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Her Motto "Do or Die"

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In May of 1943, Clarke Griffin skips her graduation ceremony. She doesn’t tell her few friends at school, she doesn’t tell her professors, and she certainly doesn’t tell her mother. The only person who has any warning of her non-attendance is the Master of Ceremonies. (Only because she had been badgered into submitting a formal RSVP.)

Leaving everything and everyone behind in Madison, Clarke Griffin takes the train to Chicago to report for the inaugural spring training of the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League.

For such a grand gesture—and leaving behind the only place she’s ever known has to count as grand—it's not a long trip. Just a few hours aboard the train, and she steps onto the bustling streets of Chicago. Clarke finds that everything feels more anticlimactic than she hoped. Despite turning her entire life upside down, her future is completely uncertain. There are still cuts to be made: there’s no guarantee that Clarke will even make a team. But then, before five months ago, Clarke never would have thought about becoming a professional baseball player.

Before five months ago, Clarke hadn’t picked up her mitt in nearly a decade.

Before that, it rarely had been off her hand. An early love of the game was only natural given a father that played in the majors. Her earliest memories are of playing baseball. Wells would bat, Jake would pitch, and Clarke would learn every little trick a good catcher should know. By twelve, she knew how to frame a pitch and read a batter, how to turn a dropped third strike into an out at one, how to hold onto the ball after getting barreled over by a base runner. Those first twelve years of her life, Clarke and Jake and Wells lived and breathed baseball. After Jake Griffin’s death, though, the game became too much of an open sore: a dead end road to her long gone father. She gave up the game.

And she got on with her life. She graduated high school and went to college. She pursued a degree in art history, as a respectable young woman should, and ignored a fledgling desire to go into nursing. She flirted and made friends, attended luncheons as the daughter of Abigail Griffin and was generally agreed to be a charming girl by everyone who mattered.

Baseball was avoided scrupulously and Clarke did her best to live out her charmed life.

Suddenly, it seemed, it was 1942 and America was at war. Her best friend signed on to pilot fighter jets over Europe. Clarke cried for the first time since her father’s funeral when Wells gave her the news. She furiously asked him how he could do something so stupid.

“Clarke,” he replied, “God knows this country isn’t perfect.” And he knew it wasn’t. “But it does stand for something, and I need to stand for something, too. I need to do something that makes me proud and makes me mean something.” 

He had been so resolute, so self-assured, that Clarke had to accept his answer. Wells shipped out for basic training in Alabama at the end of the year, leaving Clarke to think obsessively over his going. Growing up, Wells had always been outgoing and confident, making friends and charming adults in spite of his color. He constantly was roped into various clubs and activities, but never found something to be passionate about. Now, though, he had found that something to stand for.

The truth of the matter was that Clarke hadn’t stood for much of anything since her father died. She’d gone tacitly along with her mother’s plans for her, becoming a respectable young lady, if rather well educated. Clarke had few illusions about where this path would lead her; she would marry a respectable young man and keep his house. She would volunteer, organize a victory garden perhaps, and eventually become a mother. Little about this life bothered her, but it didn’t excite her, either. She was doing what was expected, not what she wanted.

The last time she actually wanted to do something, she’d been twelve, promising her father she’d match his homerun record one day. So that’s where she started. Luckily, she found her outlet at the start of the new year.

Flyers advertised an open try out come spring to all women interested in joining a professional baseball league. Clarke took it as a sign and got to work.

It was a job and a half even finding her old catcher’s mitt. Her mother had boxed it up in relief once it became clear Clarke’s aversion to baseball was more than temporary. But, once it was on her left hand again, needing just a little bit of oil, it was as if no time had passed at all. Her love for the game came alive.

Clarke ran and threw and practiced every moment possible, just managing to fit her final coursework into her training regimen. Mostly, she trained alone; it was winter in Wisconsin, and no one in their right mind was playing anything but hockey outside. Still, she managed. She even convinced the university’s baseball coach to let her be a practice catcher for the freshman pitchers in winter training to increase her training time.

Coaxing the newbies into improving their technique all while conditioning her own was less than ideal, but it was all Clarke had. The first few weeks, there were plenty of lewd comments thrown her way, especially from the senior members of the team. The mocking dissipated when Myles, her first trainee, pitched a perfect inning to the top of the varsity lineup in a JV-Varsity scrimmage. After that, many of the pitchers sheepishly came to her, seeking advice. She parsed out bits of information she remembered from her father and hoped desperately that he would be proud.

Eventually, Clarke was helping to lead practices, running drills in the infield and hitting grounders, concentrating on her mechanics as much as theirs. She didn’t get to swing big—they practiced in one of the University’s gymnasiums and broken lights or windows would probably get her booted from her post—and every grounder she hit felt hollow when she could remember the way the bat sang as the ball arced off the sweet spot.

She grew strong. Where her back and legs and arms used to ache, by spring Clarke only felt the bright strain of exertion. At night, while preparing for bed, she’d marveled at the presence of hard-won muscle where before there had only been well-bred softness. Whispers started to trail after her, classmates confused and curious at her sudden change in behavior. Ordinarily, Clarke would have been more concerned about her reputation taking a rapid nosedive, but reveling in her strength and skill took precedence.

Still, Clarke worried. All of the training she did with the baseball team did not change the fact that she had hardly played a real game of baseball in a decade. As soon as the snow began to melt, Clarke took to roving the Wisconsin countryside, looking for pick up games she could join. She didn’t often find them, and when she did, the players were welcoming but uncompetitive. These were games thrown together by farm kids on days off from fieldwork.

The closer May 17th loomed, the more anxiety built up, amplifying her nerves and fears of inadequacy.

And it was because she was so worried that Clarke realized something. Yes, things had changed in the past five months. After a decade of living what could generously be called an ambivalent lifestyle, the past semester of training and playing awakened a real desire to compete and to win—yes—but fundamentally, to play baseball. 

It is as she steps onto the train that will take her away from her past, her mother, and her comfortable life of privilege, that Clarke accepts what she’s really doing.

It doesn’t really matter that she’s not attending graduation. She finished her degree and will get her diploma as her mother wanted. It doesn’t really matter that she’s left Madison itself. She could be a housewife anywhere and make her mother perfectly happy.

What she’s really doing is razing her mother’s carefully constructed expectations to the ground. She hadn’t told Abby Griffin her plan. She hadn’t told anyone, even Wells in her weekly letters. If she had, there would have been all kinds of opposition, mostly from her mother who had only loved her husband in spite of his profession. While Clarke was determined, not even she could stand against five straight months of well-intentioned disapproval.

No matter the outcome of this tryout, Clarke knows nothing can ever go back to the way it was, and that feels almost like freedom.

At 11 o’clock, just as the first strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” sound in Madison, Clarke Griffin steps into Kane Stadium and follows the semi-steady stream of women towards the locker rooms. Her hands shaking, Clarke dresses and laces her cleats. The watch on her wrist, her father’s, gets nestled safely in the bottom of her suitcase.

As ready as she’ll ever be, Clarke glances around. She exchanges nervous smiles with some of the other prospects who meet her gaze, amazed by the sheer number of them. Across the room, a brunette with distinctly bronze skin catches Clarke’s eye.

The girl is talking to a small group huddled around her. “So I said, ‘Listen, mister. I’m the best damn shortstop you’re gonna find in California and you don’t wanna take me because my parents are from further south than what you say is appropriate?’”

“You didn’t,” breathes one of her audience, both scandalized and enraptured.

“‘Course I did,” the brunette laughs. The smile remains on her face, but the tilt of her chin conveys a steady challenge to anyone willing to side against her. Clarke decides to keep an eye on the girl throughout tryouts, just to see if she is as good as she says.

Next to Clarke, another brunette sighs, “It’d be great to have her confidence.”

“I’m sure you’ll be great,” Clarke responds automatically.

A dangerous grin spreads across the girl’s face. “You know what? You’re right. I will be great, and you will, too!”

Clarke smiles and sticks out her hand. They shake. “I’m Clarke Griffin, by the way.”

“Octavia Blake. Do you wanna get out there and warm up?”

“I’d love to.” The two make their way out to the field and begin tossing a ball back and forth as the stadium fills with more and more women.

It turns out that Clarke was wise to be nervous. Hundreds of women show up to Kane Stadium in the hopes of making the first-ever professional women’s baseball league. There is only room in the league for sixty of them, though. Strictly, the odds aren’t that great.

At noon on the dot—“Clarke Griffin, in absentia” has just been called out and her mother is looking around in well-bred panic—the tryout officially begins. First, everyone goes on a jog, hugging the ivy-covered outfield walls. It’s not a race, but Clarke makes sure to keep towards the front of the pack. It’s impossible to tell what will be the deciding factor in some of the coming cuts. She sees Octavia nearby and the brunette from the locker room, who’s got “Reyes” printed across her back, is a few paces ahead. Once they’ve made it around the stadium a few times, everyone is split up by position.

Four officials bring the catchers and pitchers out to right field where there are two parallel lines chalked on the grass about forty feet apart. It’s closer than Clarke is used to, but she adapts quickly. There are far more pitchers than catchers, so while Clarke gets to see a variety of talent, she also can’t spare more than a moment to form an opinion on any of them. She focuses instead on doing her job. A good catcher can make even a mediocre pitcher perform well, so Clarke works hard to coax out the best possible performance from each girl who pitches to her.

It’s nearly an hour later and Clarke has asked the young pitcher opposite her for an inside curve ball. The other girl delivers, but the ball curves a little harder than Clarke anticipated. Grimacing, she thinks she might have managed to frame the pitch at the inside corner if the umpire was particularly unobservant, but knows she should have done better.

Her concentration is broken by a snort behind her. “The object is to make everything look like a strike, you know. You’ll have to do better than that if you want to fool any umpire worth his salt, princess.”

Clarke whips around. Most of the officials had stayed over with the pitchers, offering suggestions and advice. The one with the catchers had been pretty quiet in comparison. This is the first time Clarke has heard him say anything to anyone at all. She opens her mouth to protest or say something, but the man’s not even looking at her. He’s glaring towards the infield, where Clarke can see Octavia field a ground ball beyond him. She takes in his tan skin, darkened either by the sun or nature, slicked back hair, and deeply set frown. There’s something about his face that looks familiar, but Clarke hasn’t the slightest clue where she would have seen the man before. Honestly, he’d be attractive if he wasn’t so offhandedly condescending. Indignation begins boiling in her gut. Flinging the ball back to the waiting pitchers, Clarke resolves to ignore him if he won’t even bother to keep his attention where it’s meant to be.

After another rotation through the crowd of pitchers, all the players are given a ten minute break, after which, they are told, there will be a preliminary round of cuts. Anxiety courses through Clarke as she stretches stiff legs and drinks some water. She thinks she did well, though she didn’t have time to actively compare herself to the competition. The problem is that she can’t be sure the official meant to be assessing the catchers had actually done his job. The one interaction she had with the man did not leave her with high hopes.

Looking around, Clarke can’t spot her problem in the knot of trainers and officials conferring in one of the dugouts. Eventually, she finds him talking to Octavia. “Talking” is probably kind considering the frowns on both faces. The man looks intense, leaning into the younger woman, but Octavia holds her own. She wrenches away when he tries to grab her wrist, and stalks away from him. The official seems frustrated, but doesn’t follow. He does run a hand through his hair as he turns, catching Clarke staring. He glares, so she shifts her attention away, thinking, What the hell is his problem? And then, Isn’t he supposed to be with all the other officials?

The thought is soon pushed aside by relief that Clarke has made the preliminary cut. Over half the women who had come out to Kane Stadium that morning depart, leaving a little less than a hundred hopefuls on the field. The outfielders troop back out to the grass, leaving the dirt to the infielders.

Again, there are more pitchers than any other position, but the officials leave one girl on the mound and get the extras to come in as base runners.

“All right,” explains one, though not the man who had named Clarke “Princess.” He’s with the outfielders. “We’re going to do some drills with live runners. Runners, your goal is to advance as far as you can off what we hit. Infield, it’s your job to get as many outs as possible. Once you complete a play, rotate with the next girl in line at your position. Each pitcher gets five throws before she becomes a base runner. Got it?”

A murmur of assent goes up and the drill begins.

Clarke and the rest of the catchers mostly act as coordinators. They can see which runner is leading too far, where to turn a double, and when to end a play. A lot of the runners cross home, but just as many don’t. The drill is pretty tedious, and if anyone were to ask Clarke, she would say it was ineffective. Every turn, the combination of players is essentially random and there is no way to test promising candidates without waiting for her to rotate back through the waiting fielders. But then, Clarke is not the one running this try out and has to deal with sub-optimal coaching strategies.

At one point, Clarke is crouched behind the plate, and the pitcher is taking her own sweet time even as the runner at first edges further and further away from the bag. The pitch finally comes in as the runner leaps towards second. The ball lands in Clarke’s mitt and is in her hand and gone, arcing away towards second, in the blink of an eye. Her throw is true, nesting the ball in the shortstop’s glove just above second base. The runner slides right into ball and glove; she’s out. Clarke lifts her mask and sends a smile out to the fielder. It’s the brunette Reyes, who grins back.

Once the drill is over there is another break and then batting and more running and a few more girls are sent packing. She's one step closer to being a real ballplayer. Finally, they settle into what is not quite a scrimmage. The vast majority of the remaining players wait in the dugout as girls are shifted in and out of positions on the field. If they’re not on the field, they make a loose lineup, waiting for a chance to prove themselves against a real pitcher in a real ballpark.

Every part of Clarke hums when she finally steps up to the batter’s box. She takes a deep breath as she sets herself and remembers how it feels when the bat sings.

She lets the first two pitches go by, the first high, the second in the dirt, but the third pitch is something like perfection. Tracking the ball, time seems to slow. Clarke steps and brings her hands down and then back up over her shoulder, hips turning with the motion. Bat and ball connect and Clarke knows she found the sweet spot. She doesn’t watch where the ball soars past the ivy covered wall in the outfield, just turns her steps around the base path and towards home. Her first home run in years is sweeter than she could have imagined; she just hopes that she gets another taste.

Bellamy Blake is here under duress. He wants that made clear to whichever of Kane’s flunkies is recording this nonsense for posterity. This league is making a joke of the game that he loves more than almost anything. Baseball takes strength and power and dedication. Baseball is a test of skill, teamwork, endurance, and strategy. It’s not just anyone that can pick up a ball and a glove and be a ballplayer.

For Bellamy, at least, baseball might as well be a matter of life and death.

And even if he can grudgingly admit that some of the prospects on the field have got some talent, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re only here as part of some marketing stunt. (It’s no secret that the able-bodied boys of the minor leagues are shipping out of the country in droves. If the trend continues, there won’t be anyone left to play in the minors at all.) Bellamy is pretty sure that’s not a good enough reason to implement this catastrophe. Baseball is baseball. A few years without much of a minor league won’t kill the sport. There’s a war on. It can just be another sacrifice of the American people to the pursuit of liberty, like scrap metal.

The presence or absence of talented women definitely doesn’t change the fact that people will only come to games for the same reasons circus sideshows are so popular. Having actual, living, breathing women who play passable baseball will probably only make matters worse. Kane and the owners would be better off investing in dance troupes or models and sending them out to play ball. At least then everyone would be getting what they expected. Even if it does make a mockery of baseball.

Bellamy hates everything about this sham of a league he’s been coerced into.

Mostly, though, he hates that Octavia wants to be a part of it. Not that she’d told him beforehand, of course, and not that she’ll leave now that he does know. He loves the game, but is acutely aware that he can no longer play it. Bellamy won’t lie and say it doesn’t sting to watch his sister do something he no longer can. Apparently all he’s good for now is a smile and wave at the beginning of a game. A game being played by girls. 

He thinks about his last meeting with Kane while he’s supposed to be observing outfielders. He was lucky he even remembered to go after the night he’d passed. A cab had dropped him off at the foot of the drive, leaving him to find his own way to his former boss. Blearily limping through the hedges of a ridiculously grandiose mansion, it began to become clear exactly how much money Marcus Kane has. Of course, owning at least four teams from the minors to the majors and a wildly successful candy company will do that for a man.

A little bitter at the ostentation, Bellamy finally had stumbled upon the owner of his former team.

“Nice of you to join me, Mr. Blake,” Kane greeted him dryly.

Bellamy nodded and squinted at the man, though he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He hadn’t had a clue what Marcus Kane wanted with him at this point. He’d thought his short-lived stint as the manager of one of Kane’s triple-A teams in Texas had burned his last bridge. At the moment, though, Bellamy was too hungover to even try and puzzle out what exactly he was doing here.

Kane had sighed but launched into an entire speech about Bellamy’s wasted potential as a ballplayer. Bellamy feebly tried to protest that it was only his bad knee that cut short his promising career, but Kane cut him off.

“An injury I believe you sustained after deciding to start a brawl with one of your teammates and falling out of a second story window in the process. The damage from which, I had to pay.”

Bellamy hadn’t been able to offer an argument to that. Mostly because it was all true. He wanted to tell him the kind of filthy insinuations that teammate had made about Octavia after catching a glimpse of the photo Bellamy kept. He would never fully regret beating Atom senseless. What he ended up saying was: “See, sir, I always meant to write and thank you for that, but the doctors wouldn’t let me have anything sharp to write with.” He’d attempted a charming grin, but Kane remained unimpressed.

“You were a good ballplayer, Blake. You were on your way to being one of the best. But now, I need you to head up one of these new girl’s teams.” Bellamy immediately opened his mouth to protest, but Kane continued on regardless. “You’ve still got name recognition, which should be a good for ticket sales. You’ll get up, give the crowd a wave with your hat, and then sleep through the game for all I care.” Seeing the mutinously disgruntled expression on his former third baseman’s face, Kane narrowed his eyes, looking more threatening than a glorified candy man had any right to look. “You owe me and you will do this. From what I hear, it sounds like you need someone to bankroll your evening habits anyway.”

And all right, the fact that Kane knew about Bellamy’s drinking habit was a little mortifying. (It probably counted as more than a habit when nearly every night after hearing that his baseball career was officially over had been spent getting drunker than he’d imagined possible.) But, at the same time, Bellamy was still hungover and in pain and so didn’t feel the shame as deeply as he should have. And it’s not as if his drinking was new information, anyway. He’d started drinking seriously after Octavia refused to visit him in the hospital because he’d gotten there by “defending her honor like this was the Middle Ages.” The longer he drank, the more disappointed in him O became, making him drink more. It was a vicious cycle.

Now, here he is in Kane Stadium, watching what he is pretty sure is going to be the ultimate downfall of the game he loves so dearly. If the war doesn’t end up killing baseball dead, this will.

He’s not even sure why his presence is so necessary. It was made clear that his opinion—and, to be fair, those of the other managers as well—was of the lowest priority in creating the final rosters. All he’s done so far today is snap at a few of the players while he tries not to stomp over to Octavia and pull her off the field, kicking and screaming. It’s the first time he’s seen her for more than a few minutes in months.

Oh, there’s that blonde he’d called “Princess” earlier, just before he’d caught his first glimpse of Octavia. The blonde’s just hit a homer, which even Bellamy can admit is no mean feat. He shakes his head. Girl ballplayers.

He’s out of the stadium and looking for his next drink before she even crosses home.

In the end, or really the beginning, Clarke is signed to the Arkdown Comets. Clarke has never heard of such a place, but it is apparently a small town on the border between Illinois and Indiana, right on Lake Michigan. She’s just glad she won’t be sent back to Wisconsin with the Mount Weather Belles. Being that close to home would make it impossible to avoid her mother, something she plans on for the foreseeable future.

Knowing a phone call would end in tears on either end, Clarke sends her mother a letter with the news. She hopes for forgiveness. Another, happier, letter gets sent to Wells overseas. 

Both Octavia and Reyes, whose first name turns out to be Raven, join her as Comets, along with twelve others. There’s a Trina, a Monroe, and even a girl who swears her Christian name is Fox. Clarke is convinced their team must have been formed based solely on the oddity of their names.

In the immediate aftermath of the team announcements, there are a lot of other important announcements. First, they see their future uniform.

“That’s a dress,” Raven points out baldly.

Octavia, sitting next to Clarke, murmurs, "It's awfully short."

"You're worried? I'm going to have to squat in that thing," Clarke responds huffily.

Other observations and protests are made until a young man with unusually long hair steps forward. “Ladies, I’m Finn Collins and as the head of marketing for this venture, let me say that this is the official uniform of the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League. You wear this when you play or you don’t play at all. Unfortunately, its design is less negotiable than your employment with us.” He smiles, but is clearly serious.

One last protest breaks out: “It hasn’t got pockets! Where am I supposed to keep my cigarettes?”

“Ah, that’s another thing,” Finn Collins declares. “While you play for this league, there will be no cigarettes, no liquor, no men. Our girls will be above reproach, which is why all of you will also attend Charm and Beauty School before the start of the regular season. After that, you will be sent to your new hometown where you will meet your manager and team chaperone. Any failure to abide by these rules will result in dismissal from the league.”

Clarke stops paying attention, but she can feel the annoyance of the women around her. Every girl here came to play serious ball, not learn proper etiquette. There is no way the men in the majors, or even the farm teams, had a Charm School clause in their league contracts. Clarke herself had gone to cotillion when she was sixteen, and though she didn’t mind it, she can’t begin to imagine what sixty hard-edged athletes would look like in Charm and Beauty School.

Two days later and Clarke is glad she didn’t try to imagine it, because everything is better and worse than she could have thought. Nothing could have prepared Clarke for the way that Raven glares when she’s told she’s slurping her tea too loudly, or how Anya, another Comet, nearly knocks another player out over a snide suggestion that she stay out of the sun. Honestly, Clarke can’t fault her teammate, though she’s pretty sure they’ll all hear worse over the course of the summer. It’s lucky Mr. Collins doesn’t see Anya’s outburst, because there is no chance that behavior would be tolerated if they weren’t even allowed to smoke. He attends sessions most days, likely keeping an eye on them for Mr. Kane. More than once, Clarke feels his eyes on her, though she does her level best to avoid eye contact.

Otherwise, the etiquette classes are endlessly dull. Over the course of a week, they are poked, prodded, and posed into some semblance of respectability. Everyone first undergoes a makeover in which they are told how to style their hair, how to apply makeup, and what kind of clothes to wear. In case any of the information imparted is forgotten, each girl is also given her own beauty kit and guide. Clarke knows for a fact that the majority of her teammates will never look at kit or guide again. 

After their appearance is taken care of, they work on their carriage. This involves a lot of walking around with a book balanced on their heads. Then come the exercises in sitting and dancing and even speaking, repeated ad nauseam. As it’s nothing she hadn’t learned in cotillion, Clarke breezes through the exercises. Still, she giggles over their absurdity with her teammates every night. It makes for good team bonding.

Clarke likes the girls on her team, for all of Lexa and Anya's intensity, Charlotte's youth, and Roma's flirtatiousness. Nonetheless, they’re funny and sweet and deeply dedicated to the game. Clarke feels like something of an impostor amongst them. She tries to ignore the feeling. When Monroe asks if Clarke’s related to the Jake Griffin, Clarke tells them the truth. No one really holds it against her: they all saw her play at tryouts and are getting more familiar after every morning’s practice. Still, there is good-natured teasing about nepotism and legacies. Clarke tells them about her interaction with the official at tryouts, how he’d sneered “Princess” at her, hoping they’ll find him infuriating, too. They don’t and immediately take to calling her “Princess,” too. She pouts, but it's infinitely sweeter from her team's lips.

Finally, their stay in Chicago is over and they get to head off to Arkdown, Illinois. It’s once they make it into town that they meet their team chaperone, Miss Lucy along with Reese, her young charge. They are also meant to meet their manager, Bellamy Blake, who was apparently a big name in baseball during Clarke's self-imposed exile from the game. However, in the week they have before opening day, no one sees any sign of him. When the name first sinks in for Clarke—she’s honestly not sure how long everyone else has known—she turns to Octavia.

“Is he—” she begins.

Octavia frowns and nods. “My brother? Yeah.”

Clarke isn’t sure that’s how she would have ended her question, but she nods along anyway. Octavia is still frowning next to her, so Clarke bumps her shoulder and grins, “I guess that means we can both be the product of nepotism, then.”

“Fat chance,” Octavia snorts. “I didn’t tell him I was planning on trying out. He’s probably pretty pissed that I’m on his team.”

“There’s nothing he can do about it now. You’re here whether he likes it or not.” Finally, Octavia grins.

Opening Day dawns bright and warm, promising good weather for the Comets’ first home game. The team is cheerful, if a little jittery, as they dress in the locker room. Spirits are high with the promise of good baseball and finally meeting their manager. Mel’s showing Harper her boyfriend’s Bellamy Blake rookie baseball card and saying she hopes it will be autographed by the end of the day. That is, if their esteemed manager ever shows up. He’s neglected to attend any of the team’s final few practices and not even Octavia has heard from him. Clarke’s about to ask where the hell he could be when the door opens and the entire team turns to look.

Standing in the doorway is one of the most disheveled men Clarke has ever laid her eyes on. Dark hair sloppily curls across his forehead and his eyes are glazed, as if he’s only just woken up. The neatest part of him seems to be the Comets uniform he’s wearing, and that only because it looks brand new. This can’t be Bellamy Blake.

And yet, it is.

Something about his face is strangely familiar to Clarke, and she gets the oddest sense of déjà vu, even as she can’t fathom where she would have seen the man before. She hasn’t followed baseball since her father died, though she knows he played for Chicago, just like Jake. 

He steps into the locker room, heading toward the back without acknowledging any of his players’ existence. Octavia stands up just before he reaches her, saying, “Bell…” 

Bellamy Blake pauses, taking in his sister, and it hits Clarke. Looking at the two of them together, a memory is called to mind: this man grabbing Octavia’s wrist in Kane Stadium, whispering furiously. How had she not put together that the brother who so disapproved of her choice was the man who tried to get her to leave tryouts? And of course the manager of their team was asked to attend tryouts. Clarke had just assumed he couldn’t be bothered, just as he hadn’t bothered to meet his team. 

As Clarke is busy berating herself for being so unobservant, she misses the way Bellamy shakes off his sister and makes it to the back wall where three urinals stand, neglected until now. In shocked horror, the Arkdown Comets watch as their manager and coach unzips the pants of his uniform and takes care of business. The unmistakable sound of liquid hitting porcelain fills the room and a flurry of embarrassed giggles nearly drowns it out. Even after the giggles die down, the sound from the urinal continues. Raven edges forward, glancing at her watch, making Octavia snatch the back of her jersey in pure mortification. 

Clarke can understand her embarrassment. This is Octavia’s brother, not just a stranger making a bad first impression. What could possibly make the man behave this badly? Thinking on it, the glaze to his eyes probably wasn’t from sleep, but steady drinking. He’s come to the first game of a new league drunk. Bellamy Blake must have no shame. He’s currently slumped forward against the wall above the urinal, still going strong. Finally, he stops and lurches back towards the door. Raven whistles at whatever time she recorded on her watch. 

“That was impressive,” she grins as the man stalks past her. He doesn’t give any indication that he hears her and is out the door again.

Everyone left seems to be in a bit of shock. Mel is fretting over her unsigned card, but nearly everyone else focuses on the greater issue at hand.

It’s Monroe who verbalizes the problem, “He didn’t give us a lineup.”

Anya and Lexa start arguing over who will play center, with Harper trying to get a word in edgewise. Charlotte loudly and persistently offers to pitch. Others are trying to decide who will sit this game out, but no one can reach an agreement.

Clarke breaks through the conversations, asking in exasperation, “Hey! Hey! How hard is it to make a lineup?”

Everyone turns to look at her and Clarke convinces herself not to shrink under their gaze. Anya arches an eyebrow and says, “Oh yeah, Princess? If it’s so easy, then you do it.”


Anya rolls her eyes, but both she and Lexa reply, “Yeah, you.” 

“All right,” making a quick decision, Clarke nods. “Lexa, center field, lead off.” 

Lexa’s smile is nearly feral as she pronounces, “She’s good.”

Before walking into that locker room, he hadn’t known Octavia would be on this team. He hadn't known if she'd made a team at all. Honestly, he’s not sure if it’s a good or bad thing. On the one hand, the less they see of each other, the less likely he is to disappoint her. It would probably be better for their already rocky relationship if they were on separate teams. But, if she played for another team, Bellamy would have inevitably felt guilty for beating her or for wanting her to win over his own team. Bellamy Blake might be here under duress, but he understands the importance of team loyalty. He’d been lucky to play for Chicago, the team he’d grown up watching, because he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have been nearly as good playing for a team he didn’t care for.

Bellamy enters the dugout and immediately sits in the far corner, next to the drinking fountain. He figures if this hangover gets any worse, he can stick his head under the spigot. Settling in, he very nearly falls asleep before a voice over the PA system startles him into grudging alertness.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the first game of the brand new All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League! What a mouthful! Anyway, this is Jasper Jordan, and I will be here announcing games at Arkdown Field all summer. Let’s get this show on the road, shall we? Here is the manager of our hometown Arkdown Comets, three-time National League home run champ, Bellamy Blake!”

Grimacing, Bellamy forces himself to his feet and steps into the sun. He takes off his cap and gives the sparse crowd a wave, thinking about Kane’s instructions. In return, they give him a short round of applause. He tries his best not to think about what stepping onto the field used to feel like. Bellamy lurches back into the dugout, just as Jordan announces the arrival of the Comets. A stream of well-perfumed, skirted women stream past and bound onto the field. 

They line up along the third base line, facing the crowd and their laughter. Bellamy frowns at the sound because even though he does think this whole thing is some sick joke, that’s his baby sister they’re laughing at out there. He tries hard to remain dispassionate and studies his team. Some of them are looking uncomfortable and taken aback, but every single woman on the field stands tall, backs ramrod straight. One catches his eye; it’s the blonde catcher from tryouts. There’s not a lot to differentiate her from the rest, nothing that would cause Bellamy to pause on her aside from a slight familiarity. But her face grabs his attention, and it’s not the delicate features and golden hair that made him call her “Princess.” Her jaw is set, teeth clenching against the mockery of her spectators. There’s an anger in her eyes that Bellamy recognizes. For just a minute, her eyes meet his and the anger shifts to disgust. With him.

If that’s the way she’s going to play it, thinks Bellamy, scowling. He quickly stops paying attention to what goes on on the field. Well, that’s not precisely true. He remains in the corner of the dugout that he’s staked out for himself, and pretends to snooze through some of the innings. It’s not as if he’ll miss out on Octavia’s first professional game, after all.

She’s batting sixth in the lineup and playing third. It’s not a bad order, especially after he manages to watch them bat through once. He vaguely wonders who put the lineup together, because she clearly has a head for strategy. He keeps thinking that until he notices the batters looking to Princess for their signals. She’s standing on the top step of the dugout, arms crossed and back square to Bellamy. Seeing her there, taking charge of the team, he mentally starts tearing apart the batting order and reassigning positions, a frustrating endeavor due to the six girls sitting out this game that he can’t possibly begin to place. That and the phenomenal hangover he is combating. Maybe he should have showed up to spring training instead of getting wasted in every bar and roadhouse between Chicago and here. Immediately, he dismisses the idea, remembering that all he’s supposed to do here is give the crowd a wave and maybe a smile at the beginning of every game. If Kane’s happy to write him a check for that much effort, well, Bellamy’s not going to argue.

The game’s slow. They go down by two runs early in the third, but the pitcher, who Bellamy thinks might be a child, rallies back. O drives in their first run in the bottom of the fifth with a sacrifice fly and later, whoever’s playing first ties it up. The next three and a half innings are scoreless and pretty unextraordinary. No one makes a diving catch, there are no run downs, everything ticks along like clockwork.

Until the bottom of the ninth. As home team, they’re batting last and have one final shot to put a run on the board or the game will go into extra innings. They’ve already been here for more than two hours and Bellamy cannot imagine having to stay even longer. There’s one out and a runner on first and another in scoring position out on second. A well-placed fly ball would drive the run in, finishing the game.

It’s petty, but when Bellamy sees Princess—the blonde catcher, it’s not like he’s learned anyone’s names—in the batter’s box, he wants her to strike out. It would only be the second out, leaving time for the next batter to earn an RBI and end this godforsaken game, so it's not as if he's actively rooting against his team. Just this particular player.

He watches her run up the count until it’s 3-0 in her favor. She’s entirely patient at the plate, letting the pitcher make mistakes. Bellamy can hear the announcer speculate about what sign will be coming from the Comets’ dugout, take or swing. If he were at all invested in the game—and just because he’s watching and reflecting doesn’t mean he’s invested, even for O’s sake—Bellamy would probably have her take the walk. There’s no indication that this pitcher does well under pressure and she might end up slipping even further with the next batter.

Of course, just as Bellamy’s made up his mind, he hears the sweet crack of ball against bat. He doesn’t need to see the crowd to know that they’re getting to their feet, watching the baseball fly to deep center. It keeps going, up and over the wall despite the futile leap from the outfielder. The crowd claps now, a bit grudging, but far kinder than their laughter at the beginning of the game. The Comets are far more enthusiastic, bursting out of the dugout and cheering in delight. Bellamy leans his head back, carefully not watching the knot of girls near home plate trading smiles and pats on the back.

“And that’s the game, folks! Ended by a three-run walk-off home run from the Comets’ catcher, Clarke Griffin! The final score is five to two with the win going to the hometown heroines, the Arkdown Comets. Don’t forget to come on down to the ballpark this summer to see these ladies play!”

Bellamy remains where he is, head tilted back and cap pulled low, as the team tumbles back into the dugout and on to the locker room. He winces against the high-pitched, happy shrieks of celebration, his hangover unrelenting, and misses the worried frown Octavia shoots him. What he doesn’t miss, is the frown of disapproval sent his way by the catcher, Clarke, as he’s just learned. Unfortunately, she’s gone before he can come up with something to snap at her. 

There are a couple of kids leaning over the barrier between stands and field, brandishing baseball cards and pens to get his attention. Just as he’s thinking he might get up and oblige them, he hears, “Not today, boys. Come back for another game.” Bellamy sighs and sinks further against the wall, but the same voice says, “That was a nice bit of coaching, Blake.”

Bellamy cracks an eye open and takes in the sight before him. He’s sure he’s seen the man before, probably hanging around Marcus Kane. Yes. That’s how Bellamy knows him; this is Kane’s marketing whiz kid, the one who’s been put in charge of the league. Collins? All that matters is that the guy’s no ballplayer, not with that haircut.

“I really liked that hour long stretch where you just scratched yourself,” Collins continues, disapproval evident in his tone and frown. Just like the Princess. What a pair they’d make. “Until then, I wasn’t sure if you were just drunk or dead.”

Bellamy stands, head protesting the whole way up. If he’s suddenly towering over Kane’s flunky, then he won’t argue. Squinting in the harsh afternoon sun, he says, “My job was made very clear to me. I smile and wave my hat around at the beginning of the game, and I think I fulfilled my end of the bargain, so when do I get paid?”

Collins sighs, “Listen you’ve got some great ballplayers, here. You should be—”

“Ballplayers?” Bellamy laughs, harsh and humorless. “I don’t have ballplayers, I have girls! One of whom is my little sister. Girls aren’t supposed to be playing baseball! They’re supposed to be planning parties and baking pies or something.” He spits to emphasize his derision and the glob lands neatly on Collins’s shoe.

A grimace takes over the other man’s face, and he gets off another shot as he leaves. “If we pay you a bit more, Blake, do you think you could be more disgusting?”

“Well, I do need the money,” Bellamy rallies back, watching Collins leave. God, he needs a drink.

Later—much later, when stars have taken over the sky and the stadium is empty—Bellamy stands again on the field. He’s bribed the night guard to let him in and not ask any questions. The bat in his hands is both familiar and not all at the same time. It feels like it’s been eons since he last stood on a baseball field.

(Obviously untrue; he had been standing on this very field earlier in the day. But it has been months and months since he last stood on the diamond with the intention of doing anything about it.)

He’s got the pitching machine set up on the mound with a full basket of balls. It’s too close and too slow to prove any real challenge to him, but the first few pitches breeze by him anyway. Growling in frustration, he swings again, gets a piece of the ball, but has to listen to it ricocheting through the seats down the first base line. If his knee twinges, all Bellamy does is scowl and ignore it.

Baseball had never been this hard. It was the one thing in his life that had been blessedly easy. He’d had sole responsibility for Octavia since their mother died when he was eighteen, ten years ago. Even before then, he’d mostly raised his little sister on his own, given the long hours Aurora Blake worked to keep them afloat. That had been at the height of the Depression and Bellamy still remembered what it felt like to go to sleep and wake up hungry for days in a row so his sister could eat. Still, he’d never truly resented Octavia. She and his mother were the two people he loved without reservation.

Baseball, though, was the thing he loved without reservation. It was his escape from the weight providing for a sister had placed on his young shoulders. Baseball had been his chance to be a kid, playing street ball with the neighborhood boys, finally learning the real rules in school. Playing for his high school team is what got him noticed by talent scouts in the first place, what got him playing for Chicago. He’d just graduated, a lucky thing with a ten-year-old sister in his custody and bills piling up, when he’d received the offer of a lifetime. It wasn’t as if there were that many opportunities for him, especially ones that would keep Octavia fed, too. Even on his rookie salary, he earned more than enough to keep Octavia in school and hire a caretaker for when he went on road trips with the team. Bellamy had known that Octavia hated how often he was gone during the season, but she was just a kid. She couldn’t understand that his career and salary would keep her safe and cared for in the coming years. The fact that he loved the game only sweetened the deal further.

So he became a professional baseball player. One of the greats for all he had to leave the game fairly young. He’d been a powerhouse at the plate, hitting nearly 250 homeruns in his eight-year career, three in his one trip to the World Series alone.

Life had been nearly perfect. He didn’t get to see Octavia all that often, especially in season, but he was willing to make that sacrifice in order to provide for her as best as he could. Of course, it wouldn’t last.

Bellamy frowns as he finally gets into the rhythm of his swing. He’s peppered hits around the field, pushing and pulling the ball as he sees fit. A couple must have gone over the fence, but he hasn’t yet felt the absolute rightness in his arms and hips as the ball finds the sweet spot of his bat. The basket feeding balls to the machine is running low and Bellamy knows he won’t go out and shag balls in order to go through another round of humiliation. His swing hasn’t been this erratic since he was first learning the game. It’s disgraceful. 

Ignoring the shaking of his bad knee, he squares up to the plate again, watching the mechanical arm scoop up a ball and wind up. The baseball comes hurtling through the air and as soon as his bat leaves his shoulder, Bellamy knows this is going to be a good one. Ball ricochets from bat and careens into the night. He watches it sail over the center field wall, nearly on the same trajectory as the catcher’s homer from this afternoon.

Thinking about her, Bellamy is suddenly tired. This is what his life has come to: the washed up manager of a team full of girls in a joke of a league. He lets the last few balls whip by him before limping off the field to go back to his boarding house, leaving the pitching machine’s mechanical arm to crank around and around all night.

Chapter Text

The season moves forward. After their first game and win, though, crowds aren’t as openly hostile. This is especially true after Raven pegs an extra-obnoxious heckler who climbs onto the top of the dugout during the first inning warm up. She insists it was an accident when the umpire looks at her in exasperation, but the second and third time it happens make her innocence less than likely. They’re lucky she’s not thrown out of the game, but the crowd eats it up. There’s still jeering, but it’s hardly worse than any of them face walking down a city street.

What's frustrating is the utter lack of interest the public seems to have in girl's baseball. Through the first weeks of June, they rarely manage to draw much of a crowd, and when they get coverage in the papers, it’s couched in comparisons to the men’s leagues. Article after article comes out saying that this isn't real baseball because of any number of reasons. Mostly, those reasons can be boiled down to the fact that it's women playing the game. Worse are the lewd speculations about the length of their skirts and the dire warnings to other young women not to follow in their footsteps. 

In spite of the disappointments, Clarke grows even closer to her teammates. She takes a special interest in Charlotte, their young pitcher. The girl only turned sixteen a few weeks before tryouts and regards everything with a timid terror. Charlotte had grown up on a farm in Arkansas and had never reliably gone to school. She couldn’t read all that well, had even had trouble picking out her name on the team roster. Roma and Bree have decided it is their duty to teach the girl. Their choice in reading material is suspect, but no one can fault their results when they have Charlotte reading mostly on her own in a few weeks.

The entire team takes the girl under their wing, but Clarke especially tries to be a good friend. Partially, it’s because she’s more effective as a catcher if she really knows her pitchers and can coach them through a rough inning with minimal clashing. Some pitchers like backup and praise, others don't want to be coddled when they're not throwing well. The other part, though, is that Charlotte reminds Clarke of herself: young and unsure and unsupported. Clarke does her level best to be a good mentor to the pitcher.

Honestly, she ends up being something of a leader for the entire team. As the weeks go by—Bellamy Blake gives little indication that he has any interest in coaching the Comets and Octavia refuses to broach the subject with him—management falls to Clarke, who’d showed her hand in that first game. She doesn't really mind, especially since she is sure she can do a much better job than their assigned manager. The sting of their sole interaction at tryouts still hasn't faded and Clarke finds herself fuming every time she thinks about the fact that she's essentially doing two jobs: hers and his.

Under her guidance, the Comets rack up a few more wins and when they lose, it’s in close games. They turn double plays and steal as many bases as they can. Soon, they learn the lineups of the other teams forward and backward and know when to expect bunts or pop flies up the line. Within the league, they garner a reputation for scrappy determination. That's really their only advantage. Most of the other teams have some older players, women with far more experience, but no one on the Comets is older than twenty-five and very few of them have any experience playing organized baseball.

Still, everything falls into a rhythm, even if that rhythm isn’t quite as exciting as they’d all hoped.

It all feels like Clarke’s still in training for tryouts; She’s coaching players that few people have much interest in. Clarke proved her players were worth notice at Madison, but it is literally a different ball game in this league. 

They are playing real baseball, though, no matter what the papers or the crowds think. Clarke is disappointed in the lukewarm reception the league’s getting, but she feels more alive than she has in years. Nearly everyday, she steps onto a baseball field and gets to remember being twelve and playing with her father without feeling like the memory will crush her. Every game, she can see herself and her teammates getting stronger and faster and smarter and there isn't a better feeling. 

The rhythm is interrupted one game a few weeks into the season. They’re on the road in Mount Weather playing the Belles, though somehow everyone in the league is calling them the Mountain Men instead. By the fourth inning, they’re down 3-0. Bellamy, miraculously, is still awake despite some impressive under-eye shadows and what smells like an entire shelf of cheap alcohol running through his bloodstream. He’s propped in the corner and Clarke can hear him chuckling at whatever newspaper article he’s reading. Octavia’s just legged out a triple after a beautiful hit into the right-center alley. Clarke again hears Blake behind her, murmuring something in approval, but she keeps her eye on Anya, who’s about to enter the batter’s box.

Clarke wipes her forehead with the back of her hand before brushing her nose, ear, and forearm. Anya scowls but nods at the signal: sacrifice bunt. Of course Anya wants to actually hit the ball, but it’s still early in the game. Clarke would rather have the guaranteed run and one out than a potential mis-hit. They can make up the rest of the runs later when the Mountain Men are tired and more likely to make errors.

She’s startled from her rationalizations by a drawled, “Are you stupid, or something?”

Clarke jerks in surprise at the sound, but fixes her gaze again on the batter before her and doesn’t reply. She's not going to dignify Bellamy with a response when he refuses to do his job. Of course the first time he actually has an opinion on strategy, he insults her. 

“Someone’s gotta make the calls, Bellamy,” Raven says, casual, even though none of them have ever really spoken to their manager. “You know, someone who actually stays awake and sober for the games.”

The newspaper crinkles and his voice comes closer, ignoring Raven. “You’re gonna squeeze bunt with our best hitter?” Clarke finally turns to look at him when he's right beside her, and she vaguely wonders how he knows Anya is their best hitter. As Raven said, Bellamy Blake has slept or been inebriated through the majority of their games. “What’s the sign to swing away?” he asks the dugout at large. When no one answers, he zeroes in on Monroe and snaps, “Hey, Braids. What’s the sign to swing away?”

“It’s the letters,” Clarke intercedes, referring the League initials embroidered onto every uniform’s left sleeve. “But, the infield’s deep, a squeeze will work,” she informs, finality painting her tone.

Bellamy bulldozes straight through her finality, sneering, “Don’t be an idiot. You want a big inning here. Batter!” Before Clarke can do anything, he proceeds to give Anya a new signal: swing away.

Anya is clearly taken aback by Bellamy’s sudden entry into team matters, but grins anyway. She'll take any leeway she can get if there's the promise of another big hit. She’s about to step into the box when she catches sight of Clarke overturning Blake’s signal. Back to bunting. Bellamy sees and signals again, setting Clarke off once more. For a moment, it’s just a flurry of hands between the two, leaving their batter without instruction. Anya would just step into the box and get her at bat over with if this weren't such a bizarre situation. As it is, she stares in somewhat feral amusement. Bellamy and Clarke each look as if they’d happily murder the other.

“Who,” Bellamy finally explodes, “is the goddamn manager here? I am!”

“Yeah? Then act like it, you big lush!” Clarke stomps down into the dugout, flinging herself onto the bench. If he thinks he can be the manager for just one batter, then he has another thing coming, she thinks vindictively. 

Anya receives her final signal and squares up to the plate. The pitch comes in and in an instant it’s soaring out again, over the right fielder’s head to land on the warning track. Octavia pelts in from third and Anya ends up with a one-run double.

Bellamy turns back to Clarke with a self-satisfied smirk and Clarke can give him a rueful tip of the hat. She's not so petty as to not recognize that his strategy worked. They got the run without the out. But, she was serious when she decided that she wouldn't let him fade back after that burst of involvement. She gestures to the rest of the team as though she is relinquishing them into his care.

It’s at this point that Bellamy seems to realize what, exactly, he’s gotten himself into.

As far as Clarke can tell, Bellamy Blake takes to team leadership the way he takes to most things, grudgingly and with little grace. (His reluctance hardly matters, though, because now the team expects him to be an integral, if often drunk, part of the team. It helps that approximately none of the Comets are willing to put up with a bad attitude.) Their manager actually sets the lineup and batting order and organizes warm ups before games. He gets into it with umps that make bad calls and defends his team. He finally starts doing his job.

Despite his turnaround, Clarke finds herself reluctant to hand over the reins of the team to Bellamy. It's not that she doesn't trust him; he's shown that he has a good head for strategy when he's sober, and sometimes even when he's not. It's more that she's not quite so reluctant to be a team leader anymore. She got a taste of it and found a new talent. It helps that it's less daunting when she has a built-in partner for the job.

So, she often finds herself standing at the top of the dugout bickering with him. Nothing is off limits. Stolen bases, batting order, pitching lineup all get discussed at length and sometimes at considerable volume. He calls her a stick-in-the-mud when she yells at him for goading Trina into a risky play. She names him “Dictator” when he loses his temper for not getting his way. (It doesn't stick the way "Princess" did.) They both take gleeful delight in needling the other, drawing out unflattering reactions just for fun. Once, Bellamy hides her catcher’s mask for three days and replaces it with a crude paper crown. He cackles when Clarke storms around the locker room and is forced to use Bree’s, which keeps getting tangled in her hair. Clarke’s sure he doesn’t find the situation quite so hilarious when she glues each and every one of his flasks shut in retaliation. This leads to a week and a half of no holds barred tricks and pranks. Some of them are more effective than others. Fortunately, for the entire team, this period comes to an abrupt end when Anya walks into a trap set for Clarke, ends up with a bucket of cold water poured over her head, and nearly murders the two combatants in retaliation.

Eventually, though, Bellamy starts to grow on her the way a scab does. She’ll pick and prod at him every so often, but as time goes on, she’s less likely to reopen old wounds. She starts finding him less constantly infuriating and comes to expect his bouts of bad behavior. Sometimes she even finds herself feeling fond of his barbs. Even if he still comes to games mostly drunk more often than she’d like, it’s nice to have someone who shares responsibility for the team. Bellamy still calls her Princess, even after everyone else has stopped, but with only half the bite it originally had.

The season moves forward, but Clarke finally feels like things are the way they were meant to be.

Walking up to the slightly rundown Arkdown cinema, which overcompensates with the name “Phoenix” blazing above the marquee, Bellamy tries again to talk himself into turning around and going back to his boarding house.

Or a bar. Probably a bar.

But this trip to the movies has been a few weeks in the making, and Bellamy is pretty sure Octavia will murder him if he doesn’t show up to “team bonding night.”

Honestly, though, this particular exercise in bonding is getting on Bellamy’s last nerve. Weeks ago, at the beginning of June, the league threw a new hurdle into the Comets’ path. Bellamy and Clarke had just learned to keep their sniping to a minimum on game days, and the team was running like a well-oiled, if slightly eccentric, machine. They were due for some sort of upset to their routine.

Due to lackluster public interest in the league, it was strongly suggested to Finn Collins that something be done to bolster ticket sales, or the league would find itself without continued support from the owners. He quickly unveiled a step-by-step public relations campaign that began with the production of a newsreel starring the Arkdown Comets. The girls were understandably excited, but Bellamy was only annoyed at the kinds of nonsense this decision would inevitably rain down.

That nonsense turned out to be an interminable day of filming complete with Finn Collins nervously hovering the entire time. Bellamy had been assured at the outset that this reel would do wonders for the league’s image, though he’s still fairly certain that was merely wishful thinking on Collins’s part.

Because the field was somehow fully booked for the entire week, filming was scheduled for a game day. The whole team had been forced to show up hours early and run around looking silly for the cameras to capture. Well, the girls had. Bellamy had just glared when it was implied he should also get involved. He’d deigned to stand next to Octavia for a single shot, but otherwise used the opportunity to run a few more drills while the girls were supposed to look like they were playing.

Anyway, the film has finally been edited and shipped out to local theaters. Including the Phoenix. Coincidentally, the team also has a rare night off from games and travel. Of course some maniac was going to decide that it was kismet. Well, only if Octavia counts as a maniac.

Since the reel features the Comets, the Arkdown Cinema agreed to honor their hometown heroes with a special screening. Finally stepping inside, the first thing Bellamy notices is that the theater is fuller than he expected, the shabby lobby full to bursting. Even without the horde of ball players milling by the concession stand, it seems as if almost all of Arkdown has turned out for the occasion. Apparently the locals are feeling the love for girl’s baseball tonight. Bellamy just wishes they would prove it by actually showing up to games.

He wades through the crowd to get to the team and once Octavia sees him, she waves a little frantically. There’s a burst of giggles from the other girls and Bellamy is immediately on guard. He grew up with women; he knows that those giggles mean nothing good for him.

The only person he can trust is Clarke, who’d frowned upon noticing him.

(To be fair, Anya and Lexa had also frowned, but they still terrify him more than he would ever admit. It's impossible to take comfort from anything they do.)

That, and only that, is the reason he ends up sitting next to the catcher when they all take their seats. He’s on the aisle so he can stretch out his bad leg to keep his knee from aching, leaving Clarke as a buffer between him and his team of giggling traitors. Not that he’s sure how exactly they’ve betrayed him. Bellamy fishes out the flask he’s snuck in, which Clarke is now eyeing.

“What’s the matter, Princess?” He takes a swig. “You want some?”

Shockingly, she looks like she’s seriously considering it. In the end, she shakes her head with a sigh.

“Too chicken?” he smirks.

Her face remains still, and Bellamy fears he crossed some line and she’ll start yelling at him. Eventually, she replies, “I just don’t think it’s worth getting kicked out of the league if all I’ll get out of the deal is a sip of cheap whiskey.” She grins a little at the end, taking most of the bite out of her words.

“Hey!” he exclaims, affronted and a little giddy. This is weird. He and Clarke don’t tease each other. They snip and snap until one of them gets too mad to pull their punches. Bellamy kind of likes it, though. “I’ll have you know that this is not cheap whiskey. It’s cheap gin.”

Her laugh is high and loud and entirely unexpected, drawing the attention of some of the team further along. Giggle erupt and most turn away again, but Octavia watches them with a confused frown. Bellamy’s not sure what there is to be confused about, though he makes an effort to rein in the goofy smile on his face. He and Clarke can talk without raising any eyebrows, can’t they? And sure, he’s never made her laugh quite like that before, but it’s not a surprise that he’s funny. He can absolutely be funny.

“Oh, god,” Clarke gasps, which does not cause Bellamy’s brain to stutter. “That’s even worse! That’s what Wells first got me drunk on and I still have flashbacks to the hangover.”

Wells? This is the first he’s ever heard of anything resembling the princess’s personal life and he wants to know more. Bellamy’s about to say something when the lights go down and the screen brightens.

The reel is about exactly as gimmicky as Bellamy expected. It begins with the words “Diamond Gals” plastered over a shot of Kane Stadium, all narrated by a booming yet reassuring voice. The first time the Comets show up on screen, they’re all standing in the dugout, each posed in the same way with one foot propped on the top step. On the screen, Bellamy can see some of the girls shift nervously, or glance at the camera before an unheard signal sets them off and running onto the field. The narrator speaks the whole time, but Bellamy doesn’t really pay attention, more entertained by the pictures.

Some of the shots are silly, like Lexa winking and throwing two balls at one time to the other outfielders. Or there’s Caris and Echo turning cartwheels in the grass, grinning goofily. Most, however, emphasize the femininity of the players through staged scenarios—Octavia pausing to powder her nose at third, Trina serving the umpires coffee, Mel knitting away in the dugout. There’s even a panning body shot of Roma as the voiceover brags about her tenure as Miss Virginia. At that, catcalls and whistles fill the theater. Bellamy’s fists clench at the disrespect, but Roma just laughs and spins around in her seat to wink at the men sitting behind her, causing even more uproar.

After Roma, Clarke fills the screen. Not just Clarke, though. Bellamy’s somehow been captured on film, too. He’s half cut out of the shot, but enough of him is visible to matter. They’re standing near home plate, grinning at each other. Well, Bellamy’s grinning at Clarke and she’s grinning at something off camera, probably Charlotte warming up on the mound. (Bellamy can’t even comprehend the way he’s looking at his catcher up on screen, so he does what he does best. He ignores it.) At some point, the camera operator must get their attention, because the grins slide right off their faces. Clarke pulls down her mask and Bellamy stalks completely out of the frame. All the while, the voiceover is saying, “And how about that pretty Clarke Griffin? She’s got the face of Garbo but she plays just like her dad, the Great Griffin!”

Gears start grinding away in Bellamy's head. The Great Griffin? Jake Griffin is the Princess's father? Jake Griffin was one of the reasons Bellamy started playing baseball in the first place. He, and the rest of America, mourned when Jake Griffin passed away. Bellamy glances over to his neighbor, wondering how, exactly, he failed to figure that out, and sees Clarke’s brittle smile. He nudges her with his flask of gin and although she shakes her head again, her smile is a little more genuine. It’s hard for him not to feel a little proud.

The reel plays on, highlighting Charlotte’s extreme youth and only capturing Anya from a distance. (She’d been worse than Bellamy during filming, nearly snarling at the cameraman who’d asked her to smile.) There are a few more shots and several more borderline-insulting voiceovers and the reel sputters to a stop. The girls all cheer and clap, giggling over seeing themselves on the silver screen. Soon, they’re all out in the evening air.

Bellamy insists on walking them back to their boarding house. He falls into step with Octavia, slings an arm around her shoulder. She’d been the one to insist on his company, so he’ll give it to her. They walk at the back of the group in silence for a few moments

“Something you’d like to tell me, big brother?” When he doesn’t say anything, she elaborates. “You and Clarke were looking pretty cozy in there.”

Bellamy scoffs in reply and leaves that as his answer. Octavia knows very well that he and Clarke have only recently started getting along. Thinking that there’s something more beyond that is just wild imagination. Even if they had gotten along shockingly well tonight. They walk on in silence, Octavia abandoning her fishing and Bellamy mulling.

“O,” he finally says, aiming for nonchalance. He checks to see how far behind everyone else they are. “Who’s Wells?” Her head whips around to him. Well, he probably failed nonchalance. Bellamy pulls his arm away from her shoulder so he can shove his hands in his pockets. “Relax. It’s just she,” he nods ahead where Clarke is walking with Trina and Fox, “mentioned him, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard about him.”

Octavia looks like she doesn’t believe a word coming from his mouth, but answers him anyway. “He’s her best friend. They grew up together, but he’s off in Europe now. He’s in the air force, or something. A fighter pilot. She writes to him once a week and says he’s the reason she even thought to try out.”

Bellamy does his best to digest this. It’s a lot of information, but not enough at the same time. He'd never thought to be interested in Clarke's personal life. His sister is already suspicious, and he's buzzed enough that continuing seems like a good idea. “Are they…?” He can’t bring himself to finish the sentence and curses himself as a coward.

“I don’t know. Clarke’s never said, but she can be awfully private.” She grabs his elbow, dragging him to a stop, and turns to face him head-on. For a moment, all Octavia does is stare at him, searching for something. Time stretches on and he's about to roll his eyes and walk on when his sister speaks. “Bell. Please don’t get in over your head. She’s kind, but you and I both know that Clarke Griffin is not the kind of girl who would waste her time on us under ordinary circumstances.” He wants to deny her, for any number of things she’s just said, but O barrels on, desperate, “I can’t see you heartbroken again, Bell.”

“O, you’ve never seen me heartbroken before,” he smiles gently through his bafflement. He’d always been careful to keep any of his romantic interests and Octavia firmly separate.

“That’s not true! When you busted your knee and found out that you couldn’t play ball anymore? That crushed you. You are still crushed because your career—the thing you loved because you wanted to—is gone.” Bellamy is stunned. He’d never thought of his loss as something to be heartbroken over. Angry and bitter and regretful, yes, but never heartbroken. He also never realized quite how perceptive his baby sister is. Looking at Octavia, though, he can see that she believes in the truth of every word she's said. She looks so sad, nearly heartbroken herself.

“I can’t go back to that you, Bell. We can’t go back. Everyday, you’re more and more like the big brother I remember and I won’t lose that. Not on something that’s such a long shot.” She’s near to tears, now, so Bellamy pulls her into his chest for a hug and soothing murmurs. It feels like it’s been forever since he hugged Octavia. He tightens his grip at the thought.

“We won’t, O,” he whispers fiercely, rubbing her back. “No matter what, I won’t make you. You’ve got nothing to worry about.” Over her head, he can see Clarke, who has turned to search for them. Concern is written clearly across her face, but Bellamy gives his head a small shake. She gives a nod, then ushers the rest of the team on when it seems like more are about to turn back, too. As she walks away, Bellamy sighs and worries about just how deep into this thing he already is.

A few days before the end of June, they’re all on the bus, heading from South Bend, Indiana to Mount Weather in Wisconsin. It’s the longest drive they ever make and having to do it right after a double header in the middle of an early heat wave is wearing on everyone’s temper.

Clarke’s temper is already pretty frayed after the games she’s had. In the second to last inning of their second game, one of the batters from South Bend got sloppy and caught Clarke in the side of the head when she tossed her bat away. The girl got called out on interference, and the catcher’s mask bore the brunt of the hit, but now Clarke is nursing a serious headache and can feel the side of her face swelling anyway. She’d refused to be pulled from the game, which hadn’t helped matters any. Now, she’s got a steadily dripping bag of melted ice held to her temple, trying to forget about the entire ordeal. Her temper’s wearing thin, but she’s certainly not the worst off on the bus.

Reese is the worst. Usually, she’s a very well behaved child, happy to play with her toys or sleep on long bus rides and through games. Today, though, she’s rightfully grumpy after being awoken too early to finish the drive to South Bend and then forced to sit through two games in brutal heat. She’d refused to take a nap and is now so wound up from exhaustion that she’ll have to collapse in the near future. After running up and down the bus aisle for the twelfth time, she is banned from the back of the bus by an irate Raven.

Clarke takes all of this in and watches the girl trudge back to the front where she huffily sits in the seat she shares with her guardian. Miss Lucy and Bellamy, the only people who will reliably entertain her, are both asleep. Clarke stops paying attention at this point and honestly could not say how the events that happen next unfold.

She knows something is wrong when she is lurched forward in her seat, nearly hitting the row in front of her. Then, just as quickly, she’s being pressed backwards, listening to shrieks and the sounds of luggage tumbling into the aisle. Once she regains her balance, she’s up and stepping over hatboxes, trying to see what the problem is.

The problem, of course, is Reese, who has found her way under the driver’s legs to push at the accelerator and brake pedal, which Clarke determines by the ferocity of the driver's cursing. She dashes up and pulls Reese from her new playground, but not before the driver has been thoroughly shaken up. He pulls over to the side of the road and clambers out, setting off on foot and cursing the whole way. Miss Lucy is thankfully awake at this point and takes off after him, calling after him to come back. She leaves Reese on the bus.

Clarke still has the little girl by her ankles, so she gets her on her feet and looks Reese straight in the eyes. Before she can even open her mouth to speak, the girl bursts into tears and throws herself at Clarke. She sobs for about a minute before abruptly stopping and passing out. Suddenly faced with an unconscious five-year-old, Clarke isn’t sure what to do. Some of the other girls, using this opportunity for a furtive smoke break, grin at her burden, even as they pass Clarke by to get outside. Looking to Bellamy, who’d proven shockingly adept with the little girl, even when hungover, is no use. He’d somehow managed to stay asleep through the chaos.

Eventually, Clarke gets Reese settled into her seats, hoping that she won’t suddenly roll onto floor. Instead of heading back to her own seat, Clarke also moves towards the door. She needs to get off this bus immediately.

Clarke steps out into the sunshine, which immediately sends her headache into high relief. Squinting, she can see the smokers are huddled at the back of the bus looking more secretive than even their contraband cigarettes warrant. At the sounds of Clarke’s footsteps, they whirl.

“Just me,” Clarke says, hoping they’ll tell her what they’ve got up their sleeves.

Octavia turns to Lexa and Anya, asking, “Hey, what about Clarke?” This feels a bit odd to Clarke since it feels like Octavia has been more distant with her recently. But the girl’s eyes are glittering with excitement.

Anya looks Clarke up and down, challenge evident in her gaze. “You coming?”


“A roadhouse called Reaper’s Den,” Raven answers, gushing out smoke with her chuckle.

Clarke is a little stunned. If any of them get caught out they’re out of the league, no questions asked. She wants to lecture them, warn them about the risks they’re taking. Looking around, though, Clarke realizes something. These are all grown adults, capable of making their own (bad) choices. She just shakes her head and winces at the flare of pain. “I shouldn’t. I’d hate to terrify the locals with the bruise that’s going to start showing up any minute.”

She’s met by a chorus of protests, but remains firm. At the front of the bus, Miss Lucy’s return forces the knot of girls to hide cigarettes and puff out their cheeks to hold in smoke.

“Ladies,” she calls, clearly flustered. “Mr. Murphy shall not be rejoining us.” At that she marches onto the bus, probably to try and wake Bellamy. Clarke doesn’t envy her the task.

“Good riddance,” Raven mutters to general agreement. They’d all found their bus driver vaguely off-putting.

“Well, what about Miss Lucy?” Clarke asks, wondering how far they’ve thought this through. “How will you sneak past her?”

More sneaky glances are shared before Lexa finally admits, “We’re going to poison her dinner.”

“What!” is the only response Clarke can generate.

“It’s just a sleeping powder. We’ll sneak Reese off to Charlotte, who can’t come with us anyway, and we’ll be off.” Octavia reassures.

It’s a solid plan. Except: “Just make sure your brother doesn’t find out, all right?”

And of course, speak of the devil and he shall appear. Bellamy stumbles out of the bus, wincing at the sunlight. “Back on the bus!” he roars, or means to roar. His hangover has gotten in the way of his words. They pile back in and Bellamy gets behind the wheel.

Clarke pauses beside him and teases, “Get us there in one piece, yeah?”

“Shut up, Princess,” he snarls half-heartedly.

Laughing in spite of her aching head, Clarke makes her way down the aisle and the bus roars to life again.

Later, once they’ve settled into the hotel, which isn’t nearly as charming as their boarding house in Arkdown, and had dinner, the girls retire to their rooms. Clarke’s head feels miles better after a new bag of ice and an aspirin, so she sits in as the girls get ready for their night on the town. It’s a swirl of laughter, cotton, and perfume, leaving everyone in high spirits. She even lets them get her dolled up, fixing makeup and resetting hair. There’s one last push to get Clarke to accompany them, but she decides against it, offering to spirit Reese away to Charlotte instead. She waves them off down the fire escape and sighs a little. It would be wonderful to cut loose, but the prospect of going dancing is slightly less exciting with a massive bruise forming behind her ear and up across her temple.

Reese is handed off to Charlotte, who tries to explain to Clarke that she should have been allowed out with the team, and Clarke is finally able to relax. She doesn’t feel like sitting alone in her room where she’ll only feel more isolated than she is. Instead, she heads down to the hotel’s parlor to see if there is anyone to keep her company. As it turns out, there is someone who would very much like her company in the parlor.

“Mr. Collins,” Clarke greets the man in surprise. He’s been at a lot of their games, he has to as the public relations director of the league, but she’d always assumed he drove in the day of. She is also fairly sure he could afford to stay somewhere far nicer than this.

“Please,” he says, smiling charmingly, “We must be on a first name basis by now. Call me Finn.”

Because it is the polite thing to do, Clarke acquiesces, though she feels a little uneasy. He has been to many Comets games—maybe more than necessary now that she thinks about it—but they’ve hardly become more than acquaintances. Finn Collins is, essentially, her boss and Clarke cannot afford to alienate him even a little if she wants to stay a Comet.

“Actually, I was looking for you,” he continues, unaware of Clarke’s discomfort. “I was wondering if you like dancing.”

“Dancing?” Clarke repeats, nervousness sinking in.

Finn smiles kindly. “Yes. There’s a dancehall just up the road. I’m going to head up there once I finish up some work, but it would be much nicer to go with a dance partner.” He’s still smiling as he delivers his offer, face open, making Clarke think this is truly a no-pressure situation. She finds time to be glad he wouldn’t abuse his position to elicit dates from players, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is likely going to catch her entire team in the act of breaking nearly every league rule regarding conduct if she doesn’t act quickly.

Just to make sure, she hedges and says, “There’s a dancehall in town? I can’t believe none of us have noticed it. What’s it called?”

“Reaper’s Den, I think.”

Cold dread washes over Clarke, but she smiles anyway and makes some fast mental calculations. “To answer your question, I do like dancing.” Finn brightens at this, looking hopeful, so Clarke lets him down nicely. “I really shouldn’t, though. I got hit with a bat in the game this afternoon and the bruise is still sensitive. Maybe if I were feeling better and maybe…”

He picks up on her hesitance, “And what, Clarke?”

“It’s just that it’s against league rules for me to do that sort of thing during the season.”

“Well, it just so happens that I have some pull with the boss,” Finn wheedles.

Maybe he is willing to abuse his power a little bit. “I shouldn’t get to do something the other girls can’t,” she replies firmly.

If anything, this seems to make Finn admire her more. “That’s very noble of you Clarke. It’s just that those rules are put in place to protect players who don’t know their own boundaries. We don’t want them exposing themselves to extra scrutiny, but I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem for you.”

Clarke bristles at the implication that her teammates are nothing better than uncontrollable hooligans. More, she bristles at the ridiculous thing Finn has just uttered. The men’s leagues are never subjected to this kind of double standard. Every time a major league ball player gets into a bar brawl, his club experiences a significant hike in ticket sales. Hell, Bellamy still shows up to games drunk or hungover, though it’s been happening less and less, and crowds eat it up. Baseball thrives on scrutiny.

Finn continues, again unaware of Clarke’s discomfort, which is closer to anger at this point. “Anyway, I’m going to head over in about an hour and if you change your mind, you are more than welcome to join me.” He leaves then, a good thing considering Clarke now has only an hour to stage a rescue attempt.

After finding out that “just up the road” actually means five miles away, Clarke is stumped. There is no way she could get to Reaper’s Den, round up the girls, and sneak back without seeing Finn Collins in under an hour, especially if she has to make it there on foot first.

The hotel’s night manager wouldn’t let her use the telephone to call a seedy dancehall. She’d asked. Clarke curses herself for her honesty.

Now, she’s standing on the sidewalk, searching up and down the road for any sign of headlights. She figures she’ll be safe enough hitching a ride with a local, even if she worries about the impression she’s making. There are footsteps behind her, but Clarke goes on searching for a way out of the team’s predicament. Or, she does until:

“What the hell are you doing out here, Princess?”

Clarke whirls. She had not even thought to account for Bellamy in any of her calculations. Looking at him, she’s not even sure what he’s doing outside. She’s fairly certain that he’d just topped off his not-so-secret hip flask this afternoon and he wouldn’t be carrying a rucksack to whatever dive he holes up in, anyway. Is it safe to tell him? Octavia’s there and in danger (of getting thrown out of the league, but that has to count?). At the same time, Octavia’s there. Being exposed to things Clarke is sure Bellamy doesn’t want to think about. Telling Bellamy won’t fix her current problem, though. She is silent a bit too long.

“Princess, I’m waiting.”

Snapping to a decision, Clarke says, “The team’s up at the dancehall.”

He looks at her in confusion. “And you wanted to join them?”

“Let me finish! I was talking to Finn—“

“Collins? What were you doing that for?” There’s a weird edge to Bellamy’s voice, but Clarke doesn’t have time to accommodate his odd focus on trivial matters.

“He was in the parlor and is my boss. Anyway, he said he’s going up to the dancehall in about,” she checks her father’s watch, “forty-five minutes. Now I have to get there, get them out and back before they all get kicked out of the league.” She’s still searching for signs of oncoming traffic, but everyone in Mount Weather goes to bed at nine o’clock on the dot, apparently.

“So, you’re going to just stare at the street hopefully to accomplish all this?” There’s humor and goading in his tone.

Clarke wants to snap at him, but that’s what he wants, too. He gets some perverse pleasure from pushing her buttons. Calmly, she tells him, “I’m going to hitch a ride. Once a ride passes by.”

“You’ve already got a ride.” Bellamy glances around and points out a rusty Buick. “How about that one?” Before Clarke can even register his words, he’s striding over and trying the handle. The door opens and he hops in. His head disappears for a minute, ducked below the steering wheel, and the car roars to life.

Clarke scurries over, indignantly hissing, “Bellamy, I am not stealing a car!”

His head pops up and he grins at her. “It’s not stealing, Princess. It’s more like borrowing.” Clarke pauses, rationalizing. She will make sure he returns the car. Hopefully no one will know. She dithers just a moment longer before deciding that the ends justify the means, and hurries to the passenger side to get in.

They’re just pulling away when Bellamy says, “And besides, I’m technically the one stealing it.”

Clarke is enraged. She turns in her seat to lay into Bellamy Blake, but he’s laughing silently at his own joke. Pouting a little, she slumps back and ignores him. Or tries.

There’s no denying that Bellamy is a handsome man. She’d noticed it at tryouts, even in spite of his behavior, and as he’s grown on her, it seems like his attractiveness has grown, too. It’s distracting.

After her eyes slide to him one too many times, he sighs, “Just ask.”

“Hmm?” Clarke replies intelligently.

“How I learned how to steal cars.”

Honestly and shockingly, that thought had not once crossed Clarke’s mind. He tells her, even though she doesn’t ask.

“O and I grew up in a rough neighborhood. There were a lot of reasons to be rough, too. One way to do it was to steal stuff. I ended up stealing cars. Usually brought ‘em back after a bit of a joy ride, but not many people messed with me or Octavia, so I guess it was worth it.” He never takes his eyes off the road in front of him, but Clarke can see the white-knuckled grip he has on the steering wheel. She wants to say something, but already she can see the garishly lit Reaper’s Den up ahead. In no time, Bellamy has parked and is out of the car, striding for the entrance. Clarke rushes to catch up.

Inside, Reaper’s Den isn’t nearly as seedy as she’d dreaded. A jazz band plays a familiar tune and couples whirl around the dance floor. It doesn’t take long to find the team, either.

“Clarke!” shrieks an inebriated Raven from across the room. She’s sitting surrounded by empty glasses. “Clarke’s here! And she brought Bellamy!” Exchanging a glance, the two make their way over to their shortstop.

“Raven, we have to get the team, where are they?”

Already taking another sip of her drink, the brunette just waves at the dance floor. Looking now, Clarke sees a lot of familiar faces. Harper and Monroe have each got moon-eyed boys leading them around, though they still look more interested in each other. Whereas Roma and Bree clearly have complete control in their bouncing Lindy Hops. Trina, Fox, and Mel have all got partners, too, but it’s Lexa and Anya that are dominating the dance floor. Clarke is shocked. And delighted. Neither woman had shown any desire to learn the foxtrot in Charm School, but here they are in the Reaper’s Den being swung and flipped around like old pros. They switch between partners seamlessly and men are lining up to dance with them. Both look giddier than Clarke has ever seen them.

The song comes to a close and thankfully the team troops back to Raven’s table. There are more shouts of excitement upon seeing Clarke, some confusion at seeing Bellamy, and finally near-sobriety upon understanding the situation. They quickly pull themselves together and are just preparing to duck out the back door when Clarke realizes something.

“Where’s Octavia? I thought she left with you.”

At this, Bellamy’s head snaps towards her, his eyes narrowed. Clarke doesn’t even look at him, knowing they’ll end up shouting at each other if she does.

There are shifty glances traded between the ballplayers before Fox caves. “She came with.”

“Well, where is she now?” Clarke demands, cutting off anything Bellamy could possibly say.

No one answers but everyone’s eyes turn to a point behind Clarke and Bellamy’s backs. They turn and see a slowly revolving couple on the dance floor. One half of that couple is clearly Octavia Blake, who is dwarfed by her partner. He’s dark-skinned with what appears to be a lot of tattoos and very little hair.

Clarke could swear she knows what’s going to happen before it does. Bellamy’s face goes very, very white before flushing very, very red. His entire body is quivering as he stalks off towards his sister. Clarke only has time to turn to her team and say, “Go!” before she has to dash after Bellamy. Sliding around to the front of him, her sudden appearance is enough to make him pause. She seizes her advantage, grabs his right hand and tucks it against her ribcage, then she picks up his left hand in her right and settles into a comfortable dance frame. It’s done so efficiently that Bellamy can only look at her in amazed confusion. Unfortunately, his gaze then slides up and his mouth hardens and he starts forward again. Clarke is ready, though. She steps forward, too, like a stumble from an inexperienced dancer, and treads on his instep. Bellamy winces and all his animosity is directed down at her.

Clarke rolls her eyes and tells him matter-of-factly, “You will not do anything here tonight that is going to risk your sister’s career in this league. Not if I have any say in it. Now, move your feet, people are staring.”

Reluctantly, Bellamy shuffles his feet. He still glares down at her. “Good thing you don’t have a say, then, Princess.”

Repressing the urge to roll her eyes again, Clarke continues trying to talk Bellamy down. “You can’t protect her from everything. Octavia is her own person and will make her own mistakes, whether you like it or not.”

“That won’t stop me from trying,” he says fiercely. Suddenly, Clarke can visualize the uncompromising love that exists between the Blake siblings and she’s left dazzled by it. “Besides, that guy looks older than I am. He can’t be good news.” This is said with more petulance than he probably intends and undoes much of the ferocity that came before.

Clarke has to admit he has a point, but she won’t let that get in the way of her goal. “It’s just a dance, Bell,” she says gently, layering in his nickname for greater effect. “She’s not declaring her undying love for the man. The minute that happens, you have my permission to make as big of a fuss as you want.”

The look he’s giving her makes Clarke think she over-stepped with her teasing, but the fight drains out of him a moment later. Breathing a sigh of relief, she hardly notices that his sudden relaxation has drawn them a step closer together. She has to tilt her head back a bit to get a good look at him, now, but that’s not so bad when he’s looking down at her with what seems like tenderness.

Neither speaks and in their silence, Clarke can finally listen to the song they’re supposed to be dancing to. Recognition burns bittersweet in her ears. Even without a singer, Clarke wonders how she didn’t know the minute the song started. Thinking about what Bellamy shared about his past on the joy ride over, she decides to share something with him, too.

The tenderness she’d imagined before has been replaced by faint concern on Bellamy’s face when she looks up at him. “Do you know this song?”

He concentrates for a moment and shrugs. “Maybe. I don’t really have an ear for music.”

“It’s called ‘Stardust.’” Bellamy makes a sound of recognition. “It was my dad’s favorite. He used to sing it to my mom whenever she was mad at him. Sometimes, I think it made it worse. He wasn’t a very good singer.” She huffs out a laugh in spite of herself and leans into Bellamy a little more, settling her chin against his shoulder. “He loved this song, but he never got to hear how popular it became. For a while, I cried every time Bing Crosby came on the radio.”

Clarke can’t bring herself to look at him. She’s never actually told anyone that. Wells knew, but only because he practically lived at the Griffin home growing up. She’s still staring off over Bellamy’s shoulder when he gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. Risking a glance up, Clarke is startled by the softness filling Bellamy’s gaze. She can't look away and her mouth's gone dry. She’s startled even further by a voice.

“Bell?” Octavia and her massive partner have migrated across the floor to dance near Bellamy and Clarke. The confusion in her expression is obvious, but there’s also something like curiosity or calculation there.

Confronted so proximately with his sister’s choice of dance partner, Bellamy has relapsed into stony disapproval. Clarke takes the reins.

“Mr. Collins is on his way here—“ catching sight of her watch where it rests against Bellamy’s shoulder “—right now. We need to get out before he sees us and tosses us out of the league.”

Octavia’s eyes widen and she glances up to her partner. “I’m sorry. I have to…”

“Go,” he finishes for her, smiling sweetly. Suddenly he doesn’t look so dangerous. “I hope I can see you again.”

The smile she returns is brilliant. “I’d love that.”

The two part ways. Clarke is glad neither tries anything more than a brief handclasp since she is certain she would not be able to restrain Bellamy a second time. Still, he glares at the hulk of a man as they hurry away. The three remaining Comets are making their way toward the back door when a voice surprises Clarke for what she hopes is the last time of the evening.

“Clarke!” Finn Collins’s voice fills her ears. “You decided to come after all.”

Before she spins to address the man, she watches Bellamy shove his sister out the door and assumes he follows. “Finn,” she greets, pasting a sunny smile on her face. She prays he didn’t notice the small hubbub behind her. “I hoped some fresh air would help my head.”

Then, of course, another surprise. “Collins,” Bellamy’s voice is neutral, though Clarke thinks she can detect more surliness than usual. She can sympathize with the emotion since Bellamy is certainly supposed to be in the parking lot right now, not jeopardizing her half-formed plan.

“And look who I found when I got here! I never really thought of Bellamy as a dancer, but he says that’s not why he’s here. He wouldn’t answer me when I asked why he came to a dancehall, then. I don’t think it was for the company, either, since he was sitting by himself when I walked in.” Clarke chatters on, hoping Finn will buy into the idea that she’s nothing more than a silly girl, willing to risk her career on the say-so of a man she hardly knows. Judging by his indulgent smile, he does. Her one glance at Bellamy shows him to be thrown off-balance by the turn of events. She can’t worry about him now, though, not when the team is almost home free. Clarke takes Finn’s arm and continues, “Actually, he just said he was going to leave.”

Bellamy’s face shutters closed and he nods stiffly. He’s taken her hint but doesn’t say anything. Finn just keeps smiling.

As her manager and partner in crime turns away, Clarke adds, “If you see Octavia tonight, will you tell her not to worry? I’ll be back soon. It’s just that Finn—Mr. Collins, that is—promised me a dance.” She smiles brightly up at Finn, hoping he’s not suspicious and flirting extra boldly to distract him. What Clarke misses is the cloud that passes over Bellamy’s face at the sight.

Bellamy leaves, tossing a harsh, “Whatever the hell you want, Princess,” as he goes.

Clarke doesn’t have to pretend to be shocked, but Finn is already pulling her toward the dance floor. Bolstering her smile, she counts the minutes until she can request to be taken back to the hotel.

Bellamy is in what could generously be called a mood. It’s not enough that he’d been dragged into ridiculous team dramatics last night, but he’s got the mother of all hangovers, too. Nearly everyone has noticed it, though no one but Octavia has said anything about it. 

He leans against the bus, glowering as girls pile in. Octavia waits until everyone else has boarded before saying anything. She eyes him warily. "About last night..."

"We are not talking about last night," he answers stiffly.

"Really? Because you also didn't say anything about it when we drove home, so you're kind of due for an outburst."

Bellamy clenches his jaw. "Not the time, Octavia."

She rolls her eyes. "If you say so. But if you're not going to talk about the reason for your foul mood, then you better have a handle on your temper. Don't take it out on someone else." With one last glare, she gets on the bus.

Octavia knows him better than anyone in the world. Better, she actually understands him, for all she often disapproves of his actions. But right now, she thinks she knows what's going through his mind, and she's only got a piece of the story. Yes, he is mad that Octavia snuck out into a potentially dangerous situation. She had no way of knowing what kind of people would be at that dancehall. And yes, he'd been furious seeing Octavia in the arms of a man straight out of Bellamy's worst nightmares. (To be fair, most men who pay attention to Octavia seem like they're straight out of his worst nightmares. The sheer mass and number of tattoos covering this particular man only made matters worse. The issue of color doesn't really bother Bellamy at all, though he did pause to think about the kinds of heartache it could cause O down the road.)

What had kept him silent the whole borrowed ride back to the hotel was not Octavia, though. It was shock and surprise. It was the sight of Clarke Griffin beaming up at Finn Collins as if no one else in the world existed. She’d taken Collins’s arm and looked up at him with such adoration. It was a sock in the gut. And then the anger set in.

All his life, anger has been Bellamy Blake’s constant shadow. He got into more fistfights than he could count before he even hit puberty. Hell, a brawl stemming from his uncontained fury is what ultimately ended his career. But growing up on the wrong side of town, hearing his teammates objectify and demean his baby sister, those were real things to be angry about. They were legitimate sources of his not always well-tempered rage.

Never has Bellamy been so angry for no reason. 

Clarke looking at Finn Collins like he hung the moon does not count as a reason. (At least, not a good one.) He isn’t sure what to do about it.

So, even though he’s in a mood, it’s not as though he’s angry. He can’t be angry. A night decidedly spent not sleeping failed to determine what exactly Bellamy is, but that has to be beside the point. A man is allowed a bad mood every now and then. Especially when “not sleeping” really meant “drinking himself into a stupor” which has led to this monster of a hangover.

Since there hasn't been time to hire a new driver, Bellamy is forced to navigate the team bus from the hotel to the field. Which means he can’t start on his hair of the dog until after he’s finished operating heavy machinery. As it is, it’s a miracle they make it there in one piece. The flask of acidic bourbon burns a hole in his jacket pocket the whole ride over. If he empties it the minute he’s alone on the bus, that’s his business.

In the locker room, he studiously ignores everyone as he gives out the line up. Clarke won’t be playing, which is only because she was nearly concussed the day before and not because he’s mad at her. That would be ridiculous. He grins at Bree when he tells her to gear up, even flirting a bit. He tells himself it’s the booze. Bellamy doesn’t look at Clarke once before he leaves for the dugout.

Bellamy is feeling validated in his lineup (despite the fact that, historically, the Comets lose more when Clarke doesn’t play) through most of the sixth inning. Arkdown has just put three runs on the board, pulling them ahead of Mount Weather with a score of 6-4. Bree has acquitted herself well, getting a tag out at home, but missing a throw down to stop a runner from stealing second. Bellamy doesn’t really mind, even the Princess would have been hard pressed to complete that play. The Comets are up and that’s what matters.

Things only start to go south in the middle of the half inning. Mount Weather’s clean up is at bat with one out and a runner on second. The hit comes and the ball goes sailing out to right field, dropping in front of Harper. Bellamy could run this play in his sleep: The runner on second will probably make it home if their third base coach isn’t asleep on her feet, but Harper will get the ball into Raven at second. This will keep the batter at first and set up a potential double play with the next batter. Mount Weather will score a run, but the Comets will keep their lead.

Unfortunately, it’s not Bellamy running the play.

Harper wrangles the ball easily enough, but rather than getting the ball to Raven to keep the batter at first, she catches sight of the runner rounding third and careening towards home. In what can only be a fit of misplaced desperation, the right fielder flings the ball home. Bree comes up with the ball after a few hops, but it’s too late. It arrives just after the runner and gives the batter a chance to advance to second. When the play ends, the tying run is in scoring position and the game looks much bleaker.

Now, Bellamy is angry. For the rest of the inning, he exists in a haze of idle rage. It doesn’t matter that Harper has nothing to do with Mount Weather putting their next run on the board. She created the opportunity and now the Mountain Men are back in the game. Luckily, the Comets pull it together and get the last two outs fairly quickly (though it might have given Bellamy a chance to cool down if the inning had been dragged out a bit more). He continues to ignore Clarke and her concerned glances.

He stands at the top of the dugout, watching his slightly dejected players troop in to start their at bat. Bellamy offers lackluster encouragement as girls pass him, but he keeps his eyes on Harper.

Once she’s close enough, he beckons her over. “Harper, can I ask you a question?” She nods as she comes to halt before him. Bellamy crosses his arms as he squints down at her. “What team do you play for?”

Harper stares at her manager for a moment before glancing behind him to see if her teammates have any idea of what’s happening. Finding no answers, she nervously points at the logo on her uniform and says, “I’m a Comet.”

“Oh, good. You know that. Because I was starting to think you were playing for the Mountain when you threw home instead of second! You let the tying run get on base! We lost the lead because of you and we’ll keep losing if you don’t start using your goddamn brain! If you even have one!” Fury drips from every word, though venting has not helped cool the anger bubbling in his gut. He stalks down into the dugout, ignoring the stunned silence of his team. A silence broken by a too-familiar sound. Bellamy turns and sees Harper rooted to the spot, her face crumpled and shoulders shaking as soft sobs hang in the air.

He is incredulous when he asks, “Are you crying?” despite the abundant evidence that Yes, she is crying.

Harper shakes her head anyway, choking on a “No,” even as more tears streak down her cheeks.

Bellamy repeats himself in disbelief, his voice rising and catching the attention of the spectators close enough to hear. Finally, once he’s really absorbed the crying ballplayer in front of him, he explodes, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

“Back off, Blake.” Raven bites out, more venomous than he’s heard her before.

“Shut it, Reyes,” he returns, storming back up the steps and onto the field.

He’s not proud of what happens next. He can’t really remember what happens next. Bellamy knows he gets in Harper’s face, yelling more and setting off a fresh round of tears. He knows he shouted, “There’s no crying in baseball!” at least once more as Fox and Monroe lead her to a bench. At that point, the umpire had come over and one thing led to another and Bellamy crossed the point of no return when he said the ump looked like a “Penis with a hat on” and was then summarily ejected from the game.

He comes back into himself in the concrete hallway leading from the dugout to the locker room. It’s not the first time he’s lost control like this. It’s just that there’s usually a better reason than a botched play. The anger still sits heavy in his gut, but now it's accompanied by shame.

With nothing else to do, he sticks his head in a shower stall and turns on the cold water. He hopes the water will dampen his temper in a way yelling and throwing a tantrum hadn’t.

It doesn’t.

Bellamy shuffles back into the locker room, dripping and looking for a towel. He completely misses the blonde ball of fury until she starts speaking.

“What the hell was that?” He whips around to face her, mouth agape. She’s sitting on one of the benches, nearly vibrating with indignation. Before he can reply, she stands and continues, getting in his face. “You can’t just explode at your players because you came into the game with a bee in your bonnet! Did it make you feel big and strong to take your anger out on Harper when you’re just mad about last night?" She jabs him in the chest. And then again to really get her point across. "Did it? I knew you were an ass, showing up to games doused in liquor, but I never thought you were cruel, too.”

Clarke’s fury rivals Bellamy’s own. Ordinarily, their arguments breathe life into him; her anger, even good-natured, a mirror to his own. Even over the pull of booze, Bellamy can find energy to argue with Clarke Griffin. Now, though, he just deflates. He can’t fault Clarke’s accusations, but she’s on a roll and not even his utter agreement can slow her down.

“I thought you were starting to pull your head out of your ass when you started doing your job. I thought you were going to start pulling your weight for this team. We started doing good things here. The team was coming together, and then you throw it away for a temper tantrum about your sister’s social life!”

He could tell her. He could say that Octavia was only the spark to the inferno blazing through his self-control and Finn Collins was the fuel. But Bellamy’s not going to try and blame his mistakes on Clarke, not that she would let him. Anyway, that would come too close to admitting something he’s not ready to even acknowledge. Bellamy sinks to the bench she’d occupied moments before and buries his face in his hands. Tirade complete, Clarke sits next to him in expectant silence.

“I’m not proud of how I acted,” he begins, scrubbing his face roughly. Clarke says nothing, but turns towards him, which is more than enough to make him continue. “My mom—Octavia’s and my mom—she wanted so much more for us. She would be horrified if she’d seen me out there. I’m horrified most days.” He chances a peek at Clarke and she’s staring solemnly back. Maybe it’s the bourbon sitting in his stomach, burning through his veins, but he feels shamed. Aurora Blake didn’t raise her son to make girls cry.

“Listen,” Clarke sighs, “you may be a complete ass half the time, but this team does need you. If you want forgiveness, I’ll give it to you—“ Bellamy looks up at her, hope mingling with incredulity “—once you’ve apologized to Harper and the team. Then, you step up and you lead. I can’t do this without you.”

She looks nothing less than imperious, even with a bruised face. It’s not a bad look on her, if only because it’s tempered by true earnestness. For whatever reason, Clarke Griffin believes in Bellamy Blake and that’s enough for now.

He nods in agreement and she offers him a smile that is just a quirk of her lips. In the moment, though, Bellamy wouldn't trade it for the world. 

Chapter Text

Clarke and Bellamy start getting along shockingly well. They still snip at each other every so often, but it’s more to keep the other on their toes than anything else. Mostly, they’ve settled into an easy camaraderie that she can’t begin to explain. Clarke knows the girls are gossiping about it, but she can’t bring herself to care all that much. They’re finally a team, with a real manager—who only comes to games buzzed on a bad day—and a real camaraderie and even a few real fans.

To be clear, those fans are very few. Jasper Jordan, who has been the game commentator for home games and works for the local radio station, has tried his hardest to get crowds out to the ball field, but usually there’s something more exciting going on. Like a tractor show.

At least that’s why nearly no one is at today’s game. Really.

The stands are emptier than Clarke has ever seen them and she can’t fight back the burn of disappointment all through warm ups. She keeps looking around as if she’s just missed part of the crowd, but each time no one new appears. Even the worst AAA clubs in the Middle-of-Nowhere, U.S.A. can pull in better crowds than this.

The Comets pile back into their dugout just before the first inning, scouting out places to sit and stowing extra gear. A low hum of discontent thrums through the team. Everyone has noticed the lackluster crowd and no one is happy about it.

Roma twirls a bat like she once twirled batons, but frowns up at the stands. “People have to start showing up. No fans, no league.” There are murmurs of agreement all around, but it’s not as if they can really do anything more about it. They give every game their all; it can’t be the players’ faults if no one else can see that.

Of course, the universe chooses that moment to serve the Comets an opportunity on a silver platter.

“Ladies. You all look wonderful.” Clarke is fairly sure she doesn’t imagine the way Finn Collins’s eyes linger on her even as he addresses the team as a whole. She wants to frown, but at more than his flirting. The man looks terrible: run ragged and exhausted, though he maintains his charming smile. He’s literally got his hat in his hands, turning it by the brim.

After the requisite chorus of greetings, he continues. “Ladies, I’d like you to know that there’s a reporter and photographer in the stands from LIFE Magazine—” he hardly gets the name out before several girls are up and craning their heads over the roof of the dugout in an effort to locate them. The flutter of excitement nearly drowns out his next words. “Clarke, I’m trying to get them to do a story about you.”

Clarke, who had been smiling in exasperation as Octavia flapped her arms in the air, freezes. No one else does. Every pair of eyes is suddenly focused on her, but no one seems all that surprised. She stands to face him, but her incredulity makes her ask, “Me? Why?”

“Well, because you’re the Queen of Diamonds. That’s what I told them, anyway.” Maybe it’s the heat, but Clarke could swear Collins blushes. She hears a snort of derision from Bellamy’s corner, but ignores him. He’s been odd about Finn Collins lately, and she hasn’t indulged him before, she's not about to start now. Clarke is more concerned with this ridiculous moniker Finn’s thought up and given her. (Really, she doesn't need to be a queen on top of a princess.) She wants to argue and push back, but he’s already continued.

“I just need you ladies to go out there and give it your all today. Really give them something. Anything.” Desperation paints his last words, catching everyone’s attention.

“Why?” Lexa asks, shrewd as ever. “What’s the matter?”

“Well, the league’s not performing as well as was projected. Mr. Kane and the other owners are thinking about pulling their support if things don’t turn around quickly. There’s been discussion of shutting the league down.”

For a moment, everything seems to go silent and stand still. Clarke watches as shock and despair registers on everyone’s face and regret spreads on Finn’s. Then, the moment is shattered and it’s like time rushes to catch up, leaving Clarke reeling. She listens as indignant cries and shocked outbursts fill the dugout, trying to get her bearings back. Everyone piles their disappointment and anger at Mr. Collins’s feet. She glances around at all these women that she loves like sisters, wishing there was something she could do.

Raven’s voice cuts through the chatter. “What does that mean?”

“They’re businessmen,” he explains, a little condescendingly, but earnest nonetheless. “No profit, no product.”

There’s even more indignation at that. Clarke hears Monroe worry to Mel about how she’ll be able to help out her folks without this paycheck. She’d known many of her teammates were helping to support their families, but hadn’t once thought about what would happen if the league went under. She hadn’t dreamed there would be reason to worry about that.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” Raven snarls at Collins. “Go back to California and work in that two-bit garage where you found me? Put up with every slap on my ass from men who couldn’t tell a radiator from a carburetor? No. Not a chance. You can tell that to Kane and his buddies.” She stares Collins down, furious and unrelenting until the man looks down. She turns away and Lexa takes up the call.

“That’s right! They can’t keep us from playing!” It’s a war cry more than anything else. Soon, every girl in the dugout is similarly incensed, calling out her defiance. Clarke is numbly proud. But that does nothing to change their situation.

Finn Collins is doing his best to placate them. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I am trying my best. Just go out there and give it your everything.” He looks at Clarke beseechingly and, not for the first time, responsibility settles heavy on her shoulders.

“We always do,” Raven spits.

By the sixth inning, nothing spectacular has happened. The Comets have put up a few runs against the visiting Peaches, but no one’s hit anything bigger than a double. Every play has been routine. Sometimes it’s nice to play games like this, but Clarke can feel the boredom radiating off the reporter and photographer stationed atop the visiting team’s dugout. If something doesn’t happen soon, the Comets’ chance at saving the league is shot.

She understands Finn’s gambit. LIFE Magazine is seen, if not read, by nearly every adult American every week. Getting the All American Girls Professional Baseball League into its pages would be a coup in and of itself. But, Clarke isn’t sure it would be enough. While most Americans, even here in the Midwest, would see LIFE, it isn’t as if they're all reading every single page. Mostly, they’re just looking at that front cover on newsstands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if anything front cover-worthy is going to happen in this game. Clarke idly wonders if the photographer could be persuaded to come back tomorrow as she sets up behind the plate. They’ve already earned two outs in the top of the sixth, one more and Clarke will be first to bat. She can try to knock one out of the park and hope that makes for a good enough photo. Or maybe a nice slide into home. Possibilities whir through her mind.

Luckily, she’s not too engrossed in her planning because the next thing she knows is the crack of the bat and the ball flying nearly straight up into the air. All Clarke has to do is flip up her mask and move a few feet to her right to be in the perfect position to catch the foul ball. She’s caught pop fouls a million times in her life. This is the very definition of a routine play. As she moves, though, she catches sight of the bored photographer and makes a split second decision.

Before anyone knows what’s happened, Clarke’s foot slides out from under her and she plummets to the ground. Rather than falling in a heap, though, she’s landed in a neat split, arm outstretched and ball nestled tightly in her mitt. She makes sure to grin up at the photographer, as if this is just an everyday occurrence. Once the man has picked his jaw up off the ground, he snaps his photo. Only then does Clarke bounce up, covering her wince with a brighter grin, and jogs to the dugout.

She gratefully accepts the praise of her teammates as she pulls off her chest and shin protectors. She’s still grinning, a little giddy from adrenaline, when Bellamy hovers over her.

“What the hell was that, Princess?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke shrugs, wanting to downplay her shrewd calculations and maybe even tease him a bit, “I just thought it would help the league.” Bellamy scoffs, so she decides to tease him even more. “Besides, didn’t you hear? I’m the Queen of Diamonds now.” Grinning cheekily at him, she leaves the dugout to take her at bat. 

July is a whirlwind of activity. Clarke’s appearance on the cover of LIFE marks a turning point in the AAGPBL’s first season. Gradually, the Comets begin playing for bigger and bigger crowds and often get recognized on the street. It seems as if all of the Midwest is talking about those girl ballplayers.

Clarke, of course, bears the brunt of this recognition. Collins had positioned her as the star of the league in that ridiculous article, and she rose to the challenge beautifully. She’s all grace and magnanimity under the heightened scrutiny, accepting adoration, smiling sweetly at shy little girls who ask for her autograph, but always crediting her team for any success.

Bellamy, of course, sees to it that she doesn’t let the sudden fame go to her head. Not that she really needs his help. Through it all, it’s clear that the only thing she really wants to do is play ball. So Bellamy cracks down on her. He gives her drills and exercises he’d never dream of setting for some of the other players. It’s not that she’s started slacking and needs the discipline, it’s mostly that she needs a challenge that’s purely about baseball. A challenge that doesn’t also hinge on the way she looks or carries herself or any number of inconsequential things. She always rolls her eyes at him when he sets her these drills, but it’s gratifying to watch her mind empty and focus solely on the game. Afterwards, they always trade trash talk—which is never as biting as their conversations used to be.

Unfortunately, Collins decides that a one-time magazine cover is not enough to ensure the league’s future and takes to hovering more than usual to press his case. The man’s right, but Bellamy doesn’t have to like it.

What comes next is worse than filming that newsreel. A whole parade of gimmicks is trotted out to keep seats filled. They start small in the beginning, little games and raffles to put bodies in the stands. Soon, there’s a competition in the seventh-inning stretch to out throw a player, with a small prize to be won. It’s mostly for children, and Bellamy will admit, if only to himself, that he loves watching the Comets put on a show. The kids always throw first, and then Fox or Harper or Bree will make a huge spectacle of themselves as they wind up and throw, letting their tiny opponent win.

(For a while, every Comet took her turn at the game, but Anya effectively put a stop to that. She refused to do anything but her best, insisting the children would never learn if they were coddled. This led to both a string of crying children and Anya’s official retirement from promotional gimmicks. Though, now that Bellamy thinks about it, that was probably her goal from the outset.)

After that proves to be a success, Collins rolls out his next big idea. Catch a foul, get a kiss. Bellamy is decidedly against this one from the outset. Luckily, Octavia’s never been much of a line hitter, although she seems to hit more foul balls than ever when they play in Mount Weather. Clarke has to restrain Bellamy the first time he watches Octavia’s giant dance partner claim his prize. (The man’s name is Lincoln and is far less terrible than Bellamy feared. That doesn’t mean he wants to watch the man kiss his sister.) Eventually, Lincoln catches so many foul balls that no one else will go after one that Octavia’s hit. Bellamy’s not sure what to think about that, so he settles for telling his sister her boyfriend is dead the minute he hurts her. O just scoffs and says if that happens, Bellamy will need to get in line.

The one time someone catches one of Clarke’s fouls, Bellamy definitely does not stand on the top step of the dugout and glare at the man until play resumes. If that’s what he wants to do, well, no one knows for sure.

(Octavia knows. She takes one look at the stormy expression on her brother’s face and knows for sure. She doesn’t stop worrying about it for weeks.)

To be fair, he finds himself uncomfortable with this ritual most of the time. Every girl on the team feels like his responsibility; he hates watching them be used like this. Even after nearly every Comet has taken her turn telling Bellamy to get over himself, he finds himself uncomfortable at every kiss. Thankfully, Roma, who has always pulled her hits down the right field line and therefore hits more fouls than anyone, always cheerfully lays a kiss on her waiting winner.

“What’s a kiss or two when it keeps the league from going under?” she’d shrugged at Bellamy’s misplaced protectiveness. He’d grumbled in response, but agreed not to interfere more.

The Comets even get their own dedicated photographer. Bellamy thinks the kid, Monty, technically works for a Chicago paper, but he’s not sure. All he knows is that there’s a flood of pictures of Arkdown players in the local papers now: Lexa pulling out a shoestring catch, Charlotte’s near-arabesque of a follow through, a massive bruise sitting high on Clarke’s hip and thigh from a brutal slide into home.

Bellamy remembers that day well. Clarke Griffin can take a hit, so when she stayed down in the dirt for a moment longer than usual, he’d sent Reese running for a bag of ice. Finally, Clarke rose and dusted herself off, clapping the Blue Sock’s catcher on the shoulder. She made it into the dugout without limping, but the frown on her face belied the effort she was making.

Nearly collapsing on the bench next to Bellamy, she sighed once, hand skating over her thigh. Once he saw her wince, Bellamy lost any sense of self-preservation, and pulled her towards him. He got her to lean up against him and twist to the side to take any pressure off her hip. Reese came back with a dripping bag of ice just as he pulled up the skirt of her uniform and nudged the hem of her shorts away. (He definitely did not think about how this was never the way he’d imagined getting a better look at Clarke Griffin’s legs.) Over her head, he could already see blood dripping down her leg from shallow scrapes. The whole area was already swelling and turning red, so he’d ruthlessly applied the ice. Clarke shuddered and clenched her fist, biting off a curse.

By the end of the game, her entire thigh was a mass of purple and red and Bellamy's hand was numb from the ice. It hadn’t helped that she’d refused to sit out, saying a little bruise wouldn’t put her out of commission. Of course, she had to lean heavily on Bellamy to make it back out to the bus.

Not that he minded.

Honestly, though, it seems like everyone is out for Clarke’s blood. Much as the crowds love her, it would appear that the other teams aren’t quite as adoring.  Clarke takes more hits at home than any other player in the league. Nearly every time, though, she comes up still holding onto the ball, the out secure. Mount Weather in particular is vicious. Bellamy watches as, over the course of the month, Cage Wallace’s face grows grimmer and grimmer as Clarke refuses to stay down.

The casual dislike Bellamy had always felt for Wallace quickly transforms into deep-seated disgust. He’d never liked the man, though they’d only overlapped a few years in the majors. Wallace had a reputation even worse than Bellamy’s. If Bellamy was a hothead, then Cage Wallace was a maniac. There had always been rumors that he played dirty, spiking ankles on a safe slide and swinging end-loaded bats. Bellamy had even heard that Cage regularly sabotaged a few up-and-comers in his ball club when he felt too threatened. Not that he really needed to; his father owned the team. No way was Wallace getting let go or traded away for anything less than a murder conviction.

Cage had bounced around his father’s organization in whatever managerial positions were vacant since his retirement. He’d been a hitting coach for one of Wallace’s Single-A teams for a year or two before getting bumped up to better and better positions. It wasn’t as if the man had ever been a phenomenal ball player, so it was pretty clear to Bellamy how he kept getting promoted.

So, no. It wasn’t as if Bellamy had an excess of respect for Cage Wallace before he had to interact with him on a regular basis. But watching the man actively root for the injury of an opposing player cements Bellamy’s distaste.

The fact that it’s Clarke that’s in Wallace’s scope doesn’t have anything to do with it.

And, okay, so he and Clarke are actually getting along. Not just in the I’m-not-biting-your-head-off sense, either. They might be actual friends. During games, if they’re not both standing at the top of the dugout, arms crossed, then they’re pressed shoulder to shoulder on the bench. Bellamy tries not to focus on her sheer warmth or how, even after playing nine innings in boiling heat, Clarke still manages to smell good.

(Because if he focuses on that, then he might start thinking about other things. Things that have nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with how, maybe, he wouldn’t hate being pressed up against Clarke Griffin in an entirely different context.)

Bellamy tries not to kid himself. He knows that what he feels for Clarke is not what a manager should feel for one of his players, so he does his best to ignore whatever it is he’s feeling. But Bellamy has never had the greatest self-control and he’s not sure how long he can last.

Instead, he forces himself to focus on being a good manager. He finally learns everyone’s actual names instead of the obvious nicknames he gave out when he napped and drank more than he managed. He stops drinking on game days, though he doesn’t tell anyone. Advice that he wishes he’d gotten at the start of his career gets doled out to anyone who will listen. (Yes, a lot of that advice is obvious, like: Don’t get into brawls with your teammates. Or: If you have to get in a fight, make sure you don’t get caught.) Mostly, his advice goes unheeded, but Bellamy comforts himself that at least he did his duty. More importantly, Bellamy starts to really dig into the responsibilities of his job. He devours statistics and plays with lineups, hoping to garner any kind of edge for the Comets that he can. If doing so gets him further into Clarke’s good graces, then who is he to complain?

And it’s not as if it’s just her good behavior rubbing off on him. Bellamy gets the Princess to try chewing tobacco one memorable game.

It’s not something he does often, just when he’s feeling extra antsy, like he is in that game against South Bend. She’s been eyeing him all day and Bellamy is suddenly reminded of sitting next to her in a dark theater, offering up cheap gin. He smirks a little when he offers her the pouch, never expecting her to take him up on it. When her jaw sets, his smirk becomes a full-blown grin.

“Hand it over,” she commands, hand outstretched.

“What, not afraid of getting kicked out of the league, now?”

“The queen can’t get kicked out of her own league,” she snips back. Given how annoyed she still can get when he calls her Princess, Clarke really took to the whole “Queen of Diamonds” thing. Only when it lets her win arguments against her manager. Otherwise, she gets a little surly and tries her best to deflect attention. She pinches the tiniest wad possible out of his pouch with a skeptical look. She peers at it until he makes an impatient sound before putting it in her mouth. When she starts chewing, a grimace overtakes her face and Bellamy laughs at the sight.

“This is disgusting! Why would you do this to yourself?”

Bellamy just rolls his eyes and takes the pouch back. Watching Clarke spit out the wad is weirdly satisfying, though. Not long after, Bellamy starts bringing sunflower seeds to games, which the catcher is far more willing to share. Every time Clarke spits out a husk, Bellamy has to tamp down the odd flutter of pride in his chest.

July isn’t all baseball, though. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, they do get some downtime. Bellamy spends as much time with Octavia as he can, which means he spends a lot of time in the Comets’ Arkdown boarding house. Getting to see all of his players in such a casual setting is disconcerting at first. Mel really does knit in her spare time, finishing socks the way some people finish books, starting up a new one right away. Raven has convinced someone to leave their Chevy in the drive and tinkers with the engine block at every opportunity. Once, he’d walked into the parlor where Anya and Lexa were sitting, and a discussion of confidential military operations was the only explanation Bellamy could come up with for the way they shouted him out of the room. Charlotte alternately tries to get Clarke to offer up more tips and ignores anything that approaches advice. For all that the girl is already one of the steadiest hurlers in the league, she's still only sixteen. Mostly, the team takes very little notice of him.

This suits him fine, as Bellamy really only wants extra time with his sister. Usually, O is pretty accommodating, sitting with her big brother on the porch and just talking. They reminisce and talk baseball, usually staying in the superficialities of their lives. Neither really wants to remember the things they said when Bellamy’s drinking was at its worse. Bellamy knows he doesn’t. Even so, he brings himself to apologize and feels all the better for his little sister’s acceptance. Every so often, the mail arrives while Bellamy visits and Octavia will run off to read whatever she’s received. He’s got his suspicions, but Bellamy waits for his sister’s confirmation. Despite the postal interruptions, Bellamy can’t remember a time when they were closer.

One night in the middle of the month, he and Octavia sit on the steps of the porch, looking out over the front yard. All of the Comets dash around, barefoot in the dark. It started when Reese barreled out of the house just as darkness fell, yelling about fireflies. Soon, the little girl is capturing the bugs in her hands as the team crowds the doorway to watch. The first to join her is Charlotte, still nearly a little girl herself. After, everyone else joins in and soon the yard is filled with laughter and shouting.

Little bursts of light flicker in the night air, illuminating tough as nails women turned soft in the face of a little girl chasing fireflies. Bellamy slings an arm around his sister’s shoulders, drawing her into his side. He’s sure she rolls her eyes, but she lets him have this one anyway. His eyes catch on Clarke, who’s trapped an insect between her cupped palms, and watches as her face lights up, surrounded by the shining crown of her hair. It’s a thought that Bellamy has had before, but he is pretty sure Clarke has never looked more beautiful. She looks up, her gaze catching on his and smiles, and sets off a swarm in Bellamy’s stomach.

At some point, Octavia leaves his side and dances out onto the lawn. She picks up a sleepy Reese and twirls in the eddy of fireflies. Bellamy watches the one person he’s loved more than anything and the women he’s coming to respect more every day making fools of themselves in the summer night.

He might be a sap for thinking it, but he never wants this season to end. 

A few weeks after her appearance on the cover of LIFE, Clarke feels less like a ballplayer than a trained circus monkey. She’s playing as much baseball as ever, but it seems like the game always takes a backseat to the promise of a media spectacle. The constant pressure to perform—not just by giving a game her all—is spreading her thin and leaves her wondering how long she can shoulder the responsibility.

Again and again, all anyone wants to see is the split catch. Clarke’s limber, but she’s no gymnast. To placate crowds, she pulls out other trick catches, like the behind-the-back, which she learned at eleven hoping to make Wells jealous. When she can’t do that, she starts playing a little recklessly. She runs when she should hold and steals when she should stay. Clarke likes to think of it as payback for the literal blood she sheds defending home. It hasn’t escaped her notice that she gets barreled into far more often than any other catcher in the league. At least it makes for exciting games. As long as she can show crowds that this league is worth the seventy-five cent admission fee, Clarke knows she can’t really complain. Still, she can’t help but chafe at the fact that Joe DiMaggio was never told to be singularly responsible for packing Yankee Stadium.

At least her team is solidly on her side. Every Comet plays as hard as she did at tryouts, earning scrapes, bruises, and sprains as she goes. While the public is finally taking notice of those girls playing baseball, it’s still business as usual for the players. Yes, some of them don’t seem to mind the extra attention they’re getting for everything but the way they play ball, but no one’s dedication to being the best wavers for even a moment.

(During one game, before the complete frenzy that descends, Bree makes a suggestion. “What if, at a really important moment of the game, the buttons on my uniform fall off and out pops my bosom?”

Only Roma dignified her with a response, saying, “You think there are men in this country that haven’t seen your bosom?” before everyone gets back to business.)

It’s not perfect, though. It seems like every other week, Clarke reads or hears about how the league is just another symptom of all that is morally corrupt in America. There’s one radio show that broadcasts out of Chicago that is particularly persistent in its criticism. The host has called Clarke and her teammates “unnatural” more than once. They’ve mostly had to stop listening to the radio when they’re at home. Anya had nearly broken the thing the last time the subject of female ballplayers was discussed.

(Anya isn’t the only one to react when the league receives negative press. She’s just the most conspicuous about it. Once, she honest-to-god shoves Clarke into a mud puddle. The altercation only ends when both women are plastered in mud and fuming.)

Worse, Charlotte develops something like a chip on her shoulder. She’s easily one of the better pitchers in the league and so young that she garners her fair share of media attention. But she’s almost always referred to as Clarke’s protégé, or her surrogate kid sister, and that grates on a girl who wants nothing more than to be her own person. Charlotte starts to push back when Clarke gives her pointers at the house or comes out to the mound during games. Mostly, it’s just petulant sniping from a teenager, but something more substantial bubbles beneath the surface. Clarke rolls her eyes and does her best to shrug it off. It’s not all the time, so it hardly seems like something to even worry about.

There are other things that she does worry about. Like keeping this league alive. Like making sure her friends keep their jobs and their paychecks. Like giving the crowds a good enough show to make sure they come back. Day by day, the responsibility is dragging Clarke down.

Thank god for Bellamy.

If, at the start of the season, anyone had told Clarke she would be thanking god for Bellamy Blake, she would have suggested an immediate head examination. Somehow, though, over the course of the past month, Bellamy has become invaluable. To the team. She tries not to think about what, exactly, Bellamy is to her. He’s still a smug bastard, but at least he pulls his weight, is what Clarke forces herself to think when she finds herself a little too fond. It’s enough that he hasn’t left her to lead alone.

When she can’t bear to think about league stability any longer, she writes letters. Sometimes they go back to her mother in Madison, though they have been talking on the phone more often lately. Abby Griffin does not approve of her daughter’s choices and almost always asks her to come home at least once, but insists upon weekly check-ins anyway. Most of Clarke’s letters go to Wells.

She writes about the silly, unimportant things that happen to her. How Finn Collins keeps flirting with her or how some kid in Rockford called her “Doll body” with a completely straight face. Clarke gossips about her teammates, the man with whom Raven gets into shouting matches over her pet project of a Chevy at least once a week and Roma’s revolving door of dates. She sends him the first baseball card with her picture on it that she can find. (He writes back and includes a picture of himself in front of his plane. He says all the guys in his unit made fun of him for painting a griffin on his jet’s nose, but he couldn’t think of anything more formidable. Clarke definitely doesn’t have to keep herself from crying every time she thinks about it for days afterwards.)

Probably, Clarke writes too much about Bellamy. Especially at first, when the man had been determined to be a thorn in her side. She’s more complimentary now that Bellamy is actually being helpful, but he still takes up at least half of her letters to Wells.

For his part, Wells doesn’t comment much about her change of heart. He asks some questions that are subtle enough that Clarke feels okay ignoring him. She’d rather hear about his deployment, anyway. They’ve been in North Africa since April, but he says they’re gearing up for a mission somewhere else soon. Wells can’t tell her about any missions he’s flown, but he does tell her what it’s like to fly.

“It’s like every good thing that’s ever happened in your life is happening all at once. I can always tell when the wheels leave the ground because it suddenly feels like I’m the only person in the world and I can go as high and far and fast as I want. When I come back down, the weight of reality seems even worse than before,” he’s written in his most recent letter. Clarke can almost hear his voice as she tears through it. She always misses Wells the most just after she’s read his letters. She worries about what he doesn’t tell her and what kind of danger he’s in. As unbelievably proud as Clarke is, she wishes that he were back home and safe. She wants her best friend back home so she can turn to him for moral support.

It’s not that she doesn’t already have more support than she could ever want, living, traveling, and working with fourteen other women and their smug manager. But now, more than ever, Clarke feels separate from them. Her team loves, breathes, lives baseball. If the league hadn’t come along, they all would have kept playing on their local teams, in loosely organized pick up games, whatever. They would have fought, tooth and nail, to keep baseball in their lives. Clarke’s not sure she can say the same for herself. She’s already given up the game once, she thinks she would survive without it.

Before the LIFE article, that difference hadn’t bothered her as much. It was worrisome, but easily ignored. She could combat her inadequacies by taking up the unattended reins of her team, really prove herself to everyone else. Now, though, she is being held up as some poster girl for a group of women with more guts and determination than she’s ever known, women who wouldn’t think of giving up the game for anything. They’re the heart of the league, not some fraud who’d only tried out on what was essentially a passing whim. Doubts about her place in the league plague Clarke and she desperately wishes she could just speak to her best friend. If anyone were to know about being an outsider, it would be Wells.

But Wells is somewhere in North Africa and Clarke is being shuttled back and forth along the southern coast of Lake Michigan. He’s fighting for his country and she’s fighting against every expectation of her. So she does what she must and gets on with her life. Clarke bottles up her anxiety and does her best to keep moving forward. She just hopes that no one sees how uncertain she is.

The Comets battle their way through the end of July. They go through something of a slump, losing six games in a row. Their chances at winning the pennant are shot to hell, but they can still claw their way into the end of season playoffs and from there, the World Series. Everyone chalks their streak up to exhaustion, not that that eases the sting. No one is ready to accept being less than the very best. Bellamy’s surprised they hadn’t burned out earlier. In a little under two and a half months, the Comets have played more than seventy-five games, something Bellamy can rarely remember doing in the majors.

Now, they’re hurtling through the descending night to South Bend for an afternoon game. Their new, unusually stoic, bus driver had insisted he didn’t mind the overnight haul, for which Bellamy was grateful. Otherwise they would have had to stay the night in Mount Weather and get up obscenely early to drive south. (He knows Murphy would have had an attitude about it and thanks his lucky stars the man quit. Bellamy likes the new driver, Miller, much more. He’s not in a state of constant fear for his and his sister’s life around Miller.)

Most of the Comets are sprawled out throughout the bus. Towards the back he can hear Harper plucking away at the ukulele she picked up somewhere. Thank god she’d improved by leaps and bounds since she first found the thing because otherwise no one would be getting any sleep. Softer, but still distinct, Bellamy can hear Bree and Roma murmuring encouragement as Charlotte haltingly reads aloud. He turns around to see if he can get a glimpse of the book they’re reading because he knows for a fact they’d started her out with the juicy bits from Gone With the Wind.

Instead of a book cover, he catches sight of Octavia passed out against Clarke’s shoulder just a few rows back. Clarke doesn’t seem like she minds, but Bellamy knows from experience just how heavy his sister can be as deadweight.

It’s for that reason alone that he leans into the aisle to say, “You can come sit up here if you want to escape O.” Clarke glances down at the girl resting against her and then back up at Bellamy with a raised eyebrow. Sometimes he forgets that not everyone on the team has lived with Octavia as long as he has. “She sleeps like the dead. You can move her and she probably won’t notice.”

Bellamy does not hold his breath as Clarke makes up her mind because it’s not that big of a deal. They’ve sat together on the bus before. (Just never for longer than it takes to get from the ballpark to their boarding house, going through a post-game rundown.) Finally, Clarke nods to herself and maneuvers herself from under Octavia’s head. She leans his sister up against the window, grabs her purse, and makes her way up to Bellamy. If she were capable of it, Bellamy would call the way she slumps into the seat graceless. Her head tilts back against the seat and she sighs a little before rousing herself to rummage through her purse. She pulls out a sheaf of papers and starts reading, acting as if Bellamy weren’t even there except for the brush of her arm against his on the armrest.

Patience has never been one of Bellamy’s virtues. He contains himself for barely a minute before asking, “What’s that?”

If he’s being too nosy, Clarke gives no indication. “Letters from my friend Wells.”

“Who’s that?” Bellamy can’t help himself. He has wondered who Wells is since he first heard about him weeks ago in that dark theater. Not that he’s found out anything, but a lack of information has only fueled his curiosity.

Now Clarke frowns and looks up at him. “I’ve told you about Wells,” she says, trailing off at the shaking of Bellamy’s head. “I must have.”

“Hate to break it to you, Princess, but you have never told me about Wells.” It’s not even a lie, so Bellamy has no reason to feel bad.

Clarke starts digging in her purse again, talking all the while. “Wells is my best friend. Really my only friend from back home. We grew up together. Learned to play baseball together.” She finally pulls out a photograph, small and it’s edges slightly worn. It’s a handsome, dark skinned man leaning up against some sort of jet. Bellamy’s not sure if he should be surprised or not, but Clarke is still talking. “He’s overseas with the 99th Fighter Squadron. Actually, he’s the reason I tried out for the league at all.”

That, out of everything, is what surprises Bellamy. He can’t imagine a world in which Clarke Griffin is not playing baseball and tells her as much. In response, she laughs a little and flushes and Bellamy does his best not to think about how used to that he could get. He hands back the photo.

“He’s good looking,” Bellamy hedges, telling himself he’s not fishing for information. “What’s he do when he’s not flying jets?”

“He graduated early so he could ship out for basic. But he said he wanted to go to law school when he gets back. He’s much smarter than I am,” she laughs a little self-deprecatingly.

“So he’s smart and good looking. There are so few of us,” Bellamy teases. He’s only a little disappointed she doesn’t disagree about Wells being handsome. On the upside, she doesn’t dispute that Bellamy is handsome, either.

“Wells is the best person I know.” Clarke confirms. “He went off and was so sure he was doing his duty to his country that I wanted to have one ounce of his assurance. And I guess baseball was the only thing that ever made me feel like that for all I gave it up.”

“What do you mean, you ‘gave it up?’” Bellamy asks, baffled.

Clarke freezes, like she hadn’t meant to say that much. She lets her eyes slide over to him so Bellamy does his best to keep his face neutral. He must fail because she slumps a little further into her seat and starts worrying her lip. As he opens his mouth to tell her to forget he asked, she takes a deep breath and begins.

“You know that Jake Griffin was my dad, right?” she asks, and Bellamy nods. Sure, it had taken that ridiculous newsreel to clue him in, but it is something he knows. He just doesn’t think about it all that often. As exciting as the prospect of Clarke Griffin, daughter of baseball legend Jake Griffin, is to every paper in the Midwest, she has nothing on the blonde catcher he’d first called Princess. Mostly, Bellamy forgets about her father. (Not that it’s easy to forget about a formative influence like Jake Griffin. The man was formidable both on the mound and at the plate. If Bellamy hadn’t been injured, he probably would have put Jake’s home run record in jeopardy.) “Well, when my dad died, I quit baseball,” Clarke continues.

Bellamy expects her to elaborate, but nothing is forthcoming. So he asks, “What do you mean you quit?” It’s not that different from the last question he asked, but he will keep asking until he gets a satisfactory answer.

Clarke huffs and turns in her seat to face him. “You have to understand. My dad wasn’t just this baseball god to me. He was my dad. He was the guy that bought me my first mitt. He was the first person to explain the game to me and sit through my thousand questions. He was the first person to push me to be better.” She’s so earnest now, Bellamy can practically feel it radiating off of her, but she’s sad, too. “So, when he died, it kind of felt like baseball should be dead, too.”

“It was like a mourning period, then?” Bellamy asks. He gets it. Mostly. When his career had gone up in flames, he hadn’t wanted to think about baseball either.

“I guess,” is her response, more hesitant than he’s ever heard. “It was a really long mourning period, though. Ten years where I didn’t think about baseball for more than a moment or two because when I did, I thought of my dad and that was too hard.” If anything, she sounds a little distant now, wrapped up in her sorrow. So Bellamy tries to reel her back in.

“But you came back to it,” he says gently, craning his neck to try and meet her downcast eyes.

She looks up at him, her blue eyes wide like she’s just had a shock. Bellamy’s not sure what he’s done that would warrant that kind of reaction. But now she’s smiling a little and Bellamy wouldn’t take back a single word he’s said if it makes her look like that.

“I did come back. But it was hard, you know? Not just the training, but leaving everything behind. Especially leaving my mom. She’s still pretty mad about it,” Clarke confesses.

“Your mom doesn’t like you playing?” He’s not sure what it is about this conversation, but he’s pretty much only been able to repeat her words back in the form of a question.

His seat partner doesn’t seem to mind, though, because she shakes her head and responds, “She was never a big fan of the game. She loved my dad enough to overlook what he did for a living, but that was it. I think she kind of hated that he taught me to play and was relieved when I gave it up. And then, she was all I had, so I did my best to make her happy.”

Bellamy has never heard Clarke talk about herself at such length. He doesn’t want to do anything that might make her stop because every bit of information he finds out about Clarke Griffin is as fascinating as the one before. Luckily, she continues.

“We both convinced ourselves that I would live the life that she did. I’d get married, probably to Wells, and have kids and run a charity. I was good at being a society girl. But then, Wells left and I finally realized that life wasn’t what I wanted, and it seemed too hard to just tell her. So I took off to see if this is what I want.”

“And is it?” He asks, desperate to know. Just watching her play, he’s got a pretty good idea. There’s no way that someone who doesn’t love the game wholeheartedly plays the way Clarke Griffin plays.

She shrugs, which Bellamy just takes for modesty.

“Does she know how good you are?”

“Who?” she asks, before realizing, “My mother?”

“No, Hitler.” Bellamy drawls, rolling his eyes. “Yes, your mother.”

“And how good am I?”

“Oh, you’re terrible,” Bellamy responds immediately. But her gaze is so serious and certain, almost as if she believes him. He has to make sure she knows. “Clarke, you’re only the best player in the league. Don’t you know that?” And he’s being completely sincere. She might not have the highest batting average or the most homeruns, but she is every manager’s dream. Smart and quick, she’s got a head for the game that can’t be taught. She’s a hell of a defenseman and Bellamy is pretty sure she would acquit herself well in any position. A solid batter, Clarke is usually good for an RBI or two. The best thing about Clarke, though, is that she is a natural leader. It hadn’t taken her long to take control of the Comets, and she did a hell of a job with them.

She hums noncommittally in response to his praise, eyes still distant. Before he has a chance to push further, she says, “Can I ask you something?”

He’s thrown for something of a loop by her sudden change in topic so he just stares at her.

Clarke huffs out a frustrated sigh. “You’ve somehow gotten my life story out of me, so it’s only fair you tell me something about yourself.”

“Ask away, Princess.” What harm could it do?

“How come you’re not in the army?”

Huh. He figured that everyone knew what happened to him. But having heard about her ten-year hiatus from baseball, it makes sense that she wouldn’t. “You know how I was a baseball player?”

“I gathered,” she replies with a roll of her eyes.

Bellamy grins, well used to that particular tone of voice. “Well,” he pauses because he had not thought this through. He’s pretty sure Clarke will not find it charming that he fell out a window during a brawl with one of his teammates. “I’m 4-F, so the army wouldn’t take me. I have no cartilage in my knee. Not that you need cartilage to shoot Nazis,” he held up his hand and curled his pointer finger a few times. “This is all you need.”

Clarke smiles at him indulgently and he grins back. “Do you mind if I ask…” she trails off, and gestures vaguely at his knee.

Bellamy rubs at the back of neck sheepishly. “Promise not to mock me too much?” he asks. She narrows her eyes, sensing that there must be something to mock if he’s making her promise not to. Eventually, she nods her agreement and Bellamy sighs.

“I got into this fight with someone on my team. Things got out of hand and I ended up going through a second story window. Landed hard and there wasn’t any good way to fix it. Ended my career and my ability to enlist” He leaves out the part about Octavia’s picture and the blind rage that had consumed him. When Clarke assesses him, though, he would swear that she can pluck all his thoughts from the air and is just waiting for him to voice them. Rather than give into any flights of fancy, he reaches down the side of his seat to pull out his trusty flask. “Well, all this sharing must mean it’s time for a drink.”

Just because he’s been scrupulously sober while working for the past month does not mean Bellamy’s given up drinking entirely. He’s got a mostly full flask of gin, which he is more than willing to share with the woman sitting next to him. Before he can unscrew the cap, though, there’s a telltale clink and hiss and Clarke is trading something cool and glass for his slightly warm flask.

Bellamy stares down at the Coke bottle in his hand. He raises an eyebrow and says, “You know that these don’t really mix, right?”

Clarke doesn’t even respond, just tucks his gin against her side and looks at him expectantly.

He stares at the bottle before shrugging and taking a long sip. “Ahhh,” he drawls out, which earns him an honest-to-god giggle. She’s still giggling when her head falls against his shoulder and her hand curls gently around his bicep. Before he’s finished the Coke, he can feel her even breaths puffing against his neck. Terrified that his next move will wake her up and send her sprawling away, Bellamy slowly shifts so his head rests against hers. He clutches the empty bottle with white knuckles. When her breath remains even and warm, he lets himself slowly relax.

Hunched together on a bus, Bellamy and Clarke sleep through the night.

(In the morning, as everyone stumbles off the bus and into the South Bend ballpark, everyone sees the way their manager and de facto captain wake up tangled together. Thankfully, breaking their losing streak gives most of them something else to think about. Octavia just files away the information for examination at a later date. If Bellamy and Clarke start sitting together on bus rides more often, everyone is too wise to comment.)

Chapter Text

At the beginning of August, the Comets lose about as many games as they win. Which is less than ideal. It’s not doing much for their record, but it is completely understandable.

Every Arkdown player is being run ragged. They look like they’ve been chewed up and spat back out on more than one occasion. Clarke is covered in more bruises and scrapes than clear skin. Raven nearly got her front teeth knocked out from a vicious bounce off a bone-dry infield. Octavia’s been playing with what Clarke suspects is a broken finger for the past two weeks, but there hasn’t been time to go to an actual doctor. It’s impossible to tell if Lexa and Anya are sporting more and more grease paint or have somehow gotten black eyes that won’t fade. Someone from Mount Weather had cleated Monroe’s ankle sliding into second, resulting in a dirty, bloody gash. Monroe was benched until they could get the stitches taken out, not that the Mountain Men suffered any consequences. Clarke was pretty sure she’d seen Cage Wallace grinning gleefully.

Every time she sees him, Cage Wallace makes Clarke more and more uneasy. He watches her too closely, she thinks, with none of the maybe-more-than-friendly interest of Finn Collins. She’s even caught him pointing at her as he spoke to an older man Bellamy tells her is Dante Wallace, Cage’s father and owner of the Mount Weather Belles. As used to scrutiny as she has become, Clarke doesn’t like knowing that she has the attention of two such men. She plays even harder to put their gaze out of her mind.

It’s not just the baseball that wears on Clarke. Weeks have gone by since she’s received a letter from Wells, where she was getting at least one a week for most of the summer. The worry for him eats at Clarke as much as the pressure to win.

August is worst for the pitchers, though. They’ve only got three solid pitchers: Caris, Trina, and Charlotte. Caris is trying to work off a strained shoulder and Trina has never been all that great under pressure, which leaves Charlotte to carry most of the burden. If most of the Comets are exhausted from their nonstop schedule, then Charlotte is something else entirely. She’s on edge, stressed, and Clarke is fairly sure the girl is hardly sleeping. Charlotte’s attitude hasn’t improved, not that it would with the increased pressure on her.

Despite her marked exhaustion, the first time Charlotte gets taken out of a game comes near the end of August.

It’s the game that will decide who will get knocked out of the playoffs and Clarke has watched Charlotte give up run after run. And now, in the bottom of the ninth with just one out to go, she’s just loaded the bases. The Comets are up by four, but one wrong pitch could result in a grand slam to tie up the game. From there, it wouldn’t be that hard for the Blue Socks to pull ahead and take the game. With playoffs on the line, they can’t afford to lose this game.

Bellamy’s been leaning against the dugout’s post for most of the game, squinting inscrutably at his players. Finally, he steps onto the field, heading for the pitching mound and shouts, “Time!”

The umpire halts play, so the next batter steps out of the box with a frown to wait out the timeout. Clarke pulls off her mask and trudges out to join Bellamy and Charlotte as she can hear the announcer speculate about what will happen next.

“Game’s getting mighty exciting,” Clarke can hear Bellamy observe as she approaches. She sees the bland smile on his face and knows it’s mostly there to keep Charlotte from getting more worked up.

“I’ll finish it here,” Charlotte promises. “I’ll strike this one out, I swear!” The desperation in her voice says more than her words. Charlotte’s body language is all off, too. Clarke can see how her right shoulder droops from overwork, how she has to prop it up with her glove under her arm. She also knows that if she’s noticed, then Bellamy definitely has, too.

Bellamy nods back to the bullpen and says, gentler than he would to just about anyone else, “We’ve got Trina all warmed up to come in.”

“C’mon, coach. I always finish my games. Just ask Clarke! She’ll tell you!”

The thing is, Charlotte is telling the truth. Arkdown doesn’t have a deep enough bullpen or a big enough roster to rely on relief pitchers. Mostly, if someone has started a game, then they’ll finish it, come hell or high water.

“I really wanna finish this game, Bellamy. Please,” Charlotte comes perilously close to begging.

Bellamy thinks for a moment before turning to Clarke. “What do you think? Does she have it in her?”

Clarke swallows and hedges with, “Well she wants it. You saw her battling out here.” She wants to be Charlotte’s support, doesn’t want a fight like she’s gotten every time she’s come out to the mound in the past month. But she still can’t quite meet Bellamy’s eye with her cop out.

“What do you think?” Bellamy asks again, sharper this time.

Now, Clarke catches his gaze and she makes up her mind. “She’s done. She’s pitching meatballs up there.”

Charlotte’s jaw drops in indignation. Clarke feels a twinge of guilt for not backing up her pitcher. It’s gone the minute Charlotte hurls the baseball she’s been holding straight at Clarke’s head. Only finely tuned reflexes keep Clarke from sporting a black eye.

As the girl walks off the field, carefully stepping over the third base chalk line, it seems as if she doesn’t even hear the cheers of the crowd. Charlotte's too lost in her failure to notice the outpouring of support from the stands. Clarke watches her chuck her glove against the back wall of the dugout before slumping petulantly on the bench. Suddenly, Clarke finds herself longing for the shy, nervous girl Charlotte had been at the start of the season. At first, it had been wonderful to see her come out of her shell, but as the season progressed, that blossoming revealed an ego fit for the big leagues.

There’s no time to really think about Charlotte’s attitude problem, not when there’s a game to win. Clarke hunkers down and coaxes Trina through this batter. Thankfully, a fresh arm does the trick; the batter strikes out after four pitches, ending the game. Trina beams and lets out a triumphant whoop, tossing her glove in the air. The Comets converge on the mound, cheering raucously, though Clarke is still stunned at home plate.

Somehow, they’ve done it. The Arkdown Comets have made it into the playoffs. She gets up to join her team, grinning wide as the realization sinks in. Soon, she’s part of the celebration in the middle of the field, hugging everyone who lets her. She smacks a kiss on Raven’s cheek and gets one in return. Her mask and chest protector have been discarded on the ground, and she’ll pick them up, but first she needs to let each and every one of her teammates know how proud she is.

Turning around, Clarke catches sight of Bellamy, who’s taken up his position leaning up against the dugout again, regarding his team fondly. Before she can analyze the impulse, she takes off.

When she careens into him, arms winding around his neck, he is so solid that he hardly rocks back from her momentum. He’s frozen, hopefully in surprise and not discomfort, for a moment, and Clarke suddenly feels self-conscious. Just as she’s about to let go, his arms wrap strongly against her waist, dragging her up and onto her toes. In spite of her hair and the dirt and the sweat, he buries his face in her neck, breathing deep. She smiles and tucks her chin against his shoulder, happier than she could remember being in along while.

“Now, there’s something I never thought I’d see.”

Clarke and Bellamy let each other go just in time to see Octavia smiling oddly at them. Before either can respond, she dashes back out to where the team is still celebrating. Clarke tells herself her flush is only from the adrenaline, but glances up at Bellamy anyway.

“Congratulations, Princess,” he smiles down at her. The pride in his eyes is unmistakable, but something else glints there, too. Something deep down in Clarke wants to fall into that look and never climb out. The very thought is terrifying.

“Team effort,” she grins back, a little weak-kneed.

Suddenly, there’s a bright flash and the moment is shattered. Again, they both turn to look at the interloper just in time to see Monty Green lowering his ever-present camera. “That’ll make a nice shot!” he enthuses before wandering away to interrupt someone else’s moment.

Clarke quickly steps away from her manager, cursing her thundering heart. When she looks up again, Bellamy has taken a step back, too, and is rubbing the back of his neck. He claps her on the shoulder and it’s back to business as usual. Bellamy lopes out to the field and scoops a shrieking Octavia up onto his shoulder. He parades her around the field, laughing hard. Clarke shakes her head and looks away, catching sight of Charlotte still sulking in the dugout.

Resigning herself to the next conversation, catcher approaches pitcher.

“You did good, Charlotte,” Clarke says, sitting to take off her shin guards.

“Didn’t stop you from taking me out,” the girl pouts. She’s slumped, arms crossed firmly across her chest.

“It was an important game,” Clarke tries to explain, though it’s not as if Charlotte didn’t know. “It got us into the playoffs.”

“I still could’ve finished!”

“The way you were throwing? Reese could’ve done a better job,” Clarke snipes. She regrets losing her patience the minute the words are out. Looking back, she’s sure it only makes matters worse.

Anya ambles over from where Lexa is giving an interview near third base. “What’s the matter Charlotte,” she sneers, “Getting too big to finish your own games?” She doesn’t expect an answer—most of the team has gotten used to Anya’s needling by now—and turns away.

Charlotte’s response is not to ignore Anya, as it probably should be. Instead, she throws her glove at the back of the terrifying outfielder’s head.

On impact, Anya spins around slowly, eyes flashing and fists clenching. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, little girl,” she warns. Clarke is already on high alert, looking between her two teammates warily. There’s no question that Anya would annihilate Charlotte given the slightest provocation. Clarke breathes a sigh of relief when Anya turns her back on Charlotte once again.

Her relief is short-lived because moments later, there’s a cry of rage and frustration and Charlotte is streaking towards Anya’s back. Her momentum and the element of surprise help to knock the both of them to the ground. They roll around for a few moments, grappling with each other. But, while Charlotte has anger and years spent rough housing with her siblings on her side, there’s no doubt that Anya could be lethal given the right chance.

The Comets converge on the two brawling players, shouting for them to stop. Monty takes photos that Clarke knows will end up all over the papers, not that she can blame the man. The reporter Lexa was speaking to looks on and jots down notes furiously. There are a few spectators left in the stand who chuckle as if this is still part of the game.

Bellamy eventually manages to wade in and nimbly picks Charlotte off of Anya. He tosses the girl over his shoulder and marches through the dugout and down to the locker rooms. The rest of the team follows behind, a little stunned.

Draped over her manager’s shoulder Charlotte still shouts, “Let me go! Anya, you better watch out! Put me down!”

For his part, Bellamy pays her no heed and continues down the hall. Clarke watches from the front of the pack as he kicks open the door to the showers. There’s a dull thump, the sound of the water being turned on, and then Charlotte’s sputtering shouts. Just as Clarke makes it to the door, she hears him telling her to stay down until she’s cooled off. Clarke lets everyone else shuffle past her to the locker room to hover in the doorway.

Over the sound of running water she hears Bellamy say, “You’ve gotta slay your demons, kid. Otherwise all this small stuff is going to eat you alive." Either Charlotte doesn’t respond or it’s too soft to hear because the next thing she knows, Bellamy is emerging from behind the privacy wall, slightly damp but none the worse for the wear.

When he catches her eye, Clarke would swear that they have an entirely silent conversation. After a moment, she nods at him and he nods back, understanding achieved. He heads out and she heads in.

When Charlotte finally emerges from the shower, dripping and shivering, Clarke hands her a towel silently. The pitcher takes it, refusing to look at her. Clarke sighs and finds a comb to start smoothing out the girl’s snarled hair, but Charlotte shrugs away.

“Don’t treat me like a baby,” she commands, talking about more than having her hair combed.

“I treated you like a pitcher,” Clarke replies evenly. “A pitcher who was a liability to her team.”

“You could have helped me!” Charlotte accuses, finally making eye contact. “The way you help Trina and Caris.”

Clarke struggles to hold onto her patience. “I have done that, and you have sent me away nearly every time. You threw a resin bag at me the last time I tried to come out to the mound.”

Charlotte’s face twists as she searches for an answer. “Still, you could have helped. Instead of holding me back!”

“I hold you back.” Clarke is stunned. She has done everything in her power to get her team and teammates to where they are today. She’s led the charge, but only for the benefit of everyone else.

“It doesn’t matter what any of us do. The crowds, the papers, they might as well not even see anyone else when you’re on the field. It’s like none of the rest of us exist.” Charlotte is steady, though still angry. She says every word as if she is certain of its truth, not just as if she wants to hurt. Clarke looks around the locker room where no one will meet her gaze and wonders if that’s what everyone else thinks.

She’s still wondering the entire ride back to Arkdown. She can tell Bellamy knows something is wrong with her, but he leaves her alone and sits with his sister.

It’s true that Clarke pulled focus, especially right after the LIFE cover, but there were only so many ways for even sports writers to cover routine pop fouls. Once they started covering games, they saw how talented every player in the AAGPBL was, not just Clarke. At least, that’s what she’d been telling herself. Is it true that she’s been overshadowing everyone else, though? Overshadowing players with a lifetime dedication to the game when she only did this to prove something to herself? The guilt starts to set in again, more insistent than ever. As the bus drives towards home, Clarke feels more and more like an impostor and a fraud. When they finally arrive, Clarke is in something of a crisis.

Of course, she can’t be left alone to deal with it because someone is waiting at the boarding house for her.

She shows herself into the parlor and is completely taken aback at its occupant.

“Miss Griffin, I don’t believe we’ve ever been formally introduced,” Dante Wallace greets, offering a smile and a handshake.

“No, I don’t believe we have, Mr. Wallace,” Clarke returns, along with his handshake. He smiles, but it doesn’t put Clarke at ease.

He waits until she sits before taking his seat again. “I have heard many things about you Miss Griffin,” he confesses.

“Oh?” she hedges, doing her best to keep from fidgeting.

“Oh, yes. I hear that you are something of a leader for your team and my son tells me that you are quite the opponent. From what I’ve seen of your talent, everything I’ve heard is true.”

Clarke smiles thinly at the compliment. There are many other things she would rather be doing, so she goes straight for the point. “Forgive me, Mr. Wallace, but it is an awfully long drive from Mount Weather to Arkdown just for a bit of polite conversation. Is there something I can help you with?”

Wallace’s smile doesn’t drop an inch, but he does lean forward a bit. “You have garnered yourself quite a reputation within the league, my dear. And while you have done quite well with the hand you’ve been dealt, I believe that the Comets organization has taken you as far as it can. And while I am reasonably happy with the performance of my own team, I am not in the practice of letting talent I see go to waste.”

She tilts her head in question. She’s fairly certain of his implication, but she’d like to hear it from the man himself.

“It would be,” he pauses, as if he hasn’t rehearsed this entire pitch before, “mutually beneficial if you were to join the Belles before the end of the season. Preferably before the beginning of the playoffs.”

A trade. Clarke thinks a little numbly. She’s idly curious about who he would offer up in exchange, but moves on quickly. There’s no way she can leave the Comets, her team. Just as quickly, all the doubts that plagued her on the bus roar back to life. Suddenly, leaving the team, leaving the spotlights doesn’t seem like such a ridiculous idea. Much as she doesn’t want to play for Mount Weather and even less for Cage Wallace, she could make that sacrifice. She would do it in an instant if she were positive it would make everyone happier.

But she’s not. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wallace. This is a lot to take in. Do you mind if I think about it?”

Wallace frowns, his eyes narrowed. “It’s important you understand the gravity of the situation, Miss Griffin. It would be in your best interest as a truly talented young lady to join an organization that has the resources to foster and develop your skills.”

Clarke nods her understanding, but repeats her request for more time.

He scrutinizes her for a moment, but doesn’t push her further. “As you wish, my dear. You may let Mr. Collins know if you decide you would like to join my organization; I’m sure he will be more than happy to oblige you,” he says, looking at her significantly.

Clarke refuses to feel embarrassed for the crush Collins has harbored and nods. They both rise and she shows him to the door.

She’s too lost in her thoughts, mind already half-made up to stay, to pay attention to her surroundings as she walks upstairs. If she’d been more observant, perhaps she would have noticed the opening of the front door and the slight shadow slipping into the night to run down Dante Wallace. 

Thank god for the a break in play before the playoffs started. The Comets had been on the move since the middle of May, so by the end of August, they were more than ready for a break. The only downside was the Peaches would have the same advantage before their three game playoff series. Whoever won the series would go into the championship World Series against Mount Weather, who had earned a bye with its pennant win. Bellamy is skeptical about calling it the World Series given there are only four teams competing, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to win anyway.

Bellamy ambles up to the girls’ boarding house the day after Charlotte’s brawl with Anya intending to take Octavia out for lunch or hang around strategizing with Clarke. They’d have plenty of time to plan with their four days off, but it never hurt to get a jump on everything.

As he closes the front gate, he hears what can only be described as an “uproar” from inside the house. Worrying that someone’s been hurt, he dashes up the walk and through the door. The noise comes from the parlor where it seems like nearly everyone has gathered to watch the scene unfold. Everyone is muttering, but Bellamy can’t hear anything from the way his heart is still pumping blood through his ears.

Charlotte stands before Clarke, who’s seated on the sofa with a stack of letters and a stricken look on her face. Having raised a young girl, Bellamy can see that Charlotte is uncertain and desperate to cover it up.

“What are you talking about?” Clarke asks, bewildered.

“I’m being traded to Mount Weather,” Charlotte announces again, judging from the lack of shocked gasps from her teammates. Bellamy’s brow furrows, wondering when on earth this happened because he sure as hell wasn’t consulted.

“Yes, but why?”

“You’re not the only one who’s getting offers from Dante Wallace,” Charlotte spits out bitterly.

Clarke’s eyes widen. Quickly, she sets her letters aside and stands, reaching a placating hand out to Charlotte, “It’s not too late, Charlotte, you don’t have to leave the team. We can fix this.”

“Maybe I want to do this,” Charlotte replies, flinching from Clarke’s touch. “Maybe I want to see who I am out of your shadow. Maybe I'm just slaying my demons.”

It's a sock to the gut. He'd never meant his advice to betaken like this.

Bellamy watches something in Clarke’s eyes shutter closed. She nods her acceptance and sits back down to go through her letters, a clear dismissal of the girl before her. Charlotte still stands there, looking more like a lost little girl than ever until Mel and Trina come forward with offers to help her pack. With one last look at Clarke, Charlotte leaves the room so she can leave the team.

After that, everyone else filters away, too, until it is just Bellamy and Clarke in the parlor. She waits for that moment to drop her head in her hands, leaning her elbows against her knees. Bellamy sinks next to her on the couch, watching her shoulders rise too steadily for her to be crying. Nonetheless, he lays a hand against her back, offering what comfort he can. When Clarke picks up her head, her gaze is still shuttered, but her mouth is set in a grim line.

“We need to start training Roma to pitch,” she says, looking to him for agreement.

“We do,” he confirms. “Do you not want to talk about what just happened?”

She frowns at him, but shrugs. He just looks at her expectantly until she begins. “Dante Wallace was here when the bus got in last night,” she admits.

“Just drove down for a chat?”

“If only. He wanted to get me traded to Mount Weather.”

The breath he’d just drawn leaves his body at that moment. Bellamy cannot begin to imagine the Arkdown Comets without Clarke Griffin at the helm. When he can finally breathe again, he says, “Please say you told him exactly where he could stick that offer.”

“It’s not that I want to leave the Comets, but—”

“There’s a but?” Bellamy explodes, rounding on Clarke in an instant.

She closes her eyes like she regrets saying anything. When she looks at him again, there’s an unfamiliar weight in her gaze that he can’t decipher. “But maybe it doesn’t really matter what I want,” she finishes.

Bellamy has the good grace to feel a little ashamed. How could he doubt that Clarke would ever leave? He manages a quiet apology, which Clarke accepts easily enough.

“That doesn’t explain why our pitcher is getting traded to Mount Weather just before the playoffs, though.”

Clarke sighs heavily. “She must have listened in on me and Mr. Wallace and followed him out when he left. Made a deal to get a better spot in the league while she could. It can’t be a coincidence, can it?”

“Probably not,” Bellamy agrees. “But why would she want to go to the Mountain Men? It can’t just be the shot at the World Series.”

“Charlotte’s been,” she stops, searching for the right phrase, “chafing? Feeling stifled, I guess. I thought it was just growing pains or I would have tried to do something about it. I should have done something about it.”

Bellamy can tell that there’s more on her mind, but doubts he’ll get her to admit it. “It’s not your fault, Clarke.”

She hums in acknowledgement but doesn’t agree. He sits and just looks at her for a moment. Bellamy’s gotten used to how beautiful Clarke is, but still limits how much he really looks at her; she’s like the sun, sooner to burn him than acknowledge his gaze. She’s still beautiful—all golden hair, fair skin, and blue eyes—but there’s a heaviness weighing down the corners of her mouth. He can practically hear her mind working double time, thoughts whirring between her ears. As close as they’ve become, Bellamy knows there are moments when Clarke needs to think through things on her own. He does his best not to feel bitter about it, to give her the space she requires, but it’s a close thing.

Clarke takes the space he gave her and runs with it. In the three day break the Comets have before bussing out to Rockford, she hardly speaks to Bellamy more than is absolutely necessary. They spend a few moments discussing their bullpen, but he usually leaves the pitchers to Clarke’s care anyway. Whenever he tries to make a concerted effort to corner her, she’s disappeared just moments before.

When the trade deadline comes and goes, Bellamy tries to stop worrying. Clarke can’t get moved to Mount Weather without someone high up getting their palm greased and Mount Weather's already got hold of Arkdown's best pitcher. Still, Clarke keeps mostly to herself. 

She’s not just avoiding him, either. Octavia tells him that if she’s not working with the pitchers in the side yard, then she’s holed herself up in the tiny closet of a room she’d claimed at the beginning of the season. No one is really sure what she’s doing in there, but the rumors run rampant. Bellamy does his level best to ignore all of them and get on with preparing for the playoffs.

For one thing, they have to integrate a new Comet into the team. Rather than getting a pitcher from Mount Weather for Charlotte, Arkdown winds up with another catcher, a quiet girl named Maya. She doesn’t talk much about her former team, but Bellamy gets the distinct feeling that she’s not heartbroken to have left. He tries pumping her for information, which she gives up readily enough, but it’s mostly things that they’ve already learned from observation: Emerson is brutal at the plate and Lovejoy’s got a weak right wrist. Bellamy decides to keep Maya as the backup catcher and moves Bree out to first to take over for Roma. It’s less than ideal, but everyone is used to that by now.

All that preparation doesn’t do them much good in their first game against the Peaches. The Comets get trounced pretty thoroughly; the final score is 7-2 as Roma struggles to find her feet out on the mound. The mood in the locker room after the game is the lowest Bellamy has ever seen, so he does his best to reassure everyone.

“This is just one game,” he tells Fox, who nods fragilely. “There’s time to turn the series around,” he comforts Monroe and Harper on the way out to the bus. Bellamy catches Clarke’s eye as he does so and receives a nod in return. It’s the most meaningful interaction they’ve had in days.

He’s right, too. They handily win their second game, maybe due to home field advantage and maybe because this team has always been hungry and determined, leaving the third to determine who will go on to the World Series.

They’re back in Rockford with no advantages to speak of. The crowd is pretty solidly for their home team. Still, the girls try to keep spirits high. Harper’s finally finished writing her song and has roped her teammates into being her impromptu choir as she strums along on the ukulele. Before he’s even stepped into the locker room, Bellamy can hear someone’s high, clear voice ringing out with the words.

“Batter up! Hear that call…” He’s not sure who it is, just knows it can’t possibly be Octavia. His little sister has many talents but music has never been one of them. The song’s pretty good, now that he thinks about it. Harper might have a future outside of baseball. Bellamy ambles into the room to listen as the team finishes up the song.

“Listen up, ladies!” he pitches his voice to cut through the chatter. “I was rereading my contract and it turns out that I get a bonus if we make it to the World Series. So go out there and win this one for the person who really matters. Me.” He laughs even as he has to dodge a barrage of balled up socks and insults. Bellamy even tosses back a few barbs of his own, earning more laughter.

The mood is high when the door opens again, admitting someone unfamiliar.

“Excuse me,” he tries, but the noise of cheerful ballplayers overpowers him. “Excuse me!”

This finally gets someone’s attention. Silence ripples through the locker room until everyone is staring at the intruder wearing a brown uniform.

“I’ve got a telegram for one of you ladies.” He’s met with charged silence, so he clarifies, “From the War Department.”

Every single stomach in the room drops to the floor at this pronouncement. Even Bellamy, who doesn’t have anyone to lose in this war. They all listen as the man mutters about how much he hates these deliveries. He stops to let out a frustrated groan when he looks down at the clipboard in his hands. “This is terrible. There’s no name on the list! I can’t deliver this without a name, so I’ll need to go back to the office to figure this out,” the man explains to the room at large.

Taking one look at his team, Bellamy knows that he can’t let that happen. He approaches the deliveryman, looming as well as he can, and says, “Just give me the message.”

He hardly gets a response apart from the distracted, “No can do.”

Bellamy lets his expression darken. “Hand over the telegram,” he growls. When it seems like he’s about to get another negative response, he takes matters into his own hand. The offending telegram is balanced on the man’s clipboard, so Bellamy snatches it away and immediately pushes its messenger out of the room.

In tense silence, Bellamy opens the envelope in his hands. As he crosses the room to hand it over to its recipient, he hears someone behind him run out the room, calling for Miss Lucy. He gets closer and closer, feels the relief flood through the women he passes and the fear mount in those left. Not many of the Comets are married, but nearly everyone has got a brother or father, someone they love that could now be dead. There are only a few women before him now: Roma, Mel, Bree, Raven. And Clarke.

He watches as they all steel themselves. Clarke fingers the face of her watch, eyes trained on him.

Bellamy stops just beside her, in front of Mel, and hands over the telegram. “I’m so sorry, Mel.”

In an instant, Mel has collapsed into Clarke, who puts an arm around the bereft girl. “Sterling!” she calls out helplessly. The other girls crowd around, trying to offer what comfort they can. Bellamy knows there’s no consolation for this, so when Clarke levers Mel off the bench, he simply opens his arms to fold the crying woman into his arms. She sobs against his chest until Miss Lucy rushes into the locker room. He helps both women to the door, but doesn’t follow further.

Instead, he turns back to his shell-shocked team. Tears glitter in many eyes and shoulders slump all around, but they still have a job to do. “Let’s get going,” he says, trying to temper the abrasive edge in his voice, “We’ve still got a game to play.” With that, he heads out into the hall, trusting his team to follow behind. 

Miraculously, the Comets eke out a win against the Peaches. Otherwise, everything that could possibly go wrong does. Starting with Mel’s telegram, the team troops out to the field under a cloud of gloom. Clarke is one of the last Comets on the field, but rather than focusing on her team mates in front of her, one thing catches and holds her attention. In the stands, just behind home plate, sits Dante Wallace and his son. He gives Clarke an enigmatic smile while Cage glowers. The glower is expected, but the smile gives her chills.

She can put the Wallaces out of her mind while she plays, which is a good thing considering how close the game ends up being. The Comets can’t afford to have one player off the top of her game.

Harper gets taken out in the top of the fourth inning. She slides safely into second, but either the shortstop doesn’t see her or is intentionally vicious, because everyone on the field can hear the sudden crack! as cleat meets ankle. Harper howls in pain even as Bellamy and Miss Lucy rush out to check on her. The shortstop looks sorry, but not nearly as much as she should. Something tickles at the back of Clarke’s neck, and when she turns around, she’s met with Cage Wallace’s disconcerting grin. Filled with revulsion and too many suspicions, Clarke turns back around to watch her right fielder get carried back to the locker room.

By the top of the ninth, the score is tied at 1-1. Neither team has all that many hits on the board and no one has made any errors, either, which is rare. Historically, the Comets have pounced on the smallest of errors, taking risky chances to advance runners and rack up runs. Her team is vigilant, but even Clarke doesn’t see a chance for anyone to push further than they do. Everyone wants the win as much as she does.

Clarke comes up to bat with two outs. There’s no one on base, and Clarke knows that she needs a hit or a walk or something. She doesn’t even watch Bellamy for a sign, knows that he would just tell her to do what she thinks is right. Thank god the pitcher is tired because Clarke watches five pitches speed by, four of them balls. She trots down to first base and watches as Anya comes up to the plate.

If there’s anyone that Clarke would trust to come up with something to edge out a lead, it’s Anya. Ferocious, talented Anya. The greasepaint on the woman’s face has gotten out of control, forming more of a mask than a way to keep the glare out of her eyes. It does that, but it also keeps most fans from trying to talk to her after games.

Anya stands at the plate and if she feels the weight of responsibility, Clarke can’t tell. She’s easy in her stance, bat raised above her back shoulder. Clarke can feel her stomach tying itself in knots as she watches her teammate in the batter’s box. Anya has never been patient at the plate, but when two pitches go by without so much as a twitch of the bat, Clarke’s stomach twists itself even smaller. Finally, on the third pitch, Clarke would swear she saw Anya’s eyes light up.

Clarke doesn’t even look to see where the ball goes. Judging by the crack of ball against bat, it flies pretty far, but Clarke has got other things to worry about. She’s more than halfway to third when she hears the second baseman call for the cutoff. When she rounds the bag, hardly even paying attention to Caris, who’s coaching third, Clarke risks a glance at the cutoff. The Rockford player still has her back to the infield and she’s lined up to throw to third, not home.

In a split second, Clarke’s choice is made. She doesn’t stop her momentum, but barrels forward to the plate. Her focus narrows to her and the catcher. Distantly, she hears shouting: the crowd, the players from both sides, and Bellamy. Bellamy’s voice is the clearest of all of them. Somehow, she hears him shouting over the din, “Go! Go!” as if she needs to be told. She pushes this information away as she focuses on pumping arms and legs and tracking the catcher.

Clarke knows the moment the throw is coming in. The catcher’s eyes shift away from Clarke and stay away. The way the girl steps, slightly to her right, Clarke knows the throw isn’t perfect. By the time the Peach’s glove sweeps around, ball caught, Clarke’s already slid past the plate, hand brushing over the dusty surface.

As she stands, Clarke hears the umpire call, “Safe!” With another run on the board, the Comets pull ahead, though they have to defend that lead for another half inning.

Clarke heads back to the dugout and watches as Raven takes her at bat. She swings at the first ball that’s not above her head or on the ground and pulls out a mean grounder down the third base line. She tears off to first because she, and everyone else in the ballpark knows it will be a close call. The Peach at third bobbles the ball a bit, but still comes up fast and hurls it across the field. It looks like it’s going to be a close call when Clarke swears she can see the first baseman’s foot shift back just in time to catch Raven’s left leg as she whizzes by. The sound of impact is masked by the baseball hitting her leather glove.

It’s like what happens next goes in slow motion. Even slowed down, Raven is going too fast to have any hope of stopping gracefully. Clarke watches as Raven’s foot hooks completely on the fielder’s. Clarke sees the moment when her foot doesn’t keep moving forward with the rest of her body, leaving Raven to sprawl out on the dirt, left knee coming down first as the rest of her body crumples over it.

If it were just a matter of taking a tumble, Clarke wouldn’t worry about it. But when Raven doesn’t bounce up and get in the Peach’s face, Clarke worries. When one of her players has already been injured from a run-in with an opponent, Clarke worries. When Dante Wallace and his wild-eyed son sit in the stands and grin at her, Clarke worries.

Without knowing it, Clarke’s made it to Raven’s side. The brunette groans on the dirt, eyes pinched closed and hands clasped around her leg.

“Raven,” Clarke calls, brushing loose hair away from her face. “Can you stand up?”

The girl in question cracks an eye open at this, “Oh, yeah. I’m just down here for the hell of it.”

Clarke frowns but hears the huff of a laugh at her shoulder. “There you go, Reyes. Charming as ever,” Bellamy smiles, though the creases in his brow showcase his anxiety.

“Bite me, Blake,” Raven grinds out. She’s on her back, clutching her knee to her chest, but still Raven manages to look intimidating.

“Let’s get you checked out, hmm?” he asks, scooping her into his arms. Neither Clarke nor Bellamy really care when the umpire calls Raven out, despite the interference. Raven, of course, makes her opinion very clear.

She’s still shouting when the league’s physician makes his way into the dugout. This past season, they’ve all seen their fair share of Dr. Jackson, but at least he’s not terrible the way some doctors are. He pokes at Raven’s knee and tuts in sympathy at her hisses of pain. The umpires are calling for her to take her position to finish out the last half inning, but Clarke has no plans of leaving until she hears Raven’s prognosis.

Finally, Dr. Jackson says, “It looks like the patella is dislocated. I’ll have to push it back into place and then brace the knee. Unfortunately, this means you’re out for the finals.”

Raven screams out her frustration through her teeth, head banging back against the wall of the dugout.

Clarke wants to stay, offer up anything to make Raven feel better, but Bellamy’s hand comes down on her shoulder. “You go, take care of things out there,” he nods towards the field, “and I’ll take care of things in here.” The way he’s looking at her, it’s clear he’s saying more than he is, but Clarke doesn’t have the time or energy to decipher Bellamy’s cryptics. All she can do is be thankful, yet again, for Bellamy’s presence.

As she pulls down her mask, settling in behind home plate and feeling the gazes of two generations of Wallaces, Clarke makes a vow. No runner is getting across home. She will sacrifice her blood, sweat, and body to keep the Comets’ lead. It’s not just that she wants to win, but at this point she needs to. The Peaches (or the Wallaces, more likely) need to know that they can’t just take down her teammates without some kind of consequence.

She wishes their bullpen was deep enough for a closer, but Trina’s been doing pretty well today. They just need three outs and the Comets are off to the World Series.

Miraculously, given what’s already happened, the outs come; three up, three down. The first is easy, a lazy ground ball to Echo, who’d stepped in for Raven at shortstop. She wrangles it and gets it over to Bree at first with time to spare. Collectively, the team takes a breath and lets some tension drain out. Fox gets the second out, a long foul down the right field line. She smacks into the fence as she catches the ball, but never lets go and comes back up grinning. Trina takes the third out for herself, hurling three breaking balls in a row and getting the batter to swing every time.

The Comets win.

Arguably, this is a much bigger win than the one that got them into the playoffs, but there’s none of the same frenetic energy. The Comets are all too worried about their injured teammates to celebrate properly. As quickly as they can, everyone troops into the locker room where Harper and Raven wait with Dr. Jackson.

Before she can make it inside, Bellamy pulls her aside.

He crosses his arms against his chest, frowning, but Clarke forces herself to focus on his words and not the sight before her. “Neither of them can play. Harper’s ankle is fractured at best and Raven can’t exert herself or the knee might pop out of place again. And who knows if Mel will come back—I wouldn’t blame her if she doesn’t. We’re going into a seven game series in a week down at least two players.” His jaw clenches, the first sign that Bellamy isn’t just worried, he’s angry.

Clarke frowns, too. “But we can’t do anything about that, now. You know if either of us could do anything about it, we would. We got dealt a terrible hand and have to play it.”

“Yeah, well, maybe someone stacked the deck against us,” Bellamy replies. It’s suddenly very clear what he’s implying, what Clarke herself believes. She’d thought she was just being paranoid, but if Bellamy thinks it, too…

Clarke doesn’t answer him, but nods to show her understanding. It’s not enough, but he lets it lie anyway.

After everyone else has gone out to the bus, including Harper and Raven and even Mel, Clarke stands alone in the locker room. She’d gone back because Fox thought she forgot her pocket book. She’s taking one last look around to make sure no one else has left anything when there’s a knock at the door.

Before she can answer, the door opens. Clarke can’t even bring herself to be surprised when Dante and Cage Wallace step through the door.

“That was quite the game, Miss Griffin,” Wallace the elder smiles, all unstudied affability. Cage just crosses his arms and looks uninterested in the proceedings.

Clarke remains silent, knowing he doesn’t really want a response.

“It seems I was right to set my sights on you. You are a truly talented player, my dear. It is simply a shame that you wouldn’t agree to come aboard our organization. If you had, then who is to say that your teammates wouldn’t be whole and healthy?” Dante’s smile continues in its innocuous blandness.

Clarke raises her chin in acceptance of his implicit challenge. It doesn’t feel good to have her suspicions confirmed; it makes her scared. Her team is about to play at least four games against Mount Weather, and there is no telling what kind of damage the Mountain Men will do to the Comets in that time. That doesn’t mean that Clarke is about to back down.

“When I took over my father’s AAA ball club, he told me to make the strongest teams I could. And I have followed that advice—first with the team I inherited and with every club that followed. Yet, none of my teams have ever done particularly well. The Belles are my chance to start building up my father’s legacy. With the chance so close, I cannot afford to let anything get in our way.”

“So you felt the need to injure and potentially end the careers of two players today,” she exploded, unable to remain silent anymore.

Cage smirks a little at her outburst, but his father has the grace to look slightly shamed. “You cannot imagine that we would ever admit to anything like that,” Cage taunts.

Clarke stares him down for a moment before turning back to Dante. “If that’s all you had to say, I have a bus to catch.” She moves to step between them and walk away, but Dante latches onto her wrist. The wrinkled, liver-spotted hand looms in her vision until she drags her eyes up to Wallace’s face.

“Mark me well, Clarke. You missed your chance to be a Belle, but if you insist on staying with your team for the World Series, then you must step very carefully. I would hate for more incidents like those in today’s game to occur. I don’t enjoy making these decisions, Clarke, but I will bear it so my teams don’t have to.”

He releases her and Clarke cannot leave fast enough. On the bus, Bellamy looks at her with a hundred questions in his eyes. If Clarke had worked through any of the answers, she would have sat next to him, but everything still swirls madly through her brain. She resolves to talk it out with him in the morning.

For good or bad, Clarke never gets the chance to do so. She’s made it back to her room after checking in on Harper and Raven. When she sits down on her bed, it’s like the glue that’s been holding her together all day crumbles to dust. Sobs shake her shoulders and pour from her throat so suddenly, Clarke’s left with emotional whiplash.

She thinks about Bellamy approaching her with that telegram from the War Department before the game and cries harder. Even though she knows she wouldn’t be the next of kin for anyone over there, her mounting worry for Wells made her heart stop until Bellamy murmured his regrets to Mel. She misses her friend and she misses her life when he was still by her side, not off protecting democracy. She misses how simple things were, forgets how confining everything had been. Clarke just wants things to be simple again.

Of course, Clarke cannot be left alone to cry and decompress in private. A knock on the door startles her out of her sobbing jag.

She dashes the tears from her eyes and warbles out, “Just a minute!”

The person on the other side is either too impatient to wait or doesn’t hear, because the door opens before Clarke can even stand. When she looks up, she would swear she was hallucinating.

“Hey, there, Griffin,” Wells smiles at her from the doorway.

Clarke stares mutely for a few moments, taking in the neat sling over his uniform and the angry scar peaking over his collar. She stands raggedly, mouthing his name. Only when he grins brighter at her does she move across the room to throw herself at him.

Wells laughs into her hair, his good arm coming up to embrace her.

Clarke pulls herself away at the reminder that he’s injured. “What happened?”

“What, no ‘Hello, Wells. I missed you, Wells?’” he jokes.

“Of course I missed you,” Clarke admonishes, urging him to sit down on the lone arm chair in the room. “I’ve been worried sick about you. Now tell me what happened.”

“I’ve been discharged. Turns out the Air Force doesn’t really need pilots with only most of two hands.” His tone is good-natured as ever, but Clarke’s eyes dart down to where his right arm is tucked away in the sling and knows how much pain he must be in.

She reaches out for his left hand without looking away from his face. She’s half convinced that if she looks away, he’ll disappear. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Not as good as it is to see you,” he promises with an easy smile.

“Have you even been home? Does your father know that you’ve been discharged?”

“You’re my first stop. But I called home as soon as I got stateside.” He pauses and looks a little ashamed. “I just wanted some time before I got home and everyone started trying to take care of me.”

The idea that Clarke wouldn’t try to drop everything to take care of him frankly is absurd, but she lets it slide. She knows what he means. His father loves Wells unconditionally, but that can become overbearing in high-stress situations. Clarke assumes this qualifies. More than anything, aside from protecting her team, Clarke wishes she could protect Wells from the coddling he’s bound to receive back in Madison.

As soon as the idea coalesces in her mind, a plan unfolds.

Chapter Text

Bellamy wakes early on the first of September, only a day after the Comets secured their ticket to the World Series. He usually heads over to the Comet’s house on days off just to spend time with Octavia, but today he has actual business to handle. There are war plans to draw up with Clarke.

Injuries are to be expected in baseball, but it’s rare to see players intentionally hurt each other like they did yesterday. Sure, he’d witnessed (and instigated) his fair share of brawls in his day, but those almost exclusively arose after someone had already charged the mound. Then, it was only a matter of team loyalty to wade in. It would never have occurred to Bellamy or most of the men he played with, to try and break a runner’s ankle just for a win.

Which is why the attacks (Bellamy refuses to call it anything else) on Harper and Raven had been so shocking. He’d known the World Series was high stakes for everyone in the league, but he never would have imagined that it would spark that kind of animosity. It's not as if the players get a bonus for making it all the way through the postseason. 

What's more worrisome is the possibility that yesterday hadn't been just the result of over-zealous inter-team rivalry, but rather the outcome of some outside directive.

It hadn’t escaped his notice that both Wallaces were present at the game where the usually fair and friendly Peaches did their level best to annihilate the Comets. It isn’t all that difficult to draw conclusions from that alone. All night, Bellamy wondered why he hadn’t felt any sense of foreboding at their appearance, but he’d had more pressing concerns to deal with at the time, like trying to make sure his players would make it out of the game alive. It had taken every ounce of his self-control to keep himself from charging onto the field when first Harper and then Raven had been injured.

He’d managed a civil conversation with the home plate umpire after Harper was carried off the field, but seeing the way the man’s eyes kept darting over Bellamy’s shoulder was more than evidence enough that nothing would be done for the Comets. When Bellamy turned around to go back to the dugout, he’d locked eyes with Cage Wallace. In the rush and worry of everything, he’d managed to push it out of his mind until now.

Bellamy has more than an inkling that Clarke will be about five steps ahead of him on this one. Sure, he’s never liked Cage, but this kind of maneuvering and sabotage is so far beyond what Bellamy would consider acceptable strategy, he’d never thought to make contingencies for it. But Clarke, Clarke has probably had a read on the Wallaces since Dante first showed up in her parlor. Hell, Clarke probably had the Wallaces figured out after the first game against Mount Weather. That’s just how she operates.

He walks to the boarding house, partially because it’s a nice day and partially because it’s not as if he has a car, half-baked strategies flickering through his head the whole way. His knee doesn’t faze him because even though it’s September, the heat hangs around, thick and heavy. About half a block from his destination, he’s stopped by two eager boys asking for his autograph. It doesn’t happen often enough for Bellamy to take the request in stride. Flustered, he scrawls something hastily on the offered baseball. Rather than hanging around to chat, though, he takes off without another word.

Something at the boarding house has caught his eye.

It’s Raven’s pet project of a Chevy. Rather than sitting in the driveway, it’s parked out front with a very familiar figure leaning up against it.

“Bellamy Blake!” says a jovial Wells Jaha at Bellamy’s approach. He pushes away from the car and makes an abortive move with his right arm. Wells glances down at the sling cradling his arm with a look of annoyance and frustration that Bellamy recognizes well. It’s the same way he’d looked at his knee every time he’d tried to do something he was no longer capable of.

Bellamy simply offers his left hand to shake. “Wells,” he greets, not bothering to ask what the man is doing in Arkdown when the answer is obvious.

The other man easily accepts that Bellamy knows him, doesn't even quirk an eyebrow. “When Clarke told me you were her manager, I got to make all the guys in my squadron jealous,” Wells tells him casually.

This, combined with the autograph he’d just signed, is enough to send Bellamy reeling. Just a little, but reeling nonetheless. He’s used to thinking of himself as something of a train wreck, and all of the people around him being fondly exasperated with him at best. It’s strange to realize that not everyone thinks of him like that, even if that is exactly how he got a job in the league to begin with. It's stranger that the man Bellamy's spent (not insignificant) energy trying to control his jealousy of would think of him in that way.

(It's difficult not being jealous of Wells Jaha, the way Clarke talks about him. But then, most of Bellamy's feelings about Clarke could be defined as "difficult.")

Bellamy’s still grappling with unwelcome realizations when the door to the boarding house opens. Clarke emerges onto the empty porch and makes her way through the empty yard.

In retrospect, the emptiness of the front of the house should have put Bellamy on alert, maybe even more than the sudden appearance of Wells or the waiting Chevy. Even though it’s still early enough in the morning that many would still be asleep, Bellamy has never seen the Comet house anything less than teeming with women. At all hours, the yard is filled with women who are unable or unwilling to sit still. The empty yard should have been a clue, but Bellamy lets himself be lulled by Clarke’s presence, not that the lull lasts long.

He chances a glance at the man beside him and somehow knows the expression he sees is mirrored on his own face. Bellamy does his best to school his features into something approaching blankness when he turns back to Clarke. The way she looks at him, worry mixed with something like resignation, makes him think he wasn’t entirely successful.

“You ready to go, Clarke?” Wells asks and everything in Bellamy’s world comes to a jarring, crashing halt. Go where? He must make some noise because Wells turns to him to explain, “Clarke’s going to drive me up to Madison, get me settled in back home. I can’t really drive with the sling and Clarke says you have the week off before the World Series…”

His explanation should ease the pit that's suddenly grown in Bellamy's stomach. It doesn't. When Bellamy doesn’t make any sign of comprehension, Wells trails off. Both men turn to Clarke.

Resolutely, she looks her best friend in the eye and says, “Wells, would you mind checking to see if I left anything upstairs?”

The man studies her for a moment, but eventually does as she asks, leaving Bellamy and Clarke standing on the curb.

“What, were you just going to leave without saying anything?” he asks when it becomes clear that Clarke is not going to start this conversation.

“I told the girls,” she replies deliberately.

“To me?”

“I knew you’d be here,” she says, but she won’t look him in the eye, like she’s not sure if what she’s said is the truth.

Bellamy can’t quite bring himself to look at her, either, so he glances into the back seat of the Chevy. Sitting on the ground is both Clarke’s suitcase and her gear bag. Things begin to click into place as the hollow in his stomach yawns wider.

Still staring at that gear bag, Bellamy asks, “Why would it matter if you’d left something in your room?” He can feel Clarke’s resigned gaze now. “Why would it matter if you’re planning to be back for the World Series?” For the first time today, Bellamy looks her in the eyes. “What are you doing, Clarke?”

Resolutely, she answers, "Wells told you. I'm taking him home." This is the Clarke that infuriates Bellamy more than anything. The Clarke that refuses to give in to her emotions and maintains a level head at all costs. She doesn't look conflicted or sad, but Bellamy has no idea what she's feeling because the woman's got a formidable poker face. 

“And what then? You gonna live out your life and never think about this again? You’re going to just quit?”

And there it is. Clarke is leaving. Not just for the week, but for good. The empty yard had set the stage, and her gear bag in the Chevy was the smoking gun. She stares at him, as if astounded that he hadn't known her plans all along. Which is ridiculous, since at every step, she'd done her very best to keep Bellamy in the dark, rather than just telling him that a decision had been made. 

“Fine,” he bites out and turns to walk up the path, to leave her to the bad decisions she's so set on making. He’s less than three steps away when he spins back. “I thought you were a ballplayer,” he accuses with more heat than he's leveled at her in a long time.

“I am. I was,” she corrects herself, frowning.

“That’s all you’ve got?” he sneers, familiar anger boiling in his gut and chest.

Something in her responds to that anger. Where she’s only managed to look skittish and sad so far, something brighter, fiercer, now burns in her eyes. “It’s just a game, Bellamy,” she blurts, blasphemy hardly scalding her tongue. “It’s just a game and I don’t need it. I told you I left it once, I can do it again.” Clarke won’t quite look Bellamy in the eye, much as he tries to make her. Finally, she settles something in her head and squares her shoulders with the decision. The spark in her eye dies. “I will do it again.”

Even when they didn’t like each other, Bellamy has never been one to doubt Clarke when she makes a decision. She’s worse than he is in her stubborn need to be right. But there is not a single part of him believes her when she says she can leave the game without a backwards glance. Scrubbing one hand over his face, Bellamy lays his cards on the table.

“Don't kid yourself. When you play, I know I’m watching a legend in the making. You play like you can’t live without this game, Clarke. I know what that looks like. I remember what that feels like because that’s how I used to play. And if I hadn’t let my hot head get in my own way, then maybe I would still be playing. I would do anything to still play. This isn't 'just a game' to you. Baseball is deep inside you, maybe at your very core, because every time you play, it lights you up from the inside out.”

It’s as close as he’s ever come to making a grand declaration of, well, anything to anyone, but one look in her eyes and Bellamy knows she doesn’t hear it.

“We’re different people,” she declares, which is true. Back in May, Bellamy never would have thought he could find one thing he had in common with this woman and her charmed life. In this, though, he knows they’re the same.

“Maybe. But quitting? That’s not you. You are going to regret walking away from this every day of your life. The same life that you ran from in May, that’s what you’re going back to!” He’s nearly shouting at her now, trying to get some reaction beyond the tired resignation he’s seen nearly all morning.

“It just got too hard,” she says, as if that is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable explanation. As if that’s enough to keep him from arguing.

“Too hard?” Bellamy can’t believe his ears. “Of course it’s hard! It’s only worth it because it’s hard! The hard is what makes it great. Do you think Harper and Raven are giving up the game just because it got too hard?”

“It’s my fault, Bellamy!” Clarke explodes. She hadn’t managed to look him in the eye all through his own outburst, but her expression now is a little wild, a little frightened.

This throws him for a loop, knocks the anger right out of him. He’s not sure what she means—Harper and Raven’s injuries or something else that is obviously beyond her control. When he tries to protest, though, she cuts him off.

“I could have kept Harper and Raven safe, and I didn’t. I didn’t take the deal that Wallace offered me and that put our team in danger.” The confirmation that Mount Weather was behind yesterday’s damages isn’t enough for Bellamy to ignore the look on Clarke’s face. Her face is open and earnest, begging him to believe her.

“That’s not your fault, Clarke,” he tries, but she shakes her head, nearly frantic.

“None of that would have happened if I had listened to Dante in the first place.”

She stares up at him. Anyone else’s eyes would have watered, but Clarke stands firm. “I told you Bellamy. I could have kept Harper and Raven from being hurt. I could have kept Charlotte on the team. Now that I can do something to prevent anything else from happening, I have to.”

“Leaving is the answer, then?”

“If I’m not on the team, then Wallace has no reason to sabotage you,” she says, guilt clouding her gaze.

“Us. Our team,” he tries, desperate to make her see reason. He’s still not convinced that Clarke is the only reason the Comets are under fire unless she knows something he doesn’t. But Clarke is convinced and he's pretty sure he can't sway her in the few moments he has left. Bellamy thinks back to what she said to him what seems like a lifetime ago. “If you need forgiveness, I’ll give that to you.” She softens minutely, so he presses on, “You’re forgiven. Now, let’s go inside and figure this out.”

Maybe he should have stopped. Maybe it had been enough to promise forgiveness—though in his heart, Bellamy doubts it’s true. At the reminder of a problem to fix, Bellamy can see Clarke steel herself.

She looks off to the house, still and quiet in the summer morning. “It’s your team, now. Take care of them for me.”


“I can’t stay,” she confesses, and Bellamy never thought he would hear Clarke Griffin admit that anything was beyond her. “I can’t be here and see them and know that I didn’t do everything in my power to protect them.”

“That’s why you have me! I thought we were in this together. Together, we can figure something out. You’re not on your own.”

“I bear this, so they won’t have to,” she murmurs, gaze distant again.

Before he can reply, the front door to the house opens and Wells appears. As the man makes his way towards them, Clarke leans into Bellamy. The kiss she presses to his cheek burns if only because he knows the first is also likely the last he’ll ever get from her.

With an approximation of a smile, Clarke murmurs, “May we meet again.”

In a blur, she and Wells are in the Chevy and starting up the engine. It’s not until Bellamy realizes he’s standing in the middle of the street, watching the car steadily shrink that he responds.

“May we meet again.”

When he turns back to the house, Octavia is standing on the porch. As he walks towards her, her expression grows darker and more worried.

“Talk to me, big brother,” she says as soon as he draws even to her.

“You know Clarke’s gone?”

She nods, frowning more. “Yeah. For the week, to get her friend settled in at home.”

He laughs bitterly. Of course she leaves him to break the news to the team. If he were thinking straight, he would wait a minute, find some measure of tenderness. But he’s not thinking straight so he just shakes his head at his little sister. “She’s gone. For the season at the very least.”

For the first time in his life, Bellamy purposefully ignores his sister’s distress. He strides into the house because there’s nowhere else to go. To his utter lack of surprise, the Comets are all gathered in the parlor. Even Raven and Harper have been installed on the sofas, injured legs propped up on cushions.

Why does everything happen in this Goddamn parlor, he finds himself thinking irritably. Octavia hovers at his shoulder as he faces what’s left of his team.

“I assume Clarke has told you all that she’s going home,” he starts. At the various nods and affirmations around the room, he drops the bad news on them like a bomb, not even bothering to avoid the blowback. “What I assume she didn’t tell you, is that she won’t be coming back.”

There’s a moment of dead quiet where Bellamy can see the information sink in for everyone. Soon, though, the moment is gone and the sheer wall of noise that erupts makes Bellamy want to turn tail and run. But he doesn’t, because Clarke told him to take care of the team and running doesn’t do that, no matter what she thinks.

Instead, Bellamy stays and listens. He listens to Anya’s scornful outrage and Lexa’s subtler anger. He listens as the bullpen erupts into a frenzied conversation of what to do without the closest thing they had to a pitching coach. He listens as Monroe tries to soothe Mel when the woman bursts into a fresh round of tears. He listens as first one, then nearly all, of the Comets wonders what will happen without Clarke Griffin on their side. Bellamy stays and listens until the noise subsides.

“I know this news is hard to take on top of the blow we were dealt yesterday. I know it seems like we now have this insurmountable mountain to climb and less and less strength to do it. But you have never given in to that kind of obstacle before. Now is the time for us to stand and fight, to prove that we made it as far as we did on guts and skill and hunger. Clarke Griffin does not make or break this team. You all built this team from the ground up, with your bare hands. This is your team, and Mount Weather can’t change that!”

It’s not often that Bellamy gets the chance to really dig in and deliver a rousing speech. Mostly, the Comets don’t give into their ruts enough to actually require pep talks and Bellamy was never really in the right frame of mind for motivational speeches. If any time qualifies for a motivational speech, though, it’s now.

Thankfully, his declaration seems to spur the team into action beyond lamenting their circumstances. Raven suggests he calls Finn Collins to see if anything can be done to pad their roster. Where Mount Weather has fifteen whole and healthy players, Arkdown has been reduced to twelve. In a seven-game series, the Mountain Men have the obvious advantage—they can throw bodies at a problem in the exact way the Comets can’t.

It’s a good suggestion, one that Finn Collins nixes almost immediately. The man is far more concerned about Clarke’s departure than the potential unfairness of the Series. At least Bellamy gets to feel a little vindicated in his casual disdain for the man.

There’s a not insignificant contingent that is out for Mount Weather blood.

“Blood must have blood,” Lexa intones darkly.

Bellamy thinks he convinces them to wait until after the Series to go for any kneecaps. It would be terrible to lose more players to something like assault charges.

Surprisingly, Octavia proves to be the hardest to deter. Bellamy’s not sure what she’s pieced together, but something bitter and feral lights up her eyes whenever someone brings up Clarke in the week after she leaves. Eventually, he learns to stop.

In the end, they do the only things that they can. They rest and practice and strategize. Honestly, the week leading up to the World Series isn’t all that different from how it would go if Clarke were there. Intellectually, Bellamy knows that. But when Clarke was around, he had an equal, a partner. Someone who would make sure he wasn’t overlooking the nuances in favor of the big picture. Now, Bellamy’s trying to do both of their jobs, and he can already feel himself unraveling. Sure, he’s enlisted the entire team to look over strategies. He even recruits the bus driver, Miller, the team photographer, Monty, and radio announcer/Maya's friend, Jasper, not that they prove all that helpful. No one (aside from maybe Lexa and Anya) has the head for strategy like Clarke does. And while Bellamy knows that beggars can’t be choosers, Anya and Lexa still scare him enough to be wary of the kinds of plays they’ll concoct.

More than anything, it feels like they’re preparing for war. Everything leading up to this showdown with Mount Weather has been minor skirmishes compared to the campaign they’ll have to wage in the World Series. If it feels at all disrespectful to the actual war being waged across the ocean, Bellamy doesn’t care. This might not have the same kind of scope, but it feels no less important.

These women have given their blood, sweat, and tears to a game and a public that have been indifferent at best and cruel at worst. Bellamy knows that, Clarke or no, he has a duty to make sure those sacrifices don’t go un-noted. 

With every mile that Clarke drives away from Arkdown, she tells herself that she’s made the only responsible decision available to her. Every time she wants to turn around and go back, she tells herself that her leaving is worth the chance the Comets now have at a fair series.

Wells has been looking at her like he knows something is wrong—which he probably does—but Clarke is reasonably sure he can’t know what, exactly, is wrong. She’s not going to tell him, either. Wells has never been the kind of person to stand down in the face of intimidation, which is probably why he’d been such a successful pilot. (Clarke used to worry that that very sense of justice would get him killed. She still worries, in fact.) If he knew that she wasn’t planning on returning for the World Series, Clarke thinks he might throw himself out of the car just to keep her from getting any further. She knows Wells would never stand for being an excuse to run away; he would say something that makes her brave and stupid and willing to overlook the very real threat the Wallace’s pose.

And more than anything, Clarke is unwilling to put anyone else in danger. Even though they’d essentially lost two players in that last game, Clarke knows they got off lightly. As long as they heal well, Raven and Harper will probably be able to come back next season. She’s not sure if that was purposeful, but given the way Cage seems to revel in the pain of others, she would guess that it was a lucky accident.

They make it to Madison without Wells doing much more than leveling a few probing looks in her direction. Clarke heaves a sigh of relief as she pulls up in front of the Jaha home, knowing that Thelonious (and probably her mother) will hover too much for Wells to properly interrogate her.

Almost as if summoned by her relief, the door to the house bursts open and a nearly frantic Thelonious rushes out to meet them. He’s got Wells in his arms almost before he even makes it out of the car. Clarke smiles fondly at father and son before her attention is dragged away.

Making her way across the yard at a more sedate pace, Abby Griffin approaches her daughter.

While Clarke has talked to her mother at least once a week while she was away, most of those conversations were perfunctory at best and cold at worst. Now, though, Abby has a welcoming smile on her face.

“Clarke!” she greets, arms thrown wide open. Clarke takes the comfort her mother offers, sinking into the familiar cloud of her perfume. “I’m so glad you finally decided to come home.”

It takes all of Clarke’s patience to keep herself from snapping in response. She’d known that leaving the league would elicit this kind of reaction, it was what her mother wanted from the beginning. Abby had made it no secret that she disapproved of Clarke’s decision to join the AAGPBL perhaps more than she disapproved of baseball in general.

Instead of snapping at her mother, Clarke pulls away and manages a tight smile.

This ends up being her default expression the more time she spends in Madison. Almost as soon as she’s returned, Abby has her attending luncheons and tea parties as if the last three and a half months never happened. She visits with women who used to be her closest friends, aside from Wells, and wonders how she could have spent so much time with these people. None of them seem particularly curious about her motivations for joining the league, preferring to giggle about Clarke’s failure to secure a beau in all that time she was away. If ever she feels like the princess Bellamy accused her of being, it's now.

She endures rude questions about her teammates and Bellamy (“That girl you played with was so dark, how could you stand it?” or “Your coach, was he as much of a drunk as they say?”) and then the disappointment of her mother when she refuses to answer or is rude in response (“Clarke, these are your peers. You would do well to be kinder to them.”).

Once alone, Clarke tries not to laugh when she thinks about how exactly right Bellamy had been when he said this was the life she ran from in the first place. Of course he was right, she thinks, and he would never let me live it down if he knew.

It’s impossible not to think about him and the team. She’d tried at first, but gave it up as a bad job within about four hours of getting home.

Initially, her plan had been to make Bellamy angry so he wouldn’t be as stung when she left. Maybe he would even be relieved. That’s why she hadn’t told him explicitly about her second visit from Dante Wallace and the insinuations he had made. But he’d been so earnest in the face of her studied disregard, she’d let herself be selfish. If Bellamy could understand any of her motivation for leaving, he would understand her crushing guilt. And he had. As reluctant as he was, he let her leave him behind. She'd expected for it to hurt when she left, but hadn't thought that his acceptance would make it worse.

The week between the playoffs and the World Series, Clarke finds herself at loose ends. Where she imagines the Comets are exercising drills with players in new positions, she has very little to do now that she is actively avoiding her mother’s set. Aside from running interference between Thelonious and Wells, Clarke’s days are largely spent missing her team.

“I wish you could have seen it, Clarke.” Wells is telling her about North Africa as they sit on the porch swing of his house. “The cities are so old, it’s like stepping back in time. They drove us out to the desert to train for about a month. After a while it was hard to imagine that we'd ever see anything green again.” He trails off, lost in the memory. This is much better than dwelling on the pain of two amputated fingers, Clarke thinks.

“I wish you were with me this summer,” she confesses, bringing her friend back to the present. Gently, she nudges the swing into motion. “I never thought I’d actually come close to breaking my dad’s homerun record, but I had so much fun just trying. The only way it would have been better was if you could have seen me play.”

She’s lost in memories, too, as she tries to remember a story she hasn't already told. Really, she's thinking about Bellamy and Octavia, Raven and Lexa and Anya. She even misses Reese. She misses all of them. Misses finding scraps of yarn that Mel trails around like fingerprints. Misses the way Harper and Monroe climb trees like monkeys. Even misses the shouting matches Raven would get into over her Chevy. Mostly, though, she misses Bellamy in all of his cranky, infuriating glory. 

If she weren’t thinking through the haze of nostalgia, she probably would have realized what she’d just admitted to Wells.

“What are you talking about?” he asks, eyes sharp and shrewd on her as he turns in his seat.

Frantically, Clarke scrambles for a way to explain herself. But she and Wells have known each other too long to be able to effectively lie to one another. She simply stares at him for a moment, at a loss.

“I can still see you play, Clarke,” Wells says, narrowing his eyes at her. “You’re going back for the World Series, aren’t you?”

Mutely, she shakes her head.

“Clarke,” he groans. “Why wouldn’t you go back? You’re not staying here for me, are you?”

“My world doesn’t revolve around you,” she manages with a half-hearted eye roll. When he doesn’t laugh, Clarke sighs. “I can’t go back, Wells.”


To get away from his searching gaze, Clarke lets her head loll back and stares up at the roof of the porch. “It got too hard,” she tries, not expecting it to go any better than it had with Bellamy.

As expected, Wells scoffs. “I have never seen you quit something just because it was too hard, Clarke Griffin.”

She lets her head roll to the side so she can glare at him. “You know that’s not true.”

“That’s not the same and you know it,” Wells snaps, losing his patience with her in maybe the first time in their friendship. Of course he knows what she means without her saying.

“Isn’t it?” As soon as it’s out of her mouth, Clarke needs to know his answer. She’d thought that it wasn’t different at all, but it feels so much worse now than it did when she was twelve.

“I always saw you giving up baseball as your way of mourning your dad. For a while, it was too painful for you to play or even think about it, which is fine.” Clarke makes a doubtful sound, so Wells grabs her hand in reassurance. “It’s fine, Clarke. But I think you and maybe your mom were the only people who thought you would never go back.”

“What?” she asks, nearly dumbfounded by this information.

Wells laughs, the sound brighter than the situation warrants. “You’re your father’s daughter, Clarke. His legacy. Of course you were going to go back to the game some way or another because it's more than a game for you. Even as a kid, you loved baseball more than almost anything.”

She sits and takes in Wells’s assessment in silence. It’s not shocking information, but in some ways it is. So much of this season had been spent feeling like a fraud among women who would live and die on the diamond if given the chance. Mentally, she’d counted herself as separate from them, someone who liked the game and played well, but didn’t live or die by it. It’s strange to think she might have been one of them all along. Wells sits beside her and, as he’s always done, lets her think in peace. When the silence stretches on, he squeezes her hand gently.

“Do you know why it’s different now?” She sniffs and shakes her head. “It’s different because now baseball is more than just you and your dad. It’s about the people you’ve found who love the game like you do. Your team and the other players and even the fans, I bet. Your manager,” he ends, looking at her significantly.

In all honesty, she should not be so surprised at her friend’s astuteness, not when he’s just proven himself to be better acquainted with her feelings than she is herself. But something about Wells alluding to her feelings for Bellamy, feelings she’s done her level best to deny and suppress, is shocking. Because, really, she hasn’t even admitted to herself that the way she feels about Bellamy is not the way a player feels about her coach or even the way someone feels about their platonic decision making partner. Not that even admitting to her feelings is enough to make her go back.

Still, Wells deserves the truth.

“I can’t go back,” she repeats and proceeds to tell him the whole sordid story. Clarke watches his outrage mount as she details the scare tactics Mount Weather employed and knows she was right to keep the truth from him until they’d left Arkdown. Wells certainly would have done everything in his power make sure the Wallaces knew that money and intimidation isn’t enough to cow everyone into submission. So she tells him about her fears, that if she goes back then more Comets will end up injured, perhaps more permanently than Harper and Raven.

“I understand that you’re scared, Clarke, and that you feel responsible,” he paused as she hummed in response. “But what makes you so sure that Wallace will give up on his tricks just because you’re not there?”

“He basically said that my teammates were fair game just because I didn’t want to be traded to the Mountain Men,” she defends.

“Sure, but what’s to keep him from sabotaging more players even with you gone?”

There isn’t a satisfactory answer to that question. The truth is that with a roster three players short and a shallow bullpen, the Comets don’t have much of a chance at making it through more than four games. Presumably, there isn’t any reason for Dante or Cage Wallace to spend time, effort, and money on sabotaging a team that has no chance of beating them. Much as Clarke hates to admit it, her Comets are not likely to be able to withstand an onslaught from the Mountain for long.

If there’s ever a time when Clarke is relieved to be proven wrong, it’s the week of the World Series.

Wells hasn’t stopped trying to get Clarke to go back, saying it’s not too late, but Clarke is nothing if not resolute. Still, that doesn’t keep her from remaining glued to the radio during game time and ripping through the newspaper the morning after. She’s glad the Series is being hosted in Chicago, otherwise she doubts that the local radio station would even broadcast the games. The only reason it’s in the papers is because Mount Weather isn’t so far from Madison and there is some local interest. Abby less than silently disapproves of Clarke’s preoccupation with her former team, but doesn’t try to stop her.

The first two games go about the way Clarke expects. That is, the Belles win both pretty handily. Game one is something like a bloodbath with the Comets only scoring one run in the first and promptly folding under the pressure. Mount Weather wins by nine whole runs, which makes Clarke’s stomach churn. It feels like the first nail in the coffin. The Comets put together something like a rally for game two, holding the Mountain Men to six runs and putting up three themselves. Clarke’s never been prouder when Fox manages to both earn an RBI and steal second in the same inning.

There’s nothing about their slight resilience that would make Clarke think there’s even a chance that Arkdown could really make a comeback, though.

And then the next game happens. Somehow, some way, the Comets find their bats and put seven runs on the board in the first five innings. They don’t score after that, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t let more than four Mountain Men cross home, so the game is theirs. Wells listens with Clarke and spins her around the room in their elation at the Comets’ win. She even feels a little smug listening to the commentator’s (sadly not Jasper Jordan, which stirs up a fresh wave of what can only be homesickness) description of the hissy fit Cage Wallace throws in the dugout after the game. Clarke can imagine the smirk that must be on Bellamy’s face and idly wonders what such smugness would taste like. As soon as the thought enters her mind, she scrambles for another to occupy her as she has so often in the past week and a half.

(Longer, if Clarke’s being honest with herself. But there’s no reward for honesty in this, so she maintains her denial.)

The Comets lose the fourth game, but it’s closer than any of them have been so far. Wells finally gives up on providing moral support when she snaps at him for talking through the radio coverage. It’s probably a good thing since his moral support has mostly involved asking if she’s done being a martyr yet. This game, the Belles pull ahead early on, leaving the Comets to try and forge a come-from-behind victory. They don’t quite make it, but even through the radio, Clarke can tell they put forth a valiant effort.

With the Mountain ahead three to one in the series, Clarke doesn’t expect much from the fifth game. No one really does. She’d thrown aside the newspaper in disgust that morning because it spoke of the “inevitable Mount Weather win.” Just because she doesn’t think the Comets could take down the Mountain doesn’t mean it's fine for others to share the opinion.

The game is the lowest scoring one so far. After the last out of the ninth inning, the score is still tied at 2-2, so the game goes into overtime. And goes and goes. There are an obscene eight extra innings before either side scores another run. It’s well into the night when the game finally ends—Clarke has to turn the radio down low to avoid waking up her mother. The winning run is scored by heartbroken Mel and Clarke finds herself envying the other woman’s strength.

When she tunes in for game six, the butterflies in Clarke’s stomach are a veritable swarm. Partly, it has to do with the fact that her mother has decided to listen in on the game with her for the first time. Mostly, though, it’s anxiety for her team. Even if she’d stayed with the team, she would have doubted that they’d make it this far. Against every odd, the Comets have persevered, and Clarke doesn’t know how she could have expected any less.

The butterflies disappear as she listens to the game. The Comets annihilate the Mountain Men. They run up the score early on and beat back any Belle that makes it past second base. By the eighth inning, the score is 9-2, the Comets’ lead almost as big as the Mountain Men’s that first game. She listens as the announcer rattles off name after name as Comets cross home plate. Joy and pride swell with every name she hears.

Of course, her joy is short-lived. Near the end of the ninth inning, with one out and Mount Weather no closer to pulling ahead, Cage Wallace must make a desperate decision.

For some reason, Bellamy has put Fox in at third base. (Fox is a pretty capable utility player, but the infield has never been her specialty. Clarke supposes that even Octavia needs to rest sometimes and can’t really fault the decision, but maintains her skepticism.) With runners on both first and second, it’s likely that the ball will get thrown to third to take out the lead runner—which is what is meant to happen.

“It’s a one-bouncer to the Comet’s pitcher and she fields it clean. She’s gonna go throw to third for the force and—Oh no!”

Immediately, Clarke sits up ramrod straight. Abby looks at her sharply, worry drawing her eyebrows together. By the time the commentator has a handle on the situation, Clarke’s stomach has dropped to the floor.

As far as Clarke can make out, the Mount Weather runner barrels into Fox rather than sliding. Both women go flying, but while the runner walks away, Fox is left unconscious in the dirt. There’s still an uproar on the radio about how such a thing could have happened, but it hardly matters.

It matters even less when the runner is called out on interference, and the batter, too. The Comets win and the World Series will careen on to the seventh and final game.

Clarke’s mind swirls. It is highly unusual for any fielder aside from catchers to be knocked unconscious from a collision, mostly because collisions themselves are rare. Base runners generally slide because it’s safer for everyone involved and there’s a far lower chance of being called out for interfering with the play. The only reason not to slide would be because a coach, or a manager, told his runner not to. More importantly, though, it would take serious effort to knock someone unconscious in the course of a collision, meaning Fox’s injury was completely premeditated.

Clarke left and they still weren’t safe.

Sometime during her calculations, Clarke stands up, staring blankly at the radio. Abby hovers at her elbow, “Clarke, sweetheart, come sit down. I know that was hard to hear.”

Woodenly, she follows her mother’s directions. “I should have been there,” she murmurs hollowly.

“There’s nothing you could have done. If you’d been there, it might be you unconscious now,” her mother soothes. Immediately, Clarke thinks that option would be preferable to what has just happened.

“I shouldn’t have left!”

Rather than reprimanding her for the outburst, Abby examines her daughter thoughtfully. Eventually, she sighs and takes Clarke’s hand. “Did you know that I went to see you play?”

“Why? You hate base—“

“I don’t hate baseball, Clarke. I just have never loved it the way you and your father did. I don’t understand the draw and I doubt I will,” her mother is matter-of-fact. It doesn’t bother her that she didn’t share this part of her husband’s life and won’t share it with her daughter. “I love you, though, so I had Thelonious drive me to Mount Weather to watch a game.”

“When?” Clarke tries imagining her mother sitting in the stands of the Mount Weather ballpark when she knows Abby Griffin hardly ever even went to Kane Stadium to watch her father. It’s not an easy image to conjure.

“Oh, after that LIFE cover, I’m sure. Up until then I was so sure that you were going to come home any minute,” when she sees Clarke’s mouth open to protest, Abby smiles, “in spite of how often you told me you were staying.

“I watched you play in that game and it was almost like seeing your father again. He would have been so proud of you, Clarke.”

“What about you, mom? Are you proud of me?”

“I have always been proud of you, Clarke,” Abby says, cupping her daughter’s cheek. “It was just easier to be proud when you were doing things I understood. Which is why I didn’t question it when you came back, but I still don’t understand it. I could see the way you loved the game that day I watched you play." Clarke looks into her mother's searching gaze, knowing what she'll find. "So, if there’s some unfinished business you have with your team, I’m not going to tell you to stay.”

Almost before her mother is finished speaking, Clarke launches into her arms. She hugs her mother fiercely before pulling away. It’s not the wholehearted acceptance of her choices that Clarke had dreamt of, but it’s certainly the closest she’ll get.

Within a few minutes, Clarke is out the door and running through the twilight streets of Madison. She relishes the wind in her hair even as she curses the stockings she’s had to start wearing again. After thundering up the steps of a house nearly as familiar as her own, Clarke hammers mercilessly at the door.

She only waits for about a minute before the door swings open and Wells is standing there, looking very put upon. Nevertheless, Clarke beams at him.

“Wells,” she says, not even fighting the brightest smile she’s ever felt. “Pack your bags. We’re going to Chicago.” 

The 14th of September, the day of reckoning for the Arkdown Comets, dawns hot and bright. All week, there has been no hint of autumnal chill and the heat has taken its toll on the players. To be fair, more than the heat is wearing on them.

After sitting up half the night with a concussed Fox, Bellamy is feeling the wear more than ever, not that he looks all that different from usual. He’d stopped caring about anything that isn’t directly related to baseball after Clarke left. Mostly, this means that he’s only shaved twice in the past fourteen days and showered only slightly more often. Miraculously, he avoided the pull of cheap gin, if only for the sake of the Comets. He's pretty certain his sobriety will only last as long as the season.

He doubts that his increased devotion to the team had had a marked effect, though. The first five games of the Series had gone, if not smoothly, then at least without undue unpleasantness. The Comets battled tooth and nail to make it through those five games, holding the Mountain back from a fourth win, but they would have done that with or without his encouragement. It was everything Bellamy asked from them, but nothing that he had truly expected. After all, Mount Weather had the superior strength and health. They also didn’t have two megalomaniacs with matching superiority complexes on their asses, but that’s semantics.

Ever since that third game, when the Comets turned it around and refused to give in, Bellamy has somehow known that the entire series would come down to this last game.

He’s pretty sure every Comet has made it her mission to see that it does, too. Already a superstitious lot as baseball players, the lengths some of them go through to preserve their luck honestly baffles Bellamy. Caris, Echo, Anya, Lexa, and potentially his little sister have started up this strange ritual. Bellamy doesn’t even pretend to understand it, but it involves fire and some words that sound entirely made up and a liquid that looks uncomfortably close to blood. Others have taken a sudden and very devout interest in church over the past two weeks.

Every game day, Bellamy rounds up his churchgoers and walks them to the closest Catholic church, only five blocks north of Kane Stadium. Very few of them are actually Catholic, but Bellamy is (or was) and is the only one from Chicago to boot. Generally, he doesn’t go inside, tells himself he doesn’t put stock in prayer, but he still escorts them every day. He hangs around outside while the girls pray or go to confession and collects them when they’re ready to go back to the hotel.

This day is no different, aside from the time constraint. He’d been a little late in setting out for the church since he’d had to have another meeting with Dr. Jackson about Fox’s head. There’s a massive purple bruise on the girl’s forehead as well as some nasty scrapes from where she fell in the dirt. Even thinking about it makes Bellamy want to see red, so he does his best to deflect. Then, he'd had to stop in to see the girl herself to make sure that she knew he would personally make her life a living hell if she so much as thought of getting out of bed. Fox had been so tired that she'd taken the threats at face value, which was a nice ego boost for Bellamy.

They arrive to the church late and the Comet’s are more zealous in their prayers than they have been before. After nearly an hour has passed with not one of them coming outside, Bellamy heads in to get them ready to leave for the field. The game won’t start for another few hours, but everyone still needs to get dressed and warm up, so it’s not as if he’s just being anxious about the time.

Being back in a cathedral for the first time since his mother died is less a religious experience than it is one in history. This isn’t the church he and Octavia attended as children, but nothing about it seems all that different from the one in his memories. There’s the votive stand with years’ worth of wax coating the frame. And the confessional booths with the heavy curtains to keep sin between a man, his priest, and God. It’s something like stepping back in time and Bellamy hates it. If he were to go back, it wouldn’t be to the masses he only attended because his mother made him.

(He’s not sure if he even would go back that far, much as he misses his mother. He misses a particular blonde princess too much not to leave her in the running. Which is why he hadn’t wanted to go into the cathedral in the first place. Bellamy knows he wouldn’t have been able to resist praying for Clarke’s return, not that it would have made a difference. Clarke made her choice and Bellamy has to live with it.)

When he finally manages to roust Roma from her pew, where she’d been muttering fervently for an entire hour, he hustles his charges back to the hotel so they can pick up their gear, uniforms, and the rest of the team. Soon, they’re all across the street in the locker rooms of Kane Stadium where everything started.

Bellamy waits outside until everyone is dressed before heading in to give his pre-game speech. In the past week, his pre-game speech has become something of a ritual. If he never has to give another pep talk, it might be too soon, despite Octavia’s insistence that he loves the attention.

Judging by the smell that hits him as soon as he walks in the door, Monroe is still refusing to change her socks for luck. He’s tried to nip that in the bud, but the woman is potentially more stubborn than he is. Since it’s the last day, he decides to let it go. Instead, he follows the script of the past week and starts out with instructions.

“All right, ladies, time for the song and dance. Outfielders, I want you playing back a few steps. Better to have something land in front of you than have to go on a chase when it flies over your head.” Mel, Anya, and Lexa nod solemnly, so Bellamy whirls his attention to his catcher. “Maya, if the leadoff batter gets on base, the next batter will bunt. Be ready.” They’d already been burned twice by this particular tactic, so Bellamy wants to get the message through loud and clear. He’s a little annoyed, since he would never need to remind Clarke of this, but whether he’s annoyed with Maya or Clarke is hard to say.

There aren’t any other specific instructions he needs to impart, so Bellamy takes a breath to launch into the pep talk he’s been rehearsing since last week and saving for this exact moment.

“Now, I’d like to lead you all in a prayer,” he says, which is not at all what he’d rehearsed. He knew he shouldn’t have gone into church, time crunch be damned.

A ripple of uncertainty goes through the team, and Bellamy thinks, Yeah, me, too, but he commits anyway. “Come on, circle up, it’s prayer time.” He allows Harper and Raven and their crutches to remain where they are, but insists everyone else huddles up. Gingerly, he takes a knee on the concrete, stretching his bad leg out to the side. His contingency of religious players crosses themselves as they gather, but mostly everyone looks monumentally skeptical.

“Uh, Lord?” he asks, skeptical himself, and rubbing at the scrubby beard on his face. “Hallowed be thy name. May our feet be swift, may our bats be mighty, and may our balls—“ he pauses to glare at Raven’s snicker “—be plentiful. And God? These are good ballplayers, good women. Help them see this one through. Amen.” After a moment of semi-reverent silence, Bellamy says, “All right, time to go.”

Before he can get up, though, a pile of hands appears over his head.

“Go Comets!” the team cries around Bellamy, the real signal that it’s time to head to the dugout.

Octavia stays behind a moment and offers him a hand up. The ferocious glint in her eye is still there, but it seems less terrifying now that he’s gotten used to it. There's a difference between knowing his sister has all the destructive potential of a force of nature and seeing it come true.

“You ready, big brother?” she asks.

“Guess I have to be,” he responds, slinging an arm around her shoulder and pressing a kiss to her temple. He doesn’t have to look to know that she’s scrunched up her nose in distaste, but is gratified that she doesn’t pull away. Together, they walk out into the sunshine. The day is full of possibilities.

After the national anthem, when nearly everyone is back in the dugout, just waiting for the game to start, Bellamy ambles over to the bullpen, just an open stretch of dirt alongside the first base line.

“How you feeling, Roma? ” he calls over to his pitcher from behind the crouching Maya’s back. She’s already pitched two games this series, but her arm is the freshest, not having had to pitch all season. She also happens to be the least seasoned pitcher in the Comets' rotation, but she’s done pretty well for herself so far.

“Pretty good, coach” she calls back after delivering a fastball to Maya.

“Good, good. Get nice and warm. Loosen up your shoulder, okay?” She nods back at him and Bellamy rounds on his catcher, but doesn’t look down at her. Instead, he surveys the field where the Mountain Men are warming up. He even spares a glare for Cage Wallace, receiving one in return. “Maya, if Roma hasn’t got it, you tell me immediately, you understand? You do not protect her feelings and keep it a secret, got it?” When he doesn’t get an affirmative from the catcher, he asks again, louder this time, “Do you hear me?”

“Yeah, you’re screaming. I hear you,” Clarke Griffin says as she rises from her crouch and pushes back her mask.

Lately, it seems as if Bellamy Blake’s world has come to a complete stop fairly often, usually because of the woman in front of him. But now, Bellamy would swear that the earth stops in its orbit around the sun because Clarke is back.

Her face is already smudged with dirt, but even so, she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He isn’t sure what to do. He wants to shake her for leaving him in charge of this band of misfits. Equally, he wants to kiss her for coming back.

(Okay, he wants to kiss her for other reasons, and he wants to kiss her even when she isn’t making dramatic entrances. These past two weeks have been a learning experience to say the least.)

“What the hell are you doing here?” is what he manages to come up with.

She rolls her eyes at the attitude, but replies, “I heard about Fox.”

Clarke seems to think that qualifies as enough of an explanation, but Bellamy is less sure about that. “You wanna fill in at third? Sorry, but O’s got that covered,” he drawls, hoping she can’t tell how unbalanced she’s got him.

“No,” she huffs, crossing her arms over her chest protector. “I realized that if me being gone wasn’t enough to keep the Wallaces from taking out my team, there was no reason for me to be in Madison.”

Bellamy would have thought the part about how pointless it was to leave was obvious from the start, but it has always been clear that he and Clarke think differently.

“Besides, I’m no quitter,” she says, as if she hadn’t just walked away from everything. She drops down into her crouch and holds up her mitt for Roma.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Bellamy shouts, loud enough to get her standing and facing him again. He frowns at her and raises a surly eyebrow, “Who says that you can play?” The look on her face could only be defined as betrayed, but Bellamy can’t resist. He nods over to where Maya actually is, sitting in the dugout. “You know, Maya’s proven herself these past few games. Gave up some good intel on the Mountain, too.”

“You don’t want me to play?” she asks, like it’s a real question. Clarke turns to consider Maya, who shifts uncomfortably at the scrutiny, before looking back to Bellamy. “Fine. I won’t play.”

She takes a few steps towards the dugout, as if she really does mean to walk out of his life all over again. Bellamy scrambles to grab her wrist to stop her, regretting the stupidest decision he’s ever made in teasing Clarke Griffin.

“Well,” he drawls as she turns to face him again. There’s mischief in her gaze and Bellamy knows he’s been had, but he’s more than willing to play this game with her. “You’re already dressed. If you really want to play, I guess I could make a last minute change to the lineup. I don’t care.”

Through all of his forced nonchalance, he doesn’t let go of her wrist. His thumb even sweeps up and down the smooth skin there of his own accord. Bellamy watches as Clarke struggles to keep the smile off her face as she shrugs and declares, “I’ll play.”

Bellamy has no such reservations and beams at her decision. He doesn’t let out the whoop that builds in his chest, because he is an adult after all, and has some restraint. Finally, he lets go of Clarke’s arm and leaves her to finish Roma’s warm up.

Clarke has a parting shot, though. “Hey, Bellamy,” she calls, smiling like the cat that ate the canary. “You look like shit. Pick up a razor once in a while.”

He tosses something caustic back, but nothing can repress the warmth spreading through his gut.

If the day was full of possibility before, then now it’s full of pure probability. Bellamy takes great pleasure in letting Cage Wallace know about the adjustment to the lineup. The way Cage’s face goes ice cold and calculating lends some credence to Clarke’s version of events, not that he'll ever let her live this debacle down.

The final game of the first World Series in the AAGPBL’s history will go down as something of a legend. The game is scoreless until the eighth inning, not that anyone would be able to tell from the energy at Kane Stadium. On and off the field, the volume of the crowds and players doesn’t drop from the time the umpire first calls “Play ball” until the last out. Bellamy very nearly yells himself hoarse, shouting advice and encouragement and the vague nonsense he remembers from his days as a player.

Those first eight innings are a pitcher’s game. Roma goes head to head with Charlotte, who’d only had to pitch one game in the series so far. Any other day, it probably would have been a bloodbath, but everyone is digging deep today and Roma throws the game of her life. As the game goes on, Charlotte looks more and more frazzled, despite her solid showing.

But in the bottom of the eighth, with two outs against them and only a runner on first, the Mountain Men manage to score a run. All game, Mel had been drifting in, closer to the infield. No one's hitting her way, so it doesn’t really matter until it does.

Somewhere in the middle of Mount Weather’s batting order, someone hits a moderately deep fly out into right field. If Mel had set up where Bellamy told her to at the beginning of the game, she would have caught the ball without a problem and the inning would be over. But, she doesn’t, so the ball sails over her head, leaving her to waste precious seconds chasing it down.

The runner had had a sizeable lead off and is already rounding second by the time Mel has the ball in her hand. When Monroe gets the ball as the cutoff, the base runner is nearly halfway home, so she checks the batter at first and the play ends.

Bellamy breathes deep to bank his anger and frustration. It could have been worse, he tells himself weakly. Thankfully, Octavia ends the inning on the next batter by catching a wicked line drive.

Mel approaches timidly from right field. Bellamy manages not to yell at her and her wan, relieved smile tells him something deeply unflattering about his coaching style.

Still, there’s one inning left and by some sheer stroke of luck, the top of the order is up to bat. Bellamy breathes deep to even out his nerves before turning his attention to the on deck circle.

As always, Lexa is lead off and she takes her warm up swings with the same steely determination she does everything. Once she’s in the batter’s box, nothing can shake her. Her hit, when it comes, isn’t spectacular. Just a hard grounder that the shortstop has to chase a little. Distantly, Bellamy hears Raven snort that she would have had that as Lexa legs out her single. Anyone else probably would have been out, but Lexa’s foot hits the bag a second ahead of the throw. Bellamy’s roar of approval is echoed through the dugout, even little Reese shouting her excitement.

Next, is Anya, somehow more implacable than Lexa. She doesn’t wait for her pitch, mostly because all pitches are Anya’s pitch, and lines a nice hit out to the middle of center field. The fielder comes up with the ball too quickly for Lexa to do more than think about going for third, so the Comets rack up another hit without much to show for it.

Mel puts a squeeze bunt up the first base line, forcing Charlotte to throw her out, but advancing Lexa and Anya into scoring position. Bellamy calls for Roma to swing away without even glancing at Clarke. He can feel her speculative gaze on him, but he’s managed without her for a week, he’s not going to crumble now that she’s back.

Roma swings at something that looks too inside for Bellamy’s taste, and true to form, the ball bounces hard down the first base line. The first baseman fields it handily and steps on the bag for the second out of the inning.

Bellamy paces nervously at the top of the dugout. Two outs is bad, but not the end of the world. Not with the batter on deck.

In something like slow motion, Bellamy watches Clarke walk away from him towards the batter’s box. Her focus is entirely on Charlotte, who looks as if she’s seen a ghost. Clarke squares up to the plate, and even the simple act would make Bellamy swear he’s in the middle of baseball history. It's straight out of a Western, the heroic cowboy facing down the heartless outlaw in the middle of the desert. Only, Clarke doesn't look like any cowboy Bellamy's ever seen and the outlaw in question isn't even on the field.

Usually, Clarke is patience itself at the plate. She lets a few pitches go by until she finds one that she loves.

This is not the case today. The first pitch out of Charlotte’s hand and Clarke’s bat is on the move. Her timing is perfect, resulting in a screaming line drive right up the middle of the field. Right at Charlotte’s head.

The former Comet drops to the ground and the ball flies harmlessly by. It flies by the shortstop and second baseman, too, hitting the grass in center field and rolling to a stop. This leaves more than enough time for both Lexa and Anya to cross home plate, driving the score up to 2-1. Clarke idles at first, unwilling to risk getting thrown out.

Bellamy doesn’t even have any approval to yell at her when she looks his way. He just nods a little in acknowledgement and is ready to float away when she nods back.

Clarke doesn’t get a chance to advance further because the half-inning ends with the next batter. She’s too busy putting on her gear for Bellamy to distract her, but she probably knows anything that could come out of his mouth anyway.

When Charlotte comes up to bat, there are no new runs, no one on base, and two outs. Lexa had gotten the first in a catch all the way at the ivy-covered outfield wall. When she'd emerged, a few tendrils still clung to her uniform. Clarke got the second chasing a pop foul all the way into the pit of the Comets’ dugout. Bellamy’s heart had jumped into his throat at the sight of Clarke crumpled at the bottom of the steps, but she got up and brushed herself off without too much fuss. Still, he doesn’t manage to keep his hand from the small of her back as he guides her up the steps and back onto the field.

Charlotte looks more jittery than Bellamy’s ever seen her. Maybe that has something to do with the stern lecture Cage had delivered just before she stepped away from the dugout. She says something to Clarke that Clarke ignores, making Charlotte’s face set into a scowl as she digs angrily into the box.

The first two pitches come in high and fast. Charlotte swings at both and fails to connect. Collectively, the Comets take a breath. One more strike and Arkdown will take the World Series against every odd leveled against them. One more strike and they make history.

The final pitch of the game comes, same as the two before it, but this time when Charlotte swings, her bat connects, and the ball goes flying. Even though Mel had dutifully taken her steps back after the eighth inning, this one still hurtles over her head. As she runs to track it down in the right field alley, Charlotte pelts around the infield. When the ball hits Monroe at the cut off, Charlotte has just gone past third.

Ordinarily, a runner would stop. A thrown ball will travel the same distance much faster than a runner. Unless the throw is wildly off target, continuing is an almost guaranteed out. Still, that doesn’t stop Charlotte. Bellamy can see the moment she makes her decision to careen on, regardless of her base coach’s signal to stop.

Immediately, he’s shouting for Monroe to throw home, throw to Clarke. She does as ordered, and the ball flies true. It lands in Clarke’s mitt well before Charlotte makes it home, but rather than sliding to avoid the tag out, Charlotte picks up speed and lowers her head. Grimly, Clarke stands between Charlotte and the plate. She protects the ball in her mitt with her right hand and holds both arms out in front of herself for the tag.

Given how slight Charlotte is and how well practiced Clarke is in taking hits defending home, the collision between the two is rough. Charlotte's shoulder rams into Clarke, the slight padding of her chest protector too flimsy to prevent the breath from being knocked out of her lungs. Both women go sprawling in the dirt, Charlotte tumbling over and Clarke landing hard on her back. The catcher's arms splay wide on the dirt, but the ball stays nestled safely in her right hand.

Once again, time stands still. For just a moment, elation spreads through Bellamy, filling up his skin until it pops and the world rushes on.

The umpire calls Charlotte out and ends the game, not that anyone can hear him. Everyone in the stands of Kane Stadium is on their feet, regardless of who they were rooting for. The noise is deafening. In the dugout, Bellamy is bombarded by screaming, joyous ballplayers. Raven tries to hop on his back so she can join in the celebrations on the field, but he laughingly tells her to quit being lazy. She knocks him with her crutch in retaliation, cackling as she swings away. The tide of giddy excitement draws him out to the mound where the rest of the team has gathered.

On his way, he watches Clarke dust herself off and offer a hand down to Charlotte. The younger girl takes it begrudgingly, but doesn’t turn away from the kiss Clarke presses to her cheek.

Before Clarke can join her teammates at the mound, Bellamy watches as Cage Wallace stalks up to her and grabs her arm. Bellamy is about to storm over when Clarke hauls off and slaps the man across the face. She leans up into him, eyes colder than Bellamy’s ever seen and murmurs something. Cage sneers, but lets go of her and sweeps off anyway. 

Bellamy lets himself get lost in the sheer joy and astonishment of the Comets for a while. He wants to hug everyone he sees, but mostly sticks to fraternal pats on the back. Except for his sister. O, he scoops up and carries around for a few minutes while she shrieks for him to put her down. It’s nice to know that even in her newfound intensity, his baby sister hasn’t changed that much.

In the middle of everything, Bellamy finds Clarke.

They stop in front of each other and she is breathless with laughter and his grin feels like it could crack his face wide open. Without warning, he swoops in and twirls her around, eliciting another round of giggles. Sharply, he thinks that he could live like this forever if the universe would just let him. When he finally puts her down, her hat has flown away, leaving her hair a ragged mess. He tucks a lock behind her ear and lets his hand linger.

She doesn’t pull away, so he asks, “Glad you came back?” like there’s any way that she would say no.

“Thrilled,” she agrees, smiling bright.

“Think you could ever top this?” he asks, nodding to the jubilant Comets surrounding them. His hand is still on her face, but he can’t bring himself to address it.


“Maybe?” he wants to ask. Before he can, though, Clarke’s hand curls into his uniform, the one that matches hers, and tugs him closer. Her face tilts up and before he knows it, he’s kissing Clarke Griffin.

It’s nothing like he’d thought it would be. It is soft and gentle, which he’d had time to think about, but more than anything, it’s dusty. Still, with his palm on her cheek and hers clutching the fabric over his heart, this kiss is sweeter even than victory.

Chapter Text

Of course, the wedding must be held in Arkdown. It’s where everything really started. It’s where the bride first tasted freedom and the groom, well, he’s happy enough following her lead. Bellamy thought that everything moved a bit fast; they hadn’t even known each other a year, after all. But he’d been shouted down by everyone he tried to convince, including Clarke and his sister, and had finally learned to keep his opinion on the matter to himself.

Even the morning of the wedding, Clarke is certain that Bellamy hasn’t quite given over all his misgivings. She hopes that it won’t be too much of a struggle to get him down the aisle. It’s not as if she’s had a chance to give him a talking to this morning, either; she hasn’t seen him since the rehearsal dinner last night.

“Stop mooning around, Griffin,” Raven calls from where she and Octavia are getting ready. She’s artfully arranging Octavia’s hair in the corner of the boarding house’s parlor, loaned to them for the occasion, and Clarke hurries over to offer her opinions.

Even though Clarke came back for the end of the World Series, the trust she’d broken with her team wasn’t magically repaired by their victory. And Octavia Blake had been the slowest to forgive. After all, Clarke hadn’t just left her behind, she’d also left Bellamy.

“I may have played with you because I wanted to win and take down the Mountain, but we’re done, Clarke,” Octavia had told her as they left Kane Stadium that day.

Her reaction wasn’t surprising, much as it hurt. Clarke had come back to the Comets fully expecting the cold shoulder or worse from most of the team. Mostly, they’d been too wrapped up in the intensity of the game to really focus any energy on being mad at Clarke. And then, no one had wanted to ruin the post-win high with arguments and blame.

Not that Octavia waited all that long after the dust settled to rip into Clarke.

(Not that Clarke can blame her at all. It's not as if every accusation Octavia hurls isn't something Clarke's already blamed herself for. The guilt demands acknowledgement, even now.)

It was slow going, but fixing her relationship with the younger Blake was nearly as important to Bellamy as it was to Clarke. Only Clarke’s persistence, Bellamy’s constant worry, and finally Lincoln’s gentle intervention had swayed Octavia’s position on the matter. Grudgingly, she'd heard Clarke's side of the debacle, finding out about the Wallaces and their tricks for the first time. After, she'd still been angry, but more for Clarke's refusal to share the burden of responsibility, which was ultimately easier to forgive.

Now, in April, Clarke is just grateful that they’re close enough again to share this day together. She can’t imagine how Bellamy would have felt if his baby sister and his catcher—he’s strange about calling Clarke his anything else no matter how much teasing he gets about it—were still at odds today of all days.

Once they’re all dressed and coiffed neatly enough to pass muster, the three women walk the few blocks between the Comets’ house and the town’s small church. It’s only just warm enough to make the walk, but they’re all tough, even if Raven’s limp is a little more pronounced than it usually is. (Raven swears she'll be fine once they get to training and she can start building strength in earnest, but Clarke worries anyway) They make a nice little parade, the bride in white leading the way and her two bridesmaids following behind, each carrying a colorful bouquet of spring blooms.

They arrive at the church, a solemn stone building that follows in the tradition of so many other Midwestern Lutheran churches; it’s hardly a grand, sweeping cathedral, but it’s done its job for more than a century. It’s more than capable of hosting this wedding.

Raven slips inside to make sure that everyone and everything is ready for the ceremony, leaving Clarke and Octavia on the church steps.

Idly, Clarke fusses with the fall of her skirt and checks her stockings for any last minute runs, not that there’s really anything she could do about it now. Octavia’s voice interrupts her inspection.


“Shouldn’t I be the one asking that?” Clarke returns with an arched brow.

Octavia laughs, shaking her head. “Not a chance!” she grins a little feral, but glowing anyway.

And Clarke can see that it’s true. Octavia in her wedding gown is a sight to see. She’s the fourth woman to wear it—there’s no way she and Lincoln could have afforded the floor-length satin gown otherwise—and the cut is a little old-fashioned, but still, the dress looks like it was made for her. Combined with the veil left to her by Aurora Blake, Clarke is sure there has never been a more beautiful bride and knows Lincoln will certainly agree.

She steps forward to brush away a few stray hairs from Octavia’s face because of course that whirlwind of a girl couldn’t keep her hair set, even on her wedding day.

“It’s going to be you and Bell soon,” Octavia promises as Clarke pulls away.

She opens her mouth automatically to demur or argue, but before she can form anything coherent through her surprise, the church door swings open. Speak of the devil and he shall appear, Clarke thinks ruefully as Bellamy appears in the doorway, looking more respectable than she’s ever seen him. His suit is clean and pressed, a nice change from the wrinkled shirts he usually wears because he’s too lazy to iron. He’s even let someone slick back his hair, taming the curls he hasn’t cut in more than a month. Suddenly, Clarke sees him as she first did, glaring at his sister across an entire field. The worry's still there, just expressed differently.

He’s only got eyes for Octavia, though, which Clarke can understand. So, she passes by with a reassuring pat on the arm and steps inside the sanctuary.

The wedding is, of course, lovely. Octavia floats down the aisle on Bellamy’s arm and Lincoln looks as if one nudge would send him sprawling. Nearly all of the original Comets are in attendance, most of them having settled around Arkdown to wait out the winter. Bellamy only lets a few tears fall as the minister asks, “Who gives this woman away?” Octavia hardly even needs to pull her hand from her brother’s grip to go to Lincoln.

And Clarke can take in all of this even as her mind spins around the bomb that Octavia had dropped without explanation.

The idea that she and Bellamy are going to get married soon is, frankly, laughable.

Not that Clarke doesn’t want to marry Bellamy. In the (distant) future. She’s known that he’s probably the one man she would want to spend her life with since before she ran away allegedly to bring Wells home. And then she’d come back and everything seemed perfect until it became clear that kissing was not an adequate method of conflict resolution. Not in the long term, at least.

Of course, they’d talked. (And talked. It was a long winter.) They’d moved on and Clarke finally forgave herself and things were good in those quiet months as they waited for baseball season to come. They spent truly unprecedented amounts of time together, often reading side by side in the small lending library that Arkdown boasts or sitting in the dark at the Phoenix, watching whatever newsreel was in circulation that week. There were also the obligatory spats that seem to define Clarke and Bellamy’s normal mode of interaction.

Honestly, their relationship isn’t all that different from how it was at the beginning, though there is admittedly less actual baseball involved. Also, more kissing. So much more kissing.

(And, yes. She also spent more than her fair share of nights in Bellamy’s bed, but only because it was often too cold or too late for her to try and sneak back to her boarding house and his landlord is far more lenient than hers. At first, at least. Then she'd discovered how hard it was to sleep without him and his wandering hands.)

Still, it’s not as if Clarke is waiting on tenterhooks for Bellamy to propose. The man still refuses to call her his girlfriend, after all. (“You’re my catcher, princess,” is all he’ll say on the matter.) Besides, Bellamy is her first serious relationship. It’s only been romantic for six months or so and friendly hardly longer than that, so getting married seems like something of a leap. The last time she’d been in anything even approaching a romantic relationship, there’d been no chance of that kind of future.

(Not least because it had been with a beautiful senior in her sorority. Clarke had spent nearly the entire year admiring her before either made a move.)

Clarke knows how romance works for most people, but it’s not as if she and Bellamy are most people. There's also the fact that getting married now seems too much like the life she’d had laid out for her in Madison and Clarke prefers the life she’s living now so much more.

If worst comes to worst, they’ll live in sin for a while until the league catches on and forces their hand: get married or get fired.

Judging by the radiant smile on Octavia’s face as the minister declares her and Lincoln to be “man and wife,” though, Clarke may need to rethink her stance on the matter of matrimony. The entire congregation erupts into applause as Octavia soundly kisses her new husband.

Rather than process back up the aisle, Lincoln and Octavia wait at the altar for the church to empty out. As part of his wedding gift, Bellamy had convinced Monty Green, the unofficial Comets photographer to come out for the wedding and take a few portraits. This is perfect, as it leaves the Comets plenty of time to organize their send off.

Clarke and Raven walk back up to the church doors on the arms of Lincoln’s groomsmen, but each pulls away as soon as they step into the weak sunshine.

Wedding guests mill around on the walk and in the churchyard. Some are already armed with handfuls of rice. It’s nice to see, but the two bridesmaids are focused on their teammates. Comets line the church steps, each holding a baseball bat. Clarke slides into her position and takes her bat from a grinning Harper. Across from her, Raven similarly prepares.

Within a few moments, the church doors burst open, revealing the newly married Octavia and Lincoln. On cue, each Comet raises her bat to form an arch for the couple to proceed through. The bride tips her head back and lets loose a delighted laugh. Her groom just smiles down at her fondly. A shower of rice rains down on them as they hurry towards their waiting getaway car. The requisite “Just Married” sign hangs off the back, though the trailing tin cans have been replace by worn baseball gloves.

Bellamy waits at the passenger side to say goodbye. He gets a fierce hug for his trouble. As he hands Octavia into the car, she calls out, “I’ll be back for spring training!” to her waiting teammates. This garners another cheer from the assembled crowd, Clarke included.

Once she’s settled in her seat, Octavia turns to her husband and presses a kiss to his lips. Lincoln follows a little when she pulls away. Before they can drive off, Octavia holds up her bouquet to get everyone’s attention. Then, the flowers are arcing through the air, tumbling end over end—

And hitting Clarke square in the chest.

Clarke wants to roll her eyes a little when not a single one of her teammates makes a move to snatch the bouquet from her grasp. If the cackle she hears as Lincoln drives away with his bride toward their honeymoon, Clarke would guess that Octavia’s aim had been as unerring as usual. Everyone declines to take the bouquet off her hands, Raven backing away when Clarke offers, refusing to touch the thing. Roma laughs right in her face and Anya looks at it like it might be poison. She can't even get Maya, who's had Jasper Jordan trailing after her all day, to accept them.

Before she can decide what to do with the thing, knowing Octavia will probably want it dried for a keepsake, a strong arm wraps around Clarke’s waist and a kiss drops against her temple.

“So, what do you say?”

Clarke whips her head up to face him, mouth going dry at the question. He can’t… But his expression isn’t even as serious as it is when they argue about Bogart films.

(He loves Casablanca and she agrees it’s a great film, but thinks The Maltese Falcon is just better.)

“The wedding, Clarke?” he prompts at her silence. “What did you think?”

She huffs out a dry laugh and ducks her head to his shoulder. Of course he wouldn’t. “It was perfect. Octavia was beautiful,” she tells him as if he doesn’t already know.

Gently, Bellamy tugs her around to face him. She rests her hands on his chest, smoothing out the lapel on his jacket with her free hand and reveling in his proximity. Even after more than six months, Clarke’s still not entirely accustomed to the simple reality of being with Bellamy. She can actually think about the ways he makes her toes curl and get lost eying patterns in his freckles the way she wouldn’t let herself when he was just her manager and she was just his player.

His hand sneaks under her chin, tips back her head, and steadies it there so he can lean down to kiss her.

This. This is what Clarke can hardly let herself believe is real. Six months and more of kissing Bellamy and she’s not sure she will ever accept it as something that just happens on a regular basis. For a man that is all rough edges, his kisses can be the tenderest thing in existence.

Not so now: he presses close to her, deepens the kiss more than he usually would out in public. His mouth is warm and insistent against hers, drawing her into something far past chaste. He’s not at all hesitant, and even now, in a churchyard and surrounded by their friends, Clarke can feel the heat that always simmers just under Bellamy Blake’s surface.

By the time he pulls away, Clarke’s fingers have curled into his lapel, wrinkling them beyond hope, and Octavia’s bouquet is a little rumpled.

“Sorry,” she murmurs, still reeling a little from the kiss.

Bellamy just chuckles in response, so she shoves at him halfheartedly. He can’t go very far, though, because his arm is still firmly anchored at her waist. He’s smiling down at her, achingly fond, when he says, “God, I love you.”

It’s hardly the first time he’s said it to her, but it is the first time he’s said it in the light of day with both of them fully clothed. And it’s not as if she’s ever doubted him the times he’s said it before, but this is the first time she really wants to say it back.

(The look on his face now is definitely more serious than when they argue Bogart, which she will later find comforting.)

So, Clarke gives in. “I love you, Bellamy.”

The words are hardly out of her mouth before her entire world is spinning. Bellamy’s joyful whoop and the air rushing around her skirt tell Clarke that she’s been picked up and spun around. When she finally gets her feet on the ground again, she’s pulled up against Bellamy’s chest for another kiss. This one leaves her more breathless than the last.

All she can do is giggle in the face of Bellamy’s rush of affection, resting her forehead against his shoulder. He brushes soothing patterns against her back as she finds her equilibrium again.

Of course he ruins the chances of that happening with his next words. “Does this mean you’re going to prove these flowers right?”

She reels back from him as far as he lets her go, eyes wide. “Bellamy,” she starts, but can’t finish. “What—? Are you—?”

His smile doesn’t drop, but some doubt crowds into his gaze and Clarke immediately feels guilty for putting it there. “Clarke, I know that you’re the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’ve known it since—“ he cuts himself off. “Well, I’ve known it for a long time now.”

Clarke still stares at him. It’s one thing to know that he loves her and another to find out he wants to spend their lives together. The man doesn’t even call her his girlfriend. Which, if she weren’t so dazed, she definitely would not blurt out at this particular moment.

Bellamy rolls his eyes at her and the emergence of his attitude is enough to ground Clarke at least a little. “You’re my catcher, princess,” he repeats for maybe the hundredth time. For once, though, he elaborates, “That’s why I first started to love you. Calling you my girlfriend just seems trivial compared to what you are to me.”

For once, it’s Bellamy who’s blindsided. Clarke throws her arms around his neck, plastering herself to his front as she kisses him enthusiastically. It doesn’t take him long to catch up. It’s like now that it’s all out in the open, now that she’s said she loves him and now that she knows, Clarke can’t possibly keep her feelings for Bellamy contained. Still, she has to pull away at some point to breathe, though she lingers in his space, leaning her forehead against his.

“So,” he breathes, and Clarke feels a thrum of pride at the raggedness of his voice. “Are you going to let me marry you or not, Clarke Griffin?”

And Clarke thinks about it. She really does. Imagines what it would be like to marry this man and thinks it probably wouldn’t be half bad. But. Her reasons for not wanting to get married are good, too. More solid than gut instinct.

“I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, too, Bell,” she assures him. The luminous smile he gives her is well worth the confession and she almost hates to continue. “But I don’t think I want to marry you.”

His smile has faded to the smirk he only wears when he’s uncomfortable. Bellamy pulls away, tucking away any hurt he’s feeling so she can’t see and Clarke’s brain catches up with her mouth.

“No!” she grabs onto his arm, refusing to let him move any further away. “That’s not— That’s not what I meant!” Bellamy regards her warily and Clarke can't stand that he is so ready for her to cause him pain, so she reaches up to cup his jaw, doing her best to reassure him. “I’m sorry. That’s not how I meant it, I promise. I just meant that I don’t think I want to get married. Full stop. You’re probably the only one I would consider marrying. But you’re right. Girlfriend? Husband? I don’t think that’s enough for what we are. I want you, Bell. I want to be your catcher and I want you to be my manager. That’s worked for us so far, right?”

It sounds like a jumbled mess in her mind, but she’s nearly frantic to set him straight. They’ve spent so long dancing around things, Clarke is unwilling to lose more time to misunderstandings.

Thankfully, she can see that Bellamy understands what she’s driving at because she’s not sure she could explain it better a second time around. He ducks his chin so he can press a kiss to her palm.

“It’s worked for us,” he agrees into her skin. She wants to go boneless with relief. “Can you agree, though, that another way might work for us, too?”

Of course he’s right, so she nods.

“Good,” he says, reaching up to grasp her hand. Together, they turn to leave the churchyard. Sometime during their heart to heart, the rest of the wedding guests have dispersed, likely to head back to the boarding house where a wedding luncheon will be served. As they walk, Bellamy continues, “Don’t think this is the last time I ask you to marry me, then.”

Clarke glances sidelong at this man of hers. He’s got his eyes on the future, and she does, too, in her own way. She might as well start trying to piece those futures together now.

“Tell you what,” she says, squeezing his hand just because she can. “If we take the World Series again this year, then I’ll marry you.”

Bellamy doesn’t even need to look at her for her to know his eyes are bright, his grin boyish. He squeezes her hand back and says, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

The Arkdown Comets don’t end up taking the World Series. They don’t even make it past the semifinals.

That doesn’t stop Clarke from marrying Bellamy in October.