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The Sugar Queen

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As it turned out, Grounder trading negotiations consisted of 50% tea and 50% sex. With a very clear idea of who was to do which half.

"You're kidding me, right?" Clarke asked Anya, who gave her the kind of haughty look Clarke'd come to privately label as 'displaying moderate affection for the crazy and/or naive'. (Bellamy got one a lot like it. Which he wasn't using on her right now, so at least there was that.)

"It is tradition," Anya replied, which Clarke figured meant they were in for another tough argument to win, Grounders being kind of crazy about traditions, but then Anya added, "Trading is women's business. Men only come along to enjoy themselves and sweeten the deal."

"Um," Clarke said, because, well, um. She wouldn't go so far as to say she actually liked Bellamy, only she definitely acknowledged him to be a human being, with rights and (presumably) feelings and everything, and so Clarke didn't feel it'd be all right for him to just -

Bellamy, apparently, disagreed. "All right then. Try not to let them screw you over too badly."

If Clarke were Raven, she'd probably have a really smart come-back to that, something about how she wasn't the one about to get screwed over, but she wasn't Raven. "You don't have to do this, you know. We could just - "

"Starve?"

"Nobody will trade with a woman whose escort looks underfed," Anya observed. Trying to be helpful, Clarke told herself. She's just trying to be helpful.

It's only my imagination that she's enjoying this. A lot.

"Bellamy, you - " The thing was, if the negotiations'd called for him to knife-fight three guys at the same time, or mud-wrestle a mutant alligator, or something along those lines, he'd probably have acted exactly like this.

(She'd like to think he wouldn't have if it were her they expected to do the knife-fighting or alligator-wrestling, but that'd probably be just because he figured she lacked the necessary skills.)

"Yell if you need me." Bellamy glared a look at Anya that implied Bad Things would happen if this turned out to be a trap. It made Clarke feel a bit better about this whole thing, for some reason.

Of course, that might just be the prospect of getting to drink more tea.

 

From a medical point of view, Clarke supposed it made sense. The not-tea part, that was.

Grounders were tribal, and tribal people lived in, well, tribes. You got born in one, you grew up in one and chances were pretty good, you'd die in the same one. Hopefully after having provided the tribe with a replacement in the form of a kid. Or two.

According to Anya, weaker tribes would occasionally welcome first-generation outlaws, like Lincoln, or, if things were really desperate, try to snatch some Reaper babies. Reapers, apparently, weren't big on child care, so if you got lucky, you could pick up new members for your tribe by passing the right cave entry at the right time, i.e. while the baby was still alive but the parents were far enough gone to not hear you and come running back to invite you to dinner.

Stronger tribes had to rely on something else to 'keep the blood pure', as Anya put it, or 'keep the gene pool healthy', as Clarke's mother would have put it. (She'd done a study on the Ark's population, which concluded they'd be fine for at least another ten generations. The Ark consisting of fourteen space stations from different parts of the world helped a lot there, though. Clarke rather imagined living in a world with, you know, glow-in-the-dark butterflies and breathable-but-probably-still-kind-of-radio-active air didn't.)

Thus, women traded, while men did other, also useful things.

(Also, Anya mentioned after her fifth cup of tea, men were just idiots, so you really couldn't expect them to sit around and talk about things sensibly the way women could.)

(Clarke felt that this was a totally excellent and fabulous point which called for another cup of tea.)

 

"Sounds like you both had a good time," Raven said. From the way she moved, it was hard to tell she still didn't have any feeling in 90% of her legs.

"He didn't really want to talk about it, after." Clarke tried to find a place where she'd be able to sit down without accidentally crushing some experiment or another.

As it turned out, even after 97 years, there was still a lot of stuff just lying around. Useful stuff - provided you were a genius with a degree in total awesomeness, like Raven.

(So Clarke had a bit of a crush. So what.)

"You asked?" Raven sounded half-impressed and half-amused.

"I asked if he was all right the next morning." It had felt like a valid question, even if it'd got Anya to roll her eyes at her again. Anya didn't know Bellamy as well as Clarke liked to think she did.

"And?"

"And then I had to throw up again before he could answer." Raven looked mildly alarmed, so Clarke added, "It was the tea; I had a hang-over or something. Anya says it'll be better next time."

"She's probably right." Raven's expression turned thoughtful. "So hey, did you bring any of that tea with you? Sounds like something people might want to try for themselves around here."

"I think it's a local specialty." Anya'd said it was, anyway. Not that Clarke'd even considered trading for anything other than the stuff that was on the list she and Bellamy'd put together the week before. "Something to impress visitors with."

"The host provides the booze and the guest provides a hot guy?" Raven grinned. "Being a trader's a pretty sweet job in this place, huh?"

(In hindsight, Clarke probably should have mentioned right then and there that she did not view Bellamy as 'a hot guy'. She might refer to him as 'an okay guy', if he weren't in the habit of doing not-okay things; she might, under pressure, admit he was 'not ugly', but that was where she drew the line.)

(He was no Raven, was what she could have pointed out in all reasonableness, and without embarrassment, because everyone she'd ever met thought that Raven was hot.)

 

As there were already Wood people, Plains people, Sea people and Mountain people (although nobody openly traded with the last one), Clarke and Bellamy had, more or less by default, become New people. (This also, Anya added with a Significant Glance, meant they wouldn't be tied to a single place; if they ever wanted to relocate, they'd be welcome to do so.)

The New people didn't trade in food, fur or building materials - they needed all of those too badly for themselves. Clarke was working on an inventory of the various plants and their medicinal properties, but right now, medicine, too, was sooner something they needed than something they could spare.

If they'd wanted to, they probably could have set up quite the successful gunrunning business - except that Bellamy would have never stood for it and, to be fair, Clarke didn't care so much for the idea, either, if not for the same reason.

Bellamy felt it'd be stupid to arm people who might potentially try to murder them in their sleep (or fully awake); Clarke just thought that trading weapons would be sending the wrong message.

Thus, what the New people traded in was simple, and in keeping with their name. Like Wood people traded mostly in wood, and Sea people mostly in fish, the New people traded in new stuff.

Or, as Jasper put it, before Raven hit him over the head, 'shiny gadgets that don't really do anything except look cool'.

 

To be fair to Raven: lighters, stoves and metal sieves definitely were things that did something. The umbrellas hadn't really caught on, but that was a question of mentality, Clarke felt, not lack of usefulness.

To be fair to Jasper: solar-powered lava lamps, small things that looked like robots and went 'beep' when you pressed the right button and bracelets in every shade of neon you could think of didn't, really.

Didn't keep them from being a lot more popular than the sieves for a while, of course.

 

"Please don't include weird stuff in the next shipment without telling me."

"Sorry, what?" Raven asked. She was wearing goggles. They looked a lot like Jasper's, except that in her case, Clarke assumed they served a practical purpose, rather than being a fashion statement.

"Explosion in the lab yesterday," Monty said, pointing to a sign on the wall. Playing With Unstable Chemicals May Result in Stuff Blowing Up and Also Temporal Deafness. "Jasper's worse."

"Huh," Clarke said, looking around for other signs that an explosion had happened here very recently.

The chaos of gears and metal parts and brightly colored plastics looked about the same as usual to her, but possibly, that was just because she didn't come here more often than once a week or so.

"But hey, you can tell me, and I can tell her, when she's back to normal."

Monty, I like you, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to talk to you about sex toys, Clarke thought.

"Or you could write it down," he said, offering her a notepad. The paper was a bit rough - the production process was still a work-in-progress, but it was real paper.

If there ever came a time when things settled down enough to reintroduce the concept of 'spare time' into her life, she'd be able to draw again.

"Won't even look at it," he said, and then he winked at her. "Scout's honor."

 

"We should be trading for perishables," Bellamy said, and if he'd said it, say, during a meeting, in the middle of the day and fully dressed, Clarke might have considered it a statement warranting a certain amount of thought, as opposed to a thrown pillow to the head.

Which he didn't dodge and which thus hit him full in the face, leaving her extremely glad she hadn't thrown, say, a half-full cup of tea.

"You're not even wearing any pants." He blinked at her, like this was completely new information to him. Oh, great. "They gave you tea?" So much for Anya's 'tea is only for women'.

"It was a - " Bellamy gestured vaguely. Clarke firmly refused to let her imagination engage in any speculation as to what he was trying to get at, exactly. "An engagement party."

Okay, so she hadn't been expecting that. "A party."

"I forgot, you don't do those."

Honestly, at some point, she'd expected people to let that go, already. Possibly, it hadn't helped that she'd spent last Unity Day doing inventory instead of joining in the celebration, but so what?

Inventories didn't do themselves. "Well. Happy to hear you enjoyed yourself."

Bellamy shrugged and sat down. Clarke might have considered it a perfect lead-in to a late-night heart-to-heart, except that he was still completely naked. "I did, actually. Unlike some people, I don't think there's anything wrong with having sex with a complete stranger. Provided she's hot."

Right. Well, she didn't have another pillow to throw, so she supposed she'd just go with it for a while, see what else might come out. "I don't think there's anything wrong with having sex." Although I'm not sure I'd want to have it with a complete stranger. Then again, she wasn't the one that got dragged off to parties where people ended up with no clothes on.

Bellamy stared at her. Not his usual 'who are you and what gives you the right to think you know more than I do?' stare. This one was more of a 'who are you and, for that matter, who am I and what are we doing here?' kind of stare. The tea, she thought, feeling very wise and mature and understanding, until Bellamy spoilt it by asking, "Sorry, are you coming on to me?"

"What?" She'd definitely used up her one pillow too early in the conversation.

"I can tell with most women, but you're kind of hard to read," Bellamy explained. Or not explained, really.

"You mean most women just start taking off their clothes when you're around or something."

"Well, yeah," Bellamy said.

Seriously? Granted, she'd never exactly ever seen Bellamy flirt with a girl back at the camp, but she'd figured he just liked to keep stuff like that private. (Once, she'd speculated out loud, to Raven, that he might be a closeted romantic, and Raven'd choked on her moonshine before saying that she didn't really think so, which Clarke'd decided was fair enough.)

"I'm not coming on to you," Clarke said. "I'm never going to come on to you. I wouldn't come on to you if you were the last person on Earth available for coming on to."

"So, no."

"Very much no." Clarke considered. Fair was fair: Bellamy'd done some good things, too. He wasn't terrible company. Sometimes. "Nothing personal."

"Worried about hurting my feelings, princess?" Bellamy grinned at her.

"Constantly."

"Just so you know, I'd definitely come on to you if you were the last girl on Earth," Bellamy said. "A bit before that, maybe. Depending on the other ones."

"I'm flattered."

Bellamy sighed. "All I'm saying is: I'm fine with this whole thing. So you should be fine with it, too."

"That's easy for you to say," Clarke said, at which point it occurred to her how ridiculous this argument they were having was, really. "But it's good to know that. Thank you. I'm glad. And just so you know, if you hadn't been fine with it, and we'd ended up in another war, this time because you wouldn't have sex with some complete stranger, I'd have been okay with that. Well, not okay, but you know what I mean. I mean, war is bad, but - "

Bellamy's shoulders slumped a little, which made no sense until he fell over.

Clarke wondered how much leverage she'd be able to get out of the fact that he'd fallen asleep on her (literally, even) next time she had a good idea that she needed him to go along with - or next time he had a bad one she needed him to give up on.

 

"We could open up a pizza delivery service," Jasper said, 100% bright-eyed enthusiasm, and Clarke decided that it was a much better look on him than, say, subdued gloominess mixed with skittishness and an entirely justified fear of sharp and pointy objects appearing out of nowhere.

That didn't make his suggestion any more useful or practical, but ... well.

Monty scoffed. "We don't even have pizzas." There hadn't been pizzas on the Ark, either, except in pictures. "Do we?"

Jasper's grin seemed to imply that they did, indeed, have pizzas. Or a recipe for something vaguely approaching something that might come out of the oven more or less approximately looking like a pizza, which would probably be good enough for both of them, Clarke figured.

"Food delivery is not a practical suggestion," Bellamy said. Stating the obvious.

"Food might work, though," Raven said. "Something unusual and unique."

"Something luxurious," Clarke put in. Transportation was still a problem; the Plains people bred horses, but the kind that could be used to pull a cart were expensive. "Small and easy to carry."

Raven snapped her fingers. "Candy."

"We'd need a reliable source of sugar," Jasper said. "Lots of sugar."

"And recipes, right?" If they could make it work, Clarke figured it might just do the trick.

The dentists of Earth wouldn't thank them, probably, but, well, maybe Jasper and Raven could reinvent toothpaste next. After finding a way to reproduce toothbrushes. Dental floss. Dentistry equipment.

Jasper waved dismissively. "We can figure something out. Just takes a good chemist."

"And where are we going to find one of those, huh?" Raven asked.

"Clarke and me will figure out a way to get the sugar," Bellamy said. "The rest of you can get back to work. Thank you for your ideas."

"I still think the pizza delivery thing would have been really cool," Jasper said.

 

"Let me put it this way," Raven said. "I'd hit that. In fact, I have hit that. Still do, sometimes."

Clarke decided now was not a good moment to mention the 'not even if you were the last person on Earth' conversation. "You and Bellamy?"

Raven shrugged. "He doesn't look at me the way most people around here do."

"Oh."

Raven took another swig of tea. New tea - or rather: one of the five brews that they'd settled on as maybe being suitable to become the 'official' tea to serve to visitors.

Jasper seemed to think the stuff needed to have as much alcohol as possible, while Clarke was more inclined to make it, well, taste good, for one. Let people keep a fairly clear head for trading, for another.

"You know, all intimidated and stuff," Raven said. "Because I'm smart and good with my hands and - "

"Awesome," Clarke said.

"Yeah. That, too."

"If Bellamy doesn't think you're awesome, he's an idiot," Clarke declared. Well, she knew Bellamy was an idiot already, of course, so there, theory proven.

"Bellamy thinks I'm hot. And smart and useful to have around. You should try it some time."

Okay, so Bellamy's not a complete idiot. "Thinking that you're hot?"

Raven grinned at her. "You know what I meant."

Clarke grimaced. "I'd rather kiss - " you " - a frog. A mutant frog. And I'm pretty sure he would, too, so no worries there."

"Naw," Raven said. "He likes you. I can tell."

"Right." How? By the fact that he hasn't killed me and hid my body somewhere? "He just told you that hey, even if he almost never agrees with me, deep down inside, all he wants to do is hold my hand and protect me from all harm?"

"He already does that last thing," Raven pointed out. Rightly, Clarke had to admit, even if Bellamy's protectiveness was mostly practical - especially after it had turned out that yes, all intertribal trading happened between women. "But yeah, he told me."

"And didn't swear you to secrecy first or right after? I'm shocked. Also, he's a jerk." Well, I guess it's worse if you sleep with someone without telling them there's someone else. Except that there isn't, actually.

"Well, I said it first," Raven said. "So fair is fair."

 

Clarke spent the next four days thinking about sugar a lot.

Hanging around Jasper helped; Bellamy had grudgingly doled out a small portion of their already existing sugar stash to be used for experimental candy making, and Jasper had leaped at the chance. Enthusiastically.

On the Ark, sugar hadn't been rationed, but it had been used mostly for practical stuff. Sweetening dishes that could use a bit of sweetening. A bit of baking, maybe. On special occasions.

Clarke could count the number of times she'd actually had candy on one hand. (Well, two hands. And a foot. And that only because she'd usually traded the stuff away or given it to Wells, before she figured out that giving it to Wells only meant he'd be trading it for stuff to give to her. Still.)

On the fifth day, the tribe that produced 70% of the sugar in this region sent back a messenger to invite them to discuss a trading agreement.

 

So my best friend told me you'd come on to me even if the rest of the world population would still be around and kicking. Except that Bellamy wasn't coming on to her, so clearly, that statement was a bit lacking in the facts department.

"You think we're walking into a trap?"

Clarke blinked and wondered when she'd become the one people assumed to be distrustful of other people. "No. Why, do you?" In all fairness, there might have been a small army running past them and she probably wouldn't have noticed.

They were members of a tribe now, no longer intruders or invaders. That status bestowed a certain ... security, even in foreign territory. Only Reapers attacked tribe people without warning, and they were a long way from the nearest Reaper caves.

"Not particularly." Bellamy studied the woods around them, eyes narrowed. "The messenger seemed legitimate enough."

"So you're just being paranoid?"

"You were unusually quiet. I assumed there might be a reason for it."

"I talked to Raven," Clarke said. "And other people, of course. I mean, I talked to lots of people."

Bellamy scowled. "I'm not going to like this, am I? Is this about setting up some kind of democracy again? Because I thought we agreed - "

"All right, first of all, no." Although that a good idea. Not the easiest one to put into practice, maybe, but still better than the way things worked right now. "I was just going to say that I heard something from Raven. About you. And it surprised me."

"Maybe you could be less specific," Bellamy said, but he relaxed a little and started looking at her instead of at their surroundings.

"She said you liked me." Clarke tried not to make it sound like an accusation. She didn't think it really worked.

"That surprised you?"

"Well. Yeah?"

Bellamy sighed. "Okay. Thanks for sharing. Did you want to maybe talk about what we can afford to offer here? I mean, I looked at Jasper's numbers, and I admit that I'm not a chemist or anything, but they just seemed excessively high. I was thinking half of that?"

"So what's with you and Raven, anyway? I mean, you obviously like her - " on reflection, Clarke decided it would be fairer to tack on a " - too."

"Is this where you tell me that if I break her heart the way Finn did you're going to kill me?" Bellamy asked. "Because I'm thinking you're going to want to have the element of surprise on your side when you do that. You're not a good enough shot for me not to see you coming otherwise."

Clarke considered. "We can go for half the number. If you volunteer to be the one to tell Jasper."

Bellamy nodded once. "Incidentally, if you think any guy can break Raven's heart, I think you don't know her very well. So, did you want to trade something we've already got, or do we offer them a piece of our soon to be candy trading empire?"

 

"You know what's not fun?" Monty asked. He looked like he hadn't slept in about a week, which was slightly worrisome, given that the trip to the sugar supply people had lasted ten days.

On the positive side, Bellamy didn't seem to be shooting or yelling at anyone (Clarke'd have heard that, even here) so perhaps the crisis was local.

"What happened?" The lab looked - hm. Same old chaos, seemed like.

"Jasper on a sugar high." Monty shuddered. "For three days."

"Guess it's time someone invented coffee again, huh?"

"Or tranquilizer darts."

 

Compared to the lab, Bellamy's tent looked as sparse as your average prison cell on the Ark.

"I don't understand you at all," Clarke said.

"The feeling is mutual. Occasionally." Bellamy sat down on the crate Clarke had been wondering at. She strongly suspected that there was, in fact, something either deeply secret or extremely valuable inside, but until he needed that, Bellamy was apparently using it for a chair.

She supposed it was at least practical. Putting in an actual chair for guests would have been more polite, though. "Occasionally?"

"Just because I understand the way you think, that doesn't mean I have to agree with you. And it's not really working at the moment."

"You're kind of hard to read." Right. "I'm not going to take my clothes off or anything."

"I wasn't really expecting that, anyway."

"Why not?" Clarke decided that for lack of a chair, the table'd have to do. It came with the added benefit of putting her head just a little bit higher than his. "Raven seems to think I like you."

"As long as it's not what you think, I wouldn't be too worried."

"Oh, come on. It's not like I worry about it."

"I'd probably come on to you if I thought it would get you to agree with me more often," Bellamy said.

"No, you wouldn't."

"For someone who claims she doesn't understand me at all, you sound pretty convinced."

Clarke kicked off one of her shoes. It narrowly missed Bellamy's head. "Sorry."

Bellamy shrugged. "Your strong convictions are what makes you who you are. They're in my way sometimes, but I can work with them. With you."

"I meant about the shoe." Clarke decided that if she kept sitting here for much longer, her neck was going to hurt. A lot.

"For the record, I'm not sure if shoes qualify as clothes."

Clarke kicked off her other shoe. It spectacularly failed to get anywhere near Bellamy's head. "Aren't you supposed to be Mr Easy?"

"Not for you," Bellamy said. "And anyway, I like you. I'd die to keep you safe. Whatever you choose to do here, or choose not to do here isn't going to change anything."

" 'I don't think there's anything wrong with having sex'," Clarke quoted.

"You might regret it if you take off your shirt," Bellamy said. "But probably not."