The day after they return from the mountain, all hell breaks loose.
Clarke is gone and Abby glares at him, spits fiery malice his way, accusations he can’t bring himself to defend against. Kane speaks calm, quiet words to her then turns his gaze on him, nods and sends him away.
Raven asks why he didn’t go after her, rolling her eyes and sitting up straighter on her cot. You could have stopped her, you know you could have. She is right. The right string of words, another plea with words clogging in his throat. A pull on her hand. She might have stayed.
Distance and time the only cure for the monster Clarke believes she is.
She had spent the eight hour walk back to camp stoically silent. Eyes barely lifting from the ground, watching her every step. When she looks at him outside the gates, her eyes filled with ghosts Bellamy is all too familiar with. It stings a little bit that sharing the burden does not lessen the pain she feels. Two hands were on that lever, and yet only one of them remains.
When Octavia sits in the empty space next to him over dinner, he gives her the news and she remains impassive. Her mouth in a tight line as the fire flickers in front of her face, shadows dancing over her features. Her eyes scrubbed clean of the black paint she had worn only hours before.
Octavia lives on the boundary between everything. Between the Ark and the Grounders, between the sky and earth. She is neither and both at the same time, and he can see the heartache that causes her. She operates in binaries, in black and whites. She says she doesn’t care if she ever sees Clarke again.
Only two weeks ago they had embraced, heads pulled together, smiling and both glad the other still alive. He furrows his brow, silent questions forming in his eyes. Before he can verbalise them, Octavia vacates her seat and stalks away from him.
Kane corners him one evening, asks why he lives on the edge of camp, spends his time doing odd jobs, on the periphery of the society they are trying so hard to rebuild. Bellamy doesn’t tell him that this is all he knows how to do. All his life, he never had a choice in who he is, who he would become. The ground is his maker and his destroyer. Kane swipes a hand through his hair, tells Bellamy this is the beginning of a new chapter. The next instalment of our people. You should help write the next chapter. You story needs to be told by history.
You are a hero.
Ironic, really. He killed over 300 people in the mountain but Kane says he is a hero. Bellamy pulled a lever and watched their skin bubble and blister until the light died in their eyes. Children and families and friends (oh, Maya). He saved his people, he did his duty, but he cannot let himself be called a hero. He is nothing more than a janitor with a selfish streak and a saviour complex. Bellamy protects what is his.
But he pulls on the uniform and picks up the gun and does his duty. If this is how he keeps his people safe, he will do it. If this is how he keeps his promise, he will not refuse.
The days are long and gruelling. Earth terrain harder than the corridors of the Ark. (He knows this better than all of them, of course. An extra month of the ground ahead of them helps). Target practice, 14 hour patrols, scavenging parties. Up before dawn and asleep well after dark. They supervise cabin buildings during the summer, wooden panels going up and up, making kitchens and meeting halls and dormitories. The criss cross fence around the camp is moved, extending outward to envelop the new dwellings. O patches him up after he gets in to a fight with an angry boar. Bloody gash running up the length of his thigh. He doesn’t mind it so much.
Every scrape and every bruise and every ache is penance for something. A punishment for the awful things he cannot ever seek redemption for. The sin too big, the cost too high. People are dead because of him. The body count scares him and some night he wakes, eyes snapping open in the pitch black of his tent, breath ragged and pulse jumping in his neck because he sees their faces and hears their screams and they are dead. His selfishness their executioner.
Octavia spots the silvery pink line on his forearm made by Maya’s blade. She asks where it came from over breakfast. He lies.
He has more nightmares. These consist metal collars scraping at his neck, burning liquid sprayed on to his skin, waking up in tiny cages. Of being dragged in the air by his ankles, a sharp stinging in the side of his neck as his world goes black. On those nights he sleeps fitfully. Lincoln eyes the dark circles under his eyes wearily the next day.
Octavia does not ask again until her birthday. 18 years old and she is still here, she is solid against him and smiling. She is not floating out in empty space like their mother.
They toast to their continued endurance. Octavia gets a little carried away, Jasper handing her drinks throughout the evening. He still glares at Bellamy when he passes him. O saunters up to him, eyes glassy from the drink her hand and a lazy smile on her lips. She grabs his wrist and points at the twisted skin on the underside of his forearm. She says Lincoln told her what happened to during his time in the mountain. He has a lump under his skin in the same place. None of the nightmares are as painful as the anguish in his sister’s features.
He looks down, clenching his jaw. He wants to save her from this.
His silence is his tell. A tear slips down his sister's cheek, her eyes still glassy but for an entirely different reason. She murmurs Clarke’s name, he tilts his head in question.
It’s not Clarke’s fault, he tells her. It was his idea to go to the mountain. His choice. It was so long ago now, and Clarke has been gone for half a year. She can’t be angry at her for this anymore. But Octavia snarls, rips her hand away and raises her voice. She says when Clarke arrived in the village she walked right past her. Didn't say a single word about the missile and left the people of that village to die. Left her to die.
He feels hot and cold and thinks he might be sick. Gravity feels a little less strong. It is not nightmares which keeps him awake that night.
They make the journey to the Sea Clan, are greeted by Lincoln’s childhood friend, Luna. She is tall and willowy, braids in her hair and a knife strapped to her thigh.
He spends two weeks with the Sea Clan. Octavia and Lincoln stay together in the wooden cabin opposite his.
He stays alone.
The night before they are to leave to return to Camp Jaha, the people of the village have a celebration for their new found trade alliance. Large spit roasts hangover fires, there is dancing and music and cups spilling over with some sort of alcohol. It stings the back of his throat. The edges of his world go blurry.
The night moves on, singing changes to stories, eyes glued to speakers weaving history and fiction together. The seams of the world blend. He does not know enough about this world to know what is true and what is not.
The stories change. The Grounder people around him talk of Klok Kom Skai Kru reverently, hushed tales around their campfires of the girl who fell from the sky, roams the earth and conquered the evil underground. In their stories she is mythic. She is brutal. His chest aches.
They’re not necessarily wrong. Clarke is all of those things, after all. But knowing who she was, even for such a short amount of time, it is easy to roll his eyes and divorce the picture they paint of this martyr girl of legend from the teenaged medic from Alpha Station with a permanent frown and pretty blue eyes.
A month after they return, he is out on patrol and isn’t watching his step. He marches forward and his ankle falls down a badger sett. It’s swollen and purple and Abby thinks it is broken. She wraps it and tells him to keep his weight off of it. She looks for something to give him for the pain, but he bats her hand away. He can bear this. She shouldn’t waste resources on him.
He goes to leave, Raven’s old crutch under his arm for support when she tells him it is Clarke’s 19th birthday in a week. He looks at the floor and swallows hard. Clarke has been gone for 10 months. She is gone and isn’t coming back. He wishes Abby could know this too.
Clarke’s birthday comes and goes. He finds a dog-eared book in a box of supplies retrieved during a scavenging patrol. He blows the dust off and slips it in to the large pocket of his cargo pants. After his shift, he limps the path to Abby’s tent and leaves it on the table next to her cot.
Clarke does come back though. Eventually.
Bellamy sits with Raven and the engineer, listening to them bicker over the schematics diagram of the new water filtration system. He’s half way through a bowl of berries and nuts when a shout floats over them. The guards dotted around the camp straighten. Those on duty lift their guns, make a beeline for the person who called out. They haven’t seen an uninvited Grounder near these parts since the siege of the mountain.
The figure in the distance takes form, creating over the hill and then he feels like the air has been ripped away from his lungs.
Because it’s Clarke.
Clarke with the golden hair and freckle above her lip. Clarke who frowns more than she smiles. Clarke who performed surgery on a boy with no anaesthesia during a thunderstorm. Clarke, the girl who pulled a lever and brought down the mountain.
Clarke who left his sister in a village to die.
Her hair is shorter than before, lighter on the ends and curling around her face. Freckles smatter her face where there were none before. When she approaches him, her mother at her side, her eyes do not swim the way they had the last time he saw her. He feels the ghost of her kiss on his cheek.
Clarke is mostly silent, lifts the edges of her mouth in a smile when she catches his gaze.
“Hi”, she says.
“Hi”, he returns.
It is not the same as their last reunion here.
The weeks following her return, he curses his ankle into oblivion because he cannot get out of the camp. He cannot leave on day trips for supplies, or accompany O and Lincoln on an emissary mission to a nearby Grounder clan. Everywhere he turns, Clarke is there. At breakfast she sits in his eyeline, pushing her hair over her ears as she chews on a piece of jerky. Some of the younger kids from the Dropship Camp sit near her, asking questions of her travels and she obliges them with tales of mountains and the ocean. She glances over at him before disappearing in to the clinic. They have not talked since her return.
He feels sick when she looks at him.
She left and found herself again. She left and fixed herself, became whole again. But he feels just as broken as before she left.
He is still a murderer.
He was not enough.
The people of the sea walk through the gates of the camp, eyes wide at the silver metal of Alpha Station reaching in to the sky. Kane proposes a toast to their guests that evening, they raise their cups. The festivities stretch long in to the evening, and he finds himself surrounded by his friends and feels a warmth low in his stomach.
He doesn't hear Clarke slide up to him, only becomes aware of her presence when he knee knocks against his. She sits to his left, sharing his log, metal cup in hand.
“I’m sorry I took so long to come back.” Her voice is so low he barely hears her speak. His throat bobs as he swallows thickly. He’s not mad at her for being away for so long. Not when he knows all the things she has done. He’s not.
“I had to stay away. I couldn’t be here. But I’m ready now.”
He licks his lips. “I’m glad you’re back.”
Clarke smiles brightly at him and he has to turn away because he feels like he’s breaking. He’s missed her so fucking much and now she’s here, leg pressed against his own, fucking beaming at him.
He catches Octavia’s eye from across the patch of grass they are gathered around, gaze flicking over to Clarke and back to Bellamy with a frown on her lips. He sighs.
The rest of Luna’s visit is spent in strategy meetings. She tells off the whispers from the north – murmurings of the Ice Nation moving against the Southern clans again now the alliance of the twelve clans is no longer in effect. As an ally of the Sea Clan, they are bound to come to their aid should they need it.
Bellamy spends twelve ours sitting in on talks with the Guard and the Council, he leaves the meeting hall after dusk and heads to the cantina for something to eat.
As he makes his way back to this cabin, Clarke falls in step beside him. She slows her gait to allow for his slight limp – his ankle is mostly healed now but he’s still not up to full speed.
“So I hear we might be going to war again.” She says it flippantly, as if they’re discussing which type of jerky tastes the best (boar, always boar) and not the potential decimation of their entire civilisation.
“You heard correctly.” He answers, feeling his jaw ticking in annoyance.
“I thought instead of waiting to be invaded you should send an emissary to the Ice Nation and see if they’d be open to another trade agreement. We have access to a lot more resources than they do down here and-”
He cuts her off. “That’s not your job anymore, Clarke.”
She flinches. Eyes clouding over before she rearranges her features, settling on steely determination rather than the flicker of hurt he glimpses for no more than a second
“I know that, Bellamy. Jesus. I was just thinking that-”
“Well don’t just think. You left and we dealt with it so you can’t come back and try your hand at politics again. You can’t tap out and expect everything to go back to normal again when you get back from your sojourn by the ocean.”
He regrets the words they moment they leave his tongue. He’s lashing out because he’s tired and hungry and still can’t quite figure out what he feels towards Clarke anymore but it doesn’t matter. She blinks once, twice. Swallows down the glassiness of her eyes before she whirls around and sets off in the opposite direction, tension radiating off her shoulders.
She disappears in to the medical hut and he breathes out.
You won’t be by yourself she’d told him once. He wants to kick himself. How did they go from that to this? From being each other’s first port of call to clipped words and glares across the camp ground?
He doesn’t begrudge her the time she needed to heal, he knows it was the right decision. Without that time away, Clarke was on course for complete and utter destruction. But without her? Everything has shattered. Parts of him falling away with every sleepless night, every nightmare of the mountain and of what they did to its people. Clarke once told him she believed in second chances. He’s not sure if he does and it frightens him. She avoids him for another week, lips pulled tight and eyes trained straight ahead when he enters her periphery. Abby eyes them closely when he comes in to get his ankle wrapped, but stays quiet.
The days grow colder, winter blowing across the camp for a second time. Grass crunches under foot and breath rises in spirals. Last winter had been brutal, but the new cabins built over the summer help ease the sting of the winter air.
A patrol goes out one morning and doesn’t come back.
A rider appears at the gates of Camp Jaha with a message from the Trigedakru. The Ice Nation has infiltrated one of their villages, looking to gain ground whilst the southerners suffer through winters they are not prepared for.
They will be next.