They’ve been here for long enough to almost get used to the acid fogs and the night watches and the strange, tough meat of the Earth, but she’s never going to get used to the absence of machine hums. She prefers this, of course, the ability to hear far beyond the confines of anything. She doesn’t have confines anymore.
Clake hears Bellamy first.
Or, rather, hears the click of a gun safety switching off—a familiar cold sound that makes her spin on her heels and look to the entrance of camp. It takes her a moment to really see him, though—not because she doesn’t recognize him, of corse, but because she thinks she’s looking at ghosts. But her body moves before her mind does, and by the time she believes her own eyes she’s already halfway to him.
It takes another 30 seconds for Bellamy to be on his knees with his hands in the air. And 15 seconds after that, Clarke has her body between his and the barrel of a gun.
“Stand down!” she screams, as though she has any power over these people. There’s something in the way she says it, or more likely just her bloodline, that makes the guardsman in front of her hesitate and lower his gun by half an inch. It’s just a moment though; after a breath, the gun is back in her face.
“Clarke?” Bellamy says from the ground. She doesn’t turn to him. She keeps her eye on the guardsman. Faintly, in the distance, she recognizes her mother’s voice yelling something she doesn’t care to listen to.
Kane and her mother rush over, and the guardsmen around them lower their guns. Bellamy is still on the ground, and, from somewhere behind Clarke, Octavia screams profanities. Kane stops right in front of her, no more than two feet between them. He looks down at Bellamy in the dirt. Clarke wants to claw his eyes out.
“This man is a criminal,” Kane says, but by the time he opens his mouth, Clarke has turned her back on him. She pulls Bellamy to his feet. There’s mud and blood all over him, something she’s long since gotten used to, but he’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive. There’s a sharp pain in her, like a ribcage being sewn back together. She didn’t kill him. He’s alive.
She doesn’t look back at Kane, who might still be saying something Clarke won’t hear. Bellamy stares at her with a face full of questions—how, where, why, just for starters. His hand rests on the side of her face, moving against the cuts and scrapes on her cheeks. In a more rational moment, she would be confused about it. This is not their way. But it’s not a rational moment, and so she throws her arms around Bellamy, closes her eyes, and whispers, “Not anymore."
She walks him to medical herself. Her, and four guards.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he says, but doesn’t pull his elbow out of her grasp.
“I don’t care,” she hisses. “You have been wandering around the woods for however many days, and you are going to medical.”
“Clarke,” he says, rolling his eyes, “we’ve all been wandering around the woods for however many days, and we don’t all need to be in medical.”
“Well,” she tells him, probably more crassly than she should, “no one else is here.”
Bellamy stops walking. A guard that was following them stops about a quarter of an inch away from stepping on Clarke’s foot. “They’re not?”
She has to muster up everything in her body to look him in the eye. She owes him that. She owes their people that. “No,” she says, calm and slow. “They’re not.”
That’s when he pulls away from her, nearly tripping back. Somewhere in the corner of her eye, she sees the guards stand up straighter. “Where the hell are they, Clarke?”
“They’re fine,” she says, which is mostly true. Trapped, but fine. They must know she’ll come for them. Jasper will figure it out. “They’re just not here.”
Bellamy’s shoulders draw up to his ears—the way he moves when he’s about to lose it. Clarke raises a hand in warning, a look in her eye that says, Not here. Not now. Bellamy takes in a breath sharper than a knife, and closes his eyes. “Later,” he says.
It’s good timing, too, because Kane and Abby choose that moment to catch up with them. “Get them to medical,” Kane says, but when Clarke moves to follow them, her mother catches her by the wrist. Bellamy, Octavia, and the others keep moving forward, but she watches until Bellamy looks back.
“We would like to speak with you,” Abby says calmly, too calmly, and looks toward Kane.
Clarke tilts her head and glares up at Kane. Once upon a time she respected him, other times deplored him, but right now he’s just a guy who ordered some other guys to point guns at her friends. She thinks more highly of the worms in the earth.
“That boy,” Kane says before anyone even takes a breath, “is dangerous. I was holding him until I was sure he wasn’t a danger to others and he escaped—proving that he is a wild security risk. Do you even know what he did to Chancellor Jaha?”
Clarke barks something close to a laugh, just once. “I know everything. Do you know how many of our people would be dead if it weren’t for Bellamy?”
She lets the moment hang between them. Lets Kane and her mother look between each other. Lets her mother look toward the closed doors of the medical room, lets Kane think, They’re just criminals. Lets her mother think, They’re just kids.
“All of them,” Clarke finally spits. “Including me.”
“Clarke—” her mother starts, but Clarke’s already gone. She storms into medical and lets the door slam behind her. By the time she gets there, a doctor is already looking over Octavia. Bellamy sits perched on the edge of a table; his hands rest by his sides and his shoulders hang forward, all that windswept fury from the hallway gone. He doesn’t say anything as she walks over to him, doesn’t say anything as she hops up onto the table next to him, doesn’t say anything as she does yet another thing that is not them, and covers his hand with her own. It only lasts a moment.
“We’re going to get them back,” she promises once she’s pulled her hand away.
Bellamy shakes his head and keeps his eyes on the ground. “I thought you’d be with them. I saw you and I thought—I thought they were with you.”
Something hot as a cauterizing blade cuts across her gut. They should have been with her. “I know,” she whispers. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes tick up to her then, looking soft and sad and kind, and all the things Bellamy rarely gets to be. “You’ll tell me about it later?”
She nods. “Bellamy, I need you to tell me about Finn. He was with you in the battle, is he—”
Bellamy shakes his head. “He’s also fine. And not here. He went to look for you.”
Clarke feels an immediate pounding in her skull. “He can’t take on Mount Weather by himself—”
“Mount Weather?” Bellamy interrupts, sitting up straight. “He’s going to look for you by the water.”
Clarke frowns. Across the room, she feels her mother and Kane watch them very closely, so she lowers her voice once more. “Why would he think I’m there?”
“A Grounder told us,” he says.
Clarke shifts in her seat on the table. “He just gave away that information?”
Bellamy looks away, toward his sister. A medic is checking her pulse, and Octavia looks like she’s about to burst from the seams of her own skin. It’s more likely she’ll punch someone. Clarke decides she can deal with it later.
“I didn’t hurt him,” he says, and Clarke raises an eyebrow at his tone. She knows Bellamy well—very well—and she knows when he tells half a truth and half a lie. She hears it now. But she doesn’t know what question to ask to get at what is real and what is not.
“That Grounder was a good liar,” she says, testing.
He looks over to her but doesn’t take the bait. “So it seems.”
“But Finn is okay?” she asks.
He nods. “Last I saw him. He and Murphy went to find you.”
Clarke tightens her grip around the table ledge. “Murphy?” she hisses, and Bellamy turns his eyes back to the ground. Clarke resists the urge to grab his chin and force him to look at her. “You’re an idiot.”
Bellamy just raises his eyebrows in a soft acknowledgment. “Might be.”
Clarke hops off the table and moves to stand in front of him. Bellamy only halfway looks up at her, peering from beneath his eyelashes. Good, she thinks. He should feel bad about this.
“We need to go after them,” she says, her arms crossed. “I’m not out there, obviously, and the two of them alone against Grounders is somehow less troubling than Finn out there with Murphy.”
Bellamy shakes his head. It’s probably the irritation in her voice that does it, but he sits up straight. “So let’s go after them. We’ll finish up these stupid tests and get the hell out of this place. I’d rather stare down a hoard of Grounders than that guy anyway.” At this, he nods toward Kane, who stands in a far off corner of medical, whispering something to a guard and never moving his eyes away from Bellamy.
“Yeah,” Clarke says, just loud enough to be heard. “He’s a dick.” Kane turns his eyes to her for a moment, blinks twice, and turns back to the guard.
Bellamy might laugh. “Really, Princess?”
She rolls her eyes and does a terrible job suppressing a grin. “Shut up.”
“Yes ma'am,” he says, just as the doctor finishes looking over Octavia and starts to approach Bellamy. “Looks like it’s my time to shine,” he says. “Why don’t you get to work on Project Finn, and I’ll catch up with you?”
Clarke glances toward her mother, waiting by the door to medical. She could just sneak out with Bellamy and Octavia, but it would probably be better as a sanctioned trip. More guns, more supplies, no one running after her and getting themselves killed. “You got it,” she says.
Clarke is ultimately in—the crudely named, if you ask her—Camp Jaha for 10 hours. One hour in medical, ten minutes with a bucket of water washing herself clean, one more hour waiting for Bellamy to get out of medical, during which time she argues with her mother and Kane in varying levels of pissed off, 45 minutes charting a plan to find Finn and, miraculously, seven hours asleep.
She, Bellamy, and Octavia leave at first light, and Raven is there to see them off when they pick up rations from the makeshift kitchen. Her mother explains what they need to do to survive, as though they hadn’t made it weeks without her, as though they don’t understand the ground beneath their feet. She sneaks an extra packet of rations into Clarke’s bag. A month ago, she would have been killed for it. Clarke doesn’t know what it means anymore.
“I should be going with you,” Raven says. She says it to all of them, but she looks only at Clarke.
Clarke nods once. “You should be. But you can’t. You know that.”
Octavia zips her bag on the floor, and Raven throws a tin can across the room. There’s nothing in it; the only consequence is a dent in its side and the rattling of aluminum against the walls. They all wait for the echo to die down before Raven picks up one of her crutches and spins toward the door. “I can’t believe you left Finn with that bastard.”
Clarke can’t believe it either. Bellamy has his eyes on the ground. One day, this is going to be a conversation.
“Let’s go,” Octavia says, slinging her bag over her back. She’s different than when Clarke last saw her, like someone cut off a piece of her flesh and she’s been left only with scar tissue, skin a different tone and texture than it once was. Stiffer. Sensitive to light. “We’re losing time.”
Bellamy only half looks her in the eye as he gestures toward the door. “After you, Princess.”
Clarke walks out first.
They spend eight hours walking that first day. Octavia is always eight feet in front, even when Bellamy tries to take the lead. Clarke asks once where she’s been, what’s happened, but Octavia only blinks back. Lincoln, then, Clarke assumes.
Since Octavia’s always out ahead, Clarke is left mostly with Bellamy, which once would have bothered her but it turns out seeing someone you thought you killed return from the dead inspires a certain kind of affection. And, besides, that Bellamy she once loathed so very much doesn’t even exist anymore. She’s proud of him. Not that she’d say so.
But Bellamy doesn’t have much to say for his adventures—the usual death, Grounders, Murphy, mayhem—and so Clarke is left recounting Mount Weather a hundred times while Bellamy asks for access points, vulnerabilities. She’s found none, and so Bellamy makes her run the scenario again.
“What if Finn leaves when he sees we’re not there? Won’t we have to try and track him?” Clarke asks finally, to change the subject, and because Bellamy’s hands are turning to fists at his side.
Bellamy might laugh. “He won’t leave.”
“How do you know that?” she asks.
He gives some sort of half-hearted grunt. “Trust me on this one,” he says, his eyes straight ahead. “He thinks you’re there, and he’s going to stay there until he finds you.”
Because Finn loves you, Clarke reminds herself while something in her stomach tugs. She can deal with that later. She misses him. She just doesn’t know what that means.
“I’m glad I didn’t kill you two,” Clarke says to the skyline. That’s true enough.
Bellamy laughs, something long and low and real and deeply missed. “That makes three of us,” he says, his elbow knocking into hers.
Clarke gives a breathy chuckle, as though she’d been running all this time and has only now stopped. She doesn’t know how to say there were moments on Mount Weather when she actually did think she was losing her mind, moments where she knew, even if she wasn’t crazy, she was completely alone. And she doesn’t know how to say that she knew—she knew—that the only people who would have stood with her were people she probably killed. She doesn’t know how to say that.
She doesn’t know how to say that it’s hard being in charge, and harder when you’re the only one standing. She doesn’t know how to explain what it’s like to have that kind of knife in your gut.
So, she doesn’t say anything at all.
Later, Clarke wakes in the dark. She’s had a nightmare again, one where she’s in the white room but her hands won’t move. Clarke has a bit of a rotation going—there are so many horrors to choose from.
The three of them have one large tent to share, but when she wakes she can only hear Octavia gasping Lincoln’s name in her sleep. Maybe that woke Clarke from her nightmare, something she shouldn’t and won’t thank Octavia for in the morning. What a boisterous set they’re turning out to be.
She finds Bellamy out on watch, where he’s supposed to be, breathing warmth into his hands. They can’t light a fire because it would attract attention, and there are not enough of them to fight anyone off. The best they’ve got are some heat-reinforcing blankets that made the trip down from the Ark. Clarke tosses another one over Bellamy before he sees her, and he jumps.
“Christ, Clarke,” he says with a breath, turning back toward the woods as she settles down next to him. “One of these days someone’s going to put a spear in you.”
She almost smirks. “As long as it’s not you.”
Bellamy laughs something hollow. “I think that’s reasonable.”
Clarke pulls her knees to her chest and rests her chin on top of them. She keeps her eyes open, of course, but her attention turns to the rustling trees, the quiet of the forest. They’ve been here for long enough to almost get used to the acid fogs and the night watches and the strange, tough meat of the Earth, but she’s never going to get used to the absence of machine hums. She prefers this, of course, the ability to hear far beyond the confines of anything. She doesn’t have confines anymore. For now, she remembers, we make the rules.
“You should get some sleep,” Bellamy says after a long while. “We’ve got a lot of walking to do for the next couple days.”
Clarke sits up a bit and brushes some unseen dirt off her knees. “Easier said than done,” she says. “I keep dreaming.”
A part of her is surprised she says it. She and Bellamy are a great many things, but comfort from nightmares has never been one of them. For a brief, terrible moment, she thinks Bellamy might ask what she dreams of. He’s certainly looking at her like he’d like to ask, all that curiosity and worry in his eyes.
She wonders what she’ll say if he does. There are so many night terrors to speak of, but she doesn’t have to tell him all of them. She can just tell him the ones he expects—the ones about being floated that they all have always have, the ones about Mount Weather he’d be unsurprised by, the ones about Grounders they must share. He doesn’t have to know how often she dreams of fire billowing out from the drop ship, how she hears his and Finn’s screams in the dark.
But he doesn’t ask. He says, “I have them too.”
Clarke keeps her eyes on him. There’s a prickle in the back of her head that says she should be looking out toward the forest, but there’s little to see and nothing to hear beyond the trees, so she keeps looking Bellamy in the eye.
“I imagine we all do,” she says, even though something tells her this is dangerous. Whether it’s letting her guard down or the way her whispers seem stuck in the back of her throat, she doesn’t know.
Bellamy gives a little cough and turns back to the trees. Clarke catches a shallow breath. “It’s different for us though, isn’t it, Princess?”
The corner of her mouth lifts. “It’s hard running things.”
He might even chuckle. “That it is.” Then, he looks back toward the tent where Octavia is probably kicking in her sleep the way she was when Clarke left her. “It’s easier now that she’s back. Before, it was—”
He doesn’t finish, but he keeps his eyes on the tent for a long time. Clarke grants him the reprieve, and turns her gaze toward the forest, looking for a hint of movement, the sound of approach. She wants to say something, wants to say, I understand but she probably doesn’t. Bellamy kept Octavia safe while she lived 16 years under the floor and Bellamy committed a capital crime—the greatest of capital crimes—to keep her safe down here. Clarke doesn’t know the first thing about that.
“What’s it like?” she asks, looking away from the gaps between the trees. “Having a sister?”
Bellamy’s mouth turns, the way it does when he’s thinking something through. “It’s kind of like how you are with Jasper. You know, that ‘protect them even if you logically know they can protect themselves’ kind of instinct. But—but bigger than that. Like—this isn’t a criticism—but when Jasper got hit, you guys thought you’d also be targets, so you ran away, right? When Octavia’s in danger I run to her. I ran here. So I could be a target too.”
“That was a very brave and stupid thing you did,” she reminds him.
He smirks. “When it comes to Octavia, I am mostly stupid. Sometimes brave.”
“She’s having a nightmare in there,” Clarke notes, nodding toward the tent. Bellamy glances toward it, and then back to the ground.
“Can’t protect her from everything,” he mumbles, though Clarke imagines he’d like to.
“You should get some rest,” she says, nudging his shoulder with hers. “There’s no reason for both of us to be awake.”
Bellamy shakes his head. “You can take tomorrow. This one’s on me.”
“But I’m awake,” she protests, and Bellamy shushes her.
“I bet you get back in there and are out until morning,” he says with a hollow laugh. “Give it a shot. And if you still can’t sleep, you know where to find me.”
Clarke scowls. “Fine. I’m not asleep in 15 minutes, I’m kicking you out of your post.”
Bellamy smiles at her. It’s the softest she’s seen him in a long, long time. “Deal.”
She presses her hand into his shoulder to stand again, and when she’s nearly at the entrance to the tent she hears him call her name. When she turns, he says, “I forgot to mention—it’s nice to see you again.”
And Clarke has a hundred things to say to that—from the joking (Glad I didn’t kill you) to the confessional (I didn’t think I’d miss you the way I did). But she just nods once and says, “Nice to see you too,” and stuffs everything else down her throat.
She isn’t asleep in 15 minutes. But she doesn’t go to find Bellamy either.
Octavia talks more the next day. Clarke would have thought dreaming of Lincoln would make her feel worse, but perhaps seeing him in nightmares is better than nothing. She’s still not that chatty, but she stays in stride with Bellamy and Clarke, and sometimes she’ll stop and tilt her head to the sky.
“I’m glad you guys took me with you,” she says as they’ve stopped for a few minutes to eat. “I would have gone crazy in that camp. Getting locked up again like that?” She scoffs and pops a bit of protein bar into her mouth. “Kane’s crazy if he thinks I’m living out my life with any of them in charge.”
“Rebellions later, O,” Bellamy half-warns, but he smiles when he says it.
Octavia barks out a laugh. She manages to do this without smiling, but it sounds genuine enough. “Yeah, why do I feel like I’m going to call the kettle black in like a week?”
“Because I’m predictable,” Bellamy says, “and you are the good kid.”
The corners of her mouth lift. “Only because you’re such a damn mess. Doesn’t take much to be the good kid with you around.”
Clarke watches and doesn’t say anything at all. She rarely has places she feels outside of anymore, but the Blake family is something else, something untouchable, something that never belongs to anyone else. So, her mind goes somewhere else, somewhere up in the cages of Mount Weather, until a few moments—maybe seconds, maybe minutes, hell it could be an hour—later, when Bellamy waves a hand in front of her eyes.
“Earth to Princess,” he says, tossing her pack over to her. “Let’s go. We’re moving.”
There’s nothing really to pack, other than stuffing the trash from her rations into a pocket so she doesn’t leave a trail. Still, Octavia and Bellamy are left waiting patiently for her and she gets to her feet.
“Where’d your head go?” Octavia asks as they started forward again.
Clarke glances in the direction where Mount Weather waits for her, and then back at the trail ahead. “Mazes. I’ve always been terrible at them. I’m fine with puzzles, but mazes. Terrible. My dad used to draw them up and ask me to find the way out, and I could never do it.”
Octavia frowns. She doesn’t understand what Clarke is talking about, and how could she? Clarke is talking in circles.
But Bellamy—Bellamy glances his fingers across her arm, just once. It’s not that strange, they’ve touched before, it happens, but for a moment Clarke feels sunburned. “Don’t worry,” he says with a grin. “I’ll have you know I have an excellent sense of direction.”
Clarke shakes out her arm in a way she hopes is subtle. “Well, that’s a helpful skill, Bellamy. We’re all very proud.”
“Stop,” Octavia says, and freezes. She raises her head high, the sword she’d been carrying on her back now out and shimmering in her hands. Bellamy and Clarke freeze too, exchanging a glance somewhere between confusion and alarm. It takes Clarke a moment to hear what Octavia has already caught—the crack of one branch, then another, then another. Footsteps.
She shoots a look to Bellamy, who looks into the mass of trees. The forest is thick here, far too thick for Clarke to see through. But she can hear the footsteps, one after the other after the other, growing faster and closer every time she takes a breath.
“I can’t see,” she whispers, just loud enough for the others to hear her, and both Bellamy and Octavia shake their head in the same way that suggests they can’t see anything either. But the footsteps are many, and fast, and growing closer and then she hears a roar, a shout, and next thing she knows, Bellamy is on the ground, and Octavia lets out a high pitched scream and runs forward.
The whole thing is over in an instant. Bellamy is yelling on the ground, and there’s an—an animal? A cougar? Something like a cougar?—on top of him, stilled. Octavia’s sword is buried to the hilt in the creature’s side, and she is trying to shove the dead beast off her brother. “You’re okay,” she says, but she’s crying. “You’re okay.”
Clarke still hasn’t moved. Bellamy almost died in front of her again, and she still hasn’t moved. Her hands tingle, half-asleep, as though they’ve forgotten what she’s taught them to do.
“Wait,” she says, finally, nearly tripping as she takes a step forward. “Don’t move him.”
Octavia takes a sobbing step back as Clarke kneels in the dirt and leaves by Bellamy. She can’t even see anything of his body; the creature on him covers nearly everything from the neck down. But Bellamy is still wincing, still clearly in pain, so there has to be an injury somewhere.
“What hurts?” she asks, keeping a familiar panic locked away inside her. She can’t see.
“My shoulder,” he says, turning his head toward it where, surely enough, Clarke finds a claw buried deep into his skin. The creature died about an instant away from sawing straight through him. For a brief, peculiar moment, Clarke wishes her mother were here.
“Okay,” she breathes, one hand on his shoulder and another wrapped around the claw. “Octavia, get the med kit from my bag. I’m going to have to pull it out.”
She hears Octavia scrambling behind her, so Clarke leans down to Bellamy. This seems too paltry a way for him to die—not by fire or sword, but by something so easy, as natural as this. But he could die. And, by the way he looks to her and then back at the trees above them, he knows it too.
“I don’t know what it hit,” she says, voice low. “It could be nothing, it’s probably nothing—”
“Or could be something,” he says, wincing. “I know, Princess.”
Octavia shoves the med kit into Clarke’s thigh. “Here,” Octavia says, pushing her sweaty hair behind her ears.
Clarke nods toward Bellamy’s good shoulder. “Go hold him down,” she orders, putting on the voice of Doctor Clarke, the version of her that sees a patient, not Bellamy Blake on the ground. “You want me to count?” she asks, and Bellamy shakes his head.
“Just do it, Clarke,” he says, and shuts his eyes.
His scream when she does must echo for miles. It certainly makes a slow crawl down the length of her spine. She stuffs the shiver creeping there down in the box with the rest of her worries, and grabs gauze from the med kit. He’s bleeding, but he’s not bleeding, and Clarke figures out fairly quickly that he’s going to live. He’ll need stitches. He won’t be able to move his arm or fight for at least a week. But he’ll live.
It takes her ten minutes to slow the bleeding, and she catches her breath while she sews him shut. Bellamy just watches her while she does, the way Bellamy looks at her when Clarke pretends not to see. It doesn’t mean anything, anyway.
“Octavia,” she says, a couple minutes into the stitching process, as Octavia clings to Bellamy’s hand and worries about everything. “Can you do something about that carcass? Clean it or move it before it starts to stink up the place? We’re going to have to camp here for the night.”
Bellamy raises his head in protest. “It’s a shoulder, not a leg. I can keep going.”
Clarke glares at him. “You’re going to rest. And it’s going to be dark soon enough anyway.”
“We have at least two hours of daylight left,” he says, but he winces as she pulls another stitch through his skin.
“She’s right,” Octavia agrees, probably because Clarke has that look on her face where she won’t budge and because her brother is still in the dirt. She stands and wraps a rope around the animal carcass to drag off into the forest. “We’re here for the night. Finn will wait.”
“Be careful,” Bellamy calls as Octavia turns her back and disappears into the woods. He continues, this time to Clarke, but with his eyes still toward Octavia’s retreating form, “You shouldn’t send her out into the woods by herself.”
Clarke ties off the stitches and rummages through the med kit for disinfectant. “If any of us can take care of themselves out here, it’s Octavia. At least right now.”
Bellamy scowls, but doesn’t argue. Whatever soft, butterfly-chasing sister he brought down to this planet, she’s become someone else, and better for it.
“How does it feel?” Clarke asks, swabbing some disinfectant over the wound.
“Like some radiation-heavy cat shoved a nail into me,” he grumbles, but he sits up anyway, leaning into the hand of his good arm to do so. “You want to pitch a tent here?”
Clarke looks around. It’s as good a place as any, and provides them some cover from the things that go bump in these nights. “So it seems,” she says. “Think you can handle staying alive for a bit longer while I set up the tent?”
“Alive and kicking,” he says, sitting haplessly on the ground. “Not punching, but kicking.”
“Hilarious,” she deadpans, or tries to, but she laughs when she says it. Mostly, that’s because Bellamy looks totally miserable, sitting by himself in a pile of leaves and medical supplies, looking like someone stole his dessert rations.
“Something funny?” he asks, but he’s almost laughing too, though she can’t imagine why.
“You just look so—”
“Helpless and sad?” he asks, and that does it, Clarke tumbles so far into giggles she doesn’t even realize Bellamy is laughing with her until he stops laughing and yells, “Ow.”
Even then, though, Clarke pulls it together to look at him long enough to make sure nothing’s gone wrong with his stitching, looks him in the eye, and starts cracking up again. When Octavia gets back they’re still laughing, and by then Clarke is on the ground next to Bellamy, her hands and jeans covered in mud and blood the way they always are these days.
“What the hell is wrong with you two?” Octavia asks, though she doesn’t sound angry when she says it.
Bellamy pulls her by her ankle and into a pile of leaves. When Octavia sits up, her hair is full of them, tucked into all sorts of wild corners. “Well, O,” Bellamy says, plucking a small orange leaf from her head, “We’re alive.”
Octavia smirks for a moment. Then, she covers her brother’s head in two handfuls of leaves.
Bellamy finds Clarke on watch this time, of course.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he says, resting his good arm against her shoulder as he sits down on the ground.
“You should be resting,” she scolds him, glancing to him for a moment when he winces and then looking back to the trees.
“It’s my damn arm,” he says. “Makes it hard to do anything but sit up. Like sleep.”
Her fingers skirt along the bandages. “Want me to take a look?” she asks, already unwrapping the bandage before he has a moment to protest.
“It’s fine. There’s nothing else for you to do right now. It’s just gotta heal up.”
He’s right, of course—there’s nothing she can do for him out here. She re-wraps the bandages and shifts a couple inches closer to him. It’s cold out again. Clarke pushes the thought of winter out of her mind. One crisis at a time, she reminds herself. One foot, then the other.
“I can get you some pain killers from the med kit,” she suggests, but Bellamy shakes his head. She sees the movement of his jaw under the dim light of the sky.
“You already did,” he reminds her. “Just isn’t working.”
Clarke frowns. “Sorry,” she mumbles.
Bellamy scoffs. “Nothing to apologize for, Clarke.”
Her chin lifts. Even in the dark, in the barely-there shadows cast by the moon, she can feel him looking at her. She can see it too, but it’s different, it’s corporeal, it has the weight of something she can hold in her hands. But maybe she’s imagining it. She must be.
“Besides,” Bellamy says, and he doesn’t look away from her. “I came out here to thank you. For saving my life.”
Clarke catches a shallow breath and forces her eyes to the stars. They’re never going back, she thinks for the hundredth time. She wonders if she’ll ever miss it. She doubts it. What’s to miss from up there, when down here there are so many things she can run to, so much she can touch?
“Any time, Bellamy,” she says to the sky. “Any time.”
Next to her, Bellamy rustles on the ground to lie on his good side, his damaged arm slung haphazardly across his chest. She looks over at him. For a moment he does not look like the king of anything. He just looks like a boy. A young man. She wonders—not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time, at least since she killed him, when thinking of him or Finn was nothing but bereavement, an elbow strike to the solar plexus—what he was before they floated his mother and stuffed his sister in a cage for being alive.
“I wish my mother was here,” he says, on a peculiar sort of cue. Clarke tucks her hair behind her ears to do anything with her hands, but Bellamy doesn’t seem to notice. “She was a good woman. You would have liked her.”
“What was she like?” Clarke asks. She realizes in a swift, shameful moment that she knows very little about Bellamy’s mother. Most of what she knows is what was sent to the Ground.
Bellamy seems to smile a bit in the dark. It’s too dark to really tell, but she hears it when he speaks. “She was a seamstress. The best. She liked to work with her hands. All the time, in the middle of the night, she was making and unmaking things. Even with Octavia, she never seemed to be afraid of much. I mean, she must have been—she was very strict, of course, but she never let us see her afraid. Even when they floated her, she wasn’t afraid.”
Something sticks in the back of her throat. “Were you there?” Clarke asks, but it was a stupid question he doesn’t have to answer. Of course he was there. Everything about Bellamy, from his speeches to his fire to the wounds in him, lets her know he was there. He doesn’t answer the question either. He just sits still in the dark.
“I saw my father floated too,” she says after a long while, and she sees Bellamy’s head turn toward her in the dark. “You would have liked him. He believed in things. Had conviction and was willing to die for it. Like you.”
Bellamy doesn’t say anything back, and so Clarke just listens to the sound of her heartbeat in her ears. She doesn’t know why this feels so confessional, or why it drowns out the sounds of everything around her. But, for a dangerous moment, she hears nothing but the shallowness of her own breath, the blood pulsing in her skull. And she sees nothing of the trees, nothing of shapes in the dark, nothing but Bellamy, lying on his side on the earth.
“I’m sorry you saw that,” Bellamy says after a long, long time. Clarke thinks her eardrum pops as the pressure around her changes. That’s not truth, though, not science. She’s exhausted; she’s making things up. She turns her attention back to the trees.
“I’m sorry you saw that too,” she says.
“He’d be proud of you,” Bellamy offers, and Clarke knows that, Clarke has always known. Every time she has her hands in someone’s guts, she knows.
“Your mom too,” she says, and Bellamy offers a cold, harsh sound.
"I don’t know if that’s true,” he says. “But I’m getting better.”
Clarke flexes her hands, once, twice, and then rests her fingers on top of Bellamy’s wrist. “You’re good,” she says, and doesn’t miss the sound of his breath in the dark. “You’re doing good.”
“Thanks, Princess,” he says. He doesn’t pull his hand away, and neither does she, not for a long time.
The next day is easy. It’s all flat lands and quiet and the most this planet has to say to them is the chirp of a bird miles away.
“We’re getting closer,” Bellamy says, with something like anticipation under his voice. “We’ve still got another night out here, but we’re getting closer.”
His shoulder seems to be bothering him less; he keeps his pack on his good shoulder and doesn’t complain once. If Clarke didn’t know better, she’d think there was extra energy in his step, which she can’t imagine is possible on exactly zero sleep.
“Thank god,” Octavia says. She seems better than when they left too. It is nice, Clarke will admit, having something like the old gang back together. “Not that I’m in any rush to get back to that shithole, but I’ve been waiting to take a swing at Murphy for like three weeks.”
Bellamy rolls his eyes. “So violent, O.”
“Look who’s talking, B.”
“Okay,” Clarke interrupts, because it’s warm but not too warm, with a breeze that makes them comfortable, and they are, miraculously, still alive. “No fighting today, kids.”
Octavia smirks. “Okay, mom,” she says, and then wraps her hand around Clarke’s shoulder so she can walk with her eyes closed under the sun.
There’s nothing particularly odd about it, not for Octavia, but Clarke feels herself blush anyway. It’s strange, and she doesn’t understand it, but today, under the sun and the quiet and the for-once-calming trees, it feels like this trip to find Finn has sewn up their wounds. They’re not healed yet. Mount Weather still looms somewhere far behind her. There are still too many graves in the ground.
But they’re alive, and they’re together, and there are fewer gaping holes in them than there were before. And, from the way Bellamy looks from his sister to Clarke and back again, she thinks he might feel the same way.
“You could almost get used to it,” he says. It’s almost a whisper, an awe of things. “Being here.”
“Yeah,” she says, and she thinks she sounds the same. “You could.”
But daylight is easy. It means nothing after dark.
On their third night, Octavia’s watch, Clarke wakes up because Bellamy is screaming. Or, something quieter than screaming, a low stammering of no that hasn’t gotten loud enough to reach Octavia, but is just loud enough to wake Clarke. She scrambles over to him in the dark with her palms pressed into the cold earth, grabbing and turning on the little flashlight her mother packed them as she moves.
“Bellamy,” she says, trying to avoid his injury as she shakes him. He thrashes for a moment under her hands, until, all at once, he startles awake.
“Clarke?” he says, breathless and confused, his eyes darting around the tent in the dark. It takes a moment before recognition of where they are passes across his face.
“You’re fine,” she tells him as he slowly gets a hold on things, her hand still pressed on his shoulder. She thinks the last time she saw him like this was when Dax tried to kill him; it’s the same sort of wildness and anguish she saw then, too. “You’re awake,” she says again, softer still. “You’re with me. You’re fine.”
Bellamy lets out one, long sigh, his body relaxing under her hands. “I’m okay,” he mumbles, and presses himself up to sitting. Clarke drops her hand from his shoulder and sits back on her heels. The light she has barely illuminates anything, so it’s safe to keep on in the tent, and she doesn’t ask what he was dreaming about. If she asks, he’ll ask her one day, and she’s not there yet, she’s not ready. But Bellamy is not a mind reader, and he tells her his nightmare anyway.
“I was dreaming about the 300 people I got killed,” he says, his hand scrubbing through his hair. “They were killing me.” He seems to hold his breath for a moment and then says, as quietly as she’s ever heard him say anything, “I thought you weren’t supposed to feel pain in your dreams.”
Clarke curls out her legs from underneath her. “You didn’t know what would happen. You know that.”
“That doesn’t really matter though, does it?” he asks, turning his head away from her. “They’re still dead.”
“Of course it matters,” she says, her hand grasping onto his in the dark. It only lasts a moment, but it’s long enough to get him to look back to her. “You didn’t know.”
He shakes his head. “It just doesn’t—that doesn’t mean much.”
And Clarke wishes—she wishes she could somehow erase everything. But she can’t. The best she can do is help him feel less alone, less drowned. That is what Clarke has always done for Bellamy. She hopes she’s done it well. And, so, she says out loud an impossible, terrible thing: “I killed 300 people too.”
Bellamy sits up straight. He looks at her as sharply as she’s ever seen him look at anything. “To protect our people, Clarke. It’s not the same thing.”
“No,” she admits, though perhaps it should be. Grounders probably have families they’re trying to protect too. But it’s still not the same to her, and it’s definitely not the same to him. “But it’s still real. They were still people. And—and I killed you. I thought.”
Bellamy shakes his head. He moves his hand to her collarbone, above the fabric of her shirt, fingers directly on her skin above her pulse. “You didn’t,” he says, his voice low and different, like it’s far away somehow.
Clarke’s heart might be racing; she doesn’t like that Bellamy is in a position to feel it in his skin. It’s not about their proximity, but rather about this: it is hard running things. If there is anyone on this planet she can tell her nightmares to, it’s going to have to be Bellamy. Running things, being a leader, means being strong so others don’t have to be. It means modeling what it looks like to be brave, even when you aren’t. For as long as they have been here, or at least since the day trip where Dax nearly killed him, Clarke has been the place where Bellamy is allowed to be weak. She’s kept his secrets and exhaustions to herself.
But he’s never been that for her—Clarke has always been brick walls and electric fences. But maybe she shouldn’t have to be, especially when she thinks what she has to say could help him.
“I dream about it sometimes,” she says. It feels like she has to wrench it out of her, like it twists and cuts its way out of her mouth. “That I killed you. All the time.”
She can pretend her voice doesn’t break, but it does. Killed you is a hard thing to say evenly, especially with Bellamy this close to her.
The grip of his fingers around the back of her neck grows a hair tighter. It’s nothing painful, just the kind of moment where Bellamy needs her to understand things. That she can see.
“You didn’t kill me,” he says very slowly, deliberately, in a way that makes Clarke have to look away. “Clarke,” he says again, and waits until she turns back. “You didn’t kill me.”
“I didn’t know that,” she says, and, with a shake of her head, pulls it together and makes her point. “Just like you didn’t know those people would die. You were trying to live, Bellamy. There’s no shame in that.”
Bellamy looks at her. It’s a long moment, one that somehow makes her pulse jump, but then he sits back. His hand falls from her neck and Clarke feels chillier than before. She ignores it. It’s cold out.
“There’s a lot of shame in that,” he says. “And none of it is going to be fine. But you didn’t kill me.”
Clarke sighs. She doesn’t imagine she’ll ever move him on this, but maybe she shouldn’t. Maybe some lessons just need to be learned, no matter the nightmares that follow.
“Yeah, well,” she says, trying to pull the strange tension out of the space, “I’m glad I didn’t.”
Bellamy gives a breathy sort of laugh. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Princess.”
Clarke tries to smile, and then she turns off the flashlight. “Don’t let it go to your head,” she says in the relief of the dark. “And go back to sleep.”
“You too,” he says, and she crawls over to her spot on the ground, but she doesn’t sleep. And, by the sound of Bellamy’s breathing, neither does he.
She hears the ocean before she sees it: the quiet rush of the water against the rocks, the chirp of a bird, a water bug flying by her ear. Bellamy hears it too, and stands up straight when he does, while Octavia moves ahead toward the sound. She doesn’t make a sound when she moves anymore.
Bellamy has been quiet all morning, which she’s fine and comfortable with. In large part, this is because last night feels strange to her, like a fever dream. But he looks at her now, with the ocean in the distance, and his silence seems to somehow deepen until it’s no longer a mostly pleasant space between them. Rather, it turns into something heavy like a stone. She doesn’t know how she can feel something like that, or how the space between them could invert so quickly—she only knows that she does. They walk for a few more terrible minutes, and when she finally looks over to ask him about it, she finds he’s already looking at her.
“I’ve been thinking about our conversation the other day about Octavia,” he says. It kind of bursts out of him, the way she sounded when talking about her nightmare last night. Like it’s something he should say, must say, but is not something he wants to.
Clarke blinks—she doesn’t know what she expected him to say, but she certainly wasn’t expecting that—and then nods to encourage him on. Bellamy swallows once, seems to glance down at her throat, and then looks forward, toward where the sea is just beginning to emerge through the trees.
“When I got to Camp Jaha,” he continues, the old spite in his voice rising at the name and then disappearing just as quickly, “you put yourself between me and a bullet. That was a very brave and stupid thing to do.”
Clarke adjusts the straps of her pack. She thinks she should smile about it, but she can’t. “We’re all brave and stupid sometimes,” she suggests. It sounds like a question, but she didn’t mean it that way.
A corner of his mouth lifts. If she didn’t know better, she’d think it was almost sad. “Guess that’s true,” he says, continuing forward toward the water. She’s starting to see it now, the blue-grey of the waves beyond the edge of the trees.
“Listen, Clarke,” Bellamy continues as the ocean grows louder. “About Finn—”
He shakes his head, as though talking himself out of it. He ducks under a branch and she follows silently until she can see the water so clearly it makes her mouth water. She wants to feel it on her skin, wants to dip her hands into it, and Bellamy still hasn’t said anything.
“What about him?” she prods.
Bellamy stops at the place where the forest meets the sand. “I just know he’s really looking forward to seeing you,” he says, not looking at her.
Clarke scowls. “Okay. What were you actually going to say?”
Bellamy looks back at her, and there might as well be four feet of concrete between them. Whatever it is he’s thinking, she can’t see into it. She can’t even try.
“We should keep moving,” he says, and nods to her take the lead. So, Clarke catches up with Octavia, who somehow looks the way Clarke feels—confused and wistful, anticipating and afraid. But Clarke doesn’t know why she feels that way. When she looks back at Bellamy, he’s no more than a foot behind her, kicking the sand under his feet. She doesn’t feel like she makes sense, like there’s nothing but radio static in her. She wants Bellamy to make sense of it. She doesn’t know why she wants that.
“You must be looking forward to it,” Octavia says, squinting under the sun. “Seeing Finn again.”
Clarke gives a smile no one would believe, but Octavia’s not looking at her, so Octavia can’t tell. She says, “It’s been a long time.”