Bellamy grins to himself as Clarke all but skips up the steps of the art museum, her long ponytail swishing merrily behind her. At the top, she turns around and beams, spreading her arms.
“I will be your tour guide today,” she announces, practically giddy.
The others alternately chuckle and sigh good-naturedly as they continue upwards. It’s the first gorgeous spring day they’ve had in months. The sun beats down from a clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Bellamy can’t help but think that of course the weather would sort out its shit for Clarke.
She organized this whole thing, of course. He, Raven, Miller and Wick will be graduating from Arcadia University - fondly called "the Ark" - in just three months’ time, and so Clarke decided that they all deserved a weekend off to enjoy the outdoors and each other, without their usual worries getting in the way. It hadn’t been easy wrangling everyone’s schedules, but because his princess is the most stubborn of the lot, they figured it out in the end, and now they’re here.
Wick is the first to reach her, doubling over in a formal bow as he motions for her to head in first. Bellamy slings an arm around Octavia, ruffling her hair. He’s all too familiar with Clarke’s love of this place.
She’d worked here during the summer last year, after he brought her a flyer calling for volunteers and guides. Perfect for a broke college student who was studying art.
Also perfect for her loser of a friend, who was absolutely not in love with her at all, who conveniently happened to work next door at the Museum of Natural History.
They spent many lunch breaks together either wandering their respective workplaces or sitting by the fountain and trying out the newest lunch trucks in the area. Clarke was easy to be around, as he'd found out earlier that spring. Whether it was because she’d known Octavia first and therefore knew all his blind spots already, or because she genuinely gave everyone a shot, he wasn’t sure at first.
She and O had been roommates and friends since their freshman year, but usually any time he and Clarke were together, it involved a larger group. They hadn't had many chances to hang out separately - and to be fair, he hadn't been sure if he wanted to. Now and then he'd cross paths with her while returning from another late shift. Again, no more than a minute or two, here or there.
But in the spring of his junior year, Octavia went to London for a semester, and in between her lengthy recaps of the day, she also insisted that he drop by to see Clarke now and then. He assured her he would - though he also assured her if Clarke decided to give him a black eye for it, it was all her fault.
To his relief, Clarke did no such thing. Though, she was suspicious at first, seeing as they had never actually spent much time alone. He ended up confessing on the spot, feeling his neck overheat as she fought a grin. But after taking one look at the pizza in his hand, she invited him inside her tidy little studio, shifting a heavy textbook off the coffee table to make room. She all but ignored the six-pack he weakly offered up. Quickly, he came to find out it was because she didn’t like pale ales, and so the next time he brought over a wider selection, having stopped at the store a little further from his place so that he could mix and match the bottles.
On that first night alone, they easily covered a range of topics, from the art history class she was taking to the ideas he had for his senior thesis to the odd relationship she had with her mom. They even discussed Octavia dating Lincoln, as if she knew he’d been itching to vent for some time now and just hadn’t found an outlet. Bellamy found her to be eloquent and passionate and intensely loyal. She half-assed nothing, it seemed, not even making friends. Which also made it easier to push her buttons-- she got riled up rather quickly, and it was awfully cute. More than anything though, he admired her.
It was well into the morning hours before he even realized it. Clarke padded to her door to let him out, or so he thought, until she bypassed the door entirely to disappear into a tall closet. Emerging, she tossed him a blanket and pillow. He opened his mouth to protest, and found he didn’t really want to.
From there it was simple. She started leaving the door unlocked once she’d buzzed him into her building, often poring over a piece on her floor when he walked in, waving him to settle in and pick the movie - if it was his turn. She was very particular about getting to choose the movie, to his great amusement. Once or twice he’d found her curled up on the couch, meticulously painting her toenails like they were an art project of their own, and Bellamy maybe took special pleasure in running his fingers up the soles of her feet, dissolving into laughter at her screech, and the pout that followed. Sometimes he brought food with him, sometimes they’d order in - and on one spectacular occasion, they’d cooked together, something he found he wanted to do as often as possible.
He found himself telling her about his childhood in bits and pieces. Clarke never pressed him for information, but whenever he did volunteer it, she listened closely, her blue eyes trained on him as if he was the most important thing in the room.
It was a strange, new experience.
So when he’d left his part-time job at the museum one afternoon and found the flyers up everywhere, he’d brought them to Clarke as casually as he could, trying and failing to ignore the jolt that ran up his spine when she beamed and flung her arms around him in a hug.
“Mom kept saying if I didn’t find a job then I should come home for the summer,” she told him afterwards. “I was starting to get seriously worried.” He nodded in understanding, though his brain was too busy harping on the rosy blush that had risen in her cheeks.
The summer came and went all too quick for his liking, and by the end he had to admit that maybe he’d fallen hard for his sister’s best friend.
“Clarke, slow down!”
Raven’s holler causes several other heads to turn their way, but it works. Clarke halts, sheepish.
“Princess is excited, give her a break,” Bellamy calls, just as loud. Clarke sticks out her tongue. Chuckling, he hurries ahead of the others, ignoring Octavia’s pointed glance at the back of his head. She’s been giving him a lot of those, lately; in tradition, he ignores them in favor of the girl ahead.
Clarke waits at the end of the corridor, absently twirling a strand of hair, her left foot tapping out a pattern to the beat in her head. She’s practically glowing, and it makes Bellamy smile. Even without the red sunglasses perched atop her head, she’s impossible to miss, in his eyes. She’s dressed in a blue striped shirt and dark skinny jeans, the same ones that she was wearing when he dunked her in the fountain on a dare, the same ones that still have a stubborn stripe of orange paint on the belt loops.
“This is why I insisted on a solid breakfast,” he says as soon as he reaches her. “Gotta keep up with you somehow.”
“I know. I’m just so happy we're actually doing this!”
“That goes both ways, Clarke. Just let the coffee sink in a bit.” He grins and nudges her, satisfied when she offers a shy smile in reply.
Monty and Miller approach hand in hand. “Where to first, O Wise Guide?” Monty asks brightly.
Clarke snaps into fine form. “Okay, so this is the Contemporary Art section, where you’ll see all sorts of different styles…”
Bellamy follows after her with a stupid smile as she marches away, hands flailing about and her voice echoing so authoritatively that even a few others stop to listen to the story she’s telling.
They’ve stopped to look at an abstract piece when Maya appears beside him. He smiles, seeing O and Raven and even Monty poking at a beet-red Jasper in the background.
“I saw this one as soon as we walked in,” Maya says in that quiet way of hers. “It’s almost hypnotizing. In a good way.”
He studies the painting, he really does, but all he can think of is the way Clarke seemed to still when she saw it, almost in a daze as her eyes swept over the colors and brushstrokes.
“Clarke says that too,” he agrees. “She always stops fidgeting when she gets to this one. According to her, the long brushstrokes and ‘cool color palette’ are meant to evoke that sort of thing.”
Maya’s watching him with a strange little smile, and he has the feeling he’s just missed a joke - or maybe he’s the punchline. But she only nods and adds that she’s thinking about taking on an art minor along with her work in sociology, and soon Jasper is back by her side, having been released by their wolfpack of friends.
“Guys, this way,” Clarke instructs, bouncing, “I want you to see the European and East Asian sections, they have a ton of cool stuff.”
Octavia gives a mock salute. “You heard the lady.” She loops her arm through Clarke’s and lets herself be led away, fondly bumping Clarke’s hip as they walk.
When they enter, Monty gets distracted by The Fall of Icarus, a sculpture of Icarus himself upside down as he plummets to his death, one wing futilely outstretched and the other already half-melted from the sun’s heat.
Bellamy stops beside him as he stares, his jaw hanging open. “This is incredible,” he breathes.
“Right? I had the same reaction. Clarke brought me here on purpose the first time. She’s always ragging on Icarus for not following directions.”
A thoughtful expression crosses Monty’s face. “That so?”
“Yeah, she takes special care to point out every time that if he’d just listened, he might have lived. I tell her there’s no lesson to be learned from that, and no story, but of course she just says he could have gone on to be known for something better.”
“Interesting,” the other boy murmurs, but he’s still looking at Bellamy, and it makes him feel like he’s on display instead of the art.
They catch up to the others without further comment.
They’re in the East Asian wing when Lincoln points out a painting of two warships, and that’s all it takes for Clarke to launch into the tale behind the scene, her face twisting as she recounts all the ways it could have been avoided, all the lives that could have been saved.
“The artist painted it after speaking to a few survivors. It was meant as a reminder to others, of the power of diplomacy, and the consequences if it fails,” she finishes, much like a schoolteacher.
Bellamy’s grinning from ear to ear when Miller sidles up to him. “It’s a pretty awesome piece, you have to admit,” his friend says.
Bellamy chuckles. “She hates it so much. That story she just told was the short version. I listened to her go on and on for an entire afternoon about how dumb it is that people were so stubborn and unwilling to compromise.”
“Riiight,” Miller says slowly, “but it’s still pretty cool. I mean there’s a guy severing another guy’s head with a freaking scimitar.”
He pauses, studying the picture more closely until he locates it. Wow. How had he missed that?
“I thought you’d been here like 20 times, isn’t that what you said on the way here?”
“Yeah…” He scrubs the back of his neck, a little unnerved. “Guess I wasn’t paying much attention.”
Miller looks at him curiously, then swivels to Clarke, who’s in the midst of another tale, then back to Bellamy. As soon as the mischief dawns on his face, Bellamy knows he’s screwed.
”Or,” his friend crows gleefully, “you were preoccupied with another work of art.”
Bellamy rolls his eyes and gives him a shove, shaking his head when Miller’s laughter only increases. “Please contain your boyfriend,” he says to Monty in passing. The boy only raises a serene eyebrow.
He makes his way to Clarke, who’s starting to look impatient again. “Having fun, princess?”
“I can’t wait til we get to the Costumes, O will go crazy. Do you think we’ll have time?” She worries her lip between her teeth in a familiar motion that always makes him want to kiss her. “We still have the whole of American Art, and I know Raven wants to see the suits of armor the third floor, and--”
“Hey, hey, hang on,” Bellamy rubs her arms reassuringly, trying not to laugh. “You realize we have the entire day together, right? You're the one who always says it's impossible to see the whole place in one day." He raises an eyebrow. "That's why we've got such an awesome tour guide leading the way.”
Her cheeks pinken. “Yeah, yeah. I can’t help it though. Time always seems to go by so fast when we’re all together.” Her smile is tinged with sadness, so he shifts his body a little to block her from the others, briefly cradling her cheek.
“You’re the reason this trip happened, Clarke. Everyone got their shit together because of you. We all know graduation’s going to change things. But today’s for us, okay?” He smiles. “So let your mind relax a bit and just enjoy it. I promise, I’ll keep us all on schedule.”
Clarke sags a little gratefully, her head turning just enough that her lips press up against his palm for a few seconds. It’s not a kiss; it’s also not not-a-kiss.
“Thanks, Bell,” she whispers. She takes a deep breath, then exhales, standing straight again. “Let’s go to Costumes first, actually. We can always get to American Art on the way out.”
“You’re the boss.”
She rolls her eyes, but asks, “Do we have everyone?”
Bellamy twists and stretches to his toes, looking past the others to see Jasper and Maya have dropped back a bit, lingering. Jasper catches his eye in silent plea. With a grin, he turns back to Clarke, swinging an arm around her.
“I think we’re all here,” he says meaningfully.
She turns in his grip briefly, eyes alight, and does a little shoulder wiggle that sets off butterflies in his stomach. “Victory!” She whispers it like it’s their little secret, and boy does he like that too.
Oblivious, Clarke raises her voice to the others while he pretends not to notice a few blatant stares directed his way.
“Okay, come on, next up is Costumes!” She all but races forward, taking him with her.
Octavia does lose her mind a little when they get there, and he and Clarke take special pleasure in it. His sister stops every few feet, reaching out reverently before she remembers the no-touching rule, then takes another step and finds something else that captivates her. Clarke bounces over and shows her the old manuscripts were preserved with old kimono designs from East Asia, then drags her to the newest display that shows the progression of fashion through the decades.
Bellamy takes it all in with a wide grin, unaware of the others whispering amongst themselves until he turns to find Wick at his side.
“Surprised you left the European section when you did,” he remarks, all too casual. “Clarke made it sound like you’d be happy to stay all day.”
Bellamy can’t figure out the subtext, so he doesn’t try to. “I can get lost in there pretty easily. There’s so much backstory to all the work. I blame my professors for drilling all that into my head.”
“Don’t lie,” Raven interrupts from behind them, “you read that stuff for fun. Clarke’s always talking about the stories you tell her after she falls asleep watching those documentaries.” She rolls her eyes when he opens his mouth. “As if she doesn’t volunteer for it.”
He finds himself a little speechless. He didn’t actually think Clarke heard half the stuff he said after she drifted off on his shoulder (or his lap, that one time), let alone relayed it to anyone else.
Raven arches an eyebrow knowingly, muttering something like “clueless” before looping her arm through Wick’s and walking off. A minute later, she’s announcing that she can’t wait any longer and is venturing to the third floor to find the armory. Octavia’s eyes bulge, and a few seconds later she’s on Raven’s heels, Lincoln grinning as he ambles after.
Clarke is looking at Bellamy, her head tilted. “What are you thinking about?”
You. Always you.
He clears his throat, trying to push down the fluttery feeling in his stomach. “Nothing. Come on, let’s catch up before O decides she wants to keep one of the weapons for herself.”
Clarke eyes him a moment longer but lets him tug her to the stairs all the same. When a rush of young kids comes pouring down the steps from the second level, Bellamy doesn’t think, just hooks an arm around Clarke and holds her against his body, braced against the railing. It's hard to deny that he wouldn't mind just staying there. A group of mothers - and the occasional father - come running after them, hastily apologizing to those they pass.
Bellamy looks down to find Clarke smiling wistfully after the group. “What is it?” He asks.
Her eyes hold a slight sheen when they meet his. “Did you see that one dad in the group? That was always my dad, whether it was on school trips, or just me roaming around anywhere…” She trails off, laying her head on his shoulder. “I miss him.”
He tightens his grip, placing the lightest of kisses to her hair. “I know,” he says simply, because he does know. A thought springs to his mind, normally something he wouldn’t let himself say. But today, he can’t stop it. “For what it’s worth, I think he’d be proud to see you haven’t stopped running around after all this time.”
Her breath escapes in a shaky laugh against his shirt, and then she stretches to her toes to give him a proper hug, arms curling around his neck. He returns it just as tightly, offering a smile when she pulls back.
They continue up the stairs, finding the others already immersed in the displays. Miller and Lincoln stare up at one of the huge suits of armor, debating the logistics of actually being able to move in something so clunky, while Octavia is inspecting a long sword that sits in a glass case. Raven is arguing with Wick over the finer points of dipping any of the blades in poison-- or, more specifically, which poisons to use. Bellamy fights a grin as he realizes other patrons are giving them a wide berth.
Monty pops up beside them. “So what’s your weapon of choice, Bellamy?”
He opens his mouth, but it’s Clarke who answers. “He’d go straight for the rifles. No knives for this one. He already has like a hundred paper cuts.” She bumps his hip with her own, and his eyebrows lift in surprise.
“Well. Guess I’m spoken for,” he says without thinking, then bites back a groan when he realizes how that sounded. A blush rises in Clarke’s cheeks. She’s suddenly very preoccupied by the axe in front of them.
Monty has taken the whole thing in with his usual solemn expression, though his eyes seem to laugh all the same.
“Looks like your sister’s made her choice,” he says, nodding at Octavia. She’s examining a curved blade that looks like it would slice through just about anything.
“O would make an awesome warrior,” Clarke says. “Don’t you remember she was Xena last year for Halloween?” She smirks at Bellamy. “Though, her big brother would probably have a heart attack every other minute.”
“Maybe every five,” he amends, though she’s not entirely wrong.
“Go join her,” she places both hands on his back and gives a push, not that it really moves him at all. “I know you can’t wait to tell her about the boring old man who used that sword to conquer blah blah blah.”
Bellamy tweaks her nose. “Actually I think that one was used by a lady,” he says. Turning his back, he misses the fond smile Clarke sends him, and the nudge that both Monty and Miller give her after that.
He ends up hanging out with Lincoln more than Octavia, but it’s not so bad. Lincoln listens very attentively, almost like a student, asking smart questions that make Bellamy like him a bit more each time. It helps that he’s also fairly knowledgeable. More than once, Bellamy's come away from their conversations having learned something, and this time is no different.
Jasper and Maya catch up to them, and Maya’s in soon in deep conversation with Clarke until Raven’s stomach grumbles. Bellamy can hear her from the opposite side of the room when she declares that they had better be getting close to some sort of exit.
“Okay, okay, just one more section pleeeease," Clarke wheedles. "I really wanted to show Maya the American Art wing, and then we’ll go. Promise."
There are a lot of portraits in American Art, but Bellamy bypasses most of those to the landscapes, searching for Clarke’s favorite painting of a town stretched alongside a winding river. It’s one of the simpler works in the room, but he knows, for her, that’s part of the charm. He finds it soon enough - a bird’s eye view of the houses along the riverbank, silhouetted by mountains in the distance. Tapping her shoulder, he points with a grin, and she beams.
“Care to explain?”
Octavia appears out of nowhere, all wiggling eyebrows and suggestive grins. He rolls his eyes.
“It reminds Clarke of the town she grew up in,” he says. It's the simple version.
“Without the mountains,” she chimes in.
He smiles. “But you wish you had them.”
Chuckling, he squeezes her shoulder. “You’ll get there someday. Snow-capped mountains, a lake, fish markets, the whole shebang.”
She looks up at him somewhat adoringly, and he loses himself for a moment until his bratty sister clears her throat. Clarke turns crimson and glances at her feet while he glares at Octavia, who glares right back. When Raven calls Clarke over, she excuses herself a bit quickly.
As he turns to scold O, she hisses, “What the fuck are you waiting for?”
Taken aback, he can only stare. She throws up her hands before shaking his shoulders rather vehemently. “You cannot seriously tell me you don’t see it.”
“O, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you and Clarke.”
He rakes a hand through his hair and strides to the other end of the room, far from any ears.
“Don’t start this now,” he says tiredly. “Please. She’s already stressed about graduation coming up, and she just wants to enjoy the day with you guys, alright?”
Octavia looks at him for a long moment. “You’re a fucking idiot.”
“No, I’m talking now, big brother.” She steps closer and pokes his chest. “I just listened to that girl go on all day about you. Yeah, we were looking at the paintings and shit, but every other comment was ‘Bellamy always says’ or ‘you should hear Bell’s story about this’ or ‘when Bellamy first saw that’… And have you not noticed this entire day is basically a Greatest Hits album starring you?”
Her eyebrows raise pointedly at his stunned expression. She begins to tick off a list on her fingers.
“The diner where we had breakfast is the one you always dragged her to in the middle of the night or before work, this entire museum is filled with memories of you, the Greek restaurant that she’s insisting on is across the city but it’s the only one that does fries in the gyro, your favorite, and it just happens to be next to the used bookstore you frequent… Do I need to keep going?”
He has no words. Everything she's saying makes sense, but he can't quite untangle his thoughts from his feelings, and the way his heart is pounding over all of it... it's just a lot.
“Bell,” she says more gently. “Can’t you see? It's not just about everything changing after graduation. It's about missing you.”
All he can do is stand there, more than a little shell-shocked, until Octavia shakes him again. “Hey. Are y-”
“I got into the grad program at the Ark,” he blurts out, and now it’s Octavia’s jaw that drops open.
“Are you serious?!”
In answer, he reaches into his back pocket and unfolds the letter he’s been carrying around in his wallet for a week now. Octavia skims over it, then flings her arms around him with a shriek, her laughter echoing through the hall and drawing nearly every eye to them. Over her shoulder, Bellamy finds Clarke, her eyebrows scrunched in question.
O finally lets go and plants a smacking kiss on his cheek before hauling him back to the others, who wait expectantly. He can’t keep his eyes from Clarke as he holds up the creased slip of paper with a jittery smile and says, “I’m going to grad school.”
They erupt in exclamations and crowd him instantly, but between all the hugs and handshakes and shoulder pats all Bellamy can see is Clarke standing several feet away, wide-eyed and astonished. She clutches the strap of her bag like she needs something to hold onto. He tries to silently assure her that it’s real.
Slowly, her surprise transforms into unbridled joy, a radiant smile stretching her features, and Bellamy finds his heart at a gallop as he reaches his own moment of clarity.
He acknowledges the others as best he can, but soon enough his sister is leading them all away with the promise of food, leaving him alone with Clarke. When she doesn’t move, he does, taking one step and then another until they’re separated by just inches.
“There’s no getting rid of me now, princess,” he jokes weakly.
“Shame,” she murmurs, but her smile contradicts that. Her eyes latch onto the paper. “Can I…?”
He hands it over without a second thought, understanding her need to see the words for herself. After all, he’s read them near fifty times and still can’t quite believe it. Clarke accepts it carefully, caressing the worn edges. Her eyes do a rapid back and forth over the content and then raise to his, shining.
“You did it. I knew you would, Bell.”
“That makes one of us.”
Clarke makes a face, exasperated. “Idiot.”
He laughs, his heart taking flight. “An idiot you’re stuck with for a few more years.”
The happiness overtakes her too quickly to hide. She throws her arms around him, fingers digging into his back as they sway on the spot. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispers into his ear. Bellamy only holds her tighter, his face buried in her shoulder. After some time that isn’t nearly long enough for him, they unwind somewhat reluctantly. But Clarke doesn’t give the paper back just yet.
Instead, he watches curiously as she folds the paper up the way it was, until it’s just a small square again. He almost laughs - how appropriate, that Clarke Griffin holds his future in the palm of her hand.
Then he realizes she’s fidgeting, her free hand tapping out a nervous pattern on her leg, shifting from foot to foot.
Before he can ask, she hesitantly says, “So you’re sure? This is what you want?”
Though she’s asking about the school, the way her eyes are searching his makes him feel like the question is bigger than that. And he knows he could take it at face value and just answer straight, and she’d accept that too, and they’d continue on.
But that’s not what he wants. So he takes her hand that’s holding his future, and brings it to his mouth, brushing a kiss over her knuckles. She stares at his mouth, at her hand, into his eyes, and repeats it a few times without blinking, like she needs confirmation.
“This is what I want,” Bellamy says firmly. “I’m here, Clarke. There’s nowhere else I want to be.”
Clarke smiles then, bright and beautiful. Her hand shifts to cradle his cheek, and he presses a light kiss to her wrist, mouth curving upwards when he feels her pulse racing beneath his lips. The fingers of her other hand hook into his belt loops as she draws even closer, her breath fanning his neck.
“Okay,” she breathes, then laughs, dipping her head. “Okay.”
“Okay?” He teases. “Are we in a John Green book?”
“Shut up. I’m just… processing.”
Grinning, Bellamy rests his forehead against hers. “Fine. Process this, then: I’m taking you out Friday night. Just you and me.” Belatedly, he adds, “If you’d like to go.”
“If I’d…” Clarke stares, then breaks into a dazzling grin. “We’re both idiots, aren’t we?”
They both whip around, trying to locate where Octavia’s yell came from.
“Brat,” Bellamy mutters.
Laughing, Clarke winds her arms around his neck. “I’d love to go, on one condition.” She pauses, worrying her lower lip again, but he’s almost positive it’s on purpose this time. “Do I have to wait until Friday for you to kiss me?”
She doesn’t have to wait another second.