A/N the First: Hello, new fandom! This was written for Yuletide over on AO3, but I decided to cross-post the entire series. Thanks to my awesome beta reader mxpw and my good friend Frissy for dragging me into this emotional hellscape of a show.
Goin' courtin', goin' courtin'
Dudin' up to go and see your gal.
Oh, it's fun to hunt and shoot a gun,
Or to catch a rabbit on the run
But you'll find it's twice as sportin' goin' courtin'.
Goin' Courtin', Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
1. The New Guard
After the fall of Mount Weather, they did their best to fit in, but Bellamy couldn't help but notice that they weren't very good at it. Dropship kids had tasted freedom and inserting themselves back into a rigid society where they were no longer the ones in charge was akin to finding an old pair of shoes in the back of a cubby-hole and discovering you've grown half a size. Technically, the shoes still fit, but everything felt uncomfortable and vaguely wrong.
Still, Bellamy did his best. So when the leader of the guard put him on the graveyard shift for the third night in a row, he gritted his teeth and showed up, determined to set a good example. The days were growing shorter, a strange experience. They'd been taught about seasonal, but varying day lengths had been too bizarre to really consider. Days on the station lasted twenty-seven hours, no matter the time of year. Seasons had been arbitrary things, only used to mark the passage of time. But now it grew dark before eighteen hundred hours and they were back on twenty-four hour days. Bellamy took up his post and stamped his boots against the ground, already cold. At least he was on fence duty, which means he could keep moving.
He wished for a book or something. Anything to break up the tedium.
"Bellamy." Clarke rounded the side of the tower, and Bellamy forgot all about how cold the night was going to become. He stood a little straighter at the frown on her face. Luckily it wasn't her 'we have a world to save' frown. She was obviously just upset. "What are you doing on duty?"
"I'm on the roster. Didn't seem worth it to raise a stink."
"But the hunting party leaves at dawn."
"I'll be fine."
"This hunting party is important." Her tone wasn't lecturing, just aggravated. The lectures had all but stopped lately. In fact, they didn't need as many words to communicate these days. Bellamy had noticed great stretches of silence passing between them more and more whenever they traveled, but it wasn't uncomfortable. He'd come to like it. She had her face turned toward the guard post now, like the captain might actually feel her annoyance through the walls.
Bellamy gave her a wry look. "Don't worry, I'm not going to fall asleep during some ritual killing and start the fighting all over again."
"I'm going to find Miller," Clarke said. "He can cover part of your shift. He owes me one."
They all owed her one, Bellamy nearly pointed out. She'd patched up pretty much everybody at one point or other. He tilted his head at her, eyebrows high.
"What?" Clarke asked, shrugging. "He does."
Bellamy tilted his head farther.
"How about half your shift?" Clarke asked. "Is that okay?"
"If you insist," Bellamy said, even though honestly, company would have been a bigger help than only half a shift. He was tempted to ask her if she'd stick around, maybe read a book to him, but the request withered in his throat. That seemed like an imposition, and Clarke already had too many of those on her time already.
She didn't notice his hesitation, for she was already walking off. She spun on her heel to keep facing him, walking backwards. "I insist, yes. You need sleep if you're going to keep up with Octavia."
"Now that's a filthy lie, and you know it," Bellamy called after her, and he was rewarded with a small smile from her as she disappeared around the tower.
On his own, he had nothing to focus on but the thoughts she'd kicked up about the hunting party. For the most part, Grounders didn't regard hunting as a sacred activity. It was part and parcel of surviving in this part of the world, and considered a chore like any other. The exception, Bellamy had discovered, was a month-long trek north just before winter, hunting a breed of mountain lion that were valuable for their fur. Apparently this year the Woods Clan was being honored to lead that hunt. And they'd extended the privilege of coming along to both Octavia and to Bellamy, being blood-kin. Lincoln had stated bluntly and multiple times that this would be a giant step forward in peace between the peoples. Laying siege upon Mount Weather had been a wartime pact. Now it was time to cement the peace-time matters as well.
And thinking about it too deeply always made Bellamy's stomach churn. Clarke should have been the one to go on the hunting expedition. She was the one that intrinsically understood the Grounders. Hell, like she was one of them herself. Octavia, too. Bellamy, he was raised as a guard, first of Octavia's existence, then of the Ark, and now here on the ground. His first taste of true leadership had almost led to disaster, and now he was expected to help garner peace.
He heard footsteps again, but it wasn't Clarke returning. Hell, it'd probably take her an hour to get back to him. Squinting in the semi-darkness, he finally made out one of the new guards from the station over the mountain. "Got a light?" Kato asked, holding up a pipe.
Bellamy pulled his lighter out and tossed it over. Grounder pipeweed was one of the first goods traded between the peoples. He personally thought it smelled like shit, but if his fellow guards used it to stay awake, who was he to judge? He took the lighter back when Kato held it out. "Thanks."
"Nah, you're the one I should be thanking." Kato puffed away until the pipe caught, then sighed contentedly, not in any hurry to move. He breathed a smoke ring into the night. "It's nice that your girlfriend visits you so often out here."
"Clarke?" Bellamy asked. "Huh? She's not my girlfriend. Why would you think that?"
"I dunno. Kind of how you were standing, I guess. All close-like. But if not…guess you know what they say about assuming. Thanks for the light."
The other guard trundled off, leaving the faint acrid odor of pipeweed in his wake. Bellamy watched him go, shaking his head. "Second time that's happened this week," he said under his breath, and he turned his attention back to the area beyond the gate.
2. The Old Guard
Clarke's sharp intake of breath was the only warning Bellamy had that the log they were using as a bridge wasn't as sturdy as he'd claimed.
The ground dropped away and just like that, he fell, his heart in his throat. Somehow Bellamy managed to twist in mid-air, already reaching for Clarke. He hit the bottom of the valley back-first—and grunted as Clarke landed right on top of him. For a second, he lay there in dazed shock, all of the breath gone from his body. Most of his vision was obscured by Clarke's hair, but he imagined that if he could see, there would be little birds flying around his head.
Bellamy let out a wheeze.
"Oh, my god, are you okay?" The hair lifted out of his face, so he could see Clarke, pressed close. She was frowning again. "Bellamy? Bellamy, talk to me."
"Hnnnngh," Bellamy said. Everything hurt all over, but he didn't think he'd been stabbed by rocks or anything. He just had one pressing problem, really.
But before Clarke could finish her sentence, they heard rustling and Octavia, Jasper, and Monty rounded the curve in the bend inside the valley. All three of them pulled up short.
Bellamy had no idea why Jasper suddenly grinned. "Finally," he said.
"What?" Clarke asked, since Bellamy wasn't sure he could talk yet.
The fact that Octavia elbowed both Jasper and Monty (also smirking) wasn't lost on Bellamy, though he had no idea why she would do that. Jasper jumped almost clear out of his skin, possibly because Octavia had really bony elbows. "I mean, um," he said, "finally we found you guys. We've been looking everywhere."
Clarke frowned. "We just saw you fifteen minutes ago. Has something happened?"
"Clearly," Monty said, and Octavia elbowed him again. "I mean, no. We're just excited to see you."
"Clarke," Bellamy managed to croak.
Instantly, she turned her head, the hands that were resting on his collarbones twitching. "What? Is anything broken? Are you okay?"
"You're—crushing me," Bellamy said in a wheeze.
There was a beat where Clarke looked like she has no idea what he could mean. And then she glanced down and finally realized she was straddling him, her legs practically wrapped around his torso. Her entire face turned red, and she scrambled off of him so fast she accidentally clipped him in the chest with her elbow. This time, Bellamy really did see the baby birds circling his head. "I am so sorry," she said, helping him sit up as he coughed. "I didn't realize. How's your head? Are you seeing double at all?"
Bellamy shook his head and waved her off, still trying to take a satisfying breath. It grew much easier when Clarke, a worried line between her eyebrows, stepped back. She gave him one final fretful look and moved over to talk to Jasper and Monty.
Octavia knelt next to him, raising an eyebrow. She eyed the bits of rotted-out log now lying in a haphazard circle around Bellamy. "I'm going to guess that was actually a fall and not the forest hook-up the others seem to think it is."
"Obviously," Bellamy said, wasting the precious oxygen he'd finally managed to draw into his lungs.
Octavia laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Never let it be said Clarke Griffin doesn't take your breath away, big bro."
"Shut up," Bellamy said, and he spent the next few minutes coughing helplessly while Clarke looked on worriedly and Octavia grinned like the cat that caught the canary.
3. Some Random People Around Camp Pretty Much Everybody, Actually
After the fall, Bellamy started to notice things a little more.
Not Clarke. That ship sailed a long time ago, and now he couldn't help but notice every little thing she did anyway. It was hard not to, not with the force of her personality butting up against everything within arms' distance. And he had eyes, after all. He'd even made his peace with the fact that Clarke was pretty no matter what she did, blood-stained, mud-stained, and everything in between. It was a little eerie, honestly.
It was everybody else that was the problem.
"Hey, Bellamy, I was wondering—do you know when Clarke's planning to do another seaweed harvesting trip?" Monty asked him while they're on the way to breakfast one day.
Bellamy only squinted at him, still half asleep. "I don't keep Clarke's schedule."
"Oh, I thought you did because you're…"
"I'm what?" Bellamy asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Nothing. Never mind." Monty put his hands up and walked off, whistling like he was innocent of some great crime.
Bellamy shook his head as he stepped in line for rations. Camp Jaha still lacked a dedicated mess hall, though the camp organizers were working on an interior dining hall. Winter was breathing down their necks, sending its chill air every which way. He took a seat at one of the outdoor tables and stared morosely at the oatmeal in his bowl. Bland, boring oatmeal. Just like it had been on the Ark.
He almost missed scrounging for berries to go with the charred cold meats they'd had at the Dropship.
Without waiting for an invitation, Raven dropped down across from him, already digging in. "Gotta be quick," she said, "but do you know if Clarke's planning to talk to the Grounder council soon?"
"Why would I know that?" Bellamy asked grouchily.
Raven eyed him as she scooped in a large bite of oatmeal. "Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed today or something?"
"I'm fine." Bellamy stabbed at his breakfast.
"So do you know? If she's going or not?"
"I don't know. You could try asking her that."
Raven shrugged. With the way she wolfed down her oatmeal, she had probably been up all night working on something with Wick and was in a hurry to get back. "I could, but it's easier just to ask you. It's one-stop shopping with you two. Everybody knows that."
"Yeah, I'm getting that."
"Whatever. I'll ask her myself." Scooping up her empty bowl, Raven took off. Before she was even out of range, Bellamy clearly heard her mutter about obvious trouble in paradise. He frowned harder into his oatmeal, which was only growing colder by the minute.
Which was how Clarke found him. Apparently he was just a revolving door this morning. "Something up?" she asked, taking Raven's abandoned seat.
She'd netted a bowl of the flavored oatmeal, Bellamy noticed right away. Benefits of being the chancellor's kid. It made him hunker down a little over his bowl. "Nothing in particular."
A second later, the bowl was pulled out of his grasp, and Clarke's oatmeal took its place. "I don't like that kind," she said. "You take it."
He'd seen her eat the boysenberry oatmeal often enough to know she was lying through her teeth, that was just Clarke. 'I'm warm enough in just my jacket, take this.' And 'No, I had enough to eat. Why don't you finish this for me?' She exemplified all the good leader shit even when she wasn't trying. Some days, he found it exhausting and other days he simply admired her for it.
And he wasn't going to complain about not having to eat plain oatmeal. "Thanks," he said, digging in.
"I just ran into Miller. He wants to know when the next martial arts class is going to be."
Bellamy swallowed and wiped at his chin with his thumb. "Good to know they do to that to you, too."
"Monty asked me when your next seaweed gathering trip is, and Raven had a question about the Grounder chief. Somehow or other, we're interchangeable."
Clarke gave him a puzzled look. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"It's either that or I'm your social secretary, fielding all of these requests for your time." Finally, humor began to break through the shell his grumpiness. It was always terrible to realize he'd been absurd, but luckily, it was just as easy to shrug off. They've all seen each other through worse. One of the benefits of trial by fire. "I guess interchangeable would be the better of the two options."
"If we're not, then I'd worry you think you're better than me, Blake," Clarke said, expression droll. When he feigned shock, she stuffed an overlarge spoonful of oatmeal in her mouth and gave him an innocent look.
"Well, maybe I am…Griffin." They'd been calling her Clarke of the Sky People for so long that he temporarily blanked on her last name.
Clarke swallowed. "Ha. Tell me that when you can finally beat me at target practice," she said, picking up her bowl and spoon as she walked away.
"I'm getting better!" Bellamy called after her, and when her laugh drifted back to him, he smiled at the rest of his breakfast. It took him a good five minutes, as he was putting his dishes in the bins by the kitchen stand, to realize that she hadn't answered his questions about the seaweed or the Grounders. They apparently weren't as interchangeable as everybody thought.
Over the next couple of months, Bellamy and the others discovered how the Grounders had learned to survive such brutal winters: they hibernated. Villages, normally centers of industry and movement, became quiet lumps in the snow, with families tucking in close in their huts to keep warm. Because the Grounders were the sole thing keeping the Sky People alive, it was a long, lean winter for everybody, with very few supplies to go around.
The wrecked station, however, proved a hearty fortress against winter. Luckily for everybody in Camp Jaha, a craft designed to survive the deep cold of space only needed minimal upgrades to prepare for winter. Unluckily for everybody, it was a tight fit. And the common cold had had a century to mutate, which meant it spread at alarming rates. To keep from going crazy with the sound of coughing and sneezing, Bellamy volunteered for extra guard duty and went on every hunting trip he could manage, at the risk of his toes.
Right now, he couldn't even feel them. They'd been hunting for hours, so he had a brace of rabbits tied to his belt. Their goal for the day was goose, a traditional part of the spring thaw celebration. Though the hunting party was pretty large, they'd split up early in the day, and somehow Bellamy found himself paired with Lincoln. And he didn't even have Octavia to rely upon this time to fill the awkward silence, because Clarke had needed help in the infirmary. At least, he thought as he followed Lincoln, they needed to keep talking to a minimum.
Lincoln, surprisingly, broke the silence first. "On the Ark before you came to earth," he said, never looking at Bellamy, "what is your tradition for courting?"
Bellamy nearly shot him in the ass with a crossbow bolt out of pure shock. This time, it was an accident, though he doubted the other man would ever believe that. "Courting? Like…dating?"
"Oh, um, I guess they're the same as they are here?" Actually, wait, he knew nothing Grounder mating rituals. From their stance on corporal punishment, Bellamy would guess that said rituals might actually come close to the caveman joke of dragging a woman home by her hair. "Or probably not. They're…you know, normal. You like a girl, you buy her something. And you catch one of the star shows, go to a dance, that sort of thing. I guess. I was never able to do any of that. I'm not the best person to ask."
"Because of Octavia," Lincoln said. "She told me what it was like."
"It's over." He'd never dated—couldn't bring a girl back to his quarters, not with Octavia there—and when Octavia had been in the Skybox, he'd been a social pariah. On the ground, things were different. That first sex-filled month after landing more than proved that. And Bellamy really didn't want to think about his current utter lack of a sex life, so he looked at his hunting companion out of the side of his eye. "But, hey, I don't think you need any help from Sky People tradition. I know this is a weird thing for me to say, but you've got this in the bag. O's crazy about you."
"That is not why I asked." Lincoln held up a hand for silence and they both went still. It took Bellamy a moment to spot the geese down on the shore of a little frozen pond. Three of them. Big, angry birds. Big, angry, fat birds. Bellamy's stomach growled a little, just imagining what a great feast these beauties would make. Lincoln signaled, indicating that he would take the bird in the middle, and that Bellamy should aim for the bird closest.
Ten minutes later, they met up with the others and headed back to camp, Bellamy carrying the goose over his shoulder. He'd missed his shot, but Lincoln's arrow had flown true. "Why'd you ask about Ark stuff if it wasn't anything to do with Octavia?" Bellamy asked.
"Among my people, marriages must be granted by a council of elders," Lincoln said. "Often, it is…political. To keep peace between the clans. My mother was of the Sea Clan. My people consider it an honor to marry a warrior, even one from another tribe."
"Are you in one of these arranged marriages? Because I have to tell you, Octavia's really not going to like that."
Lincoln smiled faintly. "I left my clan. They have no hold over me."
"That's good that we won't have to prevent Octavia from setting some poor woman's bed on fire—with her still in it."
They both laughed at that, which set Bellamy somewhat at ease. "I admit, I'm now curious about some of these traditions," Lincoln said. "Star shows. Your people have strange customs."
"And vids—er, I mean, sometimes they would play old movies in the mess. But candy, little trinkets, that's the way to go. Buy the affection of your beloved," Bellamy said, mostly sardonic.
"And that is how you won over Clarke?"
"Clarke? She prefers guns over trinkets these days." Bellamy trailed off as his brain caught up to his mouth. "Uh. Not that I would know. Clarke and I are not together. Not like that. Or…like anything, really. I wouldn't know the first thing about dating Clarke, or what she even likes."
Lincoln's laugh no longer put Bellamy at ease. The Grounder clapped him on the back. "Were I you, I might reconsider. The others are near, we should go back."
"Yeah, great," Bellamy said under his breath. He gave his companion a sour look and trudged on, willing his heart rate to slow. He had not thought about theoretical ways to win Clarke over, no matter whatever what Lincoln might claim. Well, maybe he had. A little. Flowers, he decided, something so precious on the Ark but so abundant on earth, but it would be another couple of months before they saw any blooms. And what would even constitute a date on earth? Maybe it was a good thing that the Grounders had arranged marriages. They didn't exactly have vid-screening nights with their outdated technology and Bellamy had experienced more than his fair share of long walks in the forest. They grew incredibly tedious.
Something caught his eye near the final bend to Camp Jaha, a little clump of green off to one side, just above the crusty snow. He crouched with the goose still over his shoulder, disbelieving. Before he could think better of it, he grabbed the whole cluster, keeping that hand close to his side so none of the other hunters would notice. He dropped the catch of the day off and made his way to the infirmary, his bounty tucked into his jacket.
The infirmary had been full since pretty much the first snowfall, but Bellamy was used to ignoring that whenever he sought out Clarke. This time, though, she appeared before he could get two steps in. She stepped out into the corridor beyond with him, tugging off her mask and gloves. "Are you trying to get sick?" she asked. "This area's quarantined unless you have a mask."
"Ah, no. Just wanted you to know the hunting party's back. We had a pretty good haul, all things considered." Bellamy shuffled his feet. Now that he stood in front of Clarke, his hand in his jacket, he felt really stupid. What was he even doing? He wasn't trying to court Clarke. She had enough on her plate. "And…I found these. I thought you might like them."
And he yanked his hand out of his jacket. The little white flowers were a bit wilted from his efforts to keep them hidden, and he felt like the world's biggest fool. There, in the dim light, they just looked sad.
"You can stick them up on the window or something, cheer everybody up if you want," he said in a rush.
Clarke took the bundle of slightly crushed flowers and touched her fingertip to a bud, wonderingly. "You brought me flowers?" she asked, like she wasn't entirely sure what was happening at all.
It only made him feel like a bigger idiot. "They were there. I didn't even know they grew this soon. Don't make a big deal of it or anything. Princess."
Clarke sniffed the flowers. "I'm not the one making a big deal out of this."
Bellamy scowled. "You do something nice for somebody…"
"I was just surprised, that's all. Thank you for the flowers." And her smile this time wasn't small or faint. For once, it was genuine, lacking the tragedies that had encompassed Clarke Griffin's life. It was the kind of smile that men would go to war for. Bellamy was pretty positive they had, actually. Hell, he felt like he'd probably walk into a wall if she kept smiling at him like that. "That's incredibly sweet of you."
"Please don't let that nasty little rumor get out," he said, grimacing.
Clarke laughed. "Your secret's safe with me. I'd even give you a hug, but I'm covered in flu germs."
"And on that note," Bellamy said, backing away. "See you around, Princess. Enjoy the flowers."
Before he made it more than a few steps, Clarke called his name. She jogged up, pulling one of the little flowers free. As he stood there, eyebrows high, she tucked it into the lapel of his jacket. "Thanks?" he said.
"They're called snowdrops. They used to mean hope. I figured we could all use some." She gave him that smile again for the briefest of seconds, then took a step back and pulled on her gloves and mask. The serious, weight-of-the-world Clarke was back, but she still held the snowdrops.
Bellamy kept the flower in his lapel until it wilted to nothingness. It took him nearly that long to wonder exactly why Lincoln had brought up the subject of courting as opposed to arranged marriages in the first place.
5. Miller and the Grounders
Over the next week, Bellamy had a front row seat to watch the Grounders shake off the sleep of an overlong winter—and then the spring thaw festival began. It was still cold as balls outside, and half the people from the Ark were sick with the flu, but the Grounders didn't even seem to feel the frozen air as the feast dragged on several nights. Instead, there was food and there was even more wine: apple wine, cranberry wine, red wine, white wine, wine that Bellamy suspected was actually paint remover disguised as a beverage, and weirdly enough, thistle wine. That one proved best taken in the smallest glasses, but even then, Bellamy had already had seven. Or was it eight? Whatever, he didn't care. Tonight was about drinking and ignoring his responsibilities for one night.
In addition to the food and the wine, there was dancing, something both cultures had in common. The Grounder instruments were stringed contraptions Bellamy didn't recognize, and horns similar to the one Octavia kept permanently at her waist. Their songs always sounded guttural and rough, but the tempo was for lively dances that involved linking arms and spinning around. Bellamy had already been dragged to the dance floor a few times, by Raven, Monroe, and a few Grounders. Even Clarke pulled him toward the dance floor, but she'd been called away to help fix up a cut hand before the first verse had ended.
Several hours later, Bellamy was stuffed with more food than he's had in ages. He held up the little glass of the foul-tasting thistle wine to the light, swaying a little. "Mabuhay!" he shouted, and the group all around him shouted it back. They downed their glasses as one, making identical faces of disgust.
"This is worse than your still," Jasper said to Monty as he wiped his lip.
"Yep." Monty held up the bottle. "Another?"
"Why, I do believe that I will, my good sir."
"Very good." Monty poured him a glassful of the awful spirits. "Miller? Bellamy?"
"Pass," Bellamy said, as his mouth tasted like he licked one of the banisters on the Ark. He was half-tempted to go hunt down Clarke and see if he could get the rest of that aborted dance, but really, he was also content to remain where he was, pleasantly warm from the wine and the company.
One of the Grounder warriors approached, making Jasper elbow Monty. Both of them began snickering before the man could even open his mouth. "Yes," Bellamy said, cutting him off. He waved his hand far more enthusiastically than he would normally. "You're completely free to ask her to dance. It doesn't bother me at all. Go with God, my son."
The warrior gave him an odd look, but rather than commenting, he bowed. "My thanks," he said, and he left.
"And he's off to find Clarke," Miller said, craning his neck to watch the man go. "Good luck with that."
"Why does that keep happening?" Bellamy asked.
"Speaking of Clarke," Monty said, straightening. He presented the bottle of thistle wine like it was something to be proud of and not secretly masquerading as a torture device. "May I interest you in a bit of this fine vintage, madam?"
Clarke, who'd appeared at Bellamy's elbow (he covertly fixed his hair), took the bottle from her friend and appraised it. Bits of plant matter actually floated in the liquid, which had only been disgusting until the lowered standards that came with the third drink kicked in. "You're actually drinking this?" Clarke asked. She winced when she took a whiff. "I'm pretty sure this will blister the finish on a tank. No wonder you're all soused."
"Hey! I am twelve percent sober, you know," Jasper said.
"Twelve percent's wishful thinking, I think." Clarke handed the bottle back and looked at Bellamy, who quickly schooled his face back to seriousness. "I have kind of a weird question."
"Yes, my prin—your highness?" Bellamy asked.
Clarke leaned in close to him. She smelled really great, and not like they'd been surviving on minimal showers for months. Bellamy could really get used to these giant celebrations the Grounders threw because everybody smelled amazing. Like a spring meadow, really. "People keep asking me if it's okay to dance with you. Do you know what that's about?"
"Holy shit," Bellamy said, and Clarke blinked. He quickly dialed back the volume. "That's happening to you, too?"
Next to him, Miller looked from Clarke, to Bellamy, back to Clarke, and finally at Bellamy again. A grin split his face almost in two. "They've caught on that you're together!"
"What?" Bellamy and Clarke asked.
"Grounder custom must be to get permission from the significant other for dancing," Jasper said, craning his neck to look around. This news was apparently the funniest thing in the world to Miller, for he cracked up, gripping Monty's shoulder to stay upright. "How quaint."
"They, ah, they don't need to do that," Clarke said to Jasper. She looked a little panicked now, like she'd been backed into a corner. "Bellamy and I, we're not together."
Miller stopped laughing mid-syllable. His face fell. "You're not?"
Bellamy shook his head. "Sorry, buddy."
"But…" Miller looked like somebody removed the firing pin from his favorite gun. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Look, Bellamy's a great guy. I wouldn't want anybody else looking out for me more than him—"
"Aww," Bellamy said.
Clarke's look informed him explicitly that he wasn't helping. He fumbled to mime zipping up his lip as she continued, "But we're just not together like that. We're partners, but not partners."
By now, Monty and Jasper were positively close to losing it. Bellamy suspected they'd probably been privy to this lecture a time or two, which was why they were doing better than Miller, who was outright gaping at Clarke. As for Bellamy, he was still pleased to be the one Clarke trusted to watch her back. He'd take anything he can get. Was that pathetic? Probably. He didn't care.
Miller seemed to, though. He swayed on his feet and threw a heavy arm over Bellamy's shoulders, tottering forward. It took everything Bellamy had to keep his friend upright. "You mean to tell me," Miller said to Clarke in a voice that was really loud because it was right next to Bellamy's ear, "that you're not tapping all of this?"
And he flourished a hand at Bellamy.
Jasper and Monty immediately began laughing so hard that they drew stares from the Grounders all around them. Bellamy could feel a full-body blush coming on, but even he couldn't deny that had been hilarious. Clarke, on the other hand, outright gaped at Miller like he'd grown a second head.
"Aw, buddy," Bellamy said, shifting his grip on Miller so he wouldn't drop his friend. "I didn't know you cared so much. I'm just sorry you're not my type."
"'S'cause Clarke is," Miller said, swaying so hard he nearly toppled Bellamy over. "But you're not even together, and that breaks my heart."
Bellamy laughed and opened his mouth to deny it—he was drunk, but not drunk enough to spill his feelings all over the place, no matter what they were, thank you very much. But Clarke met his eye, and she looked so stricken that the fun abruptly fled from Bellamy's alcohol buzz. The party suddenly became too real. It was supposed to be a fun night, a night to relax, and instead Clarke looked sad once more. Dammit, Miller.
"You know what?" he said, handing her his glass so he could use both hands to brace Miller. "I think it's time to cut you off. In fact, let's get you back to camp so you can sleep this off. How's that sound?"
With any luck, Miller would have no recollection of this in the morning. Bellamy had a feeling he and Clarke weren't going to be that lucky.
"No, I wanna know why," Miller said.
"It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?" Monty asked quickly, ever the peacekeeper. He stepped to Miller's other side and wedged his shoulder under Miller's arm. "Why don't we go back to camp, Nathan?"
Miller made an 'nnngh' noise.
"Works for me," Bellamy said. Working in tandem, he and Monty drew the protesting Miller from the party. The fact that they made it back to at all could be considered a miracle, considering that none of them could exactly walk a straight line at the moment. By the time they reached their cabin, all three had tumbled into the melting snow, so they were wet-through, shivering and stumbling. Miller typically stayed in a small quarters with his parents, but there was no hope of getting him up the stairs, so Bellamy sighed and sacrificed his bottom bunk in the bachelor cabin. He'd just sleep on the ground.
Miller hit the mattress with a thud, already half-asleep, and grumbled at them as they wrestled off his shoes. "Boy is your head going to hurt come morning," Bellamy said, shaking his head in pity.
"Luckily," and Monty dug into his pocket, presenting a little bottle, "I snagged some of this." He tossed it to Bellamy.
"Grounder hangover remedy. Nice." Bellamy set it on the little nightstand where Miller would see it in the morning. "Though I'm pretty sure it's got an equal chance of killing him as it does helping him. I'm going to go take a walk, clear my head."
"Good night," Monty called after him.
Without Miller around, Bellamy was able to walk in a straight line a little better, but if a Grounder attacked him right then, he would be pretty much skewered. The thought struck him as really, really funny. After so long fighting them, he was drunk on their wine, vulnerable to an attack. They could kill him so easily right now.
Wait, why was that funny? Bellamy abruptly stopped laughing.
"Bellamy?" Snow slushed under very familiar boots and there was Clarke, her arms crossed over her chest against the cold. She stood in a pool of light created by one of the overhead lamps along the gate, so that light wrapped around her like a halo. "What are you doing out here?"
"Taking a walk." He paused, considered the thought, and grinned. If he was drunk, he got to use the nickname. That was the rule. "Princess."
"God, you're so drunk."
"No need to call me God, I usually just go by Bellamy." He snickered at his own joke, putting his hands over his mouth when she shook her head at him. "And I'm not drunk, just buzzed and determined to enjoy myself for one night. What are you doing out here? Aren't you cold?"
"It was a little warm at the dance. Party. Feast. Whatever it is." Clarke fell into step next to him, like it was the most natural thing in the world. "And we kind of drew a crowd, thanks to Miller. Is he…?"
"Out like a light and he's gonna hate everything when he wakes up," Bellamy said. "I dumped him on my bunk rather than taking him up to the Millers' so that's two he owes me. I am such a good friend. Look at that, God and a good friend. I am everything tonight."
"What you are is incredibly drunk, no matter what you say." Clarke bit her lower lip as she looked at the ground, but he kind of felt like she might be trying not to smile, which only made him want to stand taller. "What even was that that you were drinking?"
"It was wine, but it was strong. It was thissssss—" Bellamy frowned and tried again, wrinkling his nose when his tongue wouldn't work right. "Thistsssss—"
"Thistle wine?" Clarke said.
"Why would such a thing even exist?"
"I have no idea. It's paint thinner." But at least it was making the night seem pleasant. Or maybe that was just Clarke's company alongside him on his walk. They'd done a lot of walks like this, but it usually involved patrolling the camp and making sure a phantom arrow wasn't ready to come barreling over the wall they'd built to protect the Dropship. "They probably gave it to us so we'd hate it and start an international incident and fighting all over again, but joke's on them." Bellamy bent over, scooped up a pebble, and tried to skip it over the slush. "We had our trial by fire drinking battery acid from Monty's still."
"Much sterner stuff are Sky People's stomachs made of," Clarke said, nodding seriously. "Hold on. If Miller's in your bed, where are you going to sleep?"
"Guard cabin, maybe. I'd crawl in with Octavia, 'cept she kicks."
"And she's still back at the party. You could probably take the spare cot in our quarters, if you want. Jackson crashes there if he and Mom are up late on a surgery."
"I stay in your quarters and everybody's really going to think we are together, Princess." Bellamy tilted his head at her and thought about it. "More than they already do, that is."
Clarke kept her attention focused on the ground. "You ever wonder if you care too much about what they think? Or I should say we. If we care too much what they think."
"Screw everybody else. It only matters what I think." Bellamy picked up another pebble, but this one he tossed from hand to hand.
"And just what is that?"
"I think that you think I'm great. You said you wouldn't want anybody looking out for you more than me." Bellamy smirked and without really knowing why, he handed her the pebble so he could pick up another one. He mimed brushing away a tear. "Nicest thing you've ever said to me, aside from that one time you told me to go to hell."
Clarke started to laugh. "I think we need to get you drunk more often. But seriously, I'm not—I'm not leading you on, am I? You talk about yourself like you're some loyal bodyguard or something, and you're more than that. And I don't want to be selfish."
Bellamy snorted, though her words filled him with an unbearable warmth in his chest. Though that might have been the wine. "You? Selfish? How would you be leading me on? I know where I stand with you."
"Oh, you do?"
"We just covered this like thirty seconds ago. Were you not listening?" Bellamy smirked. "You think I'm great. Just because everybody thinks we're having this grand romance in all of this free time we have—"
"When really, the minute I'm alone, I just want to find the first flat surface I can find and sleep," Clarke finished for him. "Of course, even that's a stretch. I'd have to find time alone in the first place."
"That's what you get for trying to save the world, Princess," Bellamy said. "Everybody wants a piece of you."
"Even you?" Clarke asked.
"Nah. Though I wouldn't blame you if you wanted a piece of this." Bellamy swept his hand down his front and grinned a bit stupidly when Clarke absolutely lost it, bending over at the waist as she giggled. He leaned back against a post, scratching his ear and grinning, as she collected herself. When she finally looked up, wiping at the mirthful tears in her eyes, he raised an eyebrow. "It's not nice of you to laugh at me. I come recommended by Nathan Miller himself."
That did it: Clarke started giggling all over again until honest-to-God hiccups escaped. When she slipped, taking a knee in the snow, Bellamy gave an exaggerated eye-roll. "I thought I was the drunk one here," he said. "And you can't even stay on your feet. If only your loyal subjects could see you now, Princess."
"Oh, shut up and help me up."
When he reached his hand down, she grabbed his arm, pulling herself up with a groan. She left her hand wrapped around his wrist, not quite holding his hand but not letting him go either. "I thought you said you weren't drunk," she said.
"Shhh," Bellamy said, putting the index finger of his free hand against his lips. "Don't bring logic into this, Princess. It's not your strong suit."
"It's not?" She sounded offended.
"Obviously. The amount of times your logic has been 'more guns fixes this' is truly frightening."
Clarke poked him in the side. "Half of those instances came from you. Nice try." She let out a giant yawn and surprised him by resting her head against his shoulder. She'd done that before, but it had been awhile. "I may not be soused like you, but I'm tired. Do you want the spare cot?"
"Depends. Do you still snore?"
"Again, that's you."
Half an hour later, Bellamy kicked off his boots and climbed into the sleeping bag. The spare cot was actually in Abby's room rather than Clarke's, but to avoid potential awkwardness, Clarke had stolen her mother's bed for the night. She sat on the mattress with her knees pulled up to her chest as Bellamy settled in, too used to sleeping around her or in communal situations to feel awkward. The alcohol in his system was beginning to turn against him, making the room spin unpleasantly.
"Bellamy?" Clarke asked, breaking the silence.
"Mm," Bellamy said, mostly asleep.
"Thanks. Just…thanks. For having my back."
"Mm," Bellamy said again without opening his eyes. "Clarke, go to sleep."
He heard her soft huff of laughter and then rustling that told him she was finally crawling into her own sleeping bag. He kept his eyes closed, though, since he knew the room would only tilt if he looked at her.
That's what you get for trying to save the world, Princess. Everybody wants a piece of you.
He hadn't lied. Precisely. Not everybody wanted a piece of Clarke Griffin. He didn't. He wanted the whole damned thing. But that was something he would never ask, not when so many people did the same. He would watch her back, she would watch his, everybody would continue to think they were together romantically, and only they would know the truth. It made things oddly intimate between them, one more thing they shared that nobody else would understand.
+1 The Time They Said Screw It
Miller wasn't the only one that woke with a splitting headache the next morning, and he wasn't the only one who had to shamefacedly track somebody down and apologize, given the sheer volume of wine consumed the night before. Bellamy and Monty gave the ex-thief a hard time for a few minutes, until it became obvious that Miller truly regretted his gaffe. It took a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Clarke to reassure him that things were fine between them, though she couldn't resist teasing him. His loyalty to Bellamy, she told him as Monty and Bellamy stood in the background and snickered, was touching. She really hoped Bellamy returned the feeling.
Bellamy reassured Miller that he did, and received a not-too-gentle punch in the arm for his trouble. It was worth it.
"How's your head?" Clarke asked Bellamy after Monty had dragged his boyfriend off to get some food from the mess.
"It's fine. I told you I wasn't that drunk. Any big plans for the day?"
"I got a summons to talk to the Grounder council," Clarke said. "I'm guessing it's something to do with the final night of celebrating tonight. Lincoln's already agreed to go with me. I know you've got guard duties today."
"I can get out of those," Bellamy said, scowling. Clarke walked between the two camps with impunity—as a matter of fact, so did he—but he didn't like it when she went without him. He didn't like it when Octavia did it, either, but he had long ago accepted the fact that he wasn't going to get his wish there. "I'll do that."
"If you're sure. We're going in an hour."
"Don't leave without me."
Octavia made up the fourth member of their party, which Bellamy had already figured was going to happen. "I heard Miller's got a crush on you," she said, as she walked. "Or that he was trying to pimp you out to Clarke?"
"It's always the quiet ones," Bellamy said, and had his sister laughing.
They were led straight to the building that served as a main hall of sorts for the village. The entire time, Lincoln had a strange look on his face, like he wanted to say something. Bellamy noticed Octavia eyeing him a few times. The Grounder kept his silence, though.
A modest lunch spread had been laid out for the four, giving Clarke and Bellamy some pause. They shrugged at each other, sat down, and dug in while they waited. Grounder propriety didn't involve waiting for everybody to arrive to eat. They valued food too much. When Makena and Imani, two of Lexa's lieutenants, joined them at the feast, they stood respectfully.
"Thank you for coming." Imani seated himself at the center of the table, an indicator that he would lead the proceedings. He looked heavily at Clarke. "It has been a good winter between our people. A strong winter. The peace since the overtaking of the Mountain has only made our bonds stronger."
"Yes," Clarke said, toasting him with his glass. "To peace."
The Grounders nodded and returned the toast. "The elders have wished to extend to you a great honor in order that we might fortify our treaty," Makena said. "As you know, we soon enter our final night of celebration for the thaw, and spring planting will begin on the morrow."
Lincoln had gone tense, Bellamy noticed. He was staring down at his food. It made Bellamy want to reach for the rifle slung across his back.
He kept his hand steady on his fork instead.
"The final night's celebrations also include the ceremony for the marriages of our finest warriors to their betrothed," Imani said, and Bellamy suddenly had a very bad feeling about all of this. There was absolutely no good way this could go.
"Congratulations?" Clarke said, giving her friends an uncertain look.
"And this is an honor we would like to extend to you, as well, Clarke of the Sky People. As the finest warrior, a betrothal to one of our warriors—"
"Whoa," Bellamy said, half-rising out of his chair. "What is this? A betrothal? What sort of shit is—"
"Bellamy." Clarke grabbed his wrist as she had the night before, but now it was to yank him back into his chair. She looked just as pale and shocked as he did.
"They want you to marry one of them in the name of peace," Bellamy said, not budging. He glared at Imani and Makena. He hadn't particularly cared one way or the other about these two, but right, he could have cheerfully fought them both. "Don't you think she's given you enough? This is bullshit."
"Our warriors are the finest among our people," Makena said stiffly, giving him an offended look. "This is an honor, not an insult."
"I'll tell you exactly where you can shove that honor—"
"Bellamy," Octavia and Clarke said in exactly the same tone, and he finally sat, seething.
Clarke, on the other hand, was frowning in her 'something is off' way. "Thank you," she said, "but I do have to wonder about the timing. This seems rather last minute."
"Until last night, we were under the impression that you were involved with somebody else. Many of our warriors overheard a conversation last night that told us this was not true."
Bellamy and Clarke exchanged a look, both of them trying to puzzle it out. It took Clarke raising her eyebrow just a fraction and jerking her head the tiniest bit in the direction of Camp Jaha for Bellamy to understand: the Grounders had heard their conversation with the heartbroken Miller the night before. They must have been under the same mistaken impression as everybody else, which meant they hadn't extended this "honor" to Clarke beforehand.
How long had they been planning on trying to arrange a marriage between the Sky People Princess and one of their "finest" warriors?
"We would also like to include you, Bellamy of the Sky People, in this offer," Imani said, and both Clarke and Bellamy looked away from their non-verbal conversation to gape at him. "You have proven to be a warrior of the Sky People, and many of our maidens—"
"Excuse me?" Clarke asked.
"It's an honor, Princess," Bellamy said, though he couldn't exactly stop the horror that rose sharp in the back of his throat. Betrothed? To a Grounder? "Weren't you listening?"
Clarke's look could have easily murdered him in his seat.
"I'm sorry, sir," Octavia said from Bellamy's right. "Your warriors were mistaken in what they heard."
"What?" Clarke and Bellamy asked.
"What they actually heard was a lie. My brother," and Octavia gave Bellamy the most tragic, understanding look in her arsenal, "and his true love have to lie to everybody and hide the true nature of their relationship. Her mother does not approve."
"What are you doing?" Bellamy asked in an undertone, his hand tightening around his fork.
"Saving your asses. Shut up." Octavia, who could have won any and all awards for acting, swung a sympathetic smile on Makena and Imani. "So I'm afraid that even though she is deeply flattered, Clarke can't marry one of your warriors. Her heart belongs to another, and as my brother's keeper—"
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't we?" Bellamy muttered.
"—I have to protect his feelings. We're sorry to have deceived you."
"Is this true?" Imani asked Bellamy and Clarke.
Again, Bellamy looked at Clarke, who was even paler than she had been a minute ago. She quirked her eyebrows, asking silently what he thought they should do. He shrugged: I've got your back, whatever your play is. She shook her head minutely—it wasn't enough of an answer. He met her gaze and raised his eyebrows a little. His answer still held. Don't put all of this on me, Clarke's look seemed to say. Finally, he gave the tiniest of nods.
He turned to the Grounder lieutenants. "My sister is telling the truth," he said, though he felt sick to his stomach. He put an arm around Clarke's shoulders, and she leaned into him, but it felt wrong. "Clarke and I, we've kept our relationship a secret. Her mother hates me."
"He's not lying, she really does," Clarke said.
"The Chancellor does not approve the match?" Makena asked, half-rising out of her seat. "We will help you out, as a token of our respect for the both of you and all you have done for us."
"Wait, what?" Bellamy asked.
"We will honor you among our warriors at the marriage tonight," Imani said, nodding emphatically. "It will be a great show of faith to your people, and a message to your chancellor that the Woods Clan supports warriors of both peoples. We'll inform the others right away."
Makena and Imani gave them a short bow and rushed out, clearly excited at the prospect.
For a long moment, Bellamy, Octavia, and Clarke stayed rooted in their seats in complete shock. On Octavia's other side, Lincoln put his hand over his face. They stayed that way for a long, long time.
And finally Bellamy cleared his throat and sat up, carefully putting his fork down next to his plate. He folded his arms on the edge of the table, swiveled calmly to face his sister, and said, "What the hell did you just get us into?"
Octavia looked from Clarke, to Bellamy, back to Clarke, and finally back to her brother. She winced and grimaced. "Surprise?"
A/N the Second: Sequel goes up tomorrow! Thanks for reading! (Yes, this is part of a 3-part series. I call it the Excuse Me, That's Mr. Princess to You universe) Also, my Tumblr masterlist (check my profile) has an alternate ending to this story, if you're interested.