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Clarke thinks it’s a good idea, at first. Or rather - she thinks it’s the best idea she’s likely to manage any time soon.

 

The way she sees it, this is her only choice. She’s a woman, so she can’t very well chase after Bellamy and tell him outright how she feels. And anyway, even if she did, she’s quite convinced he hasn’t noticed her as a young lady so it would be a waste of her time and effort. She needs to make him notice her, to make him realise she is eligible and desirable. And she has decided the way to do that is by making him jealous. By having another young gentleman pay attention to her - fawn over her, even - and make Bellamy realise just what he’s missing.

 

She hopes it will work. Miller was optimistic, when she suggested the scheme to him - although she didn’t tell him exactly which gentleman she was hoping to attract the attention of, naturally. That would be mortifying. She’s simply incapable of admitting to anyone - even her good friend Miller - that she’s fallen pathetically in love with her best friend’s big brother, the one gentleman in town who will never notice that she’s an eligible young lady. And it doesn’t help that Miller is somewhat close with Bellamy in his own right, too. Clarke feels herself wincing at the sheer thought of the two of them gossiping about her pathetic heart behind her back.

 

No. They wouldn’t do that. Bellamy is a good man - that’s why she’s in love with him. And Miller is the last man who would ever criticise anyone for falling in love with the wrong person. Clarke is one of the few people in the world who know that Miller is in love with another gentleman, a Dr Jackson, and she’s honoured that he trusts her with that most dangerous secret.

 

So it’ll be fine. There’s no chance of Miller betraying her, or guessing that it’s Bellamy she is pining for. Tonight, at the MacIntyre ball, Miller will dance half the night with her and stare at her the rest.

 

And Bellamy will notice, and suddenly realise that she’d make him the perfect wife.

 

…….

 

Clarke dresses carefully for the dance which she hopes will change her life. She wants it to be plausible that Mr Miller might be falling over himself to dance with her, and wants Bellamy to find her in fine looks if he should happen to notice her existence.

 

No. That’s not quite it. He does know she exists - she’s convinced of that much. He’s very kind to her, always asks after her painting, and gave her a gift of sugared almonds last month for no apparent reason.

 

But he doesn’t know she’s a woman. She’s not just a girl any more, but she’s worried he still sees her simply as his younger sister’s friend. He’s never said anything flirtatious to her at all, as far as she can tell. He only ever talks to her familiarly, but without any hint of romantic interest.

 

She’s feeling almost optimistic, though, by the time she arrives at the ball with her parents. She knows she has never looked better. She will find Miller waiting inside, presumably, and they’ll dance the first set together. She supposes they ought to make a point of laughing and smiling together, too - isn’t that what a couple in love would do?

 

Excited - almost eager - she bustles through the door. She greets the MacIntyres as briskly as politeness will allow, determined to get started with her plan.

 

Only then she walks into the ballroom, and can’t see Mr Miller anywhere.

 

She tries to keep calm. She tries not to be too disappointed. Perhaps he’s simply running late. They can always dance the supper set together instead of the first - but really, she thought it would look better if they danced both. And anyway, if he doesn’t manage to make good on their plan tonight, there will be other chances. They could try again next week at -

 

“Clarke?”

 

She turns on the spot, startled. There are only two young gentlemen in Town who are so well acquainted with her family as to make free with her Christian name. One of them is Miller, and as she’s already established, there is no sign of him here.

 

The other is Bellamy himself.

 

“Bellamy. Hello.” She tries her hardest to compose herself, pasting on a bright smile.

 

It’s difficult, though - not because she’s not glad to see him. Obviously she is. But this wasn’t the plan, damn it. The plan had her laughing on Miller’s arm and making Bellamy jealous, not her flustered and alone at the edge of the dancefloor.

 

“I’m here to dance the first set with you.” He says, tone level, as if that’s something she ought to take in her stride. “Miller isn’t well, and he said he promised to stand up with you. So here I am, taking his place.”

 

She blinks at him, stunned. Bellamy never dances with her. He’s never even offered to dance with her, not once in the two long years she’s been out in society. Yet here he is, now, talking about this as if it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

 

“You don’t have to. I don’t know what favour Miller called in but - really - it’s fine. I know you don’t like to dance with -”

 

“Really - I don’t mind. I mean - I would be delighted if you would do me the honour of this dance.”

 

“You would?” She asks, eyes narrowed. He doesn’t look very delighted about all this.

 

“Yes. I would.” He reaches for her hand without further ado, gets on with leading her into the midst of the dance floor. “And I understand I am to dance the supper set with you, too? Miller said something about a scheme you two had cooked up together.”

 

Clarke laughs, too bright and brittle. “No - no, it’s nothing. Nothing at all for you to worry about. Please - you’re under no obligation to waste your evening with me.”

 

He frowns at her. “I’m not sure about that. It sounded quite important. Miller said something about a gentleman - apparently you are trying to make someone jealous? If it’s really so important to you I think I should help you out.”

 

Another forced laugh. “Please - it is nothing. You know we ladies have our silly schemes. You really shouldn’t trouble yourself.” She says, because isn't that what most men would want to hear, at a time like this?

 

“No. I refuse to believe that. You are simply incapable of doing anything silly - of that, I am quite convinced. It’s not your way.”

 

She wants to melt into the floor. She - Clarke Griffin, confident and argumentative and really rather self-possessed - genuinely wishes the ballroom floor would rise up and swallow her.

 

“Believe me, I have been quite silly on this occasion.” She mutters.

 

“No - come now. It’s not so bad as all that. Let me tell you from the viewpoint of a gentleman - this jealousy scheme could work. I know that - ah - sometimes I am prey to jealousy and such selfish, possessive feelings. So, if I may speak for my sex, I think there is hope for this scheme of yours. Tell me - who is the lucky gentleman?”

 

“What?”

 

“Whose interest are you trying to attract? I think I must know if I am to play my part as well as possible. We must make sure we are always convincing when we pass him in the dance. And perhaps I might take him aside in the card room later for a few words about your enchanting company.”

 

She would laugh at that, if the situation were not so heartbreaking. Her enchanting company. Even when he’s acting, and lying, and putting on a show, Bellamy cannot so much as pretend that there is anything beautiful about her, anything which makes her attractive as a woman. Even then, the best he can come up with is some vague compliment about her company.

 

In fact - he’s so uninterested that he’s committing himself wholeheartedly to this scheme of helping her catch some other man’s eye.

 

“It’s Prince Roan.” She lies through her teeth, picking the name almost at random. Lots of other young ladies like Prince Roan. He’s something of a rake, all brooding good looks and a mysterious past. Apparently he is the prince of some kingdom to the north, but Clarke isn’t at all sure that’s the truth.

 

Silence follows her announcement. She’s not sure whether that’s because Bellamy is judging her for her supposed taste in men, or whether it’s because they are both absorbed in the task of taking their places in the dance, bowing and curtseying to the other couples in their set.

 

“Prince Roan?” Bellamy echoes, at last, just as the opening chords of the dance are striking up.

 

“Prince Roan.” Clarke confirms, with a careful curtsey.

 

With that, the dance begins.

 

That’s a relief, in many ways. It’s an old fashioned country dance, with couples separating and rejoining, dancing with other partners in between. That’s a good thing, today, Clarke thinks. It gets her away from the strange look on Bellamy’s face, from his strange reaction when she mentioned Prince Roan. 

 

And actually it gives Bellamy plenty of chances to practise watching her with a lovesick stare. He really does seem to have thrown himself into this act wholeheartedly. She doesn’t know what to make of it at all - he’s so quiet that it feels strangely cold, when she’s accustomed to his talkative warmth. But he’s certainly perfected a certain mournful, almost tortured expression.

 

For perhaps a quarter-hour it goes on like this. Bellamy stares, and breathes, and dances, and does very little else. Clarke does her best to laugh and smile, because that’s what she would do if she was in love.

 

She is in love, of course, but she doesn’t feel at all like laughing, just now.

 

She can’t believe this is her first dance with Bellamy. She’s devastated, honestly. This is not the fairy tale romance she wanted. She’s been in love with this man for as long as she’s known what love is, and finally she’s dancing with him, and he’s set on utterly ignoring her.

 

She wants to weep, but knows she must put on a smile.

 

At last she decides enough is enough. Bellamy has been a close friend of her family for years. She has known him since before she was out. He and his sister are not near neighbours to the Griffins, not quite like the Millers are. But she’s visited his townhouse to see Octavia more times than she can count. So it’s absolutely absurd, she thinks, that they are suddenly dancing together in silence.

 

“Have you had a pleasant week? I believe I have not seen you since I came to tea with Octavia last Thursday.” She tries.

 

Bellamy only grunts.

 

“Do you enjoy this kind of dance? I must own, I prefer a traditional country dance to a waltz.” She offers, next time they meet in the dance.

 

“I like to waltz.”

 

Well, then. That’s some small shred of progress.

 

“Do you? I don’t believe I have ever seen you waltz.” She persists as gallantly as she can, growing somewhat desperate. “Tell me - which is your favourite composer of waltzes?”

 

He doesn’t answer that. Of course he doesn’t. It’s a ridiculous question, not the kind of thing she usually discusses with Bellamy at all. They generally talk about her art, his hunting, or else the books about anatomy or history they have read. Sometimes they talk about shared acquaintances or experiences or events in town.

 

They have never previously dabbled in discussing composers of waltz music, and evidently they are not about to start now.

 

Clarke sighs. She admits defeat with good grace - or at least with the best grace she can muster.

 

“I am sorry, Bellamy. I know you did not truly wish to dance with me. You don’t need to dance the supper set with me - we can even end this one early, if you like. I shall feign a sprained ankle. You are clearly quite bored.”

 

Suddenly he’s looking right at her, his eyes narrowed, his face set firm in a frown. “Sorry - I’m not bored.” He says gallantly.

 

“You are certainly not entertained.” She counters. “You’ve barely said three words to me in all the time we’ve been dancing.”

 

“That’s because I am trying to keep track of your Prince Roan.” He explains, with a nod to where the man in question stands brooding at the edge of the dance floor. “I presume you want me to look particularly adoring whenever we dance past him? Or whenever he is looking? So I am sorry if I have been dull, but I am trying to do what you asked -”

 

“I never asked you to ignore me and put on a show for him.” She catches herself sounding petulant, and tries again. “I mean - it will look odd if we ignore each other for minutes at a time and then suddenly act lovestruck when he is watching. Much better to simply give the appearance that we are enjoying each other’s company throughout.”

 

Bellamy nods, still frowning - but at least it looks like a thoughtful frown, now. “Very well. So you would rather we simply concentrate on each other. Tell me - if you were in love with your dance partner, how would you show it? I know that some ladies like to use their fans and flutter their eyes, but I am not convinced that is your way.”

 

She bites her lip, considers that for a moment before answering. “I suppose you might be right. I think - if I were dancing with a partner I really admired, I would show that with my smile, yes, but - but largely through the way I would talk to them. I would want us to enjoy some lively conversation, rather than trite chatter about the weather or the number of couples on the floor.”

 

“That is your idea of flirtation?” He asks, and perhaps his tone is even slightly teasing. “You would engage your partner in an argument?”

 

“Well - what would you do?” She challenges him. “Would you let your hand linger when you met in the dance? Would you stare at them with a sort of saturnine, brooding look?”

 

He laughs out loud. “Come, Clarke. You know me better than that. I would do all that - whilst trying desperately to make them laugh, too.”

 

That catches her by surprise, honestly. Is that really how he conducts himself around women he admires? She hasn’t often seen him chatting with laughing young ladies, she thinks. She’s seen him look firm-faced and brooding plenty of times, and she’s certainly seen him hold a lady’s hand longer than necessary.

 

But really - she doesn’t think she’s often seen him talk to a debutante or try to amuse or entertain them.

 

She pushes that strange thought aside, tries to gather together the strands of the conversation.

 

“Very well - then we are agreed. We will have more lively conversation. I will laugh at all your foolish jesting, and you will argue with me just the right amount and - and perhaps you may hold my hand longer than strictly necessary.” She suggests.

 

“So you mean - exactly how we would naturally dance as ourselves?” He prompts her, grinning.

 

That floors her for a moment. For a couple of seconds she is scarcely able to comprehend what he just suggested. Is he honestly implying that they are in the habit of flirting already? That the warm, relaxed conversations they so often share are his way of showing her he does notice her as a woman?

 

No. He’s never kept hold of her hand before now. He helped her down from the carriage last Thursday without clinging to her - she remembers it well.

 

She remembers that he let go the moment her toes touched the ground, like he couldn’t walk away fast enough.

 

…….

 

The rest of the dance is better. It’s almost like a normal conversation between the two of them, in fact - except that they happen to touch hands rather often. Even wearing gloves, Clarke finds that the physical contact gets to her, every single time.

 

She can tell why people lose their minds over dancing, now. It’s something she’s never really understood until the last few minutes of this first dance with Bellamy.

 

But when the dance is finished, it gets worse - or perhaps better. When the music dies away, the evening presents her with a new challenge.

 

“I will stay with you between sets.” Bellamy says. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a statement, pure and simple.

 

“You will?”

 

“Yes. Are you engaged for the next set? Should we stand around drinking punch and continuing to make a show of enjoying each other’s company?” He suggests.

 

“I have promised the next set to Mr Collins.”

 

Bellamy frowns. “Very well. Then I suppose I shall stare at you longingly until you are free again. When is our next set?”

 

“Not until supper.”

 

Supper? But that’s half the evening away. I thought we would have at least one more before then.”

 

“The first, and supper, and another one would make three. That wouldn’t be appropriate.” Clarke points out. Three sets is scandalous unless a couple are well and truly engaged.

 

“But isn’t that what you wanted - a staged flirtation taken to quite inappropriate levels? I thought you wanted to sell our love story to Prince Roan.”

 

“Yes. I do. But we can’t dance three sets.”

 

“Then at least let me fetch a drink with you when you have finished dancing with Mr Collins.”

 

“You’re quite the eager suitor. Thank you - very convincing.” Clarke tells him truthfully.

 

A beat of silence. Bellamy nods, slow, still frowning.

 

“Look - here is Mr Collins. Do your best to look sorry to see me go.” She bids him.

 

He does quite a good job of it, actually. She sneaks a glance - just one - over her shoulder as she walks away, and finds Bellamy staring plaintively at her.

 

…….

 

The next two hours of Clarke’s life are strange, to say the least.

 

She doesn’t spend them with Bellamy, for the most part. She spends them dancing with other men, or reassuring her mother in passing that she is fine, thank you very much, and no she does not need a glass of cold lemonade.

 

But everywhere she looks, Bellamy is there. He’s standing by a potted palm, gazing mournfully in her direction. He’s on the other side of the dance floor, but he’s still sending her a warm smile. He even manages to dance a whole set with Miss MacIntyre without ever taking his eyes off Clarke.

 

By the time the supper set approaches, Clarke has come to one certain conclusion - Bellamy is an incredible actor. He has been utterly convincing, this whole evening.

 

Even Clarke herself is on the point of believing he could really be in love with her.

 

No. That’s foolish. He’s just being a good friend, just stepping in on Miller’s behalf. She mustn’t become delusional.

 

All the same, her smile is genuine and her happiness unfeigned as she starts walking towards him to claim the supper set - or to have him claim the supper set, more precisely. She really is having a good time. Whether he’s acting or not, there is something rather uplifting about having her unrequited love treat her so fondly for a whole evening.

 

But then, halfway there, she is waylaid by Octavia.

 

That would be good news, on any other night. And yes, it is remarkable that they haven’t properly spoken so far this whole evening. But Clarke has been so preoccupied with her staged romance that she simply hasn’t had a moment to chat with her friend.

 

“Clarke!”

 

“Octavia! Sorry - I have been a poor friend to you this evening.”

 

Octavia only laughs, eager words spilling from her lips. “No - you have been a very good friend to me indeed! I have never seen my brother so happy. Tell me - how did it happen? How did he finally manage to tell you? Are you engaged already, or only courting? Oh - and please tell me he told you about the blue room?”

 

Clarke blinks at her, stunned. “What do you mean?”

 

A tense, sudden silence. Octavia looks horrified. No - it’s worse than that. She looks like she just made the most unforgivable mistake.

 

That makes it more real, somehow. Those words Octavia said alone would have been enough to imply that there’s something afoot, that she has reason to believe her brother is genuinely attached to Clarke. But Clarke is suddenly much more convinced by Octavia’s own reaction - as if she has just let slip what should have been kept absolutely secret.

 

She gathers herself, tries for some words.

 

“You mean to say he does have some - ah - tender feelings for me?” Clarke asks, awed.

 

Octavia shakes her head. “No. I mean to say nothing. I was - I was jesting. All jesting. All good fun. You know how it is - we could laugh about the idea of becoming sisters.”

 

No. Clarke’s not buying that.

 

“And the blue room?” She prompts her, none too gently.

 

“You like duck egg blue.”

 

Well. Yes, she does, in fact. And she never realised that was significant before now. But yes, now Octavia has pointed it out, she can put together the pieces. Bellamy did redecorate the family sitting room at his townhouse a couple of years ago. And, yes, he did paint it duck egg blue. But it never occurred to her that was significant.

 

She simply thought they had similar taste in décor - and perhaps she fell deeper in love than ever, at that. Perhaps she has allowed herself to dream, on occasion, of what a beautiful household they might share. Even sensible ladies are allowed to daydream once in a while, she believes.

 

No. This is ridiculous. This can’t be happening. It’s simply not possible that Bellamy actually loves her. That he would go around admitting that to his sister, or painting sitting rooms in Clarke’s favourite colour, or that his challenging conversations with her are supposed to be flirtatious.

 

She bites her lip a moment, almost chews on it as she considers the all-important question.

 

“If you believe he is fond of me - why does he never dance with me? Why does he never treat me as he treats other young ladies?”

 

Octavia simply shrugs, apparently unconcerned that the gesture looks unladylike. “He always believed you wouldn’t want to dance with him, that you didn’t see him as an eligible gentleman. I remember I asked him about it, not long after we first came out - and he said that, if he asked you to dance, you would be obliged to say yes, and he wouldn’t wish that on you.”

 

Clarke sighs. She swallows down a lump which tastes slightly like tears, looks up to watch Bellamy walking across the dance floor towards her. He’s beaming widely, looking at her like she hung the stars in the sky.

 

The time for keeping secrets is over.

 

“I love your brother, but sometimes he is an absolute fool.” She mutters, somewhere between exasperated and affectionate.

 

Octavia laughs loudly - too loudly for a crowded, polite ballroom. “I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps you ought to set the record straight?”

 

Clarke nods. She thinks it’s time to do exactly that.

 

She closes the rest of the distance between herself and Bellamy in a dozen brisk strides. She’s looking forward to dancing with him more than ever, now. She still has no idea how she might go about clearing the air between them - she has never tried to ask a man if he loves her before now. But at least she has hope that it is possible, as the music for their next set starts to play.

 

“This sounds like a waltz.” She says, by way of greeting. “I seem to remember you are fond of them?”

 

“I am.” He agrees simply, stepping forward to enclose her in his arms.

 

Well, now. She knows this is how waltzing works. She knows that an intimate embrace is part of it. But really, it does feel more overwhelmingly close than she expected.

 

In a good way, though. It’s the sweetest kind of closeness she has ever known.

 

She’s taken aback, at first, when Bellamy starts talking. They are just starting to sway together as the music begins, and set against that, his sudden flurry of words is quite disorientating.

 

“How should we approach this? Prince Roan is dancing himself so I am not sure he will notice us. Should I hold you closer? That might be more convincing, but I should not like to make your father angry. Should we -”

 

“Bellamy.” She dares to squeeze, just gently, with the hand which is placed on his shoulder. “Please - leave Prince Roan out of it. I would like to enjoy this dance with you.”

 

For a moment, silence reigns. 

 

Clarke dares to peep up into Bellamy’s face and what she sees there doesn’t help her much, either. His expression is unreadable, his eyes wide, his lips slightly parted. She’s known this man quite some time and she has no idea what he is thinking, in this moment.

 

Then again, apparently she’s been missing the point of his stares for years, if Octavia’s words are to be believed.

 

“You - you want to dance with me?” He asks at last, as if the words taste strange on his tongue. “You expect to enjoy it?”

 

“Yes.” She gathers her courage, takes a deep breath. “There’s no one in this room I’d rather dance with.”

 

Bellamy nods seriously. “I see. So is it not truly Prince Roan you were hoping to impress? Is it someone else who is absent tonight? Lord Santiago, perhaps, or -”

 

“Sorry. I misspoke.” She tries again. “There’s no one in this town I’d rather dance with.”

 

All at once, he’s hugging her close. They’re still waltzing, of course, spinning around the room whilst embracing. But Clarke is absolutely convinced that it’s not the done thing to hold a partner this tightly - that Bellamy has ended up here because he wants to embrace her and dance with her at the same time.

 

She can hear him breathing. He’s taking long, laboured breaths - almost shaky, as if trying to keep hold of his composure.

 

“Clarke.”

 

That’s as far as he gets. Just her name, hoarse, his voice cracking on that final K.

 

“Bellamy.” She tries, at least as nervous as he is.

 

They’re on the edge of something, here. She can feel it. Here they are, in the middle of a crowded ballroom, in full view of most of high society. And yet they’re teetering right on the precipice of a very personal confession.

 

At least - she hopes they are.

 

No. It’s fine. They are. That’s the logical conclusion to draw, here, and Clarke is nothing if not logical. Over the course of this evening she has gathered a great deal of evidence to show that Bellamy’s warm friendliness towards her all these years was not entirely platonic.

 

Now they just have to help each other across the finish line.

 

“Clarke - I -” He sighs, tries again. “I don’t know what to say.”

 

“Then I’ll do the talking.” She offers. She’s always told she speaks far too much for a gently bred young lady, so she might as well make the most of it on this occasion.

 

He snorts out a laugh, and she can feel him pressing his face right into the crown of her head. “Perhaps we don’t need any words, at this point.” He suggests.

 

She laughs. “Perhaps not. If you will insist on holding me this closely I think my father will insist upon your marrying me anyway.”

 

“Good. That might make things simpler. I shall call on him in the morning, if that’s alright with you.”

 

“You mean that? You really do intend to marry me?”

 

He laughs, presses a kiss to the crown of her head. Clarke hears a shocked gasp echo right around the ballroom.

 

She doesn’t care. For once in her life she genuinely doesn’t care about acting with some sense. She thinks she can afford to be a little scandalous and foolish, thank you very much, if it turns out Bellamy loves her too.

 

“I’ve been intending to marry you since the day you put your hair up and let down your hems, I think. But I was never sure how to improve the odds of you intending to marry me.” He murmurs.

 

Her turn to embrace him more closely, scandal be damned. Her turn to laugh, and to whisper some words of reassurance against his chest.

 

“I’ve been intending to marry you for quite some time, too. I even cooked up this whole scheme with Miller to catch your eye.”

 

“Yes. I know - or rather, I didn’t know it was for me. I hoped, I suppose. Miller told me there was a gentleman who never danced with you or looked at you flirtatiously who you were very much in love with. I - I begged him to feign illness and let me take his place. I am sorry for the subterfuge.”

 

“It’s quite forgiven. I suppose I should apologise too, but I can’t say I’m very sorry. We are both here now, happier for it.”

 

“We’re going to be the happiest couple in the world. I swear it.”

 

Clarke sighs happily, and she keeps dancing, keeps hugging him close.

 

She’s known Bellamy a long time, see. She knows he’s the most loyal and dependable man, that he stops at nothing to protect the people he cares about. So when he says he swears that they will be very happy together, she believes every word.