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How You Stay Alive

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Clarke’s never been one for superstition.

Or at least, the queen likes to think that she’s not as taken in by fairy tales as many people in her time. Her husband was always the one who humoured their subjects when they came up with their outlandish tales, but to her, it was nonsense and she had no patience for it. So the story of the djinn who lives in the dark cave somewhere a few hours a winding, mountainous walk away on the kingdom’s outskirts has never been one she put much stock in.

Tonight, however, as she stops her horse in front of the dark cave at the top of the mountain path— she is a believer.

She has to be. She is desperate.

She jumps off her horse and hurries to the wheeled cart that it’s been hauling along. There’s a mound on the cart— a figure, shrouded with black cloth.

The young queen stares at the figure for only a moment while the wind howls around her. Then she raises an arm to wipe at her eyes. With difficulty she unhitches the cart off the horse and wheels it behind her into the cave.

She’s barely inside when a voice sounds out, crawling from the darkest corners of the cave. “To what pleasure do I owe having the queen in my humble home?”

The queen blinks blindly into the darkness, pulling her scarf away from her mouth to say, “I ask a favour.”

“A favour,” the voice repeats scratchily. There’s a whoosh sound, and the cave is suddenly illuminated by a torch held in the veiny hand of the djinn.

The queen, admirably, does not back down from her— the djinn is shrouded in shadows, eye sockets set into her skull so deep it’s nearly impossible to make out her eyes. She’s tall, impossibly so, and seems to stand on a dark swirling cloud rather than legs, or perhaps that’s just the queen’s imagination. It’s too dark to see. “Yes,” she whispers, craning her neck to look the tall woman in the eye and clutching tighter onto her scarf. “I can offer you anything in return— riches, glory, all of it.”

“I’d imagine you could, Your Highness,” the djinn replies wryly.

The queen regards the djinn seriously. “You’ll have it. If you do this one thing for me.”

“Well, I’m intrigued,” the djinn replies. “What is it?”

The queen takes a deep breath and then turns to the cart she’s hauled up this mountain with her. With not so much as a flourish, she pulls the black cloth away, revealing a handsome man’s face, eyes closed, jet black curls flat against his forehead, freckles dotting his unnaturally pale cheeks.

“The king,” the djinn says finally, now sounding mildly surprised. “So the rumors were true. He was sick.”

The queen has not taken her eyes off the king since the moment she pulled the cloth away from his face. Now she drapes the cloth back over him gently, almost as a caress. “I want you to bring him back. I tried to save him myself, but...” She swallows. “But I couldn’t.”

Her voice, up till now very strong, breaks a little.

“So what?” the djinn asks, clearly unmoved. “He’s already given you children, hasn’t he? Sons and daughters. What else do you want from him?”

“I don’t want anything from him,” the queen replies fiercely, with a glare. “I just… I want him. I miss him.”

The djinn is once again caught slightly off guard. “Your marriage was one of love?” It’s completely unheard of.

The queen shrugs, looking back down at the shrouded figure, and shifts from foot to foot. “Love, duty,” she murmurs. “It all became the same thing in the end.”

“Touching,” the djinn sneers after a pause, but with less venom than usual. “And what could I possibly do for him, when you, the best healer in the land, could not save him?”

The queen looks her in the eye. “Don’t play games with me. I know you’re a— a magician.” It’s a gamble— she’s not sure at all— but she’s proven correct when the djinn laughs, a high clear sound. The queen sets her shoulders and lifts her chin.

The djinn’s laughter fades and she regards the queen with new eyes. “They always said you were an odd pair of rulers. Unorthodox.”

“Our methods work,” The queen says tightly.

“Like I said,” the djinn replies. “Odd. Odd names too. But alright, Queen Clarke.” She leans back against the rock wall. “Ask me your wish. I will grant it.”

The queen chews on her lip, striking an almost childish figure in that moment. “What do you want in return?”

“I’ll tell you after,” the djinn says. “Go on, now. Tell me exactly what you want.”

The queen glares. Both women know who has the upper hand, and the djinn is gleeful knowing she has the great queen Clarke unbalanced. But then Clarke speaks, and all ferocity and queenliness in her voice is gone.

“I just want him to be alive again,” she whispers, casting a glance back to his body.

The djinn smiles coyly. “Alive again, you say?”

Clarke nods hesitantly.

“Granted.”

There’s a silence. Clarke waits. Then: “Nothing’s happening.”

“I granted your wish.”

The queen rips the cloth off the King’s upper half again, placing two fingers to his throat. She wheels back to the djinn. “He’s still dead!” she snarls. “Stop toying with me— You’re my subject and I order you to grant my wish!”

“Again,” the djinn insists, the twinkle in her eye growing, “I did.” At Clarke’s speechlessness, the djinn apparently feels sympathetic enough to explain. “If you wanted someone to reanimate a dead corpse, you should’ve asked a necromancer. I only work with life, and souls, and hearts.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning the king will be alive again,” the djinn replies. “Just not right now. Reborn, if you will. In another life, in another time, perhaps. That is something I do not control.”

The queen gapes, horrified at how she’s been tricked.

The djinn leans forward. “I granted your wish, Your Highness. Now you must grant mine.”

Clarke regains her earlier ferocity, snarling, “I’ll do no such thing—”

The djinn tsks and waggles a finger in the furious queen’s direction. “But you haven’t heard it yet. What I want is to see you live again, too.”

That stops the queen short. “Me?”

“You,” the djinn confirms with a smirk. “A love story like yours, it would be a shame to let it end here. I want to see the both of you alive again.” She makes a face. “Being in love. Getting married. Having babies. All those things you common folk would die for, I suppose.” She looks sharply at the queen. “Isn’t that what you want? A chance at a life with him again?”

“Supposing I believe you, which I don’t by the way,” Clarke hisses, “what on earth could you possibly get out of that?”

The djinn smiles again, a secretive one, and taps her long, spidery fingers against her pointed chin. “Hmm. That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” She turns away, showing Clarke her back cloaked in dark fabric. “Our business is concluded. You may leave now.”

“Our business is not—

“You may leave now,” The djinn repeats. This time, there is a dangerous note to her voice.

The queen grinds her teeth, tears escaping her eyes, but finally she accepts that there is nothing else that can be achieved here. Slowly, she turns to pick up the handles of the cart holding her beloved, ready to take him back after this fruitless endeavor. It almost makes the djinn take pity just as the queen is turning her back.

“Here is what I’ll say, my queen—” the djinn waves a hand, and it feels like a spell being cast as well as a dismissal— “you and him will live again by my hand. But whether you fall in love again is entirely up to you.”

The queen doesn’t respond. She walks warily out of the cave with her husband’s body, and back to their— her— kingdom. She knows she shouldn’t have let herself believe in magic, not even out of desperation. There’s no such thing.

So she buries Bellamy. And then, as hard as it is, she moves on. She rules her kingdom. She raises their children. One day long after, she dies too.

And that is where their story begins.

 

 

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. — J.K. Rowling

 

— 1186: CRUSADER KINGDOM OF JERUSALEM —

 

 

Her name is Claraha.

She’s a respected leader, a warrior in the military here in Jerusalem. It’s practically unheard of to be a woman with this kind of power, but she gets what she wants, and she’s respected for it. It helps that she’s also a princess. Her father, Guy, dotes on her and is the one who let her train along with her brother in the first place; her stepmother, Sibylla, tends to ignore her. Claraha is completely fine with that, seeing as it’s mutual.

Claraha’s good at her jobs, if only because she wants to make her father proud. But sometimes she just wants to… unwind.

She doesn’t discriminate— she takes both men and women to bed, and enjoys them all. But with sex comes the inevitable complications, complications that she simply doesn’t have time for in her busy life.

After her latest enraged lover tries to stab her with the silver knife on her breakfast plate, she decides, while rolling his limp body off the steps to her bed with one foot, that it’s time to consider the possibility of escorts. Sometimes she just wants a good fuck, after all.

That’s how she meets him.

He’s not the first escort she’s called on before, so she’s relaxed, lounging in her bed in nothing but a robe, when the polite knock comes at the door.

“Enter,” she says, reaching for another grape from her dish.

There’s a pause, and then the door opens. A man steps inside. And he’s pretty.

Not to say that she hasn’t met (and slept with) many pretty people in her young life, but he’s pretty in a curious way. With a combination of features that intrigues her. Smooth tan skin, hair black and rough textured yet curling adorably at his ears, lips soft in shape yet utterly kissable, and eyes that are wide and brown like a doe’s, except they smoulder when she stands and sheds her robe without ceremony.

“You’re late,” she tells him. He doesn’t say anything. She pops one last grape into her mouth, pushes the dish aside and beckons with her hand. “Come over here.”

He’s remarkably shy for an escort, she decides when he stalks forward to stand in front of her, half a head taller than she.

“Take off your clothes,” she tells him without preamble. She’s not interested in dilly-dallying, and she’s sure the escorts appreciate that too. He smiles and does as told.

He won’t look at her below the chin, but she takes the opportunity to give him a thorough once-over. He’s well built, attractive in every way, and she can’t help but lick her lips as desire coils in her lower stomach, white-hot.

“Touch me,” she says, a little more breathy than she intended, and takes his large hands to place them on her breasts.

He takes the hint, squeezing and leaning forward to mouth at her jaw. She tilts her head back to grant him better access and he does not waste the invitation.

“Take me to bed,” she gasps, and he does not waste that one either.

There are three things this escort never does, every time she calls on him.

He never finishes inside her, always pulls out first while she’s shaking from her own climax.

He never kisses her on the lips.

And he never, ever says a word.

She’s rather sure the first two are rules of escorts, but the last? Her other escorts say things. Mostly filthy things in her ear, or at least theatric moans for her benefit.

Not him. He simply breathes, sometimes quiet and even, sometimes harsh and loud. And when she suspects he’s close to letting anything else out, he bites down on her skin. Which happens a lot when they’re fucking.

So one day, after he’s carried out the order “Eat me,” and she’s boneless, staring up at the ceiling, she gives one more.

“Say something.”

He pauses his way in kissing his way up her belly, and all she can see is the top of his head as it rests against her stomach for a moment. She reaches a hand down to tug impatiently at one of his curls. She touches it a lot; she loves those curls. Like all of him, they are a study in contrast, just the right amount of scrape against her inner thighs and just the right amount of silk in between her fingers.

He lifts his head to look at her, eyes solemn. And then he speaks.

“What do you want me to say?”

She falls in love with his voice at that very moment. It’s deep and deliciously sweet in a rough sort of way, registering in her ears in a way that has her inner walls clenching on nothing despite the fact that she just came. She wants to hear it again. “You never say a word,” she replies steadily, not betraying her inner thoughts. “So say anything.”

He considers her for a moment before a small smile curls over his lips. “Anything,” he parrots.

She thinks she falls in love in that moment— not with any part of his body, or physical aspect— but with him.

That will trouble her later, but for now she just laughs at his stupid joke, and then is immediately surprised that she laughed. “Why don’t you tell me your name?”

He blinks, apparently surprised. “You want to know my name?”

He makes it sound like a big thing, and she feels an unwanted blush rise to her cheeks. She shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly. “Maybe I want a name to say in bed.”

He smiles wickedly at that and resumes his task, placing butterfly kisses on her breasts, then up to her neck. “Bee,” he replies against her skin. “They call me Bee.”

“Bee,” she tastes the word. It’s pretty, just like the rest of him. She reaches around his jaw and tilts his face up. He lets her, and when she begins to nose at his throat— he’s got a long, elegant throat, she could kiss it all day— he sighs, the sound only slightly audible.

She pauses in her ministrations to say, “You can make noise from now on. I like it.”

He nods slowly, then blinks and adds, “Okay.”

“But you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she can’t help but add. “Only if you want.”

One of his hands reaches down to squeeze her hips, making her squeal a bit from being startled. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a lot of things to say.” He smiles slowly, one that makes her heart flip-flop. “If you want to hear them.”

She calls for him, again and again. Turns out he does have a lot to say, when asked. He murmurs sinful praise into her ear in his deep rumbling voice gone even rougher with lust. But that isn’t the best part.

Today, he walks in and she’s already naked, sliding off her bed to meet him halfway.

He drops down to his knees to ask, “How was your day?” against her hipbone.

She sighs, bracing herself on his wide shoulders, and says, “Do you know how many fools I’ve had to deal with in court today?”

He hums as if in sympathy, the vibration against her thigh spreading to her core, but she yanks him back up because she likes to just look at him sometimes. “Your stepmother again?” he asks, for all the world looking serious but she can tell there’s amusement glittering in his dark eyes.

“Sibylla spends all her time bossing my father around,” Claraha complains. “And telling him what to do with me. Apparently I’m a disgrace.” Her mouth twists at how the queen had voiced that thought while she was still in the room, clearly intending for her stepdaughter to hear.

He tuts soothingly, running his hands up and down her hips.

“How was your day?” she asks, because she’s curious, she’s always curious about this man. As she speaks, she slides her hands under his shirt, raking up his back, and she feels his muscles flinch under her fingers.

She retracts her hands right away in concern, but any brief expression of pain has flitted away from his features. He reaches for her again, but she stops him.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, searching his eyes.

“Nothing,” he replies, but she’s not having it. She tugs at his shirt, and he lets her pull it off his head, mistaking it as her wanting to get a move on. But she places a hand on his chest and looks at him.

He’s got bruises.

They’re not love marks— they’re large, ugly dark blossoms spreading over his sides. She gestures for him to turn around.

He looks at her but doesn’t do it. It’s the first time he’s not done something she asked. She frowns at him and walks around him herself.

She gasps at the bruising that continues around his back too. “What happened to you?” she tries to say calmly.

“It’s nothing,” he tells her, wheeling around. His expression is stony.

“It’s not nothing!” she nearly shrieks, feeling tears come to her eyes. He’s hurt, and good people shouldn’t get hurt.

He looks taken aback. “I’ve seen you with bruises before, too,” he tells her. “Sometimes more.”

“I’m a warrior,” she snarls. “I’m a soldier. Of course I get injuries.” She passes a hand over his side. “You’re not supposed to get them.”

A muscle clenches in his jaw. “It happens sometimes, in my line of work.”

“It shouldn’t,” she snaps at him. “Escorts aren’t to be hurt this badly in their line of work. Tell me who did this. I will have them flogged.”

“I can’t.” When she glares, he says quietly, “Discretion is part of my work, you know.” He raises an eyebrow meaningfully at her.

Touche. She folds her arms and purses her lips. “Then tell me what happened.”

“They got rough,” he replies shortly. “Now, do you want to fuck, or should I leave?”

There’s a heavy pause. It’s the closest to fighting the two of them have ever gotten. He’s breathing a little hard, but there’s a frantic sort of anger lying low in his eyes. He’s distressed from what happened to him, somewhere deep inside where he can’t even admit to himself.

The softer part of her opens up. “I don’t want you to leave,” she says softly, and he nods once, jaw clenching again before he goes to drop to his knees again. She stops him, and he looks at her with confusion. “I also don’t want to fuck.”

His lips part but he says nothing.

“Not when you’re this hurt.” He’s still staring at her oddly, so she quickly adds, “I’ll still have you paid, I’m just saying you should stay a while. I just… you came all this way, didn’t you?”

A half smile plays on his lips. “I don’t live that far.”

She almost asks how far exactly he lives and only barely stops herself. She’s recently been seized with this desire to… to know him. To know where he lives, to know what his life is like, outside of the body that he sells for a living. She wants to take his hand and go with him. She wants to meet his friends, to walk down the streets of Jerusalem with him and wander from vendor to vendor, finding out what kinds of foods he likes to eat. She wants to find out if his jet-black hair will look browner in the sunlight, or if it’ll stay just as dark as it always is in the low light of her bed chambers. She wants to know how much messier it might look when he wakes up in the morning.

Claraha wants to know everything about Bee. The prospect is both frightening and thrilling.

But he’s standing in front of her, waiting for an answer. His head is tilted and his eyes are keen on her, waiting for an order. An order that he will have no choice but to obey, because— as she suddenly has to remind herself forcefully— he is a prostitute. He doesn’t really want to be here. He doesn’t want to know her. He only wants to make money to live on, and she’s what he puts up with to earn it.

There’s suddenly a lump in her throat. She swallows it down. “Then you can leave if you like,” she finds herself saying. “Go home. Get some rest. And I’ll make sure you will still be paid for tonight.”

He considers that. Considers her for a long moment, and she meets his gaze straight on, letting nothing slip from her expression. Finally he reaches around her to pick up his shirt that was discarded a few minutes earlier from the bed.

She lets out a breath as he pulls it on, and grabs a robe of her own from the drawer to put on. Despite herself, she’s feeling real disappointment in her stomach, and she furiously berates herself for her foolishness. Silly of her, to start using escorts to satisfy her desires in order to avoid complications, and here she is having fallen into the same trap. Well, she can’t have Bee. He is not hers to have. He is only his own. He is not hers. He is not—

“Is that backgammon?” Bee asks suddenly, cutting off her thoughts.

She follows his gaze to the small table against the wall, and the gameboard still lying on it. “Oh,” she mutters, a little wildly, “yes.” She’d been playing it with her brother earlier in the week, but they’d left the game halfway through.

“Haven’t played that in ages,” he remarks, and it takes her a moment to register that.

She looks up at him, and there’s an unassuming expression on his face, one she can’t derive much from. So she has to draw her own conclusions. “Do you…” she ventures, “would you like to play?”

It’s apparently the right question to ask, because his eyes warm. He smiles.

(She melts.)

She wakes the next morning with Bee next to her. They’re sprawled on the bed like this is perfectly ordinary, like two friends who had a little too much to drink. As soon as she registers this she has a mini panic attack as she scrambles to remember the night before.

It was… nice. He was a clever player, had her evenly matched for the game they played. But she was cunning enough to beat him. He didn’t seem to mind.

And they had played slowly, talking in between, passing a bottle of wine back and forth. He’d let her touch him, eventually. He kept wincing when he stretched his shoulder and she offered to massage his upper back. After a bit of denying, he finally accepted the help, and she gladly worked out some of the kinks there, and… she thinks that must be when they fell asleep.

He stirs beside her right when Claraha’s door bursts open and one of her servants walks in. “Princess— oh!” she exclaims in surprise, having spotted Bee’s dark head lifting from the pillow. “My apologies. I— I shall return later.”

The door clangs shut only a few seconds after it was opened.

Claraha stares at the ceiling, willing it to swallow her whole. She has never had an escort stay the night. Her ladies in waiting will be in a tizzy thinking she has a new lover.

“Princess ‘Oh’, huh,” Bee says mildly from beside her. His voice is even rougher with sleep. “I could have sworn your name was Claraha.”

It’s the first time he’s said her real name out loud, and the fact that he’s apparently comfortable enough to say it so informally makes her glow inside. She doesn’t let it show.

“Suits you, though,” he says, and she rubs at her eyes to see that his hair looks just as adorably rumpled in the morning as she would’ve imagined.

“And your name suits you,” she retorts, swinging her legs out of bed. “Always buzzing around in my ear, driving me crazy, like a bee.”

He props himself on one elbow, watching her. “You pay me to.” His voice is pitched lower, a little playful, but she feels like someone’s thrown a bucket of ice water over her.

“I do,” she says tersely, wrenching away the curtain from the window to let a breeze in. She turns again to see him watching her. “I have a lot to do today. The Ayyubid army’s been watching our borders for days. We have to send in some troops to scare them off.”

He takes the hint, slowly pushing out of her bed and padding over to the door. “Sorry for overstaying my welcome.”

His tone is, once again, mild, but she feels like she must say something. “You didn’t,” she tells him as he’s opening the door. “You— you’re always welcome here.”

He stares at her for another long moment, one that has her heart thumping far too hard in her chest, and then he simply nods. “Have a good day, Princess.”

He’s gone before she can return the sentiment, and she’s left with the bitter taste of missing him on her tongue.

The Ayyubid troops outside the walls of Jerusalem are harder to get rid of this time. They’re getting bolder, and murmurs of a new ruler— Saladin— are starting to reach her ears. She’s concerned, and delivers reports of the conflict to her father before she finally goes back to her chambers, groaning as she collapses on her bed.

She was slashed in the leg in the middle of this trip, and try as she might to suppress it, she couldn’t help but limp through the streets. She felt people’s eyes on her, their murmurs following her, and she hates it. As a woman, she already faces incredulity about her fitness as a warrior. She doesn’t need more wood added to the fire.

In any case, she has her leg binded as best as possible, and then there’s a knock at her door.

“Enter,” she says, turning her face towards the door.

The door swings open, and it’s him.

She scrambles up, immediately self conscious despite herself. She’s still got dirt on her face, she’s sure of it— her hair is knotted and grimy in its braid, and— why is she even concerned? She shakes herself. “What are you doing here?”

He wrings his hands together, eyes on her bandaged leg. “I heard the princess had been hurt in battle.”

“Oh,” she manages in a small voice. “Well, I’m fine.” There’s a silence. He’s still standing at the door. “I didn’t call for you.”

“No,” he agrees.

“So why did my servants let you in?”

“They assumed you did call for me,” he replies. She blushes. It may be the lighting, but she thinks his cheeks may be a little red at the moment too.

“But why did you come?” she asks, suspicious.

In a few strides he’s at the foot of her bed, leaning over her. “Thought you could use some cheering up,” he says, and she sucks in a breath at his deep voice washing over her, at least until he reaches into a satchel she hadn’t noticed he was wearing and produces a large bunch of purple grapes.

Her jaw drops open. “Grapes!” she exclaims with glee, reaching for them immediately, and he laughs softly.

She pops a few into her mouth, munching happily and distracted enough that she doesn’t notice he’s kneeled at the foot of the bed until he spreads her legs apart. She squeaks; her thin robe spreads over her knees, doing nothing to prevent his breath from fanning over the most sensitive part of her. “This okay?” he asks, eyes flicking up.

She giggles a little shakily at the understatement. “I eat grapes and you eat me, is that what tonight is about?”

“We both deserve something sweet,” he replies with a wicked smile, a smile that he then presses between her legs, and she’s lost to the world for a good while.

At the end of it he crawls up her body (pausing a moment to lay a delicate kiss to the bandage wrapped around her thigh) and plucks a grape from the abandoned bowl sitting on the bed next to her lazily curled hand, puts it in his mouth and winks at her.

She blinks and frowns at him. He’s always so composed, so pleased. She wants to undo him the same way he does so effortlessly to her. With that in mind, she grabs him round the waist and flips them over so she’s straddling him.

“You have some nerve, coming to me without being asked,” she tells him, trying to sound cross. “Are you expecting to be paid for something I didn’t ask for?”

“Course not,” he replies. “Putting you in a better mood was a service to the kingdom, not you. Can’t have the princess sulking around during diplomatic meetings.”

She laughs, delighted at his feistiness, because it means he feels that comfortable around her now. “You’re being paid, you cheeky bastard. But I’m not done with you yet.”

His dark eyes sparkle in the low light of her room, beautiful as ever. He lets her undress him, but when she starts to slide down his body he grabs her suddenly around the arms. “What are you doing?” His voice is tight.

She spits into her palm and reaches between them to wrap a hand around his warm length, pumping him a few times up and down slowly. “Returning the favour.”

His hips jerk up, and his pupils are blown wide as he looks at her, licking his lips. “You— you don’t have to—” she watches him as he flounders until he settles on, “this is about you.”

She wishes it wasn’t. She wishes it was about both of them. But she knows he won’t like that, so selfishly she tells a half-truth. “And I like doing this. Will you let me?”

He stares down at her, how she presses her lips against his hipbone and bats her eyes at him, and rubs a hand over his face vigorously and mutters a curse under his breath.

“Only if you want to,” she adds. A thought occurs to her, a horrible one that she’s never once considered. “Do you have a lover?” It feels— wrong, to do this to him, if he does.

“No,” he replies without hesitation behind his hand, and her heart settles back in her chest.

“So do you want me to?”

He hesitates, and then he simply nods, face not visible behind his hand. Without further ado she wraps her mouth around him.

He gasps loud and she lets go for a moment, a shocking realization coming to her. “No one’s ever done this to you before, have they?”

He finally looks at her, definitely with a flush on his cheeks now. He shakes his head, and she feels something in her stomach swoop. He’s only used his body as something to give to others— he’s never had this.

“Tell me what you like,” she says, and with renewed determination, she takes him in her mouth again.

He gasps again immediately, says with a huff of laughter mixed with a groan, “I like that,” so she inwardly smiles and listens to the sounds he makes, the way he twitches under her. His hands thread into her hair, yanking almost painfully hard at one point, and then trailing down to the back of her neck simply to caress her skin, making her shiver.

He tries to push her away when he’s close, but she doesn’t let him, keeping her mouth on him to the very end, feeling his body relax around her. And when he lies back, spent, she crawls back up his body and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “How was that?”

He’s breathing hard, eyes half lidded; he doesn’t seem capable of responding, to her immense satisfaction. His lips are red and parted. She’d like nothing better than to kiss them.

She really, really needs to stop thinking that. But she chooses to ignore the knot in her stomach for now.

She’s been in a foul mood as of late, contrary to Bee’s intentions the other night. And she’s aware it has everything to do with him. Ever since he left that night she’s been regretting doing that to him. Not because she didn’t enjoy it, because she most definitely did. No, she regrets it because of the feelings that flooded forth unexpectedly in the aftermath. She’s opened a door she doesn’t know how to close.

“Princess,” says one of her ladies in waiting mildly after she’s snapped at her for the fifth time that night. “If I may be so bold?”

Claraha yanks a comb through her hair. “I’ve never been able to stop you.”

“You seem tense,” the lady says cautiously.

“Oh, you’ve noticed?”

“Shall I call an escort?”

Claraha mulls it over. It would be nice to get some stress relief after all this. But then her servant goes on, slightly knowing.

“Shall I call the man with the black hair?”

Claraha looks up sharply. The lady shrinks back.

“I’m sorry if I overstep—”

“You did,” Claraha says tightly. She sets down her comb. It’s time to end this.

She stops calling for Bee after that. As much as it hurts her to do so, she knows this is the best thing to do. She tries to get on with her responsibilities, but somehow, he keeps worming his way into her thoughts. When something eyeroll-inducing happens in court, she makes note to tell Bee later, only to remember she won’t have the opportunity; she finds herself looking forward to the evening to have his arms around her, only to remember he won’t be there. She’s been reliant on him for months.

It doesn’t occur to her that he’s been reliant on her, too, until he shows up at her door in the middle of the night, looking concerned.

When she opens it, and sees him standing there, it hits her that she’s been a very steady, comfortable source of income for him. And she suddenly feels guilty. Maybe she does owe him an explanation after all.

He shakes her out of her thoughts, leaning against the door. “Your servants let me in.” He sounds almost apologetic. She must have quite an expression on her face. Hastily, she rearranges her features into neutrality.

“Why are you here?”

“They say you haven’t asked for me in weeks.”

“No, I haven’t,” she replies, staring down at her toes. It’s easier that way.

A pause.

“Alright,” he says, and moves to back away. “I just wanted to hear it from you.” Her confusion makes her look up, and he elaborates. “I thought you might’ve been in trouble because of me.”

“Oh,” she laughs, realizing. “No, my family didn’t find out I was using escorts and get mad. And if they did, I’d have to point out the mysterious stream of strange men that enter Sibylla’s chambers on a regular basis.” He relaxes, lips twitching, and she adds, “And even if they were, what good would it do for them to find you here again?”

“It’s the middle of the night,” he points out. “They wouldn’t.” There’s mischief dancing in his eyes, and against their will she feels her lips curling up.

Then she internally stops herself. What is she doing? The smile drops off her face and she chooses her next words carefully, while staring at the ground. “Bee, I won’t be seeing you anymore.”

There’s a heavy pause. She feels his stare on her.

Then he speaks, carefully, slowly: “Did I do something to displease you?”

Her gut clenches at the sound of his voice. She’s going to miss that smooth baritone, the way it skips down her spine and makes her feel warm all over. But right now, knowing it’s the last time, she only feels cold. She rubs vigorously at her arms. “Of course not.”

Another pause, turning awkward when she offers no explanation.

“You have a new lover?” he asks, and her eyes shoot up at that to meet his.

He backtracks immediately, turning away, but not before she sees something— a flash of hurt? “Sorry. That’s not my place to ask.” He takes a step back, shaking his head. “Good night, princess.”

“Wait,” she cries, before he can touch the door. He stops. She scrambles for something to say. “I’ll tell you why.”

He turns to face her then, taking a deep breath. “You don’t have to—”

“You’re the only escort I ask for,” she blurts out. “The only person I’ve been seeing for months.”

A beat. His eyes widen. There. It’s out now, and she fears it was a mistake, but then:

“You’re the only customer I like seeing,” he tells her softly.

She feels rather like she’s falling through the floor. They stare at each other for a long moment. Claraha barely dares to breathe, because: she’s not the only one who feels this way, he enjoys her company too.

She can’t stop herself from saying, “Really?” She sounds childish, hopeful, like a little girl who’s been fancying someone. That’s what he’s reduced her to.

He taps his long fingers against the wood of her door. “Yes,” he admits, and then slowly, as if just waking up from a dream, he says, “but… you’re a princess. I’m not— ”

“I don’t care,” she cuts him off immediately, not liking his tone of realization.

“I can’t give you anything.”

She’s ready for that. “And I don’t need anything.” She dismisses his thought. “Anything, except you.”

He swallows, and his eyes are fixed on her now unwavering, as if she might disappear. “They won’t let us.” His voice is barely a whisper.

“No one lets me do anything,” she replies. “How do you think I became a soldier? I do whatever I please.”

He studies her a moment longer, and then his face breaks into a wide smile. “That’s true.”

Another moment, and he’s still standing at the door, so she says hesitatingly, “So… where does that leave us?” She’s not really sure what to do at this point. She’s had lovers before this, but— a real relationship? She feels like it’s been forever. She doesn’t know the protocol. Especially not with him.

“I don’t want your money. I won’t be your escort anymore,” he replies. She panics before he goes on. “But I’ll come see you anyway.”

Her heart soars. She doesn’t know how to express what she’s feeling except striding over to him, putting her hand on his cheek and leaning up to kiss him.

It doesn’t land on his lips— he turns his face at the last second so she ends up kissing his jaw instead. She makes a noise, trying to turn his face back, but he lays one finger on her lips. There’s a twinkle in his eye. “I can’t kiss a woman I’m not betrothed to. Wouldn’t be right.”

She laughs in his face, because she’s so desperate for him— he’s had his mouth on far more intimate places of her body, but now he’s decided to become old fashioned? And yet, despite herself, she’s touched. “Didn’t know prostitutes could be so traditional.”

“Oh, I’m very traditional,” he replies seriously. “Prostitution’s been around a long time. Practically a tradition itself.”

She concedes the point. “Okay, fine,” she says, stepping back after a moment. “You won’t kiss me until we’re betrothed. Plan to correct that soon?”

His mouth forms a small, sly smile again and instead of answering he reopens the door. “Good night, princess.”

She sighs in exasperation, but the feeling growing steadily in her heart is recognizable for what it is now— love. “Goodnight, Bee.”

“Look, I’m going to start by saying I would rather stay out of your sex life,” Jordan, her brother, starts while they’re lounging around sharpening their swords on the palace’s front steps. Or at least, he is. She’s just doing it to pass the time, waiting for Bee after he sent her a message to be ready at noon. Finally, she’s going to go somewhere with him— somewhere that’s not her bedroom. She can’t wait.

She wrinkles her nose at her brother’s remark, in the meanwhile. “Then please, don’t trouble yourself.”

She’s ignored, as always. “Is it true what they say, that you’re seeing someone?”

You’ll be seeing stars if you continue with this line of questioning,” she retorts. Gossip spreads too fast around here. Especially, she thinks, because she’s a woman. No one ever asks about Jordan’s lovers. It sets her blood alight all over again. She sheathes her sword a little too viciously and stands up.

“Where are you going?”

“Out,” she says shortly. “With my lover. Problem?”

Jordan’s flabbergasted. “You can’t just—” She gives him a flat stare and he looks back down at his sword with a rueful grin, but apparently can’t help one last jab. “Father’s going to kill you if he finds out. I doubt your lover is royalty.”

She ignores the twisting in her gut, but she reminds herself that neither King Guy of Lusignan nor Queen Sibylla have ever been able to deter her from her goals. “I do what I want,” she replies loftily, spotting Bee’s curly hair in the crowd just beyond the palace gate. She throws her sword to the side, wraps her scarf around her head and tucks in her hair as Jordan watches. She’s wearing ordinary clothes, and with her hair out of sight, she should blend right in.

“I know,” Jordan says, and she thinks she might detect a glimmer of admiration as she stands up. “I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite you later, sister.”

She walks away without answering, silently agreeing with the sentiment.

Bee’s waiting for her just outside the gate, and her suspicions are proved to be right— his hair looks just as black even in the sun. But his eyes are set alight in a new dimension in the light, to a warm caramel. And freckles— how had she never noticed he had freckles?

He offers her his hand. “I want to show you something.”

She takes it without hesitation.

He leads her down the hustling streets of Jerusalem, through winding alleys and throngs of people, until they get to a hut that’s set low into the ground, so they have to take a few steps down a stairwell to get inside. It takes a few moments for her to adjust to the cool darkness inside, and then she registers the loud clanging.

“A blacksmith’s shop,” she breathes, looking around. The blacksmith currently hitting his hammer against a bent, silver piece at the work table looks up and shouts a friendly greeting to Bee before returning to his work. There’s the heavy smell of molten metal in the air, and it’s now that she notices the dark smudging on his hands that’s transferred over to hers. “You’re— you’re learning how to—?”

He nods, eyes practically glowing. “I’m just an apprentice right now, but soon I’ll be making money.”

It takes her a moment to register what that means. “Bee…” she breathes, and shakes her head firmly. “You don’t have to change your line of work for me. I understand what your job is, I know it’s not personal. What you do doesn’t change how I feel about you. You don’t have to do this.”

He watches her deliver this earnest speech with the trace of a smile upon his lips. “I thought you’d say that,” he tells her, and tugs her closer to whisper against the top of her scarfed head, “And I know. But I wanted to.”

He ends up showing her his tools in his work area— she’s not the best listener (“Don’t touch that!” he says exasperatedly several times) but it’s fun nonetheless. She’s so caught up in it that she is actually caught off guard when they’re kidnapped.

When she comes to blearily, she immediately tries to stand, only to be tugged harshly down by chains biting into her wrists, bound behind her back. There’s a dull pain pulsing at the back of her head, where her kidnapper took a club to it—

Bee! She thinks suddenly, and whips her head around to look at her surroundings.

It’s a small, cramped space with stoned walls. If she had to guess, an underground bunker. She sees with shock that Jordan is chained beside her, one eye blackened and swollen shut, and on her other side her father, who’s watching her with fearful eyes. And Bee… he’s chained next to her father, silent and still and looking for all the world unafraid. He must sense her watching him, because his eyes shift to meet hers, and then back to their captors in front of them.

Claraha follows his gaze to the men pacing in front of them.

“Welcome, royal family,” one sneers. He’s holding his sword loosely in his hand, and as he speaks he brings it up to touch the tip to her father’s throat.

They’re Saladin’s soldiers, she realizes. So, so careless of them— the Ayyubid army has already infiltrated the city somehow, right under their noses.

“Saladin gave us orders,” their captor continues. “He is merciful. A king does not kill another king.” He drags the tip of the sword away from Claraha’s father’s throat. “Well, we might have to kill Queen Sibylla. She’s still giving us trouble, evading capture. But the rest of you, you will be taken prisoner for now. And we will take Jerusalem for Saladin.”

“Wait,” one of the other men says slowly. “We have captured the three of them, but who is the spare?”

It feels like everyone’s heads swivel to Bee in that moment. He looks completely calm at the attention.

“When we captured Claraha we assumed he was Jordan,” their captor muses. “But then we found Jordan somewhere else. So who are you?” he asks. Guy looks like he’s wondering the same thing, glancing between Bee and Claraha with a suspicious look on his face. She rolls her eyes internally. He’s right to be suspicious in this case, but still.

“I’m no one,” Bee replies.

Their captor stares hard at him. Bee holds the stare unblinkingly. “I don’t like mysteries. He might be one of their soldiers. Kill him just in case— we really only need the King alive.”

“Wait!” Claraha yelps, trying to rise again, at the same time that Jordan pipes up, fast.

“He is my sister’s lover, that’s all,” Jordan says. The soldiers look over Bee, frowning. Jordan continues, “He’s a commoner from the city. Look at him. He’s not a warrior, he’s got no scars. He’s soft.” Not really, she thinks in some distant part of her mind. She knows that on a very intimate level. “He’s not one of us.”

“The lover of the infamous warrior princess?” They smile in something of a condescending way at Claraha, and she bristles through her fear. “Women. Of course.”

They seem to believe it, and although their dismissal of her makes her furious, she’s more than willing to let it go if it gets Bee out of here alive.

Their captor waves a hand. “Release him. We do not harm innocents.” As he speaks, Bee is tugged to his feet, and he shoots Claraha a panicked look.

She feels only relieved that Bee will be spared, so she’s not prepared when he surges forward, breaking free from his captors momentarily to kiss her.

She freezes up when their lips come into contact. His mouth is warm, prying on hers to get it to open. When it does, he thrusts his tongue into her mouth without ceremony. It’s not exactly the first kiss she might have asked for, especially when his tongue curls against her teeth, and she feels something small, metallic and hard get pressed against the roof of her mouth.

She barely has a moment to register he’s slipped her something before he’s wrenched away and they all laugh. Claraha feels around in her mouth, for the small, toothpick sized piece of metal, and she realizes it’s something of a lockpick. He must have somehow picked it up in the workshop while they were being captured.

“Can’t blame him for wanting to give his woman a kiss goodbye,” one of Saladin’s soldiers is saying with amusement as they pull him away. She’d almost be mad again, but then her lips burn all at once, as if heat-seared by Bee’s.

They burn like agony for just a moment, and then a flash of bright white light explodes behind her eyelids when she blinks. She opens her eyes and finds herself staring at Bee.

He’s staring back, lips parted.

But he’s not Bee. He’s… He’s Bellamy. And Bellamy is alive.

She remembers it all.

And if his expression is anything to go by right now, so does he.

The djinn, Claraha— Clarke— thinks dazedly. The djinn wasn’t lying, and she gave them another life just like she said she would. Where Bellamy is alive again, warm and breathing and so full of vitality it’s hard to reconcile the image of him now with that of his body when Clarke had buried him in her first life. They have another chance.

Clarke doesn’t plan to waste it.

So while Bellamy’s being escorted out of the dark room, she twists her head over her shoulder, arches her back, and spits the lockpick into her bound hands. She deftly catches it— she sees Jordan stare at her curiously, and then his eyes widen when she twists her wrist to show him the gleaming metal of it. She spends the next few minutes twisting at the locks.

“Maybe we should kill them,” one of the Ayyubid soldiers comments. “Saladin only specified to keep the king alive.” The rest of them turn towards Clarke and her family as if considering.

Guy finally speaks, and although his voice trembles with an undercurrent of fear, there is undeniable steel there as well. “Don’t you dare touch my children.”

As one snarls back, “You’d be wise to hold your tongue, or we’ll deliver you to Saladin barely alive,” Clarke looks at their captors— four of them, and wonders if she can take them.

Well there’s only one way to find out. She takes a deep breath, and yanks her hands out of the loosened shackles.

Their captors aren’t ready. She throws the pick at Jordan, hoping he can work fast, and sidekicks one of them hard, so hard that he stumbles into another and they both fly backwards. Then she winds her chains around her wrists and uses it to whip around one’s ankle, who’s charging at her, rendering him out of commision for a moment. The last punches her across the face, and she tastes blood in her mouth before she wheels around to engage him.

She holds them off until Jordan can release himself and, together, they do away with the soldiers, relieving them of their weapons in the process.

At the end of it, she and her family are standing again, and Clarke grabs the last survivor of Saladin’s group by the scruff of their neck, feeling blood running down from a cut on her forehead and dripping onto her own lips. “Listen closely,” she growls, shaking him. “I’m only keeping you alive for one reason.”

He quails, and she revels in it.

She tows him out and says, “You can tell Saladin he’s got his war. Let him try and take Jerusalem.” She bares her teeth, stained with blood. “Let him try.”

She can’t find Bee after, but after a bout of anxiety she figures he fled. In any case, she’s flooded with preparations for war with her family— and Sibylla, who primly enters back into the palace as if nothing has happened— for the rest of the day, anyway. She decides to send for him at night. She can explain everything to him then, the deal she’d made with a djinn in a previous lifetime. That sounds difficult to explain, now that she thinks about it— but she’d made her bed.

She figures later that should have been the hint right there— the fact that everything seemed like it would be okay.

She’s waiting for Bellamy to come while sitting in her bedroom. He’s late. She’d sent a messenger to find him— why is he late? There’s a knock on the door and when she stands, it’s Jordan there instead.

His eyes are wide and grave. “Claraha.”

The way he says her name makes ice spread through her veins. And she knows, somehow. Some part of her knows even before he tells her, quietly, that Bee was found dead in the streets of Jerusalem.

She stands still while he relays it, and when he adds, “They found this in his hand,” she looks down stiffly to see a copper ring, clumsily bent into shape and looped through a black piece of string like a necklace.

She takes it without blinking, without breathing. “I want to see his body,” she announces.

“Clar—”

I want to see his body,” she shrieks at him, and he jumps. “Right now.”

Jordan knows better to argue when she’s like this, and a half hour later they bring his body into the palace grounds. Some attempt has been made to clean him, probably Jordan’s work, but there’s still a wound dug deep in his chest where a knife was buried, still a red stain blossomed across his white shirt.

She pushes past Jordan’s arms where he’s trying to hold her back, trying to say something in her ear. She doesn’t hear him. She thinks in that moment the only thing she would be able to hear is the sound of Bee’s— Bellamy’s— breathing.

So she hears nothing.

She skids to his side, strokes his hair back. His eyes are open to the sky, glittering unseeingly like glass marbles. His body is stiff in death.

“Who did this,” she says, and she meant to sound calm, but instead her voice is shaking with rage.

Wisely, no one responds except for her own brother. “That’s the thing,” he replies softly. “No one knows. It might have been one of Saladin’s soldiers, in the commotion. Or it might have been someone else. It might have been a random attack.”

Clarke is silent for a long moment, staring down at his body. Again. She was given another chance at life with Bellamy, and all that came of it was another chance to mourn his death. Maybe it would be easier to accept if she at least knew why. But as it is— it’s so meaningless, so useless, what’s happened. And it’s over for them now, isn’t it? She’s squandered the second opportunity she could hardly dare to hope for. She wants to cry. But she can’t even find the tears for that.

Instead, she hardens her gaze at Jordan. “I hope that was the case,” she whispers. “Because if I find out our father, or Sibylla, or you, had anything to do with the death of my lover simply because he was of lower class and you thought you knew what was best for me, there will be hell to pay.”

Jordan’s lips part. “I would never do that. You know that. I just want you to be happy—”

“Save it,” Clarke snaps. “All I know is that it’s too much of a coincidence that our father and you learned what he looked like and then he turned up dead the same night.”

Jordan sighs. “Claraha...”

Clarke has a feeling he’s about to say she’s being irrational, trying to find a plausible, meaningful reason for Bellamy’s death, but somehow even her normally insensitive brother squashes the comment before it comes out. Clarke swipes a thumb over Bellamy’s cheekbone one last time before she stands. “I want a funeral for him.”

“Done.”

She turns and leaves upon that answer, walking aimlessly not back into the palace but towards the gardens to be alone. She stops next to a grapevine and feels a pang in her stomach. She reaches up to finger the grapes hanging there, only to realize her hand is still in a fist. She opens it and realizes she’s been clutching the necklace tightly ever since Jordan gave it to her.

She puts it around her neck, and can almost imagine his warm hands there instead, his voice in her ear as he asks her to be his wife, again.

I would’ve said yes, again, she thinks desperately. I would’ve said yes in any life.

She wishes she had another chance to.

 

 

I’d know you in the dark. From a thousand miles away. There’s nothing you could become that I haven’t already fallen in love with. — Rainbow Rowell

 

— 1223: RUSSIA —

 

 

His name is Belgutei.

His half-brother happens to be the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, but to Belgutei, he’s just Temujin. And when Temujin tells him, “We are taking the northmost part of Asia,” Bel just raises his eyebrows.

“And?”

“And I am sending Jebe and Subutai to lead the army,” Temujin says. Ah. So two of his most infamous generals. Hot-headed ones, too. “I need you to go with them, as the third general.”

“To keep them in line,” Belgutei finishes dryly.

The Mongol Khan barks out a laugh. “You know too much about me, Bel.”

He shrugs. “Comes with the territory of being your advisor.”

“My most trusted advisor,” Temujin says with a glimmer of respect, which is hard-earned from the Khan. “And a level-headed messenger, too. If anyone can make sure that this endeavour goes smoothly, it’s you.” He claps his shoulder and winks conspiratorially. “You might even get some wives out of it. I hear the women in Russia are very beautiful.”

Bel rolls his eyes. When they say “wives” there’s no actual marriage involved; they really mean “harem” and Bel’s never had much interest in that. But his guffawing half-brother seems to think his joke is the funniest one he’s ever come up with.

In any case, Belgutei goes. That’s how he meets her.

The Battle of Kalka River is hard-won, but it is done. The Russian Prince Mstislav is unprepared for their siege, having not taken the warnings of his father seriously. A fatal mistake, Belgutei thinks, especially when at the mercy of bloodthirsty Jebe and Subutai.

Belgutei stations himself on the front lines with the rest of the troops, while the other two generals do their strategizing safely behind the army lines. And so, when the time comes, Bel is the one who captures Mstislav and the rest of the Russian princes, holding them patiently in their castle until the other two generals finish their victory preening and finally come to deal with the messy leftovers.

When Subutai walks into the throne room where Bel has the Russian princes tied, gagged and on their knees under the watchful Mongolian guard, Bel says, “About time you got your ass here.”

“Shut your trap, Belgutei,” Subutai says without much venom, and turns to the princes, stroking his goatee thoughtfully. “Well? Any grovelling?”

“They ask for peace,” Bel answers for the princes, since he is the only one who can translate between languages. He’s been talking to them before Subutai got here. “They don’t want their people harmed in any way. Leave their people in peace.”

“We can agree to that,” Subutai says, nodding. “We have no quarrel with innocents. The Great Khan is merciful.”

Belgutei nearly snorts at that but manages to smother it into a cough at the last second. Subutai looks at him oddly, and he quickly asks, “What about the princes?”

Subutai gives Mstislav and the other princes a cursory glance. “A bloodless death,” he replies. “As is our custom for nobles.” Bel’s stomach turns but as always, he simply nods. The Russian princes look expectantly at Bel, waiting for him to translate Subutai’s words, but he’s thankfully saved for the moment by a commotion.

A door on the side of the hall bursts open, and two of the Mongol soldiers come through, dragging a woman and a small toddler, both sporting the same yellow hair. Bel and Subutai look over, startled.

“Generals,” one of the soldiers says. “These two were found just outside the throne room.”

All eyes shift to Belgutei, and he steps up to translate. “Who are you?” he asks carefully to the woman. She has very blue eyes. Pretty hair— he’s rarely seen such a colour in his life. But the loathing in her eyes as she delivers a baleful glare is something he’s seen far too many times.

Nonetheless, when he speaks she blinks in surprise. “You speak—” she shakes her head vigorously, getting back on track. “I demand to be let go, and all the princes too.”

“Not really in the position to be making demands,” Bel intones while Subutai snickers in the background, “so I ask again. Who are you?”

She continues glaring at him for a heavy second before she spits, “I am the princess Klavdiya.”

Belgutei blinks. This is news to him. They had only been aware of the Russian princes, no princess. “And how are you related to the royal family?”

“By marriage,” she says, lifting her chin. “Marriage to Mstislav.”

Oh. Everything clicks together. He glances over at the small toddler, still being held tightly by the arm. There are tears coming down his cheeks, from wide brown eyes.

Unwillingly, he softens.

“So?” Subutai asks from behind him. “Who is she?”

Bel switches language. “She’s not royalty,” he lies. “She and the boy are just servants. They can be set free with the rest of the castle staff.”

One of the soldiers holding the princess frowns. “Are you sure, my lord?” Bel shoots him a nasty look but the man just keeps blundering on. “She wears the royal family crest. Look at the ring on her finger.”

Bel and Subutai look and he’s right, there’s a ring on her finger that is clearly visible when the soldier forcibly holds out her hand.

Subutai sighs. “Belgutei, are you lying to protect the boy?”

Bel says nothing. He’s not afraid to be caught in the lie. He’s more concerned for the Princess and her son.

“Your soft spot is going to get us all killed someday, you know,” the other general adds, spitefully. “One day one of our enemies will send a spy, she’ll be a little girl, and you’ll turn into a puddle and let her kill Temujin while you stitch her a nice little teddy bear—”

“Shut up,” Belgutei snaps, patience worn thin. “We’ll let her and her boy live.” He nods at them decisively.

“No, we will not,” Subutai argues. “She’s one of the nobles.”

“Then spare all the nobles. There’s no reason we can’t take prisoners.”

Subutai tuts. “Fool. They would never have spared any of us. They would never even have this conversation if they had won the battle— we’d be tortured senselessly and strung up within the hour, you realize that, don’t you?” When Bel doesn’t answer, he goes on. “Anyhow, we can’t let her go for no reason. You know I’m right about this, and Jebe will agree. Outvoted.”

Bel glares. He’s sure it’s an entertaining spectacle for the Russians, who have no understanding of the Mongol’s language yet surely are deducing what’s happening in the tense argument before them.

Subutai goes for appeasement in the face of Bel’s anger. “Look,” he tries. “We can’t spare a princess, but her boy— we can spare him.”

Bel actually toys with that possibility, but then he looks down at that little boy, and thinks about how his father is going to be killed soon. He’s not sure he can take his mother away in the same night. “No.” Subutai’s face looks to be turning red, so Bel finally throws caution to the wind, making a spontaneous decision he will surely regret. “Hell, I’ll take the princess as my wife. Spare them both.”

Subutai blinks, and the rest of the Mongols stir. Bel’s never taken a wife from any of the places they have conquered.

Subutai sneers. “You will go to any lengths to win an argument, won’t you.” Bel says nothing, because he’s still trying to figure out what he’s just gotten himself into. Subutai jerks his head at the soldiers still holding Klavdiya and her son. “Let them go. They’re Belgutei’s problem now.” He laughs.

“Take them to a private room,” Belgutei adds shortly. He’ll deal with them later.

The princess looks between all the exchanges going on and finally bursts, “What is going on?”

Bel sighs. Subutai grins a big shit-eating grin. This should be fun.

Bel leaves the throne room before the execution of the Russian princes commences. Although it’s tradition, the idea of watching them be suffocated under a gigantic wooden plate while the Mongols feast and celebrate makes his stomach turn. Not that the Russian nobles are lily white by any means, having slaughtered far too many Mongol innocents in conflicts before this— but he takes no pleasure in their deaths, unlike Jebe and Subutai. There is a reason he much prefers his advisor and diplomat title to his warlord one.

In any case, he lets one of his soldiers direct him to the locked room where Klavdiya and her son are being kept, and opens the door.

His eyes first fall on the toddler, now sleeping curled up on one of the chairs in the otherwise barren room. And then he turns his attention to her, pacing around, and he takes a moment to get a good look at her. She is truly beautiful, with rosy pale skin and a curvy figure accentuated by her long, dark red gown that sweeps the floor as she walks.

But it’s the confidence that he admires most, when she halts and looks him in the eye.

“Take me to my husband.”

Somehow he knew those would be the first words out of her mouth. “I can’t.” He closes the door behind him, crosses his arms.

She stomps her foot. “Why not?”

“Because he’s dead.” It’s not strictly true, since Mstislav is likely still barely alive at this particular moment, but he figures it’s best to rip off the bandage all at once.

She gapes at him, and her blue eyes seem to turn brighter. “No. That can’t be.” Her voice shakes, and he pities her. At least until she lunges for the door. He grabs her arm and turns her forcibly around, pushing her up against the wall and holding her there until she stops struggling.

But then she starts crying, and that’s worse.

“I’m sorry,” he says without much feeling, because it’s unwise to make it public knowledge how much he really feels. She surges forward again but he’s got one arm across her neck and the other firmly pinning her waist to the wall.

“You’re a monster,” she spits at him with tears streaming down her cheeks.

He bares his teeth in a feral grin. “Maybe.” Definitely. “And you’re lucky you’re not dead with the rest of them.” Her eyebrows lift. “I made sure you and your son won’t be harmed.”

She lifts her chin. “Am I expected to believe you saved me for noble reasons?”

It takes him a moment, but then he realizes what she expects, what she’s probably heard about the Mongol warlords. He hears it in the tremble in her voice.

Bel wonders if she would believe the truth— that he saved a son from being left orphaned and that was it. Then he decides probably not, especially with what he’s about to tell her. “The only way I could save you,” he tells her slowly, “was to take you as my wife.”

Her eyes widen, and then harden. He’s fully expecting a kick to the balls, but he’s not in any way prepared for her leaning forward the small distance to kiss him.

Her lips are warm and soft. Automatically, he kisses her back for a few moments— because he’s a fucking idiot— and in a laughably predictable move that a warlord should really have seen coming, she raises one of her legs and stomps down, hard, on his foot.

He yelps, and she presses her advantage, kicking viciously at his knee so that he falls into a crouch, and then she’s producing a knife out of nowhere. Before he knows it she’s standing behind him with the blade pressed to his throat and— she leans over him to look him in the eye— a bright look of satisfaction in her gaze.

He goes very still.

She’s breathing hard, leaning forward to press her knife against his throat harder. He moves back a little from it. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“You’re just as strong as you look.” Bel grins sunnily despite the position he’s in.

Despite herself, she seems curious. “And how do I look?”

He tips his head back to take in her yellow hair, hanging wildly around her face like spun sunlight. “Like a lioness,” he replies.

She’s taken aback, and he uses it to grapple the knife from her hands and, grabbing both her wrists in one hand, throws her over his shoulder none too gently the short distance to the carpet.

It’s the moment she hits the ground that he feels a sharp pain in the back of his head and, when he squeezes his eyes shut at the pain, a bright flash of light behind his eyelids.

When he opens them, the woman sprawled out on the floor is looking at him with new eyes.

“Bellamy,” Klavdiya whispers— but then a new word comes into his head, filling his every thought: Claraha.

And then, overpowering it all: Clarke.

Pieces of memory hit him once at a time, but rapidly. While he’s going through it, she slowly draws herself into a sitting position, watching him stare at his hands and remember.

When he looks up, she— Clarke— has pursed her lips.

“Clarke,” he says, and he has never said the word before, but it settles so right on his lips. Clarke, his queen from another life. Somehow, he just knows that whatever has happened to them, Clarke had something to do with it. Questions— dozens of them— pop up into his mind, but in the end he settles on one. His voice takes on a dangerously soft tone. “What did you do?”

She tilts her head up defiantly. “You died.” Her chin wobbles before she sets her mouth back into line. “You died twice.”

“And do you want to explain to me exactly how that’s possible?”

She glares at him. He’s being brusque, but he just doesn’t get it. “I made a deal, okay? I went to the djinn that lived on that mountain. You know the one.”

He scoffs. “That was a myth.”

“Well, we’re both sitting here, aren’t we?” she retorts.

He glares at her. “You had no right to do that, Clarke. I was okay with dying. You knew that.”

“Of course you were okay with dying!” she shouts at him. “But I was the one who had to keep going.” Her voice trembles. “The thing is, I didn’t realize the cycle would keep going. I thought our second chance was our… our last one.” Her eyes seem unusually bright as she touches his cheek. Her lips part, and he finds himself suddenly mesmerized, remembering from past lives how those pretty pink lips tend to fall open while she’s watching him between her legs…

“So what?” he asks to distract himself from that imagery. “So is this the last one?”

She licks her lips. “Maybe.”

They stare at each other, digesting this information.

Bel does some soul-searching in that minute. No, he doesn’t really feel like a different person now that he remembers. He feels like he got knocked in the head and had some memories jolted back into him, but not fundamentally different. He doesn’t feel like he should defect from Temujin’s army and run off with Clarke. He doesn’t feel like he has to; in fact he still feels very much invested in this life that he’s made for himself over the past thirty years he’s been alive.

What he does feel is the shift in his chest, the warm feeling that grows the more he looks at her. Like his soul is only slowly starting to wake up and remember hers. She’s… She’s his. He knows this, somehow.

She’s got a funny look on her face, too, one that compels him to ask, “What?”

She opens her mouth, and then they both jump when a quiet, sleepy voice murmurs, “Mama?”

Bel and Clarke both whip their heads over to the small boy who’s waking up from his slumber in the chair, yawning. And it’s like a spell is broken.

Because he’s suddenly remembering that’s Clarke’s kid. Clarke’s kid, with her yellow hair and the brown eyes of— he assumes— Mstislav, who is now dead from suffocation.

Well, shit.

He looks slowly back at Clarke. She’s already staring at him. There’s a very cold look in her eyes.

“You killed my husband,” she says quietly. She says it like she’s just realizing it, just associating this act with Bellamy, her past lover, not just Belgutei.

He for some reason feels the need to defend himself. “I did not kill him. I wasn’t even part of that.”

“I want to see him,” she says, eyes very bright again, and he feels terrible.

“I told you, he’s—”

“I want to see his body,” she cuts him off harshly.

He swears quietly and runs a hand over his face.

He knows he’s lost her the moment he shows her the body.

He takes her outside the castle in the horse stables, where all the nobles’ bodies have been stacked. He lets her take a step forward to pull the cloth away from his face. She takes one look at Mstislav’s body and a loud, uncontrolled sob escapes her.

The sound wrenches at his soul. It guts him. He takes a step forward to put a hand on her shoulder but thinks better of it, backing away. But he can’t just stand and do nothing while she cries. Not when he caused that pain, indirectly or not.

“Clarke—”

She wheels around. “Klavdiya.” Her voice is pure venom. He recoils slightly. “I am Princess Klavdiya.”

“Don’t do this,” he says softly. She goes on as if she hasn’t heard him.

“And you,” she continues. “I know who you are, now. Belgutei, the great general and advisor to Genghis Khan.” She spits this at him mockingly. “You’re the warlord who helped break my family apart.”

He takes it, as he should. “I didn’t know,” he says miserably.

“You knew you were condemning Mstislav to death,” she replies equally miserably. “Or are you saying that if you remembered me, you would have let him live?” Her eyes are wide, as if pleading for answers from him, or the universe, anyone.

He says nothing. He doesn’t know the answer to that question. He doesn’t know if the answer to that question would help.

When he doesn’t answer, she crosses her arms, the fire returning. “The Bellamy I know would have saved him either way.”

His heart hurts. “That’s not how war works and you know it. This is who I’ve always been,” he says, and it’s the truth, whether she’s ready to hear it or not. “You’re not being fair.”

“Maybe I’m not,” she replies, and her eyes are bright with tears again, some of the anger clearing so he can see the hurt behind it, the confusion, the distress, before it closes up. “But it’s not fair that all the people I love keep dying. It’s not fair that I got a third chance to see your face again, and it’s the face of a murderer.”

Her cold voice is what makes Bel snap. “Fuck your righteousness, princess,” he snarls. “You think I have a say in these decisions? I advocated for all the nobles to live. You want to blame someone, blame Subutai and Jebe. They’re the ones that killed your husband.” He hurls the last word out; it doesn’t feel right in his mouth. Not when he was married to her before.

“You walked out of the room while they were being killed,” she replies quietly. “So. Fuck your cowardice.” She turns, and he follows her as she barges out of the stable, to where her son has been occupied with the horses outside.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asks, keeping up with her.

“I’m taking Roman and I’m leaving,” she says tightly. And then she calls: “Roman, come here.”

So that’s her son’s name. Roman looks up, and he asks, “Where’s Papa?”

His eyes are so wide and innocent. Bel closes his eyes at Clarke’s answer.

“Papa’s gone, baby,” she says softly, kneeling at his level. “Now we have to go.”

“Gone?” Roman echoes.

“You can’t leave,” Bel tells Clarke despite himself.

She stands suddenly, whirling to face him. “Like you’re going to stop me?”

He doesn’t flinch at the anger in her eyes. “Yes,” he replies clearly. “This area is crawling with Mongols. You and Roman will be dead by morning if you go right now. Just— just wait.”

“Just wait until what?” she sneers. “Until you can chain me up somewhere so I can’t go anywhere?”

“I’m never going to do that,” he says, affronted momentarily.

Her eyes are slightly shiny in the moonlight. “How would I know what you would do anymore?”

He ignores that. “Just wait till we clear out,” he replies. “I’m travelling back soon, to report back to the Khan. The trip will take a few weeks, but you can slip away as soon as we clear out of the area. Hell, I’ll help you do it.”

She appears to be mulling it over, somehow reluctantly trusting this information. “How long will that take?”

“Don’t know,” he replies honestly. “In a few days, maybe. Whenever there’s an opening.”

Clarke looks down at her son, who’s now clinging to her skirt and looking up at Bel with fear in his eyes. “Can’t believe I brought you back,” she says. Her voice isn’t angry anymore, but sad. Bitter.

He knows, logically, that she’s simply lashing out in the wake of her husband’s death. She’s loved Mstislav for years; the man has only just died and indirectly, Bel is the cause. Bel shouldn’t take this comment personally. He shouldn’t. But there’s still a lump in his throat that he can’t swallow down. “Yeah, well, I’m not ecstatic about the whole situation either,” he replies sharply. “So you can leave when the time comes. We’ll never have to see each other again.” The words hang in the air awkwardly, as they both think the same thing: Until the next life. “But until then, you’re my wife. My loving, devoted wife,” he adds, just out of spite. “Got it?”

Clarke curls her fingers into Roman’s blond curls. “Don’t make me laugh, Belgutei.”

“Did you bed her yet?” Jebe asks bluntly over breakfast the next morning. They stayed in the castle overnight. Bel took Clarke and her son back to the same room, bringing in some blankets for them both while he sat in a chair all night not sleeping— partly because he was guarding the only two Russian nobles left in the castle, and partly because he had a hunch that if he fell asleep they wouldn’t be there in the morning.

(Things were so much simpler between Clarke and Bellamy when he was a prostitute, and that’s saying something.)

Meanwhile, Jebe is clearly waiting for an answer. Bel wishes he could punch the general in the face, but that would start a fight, and Subutai would likely jump in and it’d be two on one, which is not ideal if he plans on winning. So he simply settles on saying, “That’s none of your business.”

“That means no,” Subutai so cleverly observes. And then, to Jebe: “I wonder if he even likes women?”

Jebe leers. “History shows he likes children.”

Bel’s fingers tighten around his knife. Lately he’s been struggling with repressing his urges to kill them, which would be troubling if Bel thought he would regret it even slightly. “You’re disgusting.”

“You’ll just have to deal with us for a while longer,” Subutai sneers while Jebe laughs raucously.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Bel shoots the other general a look.

“We’ve decided not to move into Hungary with the rest of the army just yet,” Subutai replies. “We’re going with you to report to the Khan first.”

Bel tries not to let his surprise show. He was banking on the two generals and him splitting ways, giving Clarke ample time and safety to slip away. “Why?”

“The Khan wants to go over the plans to conquer Hungary and Europe in person,” Jebe replies. “He doesn’t want it getting fucked up.”

“I’ll make sure to advise him to keep you two buffoons out of it then.” Without waiting for a response Bel gets up and walks away, back through the castle to fetch Clarke.

This is messy. Subutai and Jebe with them on their way back to the Khan’s current camp will make it harder to help Clarke to escape in good time. He supposes he could pretend to kill her and let her go, but then they’d want proof of a body.

Clarke won’t be pleased.

Clarke is not pleased.

“I’m beginning to think you’re just making up all this danger, Belgutei,” she tells him, crossing her arms. “Maybe I should just slip out tonight. Take my chances.” She arches a brow challengingly.

He shrugs just as casually. “Yeah, guess you could. I mean, if you die, no big deal, right? You’re probably going to come back. But your son doesn’t have the same luxury.” She blinks; he lets that sink in before going on. “Come on, princess. Are you really willing to bet your son’s life on me being a liar?”

When her eyes sweep to Roman sitting in the corner playing with his toys, and her mouth thins into a line, conceding the point, he knows that she still trusts him. It feels like a victory.

“Look,” he adds, buoyed by the knowledge. “Just come with us for now. When the coast is clear, I promise I will make sure you and your son make it back to wherever you want to go. I swear.” He makes sure to look her in the eye as he vows this.

She looks at him, really looks at him long and hard. Apparently she finds what she’s looking for, because she nods.

The next day they move out, and Clarke is standing in the middle of the bustling camp holding her son, looking like she’s trying very hard to ignore all the Mongols watching her every move. Bel doesn’t blame her.

He approaches, and she doesn’t notice him until he’s almost upon her. Her eyes jump from him to the white horse he’s leading by the reins. For an instant, her eyes brighten and her mouth opens with wonder.

He basks in it, giving her a sunny grin as he feeds the horse a carrot from his hand.

She snaps her mouth shut as she watches the exchange. “Getting me a pretty horse isn’t going to make me fall into bed with you.”

He pretends to frown. “Who said it’s for you?” He looks over at Roman, in Clarke’s arms. “Hey Roman, you wanna feed the horse?”

Roman looks at him shyly, having not quite warmed up to him yet. But his wide brown eyes flick up to the large horse and back. Bel offers him a small piece of carrot. “Go on. Feed him. He won’t bite.”

Slowly, Roman removes one of his arms from around Clarke’s neck and takes the carrot.

“In your palm,” Bel instructs, and after a minute of direction, the horse is nibbling out of Roman’s hand, and the boy is giggling.

“It tickles.”

Bel watches him fondly. “Course it does. That’s his tongue.” The horse finishes licking Roman’s palm, nudging against it as if looking for more. “Wanna ride him?”

Roman’s eyes brighten.

“I’m riding with him,” Clarke says, the first thing she’s said since Bel turned to Roman..

“Wouldn’t expect anything different,” Bel replies, looking at her. She’s rosy-cheeked and beautiful from the brisk weather. “Need a boost up?”

She gives him a look. “I’ve ridden horses before.” He lifts his hands in a placating gesture, and she puts Roman on the ground so she can heft herself into the saddle. Bel picks Roman up under the arms and lifts him so Clarke can take him and situate him on the saddle right in front of her.

The group ride out within the half hour, and Bellamy on his own horse rides close to Clarke. He doesn’t like the way Jebe and Subutai ride behind her, watching. He’s got to keep an eye on those two.

Meanwhile, Roman looks delighted to be on the horse, tugging on its silvery mane. He’s happy, still probably not quite grasping that his father’s dead. The boy’s smile tugs on Bel’s heartstrings. A part of him misses having children; he had them in his first life, but died too early to watch them grow up.

But Clarke did, he realizes suddenly. Clarke knew their children, and curiosity burns at him. Impulsively, he spurs his horse to catch up fully to Clarke’s horse. “Cl— Klavdiya?”

She tears her eyes away from her own son to look at him. “What?”

He swallows. “In our first life,” he says quietly. “Our children. Did they—” There’s something stuck in his throat, and he has to clear it before he’s able to continue with a rougher voice— “did they grow up okay?”

Something in her eyes softens. Maybe she sees his desperation to know— she isn’t so cruel as to deprive him of that, although maybe he deserves it. “The youngest died of fever the same winter you did,” she tells him, and he feels himself becoming misty-eyed.

“I must have passed the sickness to her,” he mutters, looking down at his hands. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she replies. “She was already a sickly baby before that, if you remember. The rest were fine, though. Our daughter became a warrior,” she smiles, and he smiles too, liking the imagery of that. “Our eldest son became a healer, and the younger a teacher.”

“And… and they were happy?”

Her eyes are half-lidded. “So happy.”

He has a funny feeling she’s sugar-coating it for his benefit, but that can’t be right. Why would she do anything for his benefit? He nods rapidly. “Good,” he replies gruffly, wanting to ask more, wanting to know everything about his children, but he doesn’t want to press his luck too far. So that’s all there is to that conversation.

That night, they camp in their makeshift tents. Bel delivers Clarke an ultimatum while he whittles a small piece of wood, trying his best to sound casual.

“You either sleep in here with me, or you take your chances with the soldiers sleeping outside,” he tells her, pointing in the direction of the muffled laughing and talking outside the tent, “or, even more entertaining, you sleep in one of Jebe’s or Subutai’s tents.”

She glares at him for a moment, then grabs her bedroll and drags it to the opposite side of the tent. The effect is slightly less dramatic considering the tent is only about three strides wide.

Roman doesn’t have such qualms with Bel, crawling into his lap to snuggle down. Clarke doesn’t try to stop him, simply watching as Bel easily hefts the small boy in his arms by the underarms.

“When can we leave?” she asks abruptly. “Tonight, while they’re all asleep?”

Bel casts a glance at the tent wall. “Keep your voice down.”

“They can’t understand my language,” she snorts, folding her arms.

“They can understand your tone,” Bel shoots back. “And besides, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re surrounded by soldiers in this camp. Jebe and Subutai are sleeping practically next door.”

“So?”

“So, they’re keeping an eye on us,” he grits out. “Look, I haven’t figured out a way to get you both out of here alive. But as soon as I do, I will get you out of here.” She purses her lips and he sighs. “Can you just trust me on this?”

She gives him a look. “Really?”

“Yes,” he replies pointedly. “This may come as a surprise, but I don’t want you or Roman dead.”

He doesn’t filter the bitterness in his voice, Clarke’s face softens slightly and her mouth opens. There’s conflict written all over her face, but before she can speak Roman cuts in.

“I don’t want to be dead either,” the boy announces, reaching up to tug on one of Bel’s curls. Bel had almost forgotten he was holding Roman while he and Clarke spoke, but after exchanging a look with Clarke he can tell this conversation is over. They shouldn’t be talking about such grave matters with her son around. So Bel just bops his nose. “Hungry, little man?”

Yes,” Roman groans with great dramatic flare. “I could eat a horse.”

Bel quirks up a brow and tsks. “After all that poor thing did for you today?” He looks over at Clarke. “I could go for something too, right now.”

“I’m not cooking for you.”

He snorts. “Don’t worry. I still remember that you’re shit at it.” He stands with Roman still in his arms— as best as he can in the tent, still slightly hunched, and backs out of the tent, beckoning to her. “Let’s go.”

She follows him. “I’m not shit at cooking. I used to cook for my husband.”

“Hmm,” Bel says in the most unconvinced tone he can manage, while trying to ignore the strange pit her comment creates in his gut. Clarke has made it pretty clear he doesn’t have a right to feel that way.

He and Clarke go out into the camp, and some of the soldiers fall silent at the sight of the princess. It sets a prickling feeling to Bel’s back. He feels paranoid as hell about the way they all watch her.

If the way she looks around is any indication, she’s feeling some of the same. Bellamy turns and delivers the nearest gawker his most ferocious glare. “Need something?” he asks. “Or are you looking at my wife because you have a death wish?”

They all slowly turn away and slink back into their own conversations.

“What did you say to them?” Clarke asks. He turns to see the smallest trace of an amused smile.

He shakes his head and walks over to the tray of cooked meat by the fire, handing a piece to Clarke without replying. He’s surrounded by pigs who will only back off from a woman if another man has claimed her. What will happen to Clarke and Roman when they go off on their own?

He’s broken out of his thoughts when Roman leans forward and whispers in his ear, “This is really yummy.”

“Better than mom’s cooking?” he whispers back.

Roman nods fast. “Wayyy better.”

He grins. Thought so.

It’s a few nights later when the opportunity arises. He rushes into his and Clarke’s shared tent, and she looks up, caught off guard. He stops short because he is, too— unprepared for the sight of her in her flimsy camisole, with her hair long and unencumbered while she brushes it out.

There’s red rising to her cheeks and she puts the brush down. “Can’t you announce yourself before you walk in?”

“This is my tent,” he feels the need to point out.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize that means everything inside it is yours too.”

“I’m not trying to—” he grinds his teeth and stops short. The clock is ticking. He speaks again, slower and calmer. “It’s time for you and Roman to go.”

Her eyes widen. “It’s—”

“It’s safe right now, but not for long,” he replies, and reaches into his back pocket, withdrawing a folded piece of paper. “Map,” he explains, passing it over, and then the bag he’d had slung over his shoulder too. “Supplies.” She takes it without a word. “Now listen to me carefully, alright? There’s a watch, but I can get you past them. After that, there’s a village to the north of here— I know someone there, her name’s on the map. She’ll let you stay for a night or two. From there—” he shakes his head helplessly— “I can’t help you. The map should get you back to where you came from. I assume you’ve got relatives, friends there.”

She nods slowly, not taking her eyes off him. “I do.”

“Good,” he says gruffly. His heart is already twinging at the thought of her being gone. “Then wake up Roman and put on some clothes and let’s go.”

She does as she’s told while Bel stands watch just outside the tent, making sure that the coast is still clear when Clarke and her son emerge. And then there’s no excuse at all for them to still be staring at each other but they are.

He doesn’t want her to leave. Maybe he’s imagining it because he wants her to stay so badly, but he sees that exact thought mirrored on her face.

They only wrench their eyes away from each other because someone laughs loudly in the distance, reminding them that there is a world outside of the space between their gazes.

“Should we go?” Bel asks, trying to hide how shaken he is.

She doesn’t answer right away, still staring at him as if lost.

“Cla— Klavdivya?”

She blinks, and the moment is gone. “I— Yes,” she replies after a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, we should go now.” Her words still sound uncertain, and she clutches her son’s hand tightly.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think she didn’t want to leave him at all.

As they creep through the treeline, she whispers cautiously, “Are Jebe and Subutai gone?”

“They’re otherwise occupied tonight,” he replies, keeping his eye out for the guards on watch.

“With what?”

Bel makes a face into the darkness. “I think you know.”

Clarke shudders, clutching tighter to Roman’s hand. “How can you work with those monsters?”

A question he asks himself every day. “Like you said,” he whispers back darkly. “I am one too.”

She’s quiet for a long moment and when she speaks again there’s something softer in her tone: “Look, I—” But before she can say more he hears a branch snap faintly behind them and he whips around, heart jumping into his throat and throwing an arm out in front of Clarke. The guard isn’t supposed to be in this section of forest. He knows the schedule inside out, this is supposed to be safe—

A figure appears in his line of sight. One of the soldiers. Just staring at them.

“What are you doing?” Bel growls.

The soldier speaks, eyes on Clarke, who’s pushed Roman behind her. “I was told to stick with you. Keep you safe.”

Bel almost snorts— bullshit. “And who gave you that order?”

“Jebe.”

Bel’s heart sinks at the confirmation. So they suspect. “We can take care of ourselves,” he snaps back. “Get back on watch.”

The soldier shrugs and slinks away again, and it’s a full minute before Bel releases a breath.

“What now?” Clarke asks quietly. “Should I go?”

“No,” he replies instantly, turning to them both. “Jebe and Subutai suspect you. If you leave, they’ll make it their mission to find you before you can get far.” Her mouth opens. “They they have a certain single-mindedness when it comes to being crossed. It’s one of their strengths as generals. And a weakness too.”

“If they suspect me, then I’ll never get to leave,” Clarke whispers.

“I was getting to that,” Bel replies, and steels himself for what he has to say now. “You have to stop looking at me like you want to run away. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows you’re not happy with me.” He says it brusquely, but the words hurt him when they’re flung out into the open between them.

“So what— you want me to act like I want to be here? Like I want to be your wife?” His silence is all the answer she needs. She folds her arms insolently. “I don’t want to do that.”

He’s had enough of her stubbornness, and grabs her arm to shake her slightly. She wrenches her arm out of his grip instantly. “Yes, you do,” he hisses. “If you want to take the attention off yourself, you have to act like nothing is wrong. Like you love me. Do you get that?”

“Unfortunately,” she grumbles at last.

Nevertheless, Clarke does it. Bel isn’t surprised. Clarke would do anything for those she loves, and he can tell how much she loves her son by the way her cold blue eyes soften when they turn to him.

Those eyes soften when they look at Bel now, too.

Only outside of their tent— only when eyes are watching.

The first time, he’s simply standing with Jebe and Subutai and Clarke saunters up boldly, places a hand on his shoulder, and pushes her chest against him.

He’s shocked for a long moment, at least until she tilts her head up and says in sugary tones in Russian, “Do you think it looks like I want to fuck you right now?”

He turns, blinks at her. She’s batting her eyes at him. It does funny things to him. But he pushes it back, and returns her slow, sultry smile. He pitches his voice low. “I’d say you’re doing a good job convincing them.”

“What’s she saying?” Subutai says, and then, “ah, never mind. Foreplay is a universal language.” He reaches forward to cuff Bel across the head. “Go fuck her, brother.”

Jebe gives him a playful push in the back when he doesn’t move right away. “Opportunities like that don’t come knocking very often, Belgutei,” he jibes, and the two of them laugh. Bel feels ill. Naturally, this would be the only time they would display comradery, when he seemingly starts following in their crass footsteps.

Clarke ignores them, taking Bel’s arm and leading him back to their tent.

As soon as the canvas flaps close behind them, she steps away and smooths her hair away from her face. “Good?”

He takes a moment to respond because he’s trying to get Clarke’s utterly seductive gaze out of his head. Then he clears his throat, passes his hand over his face and mutters, “Yeah, I’d say so.”

She nods once and moves away from him, and he finds himself staring after her.

After that, she continues to be more warm to him around camp, and he can almost get lost in it, forget that it’s all a ploy. It’s especially hard to remember when she leans over him, breasts pushing practically in his face and gives him that fuck me look she takes on when she wants an excuse to leave the circle. Even worse is those times, when he offers her some food or scoops up her son into his arms, and she smiles at him.

He wishes he didn’t remember what it was like for her to do those things and mean them. Maybe it would hurt less.

The weeks pass fast. Despite Clarke’s best efforts, Subutai and Jebe stick annoyingly close to their side, and Bellamy finds it difficult to find another opening for her to leave safely.

“I hate them,” Clarke tells him one day while they’re riding.

“What’s she saying, Belgutei?” Jebe calls from his own horse.

“Commenting on the weather,” Bel replies smoothly, and switches back to Russian. “They haven’t been bothering you or Roman, have they?”

“No,” she replies, and shudders. “They just… look.”

Bel contemplates stabbing out the two generals’ eyes. “I’ll talk to them.”

“It’s not just me,” she whispers, and turns her eyes on him. “They look at you, too.”

He blinks. Well, that’s news. “Like what?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s she saying now, Belgutei?” Subutai calls mockingly.

“Told you, the weather,” he replies, switching back.

“Awful lot of talk from her about the weather.”

“Awful lot of talk from you, period,” Bel shoots back, and then turns to Clarke with his most reassuring tone. “I promise I’ll get you out of here as soon as it’s safe. We’re nearly at the Khan’s camp, but I can take you with me anywhere you want to go from there. Without these asses following us.”

Clarke nods, biting her lip. Strangely, she doesn’t look as thrilled as he would’ve thought.

They reach Temujin’s camp, and Bel’s half-brother gives Clarke a once-over before whistling and clapping Bel on the shoulder. “Can’t believe you took my advice.”

Bel shakes off his hand with annoyance. “It wasn’t planned, trust me.”

The Khan chuckles and his eyes fall on Roman. “And who’s the little one?” He squats down to Roman’s level. The boy hides behind his mother’s leg. “He can’t be yours.”

“He’s Klavdiya’s son,” Bel says shortly. He doesn’t want to get into this discussion, but Temujin’s eyes brighten with curiosity.

“Another man’s son? Why didn’t you get rid of him?”

Before Bel can answer, Subutai snorts. “Get rid of him? Belgutei didn’t let us kill the princess because of the child.”

It’s quiet for a moment. Bel braces himself for a fight. But unexpectedly, Temujin simply barks out a loud chuckle and straightens back to full height. “Belgutei, you’re always good for a laugh.” He claps him on the shoulder again, and Bel feels his lips tighten into a line. The other two generals look slightly disgruntled as well.

“They’re both under my protection,” Bel feels the need to say, because he can’t get a read on his half-brother’s mood. “No one touches them.”

Temujin is still chuckling as he walks away from them. “Listen to the man, boys.” Jebe and Subutai huff and stalk off, leaving the three of them alone.

Clarke whispers, “I don’t like him,” into his ear, and he nearly jumps at how close she is. She’s at his back, her warmth radiating through his clothes, and it’s difficult to handle suddenly.

“I’m scared,” Roman says. “Mommy, I’m scared.”

Bel wheels around to crouch at Roman’s eye level. “You don’t have to be,” he tells the boy, looking him in the eye. “I’m going to take care of you. You, and your mom.” He tips his head up to glance at Clarke.

She stares at him for a moment, then nods hesitatingly at him.

That night, there’s a celebration for their conquering of Kiev— aka the murdering of the princes— and Bel leaves the festivities as soon as they start to find Clarke in his much larger tent.

She’s just sitting there, legs drawn to her chest and staring at the wall. Roman’s fast asleep next to her. She looks up when he enters, and he offers a bottle of vodka. “To drown them out,” he says with a sympathetic smile.

She stares at it for a moment before accepting it. “Don’t act like you had no part in it.” Her voice holds no venom, though. Just tiredness. Emptiness. Somehow that’s worse.

He takes a swig of his own vodka without answering, and they just drink for a while, getting increasingly tipsy until he finds himself just staring at her unabashedly, the way the light from the candle flickers over her eyes and hair and pale skin and her fingers as she strokes them slowly through Roman’s hair. And then Bel finds himself saying, “Tell me about him.”

She glances at him sharply.

He’s already regretting it as he’s saying it but his tongue is too loose to stop. “Tell me about your husband,” he elaborates. “Mstislav. If you want to.” It’s an offer, but it’s also something he wants to know. He wants to understand how and why she fell in love with someone who wasn’t him.

That’s not fair of him to think, he knows that— she didn’t even remember Bellamy at that point in her life— but it still makes him uneasy. He doesn’t get it. It makes him think there’s a part to Clarke he doesn’t understand, and there’s no lifetime where that’s okay to him.

She looks away. “Why do you want to know about him?” She sounds a little bitter, a little tired, a little sad. He feels the same.

“Because I want to know every part of you,” he replies truthfully.

Clarke closes her eyes when he says that, letting out a breath. “It’s so much easier to hate you when you’re not saying things like that.”

He blinks at this bombshell. “It’s… hard to hate me?”

She nods once, staring in front of her without speaking.

He waits for her to elaborate. She doesn’t. “Are you going to explain?”

“I wasn’t a princess before I married him,” she blurts suddenly, out of the blue. Bel sits up with interest. “I was a kitchen girl. A commoner.”

“And they let you two get married,” he says slowly.

“Well, I do what I want.” They share a small, knowing smile for just a moment in remembrance of their last life before she looks away with a frown. “And there was opposition, but we did love each other. So… everything worked.”

Bel lies down, resting his head against his arm and staring up at the ceiling. “How’d you meet?” he asks, and then takes a long swig straight from the bottle as she starts talking. He’ll need it.

She tells him the whole goddamn story, and even as he soaks it up he wishes he hadn’t asked. She keeps inserting cutesy details of what Mstislav used to do for her, and hell, the way she describes it he’s half falling in love with the guy. And he’s also indescribably jealous. There’s a possessive feeling in his chest. Clarke’s his wife.

But she’s not anymore, is she? Death already did them part. Any marriage contract they had is null and void.

“Touching. You know he was actually a murderous warlord, right,” he tells her callously at the end, waving his now near-empty bottle around. He has no filter at this point. “Just like me.”

She snorts quietly. “Not the same.” Irritation flashes through him and he turns his head.

“Tell me something,” he says. “Tell me something, Klavdiya. Why am I held to a different standard than him?” She’s quiet, and he finds himself getting increasingly angry. “You know better than anyone that sometimes you have to make hard decisions— it’s not black and white. You were like that in our first life. What changed? Why all the judgement now?”

Her eyes look glassy in the candlelight.

“What changed?” he growls again, and she snaps.

“Our lives changed,” she shouts at him, and then immediately hushes herself with a half-glance at Roman. He’s still out stone-cold. “Literally.”

We didn’t have to,” he says quietly. “We didn’t have to change.” And he sounds a bit like he’s pleading but he doesn’t care, because… “I miss you.”

She glances up at him, eyes shiny, and then ducks her head down again, but not before he sees a tear slip out between her lashes. “I love Msistlav,” she insists, and he sighs and leans back, at least until she adds, so quietly he almost doesn’t hear her, “and that’s the worst part.”

He jerks his head up. “What?”

She closes her eyes, and it takes her a moment before she draws in a shuddering breath. “That’s the worst part,” she repeats. “I loved him first, but then I remembered you, and it’s like everything I had with him was tainted. I loved my husband but I feel like... I was cheating on you with him.” He stares, and she wipes her eyes angrily. “It shouldn’t feel like that. I didn’t do anything wrong.” She looks up at him with hard eyes. “If I didn’t have past lives— then this is exactly how I would treat the man who stood by while my husband was killed.”

“But you do have past lives,” Bel points out.

“They don’t matter,” she snaps. He balks. “If they matter more than the life I’m living right now, then what kind of life am I living?” She gestures at her sleeping son. “If the only thing that matters is our history together, am I supposed to care less about what happens to the people in my life right now?” Clarke’s voice is angry, sharp, but there’s a tinge of desperation to it.

“No,” he says, caught off guard. “No, of course not.”

She throws her hands up. “Then please, go ahead and tell me what parts of my current life matter and which ones don’t!” Her voice rises an octave at the end of her sentence, and at the end of her outburst her arms slowly lower.

They stare at each other, and Bel thinks that he gets it. Clarke, as always, sees the long game. She sees how living multiple lives, over and over again, could eventually make her feel distant from the rest of humanity. And she’s trying to proactively reject that.

Which basically means she’s rejecting him.

“Okay,” He says finally, slowly. “If this is what you need to do to not go crazy, I get that.” Although it hurts like a bitch. “But what if you’re wrong?”

Her chest is heaving as she stares at him, and he tries desperately not to notice. “About what?”

“What if this is it for us?” he asks. “What if this is the last life that we live?”

“It’s not,” is her automatic response.

“You sure about that?”

She huffs. “This is our third life. If the witch was only going to give us one more chance, we wouldn’t even be here. So yes, I’m fairly certain.”

His frustration gets the better of him. “Better fucking hope so.”

She narrows her eyes at his tone. “You’re insufferable,” she snaps at him.

“Maybe you’ll like me in the next life,” he shoots back.

“Only if you’re not as much of an ass.”

Irritation surges in him again, and he points his bottle at her accusingly. Later he’ll blame his drunkenness for his next brazen comment. “You like my ass, princess.” When she gapes at him, scandalized, he arches up an eyebrow. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you groping me all the time in the last life.”

Her cheeks are flushed but she hisses back anyway, “Well, don’t think I don’t notice you staring at my tits all the time in this life—”

Their argument is cut off because Roman suddenly yawns, very loudly. Loud enough to startle both of them out of it and look down to him.

“Mommy?” Roman whispers, snuggling closer to her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Clarke says, all warmth and love in her expression as she looks down at the boy. Great. Just when he thought he couldn’t get more pathetic, Bel’s suddenly mildly jealous of a toddler. “Go back to sleep, baby.”

Roman yawns again and falls silent.

The ensuing pause is rather tense.

Bel throws his bottle to the side and pulls a knife from his cloak instead. Clarke watches with pursed lips as he digs out a piece of wood and starts whittling furiously. Then she shakes her head and lies down, turning her back to him, and they don’t speak for the rest of the night.

They don’t speak much at all after that. It’s all terse mutterings: “Pass me that,” “Wake up,” “Are you thirsty,” “You’re hogging my blanket again,” and finally, “Temujin and the others are leaving camp for the day and they’re leaving me in charge, so tonight is the best time for you and Roman to leave.”

Clarke looks up sharply when he says that from where she’s washing some clothes in the nearby stream. He’s standing over her, and she drops the clothes on a rock before rising to her full height, almost a head shorter than him.

“You’re sure?” she asks.

“Yes.”

She swallows, lips parting.

“Be ready,” he adds tonelessly. He’s feeling a very strong rush of déjà vu. Maybe it’s for the best that Clarke leaves as soon as possible. Maybe eventually it’ll stop hurting, too.

And just like that he’s handing her a pack and a map, giving her brusque instructions about where to go, and ignoring the desperate aching in his heart that wishes her to stay.

Clarke releases a shaky breath when it’s time to leave their tent for the last time. Bel has to wonder if she’s scared of leaving. She may not like being here, but at least Belgutei was the devil she knew. The rest of the world— not so much.

Bel kneels down to Roman’s level.

“Look, I made you something,” he murmurs to the boy, and retrieves from his cloak the wooden bear he’s spent the last few days carving.

Roman takes it without hesitation, looks at it with wonder. “What’s it supposed to be?” Bel sighs.

Clarke snorts. “Art’s never been your strong suit.”

“True,” he says, standing back to full height after patting Roman’s head fondly. “That was always yours. Do you still do it?”

She looks at him— really looks at him, in a way that makes him feel like she’s staring into his soul. She’s always been the only person who can make him feel that vulnerable and safe all at once. “Sometimes,” she replies at last, and begins wrapping her scarf around her hair. Bel watches the golden tresses disappear under the dull fabric. “Roman, say thank you for the toy.”

“Is that what it is?” Roman asks bluntly. Clarke appears to be fighting down a laugh.

“It’s a little bear, Roman. Be polite. Say thank you.”

Roman mumbles his thanks and then, “Is he coming with us?”

A very awkward moment follows that question. They didn’t tell Roman that they were leaving, but he seems to have sensed it from the atmosphere around the two of them. Clarke finally says, “No,” while looking at her boots.

Roman’s lower lip trembles. “Are we coming back?”

“Maybe later, baby,” Clarke says.

Roman clutches tighter to the wooden bear. “I don’t want to go,” he whispers, stepping away from his mother. “I’m not going.”

Clarke looks up at Bel, a panicked expression on her face.

Bel fights off the sudden and odd wave of emotion he’s feeling. Dammit, he’d gotten more attached to Roman than he had ever intended. “Listen, kid,” he says gruffly. “You can either stay here with me, doing boring adult stuff, or you can go with your mom, on that horse, and go on an adventure instead.” He quirks his eyebrow up. “What sounds more fun to you?” Roman looks conflicted, so Bel persists. “Boring adult stuff? Okay, you get to stay with me and look at maps all day and write long lists and count supplies—”

“I changed my mind,” Roman says suddenly, backing away, and Bel grins internally. Then he looks up, and Clarke is smiling outwardly. It catches him off guard, and maybe that’s evident in his expression because her smile fades as if she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t, and they just stare at each other another moment.

Bel clears his throat and looks down at his boots. “As soon as we get out of camp, you should go. Remember, stick to crowds,” he instructs, a pit of anxiety now growing in his own stomach. “Keep the knife I gave you on you at all times. And—”

“Stay sharp,” she cuts him off, a smile playing on her lips. “I know.”

Bel picks up Roman and hands him over to Clarke, and then there’s no excuse at all for them to still be staring at each other but they are.

At least until a shout rings distantly through camp behind them, and it makes both of them start. There’s a commotion outside.

“Stay here,” he instructs the both of them, and goes to investigate.

Several thieves from the town one over are caught trying to steal from camp stores. It’s Bel who finds them— or rather, they find him, putting a sword to his neck while they root through the supplies tent. Bel calmly stays on his knees, observing the wild desperation in the thieves’ eyes, waiting until they’re distracted enough by the ample goods to disarm the five of them.

(There’s a reason he’s a general in the Khan’s army, after all.)

He plans to let them go after scaring them a bit, fully aware that Clarke is still waiting back at the tent ready to go, but then… complications arise. In the form of Jebe and Subutai strolling back to camp early.

Shit, Bel curses internally. Jebe and Subutai quickly find out the whole story from the guards, and naturally, they try to take over.

“Kill these fools,” Subutai says dismissively, and two of their guards take a step towards the prisoners, now cowering next to the firepit. The other soldiers in camp watch on the periphery.

“Wait,” Bel barks, and the guards halt in their direction. He turns to the other generals. “They were just hungry. They didn’t mean anything by it.”

“So what?” Jebe snorts. “They think it’s fine to steal from us? From the great Khan?” Bel’s lips tighten, and Jebe releases an exasperated sigh. “For God’s sake, Belgutei, they were ready to kill you and you want to show them mercy?”

“They were desperate, that’s all,” he replies evenly. “They’re just trying to survive. Show them mercy, and they’ll live to go back to their village and warn the others against trying to steal from us.”

His tactic doesn’t work. Subutai shakes his head and nods at the guards. “If they don’t come back at all, it’s warning enough. Carry on.”

But Bel stops them by standing in front of the prisoners. The vision of Clarke’s husband and the rest of the Russian lords flashes in his memory.

He doesn’t want to be a monster anymore.

“Get out of the way, Belgutei,” Jebe says in a bored voice, unsheathing his sword and stepping forward.

Bel stays rooted to the spot and speaks with as much conviction as he can. “We’re not killing them.”

“Now’s not the time to be a goddamn bleeding heart,” Subutai sighs. “They’re not even children. They’re soldiers.”

“They’ve got children,” Bel replies shortly. “They’ve got families.”

Jebe laughs, an ugly snort. “Well, then who are we allowed to kill? Everyone’s got family.”

Bel gives him a look. Jebe stares at him. Subutai releases a low whistle. “He’s actually serious,” he says slowly. “He’s not going to budge on this. When did you get so soft, brother?”

“Probably around the same time you two got so stupid,” Bel replies.

Jebe lunges forward suddenly, and Bel barely gets a moment to step back before the sword is pressed to his neck. “I’ve had just about enough of your insults,” he hisses. “You won’t be able to make so many when I cut out your tongue.”

Bellamy meets his gaze stonily.

“Jebe…” Subutai says uncertainly. “The Khan won’t like that.”

“I’m not killing him,” Jebe says dismissively. “Just—aah!” Bel chooses the moment to wrangle the sword out of Jebe’s hands and head-butt him backwards, and the guards surge forward to restrain Bel.

They have more loyalty to Jebe, he realizes. The other generals aren’t the only ones who think Bel’s gone soft.

“Hold him,” Jebe instructs, and someone forces Bel’s jaw open, no matter how furiously he tries to shake them off. Dread coils in his stomach as Jebe brandishes his knife.

A cry cuts across the grounds, and they all look.

Clarke, as usual not heeding his words, has emerged from the tent.

He knows that wild look in her eyes. She’s ready to do something stupid. “Get out of here, Clarke,” he growls. He doesn’t want her to see this. And he sure as hell doesn’t want her to be anywhere near these men while a violent incident is occurring.

“Not until they let you go,” Clarke replies, stomping closer. Her hands are balled into fists, and she delivers a ferocious glare at Jebe, who appears to quail for a millisecond before his sneer is back in place.

“Subutai,” he says.

Subutai’s hand snakes out without warning and grabs Clarke’s arm. She cries out while he wrenches her close. “You can watch,” he says, and Clarke tugs fruitlessly at his hands. “Don’t worry, we’re not cutting off anything important to you.” Jebe raises his knife again. Bel’s mouth is forced open again.

Clarke starts to cry. Bel hates it. He doesn’t want her to cry about him.

“My tongue is pretty important,” he manages to say, wondering why he’s making jokes at a time like this.

“Not for sex,” Jebe says with a sneer. “Just need a dick for that.”

Bel tsks. He might as well since after this he won’t have a tongue left to tsk with. “See, this is why no woman wants to go near you.”

Jebe snaps.

He lowers his knife, aiming instead for the ribcage, and Bel realizes that he’s about to be stabbed in the heart.

But then he hears: “No!” And there’s a blur of movement to his right—a blur of yellow, and a surprised grunt from Subutai—and the next thing he knows, it’s not him sinking to the ground with a knife in the gut, it’s Clarke.

Clarke, Clarke, Clarke, on the floor, a hand pressed to the wound, her fingers slippery with blood around the protruding blade.

Everyone else is just as shocked as he is, and the hold on him loosens enough that he’s able to tear away and fall to his knees beside her.

“What the hell is going on?” says a new voice. Temujin has finally returned as well. Too late. Because Bellamy can already see the life ebbing away from her eyes, and maybe if he was her, a healer, he’d be able to help. But he can’t. He’s useless.

Clarke opens her mouth and he tries to shush her, gathering her in his arms and rocking her.

“Don’t talk,” Bel murmurs, pushing her hair away from her face. “We’ll get you out of here, okay?” She keeps trying to talk anyway.

“Please,” she whimpers, then coughs.

“Shhh,” he says gently.

She tries to lift her head to get closer, but he quickly lowers his own so she doesn’t have to. Her lips brush against his ear. “Please take care of Roman.”

He’s momentarily surprised, but then he nods briskly, trying to keep tears out of his eyes. But she grips his arm suddenly, hard enough to almost make him wince. “Promise me.” Her voice surges louder, more commanding, like she’s sitting on a throne giving him an order instead of dying in his arms. “Promise me you will protect him.”

She’s not asking him to take Roman to her relatives in Russia; she’s asking him to raise her child. He recognizes the absolute trust she is placing in him. Bel swallows; he doesn’t want to break down right now. But he is, a little bit. Now he has to wonder if this is how she felt every time he died.

Perhaps he leaves too much a pause after her words because she repeats again, in a broken whisper, “Please, Bellamy.” He blinks at the use of his real name, how when it’s said in her voice it makes him feel real and grounded to reality. “Please take care of my son.” The words seem to sap her of whatever strength she had left, and her head thumps back to the ground.

While she struggles to breathe in her last moment, Bellamy wonders how she thinks he would ever abandon Roman without a parent when he couldn’t even do it the first time. He slowly reaches out a hand to pry her fingers off his arm and interlace them with his own. “Our son,” he tells her, squeezing her hand.

Her eyes are growing steadily glassier, but his words still register. Her lips part.

“I wasn’t there to take care of your children last time. I promise,” Bellamy whispers fervently, suddenly fierce in his need for Clarke to understand him, “this time, I will be.”

He thinks she catches the tail end of his words before she stops breathing, but he isn’t sure. Bellamy closes his eyes, squeezes her hand one more time. And he hopes more than anything that Clarke was right. That they will meet again.

The sounds of the generals arguing in the background with Temujin slowly bring him back to his senses, and he rises off his haunches slowly.

“-- his levels of disrespect left us no choice—”

“-- he was making us look bad, in front of all the men—”

“Enough,” Temujin barks. Bellamy turns around slowly. The scene before him looks a little surreal, fuzzy around the edges like a dream. Or maybe the red creeping into the edges of his vision is something else. “Look at him. He’s been punished already, far more than whatever his crimes against you were.”

Jebe spits on the ground, eyeing Bellamy with hatred. “Yes, well I’m more glad than anyone that the bitch is dead, but that doesn’t mean—”

Bellamy’s on him in a flash, before any of them can react. He’s got no weapon on him but if he did it’d already be buried in the bastard’s stomach. As it is, he surges forward to grab the other man around the throat, pushing him back and roaring in his face, “What did you just call her? What?”

There are hands on his arms, around his waist trying to pull him back, but he holds onto Jebe, watching with satisfaction as his face grows purpler as he chokes and simultaneously tries to respond.

“Say it one more time!” Bellamy screams. He knows he sounds deranged from the way his words echo around the camp. People are watching. He doesn’t care. They also watched when Clarke was dying in his arms— and did nothing. “Give me another reason to kill you!”

Jebe manages to get out, “I hope her little runt dies the same—” before Bellamy shakes off both Subutai and Temujin and throws Jebe into the dirt. Before the general can get his bearings, Bellamy’s on him again, punching him over and over, knuckles slipping on blood-wetted skin, no semblance of finesse left.

“Belgutei!” The Khan bellows in his ear. Dimly, Bellamy knows he’s way way way out of line, but the word ‘Belgutei’ that he has answered by for his entire life means nothing to him right now. All that matters is Clarke lying dead in the dirt behind them, the plea she left imprinted on his soul, and the bastard in front of him who killed her.

Unfortunately, before he can finish the job, he’s pulled off Jebe, several hands of guards helping the Khan and Subutai subdue him. He fights them at first, twisting his arms out of their grip, wildly kicking, but a heavy blow is delivered to his head from behind and he’s dazed enough to be dragged back.

When he comes to, he’s forced to his knees with his hands tied behind him. Jebe is being helped up by a few soldiers, wiping blood from his scowling mouth and staring at Bellamy with narrowed eyes. Actually, Bellamy realizes— everyone is staring at him like that.

He can imagine why. He’s always been cool-headed. That’s the reason he’s known as a great messenger and diplomat in the Khan’s army. But now? They don’t recognize him.

“Belgutei,” The Khan himself says carefully, walking to stand in front of him. Bellamy doesn’t raise his eyes to look at him, choosing to fasten his gaze on the ground.

“He killed my wife,” he grinds out.

“I understand that, but we are leaders, we cannot senselessly kill each other,” Temujin says soothingly. “I never thought I’d have to tell you that. If I let you up, can you promise on your own life to me that you won’t attack Jebe again?”

“No,” Bellamy mutters honestly, and another ripple of shock goes through the gathering crowd of soldiers.

“He needs to be taught a lesson,” Subutai snarls, and Temujin looks at him sharply, so he adds, “With all due respect.”

Temujin turns back to Bellamy, kneels to his level. “Brother, look at me.”

Bellamy looks up. Maybe Temujin sees something in his eyes, because he sighs and rocks back on his heels. “You will have to be punished further for this, you know.”

Bellamy says nothing.

“Do you understand why, Belgutei? We can’t have dissention in our ranks.” He sounds like he feels regretful about it. Bellamy doesn’t feel anything at all. The Khan says his name again, and Bellamy finally delivers a response.

“Fine.” He doesn’t care.

“Do not attempt to harm Jebe or any of my men ever again,” Temujin adds. “Or I will have no choice but to kill you. I won’t take any pleasure from it.”

As they slowly unrestrain Bellamy, he plans it wildly. He can see it all in his mind’s eye— the sword on the belt of the soldier at his right, easily taken and swung at Jebe’s head. It would be so easy. He would do it for Clarke. And then he’d be killed, but it doesn’t matter.

His eyes fall on her body, still lying where he had let her rest, and it suddenly occurs to him that he’s not so sure he would be doing it for her.

And then something else occurs to him—something Clarke asked him to do, something he can’t do if he’s dead.

Bellamy makes his decision in a split second. Rubbing his wrists slowly, he stands and turns to Temujin, who’s watching him warily. “He killed my wife.”

“No, she got in the way,” Jebe insists from behind them. Bellamy is satisfied hearing his voice is a little garbled. Maybe he was able to knock out a few teeth after all.

In any case, Bellamy arches a brow at the Khan. “Then you realize he was trying to kill me.”

The Khan inclines his head in acknowledgement. “He’ll be punished too.” But they both know that’s not enough. “And demoted.”

“There are two more things I want,” Bellamy begins, but the Khan interrupts him with a curious look in his eye.

“You really loved her, didn’t you?”

Yes, Bellamy wants to cry. He loved her, and he loves her, and he fears he will love her until the end of time.

But he ignores the question and continues stoically. “One is I don’t want to be your general anymore.” His half-brother blinks, but Bellamy plunges on. “I’m done with it. I’m never going to war for you again.”

The Khan regards him seriously. “You have my word. I rely on you more for advising matters anyhow.”

“The second is,” Bellamy goes on hoarsely, thinking of Clarke, and her gold-spun hair, and the little boy with the same hair waiting in the tent, unaware that he’s lost another parent. “My son…”

 

 

When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life, in each place and forever. — Bob Hicok