A/n: This has been on my computer for far too long (since July to be exact). Even though I've been far too hesitant to post it online, I recently (finally) decided to give this a shot and try my luck.
It is unbeta'd and I am surely the last person that should proofread my own work, so I apologize for all the errors you'll come across. Also, I've taken some (not too important, I hope) liberties with canon facts that aren't as evident in the show, as you'll probably find out.
tenderest touch leaves the darkest of marks
and the kindest of kisses break the hardest of hearts
This is what she always imagined she would do, if her freedom was ever given back to her. She would stand still for a moment, just enough to drink in her surroundings and become familiar with them, to reacquaint herself with the people whose faces she couldn't help but memorize in the short amount of time she has lived on the Ark, her only home. And then she would run.
She would relish the sound created by the loud stomping of her boots on the floor, the burning of her lungs from the impending lack of oxygen, the way her trademark braid would slap against her back with every movement. The young girl inside her would grasp the chance to escape with both hands, refusing to let go. She would appreciate the ability to do something other than pace and hyperventilate like a caged animal inside a cell of the Skybox.
But she isn't a young girl anymore, she knows as much.
There are things she has seen and heard, things that haunt her while she sleeps and weigh on her while she doesn't. The paralyzing headaches, the suffocation, the blazing hatred – all of them are side effects of these memories, just like running.
(Some would say running is not a side effect of watching your father get floated with the push of a single button as your mother, the one responsible for that push, muffles your cries against her shoulder. They would say it's an instinct to protect yourself from discovering the truth behind your father's execution and the events that followed afterwards, or the truth behind your discharge. She, however, already knows the truth and stepping back was never one of her strong suits, let alone instincts.)
Her heart rate picks up, the wild thumping in her ears warning her that slowing down right about now would be the wisest option. The thought forms a little too late in her head, and she finally processes fully the meaning of the fact when one of her feet comes into contact with the floor. The angle is all wrong, the surface wet and slippery.
She barely pays attention to her yelp of surprise, because there's nothing for her to hold onto and everything is spinning, spinning – until she lands on her back with a rather painful thud, her gaze inevitably stuck on the ceiling of the ship.
She blinks a couple times in the darkness, stunned by the impact, while her brain goes into overdrive, mentally listing every bone or muscle that might be hurt or bruised. The relief at the realization that her head is most possibly safe despite her fall is short-lived, as she urges herself to concentrate on accepting most of the air she needs to inhale in order to function properly.
And then she hears it; footsteps indicating that someone is advancing upon her, footsteps that weren't supposed to be heard in the first place. Not during this time of the day.
Her decision to sit up is made in a haze of panic, the fear of humiliation pulling her up, helping her rise on her knees right after light fills the previously empty corridor. She lays a palm flat on the wall of steel to support her weight, her free hand automatically moving over her abdomen, as if to correct her ragged breathing.
Two feet move within her eyesight, halting before her. Her eyes travel upwards.
She relaxes at the sight of the janitor staring back at her, her embarrassment ebbing considerably with the breath she releases. She struggles to stand on her two feet, ignoring the invisible jab in her chest, all the while preparing to decline his suggestion of help.
He never offers it.
"It's past curfew," he says instead, catching her off guard. She discerns a hint of impatience in the tone of his voice, as if she is the last person he was hoping to encounter. (Maybe she is just that.)
She studies his face a little longer than she initially expected she would, from the darkness of his hair to the sharpness of his features, but his expression betrays no emotion whatsoever. His charcoal-colored eyes contradict the rest of his stance as they penetrate hers, the intensity and unrest in them clearly demanding an adequate answer.
She suppresses a scowl, for he does have a point. Nobody wanders alone in this section, not without a good reason. She provides a distracting reply, hoping he'll settle for it.
"I'm not a minor," she tells him.
"Could have fooled me," he mutters under his breath loud enough for her to hear, before he turns his back on her. She watches him inspect the freshly mopped floor, feeling an undeniable pang of guilt for making his job harder than it probably is. She couldn't smell it while the vision of her nightmare was still alive inside her head, but she does now; the strong odor of disinfectant chlorine teases her nostrils, adding to her wish to help him fix the mess she's made.
The grey tracks of dirt from her shoes are clear, as are the water stains on her clothes. She cringes at the feel of the wetness sticking to the skin of her sore back.
She coughs, gaining his attention. "If there's something I can do—"
"I think you've done enough for today, Princess." She doesn't miss the way the nickname sounds bitter as it slips from his mouth, nor does she miss the way he breaks eye contact again, his feet already carrying him towards the opposite direction.
It takes her a minute to catch up, trailing behind him. Her muscles protest, resulting in her chewing on the tender flesh of her bottom lip, but she is determined to follow him in silence. That is until she stands in his way of reaching his destination, which seems to be the narrowest of doors.
"My name is definitely not Princess," she announces, irritated by the eyebrow he raises in return. "And I'm sorry," she adds through gritted teeth.
He fishes for a pair of keys from the pocket of his blue uniform, shaking them as if to emphasize the fact that yes, she still needs to let him through that door. She sighs in defeat, stepping aside when he gives her no clue that he has accepted her apology. She waits for him to unlock the door to a janitor's closet, debating whether to follow him in the small space or not. Before she can reach a rational conclusion, he holds a mop in front of her.
She knows that if he wanted her to assist him, he wouldn't keep the object out of her reach. She shoots him a puzzled glance. He steps outside, his other hand occupied by a bucket.
"You're the daughter of a Council member. Your name might as well be that," he insists. He obviously enjoys the furrow between her brows as her confusion only doubles. With a roll of his eyes, he proceeds to head for the corridor full of distorted footprints.
"Hold on a second," she objects, curiosity getting the better of her. Surprisingly enough, he obeys, his shoulders slumping, his grip on the handle of the bucket tightening until his knuckles turn ashen. She remembers friends teasing her about her obsession with observing little things, but she also remembers how beneficial reading body language has been over the years.
She wants to ask him why being around her sets him on edge or why dismissing her seems to be so important to him. Instead, she asks him how he knows she's Clarke Griffin.
He shrugs. "People talk."
"People? What do you mean?" she presses.
"You've been the first underage prisoner to be released on your eighteenth birthday for months. They've noticed," he explains.
He's noticed, if the tightness of his jaw has anything to say about it.
In less than twenty-four hours, she finds herself consciously following the same path she had the night before. She can't be sure whether that is because the janitor's words kept echoing in her head for a great part of another slightly uneventful day or simply due to the knowledge that the tranquility in such an isolated place comforts her.
Either way, she has questions – questions that only the man in blue can answer.
Clarke treads carefully, but steadily, having already convinced herself that the young man will never consider her capable of participating in a decent conversation, unless she holds her ground, maintaining a determined appearance. During this past month, she's come to realize that analyzing every situation possible as well as estimating every word she utters is the only way to keep up with people. Being in solitary for more than a year clearly didn't help matters for her, as her interactions were solely limited to Jaha's most trusted men.
She wasn't even allowed to speak with Abigail Griffin, her own mother. (Of course, this hardly came in handy when the truth came out. Absence does, in fact, make the heart grow fonder. The illusion she painted in her head whenever she thought about her family in the loneliness of cell 319 was just that; an illusion.)
She spots the janitor's closet some minutes before she spots him. The door is ajar, welcoming to her challenging eyes, yet daunting to the side of hers that will probably always remain doubtful of the unknown.
There are selves free of dust, which speak volumes of how meticulous most workers on the Ark are, bottles full of cleaning chemicals and devices she wouldn't trust herself with handling. She pulls the only chair to her, her fingers groping the seat, her lips pressed together in a wistful line. She finally sits with an audible thud, the sudden motion creating a curtain of blonde hair in front of her eyes.
(For a second or two, she mourns the absence of the practical braid her hair was always woven into. Apparently, leading the life of a different person requires having a different hairstyle.)
Just when she's about to skim through the notes of her mother's patients – now also hers – a noise a few feet to her left makes her jolt in surprise. She sits a little straighter, a hand tucking free stands of hair behind her ears.
If the janitor is startled by her presence for a second time in a row, he certainly doesn't show it. His eyes roam over her form swiftly, lingering on the electronic clipboard clutched tightly in her hands. Clarke holds her breath as soon as he steps foot in the small closet, his proximity generating a strange feeling of discomfort that she attempts to conceal. In her mind, giving him the satisfaction of knowing he has the tiniest effect on her equals giving up.
"I don't intend to be an inconvenience to you. Silence is much needed while working on these and finding a quiet place has been hard," Clarke says, pointing to the clipboard in her lap.
There are a million reasons why he should think she's lying – her excuse is anything but plausible, after all – and he looks like he sees right through her. She's fascinated by the variety of expressions crossing his face, channeled by the emotions her intrusion awakened, in no more than a matter of seconds. Stoic is the one he eventually prefers, catapulting her efforts several steps back.
She would take anything from him, even an angered confession of sorts.
She rises from her seat, testing the waters. "I hope you don't mind."
Gauging his reaction is futile at this point. She isn't sure what she anticipated exactly, but him closing the small distance between them definitely isn't included in her list of predictions. She wonders if the fact that he's roughly a head taller than her feels empowering to him. She also wonders if he hopes she's claustrophobic.
The pressure behind her eyes indicates that if she doesn't put an end to their staring match soon enough, tears will well. The sensation is oddly addictive – it's been quite a long time since she last did this.
She only manages to look away when his arm reaches out, collecting a few items from the highest self, effectively trapping her inside an imaginary cage. Suddenly, there is a noticeable twitch on his left cheek. The deceitful pull at the corner of his lips represents a shadow of a smile, she deduces in disbelief.
"Suit yourself, Princess," he drawls.
There it is again. It almost amazes her how such a simple characterization, which is superficially used for the purpose of teasing, can harbor so much meaning behind it. Almost.
He spins on his heel then, leaving her alone in the tiny room. Clarke's suspicious eyes zero in on the narrow door that's now pushed wide open, allowing them to travel freely over the expanse of his shoulders, to examine the rapid motions of his hands, to read more – too much – into actions of his than she probably should.
Either he's an idiot or he's better than she will ever be at this game.
Clarke's fingers curl around her pen as she searches for a blank page in her clipboard. The eagerness intensifies when she finds it, and she instantly proceeds to scribble down information about what she's aware of. The first obstacle doesn't take too long to stand in her way.
She looks up, studying him under her lashes, half-expecting him to stop right in the middle of his work just to point out she isn't as sneaky as she thinks.
She doesn't even know his name. All she knows is that he's one of the many janitors on the Ark. He's in his mid-twenties, probably even younger than that. He's –
The blank page stares mockingly back at her. Nothing she wrote about him would be a hundred percent accurate.
With a sigh, she presses the off button, mentally chastising herself. She's bordering on strangely obsessive behavior, which is something to be rightfully upset about. Even though there was never a plan to follow in the first place, some lines need to be drawn. At least a small part of her old self, carefree but focused, should be recognizable, if not approachable.
"I need to lock up," the janitor calls out when he's within earshot.
"Right now?" she inquires.
"Twenty minutes from now," he corrects. Time flies fast, faster than when she was in solitary, so she decides to make the most of it, hardly pretending that she's reviewing notes in the already deactivated clipboard.
"You never told me your name," Clarke reminds him.
He shakes his head. "Indeed." It takes everything in her to stay put when her legs ache to mimic his long strides around her.
"Well, aren't you going to tell me? It's not like—" A terrible thought occurs to her, more and more pieces of the puzzle clicking together at once. "It's not like I'm going to do research on your background or position," she assures him. "I just prefer knowing the names of the people I interact with rather than not."
The last part elicits a snort of derision from him, presumably the most honest response she's received thus far. "I bet you do."
"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, I get that. What I don't understand is why you seem to believe anyone who wants to talk to you has an ulterior motive."
He cuts her off. "Don't you?" he asks hotly. "Have you really come here because of the quiet?"
"It's not what you think," she answers calmly. She would very much like to match his frustrated tone but, to be fair, she is the one who gave him the right to feel threatened.
Clearly, she hasn't said enough to placate him. Though, for some still unknown to her reason, he dodges the continuation of this, refusing to trap himself in a situation he won't explain to her.
"Isn't your mother worried about you? Going around talking to strange men?"
"If you were a threat, you would know there are surveillance cameras watching your every move all around the Ark."
He scoffs. "Not in this closet."
"No," she agrees. "Luckily for me, the cameras outside said closet have already recorded us walking in."
Sour sarcasm laces his tone. "Smart, Princess. That's cute, really."
She watches him run a hand over his dark hair, making a mess of it in the process. His scowl brings out the lines of exhaustion on his face. "I have a job to do."
She pushes the chair back, standing. She envelops her clipboard, holding it close to her chest in her defense. If there are any boundaries, she must have overstepped them a while ago.
"I'm a lot of things, but a liar isn't one of them. When I say there will be no consequences, I mean it," she declares, her shoulder brushing against his as she walks past him. She chances a look at him one last time, his confusion at her change of heart transparent.
"As for my mother, I'm not her concern. Not anymore."
While on her way to the infirmary in the morning, she literally runs into Wells. The force of the collision shoves her backwards, swaying dangerously until his hands cup her shoulders insistently. As he holds her in place, she permits herself to take advantage of the lack of awkward, overly polite greetings between them.
She can hardly look at him without wishing to apologize over and over again. (It's not like she didn't do it the day her mother confessed the truth to her. It's not like she had anyone else to run to, either. Wells had been the only permanent friend in the years of her adolescence.)
"You should really watch your step," he advises facetiously.
Under different circumstances she might have laughed, she might have even had a witty comeback for him. But this is the second time she's lost her balance in less than three days and her exasperation at her newfound clumsiness is starting to take its toll on her.
"You're right," she says, before Wells' easygoing smile transforms into something akin to compassion. Although she brought this on herself – the pity deteriorating her state of anxiousness around him – trying a different approach seems both pointless and infeasible to her.
He is the one to break the silence, like always.
"How are you?" If there's someone who cares about the answer she has to give, it's him. Whenever she comes close enough to sharing her plaguing thoughts with anyone, with him, she falters nonetheless.
"Not great," is all she offers in the end.
A supportive hand slides from her elbow to her forearm. "Tell you what. I have business I need to attend to right now, but I was hoping we could meet up in the weekend. Sunday, perhaps? We haven't had one of those family dinners in a long time."
She jerks back, his hand falling from her arm. She knows what he's doing. He's been trying to force her to be indulgent, to see her mother's perspective, for a whole month. Sometimes he's subtle by inviting her to dinner, sometimes not so much by enhancing the inner voice screaming at her that her dad would want her to embrace forgiveness.
"I can't," she says apologetically. I can't sit in the same table as the two people who betrayed and floated my father like his life meant nothing to them.
"I'm busy this weekend. I've lost months of medical training."
Wells of all people would understand. She may be trained to be a future medic, responsible for the health of many, but Thelonious Jaha's son is taught what it means to be responsible for people's lives in a whole new level. A future Council member, if not Chancellor, ought to be aware of what's happening in all Sections at all times.
He nods, as expected. "Some other time, then."
"Some other time," she echoes ruefully.
Bellamy, he says. His name is Bellamy.
He doesn't look at her for too long when he speaks for the first time since seeing her that day, but the result is still the same. Her hand freezes over the notes she's made about Sheila Endler, eyes turning wide like saucers, mouth threatening to express the satisfaction of a personal win.
They are both silent after that, barely exchanging a few words when he has to rearrange a few things in the closet. It's not until it's time for him to lock it that he shocks her by engaging her in discussion.
The trace of levity is distinguishable when he asks her if she has real friends to bother, impelling her to mull the question over her head for some seconds.
"Not really," she claims truthfully. After that, her mouth has a mind of its own.
She reminisces about how effortless being Wells' friend used to be. She recaptures the horrendous memories of how much the misplaced hatred towards him used to eat away at her and how although he welcomed her with open arms the moment she begged for his esteem, their friendship was never restored.
She tells him about the night of Abby's confession to her, the night her perception of family took a violent turn in her head. Her mother's loyalties lied – and probably still do – with the wrong group of people, the one in favor of sacrifices being made for the sake of everyone else.
It feels like one of the monologues often whispered under her breath. She snaps out of the depth of her reverie at the sound of Bellamy's voice.
"You know, when I asked about the friends you don't have, I wasn't looking forward to an actual response." She sees the mirth reflected in his eyes before his fingers fumble for the switch on the wall and the power goes out. "I mean, you haven't been exactly complying so far."
The darkness momentarily disorientates her, delaying her reply.
"I do that sometimes," she concedes. "Ramble, I mean."
There is a pregnant pause, long enough to stir a mix of feelings of unrest and awareness inside her. She can't see him perfectly, but she can make out the oddly familiar shape of him, can feel his eyes burning holes on her as she hastily mutters that she should have probably been back home by now.
She's halfway through reaching the dimly illuminated edge of the corridor, where another one begins, when she hears it.
"Clarke." She turns around timidly, tempted for a fleeting second to pester him for remembering her first name. "Does that help?"
"Does what – oh." She can see him better now her senses have adjusted to the gloom. His impressive features are distorted in some kind of anguish and she feels more like an intruder than ever. Still, she sees no point in withholding the truth from him.
"No. Talking about it rarely does."
She tiptoes to her room quietly, like she did every time she'd sneaked out of home. Unlike those last times, however, her mother is waiting for her. Despite the fact that Clarke has been expecting her to catch on for a while, she can't help jumping when she sees her, her hand flying over her pounding heart.
"You scared me," she gasps.
"That makes two of us," says Abby. She pats the spot beside her, on Clarke's bed, as an invitation for her daughter to join her. The hope vanishes in record time, replaced by undeniable worry. "May I ask where you've been?"
Clarke shrugs in indifference. After she slips her socks off her feet, she digs in her drawers for sleeping clothes, as if unbothered by the woman's presence. (Honestly, she's far from nonchalant, but she recently discovered that retaliation is alluring when it comes to hurtful situations. That recognition scares her.)
"Sweetheart," Abby starts. "You know staying out so late is not a very good idea."
"Nothing's happened, Mom. I'm okay," Clarke snaps. The law already forbids her from having the privacy of her own home until she turns at least twenty-one. Giving up on any other kind of liberty is inconceivable – it makes her breath lodge in her throat.
"If a guard catches you roaming around without a reason in particular, he'll be suspicious. Instead of blending in, you'll be under the watchful eye of the Ark twenty-four-seven. That's not what you need after being evaluated."
It's not like the thought of being monitored hasn't crossed her mind before. She's been careful for the most part. Even when she's driven by her never-ending nightmares, she knows where she ends up. Before the decision that she had no desire to follow the same path as Wells was made, Clarke could memorize the importance of each Section like the back of her hand.
"What I need is to sleep. Early morning tomorrow," Clarke remarks.
Abby holds her gaze for no more than half a minute, before she stands, accepting Clarke's excuse with a heavy exhale. She reaches the door to her daughter's room, procrastinating, looking as if she has more to say. (She always does.)
Sleep never comes.
Soon enough, she develops a routine with Bellamy. She knows it barely counts as one, what with her always watching from her seat in the closet while he's on duty, but she'll take what she can get. (After a couple of weeks, she stops feigning bewilderment whenever she stumbles upon him. In return, he manages to work on his shortness and hostility for as long as he's around her, limiting his choice of words to practical exchanges and light banter. It's a start.)
So, when one day he breaks that routine, Clarke is caught completely off-guard.
She absolutely hates how baffled she looks as he clarifies why he started earlier than usual or why he needs to report that he's finished for the day. He drapes his bag over his shoulder as he speaks, oblivious to the voice she's trying to quell in her head, taunting her, bringing her to the realization that he is yet another distraction of hers, another reason to abstain from the reality of facing her mother.
She interrupts him, for once incapable of taking delight in surprising him. She stammers, phrases becoming a tangled mess she can't make sense of until she feels pressure on her right wrist, where her father's old watch jabs into her skin. Bellamy's hand is locked around it, the persistent warmth crawling up her arm urging her to meet his eyes.
"You can come with me, Princess." His voice is low, so incredibly low, that she has difficulty with processing the abnormality in his words. Her mind drifts to all these fairy tales she and Wells liked to read as kids, where a tricky scheme often meddled with the fate of a princess.
Clarke shakes her head as if to clear it, weighing her options. Her final decision does not unsettle or startle him, and it makes her wonder whether he believes asking for her permission was a waste of time in the first place.
(She's never been the damsel in distress; not when she was incarcerated, and definitely not now.)
She follows him in comfortable silence, her steps smaller but quicker than his. He doesn't shed light to wherever it is that he's taking her until they step foot into slightly unfamiliar territory. Clarke notes it's a residential area, purposefully falling behind to read one the signs pinned on the white doors.
Working class. If there is a Section on the Ark where people struggle the most, this is it, regardless the Council's tenacity to hide it.
Bellamy stops right in front of one of those doors, his fingers wrapping around the handle until she stands beside him. He pulls.
"You look surprised." He suggests that she shouldn't be. He doesn't call her by her ridiculous nickname this time, but she knows this is how he completes the sentence in his mind. She knows he feels the gap between the places each one of them has here and, for a fraction of a second, she swears she can feel it, too.
But then he holds the door open for her, tilting his head to the side as a signal for her to enter, so she brushes the ludicrous idea away. The house – his house – is like any other on the Ark. She's been told there is the same number of everything; rooms, basic rations and supplies. The conflicts are mainly an aftereffect of the unfair allocation of political privileges.
She scans her surroundings as discreetly as possible. The thorough tidiness of his quarters leaves an imprint of eerie emptiness inside her.
"You live alone," she says. It's not a question, but a hesitant statement offering Bellamy a chance to prove her wrong.
"I do," he confirms.
"I would give anything to have this," she muses dejectedly, taking a few steps forward. His expression hardens, before it morphs into something suspiciously softer.
"Do you play chess?" he wonders out of the blue.
The heel of her hand rubs against her forehead, smoothing the lines of perplexity. "Yeah, I guess. Wells and I used to play before – before everything. Just – where are you going?"
He motions to his uniform. "To change out of this. To bring the chessboard. Take your pick."
If this happened two years ago, she probably wouldn't second-guess herself, nor would she question his motives. But then again, that's exactly what he did when she first spoke to him, and there was nothing for him to worry about.
Surely, she is not naïve. (This is a far cry from the person she met a few weeks ago.)
Bellamy returns seemingly sooner than he left, clad in more comfortable clothes. He disposes the plastic chessboard on the table, black and white pawns scattered all around it. He concentrates on putting each and every one of them in its place, his gaze stuck on them for a little longer than necessary as if he somehow happened to stumble on a memory of the past.
Clarke decides that unreasonable paranoia doesn't suit her, either.
She slowly approaches the table, taking her place opposite him. Their eyes meet.
"I should warn you. Wells usually lost."
His tongue darts out to moisten his lips, and her gaze unwillingly flickers downwards. "So be prepared to find out what that feels like," he teasingly advises.
He beats her.
With her ego bruised, she allows herself to acknowledge his intelligence and resourcefulness – and maybe silently praise him in a corner of her mind. His ability to have so much control over his actions and over voicing his thoughts is remarkable. In a twisted way, it reminds her of her mother's cool exterior.
She knows she put up a good fight – the hands in her father's watch are proof of that – but that doesn't change the fact that he beat her.
She makes a grimace. "A rematch wouldn't be so bad."
"Right," he murmurs as he collects everything from the table. He curses when he lifts his eyes. "You weren't kidding. This is some serious look, Princess."
"I just don't believe you'll have the same luck the second time around," she admits confidently.
"A little high on yourself, aren't you?" He chuckles, the sound deep and soft at the same time. A thrill of exhilaration rushes through her at one of the many noises that have never reached her ears before.
"You're good, I'll give you that. But you still don't come close enough to my last opponent," he lets her know.
She arches an eyebrow. "And who may that be?"
He gives a noncommittal shrug. "Someone who probably thinks too much like me. You are your greatest enemy and all that," he quotes.
She makes a show of gazing at her watch one last time. "It's getting late," she points out, receiving a curt nod from him.
Clarke walks to the door, her hand hovering over it when he finally agrees to that rematch. She bites back a blossoming smile, refusing to treasure the uncommon occurrence unless she's under the safety of her blankets.
She can't for the life of her recall the last time she smiled.
Jackson, her mother's right hand in the most complex of situations, finds her in the infirmary's storage, where she's hanging the borrowed white coat all healers are required to wear.
"Someone's here to see you."
She arrives at the back door some minutes later, coming face to face with none other than Wells Jaha. His grim expression worries her enough to gain her full attention, eyes searching for answers he has yet to give. The last time he looked at her like this was a warning before her father's execution.
"Is something wrong?" she asks pressingly.
Wells takes a few breaths before he speaks, as though pondering the question. His restlessness over addressing the matter does anything but put her at ease.
He clears his throat. "I saw you."
She tests the words. "You saw me." His eyes widen a little emphatically, like they do every time she is supposed to read between the lines. She comes up with nothing. "You'll have to be more specific, Wells."
"Lunch, today," he succumbs. He doesn't offer much more, but it's enough for them to be on the same page. She spent the greatest part of her lunch break in the mess hall, absentmindedly seeking the members of the sanitation crew until her gaze unexpectedly collided with Bellamy's. They may have exchanged a few words afterwards, for the first time in such a public place.
"I still don't understand what the problem is."
"There's no problem. Yet," he adds. "But you have to be careful, Clarke. You have no idea what people like him are capable of."
The anger boils in her veins, heat travelling up her neck at his insinuation. "People like him? There's a label for them now?" she exclaims. Wells looks around in alarm, ensuring nobody is there to overhear their conversation, while she makes an attempt to lower the volume of her voice.
"He's right," she whispers, almost dumbfounded at the revelation. "He's right about so many things."
"Like what?" Wells baits. "Clarke, this is important. If there's talk about anything—"
"There's no talk," she interrupts him. "He hasn't said anything. But I'm not stupid, Wells." He takes a step closer, encouraging her to continue. "The point is we have to stop acting like we deserve more than they do," she says pointedly.
"If there's anything I can do about that, I promise you that I will. But, right now, it's not in my power. I don't write the laws. Neither does my father." A cruel retort lies on the tip of her tongue, because that's Thelonious Jaha he's referring to, the man who gave the definitive order to float her father. The man who enforces the laws.
"He's a grown man, Clarke." For someone who used to know her so well, he sure overestimates her self control now. The all too familiar fury nags her, stretching her limits.
"We've all been forced to grow one way or another."
"He's years older," he insists. "Maybe I don't have the right to pass judgment, but you probably don't know him as well as you think you do, either."
"So let me decide whether to be civil towards him during lunch."
He walks her home without trying to start more arguments, which she's immensely grateful for. That is until he tells her to be careful, please with a small reference of her nightly ritual at the end of his sentence.
Her eyes flare dangerously the exact moment she realizes what's truly happening. He doesn't even try to deny the fact that Abby spoke with him beforehand, pleading with him to watch out for her daughter. He's supposed to be on her side, damn it.
"This is why I'm here, Clarke. I am on your side. Always."
Blood-curdling screams has her rushing to her mother, senses violently awoken. The job of a healer requires professionalism, so the least Clarke can do is push any issues she has with her out of the way, working on presenting a reliable front.
Abby hurriedly clears the exam table as two guards drag a wailing woman inside, hands secured on both her arms, determined to keep her in place. The woman trashes and kicks despite their grip, a string of defiant profanities flying out of her mouth.
One of the guards lays her forcefully down, pinning her arms over her head. The reason why the woman was carried here finally dawns on Clarke, the cries for help now shaking her to the core. Her sharp intake of breath can barely be discerned among the cacophony of howling.
The woman bents her knees as a last resort, hiding the swell of her belly from view. Her tantrum reaches its peak, before it stops altogether, her enraged cries turning into desperate pleas.
"Hold her down," Abby commands. The second guard puts pressure on her legs, temporarily immobilizing her. "Jackson," she calls.
Jackson dutifully obeys, plunging the syringe in the woman's neck to sedate her. He is the first and only person to reply to her when she asks for her husband, reassuring her he will be called shortly.
"Clarke," Abby demands next. The blonde stares at her torpidly, the lack of noise implying the pregnant woman is unconscious. "Focus," her mother scolds. "I'm going to need your help."
Every time there are malfunctions in the oxygen system, the Chancellor is obliged to make an announcement so that the people on the Ark will understand the population is to stay intact. Therefore, measures are taken and women are not allowed to conceive until the Council confirms any fixable problems are indeed dealt with.
However, the knowledge that there was a logical order in the earlier events isn't enough for her to stop scrubbing her crimson hands like crazy, her heart nearly stopping at the sight of blood flowing down the drain. It isn't the blood making her queasy – she has washed like this many times before. It is the recognition of what today's training consisted of.
She can feel her mother's presence behind her and, for once, she cannot avoid openly sharing her thoughts.
"A doctor is supposed to save lives," Clarke huffs. "You just taught me how to take one."
"That was not a choice," Abby reminds her gently. "It was a necessity."
"I know that." Clarke paces around the room, almost regretting pushing her mother away in times when she's needed her most. She ignores that right now is one of those times, trying to prevent more doubts from snakily worming their way into her head. She doesn't succeed.
"Why am I not dead, Mom?" she asks bluntly. "Was it a way for the Council to rectify their mistake of unfairly floating dad? Was it a prerogative? A choice?"
"All prisoners are reviewed once they turn eighteen. You're aware of the rules," Abby says, surprised by the sudden outburst.
"All prisoners are expendable whenever there's a problem with the oxygen levels," Clarke amends. "Jaha said that," she continues before her mother can deny there are also a few unspoken rules.
Abby approaches her tentatively, the mask representing everlasting strength and endurance crumbling with each step she takes. A hand reaches out, ever so slightly pressing against Clarke's cheek in a feathery touch, caressing. It trembles when she combs free tufts of hair out of the way, and Clarke has to swallow the melancholy before it swallows her. She blinks rapidly in a hope of clearing her misted vision.
"There's been so much at stake already," her mother whispers in sorrow. "I can't lose you, too."
Something snaps inside of Clarke; something that makes her stomach churn and her head ache. She pulls the hand resting by her ear in one swift motion, releasing it while she takes a step back.
"I would like to work elsewhere, if that's okay," she requests.
Abby sniffles discreetly, bobbing her head in comprehension. "Very well. I will try to make a list of assignments as relevant to this as possible by the end of the week. If that's still what you want by then, I'll see what I can do."
The way to forgiveness is long and rocky, but reaching an understanding is maybe – just maybe – not as hard as they thought it would be.
She starts having lunch with Bellamy in the mess hall. People notice from day one, and the curious stares or whispers are always there, but it is something Clarke gets accustomed to after the third or fourth time. Besides, none of Bellamy's co-workers seems to actually care, so she makes the wise decision to follow their example.
They usually make small talk. She knows he tolerates it more than his scowl lets on, learning to never take one of his spontaneous insults or sour comments too seriously. Their small fights over silly things keep her on her toes to the point where she begins anticipating them.
The building connection to him becomes deeper than a mere distraction from the dull repetition of her everyday life when her monologues turn into full-blown conversations.
Then, there are also his monologues, snippets of information. He tells her about his experience as a cadet and his training as a future guard and how different it was than being a janitor. He tells her about the consolation his mother's simple existence offered and his unawareness of the fact until he lost her.
And he tells her about his sister, Octavia.
She gapes at him in utter disbelief the first time he speaks of the girl, pupils shamelessly dilating as she manages to connect the dots of how Aurora Blake was floated. There is a change in Bellamy, a side of him she has never encountered before, tangible evidence that there is something – someone – he would sacrifice his life for. (She briefly wonders what leaning on a sibling, being devoted to them, feels like.)
His lips curl into a hateful snarl as he recites the events of the masquerade dance two years ago as well as its eventual conclusion. There is fire in his eyes by the time he's done talking, a fire that wouldn't be there, if his sister wasn't safe and sound – if there was no ounce of hope for him to hold onto.
(Clarke remembers her mother's list.)
"I've made up my mind," Clarke informs in a monotone voice, pushing the clipboard forward on the table. Abby narrows her eyes at the saved file on the device, reluctantly focusing on the bolded words. For a woman who is rumored for her collectedness, her mother sure looks flabbergasted.
"Yes. I know it's just a weekly check-up for each one of them, so I'll be able to occasionally help in the infirmary in case I'm really needed," Clarke reasons.
"Those are delinquents we're talking about. They have committed serious crimes. They are mentally unstable – you cannot overlook that, not when your experience is lacking. Especially when I'm not qualified enough to participate in this kind of training."
"So bring me to someone who is. This is not an act of defiance, Mom. I've been thinking about it for days, with good reason," Clarke says. "Some of them are children who need guidance, some others are in there for the wrong reasons. Anyway, I know how they feel and that means I have an advantage none of you have."
Abby releases a long breath of resignation, searching Clarke's eyes for any sign of hesitation. (She finds none.)
"If you've really taken it into consideration…if you're absolutely sure about this—"
"I am," Clarke hurriedly appeases her. "This is what I want."
She doesn't realize how truly alone she is until Unity Day.
There is this party Wells insisted they go to, for the sake of taking a break from the usual anxiety and stress of living up to expectations, as he put it. She took longer than usual to agree, but she agreed nonetheless.
She wears a grey cotton dress that's sleeveless and stops right above her knees and ties her hair in one of Abby's old ribbons in order to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. (Trust Wells to be invited to parties by the crowd they've been surrounded with their whole lives – the people from their station who are haughty and arrogant half the time.)
There is moonshine, like always, so when her conversation with Wells comes to a halt and the air becomes thick and uncomfortably tense between them, she raises the metallic cup to her lips, emptying it sip by sip. He makes a comment about the considerably better quality of the drinks in contrast to last year's and she smiles tightly, nodding, because there was no free alcohol in prison and she has nothing to compare it to.
He spots his friends only five minutes later, communicating in gestures from afar until he finally decides to join them, encouraging Clarke to come and say hi.
"That's okay," she answers. "I was thinking of hanging around with some old classmates for a little while." He shoots her a skeptical look. "After all, I need a refill."
Everything has changed.
Everyone is either walking on eggshells around her or scrutinizes and criticizes her every move when she is supposedly unaware. They act like they don't know her, like they've never known her.
Even the concept of fun has been altered, she notes as she takes a walk through the throngs of people, catching glimpses of once familiar faces. Despite her futile attempt to fit in, tonight she's lost all chances of feeling comfortable in her own skin.
She's been given an opportunity to prove her worth, to live. Yet, she has no clue concerning what she's doing or what on earth she should do. She made some choices in the past and she's still making plenty of them, but she has absolutely no idea where most of them will lead her. She has no-one to trust fully, no-one to direct her, no-one to praise her or advise her.
She unbuttons the first two buttons in the front of her dress right after she escapes the multitude of inquisitive and dismissive gazes. She works on steadying her breathing, perceiving how much the feeling of asphyxiation has misguided her.
She doesn't know how to prevent a crowd from making her feel so lonely and isolated. All she knows is that she doesn't need more space than she already has.
Clarke bangs her fist on the door only twice, swiftly hiding it behind her back in a desperate attempt to stop the unwanted tremors. She digs her nails in the inside of her palm, counting on the distraction the momentary pain has to offer, trying to convince herself this isn't as big a mistake.
Footsteps are heard from the other side. The door doesn't open wide, but just enough for her to hold her breath and wonder, for the umpteenth time, if the risk in mind is truly worth taking.
Even through the tiny crevice, Bellamy's piercing gaze smolders against hers. It rakes over her frame in a calculating manner, anticipating her every move long before she does. His lips stretch into a smirk.
"How was the party?"
Her throat feels dry all of sudden, drier than it's ever felt before. She takes a second to drink him in; the messy curls he usually tries to tame in the presence of others, the worn-out clothes, the permanent worry lines in-between his brows. Something funny pulls at her heartstrings at the sight of him, something she hasn't quite identified yet.
Her silence brings an odd expression to his face. He steps back with a long exhale, wordlessly granting her entrance. She follows him inside before she can change her mind and shuts the door behind her. Only when he carries a chair for her to sit by the table, where he was apparently reading what seems to be an ancient book, does she stop him.
"No, I – I won't be staying for long," she explains as he takes his previous seat. "I just needed to tell you something. Tonight. Because I've been thinking about it for days and I don't think I can hold it in anymore. And, at this point, if there's someone who can give me permission to do something about it, that's y—"
"Okay," he agrees with a slightly discernible hint of impatience.
"Alright." She steps closer, grasping the edge of his chair for the support she predicts she'll need, her fingers only inches away from his arm. "I don't think I've told you this before, but I've been hesitant to participate in anything related to the Council since my father's execution."
He shifts a little till he faces her fully. "Do go on."
"What happened before I got arrested made me reconsider a lot of things about the fairness of their decisions. It led me to believe they were in charge of people's lives more than they deserved to be." She takes a small break, watching him absorb the information. "I've been oblivious to the way our society functions for so long, but – I can't do that anymore. Not when my life was spared in favor of someone else's."
"So, you feel guilty," Bellamy concludes. He utters those words with ease, proving just how unimpressed he still is.
"Let's say I know what losing someone you care about feels like. I know what lengths you'd be willing to go to for them, even when it means breaking the law."
The insinuation bothers him. "Look, Clarke—"
"I want to help your sister. But I can't do it alone."
He remains unresponsive for a long moment, causing her to fidget in anticipation. It's done. There's no way out of this now.
"How?" Bellamy demands warily.
"I haven't figured everything out, but I'm getting there. I've already asked for a transfer to the Skybox, if that's what you mean. I'm getting started next week."
He leans back in his chair, astounded, as if this is nothing but a surreal experience. Her palm ghosts over his shoulder with the intention to burst his bubble of denial, her thumb rubbing small circles on the fabric of his shirt. To her mortification, she starts to tremble.
"Think about it for a while," she squeaks. She coughs. "'m gonna leave you to it now."
He moves fast at her implication of departure. His hand wraps relentlessly around her fingers, squishing them in its intoxicating heat. Clarke hates how the force of the tug makes her trip and how, after an instinctive spin in his direction, she props her weight on his shoulder blades. But, most of all, she hates the way he pushes her to admit human closeness is what she desperately needs, what she's needed all along.
Her breath mingles with his, their gazes lock. His legs part invitingly, his knees welcoming the softness of her curves between them, while her brain keeps barking orders, most of which are lost in translation.
She shivers as she touches the hair at the nape of his neck, suppressing a startled gasp at a darkness she's never encountered in the brown of his eyes before. The allure of it only draws her more to him, threatening to devour her soul in an estimated glance.
She's been following orders her whole damn life. She's done.
She lunges forward, pressing her mouth against his in a persistent tight-lipped kiss, feeling his body stiffen underneath her. He grips the hands she uses to push him away in his once he responds, standing in his full height before her, his determined feet forcing hers to move backward until the base of her spine hits the table.
She closes her eyes when he cups her face for her consent, angling her head just right, answering his challenge with one of her own. The warmth of lips against hers coaxes an uncontrollable sigh of relief out of her and she relaxes against him. He clumsily unravels the white ribbon from her golden locks while the tip of his tongue teases the seam of her lips. She eagerly welcomes him, goosebumps rising at the deep sound he releases from the back of his throat.
He tastes like some fruit she's been denied for years; sweet and ripe and just Bellamy. This is far from her first kiss, but it rustles long buried, undisclosed desires in her, creating a riot of greed and want.
Her heartbeat accelerates the moment his fingers start working on the remaining buttons of her dress, brushing against the slope of her breast. They break apart for air, though, Clarke holds his hands on the paleness of her exposed skin, anticipating his ministrations with every fiber of her.
A dimple forms on one of his cheeks as the aftermath of a restrained smile. "How much have you had to drink?"
"Just a cup," she pants. She slips a cool hand under the hem of his top, her nails scraping against the flesh there, making him hiss.
His mouth locates her pulse point, sucking, urging her to close her eyes and loose her hold on him. He trails a path from her neck to the underside of her jaw, stopping by the shell of her ear when he feels her fingering the waistband of his pants.
"You sure you know what you're asking for, Princess?" he rasps.
If this is his way of giving her an out, he sure doesn't wait long enough for her to take it. (Or maybe he already knows she won't.)
She clings to him as he blindly carries her where she's never stepped foot on before, unfastening her legs from around his waist with his help when the tightness of his grip allows her to sink in a mattress.
He peels off her stockings slowly, as if his haste will rip them, his hands roaming all over the newly uncovered skin, movements guided by the faint light coming from outside. He pushes her dress up whilst kneeling on the bed, pelvis pressing against her heat.
Clarke mewls at the unexpected intrusion of privacy, her chest heaving at a hunger so strange; she doesn't know the first thing about acknowledging it. She feels it, deep in her belly, burning in her lungs. Her eyes are round, unblinking, her lips seeking Bellamy's as he aligns their bodies together.
His inability to remove the straps of her dress elicits a low grunt of frustration from him, placing open-mouthed kisses on any inch of her he has immediate access to when she murmurs barely coherent instructions about her zipper.
They undress each other without exchanging many words, insatiable hands touching and removing and feeling. He suckles on her breast, and she claws at the sheets, wondering whether he can tell she hasn't been this intimate with anyone by the flush of her skin or the stifled noises dying to burst out of her or how she marvels at the way training has sculpted his body.
Her heart hammers irregularly beneath her ribcage when he slips the last undergarment off her, but then he buries a finger (or two) in her and she's writhing, the flavor of his name, of him, filling her mouth.
When he finally enters her, it's uncomfortable and painful. His shoulders shake a little as he tries to hold his weight above her, before he stills, giving her time to adjust to him, sealing inevitable whimpers of hers in his mouth, soothing the erraticness of her breathing.
She squirms a little, experimenting, silently letting him know it's okay to move. He hitches one of her legs a little higher, palm barely squeezing her buttock.
It still hurts a tad bit, but it's unlike any kind of discomfort she's ever experienced. She welcomes it and, after a while, so does her body. Her muscles stretch to accommodate him when he pushes in, aching in sweet anticipation every time he pulls out. She meets him thrust for thrust, getting the hang of it just as Bellamy messes with their synchronicity, reaching between them, touching her where she wants him the most.
She falls apart with a loud sigh, followed by Bellamy's curse against the hollow of her neck. He rolls off her when his arms threaten to give out, catching his breath after his head hits their shared pillow.
The bed is small, smaller than it seemed when he first laid her on it, which means there's need for them to be pressed against one another, limbs tangled together. Yet, before Clarke has the chance to really process anything, he puts distance between them, collecting his boxers from the unintentionally created pile of discarded clothes.
He wears the only article of clothing without a word.
She wants to ask him what he's thinking or where he's going or anything that would help her understand. Bellamy beats her to it.
"Shower," he explains vaguely, without sparing her a glance.
Dumbfounded, she holds her tongue instead of warning him about the insufferable temperature of the water during this ungodly hour. He knows how his compartment works and she knows how to take a hint.
Pure disgruntlement creeps up on her as she puts her clothes back on in a hurry, muttering under her breath, wondering how she could have jumped in a situation like this without bothering to see things from his perspective. Truthfully, she never stopped to consider what this sudden shift in their already bizarre dynamic would mean to him.
She searches for her missing shoe with her stomach in knots.
She finds it. She flees.
As the hours pass, she grows more and more nervous at the mere idea of facing him. At some point, she even thinks about the perks of avoiding him for a couple days, knowing she'll surely have regained her precious composure by then.
The taunting soreness between her legs is a constant reminder of last night's activities, effectively proving to her Bellamy most definitely won't vanish from her thoughts anytime soon. Her cheeks are also tinted in a traitorous shade of pink whenever she looks at her reflection in the mirror, so Clarke decides to do the one thing she's not very good at; confront him.
She prepares a long speech about how much she values the only person that's been the closest thing to a friend she's had in months – a speech she shortens considerably, as it sounds completely ridiculous, even in her head.
She mentally repeats all the words she wants to remember as she memorizes his working schedule, cowering as she walks closer to where he's supposed to be.
She watches him from her corner when she tracks him, wiping the remaining dampness of her hands on the fabric of her pants. She doesn't find the heart to address him properly, not until he initiates interaction.
When all he offers is a "you're late, Princess" like nothing ever happened, and nothing ever changed, Clarke ducks her head, hiding a smile.
She forgets all about being worried.
On her first day with the alleged delinquents, Clarke starts with Charlotte Adams, a thirteen-year-old girl who ended up in lock-up for the crime of attacking a guard. She registers the words mental disorder in the kid's file and questions about what truth lies behind them or to what extent swirl around in her mind, almost giving her a headache.
Abby doesn't make it much easier for her, representing her daughter's shadow until she makes sure she's in good hands. Introductions are made, instructions are given.
The more teenagers or children like Charlotte she meets, with their hearts filled with dread and their innocence stolen, the heavier the panic button in the pocket of her robe seems to her. After learning how important a simple, trivial conversation is to an outcast, she can't help feeling like a traitor.
Everyone who works here, including Clarke, must act cautiously around the people who broke the law, like their lives are threatened by the existence of incorrigible teenagers, like they shouldn't trust anyone with their safety but those who run things.
The realization that the Ark's worst enemy is whoever and whatever the Ark consists of saddens her. It's never been just about the disobedient ones, she can see that now.
She doesn't get assigned to cell 167 – Octavia Blake's cell – until a week later.
Something awfully close to excitement rushes through her when commander Shumway hands her the schedule of that day. She may not be pleased Octavia went through hell to get where she is now, but the girl is one of the most crucial factors defining her brother's life, which piques Clarke's interest greatly. There is so much more to the man Bellamy is, the man he has become because of his mother's secret, even if his tendency to be cryptic and withdrawn will probably never disappear.
Unlike the rest of the prisoners, who all acknowledged Clarke's presence in their own way, Octavia does not flinch when the door opens and then closes again. She opts for staring blankly at a spot on the opposite wall as she lies on the cell's cot, hands clasped tightly on top of her stomach.
"I'm Clarke." The procedure is standard and she fears that deviating would raise suspicion. An introduction, however, is within her everyday plans, so she sticks to that in order to keep from doing something rush and idiotic, like thrust her hand out for a handshake. "You must be Octavia."
"And you must be new here," the dark-haired girl deadpans. Clarke waits for an indication that she will elaborate further, but when that doesn't come, she isn't as surprised as she used to be before she slipped on the cold, hard floor that night, before she met Bellamy.
Octavia sits up without warning, evidently knowing all about the weekly examination. Her small acts of resistance give her the impression of being independent. They might not share many similarities, but Clarke understands that better than anyone.
Clarke doesn't get sidetracked while following protocol until Octavia looks her dead in the eye. She sees so much of Bellamy in her, it nearly overwhelms her; the skin tone, the freckled cheeks, the facial expressions, the stubbornness, the ferocious glares. The beauty the Blake siblings carry with them is perilous, even more so than Bellamy had described whilst speaking of his sister, and certainly more than an average person can expect or handle.
Clarke's fingers caress the girl's arm gently, her free hand silently reaching in the pocket of her white robe.
Octavia tenses. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she screeches.
"I know it's very hard to trust me right now. But this is important and it would mean a lot, if you stayed calm just this once. We don't have much time."
Octavia opens her palm, hand twitching indecisively as Clarke covers it with her own, the object in mind sandwiched in between. The incredulity doesn't vanish from her face when she eyes her wooden comb, the comb her mother inherited from generations before her. The pads of her fingers trace the engraved flower and she exhales shakily, whispering her brother's name in awe.
Clarke stands from the cot, the raw vulnerability making her shudder. She heads for the door.
"How is he?"
Clarke smiles. "He misses you. You can't imagine how much."
Bellamy's sister clutches the comb to her chest. "I think I have an idea," she responds longingly. "Could you – could you maybe send a message for me?"
When the message actually reaches Bellamy's ears, and he closes his eyes, nodding twice, perhaps engrossed in repeating Octavia's words over and over in his head, Clarke knows she made no mistake in helping him believe he can confide in her. She has no regrets when it comes to that – she probably never will.
The second time she has sex with Bellamy, she's driven by a completely different feeling than the agonizing need that clouded her mind during the first. It confuses her all the same, bringing her to an irrelevant memory reserved in a corner of her brain of all places.
She remembers her first botany test in the subject of Earth Skills. She remembers her low grade, the shock and disappointment that surrounded her after. And she remembers Wells; how, unlike her, he aced the test, the proud look on his face when he thought no one was looking and the silent bragging. He had activated a chain reaction of ill emotions inside her that day, not precisely painful yet disturbing and hardly normal.
She couldn't pinpoint what it was back then, but she recognizes it now the word forming and tickling the tip of her tongue with its sour taste.
Bellamy lets out a short, amused laugh when she imitates the tall brunette who came to thank him for fixing the problem with her sink, batting her eyelashes exaggeratedly, dragging a nail down the length of his arm. To say Clarke is mortified he is laughing at her antics for all the wrong reasons is an understatement.
Jealous. She's jealous someone else, someone older and more experienced in many aspects, was asking for his attention and he, being as observant as he always has to be, catches on quickly. This urge to be unusually competitive and irrationally territorial is too new to her.
She can't tell who moves first or whose motives are the clearest the minute they find themselves interlocked. Bellamy's actions give her all the confidence she needs to embrace that she can do this, that he wants her to do this, that he wants her. She crawls on his lap, grinding her hips against his, reveling in the delicious friction, voraciously sucking his bottom lip in her mouth.
She kisses him and kisses him, waiting for him to get it, to get her. He doesn't let her pull him on top of her, keeping an iron grip on her waist instead. She frowns deeply at that, creating enough space to search his face, to feel his seething gaze on hers. His thumb massages her bare stomach, travelling lower and lower.
The button of her pants opens with a pop, the pressure of his hardness burns against her core, even through the clothes, and – and she knows what this is about.
She shakes her head unsurely. "Bellamy, no. I don't think – I—" She sighs. If her dubiousness isn't written all over her, then he certainly detects it in her voice.
"I'll show you."
And show her he does.
He rests his hands on her thighs as she straddles him carefully, leaning backwards on the bed, relaxing his muscles, licking his lips in expectancy.
She sinks down on him, bracing her palms on his chest for support. She's still tight around him, but it feels nice, promising, somehow better. She struggles with moving the right way for a few seconds, her face breaking into a grimace of concentration at the awkwardness of her position.
"That's it, Princess," he assures her in that damn low tone of his, making her toes curl, the wildfire spreading at an insane pace inside her. She catches sight of his expression, his face twisted in a kind of pleasure that confirms she's doing more than okay. His hooded lids open and his lips part to egg her on with words that make her lose it, rise and fall like the tide she once read about, gasp for air.
A surprised moan rumbles in her throat when he thrusts upwards, his arms spreading to keep her from losing her balance. He carries her over the edge with him, exploding, letting her lie boneless against him for some moments.
She counts those moments on the fingers of her one hand, jolting, deserting his warmth as soon as she trusts her legs to hold the rest of herself. They wobble a little while she dresses, so she sits down again, only to wrestle with the shirt refusing to bend to her will.
"I have to go," she announces when her back isn't turned on him anymore.
Bellamy props his weight on his elbows, quirking an eyebrow inquisitively. "Where to?"
"Just – dinner with Jaha. I can't afford to be late," she points out, mostly for her sake rather than his.
"And my mother. And his son. But it's not a family dinner. This is for Octavia. I need to buy more time," Clarke answers.
"There's no buying time for her," Bellamy reminds her, the furrow above his nose even more evident than before. "You cannot delay her eighteenth birthday. If that has been your plan all along—"
"That's not what I'm doing," she defends, irritated at the accusation in his voice. What she needs is to get on the Chancellor's good side and, to succeed, hurrying up right about now is the most clever option. (What she does not need is Bellamy stirring up trouble in her head.)
His expression hardens all of sudden, his unjustified anger frustrating her to no end. It's like he's come to a realization he intends to keep to himself, a realization Clarke is afraid might someday turn him against her. Though, she knows nothing about it, and the more she wonders what she does know the more blurry everything becomes.
She feels bad for leaving without another word, for reflecting his actions and detached behavior from the last time this happened. (Still. She cannot be sure he cares about it.)
She arrives home before her mother, running like crazy to eliminate any traces of the early evening she shared with Bellamy. Sometimes she is curious what her mother understands about her relationship with him or the way she acts or the things crossing her mind when she's around him.
As oblivious as Abby could be, she'd definitely have a whole lot to say about her daughter's disheveled appearance right at this instant. The swollen lips, the knotted hair, the wrinkled clothes, the sweat clinging to her skin – no, she does not think about it. Not when Abby asks her if she's had a quiet day off and certainly not when Wells asks what she's been up to. (And she does not blush. She never blushes.)
But she does.
When thoughts of Bellamy invade her head, it's a true relief. She's been pushing and pushing them out and away without dealing with them properly, much like how she's been facing her family issues. She's made the acquaintance of ignorance and avoidance all over again.
She hadn't dreamt much about her first time, but there were passing moments when she would think about it, and when that thought became reality not too long ago, she didn't dare to consider how different it all turned out.
The gentleness was replaced by consuming fervor and a need to escape, to receive a self-affirmation. Even the emotional connection was deficient, like the thinnest of threads threatening to break at the smallest of touches.
And Clarke didn't just touch. She pulled with all her might, pulled like her life depended on it, only to find nothing waiting for her on the other end, nothing vowing to save her from an inevitable fall.
She thinks of Bellamy whenever she feels as though she's falling, and the unexplainable hollowness is followed by an ache that penetrates her.
When kind words and heartfelt smiles start mattering in the Skybox, Clarke decides she likes working there. Of course, not all of the delinquents welcome benevolent acts, but there are still people – teenagers who have grown into adults within four walls – who appreciate them, seek them, need them.
There is Jasper Jordan, who makes her laugh with stories of the past he experienced alongside his childhood friend, and Finn Collins, who charms her right away by describing adventurous (frivolous) spacewalks and offering witty remarks.
She doesn't meet the real criminals of the Ark – murderers and thieves – until some weeks later, but she learns that every single one of them has their own background and mostly keeps to themselves, having already come to terms with their fate.
She stops squeezing the panic button in her grip altogether.
Can you do me a favor, Clarke?
She presses all the necessary buttons on the screen of her personal clipboard, holding her breath in anguish as her gaze passes over hundreds of names. None of them fit today, none of them are good enough for her to see another smile or hear another exhalation of relief.
Can you tell me what day it is?
A small window appears in the corner of her screen. She opens the document Wells sent to her just seconds ago, being as meticulous as possible in examining it, thankful the information she needs is sorted in alphabetical order. She finds it, finally.
Monty Green. He's been absent from the Ark's records for precisely twenty-six days. Her heart breaks for Jasper.
She tells Bellamy that their last time was the last. She means it and she believes it, yet he still seems to be hell-bent on making it difficult for her.
The supposedly accidental brushes of fingers, the impulsive words elaborately laced with sexual innuendo, the carefully exposed slivers of his olive complexion, the way his lips linger every time he greets her with a kiss on her cheekbone, the lock of his jaw, everything is proof of how easy she is to read and how good he is at manipulating people, at manipulating her. (Does he have strategies planned out? Does he act on instinct?)
Her reluctance to call him out on his deliberate actions scares her nearly as much as Bellamy does. It's not that she fears him or standing her ground whenever he challenges her. On the contrary, she prepares a quick repartee for him every single time he does.
What sincerely worries her is the realization that he changes her. He touches her with his strong personality and, sometimes, he even makes her see reason. He is right there, like a predator stalking its prey, when she comes to the conclusion that she can't be a negligent princess forever, and that the turmoil in her has been long overdue.
But he doesn't always make her feel like she's fallen into the prey category.
He gives her what is left of Octavia's equipment to doodle, claiming his sister hasn't used it in more than three years. He lets her cut his hair, just trim it a little, because he grudgingly agrees to Octavia's request and the Blake women are both physically incapable of contributing in improving his looks.
He talks to her about them – the two people that slipped through his fingers in a matter of hours – and she can't help opening up, letting him in a little more.
"Are you Bell's girlfriend?"
Shocked, Clarke looks up from her notes, her beam wavering, her eyes meeting Octavia's curious ones. She detects genuine interest there, and even a little bit of false hope, so she puts some effort in not blatantly denying it. She contemplates her response, eventually settling for a safe and diplomatic one.
"I'm his friend."
There are mutual feelings, like respect, fondness, attraction in more ways than one, as far as Clarke can tell. It's everything else that spirals out of control every time she isn't paying the required attention.
Octavia accepts her reply. "Well, that's good enough, I guess. I've had plenty of time in here to wonder if you could help me with something."
"Sure," Clarke agrees eagerly, glad there seems to be another diversion for her to hold onto.
(That's a lie. Octavia's question doesn't let her be for the rest of the day.)
She starts clinging to the device in the pocket of her white robe again.
The boy who attacks her doesn't look dangerous, and he isn't particularly bulky either, but it's been more than eleven months since he turned seventeen and his grip on her is violent and painful, the madness swimming in the dark pool of his eyes. It takes two guards to break them apart and one more for the boy to fall unconscious, harmless.
Although she declines the head doctor's offer to take a break for a few hours, she's still a little jumpy, regularly berating herself for being so careless and overestimating her power over situations she admittedly cannot handle.
She doesn't see Bellamy that day, knowing full well he'll pick up on her antsiness, but she visits his quarters the next. He glances at the sleeve of her jumper anyway, burning holes on it when he sees her wiggle self-consciously on her seat.
He takes her arm in his hand, rolling up the sleeve until her wrist is stripped for him to pry. He examines the reddish hue on the tenderness of her normally porcelain-colored skin, a gust of air passing through his mouth as he leans against the back of his chair.
"You aren't careful enough," he muses.
"I usually am. This hadn't happened before and I thought I could calm him down."
"I'm not talking only about how stubborn you are. You've been spending more time with Octavia, more than rules allow," he says pressingly.
"I have analyzed every detail of every examination when it comes to Octavia. I am positive I am not breaking any rules," Clarke argues.
"You sure as hell are bending them. Your mother put two and two together and looked me up."
"My mother?" she stammers. "She was here?" Bellamy nods.
He gestures vaguely towards her. "How do you think I know about your hand?" He drums his fingers against the table in agitation. "She told me about what happened today. She thinks you've taken this job because of Octavia." He studies her for quite some time, clearly expecting her to comment on her mother's assumptions.
"No. Of course I thought about it when I had to choose a different assignment, but no." He looks at her as if he doesn't completely believe her, lips pressed together in a thin line. She stares levelly at him.
"Fine," he submits. "Maybe you need to start being more careful than you claim to be. Maybe—" He halts.
"Maybe what?" she prods.
"Maybe you should find better reasons to stop by."
"You can't be serious." She tries to find the joke or the lie in his words, but she comes up short. "You are!" She stands up, running a hand over her forehead. "You're trying to make sure what you do doesn't affect Octavia."
She understands why he would feel this way, especially today. He feels responsible for a lot of things, but when the consequences of his actions involve him dragging her like a rag doll, she can't help feeling like she should stand up for herself as well. The fact that he has the ability to control her like he does, to leave her defenseless, breathless, is simply unfair.
Clarke's words must hit a nerve. He pulls her closer, purposefully putting emphasis on everything he says. "What I'm trying to do, Clarke, is minimize collateral damage." She swears his gaze flickers to her wrist for the tiniest fraction of a second.
"Good. Do that. In the meantime, I think I'll go. I'll get back to you as soon as I come up with a better reason to be here." She abstracts a piece of paper from her pocket, the last blank page she tore from one of her ninety-eight-year-old medical books.
She unfolds the yellowish page, slamming it on the surface of metal. "Happy birthday," she says in mock joy, stifling the urge to bolt.
The sound of paper being inspected in Bellamy's hands has her feet carrying her to the opposite direction. It isn't Octavia's excitement at the idea of a gift for her brother's twenty-fourth birthday that holds Clarke back. It isn't her efforts of depicting the image of the girl as accurately as possible, either.
It is the call of her given name for a second time in a row and the distress behind it. It is the strain in his voice and the foreign vulnerability in his eyes. This is her best shot at receiving a thank you from him, for taking care of his sister, for drawing her for him, for giving a damn.
He squeezes her hand when she tells him she could stay, if he wanted.
He squeezes a little harder, letting go with a shake of his head. "Not today. Tomorrow, maybe."
"Yeah," she breathes, disentangling herself from him. "Maybe."
One day, she enters Jasper's cell to find it occupied by someone else, someone unfamiliar and just different. The guy can't be older than sixteen, but he still leers at her in a way that sends a shiver down her spine, his face a mask of passive hostility.
She asks the guards assigned to cell 231 why there was a change, considering Jasper has been there for the most part, surprising her with his optimism, making her day without really trying. Her throat constricts when she gets her answer.
He must have estimated the day he'd be reevaluated. He must have used Monty's birthday as a benchmark for his own. If only he'd told her about it. If only he'd prepared her for another inevitable loss in her life.
Clarke keeps to herself, vainly hoping reality won't crush her, unless she lets it. And, of course, she has to be wrong. Of course she has to wake up in the middle of the night, her throat hoarse as though she'd been screaming, Jasper's helpless shouts muted by the glass separating them.
Her mother is sleeping soundlessly when she makes the decision to slip away. She checks her watch before she does, scowling at it when she realizes Bellamy's shift ended hours ago.
She feels as if she's being chased on her way to Section 17, yet she keeps going, her qualms and pride long forgotten when she wordlessly requests his aid, eyes shining with trepidation and uncertainty. (She knows she'll get it together in the morning. She might even feel embarrassed by leaning on him, but she will always get it together in the end.)
Bellamy doesn't hold her hand or stroke her hair like each one of her parents used to do after a bad dream, when she was little, but he lets her sleep in his bed, joining her after a bit of hesitation.
She places her ear over his steady heartbeat when she makes room for him, fisting the blanket he covers them with. His smell overpowers her senses.
"I'll do everything in my power to save her," Clarke promises, already aware there's no need for further explanation. "Anything."
He hugs her close.
They make a habit of lying next to each other at night. (If her mother notices she's gone during quiet hours, she doesn't mention it when she sees her.)
Sometimes they touch, lips locking lazily, heatedly, and bodies fitting smoothly, like puzzle pieces. Sometimes they don't, letting the peaceful silence lull them to a dreamless sleep.
Then, there are also the nights when Clarke's brain just can't shut down, buzzing with facts and doubts and meaningless information. Accepting this is an integral part of her is hard, especially when she feels like she's imposing on Bellamy, guilty over potentially disrupting his solitude.
His name gets stuck somewhere in her head, like an echo. Her response to the persistent little voice is nothing particularly new, yet it never fails to amaze her. When the bed feels narrower than before and his presence inundates her, she inhales deeply, holding her breath for a little longer than necessary.
She forces her eyes shut, willing every thought of him, of the way their sides are pressed together, away. The creak of the bed from her right has her staying still. Her breathing evens out easily, on demand, just like she practiced every time her mother hovered above her supposedly sleeping form.
Only, Bellamy isn't Abby Griffin. He calls her bluff.
"I can literally hear you thinking," he protests. "Just spit it out, Princess."
Her eyes fly open once again, locating his in the darkness. "It's nothing."
"It's something," he disagrees knowingly. "Unless you can stop overanalyzing it and go to sleep."
She wraps her arms protectively around herself, glaring at a random spot in the small room. "I think I might love you." The words are spoken in a whisper, timidly, but he hears her all the same.
No invisible shield prepares her for the way he stiffens beside her. His muscles are tense, his hand curled in a tight fist right next to hers. He moves it, as if something burned him.
"Don't say anything you don't mean," she pleads in a hush. "You know how much I hate lying," she adds needlessly. Bellamy shrinks away from her, discreetly yet noticeably.
He's halfway through clearing his throat, most possibly to alleviate some of the tension between them, when she tells him to just forget it. "Don't say anything," she reiterates then, using the controlled tone of her voice to let him know she won't take offense, if he doesn't. She has no reason to be hurt, really. She's just figuring things out for herself.
He says nothing. (It does hurt.) She turns her back on him after some rustling of the sheets and some effort, knowing he'll end up spooning her at some point, before she goes. She convinces herself nothing will change.
She still appears by Bellamy's side after curfew, taking her seat on the single chair in the janitor's closet, ticking off personal responsibilities from saved, endless lists on her clipboard.
He doesn't meet her cautious glances while he's on duty, and he most definitely doesn't address the fact that they've been avoiding each other like the plague outside of this odd arrangement. No shared meals in the mess hall, no late night conversations.
Her graceless confession remains unforgettable in the worst way, pulling her down like a heavy weight every time she has no work to bury herself in and every night an untroubled slumber is nothing but an inconceivable theory. She chews it over for days, thinking in circles, talking in circles, running in circles. Circles that revolve around one Bellamy Blake, disorienting her, making her head pound like crazy.
She can't – she can't love him.
She understands the difference of her affection for him from the affection for her parents or a friend, like Wells. She understands that the more she tries to control everything, the more out of her reach it is. But wrapping her head around how much meaning – and truth – lies behind what tumbled out of her mouth is surreal.
There's always a step after acceptance. The problem is there's no guarantee whether it's a step back or forward. The part of Clarke that's vigilant, and has been let down over and over again in the past couple of years, hinders her from making peace with the idea.
Bellamy looks for her when the Chancellor makes the big announcement that the Ark is safe again, and that young families can be finally completed with the birth of an only child. His hopefulness warms her insides, while the playful bump of his hip against hers helps her put her pride aside, bringing a wide smile to her lips.
He nods at her before they part ways. She feels the pressure and severity of the whole situation all at once. He knows there is a chance for Octavia to be saved, after all. He trusts her with his sister's life, his life.
The floor is steady and solid beneath Clarke's feet, her eyes and mind wipe open. She isn't falling anymore. She's already fallen too deep.
When the Ark gets quiet, Bellamy laces her fingers with his, dragging her in the closet. He confuses her by shutting the door behind him, bringing his forefinger to her mouth when she starts to question him, dropping it when she blinks in surprise.
His solemn expression makes him look older, bringing her concern to the surface before she has the chance to realize it. He holds her hand tight, raising it to the level of his chest, his eyes examining the way they are connected.
"I have to tell you something," he says, looking at her the moment he lets their joined hands fall limp between them.
Clarke shakes her head. "Me first," she demands. She watches him consider it momentarily, taking delight in his okay.
"I'm gonna try to convince Jaha about Octavia. I have prepared a speech for tomorrow's dinner. No matter what happens after that, I'll come." She pauses, pouting. "That is, if you want me t—"
He kisses her full on the mouth. He frames her face with both hands, leisurely taking her breath away and she lets him, putty in his hands. His nails trace the shell of her ear when she detaches her lips from his, drawing a contented purr out of her. He leans forward again.
"Wait," she stops him. He waits. "That's not why you brought me here."
"You came here." The wolfish smirk that would otherwise make her believe he is as lightheaded as she is doesn't deceive her today. He is silent, discreet and canny, and she's studied him long enough to recognize the signs of his tries when it comes to diverting people's attention.
Clarke sighs. "I'm just a little confused," she says. "There was something you—" Bellamy moves out of her personal space. "What are you doing?"
He pushes the door open, shrugging. "It isn't as important now." He cocks his head slightly to the side, indicating he has no intention of holding her back any longer. When she stands still, as if her feet are glued to the floor, he exits first. She follows him.
"Day off," he murmurs as he walks forward. He looks at her out of the corner of his eye with a frown. "I have no idea why you came here in the first place."
Her two middle fingers press against her temple, the exhaustion washing over her in waves. Is it his monthly day off already? What day is it?
She's losing it. Completely and utterly losing it.
If she said she doesn't feel guilty for bringing up Finn Collins during dinner, she would be undoubtedly lying. Finn deserves to be pardoned of his crime like Clarke was. He deserves to return to his loved ones, to link arms with his girlfriend during evening strolls, to build a successful life, to make a new family.
His recklessness, however, serves as one of Clarke's strongest arguments, so she bites the inside of her cheek, delivering her monologue as planned. Finn wasted a month of oxygen supplies for the entertainment a spacewalk had to offer, when her father thought the Ark was dying. He was still saved. Octavia Blake was arrested for an offense she didn't commit, the offense of being born by a woman who already paid the price years ago.
Octavia should be given a second chance. She should not be deprived of the opportunity to own the life she was never allowed to live. She should return to a home familiar with the law and the consequences of its violation. She would become an independent person with time, after being incorporated to a stable society – a stable environment.
Clarke feels three pairs of eyes on her as she speaks. She only cares about one.
"I appreciate your point of view," Thelonious tells her. "But it's not that simple."
"It is," she insists. "Justice has to be restored at some point. The Council has to start seeing things the way they are sooner rather than later."
Her gaze moves from him to Wells, who grimaces in disbelief and suspicion, to her contemplative mother. Abby brings a napkin to her lips, discreetly erasing any proud signs from her lips.
Clarke almost misses the woman's tiny nod of condescension. For now, it's all she really needs.
"I haven't been honest with you."
She kicks off her shoes before she falls on her back with a sigh, the mattress dipping ever so slightly to embrace her. Bellamy's words register in her head a second later, and she glances at him in curiosity.
"Oh? What about?"
He doesn't say anything for a while, his eyes boring into her in a way that strangely alerts her. She arches an eyebrow when he pokes one of her legs, making room for himself on his bed. She copies his rigid posture, playing with a loose thread from the sleeve of her shirt to kill the anticipation.
"You know a lot about my family," he begins. "I don't expect you to understand half of the things I do to protect what's left of it. And I'm tired of beating around the bush, so I'm going to get straight to the point."
"Okay," she answers, perplexed.
"You are the daughter of one of the people with great influence here. You have immediate access to the Skybox and the documents of every delinquent and power in ways you've never imagined," he lists. "You've been smart and unreasonably generous through everything and I've taken advantage of that. Keeping you close has been intentional on my part," he admits gingerly.
Intentional. There is a tenacious ache deep in her chest that's somehow connected to comprehension.
"Keeping me close," she echoes, giving him a blank look. "I'm sorry – I just – I can't help taking this the wrong way." Her chuckle is bitter, breathless, humorless. She feels as if she's sneering at herself.
"There's no right way to take the truth," Bellamy says resignedly.
She feels sick to her stomach. "It was all for Octavia," she concludes out loud, voice small and wavering. "You used me," she accuses vehemently.
"We've both used each other," he points out. "You've been at my workplace more times than I can count. You've been consoled and you've been so taken by the idea of getting even with your mother that you haven't even noticed—"
"It's not like that anymore!" She leaps from the bed, angrily pacing. "You can't say that to me after recognizing your mistake. I didn't keep coming for you out of spite. I can't – I can't believe this," she growls.
She feels him watching her from his place on the bed, the blood boiling in her veins at his passiveness. Could she have been so blind to see that he cares about her even a tenth of the way she feels?
She gasps. "You were about to tell me yesterday." She presses her mind for more. "You didn't," she mumbles. "You didn't, because you think I'm just like the rest of them. That I'd change my mind about helping your sister."
"I've taken far too many risks already, Princess."
She holds up a palm for him in warning. "Don't. Just – stop calling me that for a moment."
"Will it make a difference?" Bellamy asks. "There are things you can't change about yourself. I regret what I've done as much as you regret being on top of the social pyramid."
She remains motionless. "Do you?" she wants to know, doubtful.
He ignores her, shaking his head. "Well, it sure beats regretting Octavia's death sentence."
She turns her back on him, feeling a persistent sting in the back of her eyes. She grabs her boots from the floor, struggling with finding her balance as she tries to put them on. She presses a forceful palm against her eyelids, drying them. A vision misty from tears is the last thing she needs right now. She needs to go.
The bedsprings release a sound of protest as soon as Bellamy stands. He scoffs.
"Look, things would still be the same, if I told you this last night. Does it matter so much to you?" he inquires.
She grits her teeth, swallowing a sob. Mortified, she hiccups. Her eyes are wide when she turns to face him, her head fighting to function against the feeling of being smothered. Her hands are flat against his chest before either of them knows it, shoving.
Completely taken by surprise, his reflexes kick in a second too late. He falls back on the bed with a grunt.
"You know it does," she whispers feebly. He wraps his hands around her wrists, dragging her forward, letting her wrestle with his attempts.
"Fuck," he curses. "Come on."
"Let me go," she orders restlessly. "Now," she cries. She retreats when he loosens his firm grip on her, nearly tripping from an untied shoelace. She makes a beeline for the outlet, hands shaking against the dampness that has yet to slide down the slopes of her cheeks.
He doesn't stop her until she is almost out of sight.
"You have everything," he reminds her spitefully. She stops dead in her tracks, refusing to give him the satisfaction of making eye contact. "I have nothing. Which is what I thought I could offer in return."
But I was wrong. The implication fills the air with a pang of mixed guilt and heartbreak, hanging dangerously between them.
"I gave you all I had to give."
It is funny how everything works out in the end, always turning her life upside down whenever she opens her heart to the people who have taught her how to be who she is, how to feel, how to love, how to prevent the grief and loss from engulfing her.
But nothing lasts enough, every finish line marking her, wrecking her. She is the one left empty handed.
She doesn't cry when she gets home.
Her bed looks unfamiliar and cold when she dives face-first into it, nothing like the sanctuary she had in mind months ago. She presses her mouth against the softness of the pillow, pain shooting through her scalp as the ends of her now longer hair are caught by her elbow. Frustrated, she whines, hugging the pillow tighter than ever, her nails digging in.
She screams. It isn't anything close to liberating, but she knows that if she doesn't, all of the dark thoughts insistently pushing their way in her head will most likely overflow. So she screams until everything hurts and the quivering of her limbs stops.
She screams because she's let yet another person make a fool out of her.
Octavia gets reviewed and released on a Monday.
Clarke chooses to help Jackson at the med bay during the trial, for the first time in a long time putting trust in her mother. Abby handles Octavia's case with precision and expertise, using every last one of the arguments leading to the girl's discharge.
Clarke keeps Bellamy's schedule in her mind, like usual. Only, now, she vows not to cross paths with him at any cost, filling her time with small chores and assignments. There is a newfound void inside her, like a part of her that's missing, torn to shreds where she can't find it and piece it back together.
Determined to keep the rest of her intact, she pursues no contact with Octavia who is once again under the protection of her older brother. Which is basically why she makes no effort to hide her shock when the brunette unexpectedly appears in the infirmary's supply room, her azure eyes looking around in wonder, her hand softly rubbing the side of her neck in nervousness. (Clarke does not think about where the girl picked up the habit from.)
"Octavia," Clarke acknowledges her, the name spoken like a million questions combined. "How did you get here?"
"Your mother sent me in. She said we'd have privacy here."
"No, I mean – was it – did you come alone?" Clarke asks. She loathes the slip of her tongue, just as she loathes the true purpose of it. If she's learned anything about Octavia, it's that all the time she spent hidden under the floor didn't make her any less smart or any less observant.
Octavia hesitates for a moment. "Um, yeah. I asked for directions," she tells her sheepishly. Clarke pictures her walking around stations she's never been to before, lost, stumbling on ignorant people who give her nothing but judging looks and confusing comments.
The blonde girl's expression softens. "Well, you're lucky there were things I had to sort out. I don't work here as much anymore," she informs her.
Octavia nods, fidgeting a little more. Her mouth opens and closes several times, but no words manage to come out. Her cheeks and nose color under Clarke's stare. Surely it must something other than the attention that causes her discomfort.
"You can tell me," Clarke encourages.
"I plan to," Octavia promises, the confidence in her words sudden but refreshing. "I don't know what happened between you and Bell," she continues. "But you've been the only friend I've had – besides him – and if you could maybe put at least some of it behind you, I'd be thankful. Because I'm not sure how much longer I can stand this – this horrid loneliness."
There is a pause. "Does Bellamy know you're here?"
Octavia snorts. "He's at work. He'll be home in an hour or so. He can't keep me imprisoned forever."
Clarke remains silent, refraining from defending either of the Blakes. Anyone could see the lengths the eldest could go to for the sake of the youngest, but as much as she'll always admire that, Clarke feels too hurt and bitter about being part of the casualties to verbally recognize that.
She sighs. "Give me five minutes. I'll walk you back to your section when I'm done. We could talk then," she proposes.
Octavia takes a step forward, quickly wrapping her arms around Clarke in a tight embrace. "Thank you," she whispers as she lets go. The warmth crawls under Clarke's skin in the most relieving of ways after days of choosing to keep her distance from the comfort human touch has to offer. The lack of response to the spontaneous gesture is what she regrets the most.
Because she was wrong about thinking she has nothing. This is something.
Every offender put in cell 231 is ironically either too silent or too hostile, making Jasper's absence even more evident than before, giving Clarke the impression that time slows down excruciatingly. Although trying to pacify any unprovoked prisoners takes some of her energy, there is no room for displeasure or fury.
She doesn't cease following the familiar pattern of her job, not until she is forced to. A weekly examination that gets a little out of hand – she might have caressed the outline of the panic device over her pocket once or twice, effectively controlling the adrenaline rush – attracts unwanted notice.
The guard bursting into the small space stands between her and the delinquent, his weapon drawn out, his posture making it impossible for her to reach forward. It isn't until he starts barking orders at the terrified boy that Clarke is snapped out of her stunned state, her bewilderment fading away fast.
The man has been a janitor since the day his sister was captured. He shouldn't be wearing a guard's uniform. He shouldn't be here at all, Clarke concludes, enraged.
"I suggest you step back. This is not your place." Her tone is authoritative, definitive, leaving him no chance to argue. He does anyway.
"All prisoners are obliged to comply. The presence of a guard is essential during each and every one of the examinations. I suspect you are familiar with the drill, Dr. Griffin," Bellamy recites, withdrawing his weapon, eyes shooting daggers at the boy who shrinks further against the wall.
"I will be the judge of the severity of any threats or perils." He finally dares to face her then, his unrelenting resolution hardly breaking under her glower. "Leave," she commands.
He narrows his eyes, his attention shifting from her to the boy and vice versa. His scowl only deepens when he speaks. "Last chance, kid." He holds his index finger up as a warning for no more than some seconds, before he makes his way out with an unspoken request for her to follow his lead. She would have probably detested his audacity, if the plan to give him a piece of her mind hadn't already begun forming in her head.
"Send someone in, please," she asks as she breezes past another guard.
She descends the stairs hurriedly, unfazed by the second pair of boots moving swiftly right next to hers. She grabs the sleeve of his uniform, pulling him to a rather quiet corner, where the busy crowd remains unbothered by their upcoming conflict.
"You caused unrest for no reason," she says crossly. "I believe you owe me an explanation. You have about three minutes before anyone notices we are not exactly where we have to be."
He raises both palms up in surrender, wrinkles forming on his forehead when she taps her foot on the floor, huffing in response.
"I got promoted," he informs her. "Regained my previous title as a cadet and completed my training as a guard last week. Is that all?"
"That's not all. It doesn't explain why you were given a position in the Skybox. It doesn't explain why you'd even take it."
"I follow orders," he reminds her emphatically, as if his daunting demeanor should be justified.
"Those orders you follow don't give you the right to barge in there unannounced. You stay outside and you wait for my signal." She takes the small button out, pushing it in front of him so he can inspect it. He doesn't look at the object for more than two seconds. "A signal I didn't give."
"Because you had everything under control," he fills in neutrally. She shakes her head in affirmation. "Even if this were my place, I wouldn't be who you'd have to convince."
"By all means, enlighten me then."
"Your mother. She meddled with—"
"My mother?" Clarke exclaims incredulously. Abby doesn't trust Bellamy. She never did and she probably never will. The chances of her making such an arrangement in hope her daughter will be safe are slim to none.
"Keep your voice down," Bellamy says cuttingly, ignoring her glare. "She cares about you."
"Like you do?" she snipes. The moment the words are out of her mouth, she longs for them to be taken back. She pretends she doesn't notice the fraudulent sorrow marring his features or the way he falters, for once unable to provide her with glib answers and caustic comments, or the painful yearning inside her returning in full force.
There is a bold step forward and a rampant, shaky exhale. There is a rough hand on the flesh of her bare clavicle, fingers spreading widely as the heel of his warm palm presses lower, on the left side of her chest. Her brain has identified every single touch, every attempt of his to sketchily put his thoughts into words through non-verbal contact, to paint them on her skin. Her brain impels her to retreat.
Her heart tells a different story beneath his heat, a story she never knew it was remotely capable of.
"Not everything has been a lie."
His words are uttered with struggle, the torn expression on his face betraying he's yet to come to terms with the storm brewing inside him. His urgency as well as attempts to persuade her about something he is so unconfident about confuses her enough to knock plenty of sense into her.
He took pleasure in the physical aspects of the sham she once considered to be a connection. He enjoyed fucking her. If she is ungrateful for thinking the reality of it is not enough, then so be it.
She shudders violently at the feel of his touch, the lack of space making her choke. She cringes, pupils dilating as he almost instinctively seeks her out, the loss of contact unpleasantly startling him. The find themselves at an impasse, aimlessly holding each other's gazes for far too long.
He's never looked at her like that; like he's hanging, expecting her every move, every word falling from her lips. The realization that she has been oblivious to an insurmountable extent saddens her. But the ball is in her court now.
"We are wasting time here." His attention is arrested. She shrugs it off, interfering in his train of thought just when he is capable of speaking again. He isn't allowed to disarm her. "I can't do this with you, Bellamy," she wheezes. "Never again."
She only speeds up after she escapes his line of sight. She can't be sure who she's trying to convince the most; him or herself.
The fight with Abby is loud and surprisingly real. It is the most direct confrontation between mother and daughter since Jake Griffin's death – and the confession that followed afterwards – and Clarke feels like her blood is on fire.
When Abby argues she's finally come to accept her choices (Bellamy), Clarke reaches her breaking point, throat sore from standing her ground and eyes misting from angry, unshed tears. But when the woman professes Bellamy Blake looked for her under the pretense of needing medical attention, sharing potentially useful information with nothing in exchange, Clarke freezes. She presses her fingers on her throbbing temple, demanding to know more.
There is unrest among the workers. The cause is unclear, but Clarke has been taught enough within the past year to recognize her role as a target. If anyone knows all about the consequences of being one, it's Councilwoman Abigail Griffin, who is adamant when it comes to shielding her loved ones from harm. (Or at least she used to be.)
Bellamy standing guard in the same cellblock Clarke was assigned to days ago was not coincidental. But it doesn't protect her from being intentionally hurt or harassed inside the Ark, either.
Unless – unless Bellamy's duty doesn't end there.
Clarke wonders for the umpteenth time just how far her mother has taken it this time, and just how much power she did not hesitate to abuse. Yet, Clarke doesn't let herself entertain the idea that the person she came to trust the most in the past few months may not feel like a pawn in Abby's calculated game, after all.
"One more cup?" Wells asks, raising the bottle of moonshine. She sits up a little straighter from her spot on the floor, her shoulder brushing against his. She raises her cup towards him with an unsteady smile, waiting for him to fill it to the brim.
The taste is no better than before, but her sips are more and more confident and the burning of her insides becomes more and more tolerant.
"I still can't believe this is legal," he says. The wonder in his voice makes her feel fifteen again, fond memories of them repeating a similar, unspoken ritual making an insistent appearance. Her smile stretches a little wider at the thoughts and she relaxes, her back against the wall behind her.
"Legal or not, Thelonious would never approve."
"Neither would Abby."
She bobs her head in silent agreement, the quiet enveloping them both for some moments. Wells breaks through it.
"I should have been spending more time with you," he tells her guiltily, affectionately. He takes her free hand in his, welcoming the pressure of her head against his shoulder.
She releases a long exhale. "You've been busy. We've both been busy," she corrects. "This is my fault as much as it is yours." She can feel something constrict in her at the realization that this could be the end for them and what they've been through together, that they've given up on each other.
But this could also be the start for something more, something different. They could reach a deeper understanding, if they were willing enough, if she learned to rely on him again and if he didn't just let her drift away.
"So," Wells starts. "If you don't mind me asking. How are things with the Blakes?"
She clutches her cup a little tighter, thoughtfully licking her lips, savoring the remnants of her drink. "I think I deserve a big fat I told you so," she confesses weakly. She could give him more than that – she wants to – but the words get stuck somewhere in her throat.
Wells drapes an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. He wasn't there yesterday, but he is now and he will be tomorrow. His promise hangs loosely between them until it doesn't.
She accepts it, and then she accepts him.
It happens when she's at the public library, fingers delicately stroking the hard spines of books across the section that managed to catch her eye some time ago.
One minute she's turning her attention to a young girl asking her for information, probably three or four years her junior, and the next she's on the floor, her hands instinctively flying over her ears in a desperate attempt to block out the overwhelming sounds around her. They gradually turn into a shrill ringing, the panicked screams of unsuspecting people muted by her own shock.
She feels a cough bubble in her throat, squinting, observing through the fading clouds of dust as bookcase after bookcase falls down like a domino piece. The decision to crawl farther from her spot is made somewhere in a part of her mind, but the rest of her finds it hard to follow through.
Glass shatters, everyone runs like their life depends on it (it does) and the dizziness hits her without a single warning, like it never has before.
She shuts her eyes, concentrating on the pain on the side of her head after a worryingly large amount of effort. Her palm moves to soothe the spot, coming to contact with a warm dampness that takes her breath away, forcing her to look around her once more.
She drags her body a little to the left, before a paralyzing pain shoots through her skull, making her cry out, the sound lost in the terror of others. She tries to think, to prevent herself from giving in the force of the ache. She tries to do something – something other than just lie there, motionless, crumpled and crippled.
A pair of boots moves, stopping right before her. The moment is familiar, so dreadfully familiar, that she has her first coherent thought in what feels like an eternity.
Of course she would see him before losing her last fight. Of course he would crouch down in front of her and touch her, breathe her name like a frantic prayer. They marvel at the red fingerprints on the floor together for a delayed moment, breathing heavily. The lights flicker, her eyelids flutter and her head feels like a weight she wishes she had enough strength to carry.
Bellamy catches her, hands firm on her cheeks and thumbs compellingly inclining her chin upwards, urging her unfocused gaze to meet his. Among the chaos, his voice is all she knows.
"…need you to…awake…now…patience – please."
Her hand covers one of his in response, because she's tired – so, so tired – and it is all she can do. He cradles her, forehead pressed against her hair and lips moving over her skin.
Succumbing to the darkness is sweeter than she ever imagined it would be.
Needles. Long, sharp needles is the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes.
Fear instantly grips at her heart with its ugly claws, and she sits bolt upright, her gaze wildly roaming over her surroundings, gasping. Something holds her down by her arm, restraining her.
She glances to her right, and he's there, like she never fell unconscious, searching her eyes for things she is probably in no condition to offer. She blinks repeatedly, his face blurring enough for hysteria to set in.
He calms her small whimpers with a hand on her jaw and a cup of water, wordlessly encouraging her to drink up.
She does, emptying the contents quickly, taking an extra second to realize she's been here before – it's the place she's been trained in half her life. She knows all about needles and how to use them.
That doesn't mean there are no more gaps in her memory. "What happened?"
Bellamy frowns, the corner of his mouth turning into a hard line. "What do you remember?" he challenges.
"I—" She can feel the crinkles on her forehead. "I'm not sure," she says, defeated. The harder she tries to think, the more evident the throbbing in her head becomes.
Bellamy nods to himself, sparing her a last, strangely reassuring look. "I'll get your mother."
"Bell, Mrs. Griffin wants to talk to y – oh! Clarke's awake." Octavia exchanges a meaningful stare with her brother, one lasting longer than what Clarke considers necessary. She helplessly watches the siblings interact, moving closer, like magnets, as they speak in hushed whispers. After Bellamy's hasty takeoff, Octavia rolls her eyes good naturedly, in a way that's too similar to his.
She approaches Clarke with a tentative smile. "Are you feeling okay?"
Clarke's lips part, yet no sound of significance escapes. Before she can come up with a response to summarize her current state, Octavia speaks up.
"Bellamy wouldn't let me get out of the house today," she murmurs. She waits for Clarke to absorb the information, clearly implying more than the blonde girl can take right now. "Even after—"
Octavia shakes her head. "Maybe I'm not the one you should hear this from."
Even through the thickness of the haze in her head, Clarke recognizes not only the strain in Octavia's voice, but also the unknown fear attached to it. She discerns no such traces in the reserved expression of her mother, whose unceasing questions regenerate horrid images inside her, or Bellamy, who opts for keeping his place in the background when it is clearly not there. (Not anymore.)
The words mild concussion urge Clarke's fingers to linger on her scalp. They tease the outline of her stitches, before instinctively moving over her parted lips to feel the release of a reassured breath; the red stains on Bellamy's uniform is her doing after all.
Abby provides her with instructions – instructions she apparently needs to follow for the sake of her physical as well as mental health. Yet, the words fail to register, and Clarke wrinkles the faded grey sheets in her fists. The mattress feels hard against her back, harder than before. Her mouth forms a single word, a name, an entreaty.
Wells. He was supposed to meet her in the library. He was late.
The silence she finds herself drowning in is deafening. The sorrow marring her mother's facial features is enough for Clarke's mind to run a million miles per hour, for the paralyzing headache to return in full force, for her hands to latch onto her hair and her scream to deprive her of the ability to speak.
She cannot pinpoint the exact moment everything becomes a blur.
Wells' funeral is far from a quiet affair, where the people he was deeply loved by pay their respects. (She does, of course she does. Her swaying body gets pushed all around and, at some points, she swears she forgets how to actually breathe, but she still stands tall. After all, Octavia, the only caretaker she could possibly stomach after her release from medical, stands taller next to her.)
Wells' funeral is, in reality, the funeral of five more; all casualties of the bombing. The whimpers and the cries and the swollen, bloodshot eyes urge her to pull her jacket tighter around herself, every sound and sight reminding her of just how exhausted and worn-out she is.
"Until our final journey to the ground. May we meet again."
She meets her mother's eyes from across the hall and she knows. Clarke knows it's time for Octavia to take her hand and tightly interlock their fingers, before she leads the way to the station they are both all too familiar with.
This is part of the agreement for Clarke – what will grant her independence and the chance to fight and never stand back again. Safety and constant supervision until her full recovery.
Safety for she remains a moving target for those who have yet to be accused of plotting and committing felonies all along. Diana Sydney was the name that slid through Bellamy's teeth the most, but, apparently, her stepping forward for the Council's vacant seat is not proof enough.
Octavia talks throughout the whole way to the Blakes' quarters.
"Random inspections," she mutters suddenly, a shudder overtaking her body. Clarke hums, questioning. "They'll stop," the dark-haired girl explains. "The Chancellor confirmed all random inspections will come to an end until your condition changes. Mrs. Griffin made sure of that."
A silence follows; one Clarke absolutely resents. She isn't ready for that. She can't deal with it yet, not now, not today.
"Bellamy made sure of that."
She'll never be ready for it. At least not in the way she once may have thought she could have been.
"And if you need anything else—" Octavia sighs. "Look, I know this isn't much compared to—"
"I'm good," Clarke promises curtly, her interruption leaving no room for the dreaded completion of Octavia's sentence, because this is a lot, more than enough. "I just need some rest."
"Sure," Bellamy's sister agrees, her gaze not wavering once.
Her feet are bare and quick and quiet against the cold floor, but the unwelcome shadows standing in her way delude her, playing all kinds of tricks on her. They are her father's loving arms, her mother's regrets, the hopes she has been robbed of. They are Jasper's vain optimism, Charlotte's helplessness, Monty's stolen right to a life of dignity, Murphy's inescapable demons.
They are Wells' smile and his forgiveness.
They are closing in on her, trapping her, choking her. There's nowhere to run to.
A clash of metal has her freezing on the spot, retracting the hand responsible for the damage. She uses it for support, nails cutting half-moons on the inside of her palm as her knuckles press against the wall. She can hear is her labored breathing gradually coming to a stop, and then –
Footfalls. Those goddamn footfalls.
"Clarke?" he calls, carefully taking the liberty to get in her personal space. She retreats further, her back joining her fist against the wall. Just when she thinks he's advancing upon her, he ducks his head, slowly lowering himself, his kneels buckling.
The fallen object returns to its place. She feels his eyes on her long before hers meet them.
"Your head okay?" She opens her mouth to answer, but no words come out. She presses her lips together again. "Clarke," he repeats, his tone stern and demanding.
"Yes," she breathes out. "Yeah, it's – it's fine."
"Good." He nods, his fist engulfing hers before she has the time to register it. The tips of his fingers pry hers apart until her open palm relaxes against his warmer one and the shaking stops. "That's good."
"There was – before the bomb – there was a—"
"Breathe," Bellamy instructs.
"There was a girl," Clarke whispers, slow and clear. "I don't know what happened to her. I don't know where she went or if— if she ever made it. She might as well be among the dead and I didn't – I didn't pay attention, not as much as I should have, not as much as I cou—"
He shushes her. He cups her head. She squirms, leaning towards a different direction. His leg sneaks in between hers, messing with her balance, refusing to give up. He breathes against her exposed neck, crushing her to him until there is no fight left in her.
"You can't save them all."
"I would have tried."
"I know," he reassures. His hipbone presses into the softness of her side, his mouth hovering over the crown of her head. "I've known for a while. I'm sorry."
I'm sorry about leaving you in the dark. I'm sorry about betraying your trust, about not having enough faith in you. I'm sorry about trying to care and coming up short.
She clutches his shirt in her free hand. She believes him.
She makes a move to let go, finally – she's getting so much better at forcing the trembling to come to a halt, she knows. Neither the bruising pressure on her waist nor the irregularity of the constrained exhales is her doing. Her name follows.
Her brow is furrowed when she cranes her neck to see him, to watch him watch her. He's close, so incredibly close that all her thoughts can only revolve around one dark gaze putting to wordless phrases all that he never will. He tilts his head to the side and his nose barely brushes hers and she readies herself for the warmth of his mouth, for the taste of it, for –
For something that doesn't come.
He leans against her, allowing her to bear the weight he carries at once, the weight of so many things. And she understands.
She understands that she hasn't forgiven him and that she'll most likely never forgive him for that moment in the past; the single moment she felt the floor crumple beneath her feet, the moment she felt as though he took everything from her, with no one left to pull her up. The moment stolen from her, the one she had absolutely no power over.
But she also understands that's in the past and this is where it shall remain. The world around her moves and moves on, leaving her no choice but to feel the need to catch up, to adjust to it and struggle to run ahead of it. (She will always seek for some way to be prepared, regardless the cost.)
When they exchange long glances, the gentleness in his is far gone, replaced by steely determination. He's all but preventing the disturbance of the newfound balance of his broken family by letting her stay with them, even if it is only for a couple of days.
In an unfortunate way, she matters to him, and that makes her aware of her ability to bring him down just like he carelessly, yet skillfully, did. Most of all, it makes her aware of the risk he is choosing to take; a risk he swore never to contemplate.
His pulse point throbs vividly beneath the insistence of her fingertips, his fire alive and smoldering. He waits for her move.
If she runs, he will run alongside her.