She and Anna were in the woods again, the little girl skipping ahead of her as she usually did. Clarke kept a wary eye around her, but Anna had no such concerns. Her dark hair floated behind her as she hopped over a log. She bent to retrieve something and turned, holding her prize aloft.
“Dan-dee-lie-on,” she sounded it out to herself, repeating it slowly and carefully.
She ducked around a tree and returned with another one, a blushing pink.
“Pee-oh-nee. I like that,” Anna decided.
Clarke smiled, ruffling her hair as they continued on their way. Anna was one of the few people who could pull a smile from her these days. Most people were polite enough, and to her surprise many of the 47 that emerged from Mount Weather appeared even more hardened than she could have thought possible. They still stuck close by her, but she never let them in too far. Since the day Finn died, Clarke had carefully and determinedly built a wall up around her heart, one that nobody would pass. Most people had given up trying. The only ones who remained were those whose stubbornness surpassed her own.
There were only a few. Bellamy was one, as was his sister. Her mother, too.
And then there was Anna, the little girl who knew nothing of pain and anger and boundaries and simply had everyone wrapped around her finger. The little Grounder had been part of Lexa’s tribe when their shaky truce was still in its first tentative days. Too young to quite grasp the severity of the situation, she’d meandered into the Ark’s newly extended camp one day, startling more than one person.
But when the Grounders came frantically searching, they found her beaming from atop Bellamy’s shoulders, a flower crown on her head as her endless giggles echoed throughout the camp. Later, Lexa had explained that Anna's parents were killed when she was just a baby, and as a result, she'd been raised by the entire tribe. Ever since, she had become their one constant, their bright light in the darkness that was this fucked up Earth. She was adored and spoiled by Arkers and Grounders alike. There wasn’t a person alive who wouldn’t offer her the rest of their rations or the clothes off their back if it would make her smile.
To Clarke’s initial dismay, Anna had somehow become attached to her like a burr that wouldn’t budge no matter how many times she was brushed off. No amount of glaring or silence seemed to deter her. The only other person she followed around like that was Bellamy. Though, sometimes it seemed like it was the other way around.
Clarke, however, couldn’t stop seeing Anya in her eyes, her hair, her clothes. She didn’t want Anna’s brightness to dim just because she herself had no sparks to give. But despite many silent trips into the woods, countless quiet evenings by the fire, and more than one night of nightmares that had Clarke waking in a cold sweat, Anna stayed. And in spite of herself, Clarke found herself looking forward to the familiar dark hair and non-judgmental bright eyes when she awoke.
Anna was wise enough to know that she couldn’t follow once Clarke disappeared through the doors of the med bay. But as Clarke finished up her work in the evenings, she often saw a small shadow standing in the hall. More often than not, it was accompanied by a larger shadow. There were many nights she’d exited to find Anna and Bellamy engrossed in a small game of thumb war, his voice low and teasing as she giggled and tried to trap his much larger finger. And once Clarke appeared in the doorway, they’d stop and give her those smiles, the ones that said finally, we were waiting for you and missed you.
On the days Clarke wasn’t absolutely needed in medical, she took to the woods. It was her time to be alone, away from all the eyes and the hushed voices that seemed to follow her everywhere in camp. Even after all this time, there were still many who couldn’t come to grips with her actions. Not that she blamed them. She certainly never would. But when she disappeared into the forest, even for a few minutes, it was the closest to peace that she would ever get. Anna always came with her, and for that reason Clarke hadn’t argued when Bellamy handed her a gun one morning. But with the Grounder truce, they were allowed access to more territory than ever, and so she and Anna had the chance to explore. They’d started a game where Anna would hold up a new plant or flower and Clarke would identify it and note its location. And if she couldn’t, they’d put it in the pack to bring to Lincoln back at camp.
Anna had a habit of weaving small flower crowns. It was something Octavia - and Clarke suspected, Bellamy at times - had taught her when she was new to the camp. Every new flower she found was now woven into the band that she clutched tightly. When she added the peony, she held it up for Clarke’s inspection. She bent to Anna’s level and smiled.
“Beautiful. You’re getting so good at this.” The girl returned her grin before plopping the crown atop Clarke’s head.
“You look like a princess.”
Clarke’s throat tightened and she swallowed the sadness, pushing it back into its box. “I’m no princess,” she said quietly.
“Not everyone would agree with that.”
She turned to see Bellamy a few steps away. There was that crooked smile again. She shook her head and removed the flowers. Noting Anna’s frown, she put it on the little one’s head and carefully braided some of her dark hair around it.
“I think you make a much better princess,” she told her, and the frown disappeared. When she was done, she made her face Bellamy. “Don’t you agree?”
His gaze lingered on her for a moment longer before shifting to Anna. A familiar devastating grin overtook his face. “You do look the part, munchkin. What shall I call you from now on? Princess munchkin? Or munchkin princess?”
Anna giggled in delight as he scooped her up easily. Examining the flowers on her head, he made an noise of approval. “Found some new ones today, huh? What are these called?”
Clarke couldn’t help her own smile as he joined them on their little adventure. Bellamy spoke to her quietly, cocking his head attentively as she told him of her latest discoveries. He’d been so good with her from the beginning, and if anything she was sure he simply fell in love a little more each day. Watching them, the tightness in her chest eased, and suddenly the colors were brighter and everything came into focus. The walls she'd built around her heart were solid and sturdy, but when two identical smiles were sent her way, it occurred to her for the first time that they might not be invincible.
When they found the sea, Clarke stood back while everyone else took off running. They jumped in fully clothed, laughing and marveling at the sand between their toes and the waves rushing at the shore. Even the adults hadn’t been able to resist splashing around a little. But she remained behind them, fully dry, and though there might have been tears in her eyes they wouldn’t fall.
They deserved this. All of them. Her people had been through so much hardship and pain that this moment of pure joy was completely theirs. She didn’t want to ruin it. Seeing their happiness right now was more than enough.
Anna had run ahead with Bellamy, but when she glanced over her shoulder and saw Clarke standing quietly, she tugged on his hand to stop. He followed her gaze and something like compassion crossed his face. Kneeling, he said something to Anna, who nodded furiously and made him grin. They walked over hand in hand and Clarke resisted the urge to back away at the determined look on both their faces. If she hadn't been so nervous, she might have laughed at the similarity. But instead of saying anything, Bellamy laid his gun down and shrugged off his jacket, while Anna kicked off her boots. They settled onto the sand next to her without a word. Clarke stood staring for a minute longer as he began to show Anna how to build a small sandcastle.
“The walls have to be strong or everything else will crumble, okay? And here, you want a big door to keep out the bad guys.”
Anna clapped and giggled, mimicking his actions.
“We have to keep the princess safe somehow,” he winked at Clarke, who found herself rolling her eyes but smiling nonetheless. Dropping to her knees next to them, Clarke was suddenly very invested in Anna’s newest project. As the delighted yells and cheers of their people surrounded them, they continued to play in the sand.
Only later, when nearly everyone had collapsed into their tents and the darkness covered the sky like a blanket, did Clarke let herself go near the water. The waves lapped against the shore, calmer than they had been earlier. The sheer vastness took her breath away. A very small part of her wondered at the idea of simply letting herself float with the water, pushed and tugged any which way by the tide until she was swallowed by the waves, nowhere to be found.
“Going for a swim without me?”
Bellamy’s voice gave nothing away, but his dark eyes studied her in a way that made Clarke think he knew what was going on in her mind. She wondered exactly how she’d become such an open book to him despite her carefully constructed walls. Then there was a small tug on her jacket, and she turned to her left to see Anna’s curious face.
When the girl looked hopefully at the water and then back at her, Clarke knew what to do. Shucking off her boots, she motioned for Anna to do the same and her face brightened. With a smile, Clarke held out her hand. “Ready to go in?”
Anna nodded eagerly and grasped her fingers tightly. They inched forward slowly, both of them jumping in surprise as the cold water touched their skin. A laugh cut through the air, and Clarke was astonished to find it was her own. Anna tugged her hand and they waded forward again until the water rushed around their legs. The younger girl squealed a little but stayed put, fascinated by it all. Clarke was in a similar state. She could have stood there all night, listening to the waves crash and sigh.
A sharp gasp made her turn. There was sheer wonder on Bellamy’s face as he stood ankle-deep in the water a few feet behind them. He looked at her in awe, a smile stretching across his face, and Clarke found herself returning it easily. She’d seen how much he wanted to go out there earlier, especially with his sister. But he’d stayed by her side the whole time, not one complaint leaving his lips. She was suddenly aware of how grateful she was for him, and the thought made her reach out to pull him closer. They stood shoulder to shoulder in the water, simply enjoying this new, wonderful gift from Earth until finally Anna’s shivers made them turn back.
She sat by the fire with Anna’s head in her lap, absently stroking her dark hair. The young girl was asleep in minutes. A heavy blanket dropped over her shoulders, and she looked up to see Bellamy’s soft smile as he sat next to her. And Clarke wondered if he knew that for every smile, every small gesture, there was a corresponding crack in the walls around her heart.
The nightmares were always the same: swift, merciless, and unpredictable. Sometimes they were days or weeks apart. Other weeks she gave up on sleep altogether. This was the latter. For the fourth night in a row, she tossed and turned as she relived her worst memory. But then things blended together and suddenly her knife wasn’t plunging into Finn, but Wells. She staggered back. Her hands dripped with blood. When she looked up, Anya was staring at her. But her hair wasn’t the muddy brown Clarke was used to; it was black like the night sky, like Anna’s. Dark red pooled from the gunshot wound in her chest. Clarke dropped to her knees and pressed her face into the dirt, her screams becoming nonsensical apologies.
Something sharp stung her hand and her eyes flew open. Anna sat next to her, eyes wide. Clarke lifted her hand to see teethmarks on her palm.
“You weren’t waking up,” Anna said quietly. Clarke squeezed her hand in silent thanks. Her chest heaved with every harsh breath, the images still so fresh in her mind. Anna ran from the tent before she could speak, but moments later Bellamy was striding in. Worry radiated from his every pore. Clarke sat up in surprise and he paused, but his distress overpowered any momentary caution.
He kneeled by her side, lifting a gentle hand to wipe the tears from her face.
“How did you know?” She asked.
“Anna found me.”
“But your tent is all the way across camp.”
“I wasn’t in my tent.”
She could feel the callouses on his fingers as he brushed away the remaining tears. But she had to know.
“Clarke,” he cut in urgently. “Are you okay?”
He looked like he might move closer and she held out a hand. “Why weren’t you in your tent, Bellamy?” She set her jaw stubbornly, ignoring how childish it made her feel.
He sighed and looked at her as if it was obvious. “Because I was sleeping outside your tent,” he said. His hand brushed over her hair. “Now would you just let me…”
Let me what? was what she opened her mouth to say, but what emerged was a strangled sob, and then Bellamy did move closer, gathering her into his arms and holding tight. She lifted her hands to push him away only to find them gripping his back as her tears began anew. He didn’t tell her to stop, and he didn’t tell her it would be okay. Instead his arms held firm around her as she shook uncontrollably, her tears soaking into his skin. Where she was lost and fragile and uncertain, he was steady and strong and unyielding. His breath ghosted on her skin as he murmured in her ear, reassuring her he wasn’t going to leave. Her gasps slowed to hiccups that finally faded to the occasional shudder, but still he didn’t let go. She was surrounded by him, the warmth of his skin, the smell of the Earth, and the steady heartbeat under her ear that told her this was real. It was real. They were real. Finally, she slept.
When her eyes opened the next morning, the first thing she registered was that she was alone. She sat up slowly, the pounding in her skull the only remainder of the night before. On a hunch, she crawled to the front of her tent and peeked through the flap. Bellamy was asleep on the grass, stretched out on his side. Anna sat behind him, gleefully twisting flowers together and weaving them into his dark hair. The sight was so unexpected that a small giggle bubbled up and burst out of her. Anna looked up and waved, holding out a flower to her with a wicked smile. In the early morning light, they completed the newest flower crown for Bellamy.
When he finally woke, bleary-eyed and blinking against the sunlight, Clarke couldn’t contain her laughter. He looked over in surprise as she doubled over on the grass, clutching her sides and gasping. Her laughter seemed unwilling to stop after being contained for so long. A bemused smile crossed his face as he watched her. Finally Anna tapped him on the shoulder and told him he made a good princess, and the sight of his eyebrows scrunching in confusion sent Clarke into a new bout of giggles.
When he reached up to finger the crown atop his head, Anna smiled proudly at her handiwork. He tweaked her nose before asking, “Did you have a helper?”
She nodded slyly and he narrowed his eyes at Clarke in mock scolding. But to her shock, he wore the crown the remainder of the day, if only for the reason that she couldn’t stop smiling every time she saw him. When she walked into her tent that night, the crown lay on her cot. And when she peeked outside, his familiar form sat just a few feet away. Her heart gave a little leap, as if to break out of its cage. It didn’t succeed - not yet - but the cracks in the walls widened some more.
Her walls may as well have shattered when they carried Bellamy into the medical unit. The ringing in her ears drowned out any explanation that Miller offered. All she could see was Bellamy lying on the cot, his shirt and skin stained with red. So much red. His eyes couldn’t stay open.
Then her mother was suddenly in the way, focused and determined. She repeated herself three times before Clarke finally understood. Moonshine. Storage. As much as she could carry. She turned and took off, returning minutes later with several bottles in her hand. While she was away, they had cut off his shirt to clean the injury, and she stared at the angry, gaping wound that curved down his chest and looped over his side.
Her mother was already rinsing her hands and giving out orders. Octavia was bent over the cot, whispering to Bellamy. Pleading with him, to just stay. Tears blurred Clarke’s vision and she bit back the sudden scream rising in her throat. Breathe, Clarke. Focus on the details. The patient on the cot was losing blood rapidly. Not Bellamy. The wound was large and needed sewing. Not Bellamy’s skin. The patient would need moonshine. The patient. Not Bellamy.
“Octavia.” She didn’t recognize her own voice, so hard and cold. “We need him to drink.” She nodded at the moonshine. Octavia took the bottle in shaking hands, prying his mouth open and dribbling as much as she could inside. He coughed and sputtered.
Good. If he had the energy to do that, he had the energy to do more. Clarke placed her hand under his neck, taking the bottle from Octavia. She waited until his eyes opened.
“I need you to drink this,” she said. He nodded weakly, and she poured more into his mouth, watching his Adam’s apple bob with every swallow. He gasped when it became too much, and she set it down.
“Okay, okay. That’s good. You did great.” She didn’t recognize this voice either, all soft and gentle and caring. She smoothed her hand over his forehead once, and his eyes drifted shut again. Looking at Octavia, she said, “This will hurt. He’ll likely black out before it’s over. Can you hold him until then?”
The other girl nodded firmly, reaching out to grasp her elbow. Clarke put her hand over hers for a moment before turning to rinse her arms. She held out her hands to her mother, who placed the instruments in her palm with a knowing look. Then she moved to hold Bellamy’s legs. Octavia stood by his head. Clarke moved to his right, and suddenly Lincoln was beside her, his strong arms resting over Bellamy’s torso. She nodded to him once.
I’m sorry. She might have said it out loud multiple times or just in her head. She had no idea. All she could see was ruined flesh and a silver needle biting into the skin over and over. The thread pulled taught, she looped it around like she had done a thousand times, and began again. Rinse and repeat. She couldn’t - wouldn’t - think about Bellamy’s body shuddering with every stitch, how his hands clenched into fists, how Octavia curved over him and held on as he shook in pain. Then, finally, he was out. It was the longest few minutes of Clarke’s life. But with him not moving, her stitches came faster and neater, and slowly but surely the wound closed and the blood stopped flowing out.
She didn’t stop moving around after it was done. There was a poultice to be made, herbs to grind on Lincoln’s orders to make sure no infection had taken hold, an antidote to ensure no poison had been on the blade. Octavia managed to grab her in a hug, but Clarke could barely return it. She just needed him to wake up.
The next two days were a blur. Clarke saw nothing other than the plants she mixed, the creams she applied over the stretched skin, the barest rising and falling of his chest that told her he was still breathing. Her forehead was pressed against the cool steel of the cot when she awoke from another impromptu nap. She was bent over on her stool, her hand in his as her head rested on the table. His eyes were still shut, and she once again said the silent mantra she’d been repeating for days. No more walls, I swear, Bell. Just wake up. Looking around, she guessed from the emptiness that it was close to the end of another day. Upon a second glance, her eyes found the small shadow by the door.
“Anna?” She called softly.
The girl peeked around the doorway hesitantly. Clarke gave her the bravest smile she could muster and motioned her closer. Anna neared the cot, her cautious, smart eyes taking in everything.
“Is he sleeping?”
Something like that. Clarke made herself nod. “Yeah, sweetie. He’s resting so his body can heal faster.”
“Is he in pain?”
“Not as much as before,” she answered honestly.
“You’re taking care of him.”
Anna rounded the cot and Clarke shifted over, letting the girl sit with her on the small chair. Anna curled into her side immediately.
“Monty told me a story that reminded me of Bellamy,” she finally said.
“Oh yeah?” Clarke smoothed a hand over her hair. “What was that about?”
“There’s a princess and a prince, and witches that do magic, and knights that fight in battles. And at the end the princess gets married to the strongest, kindest knight.”
Clarke wondered where the hell Monty had gotten such a story, but hummed in agreement anyways. “And how did that remind you of him?”
The eyebrow Anna raised so rivaled Bellamy’s that she had to bite her lip so she wouldn’t laugh. Or cry. “Because he’s your knight.”
“You’re the princess, and he’s your knight, and the knight always keeps his princess safe.”
Something stirred inside her. “Where did you hear that?”
Anna pointed over her shoulder, and Clarke turned to see Bellamy’s dark eyes wide open and gazing at her. His fingers squeezed hers. This is real. For a moment she was frozen, the immense relief rushing through her veins serving as a reminder of just how terrified she’d been at the thought of not seeing his eyes open again. When he tried to speak but could only cough, Clarke suddenly couldn’t move fast enough. She knocked aside the bowl she hadn’t even known was in her lap and was reaching for the pitcher of water while in the same breath asking how do you feel and can you sit and areyouhurting-
His hand clamped over her wrist as she held the cup of water to his mouth. His thumb rested directly over her pulse, stroking lightly, and she stopped talking altogether. When he’d gulped down enough, he put the water aside himself but didn’t let go of her hand. Clarke closed her eyes for a moment, sighing gratefully. Then she remembered Anna and turned, lifting the younger girl up to sit by his shoulder.
“Hey, munchkin.” His voice was hoarse, but just as warm and caring as always.
“Hi. We missed you,” she said, and Clarke didn’t bother correcting her.
“Missed you, too. You staying out of trouble?”
Anna shook her head and he grinned. “Atta girl.”
Clarke squeezed her shoulders and the young girl hopped off the cot. “Hurry up and get better,” she called and hugged Clarke’s legs quickly before skipping away.
Clarke watched her go, feeling her heart lighten. Warm fingers wrapped around hers and tugged her close again. She leaned down to touch her forehead to his; their noses brushed softly. Eskimo kiss, she heard him telling Anna once. There came a deep, longing, shuddering sigh - from who, she didn’t know. But it was enough to make her clamber onto the cot and wedge herself flush against his side. His arm wrapped around her shoulders, his grip tight enough to leave imprints of his fingertips. Her head rested directly over his heart, taking comfort in the constant sturdy beat. Her own heart was wild and erratic, thundering loudly as if to announce to her - and him - that it was no longer trapped and would not take kindly to it ever again.
And when Bellamy tilted her chin up to press his mouth to hers, all remnants of the walls she’d built up so long ago finally came crashing down.