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What if I never even see you because we’re both on a stage?

Don’t tell me listen to your song because it isn’t the same.

I don’t want to say your love is a waiting game.

(The bar is burning; the boys are thirsty. Rule number one: Don’t let the light hit your eyes.

Always catch the whiskey in your left hand; empty in your right. Remember that your top is cropped high and to always bend backwards – make them see stars, not skin. The regulars: Sloppy Steve is to your left and Friendly Joe is to your right. Both tip well; just cut them off after three.

And, Jesus Griffin, smile.)

Clarke recites it all to herself like a mantra, hoists herself up on the bar with the spin of one heel and white knuckled fists. Black sequins ride up her belly and the beer bottle is cold in her hand when she catches it from Raven’s toss, presses it to her hip and pops the cap in one swift move.

The guys at the bar and some women alike gawk as she smiles, grabs onto the metal bar beside her and sprays the crowd with Heineken as she spins the pole. They cheer her on, and Raven smirks as she serves up some shots of tequila. Lucky they can’t read Clarke’s mind, calculating inventory while she shimmies, working the crowd with her head. Everything works when things go exactly as planned –

“Ladies, ladies!”

The muted pulse of club music next door booms over the sexy rock playing in their bar. Clarke gasps when her heel skids off the countertop, lands her straight on her ass.

Clarke curses under her breath, glances at Raven down the bar as she hobbles over to a stool to nurse her ankle. Their crowd hums with confusion as the noise next door looms louder. She shoves her shirt back in place and frowns at that muffled yet all too familiar voice.

“You know the rules here; there are no rules. What are we doing tonight?”

Clarke’s murmurings are incoherent as she hands the stage over to Maya, who casts her a sympathetic glance in return. She ducks behind the bar to grab her coat and storms into the night, just as that infuriating voice shouts back to his crowd,

“That’s right. Whatever the hell we want.”

-

You see, it all started with a bottle of booze and a really bad idea.

Raven and Clarke were straight out of college, one dead dad, two shitty parents, and a town leading nowhere. They were dust weed girls with nothing to show for it, no matter what Raven could build out of thin air or how many scientific terms Clarke could recite in her sleep. On the night of their graduation, they sat in Clarke’s stark white room, a little drunk and spirited and miserable, Raven’s boyfriend Finn just having broken up with her because of the supposed distance.

“Look,” Raven said for the fifth time that night, wincing against a bottle of whiskey, “Idon’t care.”

Right.

On the television screen, Coyote Ugly blared, and cowboy boots hit a bar counter.

“Must be nice,” Raven rasped, “big city. No problems.”

Clarke cooled it on the liquor when the room began to spin. “I guess. Hey, are you working tomorrow because – “

“Must be really nice,” Raven said suddenly, gaze fixed on the screen before them, enraptured as the crew of girls burst into laughter and counted stacks of twenty-dollar bills. “Clarke. What’s the plot of this movie?”

Clarke narrowed her eyes, deadpanned, “Girl’s a waitress in a dead-end town with a big dream. Girl moves to the city with some cash and some hope in her pocket and ends up dancing. In a bar.”

Raven might as well have had a light bulb hovering over the top of her head. “Clarke.”

“Raven,” Clarke retorted, as dismissive as ever, but her eyes never strayed from the screen. This girl, she was an artist like Clarke. A vocal artist, maybe, but an artist all the same. And there she’d gone, risked everything to live her dream and kick-started it in the strangest of places.

“We could do it,” Raven said, pulling up from Clarke’s bed to stare down at her. “You and me? We’re no bullshit. We’re good at everything we do. We could do this.”

“Raven, no self-respecting girl would drop med school to go dance in some sketchy bar for drunk guys.”

Raven nudged her. “Look, Clarke, it’s a business. I’m not saying that we should give everything up and invest in the booze and babes industry for the rest of our lives. I’m saying that you and I are both unhappy as hell in this town, and this? This is a solid idea, guaranteed cash, and a guaranteed chance.” Raven had both her hands on Clarke’s shoulders now.

I’m married to that bar,” Lil said on the TV. “Hell, I’d sleep there if I had the guts to walk around barefoot. But that’s me, you know. I’m the original coyote. Just a small town gal trying to make it in the big bad city.

And a week later, Raven fresh off quitting her job at her family’s auto body shop and Clarke’s inheritance from her father in her pocket, they packed their bags to finally drive up to the rickety place on a seedy Chicago street they’d rented with all of their savings.

A note of encouragement from Clarke’s mother: “It’s a glorified strip club.”

“It’s not like that at all, Mom,” Clarke argued, damning herself for having so many clothes to pack. Her mother was haunting the doorway, like she was going to barricade Clarke in. “I can’t keep having this conversation with you.”

“And with your father’s money,” Abby pushed. “He wanted you to go to school, Clarke. He would be so – “

Disappointed? I guess we’ll never be able to ask him, will we?”

Silence.

But when Clarke and Raven finally did show up to that club, there was a smidge of doubt that whispered, “Maybe your mother was right.” The place was every shade of dull gray and slanted at every angle. It was run down, littered hard, and unpromising. The sort of hole in the wall that people crossed the street to avoid, taking up a pocket of space down a row of brighter venues. And out in front of it was Bellamy Blake, dark and chiseled and painted a thousand shades of hazel, arms crossed and scowl permanent.

“Hey neighbor,” was the very first thing he said to her – with a smirk. She and Raven had exchanged a blank look until the latter decided that her tolerance level was a little too low for the guy and she abandoned ship.

Clarke started to half-smile and stretched out her hand.

“I give it a week,” Bellamy grinned, glancing down at her outstretched arm.

Clarke frowned. “Sorry?”

“You will be,” Bellamy laughed, “when this dump caves in on you and you think twice about opening up a bar beside the best club in town. So I give you a week before you run back to suburbia, which is pretty generous. Considering.”

“I’ll give you a second,” Clarke said, eyes narrowed. “To get out of my way.”

“Brave, princess,” Bellamy chuckled. “I’m going to love watching you try.”

-

Two years later, Clarke is proud to say that Bellamy is still watching. Well, not that way.

The place, once run-down and terrifying has transformed into the finest performance bar around, sleek metal and pretty grit. A white neon sign reading The Marble Princessblares against dark wood and black metal. It’s pretty and ugly; both modest and too much and draws a crowd of both executives looking to let their hair down and construction workers dying for a drink after the grind. Raven got the mechanics, the layout of the place, working perfectly: raspy voices and electric guitars reverberating against the dark walls, the girls all in denim, leather, and black, drinks and posters piled high up the wall, confetti and booze blasting from shooters and water buckets to keep the crowds tame. The place was beautiful and wild but somehow, Clarke managed to keep it contained and on its feet. Never once had they been badgered by a police officer or trashed by a party. Her girls were always safe, paid, and in sync. Cut from marble and rough as stone.

But one thing – more specifically, one asshole, had remained the same.  

Still nursing her injured ankle, Clarke walks over to the dark, looming building next door, its only mark a burst of green ivy growing over some gold letters gilded into wood:KINGS.

She narrows her eyes and spots Jasper, Bellamy’s appointed club coordinator (more like glorified assistant), by the side of its main entrance with a headset on. But the moment he sees the ferocious look on her face, he darts inside and shuts the main entrance.

Clarke bangs hard on the door.

Jasper, I know that you saw me.”

His wide eyes and messy brown locks make an appearance through a crack in the door.

“Oh, I, hey Clarke,” Jasper sputters, raising his clipboard like a shield. “I didn’t see you there. What’s – ”

“Where is he, Jasper?”

“And, uh, who exactly are you referring to?”

Clarke cocks her head, unamused and dry in her tone. “Your boss? About yay tall, black hair, has the smirk of satan and – ”

“Bellamy?” Jasper swallows, shoulders hunched. “He’s right over…”

The boy steps aside so that Clarke can see, and her throat goes dry. The lights in Rebel Kings have done dim, save for the dull, strobing glow of blue and green. The men atop the black slab standing at the center of the room appear one-by-one in V formation, shadowed and toned. Lincoln, brawn and bronze with tribal tattoos dancing up his torso and to his neck. Murphy, pale and sulking with satin shorts and a curled lip on. Miller, mischievous and brooding, a heavy belt low on his abs and a black hat on his head. And Kane, what Clarke’s heard them call the Silver Fox of the group, bearded and mature in his features, but maintaining an unbeatable confidence as he stands with his fingers hooked around his belt loops and glasses low on the bridge of his nose.

And they all point to Bellamy.

He’s wearing black slacks and not much else, smiling like he knows every secret in the world, and when he leans forward, it’s clear that half of the crowd is there for him. He commands it, muscles rippling shades of olive and gray, crowd nearly fainting when he gyrates forward and drops to the floor, slamming across it with his fists, hair falling into his eyes, shoulders flexing at every swelling beat.

Jesus. He’s practically fucking the ground.

Clarke is thankful for the dark. Her skin is burning scarlet.

But she quickly remembers what she’s there for when Bellamy jumps off stage to target a giddy birthday girl, sitting front row on what looks like an intricate black throne. Clarke rolls her eyes and crosses her arms as Bellamy toys with her, a lap dance that, when he catches Clarke’s eye across the room, seems prolonged and grimier for her benefit.

And when the set is done, Murphy’s the last man on stage. He doesn’t dance, not like the rest of the crew, just whips his pants off and frowns.

Somehow, the crowd still goes wild.

As Clarke makes her way backstage to find Bellamy (much to Jasper’s dismay), she wonders how these guys all ended up in this place, taking their shirts off night after night and what they did to pass the day. Raven worked at an auto body shop a few blocks away and Clarke taught art classes further into the city. Was Kane someone’s professor? Was Lincoln a starving artist?

What did that make Bellamy?

Naked. Very naked. In her fit of rage, Clarke had shoved open his dressing room door without hesitation. Now, she eyes his black, barely-there briefs and swallows, trying to focus on the dimple of his chin, the scar by his lip.

Bellamy smiles, halts his dressing and looks like he’s appreciating this way too much.

“Well, well,” he rasps like his voice is tired from the night. “Which one are you tonight, princess? Thirsty patron or concerned citizen?”

Clarke narrows her eyes, that permanent crease between her brows deepening. “How about annoyed neighbor? Disgruntled business owner? Or, I don’t know, girl who’s going to call the cops if you don’t turn your music down. This is a record…”

She trails off, flustered, and Bellamy raises a brow.

“Okay, before I say anything else,” Clarke exhales, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m going to need you to put underwear on. Real underwear.”

He smirks and drops the pants in his hands to the floor.

Bellamy.”

“You know, I guess I must have a problem with following instructions, Clarke,” Bellamy sighs, exaggerated and smug. “Why don’t you come a little closer and ask me again?”

Clarke recoils, hoping the pink isn’t showing on her cheeks. “You know what, Bellamy? Go ahead and leave the music on. Talking to you is like asking it to snow in the Sahara.”

Bellamy smiles, gives her a once-over and licks his bottom lip. “Want to bet?”

Clarke spins on her heel. “Leaving.”

But before she can go, there’s a firm hand on her arm stopping her, and Bellamy closes the door a little behind them. Clarke’s about to slap him across the face, but his voice is earnest now.

“Clarke, wait,” he says, lifting an envelope from a table by the door. It’s addressed to her, stamped an ugly, angry red. BILL OVERDUE. He eyes her for a moment before handing it over. “Guess they delivered it here by accident.”

There’s a long pause while he waits, looking genuinely concerned.

And that, Clarke can’t handle. Her heart rate picks up, there’s sweat on her brow…because if even Bellamy gives a damn, then it has to be bad. She crumples the envelope in her fist, just like she did the last three.

“Nice shorts,” she says to change the subject, to lighten the mood.

Bellamy sounds kinder when he backs up a bit, nods his head. “Nice everything.”

Clarke shakes her head, tucks the envelope into the back of her jeans.

“Hey princess.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll turn the music down.”

-

Clarke leaves.

She swears the music blares that much louder.

-

That’s how it was with them. Anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their orbit could see the fixation they had with driving each other insane. Complaints, confrontations, verbal spats out front so intense that they would sometimes drive away customers.

Every act had a counteract. Every flame had to be a fire.

But in the same way, everyone knew it was a front for their mutual infatuation – Miller rolled his eyes when a stock of booze from Rebel Kings went mysteriously missing in the midst of Clarke’s crisis with her supplier. Raven chuckled under her breath when Clarke spent two hours on the phone haggling with an electrician on an outage that was so clearly not on their property.

“Hey,” Clarke had argued, “if they blow out, it might affect the whole block.”

Right.

Bellamy and Clarke? They had this thing for each other.

If only anyone could place what that thing was.

-

So when Octavia Blake decides to ditch her job hosting tables and doing bottle service at Rebel Kings and trade in her apron for high heels and a leather skirt at The Marble Princess, Clarke can’t decide if it’s leverage or payback.

Needless to say, Bellamy is furious.

He shows up on Octavia’s first night, and the girl skillfully ducks behind the counter so that Clarke can handle his wrath, as promised.

“What is my sister doing dancing on your bar?” Bellamy hisses.

“Save it,” Clarke sighs, “I’m about to go on.”

“She’s too young.”

Clarke rolls her eyes. “She’s my age.”

“You’re too young.”

“Right, Grandpa,” Clarke deadpans. “Six years is a lifetime away.” Feeling particularly annoyed at Bellamy’s casted judgment, she pushes on. “At least she’s not taking her clothes off for money, right?” She shoots Bellamy’s chest a pointed look. “I mean, who on earth would do that?”

The devil himself could not match the fury on Bellamy’s face.

Clarke sighs, digresses. “Look, Bellamy, I have to go on. If it makes you feel any better, I have her working behind the counter. No dancing. Not until she’s comfortable with it. Not until she talks to you.”

Bellamy’s shoulders drop a bit, and he eyes Clarke for a moment. “Yeah?”

“Yes,” Clarke affirms, pointing to where Octavia is chatting up a regular and handing him a beer, then sprays him with water when he gets a bit fresh. She and Bellamy chuckle at the same time. “So before coming in here with your tar and torches, remember that I’m not the bad guy. And your sister? She can handle herself.”

With that, Clarke bites her lip before pulling up onto the bar counter with Anya and Raven, leather boots hitting with just the right thud along to just the right beat. It’s a Johnny Cash song, Ring of Fire, and they’ve all got this memorized in their bones.

Bellamy stands there, blood boiling, a little awestruck.

Goddamn. Clarke Griffin is evening dripping into day.

The taste of love is sweet,

           When hearts like ours meet.

I fell for you like a child,

           Oh, but the fire went wild.

He watches as she kicks up a shot glass and catches it in her right hand, flames it up so that it sparks with booze to resounding applause. The chorus is smooth and upbeat, and Clarke’s hips know it well. She seems to lighten up as she trades places with her girls, fingers hooked and heels tapping, dropping low and shimmying up.

When she sees that Bellamy’s still watching, she seems to flush, but she keeps her eyes steady on his.

He smiles a bit, but it’s not condescending.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,

           I went down, 

                            down, 

                                 down as the flames went higher.

He’s got to lean back against the wall to maintain his balance.

“You’re so damn hot, Blondie.”

Bellamy scowls as a guy at the counter makes a try for Clarke’s ankle, and she kicks him off in quick rebuttal. She glances at Bellamy, but there’s no panic on her face. She seems well-versed with assholes.

But the guy doesn’t let up. He’s wasted, and his tie is flipped sloppily over his shoulder as he licks his lips at Clarke and reaches up to draw his finger down her thigh.

“I’ll show you a ring of fire, baby.”

Bellamy’s fists curl as Clarke slams the guy’s hand down and twists his arm, whispers a warning too low for her other customers to get alarmed. But he seems to find is amusing and uses her proximity to make a grab for her hair and lean in for a kiss.

“Come on, princess. Give me a smooch.”

Bellamy snaps. He leaves his perch on the wall to throw the guy back against one of the tables, fists curling into the fabric of that tie, and gives him one swift sock in throat.

And it burns, burns, burns

           The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

The guy howls and stumbles out of the club, trailed by Bellamy despite Octavia’s protests and Clarke’s shouting.

They’re all outside, and the warm night settles on their skin like a sedative as the drunkie stumbles off shouting profanities and waving his fists in the air.

“Jesus, Bellamy,” Octavia scolds, checking out his fist.

Clarke isn’t so kind.

She shoves Bellamy into the alleyway between their two places, one hand planted firmly on his chest, hard enough to leave an imprint.

He lets out a groan. “Interesting way to say thank you.”

Thank you?” Clarke releases him and rakes her fingers through the wild blonde waves framing her flushed face. “I don’t know how you run your place, Bellamy, but that guy you just punched? We get about ten of him per night. And if we did that every time, we’d be dancing to an empty bar. We kick them out quietly and quickly. Spray them, get physical if we have to. But we can handle ourselves.”

Clarke wants to say, And we can’t afford to dance to an empty bar right now. But Raven’s joined them all outside, and Clarke is supposed to have this side of it under control. Which, she does.

Or, she will.

Clarke swallows, backs off of him.

“Crystal clear, Clarke,” Bellamy says.

She pretends it doesn’t hurt that he’s not smirking, that his infuriating nickname for her didn’t roll off his tongue.

“I won’t step foot in there again.”

-

The next morning, Clarke is running through a book of numbers with her head in one hand on the front step of the bar. Anya smokes a cigarette outside and smirks at a guy making eyes at her as he passes by – before she pulls Lexa in for a long kiss. Maya practices guitar and sings a few tunes while Raven fixes a sign out front. Concerned, she’s half-watching Clarke.

Watches as Clarke stares over at the Rebel Kings ghost town, which opens up much later than they do.

Watches as she puts the book aside and walks over to the front of their opposing venue, picks up a flyer from where it fell by the door, and carefully tapes it back up.

-

“Yeah, I’ve been on hold for an hour,” Clarke sighs. It’s near three in the morning, and she’s on the rooftop they share with Rebel Kings, the only neutral part of the entire infrastructure. Just some planks and the stars. On the phone, an operator for their electric company drones out another scripted line. “Wait…I just want to talk to someone about an extension or a – ”

Elevator music.

She curses loud and kicks a can in front of her, sends it hurtling across the roof and into the person sitting on the other side of it.

Bellamy lets out a noise. “Jesus, if this is about the other night…”

Clarke lets out a surprised breath, eyes adjusting to the dark. Bellamy’s set himself up on a lawn chair with a torn paperback and a six-pack of Heinekens. He looks a little red in the eyes, but he’s not scowling. Not like before.

“Hey,” Clarke says quietly, takes a step back. “Sorry. I didn’t know that you came up here. I’ll just – “

But Bellamy’s already sighed and taken a seat on the ground, offered up the rickety chair and a beer to her with a tired gesture.

She takes it from him, pops it open with the opener strapped to her hip, takes a long sip. It’s lukewarm but nice on her tongue. They sit like that for a while, in silence. But somehow, beside Bellamy, it feels full.

He clears his throat. “You in trouble, princess?”

Clarke closes her eyes. “You care?”

“Hey,” he echoes with a smile, “if your place goes down, who knows what’ll happen to the block.”

Clarke nods, presses her lips together. “Right.”

More silence.

Bellamy breaks it again. “Answer something?”

Clarke leans back and finds Andromeda in the stars. She whispers to the sky, How’d you break your chains? 

“Sure, why not?”

“How did a control freak like you end up dancing on bar counters?”

Clarke smiles, closes her eyes again and concentrates hard. On the sound of his voice, their breathing, the cars jetting by down below. “I like the way it makes me feel. In control. My moves, my place, my call. Like we get to start the fires and then fight them. Like we’re not dancing for anyone but ourselves, with ourselves.”

Her eyes are still closed, and she misses the way Bellamy’s staring at her, something caught in his throat, like the moon pales in comparison to his twin star. Like she just got his entire life in a heartbeat.

He clears his throat against the feeling, cups his own jaw.

“What about you?”

Bellamy raises a brow. “Hm?”

She mimics, “What’s a control freak like you doing taking his clothes off?”

Bellamy scoffs, “I’m not a control freak.”

“Sorry,” Clarke says dryly, “I guess I thought we were having an honest conversation.”

He shoots her a tired glance, but she’s still not looking.

There’s another pause before he winces and admits, “Breaking news, the demand for a male stripper is significantly higher than that for a new historian.”

This makes Clarke open her eyes.

“No way.” But when she glances down, sure enough, The Iliad is resting at his feet.

“Not that it matters,” Bellamy goes on, guzzling down the rest of his bottle. “Rebel Kings is going under, too.”

For a moment, they stare at each other in the dark, and Clarke feels guilty. Guilty that they’re caught in this intimate confessional, that she’s unpeeling bits of her rock and ice, when she hasn’t even told her business partner that they might not have a business in a few months.

Clarke swallows. “What are you going to do?”

Bellamy shakes his head, drops it into his hands. “Move on? Start over somewhere else. Nothing I haven’t done before.” Clarke must visibly recoil at the words because Bellamy lifts with interest, jerks his head and raises his eyebrows at her. “Call me sentimental, princess, but it looks like you might miss me.”

Clarke lets out a laugh and rolls her eyes. “I’m not calling you anything.”

The laughter feels good, and it pulls them into easy conversation. Before long, the sky is turning pink with the stories of Clarke’s past, her overbearing mother, her family of pristine nurses and doctors, how all that charcoal got on her fingertips. Bellamy explains that when he was younger, he wanted to be more than just his dead mother and deadbeat dad, how all those heroes in the books he read shed their skin and wore gold.

They fall asleep together in a bed of cigarette stubs and twilight.

As he fades, Bellamy finds Cepheus in the sky and asks him, How’d you get your queen?

-

Late in the morning, Clarke jerks awake.

Her cheek is pressed into Bellamy’s crinkled white shirt, and the beer is stale on her tongue. They don’t talk about it, just get themselves together and pick up the beers from where they fell scattered across the roof.

When she turns to make her way down, he calls after her.

“Hey, Clarke.”

“Yeah?”

“You can stop by if you’re ever looking for another drink anytime,” he grins. “I hear the place next door sucks.”

-

And oh, does she need one. For later that night, when they’ve just gotten off a set, Anya throwing knives at their dartboard from across the room with flawless execution and Harper contorting in ways no one should be able to, Raven corners her outside.

She’s waving their balance book in the air. Clarke’s mouth goes dry.

“Where’d you get that?”

Raven frowns. “Were you going to tell me that we were thousands of dollars in debt, Clarke?”

Clarke exhales. “Yes.”

When?

“I – ”

“Were you waiting until they seized the place? Hey Raven, guess what? We don’t have a bar anymore, but it’s okay because I’m Clarke Griffin, and I’m great with numbers.”

Clarke narrows her eyes. “It’s really easy to screw in a few bolts and say you’re running a business, Raven.”

There’s a pause. Her heart sinks.

“Nice.”

“Raven – ”

“No, you’re right,” Raven says, shoving the book into Clarke’s chest. “Don’t sweat it, Clarke. Better start looking for a job I’m actually good at.”

“Raven, wait…”

But before Clarke can go after her, there’s a chime in her pocket from a call that she missed. She exhales, raises the phone to her ear.

Clarke, it’s your mother. You can go ahead and pretend that I don’t exist for the rest of your life, but I’m not doing the same. I love you, and I’d like to talk to you.

So I’m coming down to Chicago. This week. I’ll see you then.

The curse Clarke lets out is enough to make a sailor blush.

“Sweet,” Bellamy says from a shadow, eyeing her rage with caution. But he looks like he’s battling demons of his own, dark under the eyes, veins bursting underneath skin.

“Not now, Bellamy.”

But he doesn’t go, just watches her with dark eyes and a deepness to his voice that she can’t quite place when he says, “Really? Because I’m thinking now is a great time.”

They stare at each other for another beat before Clarke follows him into his club. They sift past the squealing ladies and gentlemen fanning themselves, duck past the lights and into a room behind the bar, lush velvet and black walls. The couch is sprawling and purple. It’s a lap dance room pretending not to be.

Clarke eyes him. “Really?”

There’s no retort, just a kiss.

It’s rough and mean and frustrating, all hands and lips and teeth. He bites her bottom lip, and she bunches up his shirt at his waist, drawing it up to touch his skin. But despite the jerks and pulls and pushes, his hands are silk on her hair, at the nape of her neck, soothing the stress lines on her skin. Her fingers trace stories across his stomach and make him shiver.

Amidst the muffled moans, he tells her to sit, and she does, shirt falling off one shoulder, lips bruised red. When he pulls off his own shirt, unbuckles his jeans, it’s different than when he does it onstage. Perhaps all that light fades out his scars when he goes up there, and now Clarke is seeing the entire thing. She goes to stand up, to make him feel better about all of it, but he sits her back down, cups her chin, draws his thumb down her lips.

“Relax, princess.”

“Why?” she says quietly, as playfully as she can manage. “Are you going to steal my moves?”

Bellamy smiles, down to his boxers now. “You’ve seen me onstage, Clarke. You know that’s not necessary.” He lifts her up in one swift movement, drags her shirt off, her skirt down, boots dangling off her feet. They hook around his waist, and he pushes her against the wall, Clarke pulling his hair and Bellamy biting the curve of her neck. He leaves a half moon on her skin, and she arches like she’s found salvation.

“You’re okay,” he says it to her, to himself, “you’re okay.” He whispers it softly, but she grinds against him hard, and they fall backwards and onto that couch. They fight for dominance, then let each other have it.

“I’ve wanted this for a really long time, Clarke.”

They stop then, his face in her cupped hands.

“You’re okay,” she says to the crook of his neck, to the cut on his arm, to the dip in his waist, and he tilts his head back, threads his fingers in her hair, and stares up at where false stars are painted on the ceiling to mimic the night sky.

Andromeda drops those chains.

Cepheus says, This is how.

-

After, they don’t talk.

Bellamy touches her hip while she puts her clothes on like he’s desperate for more of what’s beneath her skin. She flinches.

Bellamy cups the back of his neck, frustrated, grasping for her attention and hating himself for it. “How about a drink?”

Clarke is dead in her tone when she murmurs, “Have one for me.”

“Clarke – “

“I’m a sinking ship, Bellamy,” Clarke says before she leaves. “You don’t have to be.”

He wants to ask her how she got so good at being a ghost.

-

One straight week, and Clarke doesn’t crunch numbers, doesn’t dance or micromanage, just sleeps.

Raven is the one to wake her up.

“If I forgive you, will you stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself?”

Clarke groans and opens one eye to the flat they share, sun filtering through their opened curtains. Raven’s standing there with her arms crossed. Clarke shoves the pillow over her face. “No.”

Raven yanks it off. “Tough.”

Clarke leans up on her elbows, tries to yank her fingers through the knots in her waves to no avail.

“Raven – ”

“Let’s not,” Raven says. “If people abandoned me for every brash thing I said, I wouldn’t have you.” She kneels down before Clarke and holds her face in her hands. “And I have you, right?”

Clarke exhales, remembering why she’d had such a strong crush on Raven when they were younger – the hellfire to her ice. Though it hadn’t worked out romantically, the love she had for her friend was resilient, twice as strong. “Right.”

“Now pull yourself together, Griffin, Jesus,” Raven snorts. “We have a bar to run.” She ties her hair back and ducks into the bathroom to wash the grease from her arms. “Oh, and if you don’t get Blake off our stoop, I’m going to call the police.”

Clarke raises a brow. Raven smiles.

Bellamy seems relieved when she lets him in, and she wonders how long he’s been sitting out there. He’s got stale bagels and cold coffee to offer up in his hands. He drops them on their kitchen counter, then shoves his hands in the front pocket of his jeans.

They speak at them same time.

“So you do own a shirt,” Clarke says.

“I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on, princess,” Bellamy rasps.

She cringes. He drops his face into his hands.

His voice comes out a little rough, a little vulnerable when he says, “Look, it might be surprising, but I’m not great at this.”

Clarke bites her lip, sits back in bed. “Shocking.”

Bellamy smirks. “Right.” When he leans towards her, she doesn’t recoil this time. He crawls inch by inch over to her across the sheets, takes her face in one hand, kisses the corner of her lips. “But I’m damn good at that.”

He is.

“And this,” he murmurs, kissing her slow and skimming his fingers across her bare thighs.

He is.

“And loving you,” he whispers against the hollow of her throat, swallowing hard right after. Her eyes dart open, but she’s too lost in the moment to respond. He’s dropping her back against the bed, saying things like, “We take care of each other.”

And she believes it. She knows it.

“Bellamy, wait,” Clarke says suddenly when she hears the shower turn off. He looks startled for a moment, a little wounded, until he realizes she’s talking about Raven.

“Actually, princess,” Bellamy says, jerking his head at the closed bathroom door. “I need both of you. Call me crazy, but I have an idea.”

Clarke smirks. “I’m not calling you anything.”

-

Murphy’s voice is deadpan, and he looks like he might walk out the door any second.

“A ladies and gentlemen night,” he says, “as thrilling as that sounds, can’t make it.”

Emori raises a brow and the birthmark she has across one side of her face shifts. “Which night?”

Murphy shrugs. “Whichever one it’s on.”

Anya sighs. “You guys finally decide to screw, and we’re being punished for it?”

“Enough,” Bellamy snaps, and standing beside Clarke, they both glow golden. “This is our chance to do something interesting. Break that wall, earn some more cash, have a real shot at something big. And if that doesn’t appeal to any of you, I’ll happily write out your last check.”

“What Bellamy means is,” Clarke says to the group, “we’ve been coexisting and wasting a big opportunity for a very long time. We’ve all really got something here, no matter what it is you do on the side, no matter what you leave behind when you walk through these doors. For one night, none of that matters. We all feel that way. We all have that in common. We all – ”

“Clarke.”

She’d recognize her mother’s voice anywhere.

Clarke tenses, and the entire room turns to look at the silhouette of the woman at the door. She glances at Bellamy, and he nods at her to go.

“As I was saying,” Bellamy grins, “the unemployment line is looking mighty thin.”

Clarke takes her mother outside, and they watch a few cars pass by before either one of them speak.

“So this is it?” Abby asks, staring up at the building beside them, all marble and neon and gold, clashing in just the perfect way.

“Yeah,” Clarke says softly.

“It’s beautiful,” Abby says, still stern in her tone but eyes glassy with remorse.

Clarke tries not to show her surprise. “Thank you. Mom – ”

“Clarke,” Abby cuts in, “for so long I tried to control you in the way I couldn’t with your father’s death. I thought I could play his part and my own when he and I were both so different. That’s why I loved him. And in doing that, I lost you, too. And I can never forgive myself for these years that I’ve lost, your independence, your growth, this business, no matter how different it is.”

Clarke smiles at the ground. A tear marks the pavement.

“I can only try to be here for you now, if you’ll have me.”

Clarke exhales, pulls her mother in so close that they’re both left breathless. In her ear, she whispers, “You never lost me, Mom.”

Abby nods, pulls away with tears in her eyes, which widen like she’s just remembered something. She digs in her purse, surfaces with an envelope.

“From your father, for your twenty-first birthday. I never got to give it to you before you left. A part of me didn’t want to. I just wanted to…be stubborn and stick with what I thought was right. This is right, Clarke. Whatever you choose is right.”

Clarke takes the envelope, her father’s mad handwriting scrawled across the face of it. She lets out a deep breath, then smiles back at her mom.

“Want a drink?”

“Oh. Sure,” Abby says, relaxing her shoulders a bit, trying to get comfortable among all the grit and gaud. Clarke laughs at the sight. Her mother smiles. “Do you know a place?”

-

Dear Clarke,

Happy birthday, sweet twenty-one. Oh, how time flies.

“Alright, we’re all set,” Monty calls from his DJ booth, testing his mike out, toying with the records on his table. He startles when a shirtless Miller lays a hand on top of his, shoots him a gentle half-smile that never makes an appearance onstage.

“Play that song I like?”

Monty swallows, boyishly scrambles for a disk. “Add It Up, Violent Femmes. You got it.”

Miller smiles. His hand remains.

Across the room, Raven and Kane serve drinks, the former nudging the latter to go talk to Clarke’s mother down the bar. Lincoln pulls Octavia in for a salsa move, brushing an errant strand of hair from her cheek, Lexa and Anya doing the same, Maya sings over a ballad, and Emori drags Murphy back from the exit for the fifth time.

And Clarke is frowning at Bellamy. “Don’t laugh at my blazer.”

Bellamy covers his mouth with one hand. “I’m not laughing at your blazer.” He pinches the stiff black jacket she’s got on. “It’s very official.”

She shoves a clipboard into his chest.

Bellamy chuckles. “Relax, Clarke.” He places his hands on her shoulders and guides her over to the entrance of Rebel Kings, joined temporarily by her neon sign until they renovate, where the line is down the block to get in. One day, that sign will read, The Ground.

Until then, the place is a hybrid of rough and bright, their posters and his décor, black stone and pale marble mingling with one another. The bar serves mixed drinks, better than ever and named after each member in their crew, the stage is wide and lit up with her soft hues and his dark ambiance. The music is old, hard rock amped up in a remix.

Right now, you’ve got your entire life ahead of you, Clarke. You’re standing atop a mountain looking out onto all that possibility. Med school, your career, your brilliance. And you should go. You should be a doctor.

Clarke watches in awe as the place floods with crowd after crowd, their dancers flock together, beautiful and hot, daring and decadent. The performance is stunning and sexy, and money rains upon every corner without even a sliver of extra skin shown.

Bellamy whispers, “You did this, Clarke. All of this.”

But it isn’t true. They did it together.

When Lincoln twirls a red-dressed Octavia off the stage, Monty’s voice crackles across the room to announce the final set of the evening. Clarke frowns at her clipboard, then up at the DJ booth.

“Lincoln and Octavia were supposed to finish off the night before our regular routines.”

Bellamy smiles.

“Introducing two legends, together for the first time ever onstage. Get up here, Bellamy and Clarke.”

The clipboard falls. “Bellamy and Clarke? Bellamy and Clarke?”

“Relax, princess.”

“Bellamy, my mother is here.”

He raises a brow to where Abby’s got her hair lose, and Kane’s got his hand on her leg. “I think she’s a little preoccupied.”

“Bellamy – ”

“It’s just like the other night,” Bellamy grins, though it only enrages her more. “You trust me?”

Clarke frowns. “No.” It’s an easy lie.

He takes her hand, and the music plays.

Be a doctor, Clarke, if that’s what you want. Or an astronaut. Or a magician. Or a clown. My dream for you is…your dream. Do whatever makes you feel alive. Run far away if you need to, stay right where you are if that puts a smile on your face. Find something that makes you feel like you’re on zero-g, flying, electrified.

The song is rough and slow, a gravelly voice and a quick guitar. Bellamy’s got his hands on all the right places, running his fingers through her hair, slipping the blazer from her shoulders, hiking her up on his waist only to dip her low.

They’re sweating, lips barely touching, moves barely making any sense.

But the crowd is watching, fixated.

By the door, Jasper is nearly hyperventilating.

Octavia nudges his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

Jasper frowns. “Questioning my sexuality.”

Onstage, Clarke tugs his hair, Bellamy bends her forward, and when he kisses her, the crowd goes wild, thinks it’s just damn good acting. But the crew knows better. You can’t fake that kind of chemistry.

Because in the end, that’s all you have left. And Clarke? I have you.

After, Clarke stumbles off to get a hold of herself, to tug her shirt down, to catch her breath.

Bellamy cups his jaw and half-smiles at her from across the stage.

Rule number one: Don’t let the light hit your eyes.