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A Book of Stories

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I think we deserve
a soft epilogue, my love.

Seventy Years of Sleep #4, nikka ursula

Clarke: So do u have any fantasies
Bellamy: Ok… so… the library of alexandria is under siege& Im a librarian whos good at fighting& I save the books
idontgiveaneffie

A Book of Stories

16. (Octavia)

For Bellamy’s twenty eighth birthday, Octavia gets him a book of stories.

A book is a rare treat on the ground, and he hasn’t seen a new one in over two years; the five he owns, and keeps safe in a special box in his hut, have been read so many times it’s a wonder the ink is still there. So when he gets this one, his eyes go comically wide, until O laughs at him indulgently.

“Well go on, big brother,” she tells him. “It’s two books in one, so it might take you a while. I’m borrowing it when you’re done, so be quick.”

Yeah, quick. Like hell he will.

***

1. (Nate)

The first one, he gets from Nate Miller when they are all still in Camp Jaha. At this point, Bellamy is in uniform, or as good as, and Nate gets roped in together with him as soon as he turns eighteen, because apparently the Ark people now expect certain jobs to start becoming hereditary.

As for Bellamy and Nate, they hate their assignment so much it chokes them.

Still, there are perks. The Council keeps sending them on scavenger hunts, and it mostly includes desperately trying not to get skewered by Grounders, but sometimes their teams of guards and engineers manage to find a forgotten bunker, and there, there are treasures.

“This looks like it has your name on it,” says Nate as soon as he’s back in camp from one of the trips, and Bellamy, intrigued, extends his hands before he even sees that it’s a book.

“Tacitus?” he manages when he sees the cover. He must be making quite a face, because Nate shoots him a wide grin. “How did you find this?”

“The only book in the whole bunker that wasn’t rotten. Someone must’ve been reading it, and left it away from the shelf. I thought you’d like it.”

***

17. (Octavia)

Raven peeks over his shoulder as he reads, more curious than she likes to admit, and he kisses her cheek absently when he turns the page.

“How did O get this one?” she asks once she’s seated in front of him. “I thought the bunkers around were picked clean.”

“Because they are. I don’t know, she must’ve traded for it. She has friends in strange places.”

And thank God for that, or else they’d all be screwed. Things are good now, but Aventine went through quite a few rough patches over the years, and it was Octavia’s Grounder connections that brought them trade deals, and won their last pissing contest with what remained of the Council. Bellamy has nothing but healthy respect for the friendships his sister keeps, but he still doesn’t want to know certain details.

“Who’s Cortázar?” asks Raven, finger pointing at the name on the cover. She pronounces it differently than he would, an echo of a language she hardly ever uses. Bellamy knows better than to let his curiosity show.

“No clue. Ask Nate if you want, he might know something, but I don’t think we had this on the Ark.”

Raven rolls her eyes with mock exasperation. Nerd, her face tells him wordlessly. Bell, you’re such a nerd.

“Do you know every book we had on the Ark?”

“No,” answers Bellamy with a shrug. “But my mom liked this kind of experimental stuff, and she talked about what she read.”

He waits patiently as Raven makes herself comfortable; wriggles until she’s sitting between his splayed legs, her head resting against his shoulder, her bum leg extended in front of her. Their hut is now warm enough for them to be able to sit on the rug by the fire, unthinkable even a year ago, but she’s still a sucker for body heat.

“So what is it about?” she asks when she’s settled.

“It depends.”

***

5. (Raven)

The second book comes in a box of tools that Raven tosses on the ground when she announces she’s moving into his tent, very determined to not make it sound like a question.

Of course at this point, Bellamy doesn’t know that there is a book in the box, and he wouldn't ask about it even if he knew. His full attention is on Raven, on her tired eyes and dirty hands; she’s clearly thinking about something bad, some memory that makes her wince and snarl. On her face, Bellamy reads a challenge to say something nasty, and it brings up memories for him as well.

It's a second chance if he ever saw one.

"I keep tools there," he says as he points to one of the corners of the tent. "Do you have a change of clothes?"

Turns out she does, and it's atrocious, holes from burns and seams in shreds. Bellamy knows he has more urgent jobs, he really does, what with hunting and gathering, and desperate attempts to figure out how to survive the winter outside Camp Jaha. He still sets all his other chores aside, and repairs all of Raven's clothes overnight. It's okay. It's not like she has that many.

At this point, this is the only kind of caress either of them can afford.

***

2. (Nate)

He's eyeing Tacitus impatiently as he repairs a tear in his jacket sleeve, determined not to give his C.O. a single reason to complain.

He wants to read, of course he does. Everything he ever read about antiquity mentioned Tacitus, but the book itself was lost in the nuclear catastrophe, no copy saved on the Ark's servers. So, really, this is a chance one in a milion, a double treat, Annals and Histories in a single volume. Bellamy feels a bit like he discovered the Library of freaking Alexandria.

Except he fucking doesn't.

***

8. (Bellamy)

He finds the third one all by himself, and it's some freaky luck that he does. There aren't many unpicked bunkers left in the area, Camp Jaha made sure of that, but now that the snow is gone, and Bellamy's people are more desperate for supplies than ever, they can't afford not to try scavenging.

This bunker clearly has been visited before, be it by Camp Jaha or Grounders, and there isn’t much left, but Harper still digs up some children’s clothes they can scrap for patches or pillows, so it’s not all in vain. The book, Bellamy finds in a cleared-out pantry, and he gets excited for all of five seconds, before he realizes that it’s in a language he doesn’t speak.

Because that’s just his luck.

He still puts it in his backpack, unable to leave printed words behind to rot. The only reason why this doesn’t make him feel like a complete idiot is that he doesn’t have much to carry back anyway, so what harm can it do?

He only reconsiders when he shows the book to Raven in the evening, and she goes completely stiff the moment she sees the cover.

***

6. (Raven)

Raven makes quite a prickly roommate, but Bellamy is still happy to have her, no matter how much they fight. It's not even real fights they're having; more like snappish interludes, don't touch that and oh, for fuck's sake, nothing he can't handle. If it wasn't for Raven's anger, he'd still be a junior guard in Camp Jaha. It'd be both stupid and ungrateful to complain about it now, just because he's the one bearing the brunt of it.

And anyway, it's not like he's a poster boy for sweet disposition.

At night, they share the same cot. It happens without comment; just a glance and a nod after which he opens his arms, and lets her rest her head on his chest. Bellamy never asks himself why they settle like this, fights during the day and platonic touch at night, because he doesn't feel like explaining things even to himself. At any rate, why wouldn't they? They both hate sleeping alone.

Three weeks in, when Bellamy stumbles into the tent after carrying firewood for a good part of the day, Raven's toolbox is open on the floor, and a small, worn-out book is waiting for him on the bed.

***

18. (Octavia)

Octavia's book makes Bellamy's mind wander. He thinks it’s meant to do that – after all, that’s why mom liked this kind of novels, the ones looking inside rather than outside, and so taking her away from her drudgery at least for a little while.

Maybe that’s why this particular book survived the catastrophe, and the following century of disarray; someone wanted to read it for escape, wanted to imagine a mind wandering between two stories in one, read it like this or read it like that, one thread pulling another, then another, head jumping between chapters like a child playing hopscotch until there wasn’t a thought left to spare for nuclear apocalypse.

At least assuming that Bellamy is right in his guess what the word “hopscotch” might mean.

Deep down, he knows this is likely a load of crap. He’s read enough about the Roman Empire to understand that books don’t survive catastrophes because of love, but because of freaky accidents. What he’s holding in his hand wasn’t someone’s prized possession, but some spoiled brat’s school reading taken to a bunker because it was due next Friday, and no one thought this scare would last longer than a few days.

Still. A guy can dream. And now is the first time in five years that he actually has the leisure to dream.

***

3. (Nate)

He keeps telling himself he doesn’t have time for this – for books, or dreams, or fancies. Not now, not with his whole mess to handle, Nate’s bloodied knuckles, Kane’s power trips, and Raven’s bruised neck. Now’s not the time to read Tacitus. Now is the worst possible time.

The worst possible time to read about violence, about victories, and battles, and blood. He knows battles now. They’re nothing like in his books.

One day, he sees Raven try to bully her way into the workshops, but one of the engineers blocks her way, and puts his hand on her arm. The touch makes her flinch, jump away like from something poisonous, and for a moment, Bellamy really wants to step in, and white knight her out of this fight as if it was his damned business; as if she didn’t have bruises from leather straps on her wrists and ankles matching the blood on his hands.

He still would step in, just to give himself something to do, but before he can do anything, Raven turns around, furious, and storms away on two wounded legs, and he’s left amazed, not exactly sure how she’s even standing.

He comes up to her in the evening, a mug of moonshine in his hand as a very Delinquent ice-breaker, but she throws it in his face.

***

12. (Lincoln)

It’s Raven’s idea to organize a fair, and Bellamy has his doubts at first, but when O agrees without a second’s hesitation, he makes himself stop and reconsider.

They’re sitting around a fire, together with twenty or so other people; whoever felt like coming, and could spare a few hours in the evening. It’s not a formal gathering, like the one they had a few weeks ago, when the Council from Camp Jaha politely asked if they wanted to move with them to Mount Weather, or else, but the talk is still lively, at least partly thanks to the bottle of Monty’s moonshine going in circle from person to person. Raven, Bellamy notices, skips more rounds than she drinks, but that’s not something anyone ever comments on.

“I’m not sure if we have enough to trade,” says Bellamy as he takes the bottle from Lincoln. “I mean, to trade like this. A fair sounds big.”

Lincoln raises his eyebrows.

“And we won’t have more unless we start trading,” he points out. “We can’t sit around and wait for odd travellers coming our way.”

Bellamy notices Sinclair nod from the other side of the fire, but it’s O who speaks up first.

“We need allies,” she says what everyone is thinking, and that ends the conversation. After what went down with Camp Jaha, they need allies even more desperately than they need food.

***

7. (Raven)

He knows this one, he realizes as soon as he picks the book up. He’s read “Wuthering Heights” for his English class on the Ark, and he even remembers some of the things his teacher said about it: unreliable narrators and Gothic doubles, and even some stuff about nature versus nurture, not that it made much sense for him when he was fifteen.

Still, he starts reading before he can even make a conscious decision about it, and he’s about a hundred pages in by the time Raven shows up.

“Where did you get this?” he asks as soon as he hears her heavy, pained steps, and hearing excitement in his own voice brings him up short. When was the last time he spoke like this about anything?

Raven sits beside him on the bed without a word, and starts rubbing her leg around the scar from the drill, clearly more focused on her injury than on his question, and the silence goes on for so long that Bellamy starts thinking she’d ignore him completely. Still, he waits.

“The scavengers brought it together with other things, and when we were leaving camp, I thought… Look, I didn’t want to leave those assholes anything, okay? So I took it.”

“I see,” he says cautiously. “Can’t say I blame you.”

“Your sister said you like to read,” she mutters, her gaze still fixed on her leg.

It’s a gift if Bellamy ever saw any, something you’d do for a friend or an ally, and so even though it’s not night yet, and technically he isn’t allowed, he still leans towards Raven, puts his hand lightly on her arm, and places a quick kiss on her temple.

To his surprise, Raven closes the distance between them as soon as he pulls back, and rests her cheek on his shoulder.

***

9. (Bellamy)

A few weeks ago, Raven made him a solid box to keep the two books he owns, because apparently they’re at a gift-giving stage of their relationship; a reading lamp for new brace padding for a box. So the mysterious third book joins the other two without comment, but even though they don’t talk about it, Bellamy can feel the tension it’s causing.

Technically, they never move past what they established wordlessly all those months ago, when Raven moved into his tent: days spent talking, working, and staying out of each other’s way, and nights under a shared blanket, platonic and strangely comforting. But somewhere between brutal winds and snows of their first winter on the ground, they both lost some of their sharp edges, and things are easier now, as if cold and starvation stripped them off their anger until what was left was stubbornness, hope, and insatiable hunger for any kind of warmth.

So it’s hard not to notice, now that they’re so close, that Raven keeps eyeing the books much more often than she used to, as if daring herself to pick them up. But when Bellamy asks her about it, all he gets is a hostile look and the kind of non-answer that tells him that this has something to do with Raven’s past on the Ark.

Weeks pass, and between heavy spring rains and more and more desperate hunts for food, it’s hard to keep thinking about something as small as a foreign book, so eventually, Bellamy lets go. He knows by now that there is no way in hell that will make Raven talk about something she doesn’t want to talk about. Especially now that she’s so busy.

As soon as snow melts and ice breaks, travellers start showing up in their camp, shabby as it is; Grounders from different villages, two or three at a time, looking for shelter on their way from place to place, with bags full of things for trade. So Raven now spends her evenings making things she can barter with, small batteries or torches, and as long as the traders speak at least a few words of English, everything goes very smoothly.

Of course sometimes, they don’t.

This particular pair shows up when it’s already warm enough for Bellamy to sharpen knives outside, Raven strangely tense as she tinkers beside him, and he doesn’t really pay attention to the latest guests, focused on his work, until he hears Harper’s exasperated groan.

“What is it?” he calls out. “Do you need a hand?”

“No. I give up. I have no idea how to talk to them.”

Before Bellamy can come up with an answer, Raven puts down her screwdriver, and takes a deep breath. The string of syllables that comes out of her mouth sounds strange, stiff and annoyed, and completely incomprehensible, but it makes the Grounders laugh in delight.

Joder, niña, hablás como una 'buelita," the woman says slowly, and Bellamy sees Raven’s frown deepen. “Pero quizá tenga algo pa' vos.”[1]

***

15. (Monroe)

Technically, the fifth book isn’t Bellamy’s, but Monroe’s.

She comes to him a week or two after giving birth to Tim, tired and impatient in a usual Monroe way, and extends the small volume to him before he can as much as say hello.

“Our roof is leaking, and we’re trying to get this shit under control,” she announces. “I traded for this one during the last fair, but Tim’s too small anyway. I know you have a box for books, so keep it dry for me, okay?”

It’s the prettiest book Bellamy’s ever had his hands on; one of those mythical children’s books everyone’s heard of, but no one’s actually seen. The cover is in shreds, but the title page has “Winnie the Pooh” written on it in big, bold letters, with a small, yellow creature holding a jar drawn underneath as an afterthought.

“Oh come on,” says Monroe when he doesn’t respond immediately. “It won’t take up much space. You’ll give it back when Tim’s old enough to teach him to read.”

Only now, Bellamy nods and pockets the book, his smile suddenly wide despite Monroe’s annoyed expression. After three years on the ground, they’re safe and rich enough to worry about things like keeping books away from leaking roofs. It’s a surprisingly nice thought to have.

“Hey, Bellamy,” Monroe calls out when she’s at her door. “You can read it in the meantime. It’s fine, I won’t tell.”

She’s loud enough for half the village to hear.

***

13. (Lincoln)

“We need a name,” Raven tells him the next morning. “If we want to throw a fair, we can’t just keep calling this place ‘the village’. We have to have a proper name.”

Well, she isn’t wrong.

It’s been like this for over two years now, Camp Jaha and the village, except Camp Jaha is gone now, split between those who joined the Delinquents in their village, and the group that went to live in Mount Weather with the Council. It was quite a feud they had about this, Kane determined to bring all the Arkers back together, and Raven fighting tooth and claw to stay in the homes she built. It looked for a moment like they’d get cut off completely from everything, even trade, and since Camp Jaha has been making meds in Mount Weather from day one, things got really scary for a time. Raven won this one for them, her deal with Sinclair resulting in bringing so many skilled people into the village the Council wasn’t left with much governing to do. It was a brilliant solution, clean and bloodless, and it left Bellamy staring at Raven with silent awe, please remind me to never ever cross you, you’d make a terrifying enemy.

If they spent very little time sleeping the night following the deal, it’s only partly his fault.

Now it seems only fair that Raven would be the one to name the village, but before she can make up her mind, a wooden sign with “Aventine” spelled across it in letters strangely resembling Octavia’s appears by the gate.

“Care to explain?” ask Raven when they first see it. She’s trying to sound stern, but she can’t help the corners of her mouth riding up every time she looks at the sign.

He’d love to, he really would. But he’s laughing too hard.

***

4. (Nate)

Raven stumbles into Bellamy’s tent a few days after that, her mouth set, and throws an empty backpack on his cot.

“We’re leaving at dawn,” she announces without as much as a hello. “I’m not staying in this camp for a minute longer.”

Bellamy’s eyes go wide as he looks from Raven to the backpack and back to Raven. He wants to ask her if she’s joking, but then he thinks again.

“What, the two of us?” he asks, bewildered.

“And whoever wants to come. Oh, come on. Like you don’t know everyone will follow you when you step out. Our people, they’ll follow you.”

He wants to ask her why, wants to sit her down and demand explanations, but he licks his lips absently before he speaks, and hisses when his tongue slides over his split lip, get back in line, cadet Blake, and that’s when he realizes that this is exactly where Raven’s gaze keeps darting as she waits for him to make up his mind.

It’s not worth it, kicking up a fuss over a split lip. But they both know that this is about so much more than just a split lip.

“I’ll talk to Nate and Monty if you go to Monroe,” he says quietly. “And thanks for the backpack.”

Raven nods and leaves, her crutches making a funny wet sound in the mud, and Bellamy stops and tosses his unread Tacitus into the backpack before he catches up with her. Somehow, it feels important that he doesn’t forget.

***

10. (Bellamy)

He can hear Raven's steps in the mud long before she actually enters the tent. In her hand, he notices as she eases herself on one of the two stools they now own, there is a piece of paper with a jumble of words, some familiar, some gibberish, strange letters standing out like a sore thumb.

"She explained how to build huts," she says before he can utter as much as a sound. "Look at this. Mud, water, wood... It's a pain in the ass, but we could have something here. An actual village."

He steps behind her to look, his hands resting on her shoulders with easy affection he doesn't try to stop himself from anymore, but freezes when Raven tenses under his touch.

"Was that Spanish?" he asks quietly. "Like that book I found?"

Raven shrugs.

"Something I learned from my mom."

***

14. (Lincoln)

"Here," says Lincoln as he extends a small package to Bellamy. "It's for your collection."

Bellamy is confused for a second, and it doesn't help that after a full day of smiling, bargaining and shaking hands he feels more than ready to fall on his bed, and sleep for two days.

"Come on, it's a gift," says Lincoln with a smile. "For the fair."

Because apparently fair-related gift-giving it's a thing that's done. Bellamy makes a mental note to thank O for never mentioning this with as much as a word. For now, he thanks Lincoln before gently unwrapping the piece of cloth from around his gift.

"'Harry Potter'?" he asks, surprised. "I didn't think I'd ever see this again.”

Lincoln shrugs.

"You will. There are so many I'm surprised you haven't found one yet."

It's the last volume, and Bellamy palms it absently; flicks a few pages, and lets his gaze slide over the letters. He's used to reading books this way now, ink on paper rather than pixels on a screen, but it's still strange to see such a familiar book like this.

"I didn't think I'd ever want to read about tents again. And yet," he says as he pockets his gift carefully. "Thank you."

"Tents?” Lincoln raises his eyebrows for a moment before he remembers. “Oh, right, I know. When they’re looking for Horcruxes. I don't think we had this one when I was a kid. But there was an elder in the village who knew them all, and he told us the ones we couldn't read. It’s a hell of a job. You’ll see in a few years."

He leaves without waiting for an answer, and Bellamy, eyes wide open, needs a minute before he can start collecting the day's trade.

"What is it?" asks Raven when she sees him freeze.

"I think I just got named the village librarian."

***

11. (Bellamy)

They're halfway through building the first hut when Raven props herself up on one elbow in bed at night, and kisses Bellamy on the lips. As far as kisses go, this one is gentle, and so chaste it seems almost shy, but she deepens it as soon as he cups her face to pull her closer.

It doesn't take a genius to predict what happens next. Raven is as hungry as Bellamy remembers, and every step she takes feels like a challenge he doesn't fully understand, but then she melts, his brave, brave girl, and melts so beautifully it leaves him quite breathless.

Afterwards, she kisses him until she's done licking her own taste off his lips, then lets him stroke her back lazily, his other hand light on her hip.

"It's about a family that lives in this weird town somewhere in South America," she says when he's almost asleep. "You know, this book you found. It starts with a guy and his two sons, but then it gets really confusing, because someone thought it would be a great idea to name every guy Aureliano or José Arcadio"

He isn't lucid enough to wonder when the hell she found enough time to read; just sinks into her story, and lets it lull him to sleep, aware that she's only doing this for his benefit. Raven isn't the kind to read for her own pleasure.

A healthy dose of magical realism gives him some weird dreams, but that's no reason to complain.

***

19. (Octavia)

It takes him full two weeks to finish “Hopscotch”, but it feels much longer with the way his thoughts keep going back and forth, repeating and drawing each other out like faulty stitches, pull at one, and others give way one after another until the whole seam unravels.

Raven teases him mercilessly for being such a nerd when he doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands once the book is finished, but there is no real sting in her jabs, and Bellamy ends up joining her in her laughter. It’s not the worst thing in the world, Raven laughing.

Still, as days go by, he keeps eyeing his box of books like it’s hiding some unfinished business, until one evening he finally takes a deep breath, and reaches for his unread Tacitus.

He’s a bit wary when he opens the book, as if he expected blood and guilt to flood him from the pages, but life, he knows by now, is never quite as dramatic as he imagines it to be. Tacitus, for him, is familiar as much as it is brand new, and he dives into it head first, devouring stories the way he used to when he was a child, even though he knows that if he doesn’t pace himself, he’ll be out of books again in no time at all. It doesn’t really matter at this point. He knows he won’t be left hungry forever, and as he reads, he shakes his head a bit at the memory of how he couldn’t bring himself to open this five years ago.

He knows battles now, yes. But Tacitus? Eh. It’s just a book of stories.