Bellamy has been wanting to be head anchor on his own show for too long to let anything or anyone screw it up, but he has to admit, when he reads the executive producer's name, he nearly backs out.
Instead, he calls her. She picks up, first ring, all business, and it's comforting, in a strange way. Clarke hasn't changed, which means, if nothing else, he still knows how to deal with her.
Well, as well as he ever has.
"Hey, Bellamy, good to hear from you. Congratulations on the new show."
"Thanks. Were you voting for or against me?"
"Are you kidding? I was the one who put your name into consideration in the first place."
It's not what he expected, and he feels a thin flicker of pride in his chest at the thought. He knows Clarke well enough to be sure she's never actively screw him over professionally, but if she thought he wasn't right for the show, she wouldn't hesitate to argue against hiring him. It's oddly exhilarating to know she thinks he's good enough not only to support hiring him, but to propose it.
"Then, thanks, I guess."
"Don't thank me yet, I'm hiring Octavia too."
He chokes. "You want Octavia in on this?"
"She's smart, she's capable, and she doesn't take shit. And she knows how to deal with you. I want her on the team. She'll do good work finding stories, and if we need her in front of the camera sometime, she'll be great."
Bellamy glances over the list of names he'd gotten, slotting Octavia into it. His sister is everything Clarke said she was, and she'd do great on the team. She's exactly the kind of person he'd want to work with, if they weren't related. He's always said he doesn't mix his professional life with his personal one.
Then again, Clarke's the whole reason he made that rule, so he'd have a ready excuse to avoid her. If that's out the window, he might as well work with Octavia too. Who cares, at this point? He's the anchor, everything else is gravy.
Awkward, too-personal gravy.
"Has she agreed yet?"
"She's finalizing details. But I think she's going to. She just needs to make sure she can finish the second PhD in time. You know, I always thought you were the nerd in your family."
"Me too." And the, he can't help asking, "What did she say when you called?"
Clarke lets out a soft snort of laughter. "She spent about ten minutes telling me I had a lot of nerve calling her before I could break in and tell her I wanted to give her a job on your show. And then five more minutes telling me I had a lot of nerve asking her if she wanted a job. She did, but--I still have a lot of nerve, apparently."
He lets out a small laugh of his own, and it's--familiar. The worst part is how long it's been, for him to feel like this. He hasn't had a real, sober, extended conversation with Clarke since they broke up, and that was ten fucking years ago. But even after all that time, he still knows her.
And, honestly, it still hurts.
"That sounds like O, yeah."
"It's exactly what I was expecting." She pauses, in a way that makes him think she's going to continue that train of thought, but instead she sighs. "So, did you have any other questions? Concerns?"
"Tons," he says, can't help it, and some vindictive part of him hopes she winces.
But her voice is steady. "If you doubt either of our abilities to be professional--"
"I don't," he says. "It's just generally concerning."
"I didn't ever apologize, did I?" she asks, voice soft. She sounds like a kid, small and sad. He remembers the tone from when her father died. Shitty as it is of him, he thinks of that as the beginning of the end.
"You did," he says. "Five years ago, MSNBC Christmas party. You were wasted. I figured you probably apologized to a lot of people."
It gets a laugh out of her, like he wanted. How fucked up is that? Ten years later, he still just wants to make her feel better, even when she should feel bad, even when his heart is still a little broken.
"Not a good apology. Not--I know there's no good way to be, like--god. I thought about calling you so many times, but an apology is to make me feel better, not you. And you're the one who--" She cuts herself off, and he can practically see her, the nod of resolve, the quiet determination to do the right thing.
She's got to be different somehow, right? It's been ten years. He can't still know her so well.
"This is going to be a good show," she says. "We've got a great team. We've got you. So tell me what you need me to do for you, and I'll do it. If I need to apologize or to--"
"It's fine," he says. "Water under the bridge, right? I get why you did it. It sucked, but I get it." He worries her lip, but he has to ask. "Did it help? Getting away from everything?"
"Yeah. It helped."
"Then I'm glad. And we're good."
"Okay." Another pause, composing herself, and then, "I'm looking forward to working with you, Bellamy."
"Yeah," he says. "You too."
It's not as much of a lie as he'd like.
Octavia calls two days later and asks, "Your idea or her idea?" without preamble.
"Her idea," he says. "I didn't even know."
"She didn't tell you? What the fuck?"
The pure rage in his little sister's voice makes him smile. Bellamy and Octavia haven't always had the best relationship--he had to be too many things to her, brother, father, best friend, keeper, for things to be easy between them--but she's as protective of him as he is of her, and she's always said the things about Clarke he doesn't let himself say. She was sure Clarke was going to be her sister-in-law, and losing that hurt her, maybe not the same way that it hurt Bellamy, but almost as much.
"She picked the best guy for the job, obviously," he says. "It's not a big deal, O. It's been ten years."
"And how many girlfriends have you had since then?"
"I've never been great at dating. She didn't break me or anything, she was just the only girl who broke up with me before I could screw it up."
Octavia huffs, and it occurs to him it'll probably be good, having her around for this. She'll be so pissed at Clarke, he'll have to mediate. He and Octavia have always been able to do that each other, an unconscious good-cop/bad-cop routine, where her being angry with someone else calms him down, and he does the same for her. He has plenty of reasons to be mad at Clarke, but it's always hurt more than anything, and Octavia can take the anger. He'll feel better.
Only one of them can afford to be pissed, and he's glad it's her.
"You know that's bullshit, Bell."
"I have no idea if it's bullshit." He can imagine a world where he screwed it up within a few months of when Clarke would have left anyway, all sorts of that things he could have done wrong as a boyfriend. But he can just as easily imagine a world where he never screwed it up, where the two of them stayed together and got married.
That world sucks to imagine, so he tries not to.
"Look, I'm glad she didn't tell me she was involved in the show, okay? I wouldn't have gone for it if I knew, so--yeah, this is better. I get to be lead anchor. Just like I've always wanted. This is my big chance."
"You're saying you wouldn't have done it, and you're defending her for fooling you into doing it anyway? Bell--"
"It would have been the wrong call," he says. "This is a big deal, O. It would have been fucking idiotic of me to pass on it because I'm still pouting about my ex-girlfriend. And I would have, so, yeah, she made the right call. And you must think so too, if you're signing on."
"Someone's got to look out for you," she huffs. "In charge of your own show? No way you're doing that without some backup."
He has to smile. "I've got plenty of backup."
"Clarke doesn't count."
"I was thinking Miller and Echo," he says, scanning the list. He's worked with Nathan Miller on a few shows, and the two of them have always gotten along. Miller's smart, capable, and sarcastic, like all of Bellamy's favorite people. Echo he doesn't know as well, but the two of them worked together editing stories for fucking Cage Wallace, and it's the kind of thing that forms lifelong bonds. A friendship forged in fire. "And Clarke does count," he can't help adding. "I'm not going to be getting drinks with her after work, but she picked me herself, and she's always going to have the show's best interests at heart. We both want the same thing."
He can practically hear his sister scowling, and it makes him smile. "Fine," she snaps. "But I'm still coming. I don't trust her."
"Cool," he says. "Looking forward to working with you."
It's not like he hasn't seen Clarke for ten years. He'd assumed, after she broke up with him, that he'd never see her again. In his worst moments that first year, he was convinced she'd be killed, since she went off to film some suicidal frontline documentary in Afghanistan with Lexa, and he'd tried to tell himself he wouldn't care if she did die, but it was way too big a lie for him to ever believe. Clarke left him because she couldn't deal with her life, let alone his, and it was easy to be pissed at her for that, but impossible to want her dead for it.
She was gone for almost three years, and then, just as abruptly, she was back. She was in New York and he was in LA, so she wasn't close, but he was aware of her in a way he hadn't been. She felt possible again. But she didn't get in touch, and he'd been dating Roma at the time, anyway. And he heard she'd started dating Lexa. They'd both moved on, obviously.
His first encounter with her was a year later, in passing, and awkward as hell. They established he was in New York now, that she was still working as a producer, and they claimed they should get drinks and catch up, but clearly never would.
Their longest conversation was at that Christmas party, and it involved Clarke telling him how sorry she was, over and over, while he didn't really say anything, because he didn't know what to say, and drank some weird punch that tasted like red food coloring and death.
So he assumes working with her will be awkward at best and catastrophic at worst, except that, well, it's Clarke. And Clarke is, and always has been, a professional; she cares about the show first and foremost, and the show needs them to work together. He's going to be the problematic element here, but he refuses to be the one who screws it up.
She greets him on the first day with a coffee, giant and black, in a ceramic travel mug that says Blake, with a blue anchor under it. It honestly makes him feel a little choked up. It's not a big gesture, not really, but it's exactly right.
Clarke still knows him, too.
"Did you get this custom made?" he asks.
"I could have gotten it at a nautical gift shop," she says, defiant. "I couldn't find one with Bellamy, but Blake was easy. Apparently your names are in the wrong order." He just raises his eyebrows, and she dissolves into a somewhat sheepish smile. "Yeah, okay, I got it made. I know this is your first time being lead, and I know this is awkward, so I figured--we should get off to a good start, right?"
"Right," he agrees, and returns the smile. "Thanks, Clarke."
They're arguing by noon, about the order of the segments in the first show, and everyone in the studio except Miller looks like they're worried about losing their jobs before the end of the day. Even Octavia looks--well, it's hard to tell if Octavia is concerned about her job, or about him, or just wants to kill Clarke. But she's clearly not happy with the situation.
Bellamy warned Miller about the Clarke situation and Miller knows him, so he's just periodically interjecting his own opinions into the proceedings, calm, even, dispassionate. Miller's used to this kind of thing.
Honestly, Bellamy's having a blast.
"We don't have enough on the Kane thing to lead with it!" Clarke says. "We don't even have enough on it to report it!"
"Look, I know he's still BFFs with your mom or whatever, but that doesn't mean--"
"You cannot possibly think I want to go easy on him. But we have one report, unsubstantiated--"
"Everyone knows he's shady!"
"Are we gonna cite Wikipedia on the show?" Miller asks, not looking up from his iPad.
"Yes!" Bellamy snaps. Clarke cocks her head, her mouth flirting with a smile, and Bellamy deflates. "Assuming it says he's shady, obviously."
Clarke lets out a small snort of laughter, and Bellamy does as well, and then she's really laughing, almost delighted, and he can actually feel the tension drain out of the room.
"So, our top story begins with according to Wikipedia?" she asks.
"Are you new?" Bellamy shoots back. "It's reliable sources indicate, and then in the fine-print--"
"How could I forget," she says. "We should keep working on Kane, though, you're right. These numbers don't make sense, and I want to see where he's getting them." She glances across the table. "Octavia, is that something you're interested in checking out?"
Octavia looks startled at being addressed, but she recovers quickly, giving Clarke a bright and completely fake smile. "Sure thing, boss. Leave it to me."
Clarke's jaw works a little, but she makes no comment. "So, we can leave Trump as our main story?"
Bellamy taps his pen on the desk. "Yeah, I was thinking about that. The guy's a joke. I don't think he deserves any coverage at all."
"No coverage," Clarke repeats. He can't read her voice.
"He's not a real candidate," Bellamy says. "He's just a rich dickbag who wants to feel popular. I'm willing to revisit this policy if he somehow earns the nomination, but maybe not even then. He's a cartoon character. I think we should make a statement. This guy isn't even worth our consideration."
Clarke opens her mouth like she's going to argue, and Bellamy braces himself for it, but then she closes it again and nods. "You know what, honestly? That's not a bad idea. This is supposed to be a show with a voice, that's why we hired you. I think you should preface your election coverage with that the first night, we'll put it up online, make it clear that we have opinions. And no," she adds, when he starts to say something. "One of our opinions isn't that Marcus Kane is shady yet. We can't back it up. Anyone wants to know why we aren't covering Trump as a serious candidate, we can go for days. Right, Raven?"
Bellamy doesn't know Raven Reyes, not beyond meeting her for the show, but he has already learned that she's gorgeous and actively terrifying, so he likes her on an instinctual level. He's pretty sure she's going to do great publicity for them.
"I'll just link them to his Twitter page, that thing is a joke," she says, without looking up from her phone. She's also in charge of social media, and she's been doing mysterious internet shit all day. "I like it."
"Okay, so, no Trump, researching Kane," Clarke says, all business again. "First show, what else have we got?"
It's a good team that she's put together. The editors and correspondents are sharp, the show's voice is clear, and everyone is passionate and dedicated. He should have tried to work with Clarke earlier; their own history aside, she's a producer who's doing exactly the kind of shit he wants to do, and that's what he's been missing at his other jobs.
This show feels like it's his, and he knows it's not just that he's the anchor. He's always been good at working with Clarke, even before they started dating, when he thought she was kind of a spoiled know-it-all and she thought he was an arrogant dick, so it makes sense. That they're still so good together.
By the end of the first week, their team is used to them. He and Clarke bicker most of the time, argue occasionally, and glare at each other until one of them finally gives in and cracks a smile. Octavia is clearly worried about it, and he can't exactly blame her; he figured he'd be professional and detached with Clarke, but instead he's just fallen back into being friendly with her, and that's--dangerous. Even arguing with her is dangerous, because that's how they ended up getting together the first time. It had been a group project, his senior year of college, her sophomore, and they'd been bickering so much the rest of the group just left in frustration. Clarke had caught his eye, started laughing, and he started laughing too, and then, suddenly, they were kissing. Bellamy's pretty sure he made the first move, but he's still not totally sure.
Either way, he probably shouldn't be fighting with Clarke. He should be doing research, cracking down, setting a good example for his team. Not thinking about how easy it would be to lean across the table and kiss her again.
Their first show is on a Monday night, and after, Clarke says, "So, drinks? First round is on me."
There's a general round of applause; Octavia takes Bellamy's arm before he can follow the group. Clarke tosses a curious look over her shoulder when they don't follow; Bellamy waves them along. "We'll catch up," he assures her.
"You told me you weren't going to get drinks with her after work," Octavia says, an accusation.
"Not regularly," he says. "It's our first show. If I don't go out with everyone, it'll be awkward. They'll think Clarke's the fun one and I'm the wet blanket, which is clearly not true. This is my reputation on the line, O."
"It's not your reputation I'm worried about," she says, pointed. "Do you even know if she's single?"
"I'm not trying to get back together with Clarke." He's pretty sure she is, but--he doesn't want to tell Octavia that he's been paying attention to that. It will not help this conversation.
"You didn't try to get together with her in the first place. You just stumbled into it, and now you're stumbling again and--I thought you were going to be smart about this!"
"Look, O, I wouldn't have dated her if I didn't like her. I wouldn't have--" He rubs his face. "It kind of sucks that we still get along, yeah. But trust me, I don't want to get hurt any more than you want me to get hurt. But it'd be nice if we were friends again, right? Because the show's good. You know the show's good. And I want to keep doing it. And she's an important part of it." He wets his lips. "So, yeah, we're getting drinks. Or I am. You can skip if you want, but I know you're flirting with that camera guy, don't even pretend you're not."
Octavia scowls. "If she breaks your heart, I'm going to punch you in the face. Because I warned you."
"So, if I get hurt, you're going to hurt me more?" he asks. "I'm so glad I've got you on my side."
He finds himself next to Clarke at the bar, and tries to pretend it's an accident, a coincidence, not this stupid magnet pull, an inability to make good decisions and leave her alone. She's flushed and happy, face open, smile uncomplicated when she greets him. "Bellamy! You guys made it!"
"I told you I'd catch up."
"Yeah, but--" Whatever she was going to say, she decides against it. She just beams at him. "First round on me. What are you drinking?"
He's a couple drinks in when he observes, "It really did help."
"What?" she asks, turning her attention away from Miller and Raven arguing about Star Trek, still smiling.
"You never used to look like this. Not--before you left."
Of course it makes her face fall, and he almost regrets saying it. But a small, vindictive part of him is glad.
She faces straight ahead, at the mirror behind the bar, and then nods, smiling with just one side of her mouth. "I looked like this sometimes. I just tried not to let you see. Have you ever liked someone so much you're kind of embarrassed about it?" He starts to respond, but finds there aren't any words in his mouth. "I thought I'd scare you off, if you saw how happy you made me. It sounds so stupid now. I just--I'm bad at keeping good things."
Bellamy wonders how it's possible, to be so hurt and so angry and so worried about her, all at once. It seems like some of the emotions should cancel out, or something. "Well, I'm glad something's making you happy, anyway." He finishes his drink and glances around. "Looks like the dartboard freed up. See you later."
He definitely shouldn't drink with Clarke.
Octavia hits a block on the Kane stuff after only a month and a half, and Clarke takes over, because Clarke has connections. And it bugs him a little. Not that she took over, of course she'd take over if it was needed, but how much she throws herself into it. She's been going out consistently with them on Fridays, but one week into taking over the Kane investigation, she waves them off without even looking up from her laptop.
Bellamy manages to have one beer before he goes back to the office, thinking about how often Clarke has been buried in her work this week, how often she's missed parts of the conversation because she's scowling at some article about Kane. There's professionalism, and then there's excess.
She still doesn't look up as he rolls his chair in next to hers. "Did you even finish your drink?" she asks, by way of greeting.
"I chugged it." He leans his chin against the back of his chair, watching her screen. Octavia says he sits in chairs backwards because he's laboring under the misconception that it's cool, which is just not true; Bellamy knows he's not cool. He just likes it anyway. "You know, Kane was your idea."
"I got so distracted fighting about not having enough information about him, I forgot it wasn't my idea to look into his shit. But Kane's books were on your list of potential stories, not just mine. So--you think he's shifty too. That's why you took over so hard."
Clarke worries her lip, and then she finally looks away from the computer. "He and my mom started doing business together right before my dad died. They were always close, but--I heard them arguing about it. Before everything happened. I didn't think about it for a while, because I was--" She looks down at her hands. "I was sure I'd distracted him, that he took his eyes off the road, but--I've gone over it a thousand times. I didn't do anything wrong. And my mom--you should have seen her, when she found out I was in the car. I figured she was just relieved I was alive, but--a few years ago, I started thinking that wasn't it. That they--" She lets out a harsh breath. "I think my mom might have been involved. I don't think it was--"
Bellamy swallows hard, puts his arm around her. He remembers her father's death clearly, the frantic call from the hospital, his own fucking panic, thinking that she might be hurt, that he might lose her.
She'd been so ripped up, thinking she'd gotten her father killed. He'd done everything he could to convince her she was wrong, that it was just a random, horrible accident, and if things hadn't gotten worse from there, if his mother hadn't died and distracted him with getting custody of Octavia, if her professor hadn't turned out to be manipulating his documentary subjects, making kids sick to get a more dramatic film, if everything hadn't piled on them all at once, he might have talked her out of it.
Instead, she decided she had to get away from everything, and he couldn't have gone with her even if he wanted to, because he had Octavia to take care of for six months.
And she hadn't asked him anyway. He'd been one of the things she wanted to get away from.
"So, why are you looking into him now?" Bellamy asks, rubbing her shoulder with his thumb.
"I've been looking into him for a while, when I have time, but it's slow going."
"No, I mean, why are you looking for sketchy shit now? Why don't you try to figure out what happened ten years ago? If your dad figured something out, you can too, right?"
Clarke sort of stares at him, and then she shakes her head, waking up. "Fuck, why didn't I think of that?" she asks, giving him a brilliant smile.
"Because I'm the smart one," he says. "You should have told me."
"I know, uh--I know you don't like remembering that. I don't either." She bites her lip. "How can you be so fucking--so normal? I still can't think about what I did to you without wanting to cry. And you're just--you're okay."
"You broke up with me," he says, voice way more even than he expected. It's probably why she thinks he's fine. "People break up all the time, Clarke. You didn't want--"
"That wasn't it," she says, surprisingly harsh. "Don't say I didn't want you." She bites her lip, hard, and turns back to the computer. "I haven't ever been able to look at the articles about the crash. Do you, um--will you stay?"
Bellamy feels strangely wired, electric, like he's on the brink of something. He wants to push, ask her why they broke up, but--she feels too possible now, and he doesn't want her to feel impossible again. And he's not sure if he can deal with her feeling any more possible, either. He's already thinking things he shouldn't.
"Yeah, of course. Give me some printouts."
The show is actually a hit, which is as gratifying as it is confusing. The first few weeks, the network was clearly kind of terrified of them, and Clarke had a lot of meetings where, from Bellamy can tell, she just smiled serenely and said they'd adjust the show once the ratings came in, if necessary. It's like Clarke's superpower: people argue with her and she just looks back at them until they stop.
(Except him. She'll always fight with him.)
But the ratings came in, and the reviews, and they're popular. Bellamy's got that vibe where he can make people listen to him, where he can make them believe in him. And all his fact-based, extensively researched editorializing means that his opinions actually seem valid. They are valid, obviously, but--people think he's being honest, and they trust him. Six months in, and he's got a reputation for being Jon Stewart, except he's doing real news. It's actually a little overwhelming, how much faith he inspires in people.
"Why shouldn't they like you?" Clarke asks. They're getting ready to head to DC for the weekend, to research the Kane case. It's the first time they'll be alone on a trip together since they were dating, and Bellamy is reminding himself, repeatedly, that it in no way resembles any trip they took when they were dating. It's business. They're colleagues. "You're being honest up there, Bellamy."
"I'm pushing my own agenda pretty hard."
"Your agenda is awesome and based in fact," she says, grinning. "Everyone pushes their agenda, people just recognize your agenda is actually good. And you own that it's yours, and you explain why you think it. You're winning people to your side, every night, because you're awesome and you're smart. I'm gonna go grab a sandwich for the road, you want one?"
"That would be great, yeah."
The rest of the crew files out slowly, heading off on their own weekends, until it's just him and Octavia left, waiting for Clarke.
"I know you don't approve," he says, when she comes over to his desk. "We're doing research, and I don't care if you think I'm being stupid. It's for work. You don't have to give me a lecture."
Octavia sits down, looking at him with a kind of consideration that makes him squirm. "I do approve."
He blinks at her. It's actually the last thing he expected. "What?"
"Look, you're actually happy, Bell. And don't tell me you were happy before, because it's different. You're--"
"I know," he says, looking away. He has been happy, the last few years. But the fucking pathetic truth is, happy without Clarke doesn't hold a candle to happy with Clarke. His life is just better with her in it, and he's not even pretending to deny it anymore. "So, what, you decided she's not going to break my heart?"
"I asked her."
"Wait, fuck, what? What the fuck did you ask her?"
Octavia glares at him. "I was worried! I just--I told her she screwed you over, okay? And that I didn't want her to do it again."
"That's not--" He rubs his face. "When was this, exactly?"
"When you told me you were going on this stupid trip."
"Great. Thanks, really."
"She said she's not going to leave you again," Octavia says, soft. "And I believe her. I don't know what happened, Bell, and I think she was an asshole, but--she's still crazy about you. It's so obvious."
His mouth is suddenly dry, and he has to swallow a few times before words come out. "It's seriously none of your business, O. This is between me and Clarke, and you shouldn't have said anything."
She scowls at him. "I was looking out for you!"
"You were meddling."
"Fine. Ignore my advice. Mope. I'm just saying--I know I've been telling you I think this whole thing is a bad idea, and I was wrong, okay? This show is good for you, you're happy, and I think you should try again with her. Whatever happened--I don't think it'll happen again. So, yeah. I'd say I'm sorry I yelled at her, but I'm not. Because now I'm not fucking worrying all the time about how you're still in love with her. Because I think she's still in love with you too."
And then she storms off, leaving him staring after her.
If Bellamy is going to murder his sister, it's not even going to be because she asked Clarke about the two of them in the first place. It's going to be because she asked Clarke and then told him about it right before he left on a weekend road trip with her, including four hours in the car each way. Clarke has always preferred driving, something he assumed would stop after her father's death, but she says she finds it comforting. She doesn't trust strangers behind the wheel, but she trusts herself. And she apparently trusts him, because they switch drivers in Maryland and she has no objections at all.
They're somewhere in just outside Baltimore when she finally says, "Your sister yelled at me."
"Yeah, she mentioned."
"I was expecting you to want to know," she admits. "You always--I don't know. You've never let me off the hook easily, so I figured you'd make me tell you exactly why I left. Give me a chance to explain."
Bellamy watches the road, the median lines flashing in front of him in the dark. "I figured I already knew. You'd reevaluated your life after all that shit and figured out you didn't want me in it. I had all this baggage of my own and--" He shrugs, resigned. "It always felt like a minor miracle you went out with me as long as you did, I wasn't that surprised when you left."
"Oh," she says, soft. "Yeah, no. That's not--that wasn't it at all."
He can't bring himself to speak for a few moments. This feels like the most dangerous possible place for this conversation, in a car, hours from anywhere he can call his own. He's going to kill his sister.
"So tell me," he finally says.
"I was just so--I felt so shitty. About my dad and Professor Sydney and everything. I felt like I'd fucked everything up. And you were there, taking care of your sister, working so hard, and trying to make me feel better on top of everything. And you would have, you know? You always--" She makes a small sound he can't identify, but it might be a sniffle, and he can't imagine anything worse than Clarke crying right now. He checks his blind spot and moves over to the rightmost lane, not pulling off the road yet, but--preparing. Just in case.
Clarke smiles a little, noticing. "This is what I'm talking about. You always make me feel better. You always take care of me. And I didn't think I deserved it." She rubs her face in a way that suggests she's wiping away tears, and, fuck it, Bellamy pulls into the breakdown lane and stops.
"Clarke," he says, gentle, and that's all she needs to be in his arms. It's overwhelming, the muscle memory of how she feels, even after ten years. He thinks she's lost a little weight, and she's probably still not taking good enough care of herself. She forgets that stuff sometimes. "Hey," he says, rubbing soothing circles on her back. "Hey."
"This is exactly what I'm talking about," she mutters, rueful. "How come I'm the one being an asshole and I'm getting comforted instead of you?"
Part of him does want to be angry, but it's overshadowed by the rest of him, which wants to pull her as close as he can and bury his face in her hair. She's changed shampoos, but she still smells like Clarke.
"You broke up with me so I wouldn't make you feel better," he says. "It sucked, but--it's been ten years, and you've been feeling shitty about it the whole time. You deserve a break. You deserve to feel better."
"I needed to hurt myself," she says. "And hurting you was the worst thing I could possibly do. I'm so fucking sorry, Bellamy."
"Okay," he says.
She laughs. "Okay? That's it?"
"I forgive you." He presses his lips against her hair. "That's some fucked up self-harm, though."
"I know. I was in a bad place."
"I know." He worries his lip. "Let's get a hotel tonight. We're close, we won't lose that much time going in tomorrow."
Her laugh this time is wetter, less humorous, and it twists him up. "I really thought I'd screwed it up with you. Like--unfixable screwed it up."
"You could have done a way better job breaking up with me so I'd never forgive you," Bellamy says, giving her one final squeeze and then reluctantly letting go of her so he can drive again. "You could have told me all kinds of things."
"Hurting myself as much as possible, hurting you as little as possible," she says, with a small smile, settling back into her own seat. "It was kind of a stupid goal."
"If it makes you feel better, you hurt me plenty," he says, with a small smile.
She snorts. "Thanks. Your sister told me."
"I'm sorry about that," he says, rubbing the back of his neck. "But it's your own fault for hiring her, honestly. What were you thinking?"
"I like your sister," she says, shrugging. "And it was kind of nice, having her pissed at me. You guys are the ultimate hatred tag-team, you know that?"
"Yeah, it's awesome." He spots an exit sign with hotels and gets them to the nicest one without much trouble. He's only a little guilty when he asks for just one room. It has two beds, it's not like he's planning to take advantage of her or anything. He just can't bring himself to leave her alone when she's like this.
He couldn't stop taking care of her if he wanted to, not when she's right here. This is just how it's going to be. But he has to admit, the future is looking a lot better than he thought it would.
"This isn't why I hired you, you know," Clarke remarks, scoping out the room. "I wasn't trying to--you're the best guy for the job. As soon as they gave me my own news show, I knew you were the only person I wanted on it. And I was right, you're perfect."
He feels himself flush. "I get pissed off at republicans and yell a lot about how stupid people are. You really shouldn't have given me free reign."
"It's exactly what we wanted when we came out with the show. Why did you think I suggested you? It's not just because you're cute." It makes him wince, and she notices it even though he tries to hide it. "Sorry. I shouldn't--I'm kind of your boss, it's inappropriate, this entire night has been totally inappropriate, I shouldn't have--"
"You'e a mess, Griffin," Bellamy says, finding his smile again. "I know I'm cute."
She's still in love with you, he thinks, and lets himself think about believing it for the first time.
"Go to sleep, Clarke," he says.
They're in DC--or, technically, Arlington--to visit Clarke's friend Wells, whom Bellamy met a couple times when they were dating. He's a good enough guy, but Bellamy knew they had some sort of falling out after Clarke's dad died. He hadn't gotten all the details, because it had happened around the same time as his mother's death, and he'd done his best, but--he was stretched thin for a while.
He and Wells both do the same move when they meet, this you better not have done anything to her look that makes Clarke roll her eyes. She pushes past both of them into the house, checking it out, making appropriate noises of admiration, even though it's full of boxes. Which is why they're here in the first place. His father passed away last month, suddenly and of natural causes, and he's got a ton of papers that Clarke thinks might contain incriminating evidence about Kane, so they're here to sort through.
"What are you going to do if we find something?" Bellamy asks Wells, once they're all settled on the floor with a pile of paperwork each.
"What do you mean?"
"You're really going to be cool if we find some shady deals and shit all over his legacy?"
Wells shrugs. "We can only expose him if there's something to find. And if there's something to find, then he deserves to be exposed. If he hasn't done anything wrong, nothing will happen."
"You're creepily well-adjusted," Bellamy mutters, and Clarke grins at him.
Bellamy can tell Wells doesn't miss the look, and when he leaves later to take a call from Octavia, he's not surprised to hear the two of them talking in sharp whispers.
"We're friends again, that's all," Clarke is saying, and Bellamy should not eavesdrop, but--he's only human.
"Doesn't look like that's all you want."
"Of course it's not what I want," she says. "But--it's what he wants that matters. I'm the one who broke it off, I can't just--I'm a dick if I'm like, oh, I was fucked up ten years ago, but now I'm better, sorry about leaving you, take me back. That's not fair to him."
"Bullshit," says Wells, and Bellamy is getting fonder of him by the minute. "You broke it off, he's not going to know you regret it if you don't tell him. How's he supposed to know you're still interested?"
"From what I've heard, everyone can tell," she grumbles. "You should have heard his sister. He probably noticed too, and he's just--hopefully only one of us is pathetic enough to have been pining for ten years."
Bellamy's heart is going stupidly fast, and he almost regrets listening in, because there are absolutely things he should be doing right now other than going back and asking Clarke out, but it's hard to remember what those things are.
Then Clarke says, "Hey, here's something about Kane Industries," and Bellamy remembers why he's really there.
"What is it?" he asks, and it's easy to just sit down next to her on the floor. Her neck is a little pink, but if she's worried he overheard anything, she shows no sign of it. Instead, she just hands him some papers.
"Not sure. Let's find out."
It's pretty bad, as it turns out. It's one hell of a story they'll have to break, misappropriation of government funds, extortion, blackmail, all in the name of nebulous, illegal medical research, and while there's nothing, specifically, about Clarke's dad, there are plenty of secrets that he could have discovered. Plenty of things someone might have killed for.
"Fuck," Clarke breathes. "Well, you were right. Kane's shady as fuck. Better update his wikipedia page."
Bellamy puts his arm around her shoulders, ignoring the way Wells watches him. He's going to get warned off before he leaves here, which at least means he and Clarke will be even. It would be a shame if just she got a talking to about breaking someone's heart. "We don't have to do this, you know. Not on the show. We could get it out quietly, talk to your mom first, just--"
Clarke shoves him a little, glaring. "What are you talking about? You think I'm going to let anyone else break this?"
"Just checking," he says. He looks down at the files. Apparently Jaha didn't trust computers, and Bellamy kind of likes it. Sorting through a giant pile of papers makes him feel like an old-school investigative journalist. "Are you going to tell your mom?"
"Nah. Why ruin a good surprise?"
He snorts. "I think we have different definitions of good surprise."
Her fingers drum against the floor, like she's thinking it over. "It's like Wells said. If she didn't want this stuff to come out, she shouldn't have done it." Clarke looks down at the paper with the funds her mother redirected to Kane. "It's research she cared about. She thought it was necessary. But she--" Her jaw works. "If she was so sure it was the right thing, she would have owned it. She wouldn't have let anyone arrange an accident for my dad."
"Hey, you know I'm always happy to expose some rich assholes," he says, squeezing her shoulder. "You don't have to tell me twice."
Clarke presses her lips to his cheek, dry and quick. "My hero. Can you pack up what we need? I'm going to call the network, see if we can scramble for a special broadcast tomorrow. You think the staff will forgive me for ruining their weekends?"
"You act like anyone on our staff has a social life."
She snorts. "Yeah, okay. I'll see what I can do."
Bellamy starts packing up the papers; they already took pictures of everything important, but it pays to be safe.
"Did Kane ever try to get a look at these?" he asks Wells, to try to stave off the personal conversation. "Seems weird he'd let it go."
"I don't think he knew about it. He kept all this stuff in a storage unit. The reason I told Clarke about it in the first place was that his computer got stolen before I could look at it."
"Seriously?" Bellamy doesn't think he'd be this calm if his dad's shit got stolen by people who had probably killed someone to keep their secrets. "Fuck. You're coming back with us until we break this story."
"To keep everyone who knows together in one place?" he asks, dry.
"Don't be stupid," he snaps, annoyed. "If they find out about the storage unit--"
Wells regards him for a minute, and then says, "Clarke said you were a softy."
"I'll even give you shotgun."
Clarke ends up taking the back seat, because she's the only one of them who can write in cars without getting motion sick. She's got her laptop out, talking nonstop as she tries to figure out what he's going to say in the broadcast tomorrow. She has his voice down pretty well by now, so he doesn't have to correct her much, just nods along and reminds her they're gonna need citations for all of it.
"I already sent pictures to Raven, she and Octavia are figuring out what images we need to pull. Don't worry, Wells, if someone kills us, we have more witnesses."
"That's what I was worried about if we died," Wells grumbles, and Clarke and Bellamy both snort at the same time. "It's a miracle you guys stayed apart for ten years," he adds, and rolls over to try to sleep.
Clarke drops Wells off at her place and then says she's going to the office, and there's no way Bellamy is going to let her pull ridiculous hours without him. And, honestly, he's a little worried about her. He doesn't want her to be alone.
"You know you can sleep, right? You're the one who needs to be on camera tomorrow. I can just pass out."
"It would make a statement," he says. "I'm on camera all stubbly, bags under my eyes, rumpled clothes? Like I've been working on this story all weekend."
"You have been working on this story all weekend. And you look good with stubble. It would probably be good for ratings."
"Are you saying people watch our show because I'm hot, Clarke? Perish the thought. Our viewers aren't that shallow. But if you think it would be good for the show if I stop shaving--"
Clarke laughs. "You're ridiculous."
"Just trying to help. Do my part." He rests his head on her shoulder so he can read what she's got. "You know, you're not bad at this."
"It's almost like it's my job or something." She changes a few words, like the stupid story isn't already perfect, and then says, too casual, "You heard me and Wells talking."
"You're going to have to narrow that down."
"No, I don't. You know exactly what I mean."
He swallows and moves a little closer. "Yeah, I heard you guys."
"Were you going to mention it?"
"We've been kind of busy."
When she turns her head to look at him, they're way too close to each other. It makes his eyes cross. "I think this story is done, and we can't actually do anything with it until tomorrow night, so--yeah. I miss you. Dating you. Having you. And if you--"
"Yes," he says, losing his cool all at once, unable to even let her finish. "I do, yes."
She smiles and leans in. "I didn't ask anything."
"Yes," he says again, and kisses her.
He kissed Clarke a lot, the few years they were dating. She used to tease him about it, because he was always dropping kisses on her cheek, on her shoulder, pulling her into his lap to make out, but he'd never been able to get enough of it. He never quite believed he was allowed to kiss her whenever he wanted.
The angle is terrible, both of them in desk chairs, and Clarke tries to get in his lap, but he's backward in the chair, and she makes a frustrated noise against his mouth.
"I missed you too," he says, grinning.
"I'm going to hurt my neck," she says, standing and pulling him out of his chair too. He traps her against the desk, and she slides her arms around his neck. "Better," she says, and kisses him again, longer this time, deeper, and he's missed this more than he let himself realize.
It felt too pathetic, still being into her, but he's pretty sure he's always, always going to be into Clarke Griffin. But from the way she's pressing up against him, he thinks she's always going to be into him too.
He couldn't believe it when he was twenty-four and she was leaving him. He didn't know how to. But ten years later, he thinks he'll be able to figure out how to keep her, and to believe that she wants to be kept.
They're going to make this work.
He breaks away to kiss down her neck, making her laugh. She's ticklish there, and he loves it. "We should go to my place," she says. "I'm sure we're going to have sex here eventually, but we should pretend we're not."
"Wells is at your place. We should go to my place." He grins. "I'm glad we've established we're going to have sex in here at some point."
"You look really hot when you're dressed up for the broadcast." She kisses him one more time, lingering for a little longer than he thinks she meant to, and then she grabs her coat. "Come on, shit's going to hit the fan tomorrow, so we should have fun tonight, while we can."
Bellamy laughs. "Your mom's going to hate me even more than she did last time we were dating."
"Yeah," Clarke agrees, taking his hand and tugging him toward the door. "But she'll hate me too, so at least we'll be even, right?"
Clarke's phone wakes them up at like six the next morning, and she hits him in the kidney with her elbow trying to find it. It's still the best morning he can remember having in a while; Clarke tells Raven about what graphics they need while Bellamy makes coffee, and then Wells calls to make sure Clarke didn't get killed while he tries to put breakfast together.
"This is pretty sad," she remarks when she's done, looking at the plate he presents her with. It's got a banana, a gogurt of unknown origin, and a piece of freezer-burned toast. "Why do you have gogurt? I didn't think they even made gogurt anymore."
"I honestly don't know. I don't usually eat breakfast."
She kisses him on the cheek. "You have other talents. Let's just get something on the way."
"It's like you don't even care that I used the toaster for you."
"I really don't." She tugs his hand. "Come on, big day. We need a real breakfast. Something with protein. And carbs."
"I just want the record to show I'm a provider."
"I'll put a note into tonight's broadcast." She offers him a smile, small and almost shy, but warm enough that it makes his heart flip over. "Ready?" she asks.
It's going to be a shitshow, and he can't wait. This is what he always wanted, tracking down leads, breaking big stories, making a fucking difference. There will be questions and arguments and probably scandals, and he and Clarke are going to be right in the middle of it. Together, like they're supposed to. Like he missed.
"Ready," he agrees, and lets her pull him out into the morning sun.