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I Choose You

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Clarke nods politely at the man in front of her, only ten percent listening to his babble and ninety percent looking for a way out. He’s just as exhausting and the rest of them, and as luck would have it, this is the best society has to offer.

Well, society’s definition of best is decidedly different from hers.

Glimpsing one of the side doors unoccupied, she sees her chance. She waves excitedly into the distance as if she’s just seen an old friend, apologizing to her companion as she excuses herself. Winding between countless party guests, she keeps the polite smile plastered on her face until she’s almost to the door. Freedom is so close she can almost taste it—

“Miss Griffin?”

So close, and yet so far.

With a sigh, Clarke turns. A tall young man stands in front of her, hands clasped before him. There’s no doubt he is yet another potential suitor. She knows it’s in her best interests to hear him out. But the weight of her situation feels oppressive, and suddenly she has no patience for anything in this room.

“Are you going to be next one to insist you don’t want me for my money?” She says tiredly.

He blinks, dark lashes sweeping his cheek. “I—sorry?”

“The last four men have been incredibly convincing that they don’t care about my family’s money, and if you’re the fifth, I really need to say something before you start. In fact, you can pass it around to your fellow comrades.”

A surprised grin pulls at his mouth, and though he hides it quickly, the amusement remains in the crinkled corners of his eyes.

Clarke continues, now on a roll. “Seeing as we just met, the only thing you know about me is my name and therefore the hard-earned fortune I’m attached to, so if you really, truly, don’t want my money, you’re either insulting my family or even more of a fake than the others.” She tilts her head, crossing her arms. “So which is it?”

Now the smile rises unbidden. “Are those the only two options?”

Clarke lasts a beat, then covers her mouth. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”

“Now who’s making assumptions?” He asks, eyes glittering, and she laughs, surprised. He holds out a hand. “Bellamy Blake.”

She takes it, noting his warm grip, fingers reassuring without testing, before he pulls away and leaves her hand cold. Bellamy quietly assesses the others in the room, who pretend not to watch them, then glances behind her, understanding in a hurry.

“I’m sorry. You were trying to leave, weren’t you?”

“Just for a walk. Clearing my head and all. But it’s fine, really—”

He holds up a hand. “How about this—I’ll accompany you on your walk, and maybe during that time you’ll hear me out? And if by the time we’re back you want to stop talking, I’ll be on my way.”

Clarke studies him, curious. “You really don’t mind?”

“Do I look comfortable here?” He asks wryly.

Now that he says it, she realizes he doesn’t. He’s been fidgeting throughout their conversation, his coat hangs baggy instead of neatly tailored, he’s wearing a pair of workboots that have been shined to look new, and a patch of dirt peeks out from under his collar.

He doesn’t fit in here at all, and for that Clarke already likes him more than anyone else she’s met tonight.

So she eases the door open and gestures for him to follow, and they step out into the garden behind her house. She takes deep breaths, the open air comforting after all the closed walls. Bellamy keeps a respectable distance, hands in his pockets.

“So,” she says finally, “tell me your story, Mr. Blake.”

He swallows and scratches his neck, another sign of nervousness. “It’s just Bellamy. Look, I appreciate you hearing me out, but if at any point you feel like laughing at me, just please say so and I’ll stop, alright? I’m not— this isn’t just a game to me.”

He’s so serious that she stops and puts a hand on his arm, waiting until his dark eyes meet hers. “I won’t laugh at you, Bellamy.”

After a moment, he nods and they continue on. “I’m a farmer. I live outside of town, about a half hour on horseback. Close enough to to do business, but not to get caught up in the rest. I do well enough, and you’d never be without food or a bed or a home, not while I’m around.”

The words are sincere, and clearly rehearsed a little, and they bring a smile to her face.

“Your money is yours to do as you will. But—I won’t lie. It would really help my sister’s standing, if she had more of a dowry.”

“Sister?” Clarke inquires.

“Oh, I should have mentioned that first.” He rakes a hand through his hair. “Her name is Octavia. She’s a year younger than you. She—she lives with me, for now. She’s, well, she’s almost engaged. But the farm only brings me so much income, and—like I said, it’s enough to live on, but not much else. His family isn’t content with it.” Bellamy sighs, shoulders hunching. “He says he’ll marry her anyways, but—I know she hates it. Being part of the gossip, not having a proper wedding. I want to be able to do that for her, at least.”

Clarke is already intrigued by him. “She helps you on the farm?”

“Yes. My mom taught me everything, and after she was gone, I taught Octavia.”

She takes his hand without thinking. His fingers flex in surprise, but he doesn’t pull away.

“I wouldn’t expect you to work,” he adds, though his voice clearly says he’d prefer some sort of effort. In any case, Clarke would never have let him do it all alone.

“Nonsense. I’m a quick study. You’d teach me,” she says confidently. Approval shines in his eyes, though he only nods as if acquiescing to her approach.

As they turn back to the house, she watches him openly. “I have a few questions.”

“I’m sure.” Bellamy inclines his head, waiting.

“Why me? Of all the people, why pick me to make your case to?”

His smile is a bit crooked when he looks up. “Every time I pick up the paper, I see the section about the latest high class party or event. But... you’re nowhere near all that, and when you are, you look pretty bored.”

Clarke laughs. “Fair.”

“Where I do see you,” he continues, “is at the schoolhouse with the kids, covered in paints. At the hospital, sitting with strangers. At the fountain, reading to those who can’t.” His voice is gentle, and filled with respect, and that—that might take getting used to.

She releases his hand, only to loop her arm through his as they head back into the main room. “Then why show up now? Why not right at the beginning, with all the others?”

“Your mom set the deadline for next week, right? Your birthday?”

Clarke rolls her eyes, but nods.

“I thought you were owed your shot at finding someone. Didn’t want you just doing something out of pity.” A few seconds pass, and then: “Honestly I didn’t think you’d still be around this long.”

She barks out a sad laugh. “Neither did my mom. She’s spending all her time trying to repair my reputation. Trying to make me seen as something other than ‘damaged goods’.”

Bellamy’s eyes narrow. “Anyone who calls you that is an idiot.” There’s more anger behind it than she expected, and it makes her squeeze his arm.

“Well I’m glad you’re not one of them,” she says lightly. Steering them well away from the center of the room, she lingers instead near a back wall after picking up two drinks. She sips her wine slowly, seeing with some satisfaction that the other guests are staying well away. When she turns back to Bellamy, she finds him studying her just as closely.

“Go ahead, I know you want to ask.” Clarke takes a long sip, waiting, but still Bellamy fidgets on the spot, courtesy and curiosity warring on his face. She smiles. “It’s okay, really. I don’t mind talking about Lexa. Not to you, at least.”

She says the name on purpose, knowing he won’t be able to hold back, and he doesn’t. “Lexa?” He asks. “The papers said Lex.”

“Mom’s doing,” she answers dryly. “Didn’t want that particular detail being public knowledge.”

“Oh—oh. Wow.” He swallows, and she lets him come to terms with it on his own. If he has a problem with it he can leave. But he only looks contemplative, not judgmental. Eventually he asks, “She was a soldier though, right? How...?”

Clarke nods. “Not from around here. There are some regions… well, they’re being quiet about it, but as long as women don’t publicize it too much and can ‘keep up’ “ she rolls her eyes, “they’re allowed to be part of a regiment. That was why she always had the uniform—”

“Down to the hat,” he muses, almost to himself. Then, surprising her, he grins. “My sister would love that story.”

Clarke grins back. “One day maybe I’ll tell her myself,” she says.

Bellamy clinks his glass against hers. “Deal.”

Standing there with him, she realizes she hasn’t felt this comfortable in another’s company in a long time. It’s refreshing, and also very telling. She makes an impulsive decision.

“So when can I come see your farm?” She asks.

“Whenever you’d like.”

“How about now?”

Bellamy arches an eyebrow at her outfit, then the splendor around them. “Now,” he repeats.

“Yes.” She folds her arms. “Unless you have something else you’d rather be doing.”

His mouth quirks. “No. But it’s quite the walk. Are you up for that, in…all this?” He gestures to her general state.

Clarke thinks fast. “We can take a horse from the stables. My horse,” she adds quickly, seeing the frown on his face. “I’m going to bring her anyways if we marry. May as well introduce you two now.”

He considers this, all the while eyeing the others in the room. “You really want to leave?” He asks.

She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

With a smile, Bellamy holds out his hand, and she takes it.

~~~~~~~~

In the stables, he watches with great amusement as she kicks off her fancy heels and removes the outermost layer of her dress.

“Done this before?” He asks casually.

“Only twice,” she grins back.

Yanking on her boots, she gets a few things and then leads him down the row of stalls. Bellamy halts a few paces away, more respectful than fearful. A chestnut head pokes out, whinnying softly.

“Hello dearest,” Clarke lays her hand flat against the mare’s side, smiling when she buts against her cheek. She holds out an apple, murmuring softly while her friend eats. Turning, she finds Bellamy still standing where she left him.

“This is Kyla.” She strokes her side, beckoning him closer. “Kyla, this is my new friend Bellamy.”

He approaches slowly, coming to stand in front of them with open awe. “What a beauty.”

“She knows it too,” Clarke says dryly, prompting a chuckle from him.

Like her, Bellamy speaks in hushed whispers, then opens his hand to reveal a few sugar cubes. At Clarke’s curious look, he shrugs. “Farmer, remember? I’ve got two of my own.” Kyla nudges his palm, sniffs, then scoops the treat up in a flash. She snorts a few times before inclining her head.

Clarke smiles. “She likes you.”

His mouth curls. “So I passed the test, then?”

She flushes and looks away, fiddling with the saddle. “Kyla’s a better judge of character than I am,” she mutters.

“I doubt that. You’re just more trusting, that’s all. It’s not a bad thing.”

She smiles, then says, “I have a change of clothes in the stall. Don’t look, or Kyla will kick you.”

Dutifully, he turns his back. She ducks behind Kyla, whispering to keep her still while she retrieves her bundle. It’s a simple green dress, the skirts divided for riding — like all the other dresses she had made when her mom wasn’t around. Glancing over her shoulder once, she smiles at the tiniest piece of hay sticking out of Bellamy’s dark head of hair. She leaves her stockings on but divests herself of all the other useless layers, sighing when she’s back in just her dress and boots.

“It’s safe now.”

Bellamy turns, then does a double-take. His gaze sweeps over her in an entirely different manner than earlier, warm and… interested? Clarke gulps and tightens the saddle straps, wishing her red face probably wasn’t giving her away. She leads them out of the stables into the cool evening air.

“Kyla won’t let you hold the reins, so you’ll have to sit behind me,” she says to distract herself.

“I assumed as much.” Bellamy comes up behind her. “I probably shouldn’t ask, but do you need a boost?”

Clarke smiles over her shoulder. “You’re right, you don’t need to ask. But thanks.” She sticks her boot in the foothold, then swings herself up with practiced ease. Bellamy waits until she’s settled Kyla before pulling himself up behind her, and—oh.

Well. That’s distracting.

Bellamy’s mouth at her ear makes her shiver and jump all at once, and Kyla shifts, restless. Clarke murmurs an apology, soothing her friend. When she tries to twist to see Bellamy, a gust of wind lashes her hair right into his face, and she realizes the problem.

“Sorry, um—”

“Do you have a hairtie?” He asks, louder.

Wordlessly, she pulls the band off her wrist and gives it to him. He gathers her hair gently, combing his fingers through the strands before looping it all into a ponytail. “Okay?” He asks.

Clarke nods, lifting the reins. “You should—uh, hold on,” she winces inwardly at her awkwardness. What is wrong with her?

But Bellamy only nods against her shoulder, tightening his arms around her waist, and then they’re off.

~~~~~~~~

“I still can’t believe you walked that whole way!” Clarke laughs.

Bellamy shrugs, grinning. “I like to walk. It’s peaceful.”

“No, I believe that. I just meant, with the heat, and your suit…”

“Oh. Yeah,” he rubs his neck sheepishly. “Definitely had some impressive sweat stains on that shirt.”

”Bell,” Octavia groans from the stove. “Don’t talk about sweat stains. This could be your future wife.”

“Well as my future wife she’d probably have to get used to it. Farm work isn’t exactly attractive.” He glances at Clarke. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

She grins and takes another sip of water. She’s seated at the little table in the Blakes’ kitchen, since Octavia had insisted on some tea and Bellamy just looked so hopeful that she hadn’t been able to say no.

Not that she particularly wanted to say no.

In fact, Clarke hasn’t had much of a negative thought in the past hour. The ride over was quiet, only broken by Bellamy occasionally giving directions. Other than that, it had been the two of them, quite literally stuck together in a strange but not unwelcome silence. Clarke had never ridden with someone else until now—she’s pretty sure she’ll never be able to again without thinking about him. She’s… a fan, to put it mildly.

The farm, when it came into view, had taken her breath away for a moment. The house sat by itself, a two story home with bright blue shutters and a front porch that was begging to be used. It was sandwiched by a small but fully cultivated field on one side and a stable on the other. The whole setting was modest and quiet and unfussy—much like its owner.

Bellamy was quick to point out the things he hoped to improve over time. Extending the barn to make room for extra animals, a better watering system for the crops, the possibility of one day having enough horses to maybe teach kids to ride. He spoke so wistfully about the latter that she wondered how long it’d been his dream.

Then Octavia had come bouncing outside, brown hair swinging behind her in a ponytail, already chastising Bellamy for being back too soon before catching sight of Clarke and stopping abruptly. Her eyes widened to saucers, mouth opening and closing for a long minute.

Before Clarke knew it, she was on a “grand tour” of the whole place from top to bottom. Bellamy joined them, but only after feeding Kyla—a fact that did not go unnoticed by her.

And now she’s here, joking about being someone’s wife without the immediate panic attack that usually follows.

Bellamy pushes off the counter where he’s been leaning, coming to sit across from her. He’s since gotten rid of the jacket—borrowed from a friend, she learned— his shirt untucked and sleeves rolled to his elbows. He fits right in here, and the way her heart does a small flip makes her wonder if she could, too.

“So Clarke,” Octavia asks cheerily, “how much say does your mom have in the marriage?”

“O, let her be—” Bellamy begins.

Clarke reaches out to cover his hand with her own before she even realizes it—the second time she’s done so tonight.

“It’s fine. Really. I don’t mind at all.” She waits until he relaxes, nodding. To Octavia, she says, “If I find someone by Sunday—my birthday—she won’t object. That was the agreement.”

Octavia frowns as she sets three mugs on the table. “What’s with the timeline?”

“She’s selling the house at the end of the month and moving north. But I didn’t want to go. This town is my home, you know? I grew up here. And so did my dad. Even thinking about leaving, it's like..." It's like leaving him behind. "I just knew I couldn't.” She shrugs, taking a sip of tea. “So we made a deal.”

“That's a shame.” Octavia pats her arm, sitting beside her. “Why's your mom so ready to go?”

Clarke pauses, stirring some sugar into her cup. Eventually she says, “It’s been years since dad died. She met someone. He’s—he’s good to her. Treats her well. But he’s a trader, never stays in one place for long. So he asked her to come with him.”

She doesn’t realize she’s still holding Bellamy’s hand until his fingers wrap tightly around hers. Smiling, she sits back in her chair, fixing her gaze on Octavia.

“So, tell me about this Lincoln fellow.”

~~~~~~~

It’s dark when Clarke Griffin finally leaves his house.

Bellamy insists on accompanying her at least part way, unwilling to leave her on open road alone. She tries to argue, tries to insist it’s unnecessary for him to retread his steps. But he’s unmoved on this. She’s already come all this way despite having no reason to do so—the least he can do is remember his manners.

“Pick your battles Clarke,” Octavia laughs, giving her a hug.

Clarke just smiles and shakes her head, but doesn’t protest when he follows her out. He’s still sort of stunned that she’s here at all, in his home, chatting with his sister like it’s just another night. He’d gone to her party with the assumption it would be a longshot, that he’d either get laughed at or politely denied at best, and that would be that.

And then—and then.

She’d not only given him a chance to speak, but she’d listened, and with more empathy than he’d expected. As if she was actually considering his offer. When she suggested leaving, he’d thought she was joking. But then she’d changed her clothes and saddled up her mare, and he found himself daring to do the one thing he’d promised himself he wouldn’t: hope.

Now, she readies Kyla while looking around at the rest of the barn with interest. He tries to apologize for Octavia’s questioning, but she shushes him instantly.

“She’s your family. Of course she wants to know the person you’re marrying.” The phrasing makes his heart leap. “Octavia’s just looking out for you.” Clarke smiles. “I would do the same.”

When he leads his own copper stallion out of his stall, Clarke stops and gapes for a full two minutes. Bellamy feels a surge of pride. Smiling slightly, he hands her a sugar cube.

“His name’s Eli. Go on. He’s friendly.”

Inching closer, she offers her treat, awestruck. Eli noses her hand before gobbling up the cube, then takes a step forward with a snort. Bellamy laughs. “He wants to know if you have more. Greedy.”

“He’s beautiful,” she whispers. “I want to paint him.” At his curious glance, she explains, “My dad was the artist. I’m just trying to follow.”

He smiles. “More than trying, I’m sure.”

She beams and sets her foot in the stirrup, pulling herself up with ease. He doesn’t realize he’s been staring for too long until her cheeks pinken, laughter in her eyes. Inwardly cursing, he hurries to Eli, and they head off.

They’re each lost in their thoughts as they ride back. It’s a comfortable silence, and Bellamy is reluctant to break it with any questions, so he doesn’t. Eventually, Clarke reins in and looks over.

“This is far enough. We can get back from here on our own.”

“You’re sure?” He asks. “I really don’t mind—”

“I’m sure,” she says firmly.

Bellamy nods, but lingers anyways. “Listen, Clarke. Thank you, for hearing me out tonight, for meeting my sister. I… it meant a lot. To both of us. Even if you decide that you don’t want to—”

He jerks to the side unexpectedly as Clarke grabs Eli’s reins and pulls him closer. Then she claps her hand over his mouth.

“You’re a fool if you think I came all this way just to back out now, Bellamy Blake,” she says sternly.

His heart soars. Grinning, he pries her hand from his mouth and holds it between both of his. “Then I guess I should at least ask you properly.”

“Please don’t get on one knee,” she says, and he laughs loudly.

“I knew I picked you for a reason."

“So romantic. Can I have my hand back now?”

“In a second.” He strokes her palm, carefully following the path of each lifeline from start to finish. Her fingers flex a little, but she doesn’t pull away. When he gets to her wrist, her pulse races under his touch. Clarke’s lips are parted, no sound emerging. He smiles. “Clarke Griffin, I have to admit you've surprised me in more ways than one tonight. But I would gladly be your husband, if you’ll have me.”

“That’s not a question,” she jokes, but her voice wavers.

“Will you have me?”

Clarke’s fingers curl around his. “I will.”

Bellamy holds her hand a bit longer than he should, finally releasing it reluctantly. “You sure you’re alright getting back?”

”Yes. Are you going to nag me this much when we’re married?” She glares, making him grin again. “It’s barely ten minutes from here. Trust me. Kyla and I have done this before, remember?” She gives Eli a light pat on the bum. “Go back to your sister, Bellamy. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you soon, Clarke.”

Clarke keeps her word. They have a quiet, small ceremony in the town hall just a few days later. Her mom and his sister serve as witnesses as they repeat the vows and exchange rings, and just like that, it’s done.

He’s a husband now.

~~~~~~~

There aren’t a lot of things Clarke is attached to, but the few items that do hold precious memories get packed in her lone suitcase. Her dad’s art supplies take up most of the space, tucked between her clothes with care. Bellamy waits outside while she and her mom attempt to say goodbye. They’ve never been very good at it.

Eventually Clarke just grabs her in a tight hug and tells her to visit, and not to forget her glasses because the spare pair broke and she won’t be able to read the paper otherwise. Then she hands Bellamy her suitcase, and after adding a couple extra items to the wagon at her mom’s request, they’re off.

Standing in the Blakes’ kitchen once more, Clarke glances sheepishly at her new husband. “I guess I should have mentioned I’m kind of useless with cooking.”

Laughter shines in his eyes, but he only shrugs. “O and I won’t win any prizes, but we manage. It’ll be fine.”

“Here, come on,” Octavia tugs at her arm. “I’ll get you started. There are some simple recipes that Bell used to follow when I was little, trust me, you can’t screw those up—”

“You’d be surprised,” Clarke says dryly, and this time Bellamy does chuckle.

But Octavia is not to be deterred, and so Clarke spends the rest of the time with her new sister-in-law, who’s more than eager to share stories about her big brother. How patiently he taught her to mend the rips in her clothing because they couldn’t always afford to buy new ones. (“Both our fingers were bloody for days.”) How nervous he used to get when she wanted to ride Eli, and eventually her own mare Gemma. The way he stayed up with her when she was sick, always promising her the next day would be better.

“And I believed him,” Octavia grins fondly. “Big brother always fixed everything. Still does.”

That night, Clarke enters Bellamy’s bedroom — their bedroom — to find him with an armful of pillows and blankets. She stops and does a double take.

“Are those for me?”

“What? No!” He almost looks affronted at the thought. “I—I just thought— I’ll sleep downstairs. You can have the bed.”

Confused, Clarke stares. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, nothing like that. I just assumed… well, we just met six days ago.”

Her face feels aflame, but his ears are red too, so she presses on. “And that means we can’t share a bed? Bellamy, I agreed to be your wife. That doesn’t come with an expiry, you know.” She moves forward hesitantly. “Are you planning to sleep in a separate room for the entirety of our marriage?”

“You’re the one doing me a favor. I’d do anything you asked.” He’s so genuine that she wants to gather him into her arms.

“Bellamy.” She finally reaches him, tugs the pillow from his hand and throws it on the bed, followed by the blankets. “I chose you for a reason. We’re both indebted to each other. And, we’re both nearly adults. I’m sure we can manage sharing a bed. We are sharing a life now, after all.”

Bellamy’s shoulders droop, and he smiles, looking rather relieved. “I guess we are, aren’t we.”

Clarke nods, taking his hand for a moment. He squeezes back, then exhales. “Okay. Well, I guess—just let me know if there’s anything you need. And, uh, if you need more space or anything—”

“You’ll be the first one I yell at,” she promises. “Please, stop worrying so much.”

He grins crookedly. “Easier said than done.”

After she washes up and puts on her nightgown, she re-enters to find Bellamy already on one side of the bed, as close to the edge as he can get. His eyes stay on her long enough that she flushes, and then they dart to the ceiling until she’s under the covers.

“You good?” He asks.

“I’m good.”

He leans over and switches off the lamp, and the room is bathed in darkness. Clarke stiffens for a moment despite herself. She can feel Bellamy shift next to her, knows he feels her discomfort. She tries to force her limbs to relax, but her eyes aren’t adjusting quickly, and suddenly she’s just too aware that she’s in a strange house, in a strange bed, with a stranger.

Without a word, Bellamy stands and strides to the window, pulling aside the curtains so the moonlight can stream in. He does the same to the second window before returning to the bed. Clarke sighs a little as the room is illuminated again. It’s just Bellamy next to her, and he looks as nervous as she does.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

“You’re welcome.”

It’s still a while before either of them drift off, but it happens. Clarke wakes up a few times, each time reliving the shock of feeling another body so close to hers. But then she hears Bellamy’s soft snores and, odd as it is, they lull her back to sleep.

She soon finds that he wakes with the dawn—literally. He seems amused at her wordless protests as she pulls the covers further over her head. Little does he know that she peeks between her fingers while he’s padding around only half-dressed and getting ready. She doesn’t really sleep much after that.

~~~~~~~~~

Bellamy wonders if he’s just imaging the feel of Clarke’s eyes on his back as he looks for a clean shirt, but when he turns around she’s still completely under the covers, no hint that she’s moved at all since he woke. He can’t help but grin at the sight of her. So stiff and uncertain last night, and now—she’s all tangled in the blankets, apparently comfy.

Part of him wants to get in beside her again, nose under the covers to give her a good morning kiss. She’s adorable like this, all sleepy and unguarded, and it makes his own inhibitions lower as well.

He stands there for longer than he should, lost in the thought, before shaking his head and heading downstairs. Aside from the regular morning work—feeding the horses, checking on the crops—there’s one other thing Bellamy’s hoping to accomplish today, and he really hopes Miller will come through.

Clarke finds him in the kitchen, finishing a cup of coffee before he saddles up Eli. She smiles hesitantly, pulling her sweater closer around her nightgown against the morning chill.

“Good morning.”

“Hey.” He pulls out an extra mug for her. “Sleep okay?”

“Really well, actually.” She sounds kind of surprised. Not that he blames her. “Sorry I didn’t wake up on time to help you,” she says.

“What?”

“I told you I’d help, with the farm and everything. That wasn’t just talk, you know. I like being busy.” Clarke props a hand on her hip, already daring him to challenge her.

Bellamy smiles. “I know it wasn’t. I just didn’t want to throw everything at you at once. Yesterday was pretty eventful.” He leans against the counter as she stirs milk into her coffee. “I’m usually the first one up. There’s no need for two people that early in the morning. O will be awake soon, and she’ll show you some of the stuff she helps me out with during the day.”

“You’re not going to be here?” Clarke questions.

“I have a quick errand to run in town,” he explains. “But I’ll be back by lunch, and then Octavia and I can give you the rundown. That sound good?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” She smiles faintly.

“Feel free to poke around all you want,” he adds, seeing her eyes wander around the kitchen. “This is your house now, too.”

Her smile is stronger this time.

In the doorway, he pauses, then takes her hand for a moment. “By the way, uh, happy birthday, Clarke.”

She stares up at him, her face brightening. “Thank you.”

~~~~~~~~

He makes it to town quickly, tying Eli up to a post and giving him some food to munch on before rounding the bakery to the house that sits in the back. Miller opens the door as he hops up the steps.

“Hey. Always so punctual,” he grins.

Bellamy shakes his hand. “Are they still here?”

“Yeah, in the back. Monroe’s looking after them.”

They go around the side of the house, where a redhead sits next to a small pen. “Bellamy!” She greets him with a half hug as he crouches beside her.

“Wow.” He looks at the mass of wriggling little bodies next to their mother. “You weren’t kidding when you said she had a litter.”

“I know! Even I can’t believe it. No wonder their mama’s exhausted.” Monroe reaches out to pet the big black labrador stretched out beside her babies.

One of the little pups, apparently having fed enough, wanders to the edge of the pen and licks Bellamy’s fingers. Chuckling, he scoops him out, cradling him close to his chest. He squirms, then finds a comfy position and promptly curls up for a nap.

“Guess you found your new buddy,” Miller grins.

“Yeah.” He strokes the little head gently. “You think Clarke will like him, right? It’s not—weird, or something?”

Monroe pats his arm. “It’s not weird. She’ll be thrilled.”

“How’s that going, anyways?” Miller asks.

“It’s only been a day. I mean… I think it’s fine, I just—I don’t want it to just be tolerable, you know? I want—” Shrugging, he cuts off and just focuses on the little bundle in his hands.

Understanding, Monroe lets it go. “What’re you going to name him?”

“I’m not. I’ll let Clarke do that.” Standing, he gives them both a hug before promising to visit with Clarke soon.

He spends the next hour at the vet, and then runs to the market, picking up a few things at the vet’s suggestion. Finally, he’s settled back on Eli, his new little friend comfortably napping, and they begin the trek home.

~~~~~~~~~

Clarke has already followed Octavia around the farm twice, intently watching her complete tasks and trying to take mental notes for when it’s her turn. Octavia is cheery and easygoing, and they’re both pretty impatient, which makes it all more fun. Plus, it gives her the chance to hear more about Bellamy. She maybe enjoys learning about him a little too much, though she's content to do so through his sister for the moment. Until they both get comfortable enough to talk more.

She’s sitting on the porch with some tea when she sees Eli’s red form in the distance. Bellamy waves, heading into the stable, then emerges a few minutes later with a pack on his shoulder and something in his hand. Curious, Clarke meets him halfway.

Her eyes widen at sight of the small black puppy. She’s reaching out before she realizes it, grasping his sides and lifting him up to her face.

“Look at you,” she croons. “So handsome.” The pup blinks, then licks her nose. She laughs, glancing at Bellamy. He’s smiling. “Where did he come from?”

“A friend of mine, his dog had a litter a few weeks ago. They’re trying to find homes for all of them.” She’s only partly listening to him, distracted by giving the puppy little eskimo kisses, until he says, “He’s for you, you know.”

Clarke’s head snaps up. She gazes between him and the pup in disbelief. Bellamy smiles nervously. “Happy birthday. Do you like him?”

“Do I—” She puts a hand to her mouth, a strange joy twisting her heart, and then she lets it bubble up, laughing and wrapping her arms around Bellamy, puppy and all. He takes a step back, surprised, then returns her embrace with a small sigh.

Clarke lingers as long as she dares, then pulls away. “Thank you. Nobody’s ever—thank you.” Beaming, she pets her new friend as they start back towards the house. “So what’s his name?”

“I thought I’d leave that up to you.”

As soon as they enter the kitchen, Octavia bounces up to them. “Show me show me show meee,” she sings, and Clarke laughs.

“You knew about this?”

“Of course I did.” She winks. “I want one for myself, after all. Did you name him yet?”

“Nope. Clarke’s choice.” Bellamy smiles warmly.

Clarke smiles back, grasping his hand. It’s getting easier to do that without overthinking it. “How about Milo?”

The pup chooses that moment to bark, and they all laugh. “I think that settles it,” Octavia says.

In between welcoming their new addition to the family and learning the ins and outs of the farm, the day passes swiftly, and soon they’re all readying for bed. As she watches Bellamy push aside the curtains again before climbing under the covers, Clarke thinks maybe she might learn to love him more than she ever expected.

~~~~~~~~~

Bellamy wakes to a warm weight on his chest and a very slobbery tongue.

Chuckling, he pats Milo and shifts slowly, trying not to wake Clarke, until he sees her grinning beside him, propped on an elbow. “He woke me first. I think he’s hungry.”

“Sorry. I guess we’ll have to get him used to a schedule.”

“It’s fine.” Clarke sits and reaches out to scoop Milo into her arms, trading soft kisses. Bellamy lays there, unaware of the huge smile on his face until Clarke looks over her shoulder. “Thank you again,” she says shyly.

He sits, briefly resting his hand on her back. “Something else for us to share,” he says.

Her eyes light up as she remembers her words from the previous night. With a smile, he gets up. “There’s dog food in the bottom cabinet next to the sink. And I left his bowl on the floor under the window. The vet said not to overfeed him, but water is fine.”

“What counts as overfeeding?” Clarke looks sheepish. “I might not be able to resist his cute face.”

“Let’s keep it to two meals a day and see how he does. The vet wanted me to bring him back in about a month, see how he’s doing. You can come along, if you like.”

“I will, definitely.” Yawning, she climbs out of bed and sets Milo down. “Alright mister, let’s go see about breakfast.” She glances at Bellamy. “Will you eat now, or later?”

“Just coffee before I go out.”

There’s a full pot waiting for him when he comes downstairs. Clarke’s back is to him as she shuffles around the kitchen, humming softly. He leans against the wall for a second, content to just watch her. After setting a full bowl of water next to Milo, she settles down cross-legged next to him while he eats.

Then she sees Bellamy. “Hi. The coffee’s ready.”

“I saw. Thank you.”

It becomes the norm. Clarke wakes with him now, drowsily murmuring to Milo as she prepares his breakfast and then her own. There’s always a fresh pot of coffee waiting for Bellamy before he leaves and when he returns, and they take to sitting on the porch with their mugs for a few minutes before the day truly gets going.

It’s how Bellamy learns many things about his wife.

He learns that she’s a huge fan of oatmeal, and soon the aroma becomes part of his mornings, too. Along with citrus—Clarke loves oranges beyond anything, apparently. He starts bringing back extra for her, spending far too long at the market stall. Some mornings she’ll be content to sit quietly; other times she’ll read the paper with a tiny pinch in her brow that makes him grin. Every time she snorts, he glances up expectantly, and finally she lets loose her distaste of current politics, jabbing at an article now and then to prove her point. She’s downright cute when she gets mad, and he maybe figures out how to rile her up now and then with an offhand comment—just because he likes to.

At night, Clarke always sits on the porch chair with her feet curled under her, Milo’s tiny form half-asleep in her lap. She’s a tea person at night. Peppermint, chamomile, black—she’ll pretty much drink it all.

And, in a revelation that leaves him smiling like kind of a buffoon — Octavia’s word choice — it turns out Clarke is eager to learn about him, too.

At first, it starts with the farm. She’s a quick study, as she promised she would be. In the beginning it’s strange to have her hovering over his shoulder, blue eyes following his every move, but soon he starts to get used to it. She’s attentive and inquisitve, and an eager student. It’s been so long since he’s had to teach anyone, but it reminds him how much he enjoys it, how much he really loves this work and loves being able to share the knowledge. Her questions revolve around the daily chores, noting every detail big or small. He appreciates that—appreciates that she treats the work with as much respect as he does.

Clarke takes to the animals like a natural. They’re immediately soothed by her voice, that calm tone that always seems to emerge around them or with Milo. Even during mishaps — like when Kyla loses a shoe or the sheep get farther than usual — she manages to keep her head, and Bellamy admires that the most.

But it’s the moments when they’re alone, when she starts asking careful questions about him, that make his heart do a weird thing.

He treats her questions as seriously as he can, though it feels odd to speak about himself so much at first. But she’s persistent, too.

Lightly cajoling him while tending to the horses, pulling story after story from an all too eager Octavia, even occasionally teasing him while they’re cleaning up after dinner. The more comfortable she seems around him, the more his guard lowers as well.

One day they’re sitting on the porch when she picks up a swiftly-growing Milo and sets him on her lap. “I think a red collar is perfect for him, don’t you think? So handsome.”

“Red’s good,” he agrees. He loves watching her with Milo.

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue.” It’s a quick answer—Bellamy hopes she won’t notice why.

“What shade?” Clarke says, utterly serious.

He can’t help it—he laughs. “Are you taking notes or something?”

She blushes furiously and ducks her head, a shy smile gracing her features. “Sorry,” she laughs. “I just—I like learning things about you.”

That stops his laughter quick enough, and now all he can think about is how she would react if he told her how much he wants to kiss her; how hard it is to get out of bed every morning now that he wakes up to her wrapped around him; how much he thinks he might be starting to love her more than he ever imagined.

~~~~~~~~

After a particularly harsh rainstorm that rattles the windows and spooks the animals, Bellamy stomps into the house dripping water everywhere. As he heads upstairs, Milo shoots out from where he’s curled in a ball under the table, unwilling to be left behind. He’s stripping off layers one by one when Clarke enters their room, towel in hand.

“Thanks,” he says gratefully, dropping into a chair. He begins to rub his head slowly and ends up just spattering more water on the floor.

“Here,” she laughs, walking over. “Let me.”

She takes the towel and eases it over his hair, rubbing his scalp slowly and meticulously, occasionally scrunching his curls under her fingers. Bellamy makes a small contented noise and sinks a little lower in the chair, his head drooping back against her stomach. Smiling, Clarke drapes the towel over his shoulders, then kneads her thumbs into the knot at the base of his neck. A surprised groan escapes him.

“I knew you were in pain,” she scolds. “You’ve been moving funny since morning. Why didn’t you say something?”

“It wasn’t that bad earlier,” he mumbles. “Figured it would just go away.”

“Men,” she mutters under her breath, and Bellamy chuckles, tilting his face up to meet blue concern.

“It’s nice of you to worry.”

“Of course I worry. You’re m—” Clarke stops, biting her lip, then smiles. “You’re my husband.”

Somehow it doesn’t sound as scary now. He might even kind of like it.

Surprising them both, he raises a hand to gently trace the scrape on her jaw—a product of losing control of the heavy water hose last week. “This looks better.”

“That cream you got is really helping. And it doesn’t even hurt anymore.”

“Good. That’s good.”

Tentatively, her arms slide around his shoulders to link over his chest. It’s curiously intimate—in a good way. “Did you get the horses settled okay? I know Kyla gets pretty jumpy when it rains like this.”

“She’s alright,” he assures. “I think it helps to have Eli and the others nearby.”

Clarke smiles, a bit dreamy. “I always loved the rain,” she confides.

“Yeah?” Both their voices are soft, like any volume might break whatever spell’s come over this moment.

“Mhm. The way it drums over the roof, that rush, drowning out everything else. How everything just goes quiet for a bit, you know? It’s like nature telling us to slow down.”

“I never thought of it like that. I was just glad my crops were getting fed,” he grins.

She giggles, then leans a bit closer, making his heart unsteady. “Where’d you get this scar?” Her finger lightly traces the line by his eyebrow.

“Souvenir,” he manages, a bit shaky. “Lost control of Eli when I was younger.”

“I have a couple of those too,” she grins. “One here,” she taps the back of her left shoulder, “and one on my hip.”

God help him, he wants to see them up close.

The bang of the front door startles them both, making the chair scrape on the floor as he stands. Milo barks and rushes downstairs as Octavia’s voice drifts up, yelling about dinner.

They stand there a moment longer, like each isn’t sure what just happened. Clarke takes a few steps to the door, then turns back, uncertain, then repeats the little shuffle again. Finally she swallows and pokes her head into the stairwell.

“Be down in a minute!”

Bellamy’s heart beats out a frenzy as she closes the door behind her. Taking the towel from his hands, she gently presses on his shoulders until he sits again, not even aware of the movement. Then the towel is back in his hair, massaging his scalp and paying particular attention to the tension in his neck. Clarke’s voice drifts out, quiet but steady, and while she tells him another story about Kyla, he lets himself relax and marvel at just how lucky he is to call her his wife.

~~~~~~~~

They begin to take long walks at night. Sometimes it’ll be just them, wandering around the perimeter of the farm after dinner. Other times Milo will bound alongside. Now and then they even walk the distance to town, Clarke’s sensible boots strolling alongside his own, and Bellamy once again grins at how far they’ve come.

Sometimes he’ll accompany her to the square, sitting beside her while she reads to the kids who gather around. She begins asking him if he has any stories to share, occasionally nudging him to do so in front of their audience. It feels strange at first, but Clarke listens just as raptly as the others, always ready with an encouraging smile when he needs it, and it makes him straighten and tell the story much like his mom used to. Other days he’ll drop her at the hospital while finishing a few of his own errands, but they always return home together, Clarke eagerly sharing her latest tale of the day.

One such morning, the weather unexpectedly turns. Bellamy steps outside the house to see dark skies in the distance and his mood sours. It’s surprising, how forcefully the irritation hits. He’d been looking forward to this day trip all week without realizing it.

“Ugh.”

He turns to see Clarke standing on the porch behind him, hands on her hips and brow furrowed. Today the color of her dress matches her eyes, divided like all the others with boots laced to the knee.

“I guess we shouldn’t walk today,” she says. Is he imagining the glumness in her voice? He hopes not.

Pursing her lips, her expression turns determined. She looks at the barn, then the sky, then to him. A smile stretches his mouth. He knows that look already.

Clarke grins back. “Want to go for a ride?”

Kyla and Eli are more than willing to be freed for the morning, and soon they’re racing through the woods, Clarke’s shrieks echoing high into the air. Her eyes are alight with merriment, and something about the day leaves her breathless and giggling and much more talkative than usual. She has a sharp tongue, and Bellamy thinks maybe that he laughs more today than he ever has.

They make it back to the farm just as the rain starts, big fat drops that begin to pelt them even as they run inside the house. The kettle whistles as he comes downstairs, Clarke already humming as she bustles around the kitchen, pulling out food for Milo and setting some biscuits on the table for them.

Sitting down beside him, she hooks her arm through his. “Tell me about your mom,” she requests softly.

His throat glues itself together, and for a long few minutes it’s an effort to speak. Clarke seems to get that, because she just squeezes a bit closer, presses her cheek to his bicep as if to reassure. Haltingly, he talks about what he remembers — her kindness, her patience, her love. For him, for O, for the farm. When that becomes too difficult, Bellamy just moves on to talking about all the mishaps he caused as a kid, the way she was always chasing after him.

Clarke is silent through it all. After his voice gives out they just sit there for some time, Milo a warm weight over his feet as the rain patters over the rooftop.

Then, unexpectedly, Clarke starts talking about her father.

Her voice is tinged with nostalgia and deep affection as she tells him about growing up under his caring tutelage, his unerring belief in doing the right thing that was clearly passed on to her. How she fought for a week with her mother because leaving this town would have meant leaving his memory, and she couldn't do that. She tells him about his art, the same art she tries to recreate, just to keep a piece of him with her always.

That’s when the idea forms in his mind. He doesn’t say anything out loud, not yet, but as the days go by, he becomes more and more certain that he's going to make it happen.

~~~~~~~~

When the first leaves begin to turn golden, the town puts on a fair to celebrate the harvest. Octavia sees it as a prime opportunity to introduce Clarke to their friends, and while it makes her a bit nervous to finally meet everyone, she can’t help but be curious, too. Especially about Lincoln.

Plus, she kind of loves the fair, so it’s not hard to give in.

Octavia leaves early on the morning of, intending to spend the day with Lincoln’s family before bringing him to the fair that evening.

Clarke and Bellamy spend most of the day finishing up their chores, and after she makes sure Milo has enough food and water, she finds Bellamy in the barn with Eli. The horse is moving as slowly as his owner, though neither will admit to it. The newest addition to their stable, a grey foal, is proving wilder than either of them thought, and the majority of the days are spent chasing her around. Even so, Bellamy doesn’t grumble a lot—well, not out loud. But the weariness in his movements tells her enough.

So when the thought occurs, she finds herself voicing it.

“We can take just one horse,” she declares, refusing to blush. “No need to take both if it’s just the two of us.”

Bellamy turns after a moment, the gratitude apparent on his face. “Yeah, okay. You think Kyla might be up for it? We don’t need to rush.”

“Sure.” She saddles her up with only slightly shaky hands, trying to calm her heart at the thought of being so close to him again. They sleep together, yes, but—this is different. This is wide awake, heart pounding, breath-on-her-ear pure excitement, and she’s pretty sure she’s not hiding it well. Worst of all, she can’t read his reaction at all.

Their relationship has changed. That much is obvious. They’re no longer strangers to each other. They might be friends. They’re still only husband and wife in name—but, god, she wants to change that. She longs for him in ways she didn’t even know were possible until now.

“Clarke?”

She whirls around as Bellamy touches her arm. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” she manages, wishing her mottled cheeks weren’t giving away the lie. She forces a smile. “Just got stuck in my thoughts. Ready to go?”

He nods, not pushing the topic. Clarke knew he wouldn’t—what she can’t figure out is why she wishes he would.

She pulls herself up first, arranging her skirts and holding Kyla’s reins steady as Bellamy swings up behind her. Then her back is flush against his chest, the tops of his thighs pressed firm against her legs. He shifts only for a moment. But his hands don’t go to her waist, as expected. Instead he grasps her shoulder, the inky black of his eyes only inches from hers when she turns her head.

“Mind if I tie your hair back again?”

“Oh. Of course.”

She offers the hairtie, and just like he did so many moons ago, he gathers her hair up with a few precise movements. Then his hands do settle on her waist, his breath warm on her ear, and she has to fight the urge to just lean back and nuzzle his jaw.

Inhaling deeply, she tries to clear her head and nudges her heels into Kyla’s side, urging her forward. Every movement seems to make her body jolt, and within minutes she has a white-knuckled grip on the reins, trying to focus on the open road in front of her and not the man at her back.

Eventually she breaks the silence, needing a distraction. “You said Lincoln’s coming too?”

“Yeah, just him. O’s been with his family all day, so I doubt they’ll all tag along, but he’ll definitely be there. I know she wants you two to meet.”

Clarke smiles. “He sounds like a good guy. She clearly loves him.”

“Yeah.” Bellamy sounds a bit bummed out by it, and she only just holds back her laugh.

“Come on,” Clarke wheedles gently. “I know you approve, or you never would have gone to such lengths to help her with the wedding. You’re a good brother, Bell.”

He doesn’t speak for a few minutes, and when he does his voice sounds odd. “No one’s ever called me that. Besides O.”

“Oh. I—I didn’t mean—”

“No,” he interrupts quickly. “I, ah—I don’t mind. It’s nice.”

She wonders if his ears are red, like they sometimes get when he’s embarrassed. It’s one of the many little details she’s come to discover about her husband, and one she finds particularly sweet. She ultimately decides against turning to check, but can’t help her happy grin all the same.

Town comes into sight soon enough, and before she knows it they’re leaving Kyla at the post with the other horses, Clarke whispering a thank you as she offers her friend some fruit to munch on.

Almost immediately, someone calls Bellamy’s name. A couple approaches, each giving Bellamy a hug before shaking her hand. Bellamy makes the quick introductions, and she ignores the tiny thrill she gets out of being called his wife. Then she looks more closely at the woman.

"I know you," she says suddenly. They all turn to her, and she reddens. "Sorry. I just—uh, you run the bakery, don't you?" She says to Monroe. The redhead nods, a smile brightening her features.

"I didn't know if you'd remember."

"Are you kidding?" Clarke grasps her hand. "My dad and I used to come there every Sunday for your fresh loaves. And those scones, I think I ate my weight in them!"

Monroe beams proudly. "We still have them, you know. Feel free to stop by anytime."

"I will." Feeling the need to explain, Clarke says, "It shouldn't have taken me this long to come back, but after my dad—" She swallows. "It was just hard, seeing him everywhere. I only recently figured out how to make that a good thing."

"Don't apologize for that. I understand."

Bellamy touches her elbow gently. “It’s their dog that had the litter. Milo’s mom.”

“Good name,” Monroe says, flashing her a grin. “How’d you come up with it?”

“It was from a story I read a while back. The name just stuck with me. Have you found homes for the rest of the family?”

“Most of them. I’m being selfish and keeping a couple,” she grins. “And one’s going to your sister-in-law as a wedding gift.”

Clarke smiles. “I bet she’s thrilled.”

“I bet it was her idea,” Bellamy murmurs under his breath. She giggles and loops her arm through his, missing the sly looks his friends direct at him.

They wander slowly through the fairgrounds like that, Bellamy occasionally leaning in close to share a tidbit and unknowingly making her heart flutter wildly. Monroe keeps the conversation flowing easily, not openly prying but just with genuine curiosity. Miller is quieter than his wife, and considerably more cautious, Clarke thinks. Not that she minds. It’s clear he looks out for Bellamy as much as the other way around, and she likes him all the more for it.

She can’t help but notice the way Miller and Monroe are together. The easy banter, knowing glances and affectionate grins are all there, but something seems—off. Clarke wonders if they were maybe arranged, too. They certainly don’t seem to be strangers; their barbs hit too deep for that. But something is definitely different.

She just can’t put her finger on what.

~~~~~~~~

Bellamy can see Clarke’s curiosity practically radiating from her eyes, but she continues talking to Monroe without pause. When he finally finds an excuse for them to have a second alone, she’s still quiet, the wrinkle in her brow giving away how hard she’s thinking. They stop at the apple cider booth, but even after he hands her a cup, she doesn’t say anything, just looks at him closely, trying to gauge whether to even bring it up.

He smiles. “It’s alright. You can ask.”

“I’m don’t want to be nosy.” Her brow knits deeper as she tries to find the right words. “Were they—”

“Arranged? No. Not really.” Bellamy takes a breath, intending to explain, and then they’re accosted by Octavia out of nowhere. She insists on bringing Clarke over to meet Lincoln, and to Bellamy’s delight Clarke is more than a little inquisitive, her protective nature coming out once more. At one point, she turns and gives him a small nod and wink in approval, and he grins.

Soon Jasper and Monty arrive, and Monroe finds them again, and nearly a half hour slips by as they all talk and joke. Well, Clarke listens more than she speaks at first, but Octavia cajoles her into a story or two by the end of it. Bellamy catches her eye a few times, hoping she’s not too uncomfortable.

Relief hits when he sees the musicians set up. Resting a hand on Clarke’s back, he leans down so that his lips are at her ear.

“Want to dance?”

She looks up in surprise, then nods, more elated than he expected. He excuses them from the group, guiding her through the crowd until they reach the small square where other couples are already swaying to the sweet strum of a guitar.

“I might step on your feet,” he warns.

“Right back at you,” she says sheepishly.

With a grin, he takes one of her hands in his, banding his other arm around her back and pulling her a bit closer. Clarke keeps her gaze downward for the first minute or so, as if actually concerned she might hurt him. It’s amusing and endearing. Finally she looks up again.

“Everyone’s really nice. They adore you two.”

“We've known them pretty much our whole life." He pauses. "Sorry about O dragging you in all at once. She’s just excited. I know she really wanted you to meet them.”

“Don't be. Your friends are your family,” she smiles. “I like that.”

Bellamy nods. “So what I was saying earlier, about Nate and Monroe…”

“You don’t have to tell me—”

“I want to. They’re my family, and so are you,” he says with surprising vigor. “You should know.”

Clarke’s smile momentarily dazzles him.

“Monroe was in a bad situation. Her mom was sick for a long time, and her dad was never around. The debtors were going to seize their property as soon as her mom was gone.” He shakes his head. Clarke’s mouth draws into a thin line, eyes flashing. “Anyways. Nate found a loophole in the agreement. If she was married, the property would technically be his, but at least and her mom could stay in peace, however long they wanted. And they’ve been friends since they were kids, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to marry.”

He looks over to where they’re laughing with the rest of the group. “Sometimes you just want a companion, you know? Don’t wanna grow old alone.”

Clarke is silent for a long time after he finishes. He lets her be, knowing by now that her mind is probably overworking itself. Eventually she just exhales and rests her cheek on his shoulder, her fingers curling into his shirt. It’s all too natural to rest his chin atop her hair, the scent of strawberries invading his nose as they sway together for several songs in a row.

Octavia’s staring at him pointedly when he lifts his head, and even mouths kiss her right before Clarke turns around.

He doesn’t kiss Clarke that night. But it’s getting harder to pretend he doesn’t want to.

~~~~~~~~

One day, without meaning to, the conversation turns to their pasts as they’re out for a stroll. Clarke hadn’t been intending to go there, but lately she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it.

“Did you ever—” She halts, then starts over. “Before me, was there…?”

“Nothing serious, no. There wasn’t much time for that. But for a while… this girl, Roma, she used to travel here every few months with her father.” Bellamy looks almost sheepish. “It’s just—it was kind of nice because both of us knew there was no obligation, you know? We both knew it was temporary.”

He mistakes her expression. “That probably sounds awful.”

“No, it’s not that,” Clarke says quickly. “I just… well, I can relate.”

“Really?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I told you about Lexa. She was never going to stay anyways, and even if she had…” She shrugs. “There were obstacles. I don’t honestly know if that had a future. But it was nice just to have someone, even if it was for a few moments at a time.”

Bellamy nods. After a minute he ventures, “Was there anyone else?”

“That obvious?” Clarke asks wryly, and his mouth turns up. She tosses a stick into the distance with a bit more force, smiling when Milo goes bounding after it. “There was a guy, early on. Finn. He was a traveling merchant. Visited once a month on business. Every time he came to town, I would meet him somewhere secret, for a few hours. Not enough for mom to suspect. I thought it was romantic, you know. Like the stories.” Clarke shakes her head at the memory. “I was an idiot.”

“You were a young girl,” Bellamy corrects softly. “What happened?”

“One day I went to meet him where we’d agreed on, and… his fiancee showed up instead.”

Bellamy whistles. “Ouch.”

“Yeah. She was angry, and rightly so, but after a while we realized the blame wasn’t on either of us. We got to talking. Apparently they’d been betrothed since they were young. He tried to make it out like he was really torn between us, but I never really knew if I believed it.” Bellamy’s hand finds hers, fingers intertwining. “I can’t be entirely mad about the whole thing, though,” she continues. “Raven is pretty amazing. She left to travel, to see the world. She sends me letters when she can.”

“Are those the unmarked posts that come every few weeks?” Bellamy asks. She nods. “Gotta say, I’m a little relieved.”

She laughs and bumps his shoulder. “That’s it, though. No other surprises.”

They’re quiet for a few minutes, and Clarke is more than happy to bask in just being able to hold his hand for longer than a second, until he says, “Thank you again, for helping with Octavia’s dowry.”

“Of course! I told you, I was more than glad to do it.” Bellamy’s eyes had bulged a little when she finally told him the actual number of her fortune, but all he’d done was nod tightly and say She won’t need all of it.

“So is the date all set?”

“Two weeks from now. I think she wants to do it in the town square, by the fountain.”

“Oh that’ll be beautiful. With all those lights strung up overhead and the leaves turning colors. So romantic.” Wistful, she doesn’t notice Bellamy looking at her right away. But when she sees the question he won’t ask, she squeezes his hand. “Don’t worry. I never had any illusions of some grand wedding. I was more concerned about the life that came after that.”

Only after he nods does she add, “But this is perfect for Octavia. She’s in love. She deserves it.”

“Yeah, she does.” After a minute, he says, “I’ve been thinking—”

“Uh oh,” she teases. It prompts a grin and a small tweak to her nose.

“Anyways,” he says pointedly, “I was thinking, after O moves out, there’ll be a whole spare room in the house. We could convert it to a workspace for you, if you want?”

Clarke stops in her tracks, staring up at him. Bellamy halts as well, apprehensive but also determined. “I thought—well, you mentioned how much you’ve been wanting to paint, and I know there isn’t much room anywhere else. It’s the perfect size for a studio. And if there’s anything you still need, equipment or easels or something, I’m sure we can—”

He cuts off when she flings her arms around him, pressing her face to his shoulder. Clarke wasn’t aware that this much thoughtfulness could exist in a single person, but she’s never been so thankful to have found him.

“That would be wonderful,” she finally whispers. Bellamy has since wound his arms around her back, so she feels the nod against her ear, and the relieved breath that follows.

When they finally unwind, she hangs onto his hand as they turn back to the house. “You sure there’s nothing else you’d want to do with the space?”

“I had no idea what to do with it until you came along,” he answers, and even though his tone is light the words sink warmly into her heart all the same.

~~~~~~~~~

Octavia’s wedding takes place in the square, just as she wanted, on a warm evening two weeks later.

Clarke watches Bellamy give her away as proudly as any big brother could, and when he comes to stand next to her looking equal parts thrilled and resigned, she clutches his hand and tries to offer what silent support she can. The younger Blake practically floats through the evening. Her joy is infectious, and soon not even Bellamy can resist when she pulls him out for a dance. Clarke watches from afar, chuckling when Octavia punches his shoulder without missing a step.

“They’re something, huh?” Monroe appears at her elbow, looking nostalgic.

“They are,” Clarke agrees. “Bellamy said he’s known you guys since you were kids?”

“Yep. We used to help at the farm sometimes in the beginning, but we ended up just finding a ton of places to play hide and seek.” She grins. “That place was like the best kind of maze when we were little. And then after Aurora… after she was gone, we came by as much as we could to help out.”

Clarke’s heart aches just thinking about it. “He was lucky to have you guys.”

“He’s lucky to have you now,” Monroe replies without hesitation. Clarke flushes and shakes her head, but the other girl grasps her arm. “I mean it. Ask anyone here. They’ll all agree with me.”

She can’t deny how nice that is to hear, but still she tries to temper her hope. “Well, it goes both ways. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband.”

“That’s true enough,” Monroe replies loyally. “He’s as good as they come.” Ever observant, she switches topics. “So tell me how our little Milo is doing?”

Clarke launches into her latest story all too easily, helped along by Monroe’s enthusiasm. Miller soon joins them, Jasper right behind. It seems they have some questions for Clarke too, ones that they held back on during their first meeting. She suspects Bellamy had something to do with that. But she doesn’t mind answering. It’s easy to be honest with a group that’s clearly so loyal. If anyone deserves to have others looking out for him, it’s Bellamy.

Sure enough, she feels his presence behind her only a few minutes later, but she finishes her story before turning around to smile at the worry in his eyes.

“We’re hogging your wife, aren’t we?” Monroe says slyly. “You must want to get a dance in.”

Clarke bites her lip to stop the groan. Any chance of that probably slipped away with her comment. But Bellamy surprises her.

“You are hogging her,” he says. “It's my turn now.”

Peeking up through her lashes, she finds his hand extended out. Delighted, she takes it and walks with him, settling into his hold with ease. Like at the fair, his arm bands around her waist and draws her close, until she thinks she could nudge her nose into the hollow of his collarbone.

She doesn’t, but—she could.

“They weren’t prying too much, were they?” Bellamy inquires. His lips brush her temple as he speaks.

“Not at all. Besides, I want them to get to know me.” After a moment, she asks, “How are you holding up?” As he opens his mouth to answer, she adds, “Don’t even try to say you’re just fine.”

Bellamy smiles, lopsided and wry. “I’ll be okay, Clarke. I always knew this day was coming.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he agrees. But then he pulls her closer. “I’m glad you’re here,” he says softly, and Clarke swallows the lump in her throat and rests her head on his shoulder.

“Me too,” she murmurs.

When they finally return home that night, they’re both considerably quieter. Clarke helps Bellamy finish up with the animals, lingering until he finally turns in, because she has a feeling he might try to keep working to stave off whatever he’s feeling at the moment. She thinks about putting on tea while he goes upstairs, but he seems so tired that she decides against it.

As she passes by Octavia’s room, though, she sees him standing inside the empty space, looking lost. When he catches her watching, he shrugs.

“It’s just weird without her.” He rubs his neck and turns away, glancing out the window instead.

For once, Clarke doesn’t fight her instincts. Coming closer, she links her arms around his torso, resting her forehead between his shoulder blades. He tenses only a second, then leans back, a hand coming up to cover both of hers.

Eventually she feels something at her feet and looks down to see Milo rubbing against Bellamy’s leg, offering comfort the only way he knows how. She smiles, hearing Bellamy chuckle lowly as he leans down to scoop Milo into his arms before heading to their room.

When she climbs into bed, he’s already lying on his back with his hands propped under his head, staring at the ceiling. Clarke shifts closer and tucks her head into the crook of his shoulder, curling her arm over his torso. Bellamy goes still. For a long moment, she wonders if she was too hasty.

But then his arm wraps around her, pulling her more tightly into the groove of his body, and she smiles against his shirt, drifting off with his heart beating under her ear.

~~~~~~~~~

The next few nights are the same. They fall asleep curled together and Clarke wonders if maybe the next morning will be the one that changes everything.

But day after day, she wakes to Bellamy carefully easing out of her hold and padding around while she pretends to sleep a few minutes longer until Milo pounces atop her. Bellamy never says anything about it, never gives any hint that he wants her to stop being so snuggly at night, but—still. The uncertainty is driving her crazy. He’s careful by nature, so it might just be instinctive, she reasons. But she wants him to know that it’s okay. That she’s okay with the affection in the daytime, too, not just at night when they can both pass it off as sleepy quirks.

And knowing him, he might have some boneheaded chivalry in mind by not staying in bed longer.

Or, he might hate snuggling and just be too polite to tell her.

In any case, she needs to know.

So when she’s left alone to her thoughts, she devises a plan to figure out where his head is once and for all. Before she can lose her nerve, she decides to go for it the very next night.

Inching out of bed a little before dawn, she steps quietly across the floorboards and pulls Bellamy’s heavy work coat over her nightgown, shushing Milo when he perks up. She goes to great lengths not to wake Bellamy—not difficult, when he sleeps like the dead, tired from the day. Stopping at his side for a moment, she watches him sleep. He’s peaceful, stretched out along the bed but so careful to stick to his side even now.

Clarke smiles. She’s half in love with him already.

Hopefully if she succeeds, she can make him see that. With a pointed look at Milo to stay, she slips out.

~~~~~~~~~

Bellamy keeps his breathing as even as possible until Clarke leaves, even though his heart is in his throat at the thought of her going anywhere at this hour. As soon as he hears the front door shut, he tosses off the covers and rushes downstairs, peeking through the window in time to see her disappear into the barn.

Hmm.

Was there something wrong with Kyla? No—she would have told him.

But he’s pretty sure it’s related to Kyla. That horse is her main connection to her old life. Perhaps she’s still homesick, he thinks. And if that’s the case, the least he can do is give her some privacy.

Still, he doesn’t like the idea of returning to bed until he knows she’s coming back too. A soft whine reaches his ears, and he looks back to see Milo on the steps, tail wagging. “Hey buddy,” he murmurs. Scooping him up, he settles down on the worn chair by the window with a sigh.

It makes him hurt to think Clarke is unhappy in any way. He thought they’d been doing quite well lately, aside from still not touching much in the daytime. It’s like the night offers some strange cover that makes them both drop their guard. Whenever he wakes up curled around her — or worse, vice versa — he’s filled with an overwhelming need to pull her even closer, tangle his fingers in her hair and kiss her anywhere within reach.

But as soon as the sun comes up, he’s reminded that they’re not just a man and a woman, but a farmer and a high society lady. She hasn’t outright given any indication that she wants something to change. And, he’s honestly terrified to break whatever this tentative trust is—one wrong move, and this life they’ve managed to build is over.

Bellamy is determined not to let that happen, and if that means keeping his distance, so be it.

A glance out the window shows Clarke slowly trudging back, so he hurries upstairs and into bed, hoping his breathing is calm enough by the time she slides back in next to him. She leaves no space between them at all, fitting her smaller body around his and winding her arm around his torso. Milo stays curled at their feet, already asleep.

He smiles into the pillow.

~~~~~~~~

Like all the previous mornings, Bellamy begins to shift in bed as soon as the sun’s first rays peek through the window.

Unlike all previous mornings, Clarke clings a little harder to his back, hooking a leg high over his to make her point.

He freezes. One arm is still stretched out, hanging off the bed, as if he’s unsure what to do next. Clarke can practically feel the tug of war within his body; part of him straining to continue on, and the other ready to give in.

Please give in.

Bellamy sighs, a soft, quiet thing that she almost wouldn’t hear if she wasn’t so alert. So she bunches her fingers more firmly into his cotton shirt, and says, “Stay.”

“Clarke—”

“The sheep are fed, the horses have extra oats, and the crops got enough water from the downpour last night. I checked already,” she interrupts, probably too quickly. “So… stay.”

She can all but feel his brow scrunch as he takes in her words. Then he twists around so they’re face to face, legs tangled wonderfully and her arm now thrown over his waist. His eyes burn with questions—and, strangely, triumph.

“You did all that? When?”

Clarke shrugs, her cheeks warm. “I woke up early.”

He raises an eyebrow. ”You woke up early.”

“Yes, I did,” she pokes him despite blushing even worse. “So now you really have no excuse, because if I can wake before dawn, then it won’t kill you to stay in this bed a half hour more.”

Bellamy looks at her for a long time, and she can’t bring herself to look away because even though she’s not sure what he’s searching for, she wants him to find it.

Eventually his mouth eases into a sweet smile, and he snakes an arm around her and pulls her close, his cheek resting atop her hair and her face pressed into his chest. Clarke can’t help her happy sigh, and she thinks maybe he laughs a little, but she’s too busy burrowing closer to care. His pulse seems to hammer under her ear, and the fact that it matches her own gallop is undeniably comforting.

Thirty minutes goes by too fast, but she’s grateful for it all the same.

When they finally unwind, Clarke rolls to her back and tries to calm her heart rate, but Bellamy stays seated at the edge of the bed for a moment longer. Then he takes her hand, drawing light patterns on her palm that make her pulse skip all over again.

“You know,” he begins, voice still rough with sleep, “you didn’t have to wake up twice as early. I appreciate it, but, what I mean is… I can just start getting up a few minutes later.” He looks over his shoulder, tentatively meeting her eyes. “All you had to do was ask.”

Clarke is speechless for a minute, so she just nods. He stands and stretches before moving about, but just as he’s about to leave she finds her voice.

“Bellamy.” She sits up as he halts in the doorway. “I guess… um, I’m asking.”

He smiles. “Okay then.”

~~~~~~~~

They begin work on her studio soon after. Bellamy clears away the few items that remain, though Clarke requests the table stay, along with the yellow curtains that O left behind.

“They’re cheerful,” she declares, and he smiles to himself as she ties her hair back with a kerchief and begins to boss him around.

Clarke is a bossy sort, as much as she insists otherwise. And he’d be lying if he said he didn’t find it highly entertaining.

She’s more free with her movements now, too. She no longer keeps a careful distance between them, no longer shies away from any excuse to touch him, and his heart leaps an extra mile every time she does so.

His sister comes by often, her wagon rattling loudly over the dirt road to announce her entrance well before she actually arrives. Milo’s always the first out the door to greet her, barking excitedly just in case anyone within a mile didn’t know she was here. Bellamy is pretty sure the look she directs at him the first day is the equivalent of What are you waiting for? But he steadfastly ignores it, preferring to focus on the blush that graces Clarke’s cheeks instead.

Milo’s brother is now in Octavia’s care too, and she doesn’t hesitate to bring him with her every chance she gets. Sometimes Lincoln will accompany her, and with the sound of the dogs chasing each other and their conversations in the kitchen and Clarke’s laughter, the house feels more full than it’s ever been.

He loves it, and he loves her.

~~~~~~~~

They finish setting up her studio on a Saturday. Clarke surveys the room from the doorway, taking in the sunlight streaming in through the windows, the easel set carefully in the corner, the counter filled with her father’s art supplies.

Smiling, she whispers, “Look at my studio, dad.”

Bellamy finds her standing in the same spot a few minutes later. Gently, he rests a hand on her back. “You okay, Clarke?”

She rises to her tiptoes and pulls him into a tight hug, then tugs him into the room. “I’m great,” she grins, “because I just found my first model.”

His eyes widen, but before he can protest she’s pushed him to sit in the old rocking chair and set Milo in his lap, where he promptly curls up and readies to nap.

“Clarke—”

“Shh, you’ll wake him.”

Bellamy’s mouth twists into a knowing grin. With a sigh, he slumps down in the chair and stretches his legs out, getting comfortable. Clarke beams and settles at her stool, picking up a stick of charcoal. She’s more than happy to have the chance to stare at him—for art, of course—but what she doesn’t expect is that he’s staring right back.

Every time she looks up from her paper, those dark eyes are on her. Sometimes amused, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes smiling even when his mouth is not.

~~~~~~~~

A day later, Clarke tries another new thing.

As usual Bellamy is halfway to the door before realizing he’s forgotten his hat. But this time when he turns, she’s right behind him, hat in hand. With a grin, she rises to her toes to plop it on his head, then presses a quick kiss to his stubbled cheek, stepping back in time to see the surprise flash across his face. It’s soon replaced by a new sort of wonder that makes her heart thump a little harder long after he’s gone.

The pattern repeats for three days, by the end of which she’s almost positive he’s not actually so forgetful at all, but just doing so because he thinks it’s the only way he’ll get a kiss.

So the next night she slides under the covers, gathers her courage, and whispers “good night” before pecking his cheek. She slams her eyes shut too fast to see the huge smile that covers his features afterwards.

One evening, she’s just carefully removed the pie from the oven when the door shuts. “Clarke?”

“In here!”

Milo goes racing towards the door, barking happily, and she smiles as she hears Bellamy’s soft greetings. There comes a thud, then another, as Bellamy kicks off his boots, padding towards the kitchen in his socks.

Clarke turns in time to see him stop in the entrance, eyeing the counter full of ingredients with a raised eyebrow. “You were busy.”

She grins. “Octavia brought by some fresh apples earlier. She mentioned you have a particular fondness for pie?”

A corner of his mouth lifts. “Maybe.”

“Well then…” Clarke steps to the side, gesturing to her creation. “Ta-da.”

His smile widening, Bellamy comes closer, his shoulder brushing hers. “It smells amazing. What’s the occasion?”

She shrugs, untying her apron and generally not meeting his eyes. “Nothing. I just… wanted to.” She pulls out two plates from the cabinet and cuts each of them a slice. “There’s tea if you want, and also some—”

Her words cut off abruptly as cool lips brush her cheek, gentle and swift. “Thank you,” Bellamy murmurs. She just nods, rooted to the spot. Smiling faintly, he takes both their plates and nudges her to the table before pulling his chair up right beside her, and they sit and eat pie while the sun sets.

~~~~~~~~

Clarke strolls through the stalls of fresh vegetables, occasionally reaching out to drop something into the basket at her elbow. With Bellamy and Milo at the vet, she'd decided to pick up a few things from the market. The bright colors of the peppers call to her, and soon she’s adding a few to her stash, thinking maybe she can at least cobble together a stew of some sort if she can just find—

“Clarke?”

The voice is one from her past, and not one she ever expected to hear again. Finn Collins stands before her when she turns around. For a second, all she can do is blink to confirm he’s not part of her imagination. But he stays real as ever, so she offers a polite smile.

“Hi. Nice to see you.” It’s not, actually, but she can’t really think of anything else to say.

“You too. You look well.” His eyes dart to her left hand and then the basket before meeting hers. Unconsciously, she touches her ring, strangely comforted by it.

“So what brings you here?”

“Just passing through on business. The usual.” He pauses. “How are things with you?”

“They’re good. Really good. I’m happy,” she says, and means it.

He nods. “Good. You deserve it.”

Not really sure how to answer that, Clarke looks past him—and finds Bellamy in the crowd. Her heart takes a flying leap at the mere sight of him. He’s already head and shoulders above the others, yet weaves his way through almost gingerly, looking for all the world like he’d rather be surrounded by cattle. God, she loves him so much it hurts.

She’s not sure if the relief is that obvious on her face, but it makes Bellamy smile anyways.

“Should’ve known you’d be near the brightest colors in the market,” he teases, kissing her cheek lightly. He’s been doing that more and more lately, and each time she thinks she floats up a bit higher.

“Yes, you should have.” She can’t quite stop smiling. “Milo’s okay?”

“Fat and healthy,” Bellamy confirms. “I left him tied near the wagon with Eli. You almost done?”

She nods, then glances at Finn, who’s watching them closely. “Almost. Ran into an old friend. Bell, this is Finn Collins.” There’s a flash of understanding in his eyes and then it’s gone as he turns to shake hands. “Finn, this is my husband Bellamy.”

Okay, yeah, she’s kind of grinning way too much and it’s probably obvious, but—oh well. She loves how that sounds.

Bellamy’s arm slides around her waist, holding her securely against his side while they talk. His voice remains pleasant enough, but it’s the set of his jaw that gives away his simmering anger. She lays her head on his shoulder, relaxing into his hold. It’s too easy to put her hand on his chest, lean up for a peck to his cheek in the midst of a story. Almost like they’re used to it.

Finn leaves them soon enough, and they finish up their purchase mostly in silence, though Bellamy’s arm stays around her the whole time. After they load the wagon, Milo included, Clarke grins at him.

“I think we bought out the market this time. You’d almost think I actually—”

Bellamy puts a hand on either side of her face and kisses her under the midday sun.

She’s too busy grinning like a fool to kiss him back, at least until his mouth leaves hers, and then she surges forward, grabbing his collar until their lips collide again. He tastes of coffee and apples, and all she wants to do is devour him whole.

His hand is warm and steady on her waist, the other curled under her cheek when they part for breath. Staring into his eyes, Clarke feels dizzy and grounded all at once. Bellamy traces the line of her jaw, a faint smile on his face as he leans in again, this time softly. She hangs onto his shoulders a moment longer, content to just stand in the circle of his arms.

“That might make the morning paper,” she says, voice breathy and unfamiliar.

“Good,” Bellamy replies gruffly, but he’s smiling as he helps her into the front seat before rounding to sit beside her without even a hair of space between them.

~~~~~~~~~

Clarke spends the rest of the day thinking about the kiss and wanting a repeat. Part of her wishes Bellamy would just stop what he’s doing and take her upstairs, but she knows him too well now. This afternoon was a lapse in control, and he’s probably overthinking the whole thing. So she lets him stew in his thoughts and keeps her daydreams to herself—until that night.

He’s only half-dressed when she corners him against the dresser in just her shift, trying not to laugh at his wide-eyed expression. He clears his throat, looking everywhere but her.

“Clarke, I—”

“Stop,” she requests. “Just, stop, for a second. Please.”

Bellamy closes his mouth. Slowly, she puts her hands on his shoulders and rises to her tiptoes, all the while looking for any sign that he doesn’t want this. He’s nearly immobile when her lips finally touch his. She moves her mouth curiously at first, experimenting, just enjoying the feeling of his warm, rough lips. Then Bellamy makes something like a sigh and envelops her in his arms, and finally, finally, he’s kissing her back, and it’s wonderful.

Searching, careful kisses turn into one heated, biting kiss that makes Clarke’s head swim. When they part for air, she takes only a second before pressing close again, loving how eagerly Bellamy responds. He eases her back onto the bed, hovering over her as his lips find her jaw, her chin, her pulse. She grips a fistful of his hair in her hand when he mouths a spot behind her ear that makes her toes curl endlessly.

“What—what took you so long?” She nips at his shoulder.

His chest rumbles in a laugh, and then he lifts to his elbows, smiling. “I’m an idiot, that’s what.”

“Well I’m not arguing with that.”

Bellamy laughs again—she could really get used to this—and slants his lips over hers. Clarke sighs and lets herself be distracted for a few minutes.

“Seriously, though. Why now?” She asks after. He sighs, his brow furrowing. Recognizing that he’s getting his thoughts together, she traces his jaw unhurriedly.

“At the market, I just got so angry. That someone could be stupid enough not to treat you properly. To let you go.” He kisses her again, like he’s not able to stop now that he’s started. “Then I realized I wasn’t being any better by hiding my own feelings. So I stopped thinking about kissing you and just did it.” He smiles. “That’s why.”

Clarke cradles his face in her hands. “Still kind of an idiot,” she teases, biting his bottom lip. “But I’m kind of in love with you anyways.”

Bellamy laughs and kisses every inch of her face before covering her mouth with his own. “I’m in love with you too. Kind of,” he whispers, and she grins and pushes him to his back, leaning down to find his lips once more. She can’t get enough of kissing him—they could do so for hours and she’d still want more.

Then he sits up, mouth pressing wetly to her jaw, her throat, her shoulder, and she grasps his arms and shifts on his lap and—oh. Okay, now she might need to do more than kiss.

“We are definitely doing more than that,” Bellamy says, and she realizes she’s been talking out loud the whole time.

She turns scarlet, swatting at his shoulder as he laughs brightly, nuzzling her cheek. He kisses her again, long and slow, like he’ll never get enough. She winds her arms around his neck and returns it with equal force, relishing the low groan that results when she scrapes her nails through his hair. Her lips soon follow the angle of his jaw, the beautiful sweep of his shoulders, down to the slow-healing bruise on his chest, before he pulls her back up.

She’s flat on her back again soon enough, Bellamy’s lips mapping their own path down her body, and after he nudges at the strap of her shift for the third time she pushes him to sit back, taking a second to drink in his swollen mouth and disheveled hair.

“I really love you,” she says, and he smiles wonderfully huge and leans down to kiss her again, murmuring the words against her cheek.

Finally sitting up, she gathers the hem of her shift in fistfuls, drawing it up over her hips. Bellamy takes over from there, pulling it off her raised arms in one motion and tossing it aside. Clarke lays back on the pillow, watching him look at her until it’s too much.

“Bellamy,” she tugs at his arm. “Touch me already.”

It’s like a fuse lights, and suddenly his mouth his on hers, his hands everywhere. She cradles his hips between her knees, rocking up every time he stops to suck on her skin and leave an undeniable mark. She’s pretty sure he’ll stop if he realizes how much he’s doing so, and stopping is not in question, so she just grabs at his shoulders and his hair and shudders his name over and over.

~~~~~~~~~

Clarke surrounds him. Her impossibly smooth skin, her ragged breaths, the smell of strawberries—he’s drowning. He thinks he could spend a lifetime exploring every inch of her and still not know all her secrets. He would still want more.

Her nails scratch his back as he fits his mouth to hers again, rougher and more urgently than he intends, but the way her bare legs are wrapped around his makes him kind of crazy. When he draws back, her skin is tinted pink and her eyes are alight and her lips invite him back. He threads his hands through her hair and kisses her again, softer this time.

Clarke protests when his lips leave hers, but he just smiles and ducks down her body, feeling the muscles of her stomach tremble as he moves lower. Then he catches sight of a jagged white scar on her hip.

Pausing, he traces it with the pad of his finger. “Is this where Kyla got you?”

“Hmm?” Clarke’s eyes are squeezed shut, chest heaving, one hand wound in the sheets and the other in the pillow. The sight steals his breath for a minute. When she lifts her head, blearily meeting his gaze, he smiles sheepishly.

“Sorry. I forgot my own question.”

She laughs and cards her fingers through his hair. Seeing the scar, he remembers. “Is this one of the spots Kyla got you? When you were younger?”

“Y-yes. A raccoon spooked Kyla in her stall. I was the only thing within her reach.”

“Hmm.” Bellamy lowers his mouth to her skin and follows the white line to its edge, smiling when her head drops back to the pillow with a barely stifled whimper. Then he continues down her body, stopping only when he reaches the band of her underwear. He hooks a finger in it, then glances up. Clarke’s eyes are wide open now. She smiles and nods.

He drags them off so fast that she laughs, but when he kneels on the bed again, she arches an eyebrow.

“Yours too.”

Grinning, he removes his remaining clothes as well, and he can’t really lie—it’s a huge boost to his ego that Clarke keeps staring. For his part, though, he can’t stop looking at her either. She’s beautiful—and whipsmart, kind, and genuinely good, and she’s all his.

Clarke holds her arms out and he goes willingly, burying his face into her hair for a moment. She sighs and kisses any part of him within reach until he twists his head to catch her lips again.

Though it would be easy to settle into the crook of her hips and align their bodies, he still pauses, searching her eyes. Brow furrowed, she presses her palm flat against his back, trying to urge him forward. But he wants to try something first—wants to make her feel good, and, a bit selfishly, wants to watch it happen. Leaning on an elbow, he lets his other hand drift between her legs. Clarke moans, her back curving off the bed so that her breasts brush his chest.

“Bellamy.” She twists her fingers into his hair and kisses him deep and messy in a way that tells him not to stop, shuddering when he crooks his fingers experimentally. His tongue tangles with hers until she pulls back, eyes glassy and breaths stilted. “Bell—I—I’m going to—” She gasps as he shifts his hand, and then her mouth goes slack, eyes falling shut as her body locks up. He keeps going until she pushes weakly at his wrist.

“So,” she says after several deep breaths, “I definitely want you to do that again. But right now,” she grins, pulling him back atop her almost lazily, "you need to stop stalling."

Bellamy laughs and kisses her at the same time, not resisting when her hands guide him close. He takes it slow, inching inside of her and trying to catch any hint of pain on her face. He knows she’s done this before, but from what she told him, it was a while ago. As if she knows his thoughts — she probably does — Clarke wraps her arms around his shoulders and holds him close, her cheek sweaty against his and her quiet sighs in his ear.

“You alright?” He whispers.

“Kiss me,” she requests instead, so he does, letting the press of her mouth and hands guide his movements until they find a rhythm that makes her arch up and grip his arms harder with every stroke, her ankles crossed over his back as they settle into a push and pull.

It’s not his intention to start snapping his hips the way he does, but the sounds Clarke makes are doing little to help his stamina. He lowers his mouth to the skin below her ear, remembering how she liked it earlier, and smiles slightly when her hands clutch a little harder, her voice a little louder.

Then suddenly she quiets, and he feels a sting in his shoulder a second later.

“Sorry,” Clarke breathes. “I just—I thought I might scream.”

“For future reference, there’s no one around for miles.” Bellamy grins rakishly. “And if there is, I want them to hear.”

He goes back to mouthing at her ear, satisfied when she heeds his suggestion and doesn’t hold back. This time when she comes, she’s not silent at all. It makes him lose the last of his control, and after that he’s unable to do much else but pant into her neck and hope he’s not crushing her. Clarke doesn’t seem to mind, weaving her fingers through his hair and stroking down his spine until he finally shifts them onto their sides.

She wrinkles her nose when they have to deal with the clean up, but afterwards she immediately curls against his chest and sticks a leg between his, making it clear she’s not about to move. Bellamy kisses her hair, her temple, her nose, and finally her lips, content to lie there with her as long as possible.

At one point, he looks to the corner and begins to laugh. Clarke twists to follow his gaze. Milo is curled in a ball, facing the window.

Clarke giggles uncontrollably, flopping back against his chest. “Wow. We embarrassed the dog.”

He winds his arms around her, not entirely apologetic. “I would say sorry, but he’s gonna have to get used to it.”

She grins and leans up to kiss him.

~~~~~~~~~

Bacon is sizzling in the pan when Bellamy hears soft footsteps on the stairs, and when he turns Clarke is standing barefoot in her shift, a sleepy smile on her face. The natural thing to do is open his arms, so he does, and she comes instantly, snuggling into his grip like it’s second nature.

“It was weird waking up without you,” she mumbles into his shirt. He smoothes a hand over her hair, then ducks his head to press a long kiss to her lips, because he can do that now, and it’s amazing.

“I was going to bring this upstairs.”

“Breakfast in bed?” Clarke kisses his jaw, grinning.

He shrugs. “Figured it was worth a shot.”

“How romantic.” As she turns to pull out their mugs, Bellamy notices the dark bloom behind her ear, stark against her pale skin. There's another on her neck, and, he's willing to bet, more below the neckline of her shift.

He reaches out to trace one. “Sorry. Didn't realize I went so…”

“Caveman?” Clarke teases, eyes glinting. When he hangs his head, she laughs brightly and snakes her arms around him again. “I'm not complaining.”

Well. “Good to know,” he manages after a second. “Still, I’ll be more careful next time.”

She beams. “Next time. I love the sound of that.”

There's no reply to that but to kiss her, and afterwards she just hugs him tighter, unwilling to let go while he cooks.

The smell of burning eggs makes them pull apart finally, and when they do sit down at the table Clarke soon decides that she prefers him to the chair. Bellamy looks at Clarke in his lap with her arm thrown around his shoulder and Milo slumped across his feet, and thinks that if this is going to be the rest of his life, he might be the luckiest damn guy in the world.

~~~~~~~

It was inevitable that Octavia was going to burst in on them at some point, and she does. Milo’s excited barking alerts them to her arrival, though neither of them particularly wants to move from the armchair.

“You get the door,” Clarke murmurs. Completely contradicting herself, she curls further into his lap.

“She still has a key.” Bellamy kisses her shoulder, then goes back to reading the paper as Clarke does the crossword.

His sister strides inside the house already cooing at Milo as he bounds back. As soon as they come into sight, she stops dead, her jaw hanging open. They both offer meek grins, Clarke pecking his cheek for good measure. After a few seconds in which Octavia’s mouth stretches into a huge grin, she whirls around and runs back out.

Bellamy winces at the sound of her scream.

“Maybe I should take the key back now,” he mutters, while Clarke just laughs and kisses him senseless.

That’s pretty much how most of their conversations end now, but it’s not the worst.

It’s kind of the best.