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Somewhat ironically, Bellamy's family enjoys a streak of good luck for a while as the world goes up in flames around them, even though luck used to be scarce in their household. But they happen to be on their way to a short camping trip, ostensibly to celebrate Octavia's birthday, when the news breaks that there's been a quarantine placed over all big cities and everyone in their hometown is to be tested for the strange new virus that's been going around, spreading like wildfire and bringing with it alarming symptoms. There have been rumours of people coming back too long after their heart stopped beating, of bedridden patients trying to bite everyone around them, of some of the infected straight-up eating human flesh, and it creates an atmosphere that is stifling and nervous at the same time, like a pressure-cooker waiting to explode.

Then again, perhaps the fact that they were already on the road when it happened, equipped with a tent, sleeping bags, a gun Aurora got God-knows-where, and more food than a weekend trip necessitates, has less to do with luck and more with his mother's foresight and planning, who has after all managed to feed and raise two small children on her own. You get hardy and strong like that, not to mention good at logistics.

But they've run all out of luck today. They were rifling through an abandoned industrial lot when Aurora pulled open a door and was nearly engulfed by the flood of walkers pouring out. Bellamy managed to yank her back at the last second and they ran, pursued by the entire horde, and suddenly they were surrounded and just barely made it up a steep ladder to a flat rooftop, and when Bellamy turned around to address his sister, she was gone.

And while he's still panickedly yelling O's name, his eyes fall on his mother, on the way she clutches her arm, the blood seeping through her jacket, and the expression on her face that tells him more than he wants to know. Before he can even ask, she pulls out her gun and hands it over to him.

“I'm not gonna make it, Bellamy. You need to find your sister and keep her safe, you hear me? From now on, that's your only job.”

He shakes his head, as if he could stop what's coming, reverse the last disastrous hour by sheer force of will, but his mother barrels on, pragmatic to the point of being ruthless even in her last moments.

“Check if there's a ladder leading down on the other side of the building. I'll create a distraction, draw them away.”

She hugs him tightly and for a moment Bellamy doesn't want to let go, wants to stay like this forever as if it could somehow transport it back in time, to the happy little boy he was ages ago, when his mother still smiled. But already Aurora draws back, presses a gentle kiss to his cheek and looks at him to repeat what will become a mantra over the following months:

“Your sister, your responsibility.”

Bellamy can only nod dumbly as she lets go of him and walks back towards the edge of the roof, in the direction of the loud snarls coming up from the horde down there, because if he so much as opens his mouth he'll start sobbing, and besides, what is there to say? There's nothing he can do for her, and there's no reason to make this any harder than it needs to be.

When she begins the climb down and disappears from sight, he starts walking in the opposite direction, slowly and carefully retracing their steps and hoping to find Octavia. The horde is nowhere in sight, but quite a few stragglers remain and he figures Octavia is probably hiding out somewhere.

Two hours later, he's not so optimistic anymore. He hasn't found a trace of his sister, but he has dispatched enough walkers to be covered in blood and other body matter and to be tired to the bone.

But there are still a few buildings he hasn't checked yet, so Bellamy keeps going, sneaking inside a smaller building at the edge of the complex and briefly checking for walkers before he starts quietly calling out her name. There's no answer, just like there hasn't been in any of the other buildings he checked, and he's just about to turn and head back out when something heavy slams into his upper back, throwing him forward and stealing the breath from his lungs while pain explodes through him.

And yet, even as he struggles to catch his breath, he realizes he's just been incredibly lucky. Whoever attacked him, if they had hit his head, he'd be out cold right now, dead or at least unconscious long enough to be defenseless against walkers. But their aim was shit, and their timing even worse because he's angry and frustrated and fucking terrified of losing his sister and his mother in the same day, and when he whirls around and launches himself at the shape he can just make out in the semi-darkness, he almost welcomes the chance to let out some of that frustration on someone who deserves it.

His attacker puts up a good fight, but he still overpowers them easily, and when he gets a good grip on their neck, he's too crazed to notice that it's a surprisingly slender neck, and that the figure underneath him is much slighter than the force of their blow suggested. He squeezes as tightly as he can, because he's fucking pissed and he does not have time for this shit. He can still hear this mother's parting words (“your sister, your responsibility“) - and dammit, he's not going to lose Octavia too, who's out there, alone, possibly unarmed, being chased by Walkers and who knows what else, and with every second that passes, the chance increases that he'll never see her again.

But when he properly looks at his attacker as he's gearing up to finish them for good, he realizes it's just a girl , a few years younger than him, with dirt-streaked blond hair and wide blue eyes and bloodstained hands that are frantically trying to pry his arms off her neck because he's in the process of killing her.

Bellamy reels back in shock, ripping his hands off her and jerking back as far as he can until his back hits the wall. But still his anger is there, and he barks at her while she's still on her back, gasping for air:

“What the fuck are you doing attacking me? I could have killed you!”

It takes her a few more moments before she answers, voice so raw and husky it makes him nauseous because he knows it's his fault for choking her.

“That was kind of the point – bring you down before you can discover and kill us.”

“Us?”

She ignores the question and poses one of her own instead.

“Are you alone?”

He nods, hating that he has to. He wasn't alone this morning.

By now, she has recovered enough to sit up and lean against the wall opposite of him, still gently rubbing her neck. She studies him silently for a few moment, apparently seizing him up, then she asks:

“How many walkers have you killed?”

He's too surprised by the question to wonder about the motives behind it, so he answers truthfully: “Too many to count.”

“How many people?” she ploughs on.

He hesitates, before finally answering. “Two.”

“Why?”

The questions sound practiced, as if she asked them of everyone she meets, and perhaps she does.

“They attacked my family.”

She looks like she's contemplating a follow-up question he's not prepared for (he can hardly talk about the time he managed to protect his family right after he failed to do so for the first time) when there's a gurgling moan from somewhere close by and Bellamy jumps to his feet, positioning himself between her and the direction of the sound on instinct.

But while he's still tensed into a ready-to-fight-stance the girl steps up behind him and lays a hand on his arm.

“Relax, it's not a walker.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it's my friend. He's badly injured.”

“Bitten?”

“No. Just... not great. It's why I attacked you – we need to hide out here for a few days at least, I couldn't have anyone snooping about.”

“I would have moved on soon anyway, I couldn't care less where you and your friends are hiding.” And then it occurs to him that she might have seen O. “I'm looking for my sister. Have you seen anyone?”

She doesn't answer right away but starts walking toward the persistent moaning still coming through the door, forcing him to keep up with her if he wants to hear her next words. When they step through he door into a darkened room, he barely registers the small group of people huddled in the corner, too eager for any scraps of information about his sister.

“We heard a commotion outside, someone screaming, and wanted to help, but we had barricaded ourselves in and by the time we managed to clear the door, there was nothing but a few dead walkers.”

He feels himself turning to stone, scrambling to harden himself against the words, the implication: Octavia may have been here, in trouble. They may have heard her die, and been unable to help. Or unwilling? After all, everything she says could be a lie.

But somehow, that doesn't seem plausible – not when she stops to look at him with a look of genuine regret on her face and hesitantly lays a hand on his arm to say: “I'm sorry. She might not be... It may not have been her. Or she may have got away. We didn't see any fresh human remains.”

He nods, not sure if it is to show that he agrees with her optimistic speculation or simply that he's thankful for it.

“You should set up camp here for a few days. If she managed to get away, she might come back to look for you.”

He studies her for a moment, internally debating the suggestion, and she continues:

“We have a little bit of food if you need a rest before you continue your search.”

The words, as innocently as she says them, immediately make him suspicious. No one offers food to a stranger, not in this world. He tenses immediately and his hand goes to his gun, expecting a trap. But instinct and a look around the room tell him he's still fairly safe – there can't be more than two or three people hiding in here, watching him and the girl from their corner, and they don't look particularly threatening: None of them seem to be armed, and though he can't be sure in the dim light, they look pretty young, perhaps even younger than her.

Nonetheless, he has learned not to trust offers that sound too good to be true. “Why are you so eager to help me?”

“Because you've got guns and you look like you know how to use them.” She nods towards the weapons he's always carrying on his body, not even bothering to conceal them anymore. “We could use someone like you while we're stuck here.”

He snorts derisively – at least she's honest about her agenda. But he considers the suggestion anyway, for a few moments at least, and she must notice him wavering because she steps closer.

“Please, stay. We need you.“

He doesn't know if it's the pleading tone of her voice or the sight of her sad, scraggly band of survivors, gaunt and dirty and scared, but he almost wavers. He probably would be a useful addition, even if the girl seems to have done a pretty decent job of protecting her friends so far. But then he thinks of his sister, alone out there somewhere. Who knows if O will be lucky enough to run into someone who'll protect her? What if she doesn't? What if he stays here to help a bunch of strangers while his own sister gets eaten by walkers?

Wordlessly, he turns and heads for the door, resolutely stifling the flicker of guilt at the thought of how long they'll make it without him – only to stop in his tracks at the sound of a gun being cocked. When he looks back over his shoulder, the girl is standing just a few feet behind him, aiming a gun at his head with a determined expression.

“Alright, hotshot. I tried to do this the nice way, but since you insist on being an asshole, I'm gonna need all your weapons.”

Bellamy can't keep a laugh from escaping at hearing how quickly her voice has changed, going from a seductively purred “We need you” to ordering him about in a matter of seconds, and he wonders if this is how she kept her little group alive: luring strangers close enough to rob them. But whether or not she's had a lot of practice at this, one thing is obvious: He has been thoroughly played.

“Take out all your weapons and lay them on the floor before you, slowly.”

He's almost impressed, especially when she calmly orders about her friend with the voice of someone born to lead.

“Monty, come here and take the gun.”

Someone emerges from the small group huddled in the dark corner, an apprehensive-looking Asian guy about as old as the girl, maybe even younger. Are there only children here? The thought makes him angry. But of course, she's not a child, he's pretty sure – she just looked younger before, somehow. Now, with her back straight and her husky voice harsh and commanding, she doesn't look like a scared girl anymore.

The boy she called Monty stands by her side and takes the gun, aiming it at his head with shaking hands. But even if his aim was wide off, he's standing less than ten feet from Bellamy – he'd probably hit him eventually if he tried to run.

He stays rooted in place as the girl starts gathering the guns he laid down at his feet, dumping them behind Monty before returning to stand before Bellamy once more and starting to pat him down. Her hesitant, vague movements indicate that she's only ever watched airport security do this, and she misses two of Bellamy's knives. He briefly entertains the notion of pulling her into a head-lock and shaking out the knife hidden in his sleeve. Monty would no doubt let him go if he held a knife to her throat.

He doesn't even try it. He has no more strength for violence today. He'll just have to wait until they either let him go on their own or are distracted enough for him to make his escape.

Unfortunately, right now it's him who is distracted. Despite everything that should have made him numb to the world, he's still acutely aware of her closeness, her warmth, her shaking hands but determined expression. When she comes back up from a crouch, closer to his body than she was before, he leans forward to murmur in her ear: “So, if I had stayed voluntarily, how long would you have needed me before killing me in my sleep?”

She rears back, a look of shock and hurt on her face for a moment before the impassive mask settles over it again.

“I wouldn't have killed you unless you posed a threat. Do you pose a threat to us?”

“Well, now that you've pointed a gun at me I might.”

It was a stupid thing to say, he realizes when she strides back to Monty's side, gets the gun and points it at him, cocking it while aiming at his leg.

“Stop! I won't try to hurt any of you, alright?”

He hates hearing himself like this, begging for his life, but Octavia needs him and he'll do what it takes to get out of this with all his limbs still attached.

“How about a deal? I'll leave you half of my weapons, and I'll help you get out of this place and somewhere safe.”

“We can't leave yet. Jasper can't walk.” She sounds choked up as she shines her flashlight in the corner and he gets a good look at the remaining two people in the room: there's another boy sprawled unconscious on the floor while a younger girl kneels by his side and presses something to his leg. At least, it should be his leg – but while Bellamy can make out a jeans-clad thigh to one side of the young girl's hands, on the other side, there's nothing but dirty floor and a pool of blood.

And then he understands - “They ripped off his leg?”

“Not exactly...”

He tears his eyes off the sight of the gruesomely injured boy to look at the blonde girl and waits for her to explain, wondering briefly if he really wants to know what happened.

“They bit him in the leg. I chopped it off so the virus couldn't spread.”

Bellamy can only gape at her. He's seen a lot of fucked-up shit over the past months, but this... this may surpass them all. He's starting to get a little scared of her, even though she hastens to continue her explanation:

“It was the only chance he had. Once the virus is in your bloodstream, it goes straight for the head. But if you cut off the blood supply before it can get there... I had to at least try.”

He's not sure if he should be impressed by that logic or completely befuddled. But even if her theory is correct, that still doesn't mean her friend is safe.

“You know he's not going to make it, right? He must have lost tons of blood, and it's probably only a matter of time before infection sets in.”

“I know that. And I can't do anything about the blood, but as soon as I trust you not to kill everyone, I'm setting out for the hospital in town, try and get my hands on some antibiotics.”

“That town must be crawling with walkers.”

She holds his eyes, her voice steady as she says: “Then I'll just have to be extra careful.”

He wonders if she is crazy then. Being brave and loyal is one thing, but her gung-ho determination to just completely ignore the realities of their world to protect three teenagers, that is something else.

“Why are you even doing this? They your family?” He nods towards the corner, where the injured boy – Jasper? - has settled down again and Monty has taken a seat next to him, still carefully keeping his gun trained on Bellamy. He can't say that he sees any sort of resemblance between any of them, but it's not like he and O look like twins, what with having different fathers. To Bellamy, family relations would be the only way to make sense of her actions, because that's how he grew up: You can leave everyone else in the dust, but you better take care of your family.

But the girl shakes her head and explains the connections within her little group, which are tenuous at best: “Charlotte is my next door neighbour. She was staying with me and my Dad while her parents were away, and then the outbreak really hit and they shut down all air traffic. My Dad and I took her to the quarantine camp, which is where we met Monty and Jasper.”

“You were in one of the camps?”

Her mouth tightens into a grim, straight line. “We were told it would be safe.”

He doesn't know what to say to that, other than that it clearly wasn't, but it doesn't matter because she's looking over at the injured boy and then back at Bellamy, probably wondering how to make sure he won't attack them after all. Clearly, whatever impulsive decision prompted her to attack and rob him was not thought through very well.

Taking pity at the sight of her harried expression, he walks away from her, to the wall furthest away from her friends, and sits down, leaning against the wall in a relaxed pose and letting his hands dangle over his knees so she can see them. For the moment, he has no interest in being a threat.

Correctly interpreting the wordless gesture, she shoots him a relieved look and then hurries back to her friends, sinking down on her knees and taking over from the younger girl.

It would be possible to try and go for his weapons now but it would also be a dick move, and so Bellamy leans back and watches his captor as she sees to her patient, noticing that, unlike before, now her movements seem swift and practiced, and she exudes the comforting confidence of someone who knows what they're doing.

And at some point while he watches her calmly tend to a wound so gruesome he can't even look directly at it, Bellamy makes his decision: Wasting time to try and protect a bunch of kids who don't stand a chance would be foolish and pointless. But these kids, they stand a chance even if he leaves them to their own devices after a few days. They have her.

Tomorrow, he tells himself. If Octavia managed to stay alive until now, she'll make it to the morning. She's tough. And, presumably, she still has both her legs. Right now, these kids need him more.

***

 

He stays with the girl and her friends for four days, during which he finds out that her name is Clarke, she's in med school and apparently looks much younger than she actually is, and she doesn't like it when someone brings up her family. Which is just as well, because it means he won't have to swap life stories and relive the last time he saw his mother alive.

They've stopped constantly pointing a gun at him, which is good, but he didn't get his own guns back yet, and Clarke only very reluctantly handed him an axe when she ordered him to go up to the roof and get some water from the canisters they've set up to collect it. He shudders at the thought of what, exactly, she used the axe for, but he's still glad not to have to go out unarmed. There are several opportunities for him to bury the sharp blade in her back, wrangle his stuff from the others and get the fuck out, but he doesn't. When he returns and hands back the axe, she sends him a look that makes him think this outing was a test, and he passed. He hates the warm feeling that washes over him at her obvious trust and approval, because it reminds him that he's already started caring about her and her little band of survivors too much when the only person he should care about is Octavia.

Due to an epically ironic return of his luck, however, he never has to decide if he should stay or leave: Octavia finds him just when he's once again contemplating stealing back his stuff and sneaking out. She barges in with a big, muscle-packed guy behind her, wielding a freaking sword, but the whole warrior-thing melts away the second she sees him, drops the sword and throws herself at him with a squeak.

There's a lot of hugging and maybe some crying because he thought he'd lost her and now she found him, until Octavia's iron grip loosens enough for him to look at her and ask:

“Where the hell did you wander off to?”

“I ducked into a small alcove and waited for the horde to pass, but when I got back out, I fell and twisted my ankle. Lincoln here found me and patched me up. I wanted to go look for you, but he refused to let me out before I could walk on my own again.”

The glance she sends the guy behind her astonishes Bellamy, because instead of being irritated, even angry at the asshole for keeping her from looking for her brother, Octavia seems actually grateful and, he notices with worry, a little smitten.

“Lincoln, this is my brother, Bellamy.”

Bellamy wonders if there's some kind of cognitive dissonance happening here, because there's no way Octavia just formally introduced him to this hulking stranger as if she was presenting her new boyfriend, and no way the stranger seriously held out his hand for Bellamy to shake.

He ignores the gesture.

“So you're okay now? You can walk?”

Octavia nods. “It hurts a little, but nothing too bad.”

“Good. Then let's go.” He hasn't had a chance to tell her about their Mom yet, and he'll be damned if he does it while they have an audience.

But of course Octavia resists when he starts pulling her towards the door.

“Go where?”

Since he doesn't have a plan, Bellamy doesn't have an answer ready for that question, and Octavia has enough time to look back at Clarke and the others, curiosity turning to pity because Octavia is tough but she's also soft-hearted to the point of recklessness, and clearly, Clarke's motley crew is tugging at her heartstrings.

“What about them?”

He unsuccessfully pretends not to understand what she's hinting at. “What about them?”

“C'mon Bell, they don't stand a chance without us.”

“I wouldn't be so sure about that,” Bellamy sneers, even though he thought the exact same thing when he first met them. “They were doing just fine when they nearly bashed my head in, kidnapped me, and robbed me blind.”

Behind him, Clarke scoffs, and granted, that may have been a somewhat embellished retelling of what happened.

Octavia lets her eyes glide slowly over the small group once more, less than convinced. “Oh really? And which one of them has you shitting your pants now – the skinny guy, the cute blonde or the actual child?”

Monty murmurs a protest at Octavia's sarcastic summary but is roundly ignored.

“The gun they held to my head did the trick.”

Clarke scoffs again, to his irritation.

“Don't be so dramatic, we only held the gun in your general direction, and only until we were sure you weren't a threat.”

“Not a threat, huh? Ouch.” There's a twinkle in Octavia's eyes now that does not bode well for Bellamy's dignity, and it doesn't exactly help when Clarke determinedly walks over to them and holds out her hand.

“I'm Clarke.”

Octavia shakes it enthusiastically. “Octavia, pleased to meet you. Now, tell me all about how you kidnapped my big brother.”

Clarke actually lets out a laugh and Bellamy freezes at the sound because he's been with her for two days and he hasn't heard the sound once – not that there's much to laugh about these days. Unfortunately, he knows he'll have to quash Octavia's momentary good mood as well.

Knowing what the news will do to her, he gently lays a hand on Octavia's arm.

“O, there's something I need to tell you.”

He shoots Clarke a preemptive glare, but she doesn't try to hold Octavia back when Bellamy finally manages to pull her outside the room. Not even the giant follows them, and he can give her the devastating news in private. He has lost count of how many times he's wished things would go back to normal even though normal pretty much sucked already for him, but he's never wished for it more fervently than when he tells his little sister that their mother is dead.

***

 

Hours later, Octavia has cried herself into an uneasy sleep, curled into the guy she came with who has yet to say more than a few words. She refused to let Bellamy comfort her and he knows it's because she blames him, for suggesting they look around the broken-down industrial lot in the first place, for letting their mother open that door, for not pulling her back from the walkers quickly enough.

He's so immersed in his own guilt, in grieving for his sister as she grieves their mother, that he doesn't even notice Clarke approaching until she sits down next to him, so close he can feel her arm brush up against his.

“Why didn't you tell us about your mom?”

The question is enough to make him angry but the softness of her voice cancels it out somehow, snuffs his anger right out before it can even rise to the surface.

“I don't know. It didn't seem relevant.”

“Not relevant?”

“She was already dead. Octavia wasn't.”

She's silent for a few moments and he hopes she'll stay that way as his attention drifts back to Octavia, but then suddenly her hand is resting lightly on his, small and cold.

“I'm sorry.”

She squeezes his hand softly and doesn't say more than that, and perhaps it is her silence that allows him to turn his hand up and curl his fingers around hers. After a few moments of silence, he remembers that she tried to kill him with that very same hand which is now giving him more comfort than he probably deserves, and laughs drily.

“What?” she turns her head to look at him questioningly.

“Nothing. Just... you're awfully nice considering how you welcomed me here.”

Looking hurt, she immediately draws her hand back and scrambles to her feet.

“Well, excuse me for trying to help.”

He catches her fingertips just before she's out of reach. “Thank you.”

A short nod is the only indication she gives of accepting his sort-of apology, then she walks away. And somehow, even with his sister across the room and not talking to him, Bellamy feels a little less lonely.

***

 

Octavia comes around again pretty quickly, even tells him she's sorry for blaming him and that she's happy he's still alive, and the pain of losing their mother is easier to bear like this; with O once more on his side.

Of course, that doesn't stop her from making his life difficult once again. For one thing, she flatly resists any attempts to leave, even when he offers to let Lincoln tag along. Octavia only rolls her eyes when he nobly makes the suggestion.

“Of course Lincoln's coming with us. And so are the others.”

“O, they're not stray cats. You can't just adopt them.”

“Why not? I've been saying for weeks that we should try and hook up with another group, strength in numbers and all that, but you and mom were determined to do the whole lone wolf-thing. And look what it got us.”

“We don't even know if they want us to stay.”

“They kidnapped you. I'm pretty sure they're okay if we stay. Of course, they didn't know what an ass you are back then, so who knows? Maybe Clarke will be happy to be rid of you.”

Bellamy knows she's manipulating him, and even though he doesn't know why Clarke's opinion of him should have any effect on the situation, her strategy still works.

“Fine. Ask them, if you're so sure of this.”

She does so right away, and apart from Clarke's skeptical look – which, frankly, is a little insulting – everyone immediately assures her they want them to stay.

And so their two little groups merge into a slightly bigger group, and Bellamy has to admit his sister was right: There is strength in numbers. With Lincoln and Octavia as reinforcements to watch out for Jasper and Charlotte, Bellamy follows a reluctant Clarke to the next town to raid the clinic for some much-needed medical supplies. When he hands her a box of the antibiotics she's been frantically looking for, she actually smiles at him, and Bellamy realises with surprise that not only has he not seen her do that once in all the time he's been with them, but that it's a startlingly beautiful sight. The thought is abstract and fleeting and her smile soon fades as she stuffs the antibiotics into her backpack and they return to their uncertain, definitely not beautiful reality. But sometimes in the days and weeks after that, the memory randomly pops into his mind.

After two more days, Clarke declares Jasper stabilized and they're on their way, her patient stretched out on the back of the jeep and the others crowded around him. The empty warehouses, they all agreed, were not a good longterm solution: too cold and drafty, too difficult to defend. They need something more compact to make it through the rapidly approaching winter.

***

 

They find shelter eventually, but it comes at a high price. They've been aimlessly driving about for weeks, slowly running out of food and gas and starting to shiver as the weather grows colder, when they run into other people, the kind of people the Blakes have had a few unpleasant encounters with before. Apparently, small groups like theirs are seen as easy targets to those despicable bands of marauding looters, especially when they include women.

But even when it was still only him, his mother and his sister, they always managed to hold their own, and today too, Bellamy confidently refuses the order to get off the truck and hand over his guns. Instead, he takes out two of the thugs himself and yells at Clarke to drive, and to his left, Octavia is firing at the five heavily-armed men from the back of Lincoln's motorcycle. Of course, their fire is returned immediately, but Jasper is lying down and somewhat protected by the metal back of the pick-up, and perhaps because they didn't expect resistance or perhaps because they're bad shots and rely on intimidation, none of their attackers manage to hit them before they're out of range.

Or so Bellamy thinks.

But when he turns around to check if the others are okay, Charlotte is slumped against the side of the jeep, eyes wide and fearful, pressing a hand to her stomach.

Things are kind of a blur after that: getting to Charlotte, checking on her wound, realizing that he has no idea what to do and he needs Clarke, but Clarke is the one driving the fucking truck and there's blood everywhere and Charlotte is getting paler by the second...

He still hasn't quite warmed up to Lincoln, but Bellamy couldn't be more grateful when the guy pulls up close Clarke's window and motions for her to stop. She's on the back of the truck and by his side in a flash, but even with her taking over, Bellamy doesn't quite feel reassured – her expression is too worried, her movements and commands too frantic, and Charlotte keeps looking worse.

So great is the chaos that neither of them notices the new voice addressing them, until Octavia calls out Bellamy's name and Monty nudges him from where he's standing guard beside the truck.

Assuring himself that Clarke is handling things for the moment, Bellamy peers over the edge of the truck to spot a young man approaching them, hands held up above his head to show that he's no threat. Between his worn-out old beanie and patchy stubble, Bellamy would have considered him less than trustworthy, but these days, he practically passes for elegant: he's clean, his clothes are in good condition, and most importantly, he's making them an offer they can't refuse:

“My Dad and I have a cabin nearby. There's fresh water and a well-stocked medicine cabinet, you can look after her there.”

Bellamy doesn't dare question the generous offer, not right now, with Charlotte sobbing in pain and Clarke still frantically pressing on the girl's wound, barely even noticing what's happening around her. Bellamy makes the decision in a heartbeat, climbs off the truck and starts giving orders:

“Monty, get behind the wheel. You...” he looks at the young man, not wanting to be too rude in case the offer isn't a trap, “can you get in and show us the way there?”

The guy, whom Bellamy now realizes may be younger than he first thought, maybe Octavia's age, climbs in beside Monty and Bellamy follows behind, keeping his gun trained on him.

“Sorry, I want to believe you mean well, but in case this is a trap...”

The guy shrugs. “You keep your bases covered. I get it. It's good, actually – my Dad won't be too happy about me bringing back a bunch of strangers, he'll be really pissed if you're idiots on top of it.”

Despite the loud, frantic hum of worry within him, Bellamy briefly thinks that he likes this guy, and not just for offering help. But he doesn't get around to finding out more about him than his name – Nathan – because the drive to the cabin is short and then Bellamy and Monty are carrying Charlotte inside while Octavia and Lincoln flank them, guns drawn and ready to defend them. But the rustic cabin is empty save for a man in his forties or fifties who protests but lets them come in when Nathan explains, and no one ambushes them while they lay Charlotte down in front of the fire and Clarke and Lincoln tend to her.

Trying to get a clearer overview of the situation, Bellamy casually strikes up a conversation with their rescuer and the man he introduced as his father. Apparently, their hosts are a police captain and his teenaged son who've so far spent every day since the outbreak out here. That at least explains the unexpected helpfulness, Bellamy thinks – a remaining sense of duty to serve and protect, together with being sheltered from the realities of what this kind of life does to people.

Letting his eyes wander about the small room, Bellamy notices signs that this hunting trip may have been started for the same reason his own mother took him and Octavia camping: Cans of food stacked up along the wall, weapons and ammunition that can't necessarily be bought in hunting shops, and, Bellamy notices with interest, a pair of crossbows. Silent, light and with ammunition that can be replaced easily, those would be great to get his ands on, he ponders, and then immediately feels ashamed. Those two men offered help when they needed it even though they could easily overpower them, and Bellamy isn't going to repay them with dishonesty. But the responsibility placed on his shoulders to keep Octavia safe has grown to encompass a lot more people, even with Clarke sharing the burden of responsibility, and Bellamy is starting to realize he'll have to do whatever it takes to keep them all alive.

He fails that very same day: Charlotte doesn't make it, and he can practically see Clarke's heart breaking when she stops trying to resuscitate her. Bellamy knows they still have to make sure she won't come back, and even though he's never done this before; can't even imagine how to do it, he readies himself for taking care of it when the time comes. But before she steps away, Clarke very calmly takes her long, slim knife from her belt and plunges it into the girl's head through her ear.

Then she lets it clatter to the floor and storms out.

Bellamy doesn't even realize he's following her until he stands next to her on the cabin's porch, extending a shaky hand to her shoulder and dropping it again when she flinches at the contact.

“Clarke... you did what you could.”

She shakes her head. “How can you know that?”

“Because I've watched you. If there was any way to save her, you would have found it.”

Now Clarke turns toward him, tears streaming down her face. “It's still my fault. My mother, she was with the government, she helped set up the quarantine camps, told me and my Dad to come there. So we took Charlotte to the camp. Less than two weeks later, it was overrun. My mom and the other government people were airlifted out, but Charlotte and I, and Monty and Jasper, we barely made it. My Dad didn't. And still I kept telling her I'd keep her safe, that we'd find somewhere, that I'd make sure nothing would happen to her...”

She breaks off, staring blankly into the dark woods, and Bellamy is silent for a moment, slightly overwhelmed by being hit with all this information which she has kept so carefully guarded over the few weeks they've known each other.

“No one can keep promises like that, not these days.” He feels like a hypocrite when he says it – didn't he make the same promise to his mother, and still intends to stick to it?

Needless to say, the feeble advice doesn't help at all, as Clarke's crying just intensifies, her words becoming almost unintelligible through her sobs.

“But I have to, I have to! She was counting on me; they're all counting on me and I don't know how to keep them safe and it's just so hard...” Whatever she tries to say next gets drowned out in her sobs and Bellamy just pulls her close, trying to give her some of the comfort she gave him once before.

And he doesn't have anything to say that would lessen the pain of losing someone, but he thinks he can offer something that will lighten the weight on her shoulders, and perhaps that's enough for now.

“You don't have to do this alone.”

***

 

The unexpectedly positive outcome of Charlotte's death is that the Millers let them stay, clearly feeling pity for them, and they in turn help the two men get the cabin in shape for the winter, enforcing the roof, gathering supplies and hunting meat that they dry in the cabin's outdoor pizza oven.

It gets quite cozy with all of them squished together in the small cabin, so the cold is not an issue. The food, however, is, especially when they get snowed in shortly before Christmas. They still have supplies to last them for a few weeks, but the mood is already tense when Octavia declares that she's pregnant.

Bellamy, already wound up from being cooped up for so long, launches himself at Lincoln the moment the words are out, because it's not like he and Octavia have been particularly subtle but he had hoped that at least they'd be careful. Apparently not, and now the asshole has brought his sister into a situation that makes this already shitty life even more dangerous for her. It's hard enough to keep a bunch of people alive who are healthy and agile, but a pregnant woman? A baby? He knows this isn't about him, but somehow, Bellamy remembers his mother's last words and feels like he's being set up to fail.

The fact that Lincoln doesn't really fight back, only defends himself, enrages him even more, and they're bowling over furniture and coming dangerously close to the open fire when Lincoln finally hits back, getting in a blow that momentarily stuns Bellamy before pinning him to the floor. He's still struggling when Clarke's blurry face appears above him.

“If you're quite done with the whole alpha-male-big-brother-thing, your sister wants to talk to you.”

There isn't really much privacy in the cabin except for the one bedroom which the Millers have graciously left to the girls, and that's where Octavia takes him now, looking somewhere between angry and nauseous.

“You're gonna have to stop being an ass to Lincoln. He's a good guy, he saved my life, and I love him.”

Bellamy is still less than enthusiastic. He wouldn't be enthusiastic about some guy getting his nineteen-year-old sister pregnant under normal circumstances, but during a zombie apocalypse?

“Are you really sure about this?”

“I am. Clarke told me she found some abortion pills when she raided the clinic, so it's not like I don't have options. I want this baby.”

He briefly stumbles over the fact that she talked to Clarke about this first, but then again, judging by the way he just reacted, who can blame her? Clearly, he's not the best person to confide in these days, and he's already starting to feel guilty about that when Octavia says:

“I'm fucking terrified though.”

And somehow, even though they make him feel like even more of an ass, those words are also what finally make him get over himself, and he lets go of his anger and pulls her into a hug.

“You'll be okay. Us Blakes are tough.”

Octavia laughs tearfully and hugs him back, and Bellamy decides in that moment that this baby is going to make it; it's going to be born healthy and strong and he'll protect it with his dying breath if necessary.

***

 

Unfortunately, by the time the snow starts to melt, they're all too languid and hungry and weak to notice what else the thaw has set free until the horde is already upon them, surrounding the cabin like snarling, morbid icicles.

They barely make it out before the horde grows enough to trap them in the cabin for good, grabbing as much useful stuff as they can and then fighting their way through, Octavia leading the charge and hacking a path through the sea of rotting bodies with her sword, Lincoln always at her back. Bellamy's still not sure he likes the guy, but once they've made it safely to their truck, he has to admit Lincoln does a good job at looking out for her, and in times like these that's more valuable than a charming personality.

After a winter of hunger and too-close-quarters, weeks of traipsing about, scrambling for scraps of food and drops of gas don't exactly raise morale. By the time spring really sets in and Octavia is starting to show, Bellamy's nerves are strung tight, and he guesses so are everyone else's.

Their salvation, unexpectedly enough, comes in the form of a prison, complete with iron bars, enforced gates and fences and a set of watchtowers looking over a spacious enclosed lawn. It's overrun with walkers, it's dirty and dingy and grey, and he fully agrees when Clarke looks from the prison to him and says:

“It's perfect.”

She's right, even though he hates the idea of living in a place like this, shut in behind bars and fences and heavy metal doors. But as Captain Miller points out, the place is easy to defend, and there's plenty of room in the courtyards and on the big lawn to transform it into something that will sustain them for longer.

And if he needed any more reason to accept staying here, Bellamy finds it when they've secured the front lawn just before nightfall and he looks around: At Octavia, rubbing her belly with the pensive expression of a very tired and dusty madonna, Lincoln watching her with utter contentment; at the Millers, Monty and Jasper surveying the place and making plans for it – sensible thoughts on defense and fortification from their newest group members, increasingly grandiose visions from Monty and Jasper: growing crops and vegetables (and maybe a small stash of weed), hooking up the solar panels they can see shimmering on the roof.

And then there's Clarke, standing still in the middle of the lawn and just taking it all in - and smiling brightly for the first time since Charlotte died.

That's when Bellamy knows: this is it. This is where they'll build their future together.

***

 

He's right: things look up after that, ever-so-slowly. It takes them several days to breach the whole complex and more to clear enough space to live in, dragging out corpse after corpse until they're all exhausted and Bellamy thinks he'll never get the smell of rotting flesh out of his nose again. But eventually, they have an entire wing to themselves, safely ensconced in the middle of the prison, and days of exploration yield unexpected bounty: Since the prison must have been overrun early and left untouched after that, its pantry is fairly well-stocked, and a laundry truck overturned near the service entrance holds a small stash of fresh sheets and blankets, threadbare but clean towels and cheap soap. It's the apocalypse-equivalent of a five star-hotel.

Shortly after they take the prison, their group gets another addition: a gorgeous woman with a bouncy black ponytail who just strolls up to the gate one day, calm-as-you-please, ignores Bellamy's order to stop, and asks:

“Those solar panels up on the roof, they patched up to anything yet? Because if not, I can make that happen.”

Monty and Jasper have been trying to get the solar panels to work, but so far they haven't had any luck.

“Why, you know how to do that?”

“Yep. I'm basically a genius.”

Of course, there's no way to test the veracity of that claim right now, but Bellamy thinks it's as good as any. At least she's offering help instead of asking for it. And since Clarke has now aligned herself with Octavia's “the more the merrier”-policy, he doesn't really see a reason to turn her away if she passes Clarke's three-question-test.

“How many walkers have you killed?”

“A few.”

“How many people?”

“One.”

“Why?”

“Because my boyfriend got bitten and I didn't want him to turn into one of those things.”

The pain on her face as she replies is real, and Bellamy opens the gate.

He doesn't regret it: The woman, who introduces herself as Raven, commandeers Monty and Jasper's work on the solar panels immediately, and two days later, they have hot water. After that, there's not even a discussion about whether or not she gets to stay.

***

 

With the prison secured and their plans slowly being set into motion, they settle into a routine, the first any of them have had in months, growing slowly from a ragtag bunch of survivors thrown together by fate into a well-oiled machine and, Bellamy sometimes thinks, into something like a family, protecting and annoying and supporting each other.

And the heart of this family, the reason he's here in the first place, is without a doubt Clarke. Clarke, who is smart and strong and fearless and always by his side, no matter what new crisis arises (even in the safety of their new home, there is always some kind of crisis), and whom he finds himself looking at, thinking about, more and more often. But even if he sometimes thinks she might feel the same way about him, the idea of bringing their partnership from something that can, at least officially, still be described as “co-leadership” to something else entirely, seems to be tempting fate somehow.

Besides, it's clear that she still feels deeply responsible for all of them, and it seems wrong to pile on to that weight she's already carrying, even if she has by now accepted Bellamy's offer to carry it together. When he watches her making her nightly round from cell to cell to check in on everyone, like a mother tucking her children into bed, his heart aches for her because it should be a sweet gesture but it breaks his heart a little, because they're all of them motherless and she's too young to bear the burden of it. And yet she does, and he can't help but fall deeper and deeper in love with her for it.

***

 

Clarke delivers Octavia's baby in the fall, a healthy girl, and while Bellamy knows that giving birth takes hours and Clarke keeps reassuring him that everything seems to be going well, he's still a nervous wreck by the time they finally hear the baby's first piercing cry.

He has a niece.

He helps Clarke wash the tiny little human and wrap it in a blanket to give the happy parents a moment to themselves, marvelling at the fact that suddenly there's this new life right in their midst after they've seen nothing but death and decay for months, and Clarke lets him hand the baby to her mother, lets him be the one who sees Octavia's expression in that moment.

He's still kind of dumbstruck when Octavia smiles dazedly and offers:

“You can go tell the others now, if you like.”

Of course he does, and he even briefly entertains the thought of asking Octavia to hand over his niece once more so he can present her, Lion King-style. But the baby is nursing and on its way to falling asleep, so he figures O wouldn't give her away anyway.

He runs into Clarke just outside the door, who returns from washing her hands, and just to be sure, he asks her again if he can tell the others. What he really wants to know, of course, is: Is it really over? Is Octavia really safe?

Clarke reassures him mother and child are well, and Bellamy can't help but kiss her then, because she helped bring this little miracle in the world and keep Octavia safe, because he's insanely happy and so is she, he can tell despite her visible exhaustion. But most of all, he kisses her because if there's anything his little niece has shown him today, it's that there is still such a thing as a future, and on the rare occasions he allows himself to think of the future, the first thing he sees in his mind is Clarke's face.

It's over in a heartbeat, not a peck but not quite a proper kiss, but it lasts long enough for him to register that her lips are dry and chapped and the surprised exhale when he pulls her against him is the sweetest sound right after the baby's first cry.

Then he's already on his way again, leaving behind a befuddled-looking Clarke to burst into the common area with the happy news.

***

 

Octavia insists on getting up the next day, arguing that the faster she gets back to her old form the better, and for a moment Bellamy sees their mother in her, who gave birth alone except for her eight-year-old son, and who also had to shake off the torturous process and keep going like nothing unusual had happened. He instinctively throws an arm around her shoulder and presses a kiss to her cheek, because she's so damn strong.

Monty and Raven have gone scavenging and come back with actual alcohol, two bottles of whiskey, which by all rights constitutes a feast. So they sit together, nibble on canned peaches and sing whatever pops into their heads, with varying accuracy.

Bellamy doesn't chime in, never much one for singing, but uses the opportunity to look around the circle at his not-so-little family instead. Octavia, Lincoln and the baby didn't stay long, since mother and child still need their rest. But the others are all gathered in the common area, and Bellamy can't remember ever seeing any of them so happy recently: Jasper, whom he met close to death, now contendedly swigging whiskey, Monty leaning against Nathan's side and smiling, Captain Miller leading a round of premature Christmas carols with his sonorous bass, Raven with her arm thrown around Clarke, their heads bent together as they pass a mug of whiskey back and forth between them. Overcome with joy and, perhaps, love, Bellamy raises his own battered cup in a toast:

“Here's to life.”

Later that night, after she's completed her customary evening round, Clarke surprises him by joining him on his perch outside the cells. He's about to ask what's wrong, worry already coursing through him, when she leans over and kisses him.

It's a little hesitant at first, as if she's not sure if this is okay, but when he snakes his arm around her waist and pulls her closer, she deepens the kiss enthusiastically, almost making him moan out loud when she links her hands behind his head and threads soft, cold fingers through his hair. He couldn't for the life of him say how long they stay like this, lips and tongues softly coaxing and teasing, hands caressing and exploring, but when she pulls away, he's breathing hard and his heart feels like it's going to burst and he thinks that, if she had done this the day of the outbreak, he would most definitely have missed the end of the world.

“What was that for?”

She shrugs. “Blame it on your excellent toast.”

He's confused for a moment, and Clarke explains with a rather endearing blush on her cheeks: “To life, right? Apparently, we're stuck living for now. We might as well make the best of it.”

And Bellamy has to say he agrees.