy so obviously knows this because he shifts his body, aligning them closer, pulling her hips against his so she can rock into him.

His right hand slides down her body, slips past the waistband of her jeans, and her eyes fly open. "Bellamy," she says for the third time that night. "Stop."

He stops, his eyes confused as he pulls his hand and his face away from her. "Did I hurt you?" He asks, voice husky.

Her head's so muddled it takes a few seconds to properly respond, but she shakes her head. "What are we doing?"

He frowns. "We're…"

"We can't do this," she says, panicky, trying to pull herself from under him. Bellamy moves off her, sitting at the end of her bed, and he stares at her. "I don't want it to—" she touches her lips, "I don't want it to happen like this."

"What are you talking about?" His words are slow and deliberate, like he's trying to understand them himself.

"I don't want to be your rebound!" Clarke cries out, frustrated that she has to explain it and upset with herself for letting it get this far. "I don't want you to do this because you feel like you're, like you're obligated to or something!"

Incredulous, Bellamy says, "Obligated by what?"

"By my feelings for you!"

"Are you serious?" He lets out an angry breath of air and stomps off her bed. His hair sticks up all over the place and it'd be an amusing sight if she found anything amusing about this. She's too busy wondering how badly she fucked up. Bellamy paces around and then stops, his voice even and carefully controlled. "Did it ever occur to you that I have feelings for you too? That I never stopped having feelings for you? That I've loved you practically since I've known you and since the days when all we did was argue with each other and when you were with Finn and Lexa and when you left?"

No, she thinks.

"No," she says, helpless and desperate and honest. "No, how could I? You moved on so fast, so easily and you were so caught up in your relationship that you forgot about me! No, of course I didn't think you did!"

"I apologized for that."

"It still happened," Clarke snaps. "And while all I thought about, all I could think about was you, there you were, always around her, always with her—you made plans for the summer together, you thought about moving in with her!" She's on her knees now, nearly eye level with him as she throws everything in his face. It suddenly occurs to her that this is the first time they've genuinely talked about this, about feelings and everything in between, and it's a trainwreck, a collision of everything she's bottled up and been too scared to say.

"Because you weren't here," he shouts. "You were gone, Clarke. I thought you didn't feel the same way about me so yes, I tried to move on, I tried to convince myself that I didn't need you, that I was over you—"

"I wasn't gone forever! I came back!"

He throws his hands up. "What was I supposed to do? Wait for you? On the off chance that you might like me back?"

"No!" The anger leaves her, falling away as she falls back onto her heels. "No. You didn't do anything wrong. I don't know what I'm thinking." She closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths. From the way her bed dips down next to her, she knows Bellamy's sitting down.

"I know I fucked things up and there's no way to change that now," he says, "but you wouldn't be a rebound. I've spent more time being in love with you than not."

"Bellamy," she says, "you just got out of a relationship that lasted over a year. That's what a rebound is."

He shakes his head, his voice growing more impassioned as he talks. He gets like that sometimes and it's always been one of her favorite things about him. "The way I feel about you is completely different and it always has been and I love you, I want to be with you, I want you—"

Tiredly, Clarke cuts him off, even as his words worm their way into her heart. "You don't know what you want. You literally broke up with your girlfriend thirty six days ago."

"It's not like I haven't thought about this, Clarke. I was in love with you before you left and I'm still in love with you now." There's a sharp intake of breath and it takes her a second to realize it's from her. Her eyes snap to his and she can't look away. Bellamy continues. "And when you were gone, I felt like, like I had to move on because there was nothing else I could do so I spent so much time trying to prove to myself and to, to everyone else, to you that I was over you, but I wasn't and all it did was just make things worse."

She runs these words over, and over, and over, lifted by the sound of them, rocked by the unbelievability of them. It doesn't make any sense. He's still talking, the words floating around distantly until she actually registers what they are. "I know what I want," Bellamy's saying, eyes on her, "and I just want you."

"No, you don't," she hears herself voicing. "You think you do. That's a big difference."

"I think I know what I'm feeling more than you would."

"Yeah, and I think that you're lonely and I'm here so you've decided that it's what you want." Jumping up from her bed, she turns a glare on him. "I wasn't what you wanted a year ago, or six months ago, or a month ago but now, I'm suddenly everything you want?"

"Now—okay. That's what you think this is?" From his place on her bed, he looks incredulous at her. A spark of regret lights in her.

"I'm just going by what I've seen."

"I thought," he clears his throat, "I thought we'd figured out a way to be on the same page again." So had she.

"I guess not," she says.

"I guess not."

Her comforter is rumpled behind him, her sheets in a similar state. Just fifteen minutes ago, they had been there, her body pressed against his, his mouth on hers, her hands in his hair, his leg between hers. Thinking about it brings a flush to her cheeks and Clarke has to scramble to distract him from noticing it. "Maybe you should go."

"Maybe I should go," he says at the same time.

Of course they'd be on the same page for this. Drawing her arms tighter, she can only nod, watching as he gets up and heads towards the door. She trails after him, running over the millions of words she wants or, or should, or could say to him.

They stop at her front door and stay there for a few seconds, shuffling between feet. Finally, Bellamy leans in and presses a kiss to her cheek. She almost pulls him back. "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Okay." Clarke runs a hand through her hair, combing it through. "Text me when you get home?"

"Of course."

The popcorn he made is cold by the time she remembers it's ready.

*

Raven's graduation party is a bonfire by the beach and she's been planning it for as long as Clarke's known her. She's pretty sure that Raven spent more time finalizing these details than studying for her finals. Whatever the case, the invites were sent out two weeks into fall semester and it's finally here.

Unfortunately, Clarke's own excitement for the event isn't at its normal level, mostly because it'll be the first time she's actually seeing Bellamy since That Night. To be fair, they've seen each other, crossing paths outside the library, running into each other at the student union, once in a parking lot, but it's been so brief it hardly counts. Finals week had arrived so quickly that all she could really handle was one disaster at a time and at the time, the future of her academic career outweighed her mess of a love life. And every time she's had free time, the thought of texting him to do something, to hang out keeps fizzling out into nothing. It's not that they haven't talked because they have; it's more like they haven't talked about what they should be talking about. They're the requisite amount of awkward around each other and they're still friends, if this kind of friendship took into account (1) makeout, (2) confessions of feelings, and (1) fight that wasn't really resolved. Believe it or not, it's hard to be friends with someone when all you can do is think about how nice his mouth is. But then again, she's had those thoughts for years and she's managed. It's just worse now because she knows what it's like to kiss him and she knows what it's like to hear him say that he loves her.

She really wants to believe it.

Understandably, she's nervous about seeing him again. Raven is absolutely unsympathetic.

"Just go talk to him," she says, rolling her eyes before she socks someone in the arm and engages him in a conversation.

"He's clearly busy," Clarke says back, pretending like she isn't looking in his general direction. Bellamy's surrounded by a group of people, engrossed in conversation. He's a graduating senior too, and someone that people just flock to, so everyone's been coming up to him and monopolizing his time. Not that she cares.

He catches her eye and waves. She waves back, shy. "Just do it," Raven interjects, finished with her previous conversation. Clarke turns her head back towards her.

"Look at all those people," she tries. "It'd be rude of me to cut in."

"Please, as soon as you walk up to him, he'll leave everyone else."

"That's not true."

"I miss the days when you guys weren't aware you were in love with each other."

"He isn't in love with me, Raven," she explains, like it's not the fifth time she's had to.

"That's not what he says," Raven singsongs.

"He just broke up with his girlfriend—"

"Two months ago is hardly a just situation."

"One and a half, you mean, and he just got out of a really serious relationship, so I don't really trust what he says," Clarke says, her gaze involuntarily drifting back to Bellamy. He looks even better than he did a few minutes ago.

"Clarke." Raven's voice is stern, in a way that she rarely is. "I'm going to say this because you're my friend and I want you to be happy and also it's my party and I want you to talk to him already, but sometimes," she shrugs, "you get in your head too much."

"I do not—" But Raven's right. Spontaneity isn't one of her best qualities.

"Yes you do. The guy loves you. Everyone's known this for years now and he's said the same thing. So just talk to him."

"Not everyone is as certain as you," she scowls, staring into her cup of Coke.

"That's because you think way too much." Raven taps her temple and gives her a knowing look. "He keeps looking over here, by the way."

Her head swivels around. "Really?" Raven cackles, nearly doubling over as Clarke smacks her arm.

"Shut up."

"Go talk to him."

There really is no dissuading Raven Reyes once she's set her mind on something. "Fine," she relents.

"Thank you. The bedroom towards the back is all yours."

"We're not going to do anything," Clarke says tersely, gripping her cup as she finds him again.

Raven waves a hand in her face. "Just in case! Now if you'll excuse me," she pulls on a guy's arm and stops him in his tracks, "Zeke and I have unfinished business."

"Please feel free to take that bedroom."

"You're so generous, Clarke."

"Consider it my other graduation gift."

Raven laughs and pulls Zeke away, leaving Clarke to stand there alone. Taking a deep breath (or two), she finishes off her drink and grips the plastic cup. It's kind of an anchor as she makes her way towards Bellamy, who peels off from the group to meet her halfway.

Maybe Raven had a point.

"Hey."

"Hi."

"So... did I just see Raven with Zeke?"

"Yeah. They have unfinished business," Clarke confirms, adding air quotes where necessary. "For the record, we should probably avoid the house."

"Thanks for the heads up," he says, flashing her a grin that makes her heart flutter. He glances down at the cup in her hand. "Uh, what are you drinking? I'll get you some more."

"Coke, but it's fine."

"Just Coke?"

"Yeah," she says, swirling the last bit of the drink around in the cup. "I need to be sober for this."

His forehead creases. "Sober for... what?"

Gesturing towards a more private area of the beach, farther from the bonfire, she asks, "Can we, I don't know, take a walk or something?" He nods and lets her take the lead. Once they're sufficiently far from any prying ears, not that she thinks anyone would be paying attention, given how drunk mostly everyone is, she takes a deep breath. "So, it turns out I think too much."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, Raven says so and you know how she always thinks she's right."

He chuckles slightly. "Yeah, she's annoying like that." It's clear that he's trying to figure out where this conversation is going to, and what kind of tone it'll take.

"Yeah, well, Raven might be onto something here. That night…" Clarke could cringe recollecting it, "I wasn't fair to you—"

Bellamy cuts in, rushing to speak. "No, Clarke, you were, it's fine. I was the one who wasn't fair, I pushed you and I didn't listen to you—"

"No, Bellamy, that's not true." She'd been the one who had completely dismissed his feelings.

"Yes, it is," he insists, apologetic. "I didn't know how much I hadn't given you a reason to believe what I was saying."

She traces the rim of the cup, struggles with the right words. "It's not that I don't want to believe you. If it was about that, I'd believe you immediately. But I don't know," she peeks up at him and loses her train of thought for a second, "um, I guess, I don't know, I just spent a lot of time telling myself that you didn't feel the same way, that you didn't like me like that, so it's hard to not default to that." And then because she can't keep the bitterness out of her voice, "Plus you were so happy with, you know, with her, it's like everything is telling me that it's not true. Which, of course, is so not fair to you. Hence, the whole thinking too much thing."

His eyes squeeze shut briefly, pained. "I made it worse." She doesn't want him to take that on, but she doesn't know if she can deny it either.

Instead, Clarke quietly says, "Do you really love me?"

"I really love you," he replies, the simplicity of his statement making its own case for believability. "I think I've loved you ever since you made me pull over and then proceeded to yell at me for derailing your student council meeting."

She smacks his arm. "You were not in love with me in high school. Don't rewrite history."

"It's been a while, though." Bellamy brushes her hair back. "It's always been you, Clarke. No matter how hard I try to deny it. I only want you."

"Me too," she chokes out, unable to run from it anymore. "I love you. Obviously, obviously, I do…" Her voice trails off, biting down on what she almost says.

He already knows. "You need time."

Guiltily, she nods. "I don't want us to rush into this, not just because you just got out of a relationship but," a pause, almost hysterical, "you're my best friend, Bellamy. I could be fine with you dating someone else as long as you were happy, but—I couldn't handle not being your best friend."

"Clarke, Clarke, Princess," His nickname rolls off his tongue easily, even though it's been years since he'd last used it. It calms her down instantly. "I get it and you're right. I'm sorry about everything, about all the shit we could've avoided if this hadn't happened, and if you want to wait, we can wait." His hands frame her face now, his palms calloused but warm. He draws closer, making sure to keep his eyes on her.

"You want to?"

"Yeah, it's probably a good idea," he acquiesces. "Besides, we clearly have some things to figure out before we can figure out what this is. I want you to be able to believe me when I say that I love you."

"I do believe you," Clarke protests.

"But only partly."

"Like 40%."

"That's a challenge. I like challenges."

She makes a noise of approval as he gets closer. His gaze is open and so easy to read and almost makes her knees buckle. "Don't look at me like that," she whispers, but she means keep doing it.

"Like what?" His thumb caresses her cheek; his nose is practically touching hers. She's not thinking when her gaze drops to his mouth; she's not thinking when surges forward to kiss him, her cup falling to the sandy ground, her fingers threading through his hair, his beard scratching against her jaw. It's a desperate kiss, fast and heated, and she can't get enough of him. She pulls on his bottom lip and he lets out a moan that makes her shudder against him.

A loud whoop breaks the kiss for them and groggily, Bellamy looks for the culprit while Clarke attempts to draw his attention back, her fingers on his jaw and directing him back towards her mouth.

"Clarke," he laughs, right before he sneaks in another kiss, too quick to be content. "I thought you wanted time."

Her brain is a little foggy at the moment. "I did, I—I do."

"Then we should probably stop doing this," he says, because he's logical and he's right, but it doesn't wash away the disappointment that she shouldn't be feeling. He pulls away and caresses her cheek again. "Even though I don't want to."

"That makes two of us," she says, sighing before letting go of Bellamy and smoothing her clothes down. "I don't really know what we do now."

He thinks for a second and then extends his hand out to her. "Wanna get out of here? Get something to eat?"

"What? Burnt marshmallows aren't your thing?"

"I was thinking we drop by Ark Station and get those burgers you love."

"And you'll let me steal your fries?"

"Clarke, I've always let you steal my fries. It's not like kissing you has suddenly convinced me to do it now."

She places her hand in his and he interlocks their fingers. "Then let's go."

*

It probably comes as no surprise that taking some time to figure out their potential relationship is a really hard ask. She's never done this before. Her previous relationships, as badly as they imploded by the end, were always clear on what they were. Finn was her boyfriend, even if he hadn't exactly told her that he was also Raven's boyfriend at the same time. Lexa was her girlfriend. She's never dated a friend, let alone a best friend, before. She's never had to navigate the weird limbo between friendship and relationship before.

Nothing really changes, except for the fact that they're both aware of each other's feelings. They still spend as much time together as they're used to; they still go out to dinner together; she sits by him at the bar; he slings his arm around her shoulder when they're close. All of this is done while she operates under the knowledge of knowing what it's like to make out with Bellamy Blake.

That's perhaps the major sticking point.

Two weeks into whatever this is, after a long night at a gala that her mom makes her attend, he hoists her up onto his kitchen counter, his jacket falling off her shoulders, her legs locking around his waist, and licks into her mouth with the familiar skill she's dreamt about more than once.

This is the fourth time that week that they've ended up like this (albeit in different places, once in the backseat of his car) and while they've been able to stop it before it gets too far, she can't quite remember any good reasons to right now. He'd looked so nice all night, first by showing up at her door clean-shaven, hair trimmed, second by making her laugh while she endured hours of small talk, and third by pulling up his sleeves to show off his forearms. It was probably the last one that made the difference.

Bellamy apparently has similar thoughts. "You looked so fucking good tonight, Clarke," he murmurs against her lips, one hand already working on the zipper to her dress. It gets stuck a second later, inducing a groan of frustration from him, but he moves onto her neck. She tilts her head back so he has better access.

"I wore this dress for you," she says, somehow, like she can think properly at this moment.

"I love it." He returns to her mouth, kissing her hard. "I love—"

A series of knocks breaks their rhythm, cutting off his sentence, making her jump slightly. "Are you expecting company?"

"No," he says, confused, growing even more so when the knocking does not stop, but actually grows more persistent. "Hold on." With great reluctance, he lets go of her, stepping away and towards the door. When he opens it, Monty's standing on the other side.

"Hey, Bellamy, I tried to call but you weren't answering." At the sound of his voice, Clarke gets down from the counter and smooths her dress down as inconspicuous as possible. She emerges a moment later, pasting on a smile that she hopes doesn't say I was just making out with Bellamy, how are you. "Clarke," he says, surprised.

"Hey, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, um, I was just—" she gestures vaguely to nowhere in particular, "I needed to get something before I went home."

"What's going on?" Bellamy says. "Something wrong?"

"Harper and I got into a fight and I was just, you know, hoping maybe I could stay here for the night. I really did try to call, but, maybe I should—"

"No, it's fine," he's quick to say, catching her eye. Bellamy sends her an apology, but she understands. "You know you can always have the couch. Just uh, I'm going to take Clarke home and then I'll be back."

Monty slumps with relief and makes his way towards the couch. "Thanks, Bellamy. I'll be out of here tomorrow morning."

"Yeah, no problem. You know where everything is. Just don't burn anything down."

Clarke isn't mad at Monty for interrupting them, but the mood's definitely been killed. They make their way downstairs operating under that knowledge. It's likely a good thing. They'd been able to stop themselves the previous three times, but she's not so sure it would've been possible this time.

She waits until they're outside her apartment building to bring it up. "This isn't working."

"What?" Alarmed, Bellamy drops his keys into his lap. "Yes, it is. Things are going great, I thought—"

Wincing at her word choice, she has to clarify, "No, I mean, sorry, not that this isn't working," referring to the two of them, "but you know, the staying away from each other and not kissing thing. The whole concept of taking it slow isn't really working out the way I thought it was going to."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," he says, a weariness behind his words, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have kissed you tonight—"

"I mean, I basically threw myself on you the other day, and that time were at the movies, so it's not like—"

"You wanted to take some time, though, and I haven't—"

"Bellamy," she laughs, placing a hand on his cheek, "I like that you want to kiss me. Obviously, I can't stop kissing you. I think us trying not to is only making us want to even more."

"You might be onto something with that."

"I just think maybe we should, um, maybe set some rules. So that things are more clear."

"What kind of rules?"

"Well, the first one should probably be something like," Clarke rushes through the next bit, "kissing is fine."

He arches an eyebrow, but doesn't object to it. "We can kiss."

"But just kissing," she adds. "No, no sex or anything. Because I want to know what we are before that happens."

"I get it."

Her hand picks at the skirt of her dress, bunching it and letting it go. "And you know, I don't plan on seeing anyone else." Hesitantly, she looks up.

Bellamy shakes his head. "I don't either. Only you."

"Okay," she confirms, lighter, "so kissing is allowed and we're not seeing other people. Anything else?"

He thinks for a second. "We tell each other if anything changes. If you want to do this," he swallows, "if you don't—"

"You too, though. I know I'm asking a lot from you."

"It's not going to change, but okay, that's our third rule."

Clarke nods her assent and then tilts her head. "Kiss on it?"

"The rules say it's okay," he says, already leaning in. The resulting kiss is short, but sweet, and she smiles into it. "I had a nice time tonight."

"Until Monty decided to have terrible timing."

"I meant the gala. It wasn't all that bad."

Skeptically, "Right, because you love galas."

"You made it fun."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You always do."

"That's why I asked you to go. I like them much better when you're there."

He kisses her again. "Me too. See you tomorrow?"

"Can't wait."

*

"So, run me through this again," Raven says, as they make their way through the park, "you're not dating, but you also aren't going to date anyone else." The loud roar of the crowd gearing up in anticipation of the next act buys Clarke some time in answering, but when they reach the area they picked out, the noise has died down.

Spreading the blanket out on the grass, she sighs and confirms, "Seems like you get it already."

"I thought you were just confused and really meant that you were dating."

"Sorry to burst your bubble, but we're not." Her sunglasses slip off the top of her head and she scrambles to rescue them before sitting down. "We're just taking some time."

"But you're still going on dates," Emori interjects, joining her on the ground.

"We're not going on dates," she has to clarify. "We really aren't doing anything different than what we were before."

"Right, that's true, except—"

"Hey," Bellamy swoops in, bending down to kiss her quickly. She smiles up at him. "I'm getting you a vodka lemonade, object if you hate this idea."

"A vodka lemonade sounds great."

"I figured," he teases. "Raven? Emori? What can I get you?"

Emori unveils a bottle of wine seemingly from out of nowhere. "We're good, but thanks."

Bellamy nods and kisses her again before he leaves. As soon as he's out of earshot, or maybe even before then, it's that quick of a response, Raven turns to her, "Except that. Taking some time?"

"We have an understanding," Clarke says defensively, pulling at the hem of her shorts. The skepticism she's met with makes her even more defensive about it. "We have rules." And their rules clearly state that kissing is allowed, so it's fine. The only things they're not allowed to do is have sex and label whatever it is between them before they figure it out.

So kissing is fine.

"Your rules for not being in a relationship include kissing?" Raven says, grabbing the bottle of wine from Emori's hands. "So this is a friends with benefits thing."

"No, we're not—we're not labeling things, all right? Not that it is a thing or—I'm not talking about this anymore." Clarke slips her sunglasses over her eyes, steadfastly staring at the stage in front of them, despite the fact that no one's there yet.

Emori's voice floats through. "Hey, for what's it's worth, when John and I were doing what we were doing, we didn't know what to call it either. And that worked out fine enough." You two can hardly be in the same room together, Clarke almost corrects. It's not exactly the most comforting of thoughts. "I mean, before we decided we were in a real relationship."

She doesn't know what to say to that without hurting her feelings. Thankfully, at that exact moment, Bellamy returns with the drinks, Monty and Zeke in tow.

"I got drinks, I got Monty, I got Zeke, I got the sunglasses you left in the car," Bellamy's loud voice booms out, tossing the sunglasses in question to Raven and sitting down next to Clarke. "Hi."

"Hi," she says back, taking her drink from his hand and automatically leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek, stopping short when she sees Raven's judgment and averting her head towards the stage with a high blush on her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Bellamy turn his head towards her in confusion.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." She pats his hand and focuses her attention on the band that's just entered the stage. "Don't worry." But she's stiff and too aware of her body, too in her head for the first set and Bellamy doesn't stop looking at her like he knows something's wrong.

In between sets, while everyone else has left to get more drinks or to stretch their legs, he asks her about it. "What's up?"

"It's dumb."

"It isn't."

"You don't even know what it is."

"Well, it's upsetting you, so it isn't dumb." She lets out a weak laugh.

"I'm just thinking too much, as per."

"Thinking about what?"

"Our rules."

"You don't like our rules?"

"No, I think they're good. They're what we need. But," Clarke makes a face, "Raven thinks they're weird."

"That's it?"

"I said it was dumb—"

"Not that. Just… Raven doesn't really have a say in this, so I don't really care what she thinks about it."

He has a point.

"Exactly," he says, reading the look on her face. "As long as you're okay with it, I'm okay with it."

She shoves him playfully, a real smile pulling at her mouth. "Save it."

"Make me," he counters, drawing a giggle from her as he pulls her into his arms. The hug washes away all of her worries, as unwarranted as they are, and centers her.

When the others come back for the second half of the concert, Bellamy's head is in her lap, her fingers slowly combing through his hair. She doesn't think twice about pulling him up for a kiss, just a casual one, in the middle of a song. If anyone notices, she doesn't care.

*

Bellamy is surprisingly amenable to attending the school's study abroad celebration, even after she warns him about the two-drink limit. All he says is, "Yeah, if you're asking me, I'll go," during the worst commercial known to mankind, and Clarke has to sit back, pleased. She'd thought it would take more convincing. Maybe even have to kiss him into agreeing.

Frankly, it throws her entire night out of order, so obviously, she has to fix that.

"I already said I'm going," he says.

"I know, but it's extra incentive."

He doesn't object to that.

*

He does begin to regret it, though, when he goes through the buffet line and surveys the food.

"You didn't have to come," Clarke reminds him, wishing that they'd stopped somewhere to eat before they arrived. School-sponsored events always bring the worst catering options available. She'd kill for some Thai right now.

"Was it too much to hope that they'd spring for something better? I don't think they really care about celebrating you." Still, he scoops some of the pasta salad onto his plate.

"Let's leave early and stop by the Thai place on our way home," she suggests, elbowing him to get his attention.

"We just got here."

"Like twenty minutes ago."

"They're celebrating you."

"I'd feel more celebrated with spring rolls." They reach the end of the line and Clarke continues, intent on getting her way. "We don't have to leave now, but we're not staying the entire time."

"Oh, God, I was hoping we wouldn't stay the whole time."

"So you agree?"

"Let's leave after we've cashed in our drinks." Bellamy stops in his tracks and looks over. "Someone took our table."

"I guess that's a sign."

"C'mon, let's sit down over there," he says, pointing to a different table, one that's currently occupied by only one person.

"You're putting up too much of a fight to stay," she comments, although she does follow him towards the table. "I don't get it. You don't even like these things."

"I don't," he says, looking back at her briefly. "But you asked me to come and I like you." She has no witty response for that, just a smile that she hides behind his back. "Hey, are these seats taken?"

"No, go ahead," the girl at the table replies, right before she exclaims, "Wait. I know you."

Bellamy looks confused. "I'm sorry, I—"

"No, I mean, you," she clarifies, pointing at Clarke. There's something she does recognize about her, but she can't place it — "You were at Dax's party, weren't you? You had on that Homecoming Queen sash."

"Oh!" Clarke says, the memories flooding back. The sash is stashed somewhere in her closet. The girl is — "I'm sorry, I completely forget your name."

She laughs, waving a hand to say it's not a problem. "It's Niylah."

"Right!" She blushes as she takes the seat next to her. "Clarke. Sorry about that. It was a fuzzy night."

"You can say that again."

Bellamy's knee knocks into hers and she startles, shooting him a sheepish look. "And this is Bellamy, he's my, um, he's—"

"The guy she dragged here. It's nice to meet you. How do you…" he gestures between the two of them, "know each other?"

"We, um," Clarke starts, but Niylah cuts to the chase.

"We made out at Dax's party." Clarke feels her cheeks heat up, uncomfortable as she sits between Niylah and Bellamy. It's never a great situation to be around two people you've made out with, even if you only have feelings for one of them.

"Oh, Clarke never said anything about that," he says, a forced humor to his words that's only obvious to her.

"It was a very fuzzy night," she repeats, kicking his foot.

"I wouldn't have remembered if I didn't see you just now," Niylah says, but that's the end of it as she changes topics. "So where'd you go for study abroad?" That question initiates a long conversation about her time in South Korea, which leads to Niylah telling her about her winter semester in Germany, which has them comparing and sharing stories for at least half an hour. Bellamy adds his thoughts every so often, but it's mostly just the two of them. He gets up to get a drink and then to get another one, so by the time that Niylah says she sees someone she knows and leaves them alone at the table to talk to them, his glass is empty.

"She's nice," Bellamy says, once she's gone.

"She sounds pretty cool." She'd had a much easier time in Germany than Clarke had had in South Korea, but Niylah was definitely more outgoing. It made sense.

"And she seems to really like you," he adds pointedly.

"I hope so." Clarke frowns and then puts it together. "Wait. Are you jealous?"

"She was flirting with you," he says, which isn't a no. He won't meet her eyes either.

"She was not and you're jealous."

"She was and I'm not."

Clarke takes the glass he's glaring at out of his hands, forcing him to look up at her. "I had to watch you be in love with some other girl for months. You can't be jealous."

"Clarke…"

"It's a joke. We can joke about it now," she says quickly, although that's saying a lot. "I told you I don't want to see anyone else."

"I know," he looks frustrated with himself, "it's not a rational response."

"You're jealous."

"You don't have to laugh about it."

"I can't help it!" Bellamy groans and covers his face and she laughs again, tugging him up. "You're jealous."

"Yeah," he sighs, "I'm jealous. If you saw how she looked at you—"

"I did see it. I was talking to her."

"Then you would agree with me."

"I don't care how she looked at me," she says in exasperation.

"Fine, I'm being an idiot."

"That's about the gist of it." But it's still funny, and maybe a little flattering. Bellamy runs his hand over his face and grimaces out a smile. It's still funny and definitely flattering.

"Can I get you a drink and we just forget this happened?"

"I don't know," she says, pretending to think about it. "I was thinking about asking Niylah to get me a drink…"

"Very funny." He's less than amused. "I definitely like you for your humor."

Clarke holds back her laugh, but she reaches out to grab his wrist before he leaves. "I couldn't stop thinking about you. When I was kissing her."

The corners of his mouth twitches, but he remains mostly stoic. "That must've been terrible."

"I've had better."

"Yeah?" He inches closer, leaning down so that they're just a few breaths apart.

"Yeah." She closes the distance and kisses him, smiling into it when he deepens it. When he lets her go, she keeps her hold on his wrist. "That was a good one."

"It always is."

*

Clarke can't confirm it but she may be a little tipsy. It starts, as it often does at Murphy's annual summer BBQ, with her pride being challenged, and ends with three shots of Monty's terrible concoction and a victoriously smug grin on her face. It's a trap she falls into every time and one that she regrets ten seconds later, when she remembers just how terrible Monty's terrible concoction really is.

"Okay," she grimaces, pushing away from the table, "I'm getting some water to wash that down."

"That only makes it worse," Monty warns and she groans, remembering.

"How is it that you haven't fixed it yet?"

"That's part of the charm, Clarke. Just be glad you weren't here when I added algae to it."

Her stomach turns over at the thought. "The one benefit of being 7000 miles away. I'm getting some food." Food is manned by Murphy, courtesy of the grill he obtained three years ago through dubiously legal means. She hands him her plate when she reaches him.

"So where's the boyfriend? Thought you two were inseparable these days," he comments, loading a burger onto the plate.

"He's at a job interview, but he'll be here later," Clarke says automatically, only realizing what he'd said a minute later. She blames the drinks. "And he's not my boyfriend."

"That was very convincing."

"Good thing I'm not really looking to convince you."

"Come on, you've been angsting over Bellamy forever, and I've had to find myself in the crosshairs of it, so you can't blame me for getting invested," Murphy says, brandishing his tongs in the air.

"Shut up, Murphy," she shoots back, her ears warm, as she pivots on her heel and leaves him behind, cackling.

Her burger is pretty good, though.

Bellamy gets there a little while later, pulling up a chair to join their table. She's in the middle of a fierce debate with Zeke about something that happened on The Bachelorette last night and forgets what she's about to say when she sees him. He must've dropped by his apartment to shower and change because he's dressed much more casually than he was when he left for his interview.

"Bellamy," she says excitedly, pulling him in for a hug. His laugh blows across her ear as he hugs her back.

"Okay, who got her drunk?" Several hands shoot up from around the table. "If she throws up, it's going to be on you guys."

"I'm not going to throw up," Clarke objects, grabbing her bottle of water. "I've had a lot of water and I'm not drunk, I'm just happy to see you."

"Okay, who got her tipsy?" Bellamy jokes, kissing away the offended look on her face as soon as it appears. "I'm glad you're having fun."

"Well, I'm easy to please," she demurs, offering him some of her chips. He takes a few. "Tell me about your interview. How'd it go?"

"I'm going to meet with him tomorrow so I can get a sense of what I'll be doing in the fall," he informs her, clearly trying not to make a big deal out of it, which would work if Clarke didn't already know how much he wanted this job. It's a really great opportunity for him, researching with Dr. Pike in the history department, and she's been hoping that he'd get it, not just because he'd love it but also because it would keep him close.

"You should've called me the second you found that out," she exclaims, hugging him again. "I'm so proud of you!" That draws the attention of everyone else at the table, sounding in with their choruses of congratulations and questions of what he'll be doing. Clarke can't stop beaming at him the entire time.

Once it settles down, he turns to her. "I guess this means you'll have to see me around campus some more."

"I knew there was a catch."

"Sorry, I couldn't quite negotiate that part away."

"Well, I'll tell you a secret. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to see you around more."

His grin is infectious. "Good," he says, absently rubbing circles on her back. "You're stuck with me."

The afternoon dips into early evening. People come and go, Murphy drops by a few times, takes the opportunity to mock them for a bit, at least until Bellamy threatens to hit him, and they spend the hours in a bubble of contentment, the kind of contentment she'd been searching for all year. She feels warm and happy, her foot kicking at his, his arm loose around her chair, the sounds of laughter mingling in the air.

Eventually, though, Murphy starts kicking them out, prompting the others to suggest moving this to the bar.

"I'm game," Bellamy says, shrugging, looking to her for her answer.

"You just want me to buy you a drink," she accuses, which means it's a yes.

"How did you know?"

"I know you pretty well," she says, hopping to her feet. "Let me throw this stuff away and I'll meet you by the tree that Murphy hates."

Bellamy's talking to someone when she catches up with him, a girl who looks vaguely familiar. The closer she gets, she can hear more of their conversation, which seems to be wrapping up. Clarke doesn't recognize her at first. But her memory knows she's someone she knows, and it isn't until she says brightly, all smiles, "Clarke! It's so nice to see you!" that she remembers it's Gina Martin. She doesn't feel too badly about not recognizing her face, because the first and last time she'd seen her was two years ago, a chance run-in that had lasted maybe twenty minutes, and when Gina and Bellamy broke up, Clarke forgot about her, but Gina's the nicest person in the world, so it does make her feel a little badly.

"Hi!" she says back, hopefully covering for any lack of recognition that may have been revealed. Bellamy slips his arm around her shoulders, pulling her towards him. Clarke shoots him a quick glance, wondering what he's trying to do. "Gina, wow, I haven't seen you since, um, it's been a while!"

Gina laughs goodnaturedly. "Since Bellamy and I broke up? We don't have to skirt around it." Bellamy laughs just as easily, which puts Clarke at ease as well. "I wanted to say hi earlier, but there were a lot of people around and I got distracted, so I figured this was my best chance."

"Well, it's really nice to run into you," Clarke says, meaning it, because Gina is the nicest person in the world. Even when Bellamy had been dating her, Clarke had felt guilty being as jealous as she was.

A car horn beeps at them and Gina turns around, holding a finger up. Apologetically, she turns back to the two of them, "Sorry, I've gotta go."

"Don't let us keep you," Bellamy says, letting go of Clarke to give Gina a brief hug. Clarke does the same, feeling slightly weird just because she'd never had any sort of relationship with her.

She smiles at them, all sincerity in the action. "I'm really glad you guys figured things out, by the way. I'd kinda wondered after things ended with us if you ever would."

"What?"

It's really hard to tell when Bellamy blushes, but she's pretty sure he's blushing. "Okay, Gina, time to go." The other girl laughs and waves a goodbye, getting into the car that's waiting for her. Clarke shifts towards him.

"What did she mean by that?"

"You'd have to ask her, but she just left, so…"

"Bellamy."

He sighs. "Remember why Gina and I broke up?"

Of course she does. She also remembers that she'd been happy about it, although it took her some time to understand exactly why she was. "She was transferring schools."

"That was part of it, but," he pauses for the longest time, enough for her to nudge him to continue, "I didn't tell you the other part."

"What was the other part?"

After another pause, Bellamy says, very bluntly, "She guessed I was in love with you and I didn't deny it."

No one takes her breath away like Bellamy can. "That was… that was two years ago."

"I told you I've been in love with you for a while." He doesn't shy away from it, just cocks his head and raises his eyebrow.

He had said that. "I know," she starts, "but I didn't—"

"Believe me?"

He's not wrong. "Two years?"

"Honestly, longer."

She has to close her eyes at the knowledge. It's not new information, but it hits her harder this time, and this time, she does believe it.

"That's why I broke with Echo too." It's not something he had to say.

A thrill of mean elation sparks inside her. "I don't feel bad about that one," she mutters, eliciting a loud laugh from Bellamy. Her hand drifts up to the collar of his shirt, playing with it for no reason but to focus on something to do. There's so much she could say, should say. She doesn't. "They're going to wonder where we are."

Even though she isn't looking at him, she can still hear the disappointment in his voice. "Yeah. We should get going."

Clarke nods, then pulls away from him, reaching for his hand before they start walking down the street. He tangles their fingers together immediately and she pushes away this entire conversation until she can process it later.

*

A lot of excuses pop up that conveniently allow Clarke to avoid really thinking about that conversation, and to avoid Bellamy — some aggravating meetings with her advisor (because, like she predicted, something goes wrong with her study abroad credits and they need her to confirm that she actually did attend her classes), some charity events with her mom, and once, a spa day that she only agreed to so that she didn't have to think about anything — but when Madi wants her and Bellamy to come to her soccer game, she can't say no. She loves Madi as if she was her own sister.

Madi had been a part of an afterschool program that Clarke volunteered at for a service learning project a few years ago. It had paired her with Madi as a sort of big sister/little sister thing. In and out of the foster care system, she hadn't particularly trusted Clarke. Eventually, Clarke won her over, and even after the class was over, she continued to go back because she had really enjoyed it, had really grown to like Madi. Somewhere along the way, she'd brought Bellamy along and Madi had loved him immediately.

She tries to see her every few weeks, more often now that it's the summer, and she's not going to not show up at her game just because she's wrestling with her own relationship, definition pending, with Bellamy.

If she had a cord to twirl around while she's on her phone, that's what she would be doing right now. Instead, she's pacing, waiting for him to answer her call.

He does after the fourth ring. "Are you in trouble?"

"What? No."

"You never call me except when you're in trouble."

"That's not true." She thinks back on all the times she's called him. "Well, it's not true for this case."

"Okay…" he says slowly. "I haven't talked to you in a while."

"Yeah, I know," she says guiltily, because she hasn't really put in much effort to make her excuses seem like they're not excuses. "I have a reason for that and you probably know it."

"You're thinking too much?"

"Pretty much."

"Am I doing something wrong here, Clarke?"

"No," she hastily denies, "it's just me and my issues. But I really miss you and I want to apologize and I want to see you."

"I miss you too," he says softly, loosening the nervous grip around her heart. "You called to say that? Not that I mind, obviously, but you didn't have to."

"Of course I did. But I had another reason too."

"What is it?"

"Are you busy later?"

"How much later?"

"In about an hour?"

"No, I'm all free. Why?"

"Well, Madi has a game and she really wants you to come, and maybe I really want to see you too."

He's smiling. "Madi invited me?"

"She misses you too."

"I can't say no to that."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

*

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It's not a conclusion she really needed tested, but it's one she arrives at nonetheless, when she sees him walking towards her. For once, she'd arrived somewhere way too early, too full of nervous energy to sit down.

"I'm sorry," she says immediately, wringing her hands together. "I'm working on it."

"Have, uh, have things changed?"

He's talking about their rules, the third one they'd made that night. "No," she answers, winding her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a long kiss, the kind that probably shouldn't be happening before a kids soccer match. "They haven't."

Someone clears their throat behind her and she forces herself to let go of Bellamy to look at them. It's a middle-aged mom, complete with a disapproving look on her face. "There are children present," she reprimands, before turning on her heel and stomping to the bleachers.

"Yeah, Clarke," Bellamy mocks, his chin against the top of her head as she buries her face in his chest. "There are children here. You can't just kiss someone like that."

"Like you hated it," she mumbles.

"You didn't let me finish. You can't just kiss someone like that and expect it to stop there," and she giggles, pulling away to press another kiss, a short one, barely a kiss, to his mouth.

"I'm sorry I'm a mess."

"I like your mess."

"You have to say that."

"It's not a particularly romantic saying."

"You're not a particularly romantic guy," she teases back, ignoring his protests as she pulls him towards the spot she'd scoped out in the stands. "When was the last time you took me on a romantic night out?" Clarke isn't serious about it, but it makes him flush with annoyance, and before they were ever friends, getting a rise out of him had always been the most satisfying thing. Sometimes, it still is.

"Say the word and I'll prove you wrong,"

"Let's watch the game first." But she doesn't let go of his hand when they sit down and she doesn't let go when she cheers for Madi. Overall, the game's not that thrilling. It's a bunch of 10-13 year olds of varying skill levels playing together, but Madi scores a goal and she and Bellamy lose their shit over it, so by the end, it's actually a great game.

Madi slams herself into her, throwing her arms around her and hugging her, as soon as she sees Clarke and even though she's sweaty and covered in grass stains, Clarke doesn't even care. "You were the best," she says, swaying with her. "I can't believe you're the best player in the world."

"I can," Bellamy interjects, a grin on his face and his arms held open for his own hug. Madi jumps into them a second later. He swings her around for a bit and Clarke has to hide a smile at the sight. "So remember to thank me first when you become famous."

"Remember who played soccer with you first," she argues.

"That's only because you met her first."

"And?"

"Guys! I'll thank both of you at the same time!" Madi says decisively.

"You're so smart."

"Save it, Blake," Clarke says, smacking at his chest, making him exaggerate and double over. "She likes me more."

"I know when I've lost," he says, mock-defeated. Madi keeps staring at them, her eyes roving between the two, with wide eyes, laughing at their words. "How about I get us some ice cream though?"

"What do you say, Madi? Ice cream?"

"Can I get Rocky road?"

"One Rocky road, one cookies and cream, and one chocolate coming right up," Bellamy enthuses, giving her a quick kiss before he leaves. Madi's eyes grow wider and she practically pulls Clarke back to the bleachers so she can sit down.

"Is he your boyfriend?"

It's becoming rote at this point. "He's my friend."

"You kiss your friends?" Madi asks, duly unimpressed by her response.

"Yeah, you should try it," Clarke retorts before she scrambles to undo that. "No, don't do that. Don't tell your parents I said that."

"I won't if you stop lying to me."

"I'm not lying, Madi. We're technically still friends."

"What does technically mean?"

"It means—um—well," she closes her mouth, stumped. There used to be an easy answer, there is an easy answer, but explaining it to Madi is more difficult. "He just got out of a relationship."

"He isn't dating them now though."

"Yeah, but it still matters—"

"Why?" It's the kind of curiosity that's purely curiosity, but Clarke can't think of an answer that won't be followed by another why.

"It just… does, for me."

Madi's forehead furrows in concentration. "I don't get it," she finally proclaims.

"Good," Clarke laughs, tugging on her ponytail. "I love confusing you."

"I don't love it."

"I'm older than you. It only matters that I love it."

"Does Bellamy lo—"

"Does Bellamy what?"

They both turn towards the source of the voice, who hands them both of their ice cream cones. Clarke smiles up at him, but Madi interrupts them by walking off the bleachers to tug Bellamy away. "I have to talk to you," she declares, expectantly waiting for him to follow her.

"Madi—" Clarke warns, a little panicked. Bellamy shoots her a look.

"I'll bring him right back!"

"Madi, come back here—" but she's already taken off with Bellamy, guiding him around the field and engaging him in conversation. Helpless, Clarke just groans and focuses on her ice cream instead of the two people circling the field.

They both return laughing, which is highly suspicious. "This is highly suspicious," she says, getting up and taking Bellamy's offered hand to help her down. "I don't know what she said to you, but she's probably lying."

"I hope not," he says mildly. "I liked what she said."

"What did she say?"

He kisses the top of her head without an answer. "Madi's parents are waiting for her."

"That's convenient," she scowls, but her irritation drops when Madi hugs her again, tightly, as she says goodbye. She promises to visit her next weekend and once Madi's safely with her family, the two of them start walking away from the field.

When she can't bear it any longer, she pulls him to a stop. "Please tell me what you guys talked about."

"That'd be betraying her trust."

"Bellamy," she whines.

"My lips are sealed."

"Please? Please? I'll die if I don't know. You know how my curiosity works."

"That's not going to work on me."

"You know I won't let up either, do you want that?"

"I can't even hear you right now," he singsongs, grabbing her keys out of her hand to unlock her car and open her door. His is parked a few rows away.

"What'll convince you? Me constantly bothering you about this? Calling you every night to ask you? You know I'm stubborn enough to try."

"Oh, I know you are. You're welcome to do it as long as you don't mind getting sent to voicemail." She gets into the driver's seat with a pout, rolling down the window so she can stick her head out.

"I don't think I like you very much right now," she says, although the way she's pulling him down by the collar to kiss her completely makes that statement invalid.

"I'm okay with that," he whispers against her lips, pecking her once more before he pulls away.

*

Her mom calls her the next day while she's coming back from a run so her annoyance isn't just because she has to listen to her voice, but it definitely doesn't help.

"Hi mom," she says tiredly, balancing her phone between her ear and her shoulder as she tries to fix her ponytail. "I'm a little busy right now and I feel gross, so I don't have a lot of time to talk."

"That's fine," her mom says. "I just wanted to let you know that we're going to start the renovations for the lake house next month, so if you wanted to head up there with your friends, it'd have to be next week."

"Didn't you just redo the kitchen floor last year?"

"We're expanding the space this time."

"How much more room do you need? It's just you and me."

"And Marcus, sweetheart."

"Right." She always forgets about him.

"Clarke, I would like it if you put in some effort in being happy for me, you know I've always supported you in your decisions."

She's definitely way too tired to fall for that argument again. "Sure, mom, I'll try a little harder next time."

Her mom clearly doesn't expect that response, because the surprise is evident in her voice. "Oh, well, thank you, sweetheart. I'll let you go."

Clarke tears her shirt off and throws it into her laundry basket. "Okay! Love you, bye!" She tosses her phone onto her bed and groans when she stretches out her muscles, still unused to her newfound energy for running. Absentmindedly, while she goes through the motions of getting ready for a shower, her mind drifts to her mom's words — the first ones, not the latter ones — and thinks about a weekend at the lake house. It'd belonged to her dad and when he was alive, they used to spend most of their summers there.

It's one of her favorite places in the world. She hadn't had a real desire to get back there this summer, but it grows more appealing by the minute. The last time she was there was the day before she left for her study abroad trip. She remembers going out on her dad's boat, remembers swimming until she got tired, remembers sitting with Bellamy on the porch. She remembers thinking she couldn't love him anymore than she did that last night.

She picks up her phone again.

Do you want to go to the lake house?

*

The lake house, aside from the new kitchen floor (though there's not much of a difference from the old floor), is just as she last left it. It's drafty and big and everything is covered up from the winter, so she spends at least an hour uncovering everything, dropping the groceries she'd brought along in the kitchen, and opening the curtains to let in the late afternoon sunlight. Bellamy had said he'd arrive a little later, so she's not worried about getting everything ready for him.

His voice alerts her to his arrival an hour later. "Anyone could come in and murder you, Clarke! The door's unlocked!"

From the living room, where she's rearranging the furniture back to the way she likes it, she replies, "Good thing it's just you!"

"That doesn't really comfort me!"

"It comforts me!"

He walks into the living room and stands there, observing her as she lugs the ottoman into place. "You could've waited until I got here to help."

"If Abby Griffin found out that I made my guest help out around the house, she'd be so disappointed in me. I've still got my manners, you know."

"And you wonder why I called you a Princess."

"It wasn't the word, it was how you said it." She collapses back on the ottoman. "Hi. Was the drive okay?"

"It was good. I stopped and bought some food."

She laughs a little. "I did too."

Finally, Bellamy comes over and kneels down next to her, kissing her sweetly before brushing her hair back. His touch is gentle, his eyes soft. She wants to soak in this moment a little while longer. Her eyes track him as he looks around the room, a happiness alight in his movement.

"I missed this place," he breathes out. "Summers don't feel right if we don't come here."

Clarke hums an agreement, still following him. He looks different in this room, or maybe he's the same, but whichever it is, she feels a swelling of affection for him, a lightness that calms her, a warmth that encases her. In that instant, it's so easy to know what she might've already realized a week ago, a few weeks ago, a month ago. It's so simple, and clear, and right to look at Bellamy and know that, whatever else had happened this entire year, this was where she wanted to be and who she wanted to be with.

"Bellamy," she says, his name escaping from her mouth. His head turns towards her. "Do you remember the last time we were here?"

He nods. "Before you left."

"Yeah."

"What about it?"

She smiles at the memory. "I was going to tell you that I loved you that night." Bellamy blinks a few times, like each action signals a word getting through to him. "But I was scared—"

"That I didn't feel the same way or—"

"It was so many things," she says, pulling herself up so she can sit properly and face him. "You not feeling the same way, it not being the right time, you forgetting about me… it was everything."

"I was," he's a little choked, "I was going to tell you that night too."

"I'd wondered. Later, I mean. I kept replaying that night and just regretting not saying it." Sometimes, when she couldn't sleep, she would do it and grow steadily more upset until exhaustion forced her into sleep.

"We could've—"

Clarke doesn't want to dwell on what ifs. That isn't the point of this. She has a point to this. "No, don't do that. I brought that up because—well, because it's still the same for me. I still love you, I want to be with you, I want this all the time, so I guess what I'm saying is, well," she's losing control of this speech rapidly. She has to take a deep breath to center herself, but it's his grin that calms her. "Do you want to go on a date with me?"

Bellamy surges up and pulls her into a kiss, maneuvering both of them onto the floor, one hand cupping the back of her head, that takes her by surprise, just briefly, before she melts into it, kissing him back. Every thought but one flies away: more more more and he knows because he gives her everything, is everywhere all at once. He's been holding out on her. At some point, her shirt gets rucked up halfway and his pants get undone, pulled down to his ankles while she gets distracted by where and how his hands wander.

They seem to savor every part of her skin, the roughness of his hands overwhelmed by the softness of his touch, and she's content with letting him explore as she rocks down on his lap, chasing the zing of pleasure that she gets every time she brushes up against his cock. He's hard between them, groaning whenever she bucks her hips into his. It's not enough, though, and Clarke grows desperate, her keens of frustration making it evidently clear, and once again, he knows, because he changes the angle of how he holds her, pressing her much closer than before. There. She's graceless as she slides against him, breathless as she gives into the sensation building inside her, and he keeps whispering promises for later, and it's all too much and she comes with a low cry in the back of her throat, collapsing against his chest. Bellamy soothes her through it, his deep voice carrying her through her desire.

He's still hard against her stomach. "How close are you?" She mumbles, already snaking a hand between their bodies to brush against his erection.

"Close," he answers in a groan. It's exactly what she wants to hear before she releases him from his boxers, taking a moment to stare at him before she licks her palm and wraps her hand around him, tugging at him slowly. "Faster. Please," he adds, ever polite, and since he'd been so good with her, she obliges, picking up speed. She hasn't done this in a while and she doesn't know if what she's doing is good, or right, but he urges her on with words and pleased sounds, thrusting into her touch, so maybe she is. He hadn't been lying when he said he was close; he comes over her hand and her shirt a minute later. This time, Clarke kisses him through his orgasm and he has enough energy to do the same.

"You're lucky I don't like this shirt," she says after, tracing the mark she'd left along his collarbone.

"I like it," he says, a slow grin spreading across his face, sweet and sure. His lips are swollen red, probably mirroring hers, and she wants them back on her. "I love you." It's not the first time she's heard that from him, but she'd forgotten how they sounded from his mouth. She hadn't realized how they'd stayed away from those words. He says it again, and again, and again. "I love you because you're my best friend and you know me and love me anyways. You didn't have to give me another chance but I'm glad you did. I love the way you never let me get by on my shit, I love how you don't give up on anything, I love how you know what you want."

He doesn't stop. "I love your generosity. Your quick thinking. Your awful sense of humor." She pushes at him while she tries not to tear up and he just laughs, kissing her knuckles. "I love when you fight with me, especially when you know you've won an argument and you get that look on your face and it's the best and if I didn't know you'd know when I was letting you win, I'd do it just so I could see it. And it's pretty nice when you're trying not to smile, but you can't help it, or when you really laugh without holding back on it. I love that too."

"Stop it," she finally has to say, voice a little watery as she sniffles. "You're going to make me cry."

"Then this has really taken a turn for the worse."

"It's okay. I forgive you." She starts to push his hair back from his face, examining him as she does. "And I love you too, even though I haven't come up with some fancy speech off the top of my head, because of course you'd have to outdo me in that."

"I don't need a fancy speech."

"Good, because I can't think of one." But she knows all of her reasons and when she's not basking in this post-orgasm state, she'll list them all for him. "Besides, you never answered my question."

His thumbs trace circles on her waist. "You know it's a yes." He's trying to look stern, but failing to achieve that effect because he can't stop smiling at her. She knows the feeling. She keeps smiling too. If anyone were to walk in, they'd find it ridiculous, the two of them in various states of undress grinning madly at each other. It is ridiculous, but she doesn't care. She does, however, pick herself off him, while he tucks himself back in, and giggles at the sight.

"I'm going to… change," Clarke says, glad that she packed accordingly for the weekend, although she hadn't exactly thought that this would be a reason why. She's a little nervous as she rifles through the clothes she brought along, a little worried that she has to look nicer now, but he corners her for a kiss when she returns and she feels silly for even worrying about that.

"I've got an idea," he says. Bellamy's changed too and she takes the time to run her eyes over him because she can. "Eyes up here, Princess."

Her eyes snap back to his face. "What's your idea?"

"Let's go on a date."

The laugh bubbles up and escapes her. "Really? Now?"

"Why not now?"

"Well," she gestures to the spot they'd occupied just minutes earlier. "We've kinda distorted the traditional dating timeline already."

Bellamy rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. "Then let's do it right this time."

As far as ideas go, it's not the worst one in the world. She loops her arm through his. "What did you have in mind?"

*

The sunlight streams through the cracks between the curtains the next morning, illuminating the room. It stirs Clarke from sleep, first from the warmth and then from the steadily increasing brightness. It takes a moment for her to remember that she's in her bed at the lake house. It takes another to remember Bellamy's sleeping next to her, his arm curled around her waist, his breathing against her neck, the covers mostly tangled around them.

She smiles, sleep tinging it.

As carefully as she can, she maneuvers herself so that she's facing him, eyes roving over his face, his eyelashes dark against his skin, his freckles even nicer close up, the shadows of his stubble ready to peek out.

"Love you," she murmurs, and maybe he can hear her, because his hand flexes next to her, tickling her side. She smiles again. This is exactly where she wants to be.