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to dust or to gold

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TO DUST OR TO GOLD

some legends are told
some turn to dust or to gold
but you will remember me
remember me for centuries

fall out boy, centuries


He’s the boy from the twelfth district with a revolution building in his bones, and when she looks at him, all she sees are the embers of a match about to be lit. Bellamy Blake has a fire where most boys have a smile, and she wishes that it scared her as much as it should.

But he doesn’t scare her at all.

-:-

“Hey, Princess,” he calls, a note of challenge in the nickname, all stretched out on a couch in the common room where the tributes go to rest and eat in between training sessions. He’s still sweating from his workout, his dark hair plastered to his forehead, but he looks utterly relaxed, even though the room right next to them is filled with soon-to-be bloodthirsty victors vying for his throat.

Clarke doesn’t answer immediately, doesn’t even look at him until she’s taken her time undoing her messy ponytail and pouring herself a glass of ice-cold water. After she gulps down half her glass to cool down from her training regime, she lets herself glance back over her shoulder at his still-smirking face, his gaze keen and trained on her like he knows all her secrets.

Maybe he does. She’s never had many of those, but Bellamy Blake certainly knows his way around a secret. She wonders how much of the rebellion raging in their country is hiding beneath his skin.

“Did you need something, Blake?” she asks, keeping her voice as bored and aloof as possible, despite the fact that she can feel his eyes burning hot and heavy on spine. The atmosphere around them is at once chilly and heated.

“No,” he says in a tone of voice that implies the opposite. “You’re a good shot,” he adds casually, miming shooting an arrow when she raises an eyebrow at him.

“Good enough to put one in your heart,” she agrees, flashing him a sweet smile. He looks amused, not at all threatened by the truth of her statement – they’re both victors, they know how this game works. They know they are both killers.

“My sister is a better shot,” Bellamy says, almost offering the bait up to her. She rolls her eyes and picks up a strawberry from the table, popping it into her mouth as she mulls over what he’s really saying. His sister, Octavia Blake, is indeed a good shot, and possibly better than her. The two of them hadn’t managed the first and very unorthodox dual victory in the games without picking up some skills besides coal-mining.

“Guess we’ll find out,” Clarke says with as noncommittal a shrug as she can manage, downing the rest of her water before reaching back to tie up her hair again. “Nice talking to you, Blake.”

She’s about to walk past him, back to the training room, but he’s off the couch in a flash, his hand suddenly very dangerously warm around her wrist, and she freezes.

His voice is quiet when he speaks, his breath ghosting against her cheek. “You’re allies with Raven Reyes, right?” he asks, though it’s not really a question, and she tries not to focus on his thumb pressing lightly on the veins at her wrist.

“What’s it to you?” she demands, willing her voice to be steady and not breathless when the words come out. She doesn’t look at him to see if she succeeded or not. “Wanna join our circle?”

Bellamy laughs, the sound low and husky in his throat. “I think you should ask her about joining ours,” he says meaningfully, and then he pulls back, all traces of his warmth seeping from her body in an instant. It’s like he was never there.

Clarke tilts her head just enough to see him walk over to the tables of food, not even sparing her a second glance. Every nerve in her body is on fire, an explosion of sensations she can’t quite decipher and isn’t sure she wants to. There’s a lot she can’t figure out about Bellamy Blake, but she knows one thing:

This boy is starting a war. And he needs her.

-:-

Raven doesn’t seem even mildly surprised when Clarke relays the incident to her in a hushed conversation on the rooftop, instead looking at her with a smile that reminds Clarke viciously of Bellamy. The stars of the Capitol are unnervingly bright in the skies above them tonight, almost as bright as the memory of Bellamy’s touch on her skin.

“Are you allies with him?” she finishes, an accusatory tone in her voice that she had only half meant to inject. “Raven, why wouldn’t you tell me – ”

Because, Clarke,” says Raven, interrupting with a long-suffering sigh, “there are some things even you can’t control.” She pauses, the silence poignant as it rings. “And Bellamy Blake is one of them.”

She frowns, looking down at the city glittering beneath them instead of up at Raven. “I don’t want to ally with him,” she insists.

“Clarke,” Raven says, softer this time, the voice she uses to calm Monty down when he gets too nervous or excited. Clarke resents the same tone being used on her. “Look, you know what’s happening. There’s a revolution going on in the country. You’re not blind, Griffin. You know why it started.”

Clarke does know why it started. She knows how it started – with Bellamy Blake volunteering when his sister was picked for the 74th Hunger Games to protect her, with the whole country falling in love with the Blake siblings, with the manipulative rule change to allow two victors, with Bellamy and Octavia daring to eat a handful of berries rather than kill each other when the rule change was reversed.

Yes, Clarke remembers the 74th Hunger Games. And she remembers the mayhem that surrounded the District Twelve tributes, remembers seeing them lit on fire at the parade, remembers the two of them on their victory tour, the rebellions they sparked, the passion they inspired. She remembers it all; what she doesn’t remember is being a part of it.

“Why do you need me?” she asks quietly, pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her head on them. When she looks sideways at Raven, she finds her lost in thought.

“Because you’re smart,” Raven answers after a moment, “and because I trust you. Because I know you don’t want to be here any more than the rest of us do. Because you are calculating and intelligent and willing to do whatever it takes to protect those you love.”

Clarke presses her hands to her eyes, a bitter laugh escaping. “I couldn’t protect Wells,” she points out. Raven takes her hand and interlocks their fingers, holding on just tight enough to be comforting.

“Maybe not,” Raven acknowledges, tilting her head up to the stars. “But you can make sure he didn’t die in vain. He died to give you a chance to survive. And you did. Is this what you want with your life?”

In one sweeping arm gesture, Raven encompasses the entirety of the Capitol humming beneath them, in all its late night glitz and glamour and blindness. Clarke looks out into the city and sees Wells, kind, brave, compassionate Wells, who died protecting her. She thinks of the little blonde girl who killed him, thinks of all the killers the Capitol has fashioned out of children, and she thinks of Bellamy and Octavia.

She thinks of the war stirring in her own district, in every other district, the uneasiness in the eyes of the gamemakers, the golden watch on Jaha’s wrist, the whispers among the victors, the martyred children, the currents of an oncoming revolution threading through the city below. She thinks of Raven, the fire-starting mechanic from District Three who wiped out her opponents with a single device; she thinks of Bellamy and the matching fire in his smile.

She doesn’t say yes. But she doesn’t say no, either. It’s enough for Raven. It’s enough for now.

-:-

Octavia finds her in the training room the next day, both of them the only visitors to the archery section where Clarke is testing out different types of bows. There’s no telling what they’ll get from the cornucopia. She tenses up when she sees the other girl approach her, but Octavia doesn’t seem antagonistic or aggressive at all.

“My brother says he talked to you,” Octavia says with a lightness to her tone that’s belied by her words. Clarke wonders how much of their conversation Bellamy had shared. “I know you guys didn’t get off to the best start,” she continues, and it takes Clarke a moment to remember their first introduction upon landing in the Capitol, which was, in fact, the opposite of a best start, “so if he said anything stupid, I thought I should – apologize, or something.”

Her words trail off a bit uncertainly when Clarke turns to look at her, suddenly seeming much more like a little girl than a victor of the Hunger Games. Clarke wants to scoff, wants to shake off her apology as a manipulation tactic, wants to ignore the presence of the girl who lit a fire in the country entirely, but it’s impossible. Octavia is utterly too bright to ignore.

“Don’t apologize,” she suggests instead, shifting her attention back to the bow and arrow in her hand. “We’re not friends. We’re supposed to kill each other.”

The words are a reminder, half to Octavia and half to herself. She has to limit her attachments to people in this game; last time, Wells had died. This time, she’s not even sure what she would do if Raven died. And Miller, her district partner – she’s never quite sure where they stand. She can’t afford to let the Blakes in. The whole country had, and look what it had gotten them.

“We don’t have to kill each other,” Octavia says determinedly after a pause. “We could be – ”

“Allies?” Clarke finishes, trying to add the right amount of incredulity and disdain to her tone, but it all fades away when she looks at Octavia’s face. The girl in front of her is not a killing machine. She is sixteen and she is scared.

Clarke remembers being a lot like her, once.

Octavia moves instead of saying anything, grabbing a bow and three arrows, and before Clarke can react, she shoots all three dead in the center of the bull’s-eye painted on the wall opposite them, each one sliding into the next with a loud crack. Clarke watches, amazed despite herself.

When she’s finished, Octavia offers her the empty bow with a small smile on her face. “Think about it,” she suggests, and Clarke stares after her as she walks off, her gaze landing right on Bellamy where he’s waiting for his sister. She meets his eyes and finds herself staring into a battlefield.

If she’s going to die in that arena, she wants Bellamy Blake fighting at her side.

-:-

It’s a few days before the televised interviews and she’s trying on dresses for her team’s approval in the living room of her district’s penthouse when Bellamy saunters inside like he’s meant to be there. One of her stylists gasps in outrage, but Jackson waves them all away, trading a look with Bellamy that she can’t explain and motioning him to come over.

Bellamy’s gaze is undeniably warm as it rakes over her body, almost admiring as he takes in her sparkling yellow dress and heels, but she knows better than to think he cares. Shifting her feet, she crosses her arms and sends him an annoyed look, which he doesn’t bother acknowledging.

“Need to talk to you, Princess,” he says by way of saying hello, flashing her a flicker of a smirk when she stares at him, trying to decipher what he’s there for. “Well, actually,” he continues, inclining his head towards Jackson sitting on the couch, “I need to talk to him.”

Clarke raises her eyebrows. Jackson glances between her and Bellamy, then says, “Shoot.”

Bellamy takes a breath, rocking back on his heels. “Octavia and I,” he begins, sounding like the words are sour on his lips, though his countenance betrays no emotion, “would like to put in a formal request for an alliance. With you.”

His gaze slants from Jackson back to her when he says this, practically daring her to say something. Clarke can’t find anything to say, though, even with both him and Jackson staring at her. She wants to look at Jackson for help, for mentoring, for his usual annoyingly wise words, but she can’t bring herself to look away from Bellamy. His face is both a challenge and an invitation. She’s not sure which one to accept.

“What about Miller?” is the only thing she manages to get out, swallowing everything else she could have said.

Bellamy blinks, looks at Jackson, then looks at her again. “Are you two a package deal?” he asks.

Clarke has to think about it. Nathan Miller is competent, good with weapons, even better with plans. They’re not best friends, but she knows he’s a good person to have on her side. But she also knows he’s a killer, the same as all of them. The two of them know exactly what they’re getting into, and she knows they’re both willing to kill each other if they have to. But for now –

“Yes,” she says, lifting her head and meeting Bellamy’s gaze head on. “We are.”

Bellamy looks impressed. Jackson is fighting a smile, she’s pretty sure. The two of them glance at each other again, and now it’s driving her crazy. How often can they have talked beforehand to be able to communicate silently? And why hadn’t Jackson told her about this?

“Fine,” Bellamy says slowly, “both of you. We want both of you.”

“They’ll get back to you,” Jackson says for her, rising to his feet and offering Bellamy his hand. “And I’ll talk to Lincoln. We need to discuss this with Miller first.”

“Of course,” Bellamy says, almost sounding polite, and shakes Jackson’s hand. He looks over at Clarke, his eyes darting up and down her body one last time, before shooting her a grin. “See you around, Princess.”

Clarke watches him leave, unable to shake the feeling that she has just seen the beginnings of a firestorm in his eyes.

-:-

“Where is Miller, anyway?” Jackson asks casually after Bellamy has left and her stylists have finished planning her outfit down to the last jewel for interviews. Clarke is sitting on the couch with him, back in comfortable clothes, a mindless television program playing on mute in front of him.

“Training, probably,” she says, then tosses the remote at him, hitting him square in the shoulder. “What’s with you and Bellamy?”

Jackson makes a face and puts the remote down on the table in front of them. “Nothing,” he says though she’s fairly sure he means the opposite, “what’s with you and Bellamy?”

Clarke stares at him. “Nothing. Don’t change the subject.”

Jackson smiles a little and picks up his cup of coffee, taking a sip before answering her. “There are things you can’t understand yet, Clarke,” he says, and she’s about to roll her eyes at another lecture on being too young, but then he continues, “but you will, when you’re in the arena. I just need you to trust me, okay? I know what I’m doing. Bellamy knows what he’s doing.”

Clarke runs a hand through her hair, frustrated. “But what good is that if I don’t know what I’m doing?” she demands.

Jackson brings her arm down back to her side, his touch gentle and steady. “You do know what you’re doing, Clarke,” he tells her. “You’re the smartest out of all of us. You just haven’t let yourself think it yet. I believe in you.”

She feels a shiver running down her spine as she thinks of his implications, of the idea that she knows exactly what she’s getting into with Bellamy Blake, knows exactly what Jackson’s plan for them is, knows exactly why it is that Raven would ally herself with the Blakes. She knows what’s going on. The only thing stopping her from saying it is the fear and the cameras and the constant sense of being in over her head in a game of kill or be killed.

But she has won this game once before. And so has Bellamy. So has everyone here.

And this time, they know what victory means.

-:-

Miller returns an hour later, looking a little worse for the wear, and Clarke is worried he might have gotten in a fight with another tribute, but he shakes off her concern and relaxes on the couch next to her and Jackson, seeming remarkably unconcerned for a boy about to fight for his life in front of the whole country. Jackson has to nudge her to remind her to speak.

“Bellamy Blake came by earlier,” she says when Miller turns a curious look on her. “He wants to be allies.”

Miller puzzles over that for a moment. “With you, you mean?”

“I said we were a package deal,” Clarke informs him, studying him carefully to see his reaction. He doesn’t seem overly surprised, but he also doesn’t seem like he’d expected that.

“Do you want to be allies with him? With them?” he amends, because of course, Bellamy and Octavia are a package deal themselves. “It’s risky.”

Jackson snorts. “It’s the Hunger Games. Everything is risky.”

Miller considers this. “I was talking to that boy from District Five,” he mentions. “Monty Green. He’s the only other one I’ve found. Most of these victors – I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can throw them.”

“Of course not,” Jackson says off-handedly, like he’s not even paying attention to the conversation, though Clarke knows that he is. “Who can you trust?”

She and Miller exchange glances. “Raven,” she says immediately. “And – Finn comes with her.”

Miller raises an eyebrow at her. “Reminds me, is everything okay with you and Finn?”

Clarke inhales. “Everything’s fine,” she says, mostly annoyed that their fling the other year is still fresh in people’s memories. “Forget about that. Who else is there? The rest are much older than us, and they’re either vicious or they’ve lost their minds.”

“And we’re probably both,” Miller remarks wryly, tossing an arm around the back of the couch and shooting her a grin. “I tried talking to that lady from District Seven, Anya? Yeah, she doesn’t like anyone. I didn’t bother with the rest.”

“Good choice,” Clarke remarks, though she doesn’t fail to notice Jackson’s minute shift in expression at the mention of Anya. She looks at Miller, knowing he’s seen it, too. “There’s that boy from Eight, Jasper, I think? Aren’t he and Monty friends?”

“Right,” Miller says, looking up at the ceiling. “So either we ally with him and Monty, or we ally with Raven, Finn, and the Blakes. Are those our options?”

Jackson coughs. “You could ally with both.”

“A team that large won’t even survive the initial bloodbath,” Clarke points out, but she feels like Jackson is getting at something much bigger than the coming games. “Plus, we definitely need Raven. I trust her more than anyone.”

Miller eyes her oddly. “I know you’re friends but – both of you can’t survive that arena,” he says like she doesn’t already know.

“Bellamy and Octavia managed,” Jackson says nonchalantly, flipping through TV channels.

“And they started a war,” Miller finishes, getting to his feet, his words ringing in the air. “Look – I’ll go with whatever you want for the start, Clarke. But if one of them turns out to be using us, I’m ditching first chance I get. It’s up to you for now.”

He touches her arm and walks away towards his bedroom, leaving Clarke alone with Jackson and his secrets and her thoughts.

-:-

She finds him and Octavia in the training room later, both of them practicing tying knots, with Raven and Miller watching from a distance. They’re not the only ones, either; she can feel most of the other tributes watching her closely as she stands in front of Bellamy, waiting for him to set down his knot so they can talk.

“What’s up, Princess?” he asks lightly, turning to look at her with the shadow of a smile on his face. She doesn’t doubt that he knows exactly why she’s there.

“We accept,” she tells him, gaze flickering between him and Octavia. He doesn’t look surprised, but Octavia smiles. Behind her, she can sense Miller moving, but she doesn’t look to see what he’s doing.

“Great,” Bellamy says, glancing over her shoulder to Raven and Miller and the rest. “Glad to have you on board.” The way he says his words makes her think there’s far more to it than that, but she doesn’t press it. Not here, not in front of all the other tributes, only some of whom are allies.

“You guys are good,” Octavia says sincerely, her eyes shining. Clarke looks at her and thinks it’s no surprise that this is the girl that has become the darling of the nation, too young and too naïve to win and yet her love for her brother helped them both survive. This girl – this is the symbol their world has been waiting for.

Clarke manages a small smile at her, suddenly overwhelmed with Bellamy’s gaze sharp as he looks at her, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what a part of her knows she has just stepped into, an ocean she is diving into with her eyes closed. This is war, and she’s chosen her side.

She’s still not sure if it’s the right one, but Octavia’s smile is reassuring, at the very least.

-:-

“Invite them to dinner,” Jackson tells her casually over lunch later that day, examining his plate of steak and mashed potatoes as if it were far more interesting than their conversation. Clarke looks at Miller, who looks back at her, and then they both turn identical looks of incredulity onto their mentor.

“The Blakes?” Miller asks with the sort of repulsion to the prospect that he normally reserved for eating shrimp. “Here?”

Jackson rolls his eyes. “No, not here,” he says, aiming his fork at both of them in turn. “Invite your team to dinner. Out in the town. I’ll get us a nice restaurant. We need to cement this alliance, both for us and for the public at large. It’s build-up to the main event.”

Clarke makes a face at her spaghetti. She tries so hard to forget that her life is a television program for the rest of the world. “Fine. I’ll go get Raven and – ”

“No,” Jackson shakes his head. “You invite the Blakes. You’re already close with Raven and Finn. Branch out. Miller will invite them.”

Clarke gapes at him. “What – but Miller isn’t close to them either – ”

Jackson stares pointedly at Miller who pointedly ignores his stare.

Miller,” Clarke says warningly, and he sighs.

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he tells her hastily, probably for the best since her mind had immediately gone to Miller and Octavia and god, that would not do well with Bellamy. “I actually met Bellamy before the reaping this year. When he and Octavia visited the Capitol.”

“And, what, you magically became friends with one of the most reclusive victors and never thought to mention it?” Clarke demands.

Miller holds up his hands in surrender. “We’re not friends,” he protests. “We just – we get along, okay? I know him. He knows me. We’ll be fine in the arena, as long as he doesn’t go fucking crazy to protect his sister.”

Which they all knew was a very distinct possibility. Bellamy had almost killed himself to save Octavia in his games. There’s no telling what he’d do this time.

“So,” Jackson says cheerfully after the pause that blankets their table, “that leaves you, Clarke. If you’re going to be allies with the Blakes, I want you to know them as well as you know Raven.”

“Or Finn,” Miller mutters under his breath, and Clarke elbows him sharply. He grins at her, and for a moment she forgets that they’re planning how to survive in an arena designed to kill them. For a moment, all they are is teenagers without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

-:-

The next day, a countdown to the arena clock ticking in her head, she knocks on the door to the Blakes’ top floor suite, where the District Twelve tributes and team live. When it swings open, the person standing behind it is not, as she had hoped, Octavia Blake, or even their mentor, Lincoln, but rather Bellamy Blake himself.

Shirtless.

In a towel.

Clarke blinks, then drags her gaze up to his face.

Bellamy looks half-annoyed, half-amused as he adjusts his towel and asks, “Did you need something?”

She braces herself, then says, “We’re having dinner. In the city. For our team. Tonight.” The words are a little hard to get out in coherent, cohesive sentences, mostly due to the fact that he’s still standing half-naked in front of her. Funny, she’d have thought that would have changed by now.

He looks more amused than anything else now. “Are you inviting me on a date?”

Clarke shoves the paper invitation with the timings and restaurant name at him, too irritated at herself to flirt back and knock him off his game, though she dearly wants to. “You’re expected to attend,” she informs him in her best District One snobby voice. “Octavia and Lincoln as well. I’ll see you there.”

Bellamy catches her wrist before she can leave, a deliberate echo of their conversation days ago in the common room. His hand is still damp from his shower, leaving traces of water on her skin, and the sensation forces her to look up at him, though his grip is surprisingly gentle for a boy who has killed without mercy before.

“Jackson sent you?” he says, phrased as a question, said as a fact. Clarke contemplates shaking her hand free, and figures he’d let her do it without a fight, but she stays still anyway. “Look, if he wants us to…whatever, get to know each other or some – ”

“Or nothing,” she interrupts. “I know you, Blake. I watched your games. I know what you’ll do to survive – and what you won’t.”

Bellamy’s gaze is burning as he leans closer to her, not as much as the other day when she could taste his breath, but just enough for her to tense up. “Clarke,” he says softly, “who we are and who we need to be to survive are two very different things.”

His fingers drop easily from her wrist without any need for shaking. Clarke looks away from him. “I know that,” she admits, the memory of her own games running through her mind. “I’ll see you tonight.”

He waits until she’s halfway down the hallway to reply, “See you, Princess,” and she’s almost annoyed with herself for wanting to smile.

-:-

At dinner, she’s sitting next to Miller, all dressed up in a shiny gold dress – gold for victory, her stylists had giggled – and a diamond on her neck, the picture perfect image of the luxury of District One, meant mostly for the cameras that followed their group into the restaurant.

Bellamy and Octavia are the last to arrive, Octavia in a dark purple dress with a flared skirt like the kind used to project girlishness and innocence, and Bellamy in light blue button-down and jeans. His stylists always seem to try to make him softer around the edges, she notices, like they can blunt his essence by putting him in pastels.

He raises an eyebrow at her when he notices her looking, and she thinks it probably doesn’t work half as well as his team would like.

“Do we get a team name?” Octavia asks as soon as she sits down, smiling brilliantly. Clarke marvels over how lucky it is, that the girl chosen to spearhead the revolution is so naturally likable. God knows, if she’d been a tribute from District Twelve, she wouldn’t have managed Octavia’s spirit and energy.

Jackson, Lincoln, and Wick trade amused looks. “We’re not here to discuss strategy, actually,” Jackson explains, motioning for the waiter to come over. “We are here to socialize.”

“Socialize,” Bellamy repeats blankly. “Do we not do that enough when we’re training to kill each other?”

Lincoln shoots him a look and says, “Order your food, Bellamy.”

Clarke glances around the table as conversations start up; Octavia bubbling over with questions about electrical mechanics for Raven, Finn and Miller drawing Bellamy into a conversation about good disguises in various types of arenas, and their mentors watching them all with keen eyes. She isn’t at all sure if this alliance is going to last much further than the Cornucopia bloodbath, and there are cameras everywhere, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance this can work.

What this is, of course, is something she’d rather pretend she doesn’t know. She smiles for a camera and takes a drink and pretends she doesn’t feel Bellamy’s gaze on her as she does so.

-:-

Bellamy leaves before they order dessert, saying he needs to get some fresh air. Clarke watches him go, and Raven shoots her a meaningful look roughly five minutes after he’s left. Clarke looks at Miller, who nods at her, and then makes her excuses as well. This is a plan, she knows this much; what she’s not sure is who is in on it. But she figures, if she comes out of this alive, she can ask them.

If they all come out of it alive.

He’s standing outside against the restaurant wall, entirely in shadows except for a dimly-lit streetlamp several feet away. She can make out the shape of his body but not much else. A ribbon of smoke curls up into the air from his lips and she spares a moment to wonder where he managed to find cigarettes in the candy-coated extravagance of the Capitol.

“I don’t need company, Princess,” he says, breaking into her thoughts. She can’t make out his face, but she feels his gaze on her for a second, before he looks away again.

“Well, tough,” she informs him, reaching down to take off her heels. They’re pretty and embedded with District One jewels, but hardly comfortable. Now he’s eyeing her in curious interest as she drops them unceremoniously on the ground and joins him, bare-footed, against the wall. “What are you doing, Blake?”

“I’m smoking,” he begins to say, but she shakes her head, cutting him off.

“What are you really doing?” she presses. “Out here, alone, away from the press dinner? Away from your sister? I know what your team’s angle is, but what’s yours?”

He stares at her for a solid minute before replying, rolling his words out slowly. “Have you considered that not everything I do has to have an angle? Maybe I just needed some fresh air.”

Clarke rolls her eyes, abruptly fed up with him and their teams and everyone’s secrets. “Fine,” she says. “Then what was your angle when you asked me to join your team?”

She can practically see the amusement on his face. “I believe I joined your team, Princess – ”

“No,” she says, stopping him short. “We both know you didn’t. And I’m not talking about when you asked to be allies. I’m talking about before. In the common room.”

He’s silent for a moment, then he exhales a cloud of smoke before replying. “You’re right,” he says carefully. “I wanted you on our side. Mine and Octavia’s,” he amends at her questioning look. “For Octavia, you know. It’s all for Octavia.”

“I know that,” she says, her voice quiet in the tranquility around them. “But why did you want me? You already had Raven. And Finn. And, apparently, Miller.”

Bellamy almost seems to be smiling. “And a few others,” he acknowledges. “Clarke, we’re not just picking sides for the games, and you know it. The others trusted you. I figured it couldn’t hurt. Either you join us or – or we’d kill you in the arena.”

This surprises a laugh out of her. “Modest,” she remarks, and this time, she’s certain he’s grinning at her. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

He pauses, and for a moment she wonder if he’s going to delay the answer by asking her what she means, but he doesn’t. He says, “Because you’re smart. You’re a good medic, and a good shot. You might be District One, but you’re not psychotic. You lost your best friend and I know you don’t buy what the Capitol’s selling. And you and Raven – kind of a package deal.”

Clarke lets his words sink into the air as he lifts his cigarette back up to his lips, thinking on them. He’s right; she’s a valuable asset to any team. The rest of the Careers had already approached her and Miller; both of them had said no, but everyone knows they’d make good allies. They’re District One, trained and ready and already proven victors.

But Bellamy doesn’t need proven victors. He needs her for something more than the games; he’s said as much, and so has Jackson, in his own way. He needs her for a war, and more importantly –

“For Octavia,” she repeats his words in a murmur. “That’s what you need me for.”

He doesn’t look at her when he replies, but his voice is deadly serious. “We need to keep her alive, Clarke. Whatever means necessary. And you know why.”

She does know why. “She’s the mockingjay.” What she doesn’t say is that while Octavia might be the symbol, Bellamy is the revolution in its entirety. If she’s on their side, if she truly believes in their cause, she needs them both alive at the end of these games. Their whole world does.

There’s a weighty moment of silence as both of them consider the implications of the secrets they’re trading, far out of the cameras’ eyesight. Bellamy breaks it first.

“I have a question for you, Princess,” he says, shifting over so his shoulder is pressed against the wall and he’s looking at her. Clarke glances over in curiosity. “What’s with you and Collins?”

She coughs, caught off guard. “What do you mean?” she asks guardedly, and even in the low light of the street, she can see a smirk begin to form on his lips.

“You know what I mean,” he says, almost teasing, almost friendly. “He kept looking at you. Are you guys – ”

No,” she says firmly, caught between being annoyed and wondering why he cares. She settles on annoyance, because everyone trying to ask questions about her and Finn is possibly more irritating than trying on new dresses every day. “We’re not anything. He’s Raven’s – her friend.”

Bellamy watches her for a moment that stretches long enough to make her uncomfortable, then shoots her a grin. “You know,” he says conspiratorially, leaning closer until she has to stop herself from shivering at his proximity, “I heard a rumor the other day. You and Finn – ”

“Shut up,” she tells him, pressing her hands to the wall behind her and moving herself just enough away from him so she can breathe. “That was a year ago, and it’s none of your business. We’re fine now.”

“Fine?” he asks, a laugh clearly in his voice. “Is that what you call it? He’s clearly heads over heels – ”

Clarke rolls her eyes and pushes herself up off the wall, turning over so she ends up looking right up into Bellamy’s face, startling him into silence. Part of her points out that it’d be very easy to kiss him from this angle, but the rest of her knows that’s a very bad idea. For a lot of reasons. Most of which she can’t remember right now.

She doesn’t kiss him though. “Clearly,” she says, injecting as much sarcasm into the word as she can, “he’s not. But if you want to talk rumors, I did hear one about you and Raven.”

His breath comes out in a laugh, and he doesn’t move, though she almost wishes he would. But she’s issued him a challenge, and Bellamy Blake doesn’t back down from those. “That’s not a rumor,” he tells her, leaning close enough that he only has to whisper for her to hear him, “but it’s not a thing, either. You don’t have to be jealous.”

Without thinking about it, she draws her hand back and shoves him in the arm. He rocks back on his heels, more amused than anything else. She hadn’t put much force into the hit; injuring other tributes before the games is definitely against the rules, but it had served her purpose. The distance between them is longer than the space of a breath, which is much better for her pulse rate.

“Listen,” she says before he can say anything else, “Raven’s my best friend. And nothing we do anymore is a game.”

To most other boys, she’d have had to issue a clear warning, but Bellamy doesn’t seem to need one. Absently rubbing his arm, he smirks at her and says, “I’m not playing games with her. It was a one-time thing. This is much bigger than any of us, and she knows it. I know it.”

He pauses, then adds, much more quietly, “And you know it.”

She does know it. Capitol tabloid gossip aside, they are not here for romance drama. They are not here for romance at all. They’re here to survive, and they’re here to fight.

But he smiles at her, and this time, it seems almost genuine in the soft glow of the streetlamps. She doesn’t smile back, but she waits outside and watches the stars with him until he’s ready to go back inside to the cameras and the lights and the realities of being a tribute in the Hunger Games, of being a soldier in a war.

-:-

The day of the interviews, she is perfectly poised and elegant, a vision of District One beauty in a shimmering pink gown and her home’s jewels around her neck and wrists. Bellamy’s nickname for her has never been so accurate. She’s done this before, and she still knows exactly what beats to hit, how to present herself, how to make people love her. It’s how she won, the first time around.

Besides, everyone knows most of the interviews are only formalities, meant to allow the victors a chance to remind people of why they are so beloved. Everyone knows which interviews the whole world is waiting with bated breath for, and it’s certainly not District One.

So she talks to them, she tells them how much she loves them, is so grateful for their support, she talks about painting – the hobby she had taken up after winning, she talks about her friendships with Raven and Finn and Miller. She talks about what it’s like to be back, how absolutely heartbroken she is that the Capitol would want them back to kill them again. She makes sure everyone is crying because they don’t want to part with her, because they adore her so, and she knows when she has stolen their hearts completely for the second time.

“We hear you have an alliance brewing with the tributes of District Twelve,” he asks her near the end of her interview, when she’s gotten bored of smiling and pretending to enjoy the approval of the Capitol. “Anything you want to tell us about that?”

Clarke pauses, weighing her words carefully, then says, “Alliances are fragile,” and the audience nods sagely, as if they can have any idea what they experience out in the arena, “but they’re important while they last.”

“Of course, of course,” he says, then pauses like he’s waiting for her to say more. Like everyone’s waiting for her to say more, wondering why the so-named princess of District One would ally herself with the poverty-stricken surprise victors of District Twelve.

So, she looks into the camera and tells them. “For now?” she says, a smile twisting her lips like she has a secret – and she does. “I believe in District Twelve.”

-:-

“That was risky,” Finn murmurs to her, being the first one to catch her when she comes backstage, though she knows all the tributes’ eyes are on her. “Did you mean it?”

Clarke removes her earrings and the weight of her necklace, handing them off to an assistant as she stands next to him in the line of contestants, and says, “Does it matter? It did the job.”

The job, as Jackson had explained to her in the quiet of their living room last night, was to incite. To scandalize. To outrage. To remind the Capitol that they haven’t forgotten what’s going on in their districts, in their homes. All of them have to be on top of their game, they have to be ready for anything, to say anything, to do anything. The Capitol wants them dead, but they can’t go down without a fight.

I believe in District Twelve, because District Twelve is not rebelling. Not yet. But they will. They must.

Raven touches her arm, smiling when Clarke looks over. “You were perfect,” she says quietly, mindful of the cameras backstage, her voice low enough for just Clarke and Finn to hear. “You and Miller both. We’ll all do our part.”

Finn nods and she offers them both a smile before heading back to where Miller was already sitting, waiting to go back on stage after Octavia finishes her interview. On her way, she catches Bellamy’s eye, he and his sister both standing in the line of victors, and he doesn’t say anything or move at all but she holds his gaze for a moment that stretches long enough to be meaningful anyway.

Then, she walks away towards Miller, and he doesn’t smile but he moves over on the  couch to let her sit down next to him and his presence is a steady comfort at her side. He’s not like Wells was, never has been, but she appreciates him anyway, even knowing that he’d kill her if he had to. But then, the same is true of her.

“Who do you think they’re gonna kill for us?” he mutters as the boy from District Two takes a seat up on stage to an uneasy applause. “My dad’s the only one I’ve got left.”

“My mom,” Clarke sighs, pressing her head into her palms. “But they’re not going to do it immediately. They’ll want to torture them first, watching us back in the arena. If we pull this off, Miller – ”

“I know,” he says and they both go quiet as an Avox passes them. “What about Jackson? Our team?”

Clarke swallows. “They can handle themselves,” she says, and she prays it’s true.

-:-

It seems like hours go by until the interviews near the end, tributes leaving the back room and returning with a multitude of emotions scrawled across their faces. Raven looks particularly pleased; she’s known as the firestarter, and her interview was her reminder to the Capitol of why. Finn comes back pensive and thoughtful, but that’s how he normally is. Raven and Finn join Miller and Clarke on the couch, all four of them watching the rest of the interviews together while the other tributes mill around them.

Clarke tunes out most of the interviews; they all say the same thing. The victors are grateful to their adoring public, they miss their homes, they’re angry at the Capitol. They’re all angry at the Capitol. They strive for sympathy, for sponsorship, for guilt from their audience. Most of them succeed.

By the time Bellamy takes the stage, the previous victors have made sure there are no dry eyes in the studio audience. He doesn’t smile when he sits down; none of them had. His eyes are burning, fire simmering beneath the surface of his skin, and he’s all dressed in black and leather, the epitome of District Twelve’s fire-forged classic bad boy, an image that had captured the hearts of the Capitol completely.

“I’m not here to win,” he says at the beginning of his interview, sprawled in his seat like a boy king. Clarke watches, just as enraptured as the rest of the victors, as the rest of the country, because Bellamy Blake has a way of making everyone want to pay attention to him. “I’m here to protect my sister.”

The crowd bursts into a fresh round of tears and whispers; the victors in the room around her vary from mildly annoyed to mildly amused. He’s telling the truth, but he’s also playing the game. And he knows how to win, just the same as the rest of them.

Bellamy smiles, just a little, and Clarke knows he’s as good as won already.

-:-

Of course, while Bellamy is singularly captivating, Octavia is the main attraction. He’s the secret weapon; she’s the spearhead. She’s the mockingjay, and he’s the revolution. She spins up to the stage in a swirl of purple silk that fades to red like flickering flames at the bottom of her dress, a grandiose adventure in fashion that makes her look more like a goddess than a human girl. Her eyes are dark with make-up though her smile is bright as ever, and as she waves, the crowd erupts in applause.

Bellamy might be the king, but Octavia is who they worship.

Which, Clarke realizes as Miller vacates the seat next to her and Bellamy drops down in his place, is the plan. The two of them, brilliantly beautiful like phoenixes rising from the shadows of their backwater district, are a carefully-concocted plan by the alliance of victors and mentors, a war strategy, a battlefield tactic. And they’re winning.

“Good job today, Princess,” Bellamy mutters as Octavia beams her hellos to the interview and the crowd, “Didn’t think you had it in you.”

Clarke looks at him sideways, wondering if he’s actually complimenting her or not. He doesn’t look back, but she sees him smirk. Relaxing a little, she glances around to find Miller speaking to the boy from District Five, Monty, she thinks his name is. She’s not sure what that’s about, but she’ll ask him later.

“Thanks,” she replies to Bellamy, turning back to the screen in front of them. “I told you I was on your team, didn’t I?”

“Forgive me,” Bellamy says, almost teasingly, “I didn’t know if your word could be trusted.”

Clarke raises an eyebrow. “Oh, was that your hang-up?” she asks, trying not to smile as she tilts her head to see him better, and she can almost believe he’s smiling at her, too. There’s a cough on her other side, and she remembers with a start that Raven is still there, and then there’s shuffling and Finn moves away into the mass of victors congregated around them, leaving just the three of them. Clarke has to wonder if there’s a reason for that.

Raven nudges her before Bellamy can reply, diverting their attention back to the television screen where Octavia is speaking.

“I thought I’d never have to go back,” she says in a whisper, voice breaking, tears shining. She’s so good at this, Clarke hesitates to even call it an act, though the proud look on Bellamy’s face next to her makes it almost certain it is. Still, for a girl so young and inexperienced, Octavia is terrifyingly good at playing the crowd. Of course, she’s a victor – she has to be. “But if I do,” and she pauses, letting the energy in the room build up around her, “I want to make it worth something.”

It seems like everyone is watching with eyes glued to the screen, breathless with anticipation. Clarke finds herself leaning forward involuntarily. Octavia flashes her most dazzling, teary-eyed smile at the crowd, then removes her mockingjay pin. The crowd gasps as she presses it over into Sinclair’s hands.

“Keep it,” she says sweetly, curling his fingers over it. “I want you to have something to remember me by. I want all of you to have something to remember me by.”

And just like that, she’s turned her mockingjay pin into a symbol not just for the districts, but for the Capitol as well. President Wallace must be outraged.

Bellamy sits back in his seat, grinning unabashedly, and his hand brushes Clarke’s when she shifts back as well. She looks at him and smiles, this time properly and genuinely.

“She’s good,” she murmurs, as the crowd bursts into tearful applause. “Really good.”

Bellamy smiles back. “Yeah, she is,” and he sounds a little wistful, like maybe he wishes she didn’t have to be. Clarke can understand that. She brushes her fingers against his wrist, and he relaxes into her touch almost immediately, his shoulders loosening.

At her side, Raven coughs, startling her almost guiltily out of their moment. Clarke turns back to the television in time to see Octavia stand to showcase her dress and spin around for the crowd. Last year, when she’d done it, everyone had marveled over the beauty of her dress.

This time, the flame embroidery at the edge of her dress creeps up the silk until it’s burned away, leaving behind Octavia in a completely new dress – black and red and burning.

Clarke inhales sharply; every victor in the room seems to still. She’s transformed herself into a mockingjay.

Without thinking, she curls her hand up in Bellamy’s, needing the comfort more than anything. These are games they are playing; but Octavia has reminded them all – this is not mere politics. This is war.

-:-

Miller’s humming a song from their district as the victors go back up on stage for the last bow, and Clarke can’t remember the name of it, but she’s pretty sure it’s a song they play during training for the games and the lyrics include the words “Someone’s going to die tonight.” She elbows him sharply before they ascend the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your tributes of the seventy-fifth Hunger Games!” announces Sinclair, and the room is filled with applause and cheers and crying from the audience. Clarke stands next to Miller, feeling herself shaking a little from fear, anticipation, adrenaline. This is it, this is their last hurrah. Either things go well in the arena or they don’t.

Either they die, or they live. Either they fight, or they die.

Down the line of victors, at the very end, she sees Octavia take Bellamy’s hand. Nobody blinks an eye.

Then Bellamy takes Indra’s hand, District Twelve and District Eleven united, even though they’re not, by any rational measure.

But Indra doesn’t pull away.

Sinclair, still looking out at the crowd and encouraging their cheers, doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

Like ripples in the ocean, the victors join hands. Everyone, even the unlikely ones like Anya of District Seven, like Murphy of District Two, everyone holds on, a chain forming. Raven and Finn, Monty and Jasper, Harper and Lexa, everyone. It’s only a gesture; soon, they will all be at each other’s throats, but it’s something. It means something.

Murphy, next to her, takes Clarke’s hand, and she knows he won’t hesitate to kill her in the arena, but that doesn’t matter tonight. She interlaces her fingers with Miller, who squeezes her hand, before raising it high into the air.

The cameras don’t flicker off until, undoubtedly, the whole country has seen. Miller down to Octavia, all the victors holding hands. Unity, support. Anger. The Capitol has wronged them all.

As the cameras go black and the crowd goes hushed, Clarke feels a chill run down her spine. This is it, they’ve done it now. Bellamy is the fire, Octavia is the match, and they’ve lit the whole country up.

Somewhere, out there, the districts are exploding into rebellion, revolution, freedom. This is war, and the whole world is about to change.

-:-

Finn runs into her in the lobby of the tributes’ hotel, almost by accident, but probably not. She freezes up when his hand lands on hers, stilling her from her movements towards the elevator. His face is open and earnest, but then, it always is. He always looks too kind to be a victor – but he is.

“Clarke, can we talk?” he asks, and her first instinct is to say no, but she swallows the word. “It’ll only take a second. I just – it’s about the alliance.”

“Right,” she says, letting him lead her into a quiet alcove. There are cameras, certainly, but with any luck, they won’t be focused on them. “Are you getting cold feet?”

“I’m just not sure about Bellamy Blake,” he confesses, searching her face for signs. She schools it into an expression of calm thought, although her insides feel fluttery the way they always have around Finn. She’s spent so long training herself to forget him, and it has never worked. “Are you sure we can trust him? I know Raven does but – I don’t know, Clarke. I think she’s too close to him.”

The idea of Raven being too close to Bellamy Blake to be able to tell if he’s trustworthy or not is laughable, and somehow, she doesn’t think that’s Finn’s real problem with Bellamy. Because of course he’s trustworthy – he has to be, for any of this to work.

He has to be, because Clarke finds herself trusting him against all common logic, and she can’t let herself be wrong about this.

“I think maybe you should talk to Bellamy if you have problems with him,” she says, measuring the words out slowly. “If you don’t trust him, this alliance is not going to work, Finn.”

He heaves a sigh. “I don’t know how to talk to him, Clarke. He has everyone either completely charmed or completely loathing him. There’s no in-between with him. Except you.”

She can’t figure out anything to say to that. “I – ”

Finn’s eyes narrow in on her; she feels like she’s being judged. “Unless you – ”

“No,” she says quickly. “No, I don’t – you’re right. I’m not either.”

“What were you two talking about, the night of the dinner?” he asks, and she wants to sink into the wall and disappear. “You both just left the table, and Jackson said not to bother going out to find you guys.”

Clarke looks away. “Just – just, it doesn’t matter, okay? You don’t need to know. It was just tribute stuff. Alliance stuff.” Among other stuff, she thinks, but she doesn’t say. “It’s not a big deal. But I do trust him, Finn. At least enough to be his ally.”

“And you think he’ll protect you if you’re in danger?” Finn demands. “That he’ll protect any of us?”

“I couldn’t say,” she admits. “But I couldn’t say that about any of you, either.”

His eyes soften. “Clarke, that’s ridiculous. You know I would protect you, if I had to. You know I l—”

“Finn, stop,” she says, and he falls silent, hurt. “We can’t do this. We tried once, and it didn’t work. We can’t do this. We can’t do it to Raven again and – and we can’t do it to ourselves.”

“I know!” Finn says, the words coming out rushed, and he backs away, pressing one hand to his temple. “I know,” he says, much softer. “I know that. I’m sorry. I just – you know I – I care about you. Right?”

“I care about you, too,” she admits, the sentiment deflating her from the emotions of the conversation beforehand. “I do, Finn. But you know what it’s like out there. Kill or be killed. We can trust Bellamy, or we can’t. We can trust each other, or we can’t. But we’re going in there anyway.”

One corner of his mouth twitches upward in a sad half-smile. “I’ll be rooting for you, Princess,” he says quietly, and then he walks away, leaving her standing there, watching him go and wondering if she made the right choice. If she’s ever made the right choice when it comes to Finn Collins.

-:-

Raven meets her on the rooftop one last time before they head into the arena, knowing they won’t have any more free time, both of them sitting quietly in the evening and watching the Capitol fall asleep. Clarke dangles her legs off the roof and wonders what would happen if she jumped. If any of them jumped.

She supposes, in a way, they already have.

“We’re going to be fine,” Raven says, though it’s not clear who she means to reassure. “We have a plan. We have a team. We know what to do.”

Clarke lifts her head up. “Protect Octavia,” she murmurs, “or die trying.”

Once, she never would have dreamed of swearing to protect a girl from District Twelve. Once, she was District One, born and bred, tried and true. She was a Career, a Victor, and a celebrity. And then, a tribute again. Funny how the world can so quickly turn upside down. It startles her how intensely she desires freedom now, freedom from the Capitol, from the president, from the games that ruined her life, that killed her best friend.

She’s not much meant for war, but she knows she will fight for this.

“Octavia and Bellamy both,” Raven reminds her. “He’d die for her, but we have to make sure he doesn’t. We need him, too.”

Her words settle in the quiet, the city humming below them. Bellamy’s face swims in her mind, vivid in its brightness and his innate passion. She thinks about his touch, his smile, his anger always below the surface. Angry at the world, angry at the games, angry at the Capitol. Angry, and every right to be so.

“Clarke,” Raven says, drawing her out of her thoughts, “are you thinking about Bellamy again?” There’s a definite teasing edge to her voice that seems out of place for a conversation between two girls all but marked for death, but Clarke feels like a halfway normal teenager anyway.

“No,” she lies. “I mean – not like that. I was just thinking about – about everything.”

“Mm,” Raven says noncommittally, not buying it in the least. “So, that hand-holding earlier – ”

“Shut up,” Clarke says quickly. “It’s nothing. We have bigger things to worry about.”

Raven sighs, propping her head on her knees. “If we don’t worry about the stupid little things, how is that living?” she asks, more to the stars than Clarke.

“Don’t get all philosophical on me,” Clarke says, nudging her with her shoulder. “We can worry about the little things later. First, we just need to survive.”

Raven smiles. “Well, we are awfully good at that.”

She’s not wrong, either. Clarke smiles back at her, then up at the sky, and wonders if the stars are watching them tonight.

-:-

For the gamemakers, she paints a picture of Wells, eyes closed and kind-hearted even in death, and she sees the uncertainty in their faces when she shows them her work. Good, she thinks viciously, they should be ashamed. They killed a boy and turned me into a killer. She smiles a killer’s smile at them and leaves them alone in silence.

(They give her a twelve.)

Later, she waits with Miller in their suite as the rest of the tributes have their private training sessions for scores. She asks him, her voice a whisper, “What did you do?”

He smiles ruefully at her. “I hung a dummy and named him Atom.”

Atom. The boy from District Two who had been Miller’s best friend and ally in his games. Who had died for him. Been killed for him. Miller had struck spears through the hearts of the remaining three tributes and won after the helicopters had carried Atom’s body away.

It was strange, the friendships forged in the arena. Stranger still, the friendships that remain after the games. You would never have cared about a person otherwise, but watching them die in front of you, for you – there are parts of Atom she sees still tattooed behind Miller’s eyes; parts of Wells she keeps hidden in her smiles.

(They give Miller a twelve, too.)

She doesn’t get the chance to ask Raven or the others what they’ve done, and she doesn’t care much for the scores, but she knows the Capitol knows who the threats are. Her and Miller, Raven and Finn, Bellamy and Octavia. The highest scores.

The ones to try and kill.

-:-

“See you out there, Princess,” Bellamy says and it takes her a moment to register his words because he is walking past her already, the words tossed out over his shoulder in the midst of the cacophony of the hour before the games.

Her team is fluttering around her; Jackson is rotating between her and Miller, and she catches both their gazes across the five feet of space that separate her from them and suddenly, it feels like her world is on fire.

“Be careful in the arena, Clarke,” Jackson says, appearing at her side and shooing away her stylists. He takes her arms in his hands, holding her steady and still, rooting her to her spot. “You know what you’re up against. Remember who the real enemy is.”

Her eyes flicker over to where Bellamy and Octavia are being prepped by their teams, then looks back at Jackson. “I will,” she promises. “I’ll survive.”

Jackson smiles; for a second, she thinks he might hug her. “You always do,” and he doesn’t hug her but she feels his support warming her skin long after he leaves to say goodbye to Miller. He reminds her a lot of her mother, a steel heart when he needs it but a kind smile when he doesn’t. He’s a tribute, a victor, a killer, just the same as them, but she thinks he’s far better than the rest of them in a lot of ways. She and Miller wouldn’t hesitate to kill each other, but Jackson would.

There’s an ache in her heart when she takes her place with the other tributes, angry and sad and stinging with the knowledge that in any other world, she could be happy with the friends and family she has. In any other world, she wouldn’t have to fight a war.

But this is her world. And as the sun rises on the 75th Hunger Games, Clarke prepares herself for battle.

-:-

It’s funny, the things you think about when you’re on the brink of death. Blood is dripping down her arm and all she can think about is her mother’s hands smoothing down her curls, flashes of a memory from before her father was dead, a life she could have lived in peace. She closes her eyes and the world swims in blinding lights around her.

Then, there’s a hand on her shoulder, and she blinks herself awake.

“Clarke, are you all right?” Octavia asks, her breath whispery and hushed in the chaos of the bloodbath. “Do you need help?”

“No,” Clarke says on instinct, though she realizes upon struggling her way up to a sitting position that she does, in fact, need help. “What are you doing?”

Octavia’s brow furrows. “Helping you,” she says pointedly, then digs her fingers into Clarke’s arm, unceremoniously pulling her up. “Come on, we need to get somewhere safe. I think it’s almost over.”

Dizziness creeps over her as she follows on Octavia’s heels, away from the Cornucopia – there was a backpack in her hands, when had she grabbed it? – and towards the forest, leaving the other tributes to kill themselves in peace.

Clarke stumbles on tree roots, then rights herself against a trunk just as Miller takes her arm, much more gently than Octavia. “You’re alive,” she says, her voice a little breathless, half-impressed, half-unsurprised. “I’m glad you’re alive.”

He laughs, runs a hand through his hair, relief in his expression. “I was worried about you,” he admits. “You were getting beat up pretty bad by Murphy from Two.”

Clarke narrows her eyes. The memory of her fight is distant, but coming into focus now. “Is he alive?”

Miller nods. “He escaped. You had him, though. You were going to drown him.”

He says it matter-of-factly but the statement settles heavy on her heart. Of course she was going to drown him. She was a tribute, she was a killer. She was going to kill him, or be killed by him. This is who she is.

This is who the Capitol has made out of her.

She looks at Miller and smiles. “Is the world supposed to go blurry before you die?” she asks him, and then she sinks down to the ground against the tree and closes her eyes and dreams.

-:-

When she awakes, it’s Bellamy at her side, their location having moved to a tiny clearing in the forest, a few of the others gathered around in restless positions. She sees Raven, digging a knife into a tree, and Miller and Octavia, conversing quietly amongst themselves. She doesn’t see Finn anywhere, which strikes her as worrying even through her daze.

“You awake, Princess?” Bellamy asks, his voice unnaturally soft, and Clarke has to tilt her head to look up at him. He’s sitting cross-legged on the ground, etching patterns into the dirt with a blade he must have gotten at the Cornucopia. “We’ve been waiting on you.”

Clarke lifts herself up, glancing around and finding the backpack she’d nabbed sitting nearby, unopened. Unless, of course, it’s been opened and then closed, but she doesn’t have the peace of mind to worry and analyze that right now. “Th—thanks,” she manages, pressing a hand to her head. “For saving me. Where’s Finn?”

Bellamy’s eyebrows draw together. “He got separated, but Raven says to wait here. He should be back soon. You’re worried about him?”

“Of course I’m worried about him,” Clarke mutters, shifting around so she can sit on her knees and face him instead of lying down. “Aren’t you? He’s part of our alliance, right? One, Three, Twelve. Or did something change?”

“Nothing’s changed yet,” he tells her, eyeing her thoughtfully. “He’s still with us. We’ll wait a little longer. But Clarke – ” His voice drops; he leans closer. The others can’t hear him now. “You probably shouldn’t be nursing a crush in the arena.”

Her jaw tenses. “I’m not,” she grits out, and he looks half concerned and half amused as she stands up, his gaze tracking her movements. “You shouldn’t talk about things you have no idea about, Blake. Come on, I’m not gonna be a sitting duck. We need to look for food and water.”

Bellamy stands up to join her, his face very close, both of them drawing looks from the others. “I was hoping you’d say that,” he says with a grin, and tosses her the backpack she’d gotten at the Cornucopia. “Lead the way, Princess.”

“Stop calling me that,” she says as she rummages through her backpack, pulling out a knife and tucking it into her sleeve. She hadn’t managed to grab a bow, but this would do just as well. She was good with knives, too. “It’s losing its charm.”

“So it did have charm,” he teases, and she wants to smile, but she doesn’t. They have a war to win.

-:-

Eight tributes die at the bloodbath. Finn returns to them with his hands bloody; two of the eight had been his. Fresh water is hard to find, but they come across non-poisonous berries, which are followed by an acid fog, and the end of the day sees them weary and restless, washing off the aftereffects at the beach by the Cornucopia.

The cannon sounds again as they rest. Nine tributes. Clarke closes her eyes; each of them is Wells, in her mind.

“Clarke,” says Bellamy quietly, as the others mill about, washing and eating and discussing strategies, “we need a source of water. They can’t expect to kill us by dehydration, right? There must be something, somewhere.”

“We’ll keep looking,” Clarke says, resting her head on her knees. “It’s our only option, short of waiting on our sponsors.”

He doesn’t say anything, the conversation dawdling to an end. It’s an extremely predictable conversation between two extremely predictable tributes. Clarke wonders what the world thinks as they watch them; wonders what he’s not saying because of the cameras; wonders how many pointless conversations two people can have before they hit something real. How many games they have to play. How many lives they have to take. How many days till they can be free.

It’s a heavy thought for a heavy game. Bellamy doesn’t say anything else, either.

-:-

Things look up, and then they look down. Jackson sends them down a spile to tap into tree trunks where they can get water. They all almost die, several times, mostly by the gamemakers’ hands. Clarke wonders what Jaha’s doing, up in his ivory tower. Wonders if he remembers the son he lost, back when he lived in the Districts.

She remembers Wells, sees him in every inch of the arena, tattooed onto leaves and the sands of the beach and in the cannons as they ring throughout the air. Eight, nine, ten. It’s been two days, and the game is dwindling down – or it’s heating up.

One day, after a particularly harrowing encounter with some jabberjays where she had nearly died trying to rescue her mother, they run into Anya of District Seven, covered in blood with a spear in her hands and two boys from two different districts trailing behind her and coughing up blood.

“What’s going on?” Clarke asks, her knife aimed at Anya’s heart. Behind her, Octavia notches an arrow into her bow, and Bellamy raises his dagger. “Why are you here?”

Anya ignores her, focusing in on Raven. “I got them,” she says with a laugh that sounds a little mad. “She wanted them, didn’t she? I got the boys.”

Her eyes slant in on Octavia, who nearly stumbles backwards from the intensity. “I got them for you, Mockingjay,” Anya says, jerking her head towards the boy. “Hope you’re happy.”

Octavia rushes forward towards the boys – Monty of District Five and Jasper of District Eight, she recognizes now, through the blood coating their faces – as Bellamy and Clarke turn to stare in confused demand at Raven. She raises her hands and walks towards Anya.

“Thanks, Anya,” she says, and Miller shoots Clarke a look before he and Finn go to help Octavia. “Where did you find them? And what happened?”

Anya rolls her eyes. “Found them in the forest,” she explains, stomping out towards the water and wading in up to her waist. “Running from some careers. Next thing we know, the sky is raining blood.”

“Raining blood?” Clarke asks, turning to look at Monty and Jasper, then back at Anya. “How did you get out? And why did you come here?”

“Oh, to join the great and fearsome alliance of Districts One and Twelve, of course,” Anya says bitingly, managing to sound disparaging even as she splashes water on her face to rinse herself of the blood. “And Three,” she acknowledges with a nod towards Raven and Finn. “But mostly Twelve. Octavia wanted to ally with them, did she not?”

“She did,” Raven says, glancing over her shoulder at the other five, then at Bellamy and Clarke. “Good thing you’re here now, then. We need to figure out how to beat this forest.”

Raven,” Clarke says pointedly, “we can’t have an alliance this big. It’s not practical.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Anya calls out before Raven can answer. “Half of us will be dead soon enough. My bet’s on the boy wonders over there.”

“Yeah, Jasper’s not looking too hot,” Bellamy mutters, watching Jasper stumble around as Finn and Miller try to steady him.

Clarke presses her hands to her face, all of a sudden entirely too overwhelmed to deal with anything. “Bellamy…what’s your plan here? Is there a plan here? Or are we just wandering around blind?”

He doesn’t answer for a moment, trading a look with Raven that sets her on edge, before he finally says, “There’s a plan. Look, we need them. Octavia wants them, which means – ”

“We do what Octavia wants,” Clarke finishes, watching Octavia as she helps wash the blood of the boys. “She’s the mockingjay.”

Bellamy leans closer and says, “That’s always been my only plan, Clarke. Keep Octavia alive.”

“Whatever the cost,” Clarke agrees. He nods, touches her arm, and heads off towards his sister. Clarke stays behind and watches them, watches Anya and Raven, watches the sun set. Watches the world shift, little by little, in tiny pieces all around her. Another tribute dies that night, but not one of theirs.

-:-

It’s not easy, adding Anya and Monty and Jasper to their group. It’s especially not easy when Jasper keeps muttering something about clocks, and Monty thinks it means something, and Octavia won’t leave their side, and Clarke is tired, she is so tired of fighting, but she continues anyway.

Murphy tries to attack them again, and this time, Bellamy kills him. He’d lunged for Octavia, and Bellamy drove a knife through his heart.

The cannon rang.

“I’m sorry,” Clarke says, because it’s maybe the only halfway-polite thing to say, after that, as the helicopters take Murphy’s body away and Bellamy sinks to his knees in the sand and closes his eyes.

“Don’t be sorry,” Bellamy mutters. “I’d do it again.”

And he would. They all would. That’s what the Games do, they take children and shape them into killers. Clarke knows this, but she sits down besides him and cleans his knife anyway.

“How’s Octavia doing?” she asks him, looking over her shoulder to where Octavia is sitting with Jasper and Raven, her face hidden by her hands.

“She’ll survive,” says Bellamy, not following her gaze. “It’s not the first time.”

He doesn’t say the second part of the statement: It won’t be the last.

“Bellamy, we need to do something,” she says after allowing them a moment of peace and silence. “An alliance this big can’t sustain itself for long. Is Anya part of your plan?”

He shrugs, tossing a pebble out to sea. “Sort of. I don’t know, Clarke. It’s hard to remember plans in here. It’s hard to do anything in here except fight.”

She nudges his shoulder. “But you have one, Bellamy. I know you do. I believe in you.”

Bellamy snorts, looking down at his hands. “You might not want to put that much faith in a killer, Clarke.”

“We’re all killers,” she says softly, like he doesn’t already know this. “And we all need you. Don’t back out on me now, Blake.”

He half-smiles at her. Out here in the arena, where every dawn brings with it new deaths, where everyone’s edges are blurred and distorted by blood and bloodshed, it’s not a lot, but it's enough.

-:-

The way it works is, afterward, when the cameras are flashing and the lights are blinding and they’re asking you about the things they saw on national TV, you can only remember pieces of conversations, flashes of people’s faces, quiet words out of context in the jumble of your mind. Clarke only remembers a few, out of all the long hours she spent with the members of the alliance, but she likes to think she remembers the important few.

Miller, one night, asks her, “Do you ever wish we hadn’t volunteered, that first time?” because most District One tributes are volunteers, and they had both been young and reckless once, before the arena.

She remembers the screams of the jabberjays that sounded like her mother; she answers, “Every day,” and he understands. He’s maybe the only one who does.

Anya, a few hours into dawn, saying, “Hadn’t thought you’d take this fight, Princess,” and the nickname itches at her like a rash on her skin. It’d been coined during her games, and everybody had picked it up, but it had started to seem less and less honest as time went on. These days, she feels more like the villain than the princess of the story.

“I believe in District Twelve,” she mutters to Anya, an echo of her interview, except this time District Twelve doesn’t mean the district itself. It means Bellamy and Octavia, standing out in the ocean in front of her and Anya, talking in low voices. The revolution sitting on their skin. Fire and ash and dreams.

“Don’t we all,” Anya laughs, offering her a sprig of berries. “Do you really trust them?” Her voice sounds more like she’s testing Clarke for her answer rather than genuinely worrying. Bellamy looks up from his conversation with Octavia and catches her eye. He doesn’t say or do anything, but she feels the heat of his gaze running right down her veins.

“I do,” she admits, looking sideways at Anya. “Do you?”

“Mm,” Anya says, which is not an answer, but Clarke doesn’t press. “I’d be careful, if I were you. You shouldn’t fall in love with boys on fire.”

Clarke nearly chokes on a berry. Anya looks at her again and leaves before she can scramble to find a retort. “I’m not falling in love,” she murmurs into the empty space where Anya had been. Bellamy glances at her again, but he can’t possibly have heard.

Another time, Octavia kills a tribute who’d tried to attack her and Clarke is the one who finds her. She’s coughing up blood as she sits down against a tree, Clarke wiping off her hands and face and kneeling down next to her, both of them quiet in the evening chill, safe for just a moment.

“Clarke,” Octavia manages through a cough, “why are you helping us?”

Clarke stares at her in befuddlement. “Because – because we’re allies. You’ve helped me. I’m helping you. That’s how alliances work. We watch out for each other.”

Octavia smiles, a little wistfully. “I know that. But why are you really doing this? Do you really believe in us that much? Is it because of – because of Bellamy?”

“I – ” Clarke shakes her head and rocks back on her heels. “It’s not – I just – it’s complicated.” Because Octavia doesn’t know. She knows about the rebellions, about the plan for the alliance, but she doesn’t know what she means to them. What she means to the world. Why they need her alive. “But I do believe in you. You started something, Octavia. You started something big. I believe in that.”

Octavia goes silent, her gaze fixed on the fake horizon of the arena’s forcefield. “I don’t know if I do,” she admits, and Clarke can’t find anything else to say to comfort her, so she just dabs off blood on her cheek and sits with her into the night.

And there are other things she remembers – deaths and killing, the dangers filling the arena, hushed conversations with Raven about whether or not they could trust Anya, or Monty and Jasper, or whether they should split away from the mainland, talking with Monty and Jasper about their plans, or at least, Monty’s plan, hunting for food with Bellamy, not looking at Finn when he tries to catch her attention.

She remembers a lot, but nothing quite so vividly as the moments that stick in the spokes of your soul and linger long after the battle is over. Nothing quite so vividly as the moments in between the madness.

-:-

It turns out Jasper was right about the clocks. And then Finn dies.

Clarke doesn’t remember much about that day, later when they ask her about it, but she remembers this: The arena was a clock, Octavia had said. Then the monkey muttations attacked, then the Career pack. And Lexa of District Two had a spear, and she stabbed it straight through Finn’s heart. He crumpled.

Raven screamed.

That’s all she remembers.

-:-

Monty says, “I have a plan,” but Clarke’s not listening. Her ears are ringing from the cannons, from the screams, from the deaths. She’d killed one of them, Miller another, Anya a third. Only Lexa remained. Finn did not.

His death feels like a thousand knives digging into her heart. She’d loved him, as much as two tributes from the Hunger Games can love each other. Maybe not as much as Raven, his first girlfriend, his best friend, his family. But she’d loved him. Raven’s not at the meeting, and Clarke is, but all she can see is Finn falling, over and over, a thousand times.

It’s not like she hasn’t lost people she loves before. Her father is long-gone. Wells died in her Games. It’s not like Finn is the first. It’s not like Finn will be the last.

It’s not like they were much, beyond a few secret nights, a scandal for the Capitol tabloids, a fissure in her friendship with Raven that took a year to fix. Longing looks over the distance, some scattered conversations, futile wishes into the night. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

She looks around at the table, Monty talking, Octavia listening, Jasper breathing in and out. Miller looking down at the table, Anya surveying everyone. Bellamy – not there, with Raven. Raven – not there. Clarke feels like the world is closing in on her.

“Clarke,” Miller says worriedly, the first to notice when she jumps to her feet. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” she says, voice shaking. “I’m fine. I need some air.”

And she runs.

-:-

Bellamy finds her just as he emerges from Raven’s hideout, his face drawn and darkened, but he looks up when she crosses his path, reaches a hand out to steady her almost on instinct. She’s shaking, though she hadn’t realized until his touch warms the chill running down her spine.

“Are you okay?” he asks, but she has no answer, no lie for him.

“How’s Raven?” she asks, but the look on his face, hopeless and broken, is all the answer she needs. “Let me go, Bellamy.”

“No – no, Clarke, you need to – you need to sit down. You need to breathe. It’ll be okay.” His voice rushes over her in a cascade of comforts, but none of them stick the landing. She’s still shaking. Every time she blinks, she sees Finn, a spear through his heart. Every time she blinks, she sees Wells, a knife through his heart.

And if she closes her eyes for too long, she’ll see all the children she has shot arrows and daggers through; all the deaths she has caused and the deaths she has watched. Charlotte, tumbling down a cliff. Murphy, blood on Bellamy’s knife. Atom, acid fog in his lungs. Seventy five Hunger Games, and this is what it comes down to: children dead and children dying and no victors. None of them are ever victors.

“Clarke,” says Bellamy, a little helplessly, and then he’s hugging her, his body warm and strong and solid against hers. She feels like a little girl, standing there shaking in his arms, burying her head into his shoulder and feeling like the world is crumbling down upon her. She closes her eyes and sees the dead all over again, one by one by one, a parade of the casualties of her life.

She wonders what her mother must be thinking, watching this from the comfort of her home in District One – her daughter, precious and prized and victorious above all, in the arms of a District Twelve boy. The thought of worrying about District alliances and class divisions now, here at the end of it all, is ridiculous enough to startle her out of crying.

“Bellamy, I – ” she begins to say, unsure of what it is exactly she wants to tell him, and unable to get the words out through half-tears and half-laughter, anyway, but then she’s stopped by a figure appearing behind Bellamy’s back.

“Clarke,” says Raven imperiously, walking out into the sunlight and waiting till Bellamy lets Clarke go and turns to face her before continuing, “I need you to help me with something.”

“What is it?” Clarke asks, nervous all of a sudden from the shadows crowding Raven’s face.

Raven smiles slowly, unnervingly. “I’m going to kill Lexa.”

-:-

And she does.

The day of Monty’s plan, there’s a storm. Lightning strikes the big tree, right on schedule with the arena’s clock, but the rain continues afterward, a vicious torrential downpour that leaves them all soaked in their places stationed around the arena, ready to fight. Rainwater soaks into Clarke’s bones, as if the Gamemakers are trying to dampen their spirit, their plans, their will to survive.

She adjusts her grip on her knife, watching Octavia out of the corner of her eye. She knows her part in this war, and she’ll be damned if the Gamemakers can stop it.

Raven appears at her side, out of breath. “Are you ready?”

Clarke glances at her, overwhelmed by the smell of blood. “Raven, did you – ”

“I told you I was going to,” Raven confirms, twirling around her dual knives, both of them stained with Lexa’s blood.

“Did it help?” Clarke asks, genuinely curious.

Raven sighs, lifting her head up so the rain lands directly on her skin. “Not really,” she admits. “I still see him everywhere.”

“Me, too,” Clarke says, looking up at the forcefield. “We’re going to make them pay, Raven.”

“Remember who the real enemy is,” Raven agrees, a bitter smile twisting her lips. She touches Clarke’s shoulder once in goodbye, a comfort for the road ahead, and then vanishes back into the forest to help Monty, leaving Clarke alone with her thoughts and her mission.

-:-

The forcefield comes crashing down at Octavia’s arrow, the world exploding in fire and ash, and Clarke remembers the screams and the feeling of running, running, running, and not much else. Someone tries to attack Octavia, and she stabs her knife into their stomach and leaves them there to die.

This is not a time for mercy.

Octavia screams in the distance; Anya must have reached her to tear out her tracking chip. Clarke keeps running, stopping only when she finds a place to rest so she can do the same, trying not to make noise as she carves her knife into her forearm and digs out the chip.

“You good?” Bellamy asks when she looks up, and she can see his forearm bleeding too. “We have to go, Clarke, the helicopters are here.”

“Octavia?” she asks breathlessly as the two of them run in the direction Monty was staying. “Where are the others?”

Bellamy glances over his shoulder, back where they can barely see the silhouettes of Anya and Octavia in the shine of the fire. Clarke thinks she can see someone else moving there, too, and prays that it’s Miller and not one of their enemies.

“I’m going back to make sure she gets in,” he tells her, and she shakes her head. “Clarke, I have to, she’s my sister. She’s the mockingjay.”

“Miller’s there,” Clarke says, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. “He’ll get her in if Anya doesn’t. You have to trust us, Bellamy. We can’t do this if you don’t trust us.”

He stops in front of the ladder leading up to a helicopter. Monty’s gone, hopefully already up there. She doesn’t see any sign of the others. Looking up, she can see Jackson peering down at them from the doorway.

“I trust you, Clarke,” he says, the words quiet and heavy on her shoulders. “I trust you. But she’s my sister.”

And then he’s pushing her towards the ladder, and she can’t even find a goodbye anywhere to call out to him before he disappears back into the jungle, and she’s in Jackson’s arms and she doesn’t know who’s alive out there anymore and who’s dead. All she knows is she’s alive. She doesn’t know if that’s enough.

-:-

When she wakes up in the helicopter, she’s alone.

The door opens about a minute after she sits up on her bed and debates how many weapons in the room she can grab before she remembers that she’s not in enemy territory anymore.

“Clarke,” says Jackson, a look on his face like he has terrible news, with a smile pasted on to cover it up. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” she says, because there’s no other option. “Where is everyone? Who made it? Who’s alive? Jackson, did everyone – ”

He doesn’t have to say anything for her to guess the answer. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “Not everyone did. Jasper died in the arena. Anya, Raven, and Miller were captured by the Capitol. I’m sorry.”

The words don’t register for a moment. “No – Raven – Miller – they’re not – they can’t – ”

“We’ll get them out,” he promises, stepping forward to her bed so he can hug her. “I promise we will. We’re headed to District Thirteen now. We’ll launch a mission from there to retrieve them. They’re not the only victors being held hostage in the Capitol.”

Clarke feels her blood run even colder. “Bellamy – Octavia – are they – ?”

“No, they’re here,” he rushes to assure her. “We got them onboard. Monty, too. They’re safe, Clarke, I promise. And we got your mom from District One. Jaha’s here. We’re safe.”

“Not all of us,” she murmurs, feeling small as she looks down at the floor of the room. “Why is Jaha here?” she asks after she comprehends the rest of his mothers. “And my mother, why did you – ”

Jackson smiles, rubbing her shoulders. “We need them for the revolution, of course.”

She remembers him saying the words District Thirteen in a haze, the implication finally settling upon her. They’re going into the heart of the war effort. The Hunger Games were just a backdrop. And she’s still a soldier.

-:-

Jackson leaves her alone with some food and water and words of comfort. “And remember,” he adds when he’s at the doorway, “your mother’s here, for when you’re feeling better. We’re in the main room.”

She doesn’t bother acknowledging him. When she finishes eating and gets dressed in clothes that aren’t stained with blood, the first place she goes is not the room her mother is in, but the rooms where the other tributes must be. Where Bellamy must be.

He finds her more than she finds him, out in the hallway with nothing between them but air and no cameras tracking them for the first time since she can remember.

Bellamy,” his name falling out of her mouth like a prayer, “you’re okay – you’re okay – ”

“I’m okay,” he confirms, and she throws her arms around him, shivering with relief and delight, the first two emotions that aren’t fear and confusion that she’s felt in far too long. “I’m okay, Clarke. We’re – we’re okay.”

And they are, they are. For one moment, they’re okay, and the world outside the helicopter doesn’t exist at all. Clarke squeezes her eyes shut and presses her face into his collarbone, and for the first time, she doesn’t see Wells. She doesn’t see Finn. She just closes her eyes and breathes.

“How’s Octavia?” she remembers to ask as soon as they part, Bellamy’s hands still on her arms like she’s his lifeline. “Is she – has she woken up?”

“Not yet,” Bellamy sighs, dropping one hand to run it through his hair. “They say she should wake up soon, though. I’m sure we’ll all know when she does.”

 Clarke sends him a questioning look, and he grimaces.

“The Capitol got Lincoln, Clarke. Because – because of Octavia. When she finds out he’s not here…”

He bows his head until his forehead presses against hers, his eyes closed and his breathing uneven. Clarke slides her hands up to his chest, holding him still and steady.

“We’ll get him back,” she promises, her fingers curling into his shirt in determination. “They have Raven, too, and Miller, and Anya. And – and they killed Jasper. They killed Finn. We’ll get them all back, Bellamy. All of them.”

The words sound more sure as she goes on, rising in fury and grief and terror. All her life, she has lived in fear of the Capitol. If she’s going to be a soldier now, she’s going to be a victorious one.

“Clarke,” he murmurs, and she looks up in time to see something shift and flicker over his face, an expression she can’t decipher, part of the puzzle that is Bellamy Blake, a mystery she’s been solving since she first saw him on national television volunteering for the Hunger Games. The boy in front of her is not the coal-and-fire prince of District Twelve, not the spark that lit a revolution, not the fire rushing through the districts, not anymore.

The boy in front of her is ashes and soot, broken down and scattered in the arena, in her veins, in Octavia’s tears, in the rebellions rising throughout their world. Bellamy Blake has been on fire all his life, and this is the first time she’s seeing him not aflame.

He looks beautiful, and he looks wrecked.

Clarke lifts herself up onto her feet and presses her lips to his. He tastes like war, but he kisses her back, gathering her close in his arms until she feels like every nerve in her body is on fire from his touch. It seems to last forever, and then hardly at all.

“We’re going to win this war,” he says softly when they part, only a breath between their lips. “We’re going to destroy them.”

She doesn’t doubt him for a second. “I believe in you, Bellamy,” she says, knowing this is what it all leads to. She doesn’t know what they’re going to find in District Thirteen, but she knows she’d been right, all those lifetimes ago, back in the common room when he’d stopped her with a hand on her wrist.

Bellamy Blake was starting a war, and he needed her. And he needs her.

Clarke leans up and kisses him again. One day, she imagines, she’ll kiss him and he won’t feel like a battlefield.