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Arise and Seize the Day

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Even before his mother's accident, Bellamy never wanted to work in a factory. His father died in one before he was born, and he saw with his own eyes what it did to his mother, the way her back bowed and the light in her eyes got dimmer and dimmer. Factories aren't supposed to make miserable people; they're just an acceptable byproduct.

So it's not a relief when his mother gets hurt--of course it's not, it's a nightmare. But at least he has a reason to never work at the factory himself, something to point at other than, I don't want to ruin my life like you did.

"If you don't work at the factory, what are you gonna do?" asks Octavia. At ten, she's all big eyes and dark hair, for all she's scrawnier than he'd like. A pretty girl, everyone tells him, like he should be prouder of that than anything. But she's smart and fierce and strong, too, and he's going to take care of her. He's going to make sure she gets to grow up.

"There are other jobs, O."

"Uh huh. Like what?"

It's a good question, less because there aren't jobs and more because he really doesn't know what jobs he should be looking at. He's seventeen, almost eighteen, and before the accident, he had plenty of other odd jobs. But none of them are the kind of steady, decent income he needs to be the breadwinner. And none of them liked having his sister hang around, which she always did, and probably will do more, now that their mother is staying at home. Octavia does better with Bellamy than she does with Aurora.

"Only one way to find out."

He spends the day being told that stores aren't hiring, that grocers don't need any more help, that he should try the factories, if he's looking for work. Octavia doesn't say anything, but she doesn't say anything in a pointed, worried way that makes him feel even worse. He knows she doesn't want him to go to the factory, any more than he wants to go himself, but--they have to eat. They need something.

The news boy on the corner snags his attention suddenly, the pitch of his voice as he shouts out headlines slicing through the background clamor of the street. When he turns his head, he sees the boy trading a paper for some coins with a grin and a wink for the lady. He looks like all the newsies Bellamy's ever let his eye slide by as he walks: brown cap, dirty face, unstarched shirt, fading trousers. His hair is striking, bright and golden under the cap, and when he catches Bellamy watching, he winks at him as well. His eyes are bright too, blue, and Bellamy can't look away first.

It's only a second, though, and then the boy is back to peddling his papers, and Octavia is tugging on Bellamy to get moving.

But he keeps paying attention as they make their way home. Newsies are a fact of life, and his eye tends to skip past them, except when he needs to buy a paper. Now, he watches the way they work. He knows the basic idea behind the job: they buy the papers in bulk and sell them on the street for a marginal profit. They hype the big headlines, get people interested and invested, and that's how they make their money. The better they are at hype, the more money they make.

Plenty of them are young, too, at least as young as Octavia. None of them are girls, but maybe that would work for him. Maybe it's good, having a starving girl with him.

It's not that Bellamy is too proud to beg, it's that it doesn't seem like it would make him very much money. Even with his sister, he doesn't think he'd get that much sympathy just sitting around.

But selling papers? That feels like something he could do. He listens to the kids, calling out headlines, selling stories, adjusting their pitch depending on who walks by, what they look like they'd be interested in. It's a skill, and a skill he could learn. It's flexible, his sister could come, and if he's good at it, he could make a decent amount of money. If he's bad, he's only out the cost of his first bundle of papers.

"What about that?" he asks his sister.

"What about what?"

"Selling papers," he says. "I could do that."

Her face screws up. "Does that really make any money?"

"I don't know. But we didn't make any money today anyway, right? We can't do worse with that than we did going door-to-door." He nods, mostly to himself. "It's a good idea."

"So how come you never did it before?" she asks.

"Never thought of it. And you're going to help, so don't complain. You're the one who's always saying you don't have enough to do."

It's the right argument; O lights up. "I get to help?"

"That kid can't be more than eight," Bellamy says, jerking his chin towards a boy. "If he can do it you can." He swings her up onto his shoulders. "You want to try it out?"

"You should have said I could help," she chides him. "Yeah, I want to help. I'm going to be the best newsie ever. You'll see."

He has to smile. "Yeah, I'll see. Come on, newsie. Let's get you home."

*

They wake up early the next morning, as usual. He checks on his mother first, and there's no real change. Her leg is still mangled, but she's started getting mending from other people, making a few coins herself. Aurora Blake has never been good at idleness, and he's glad that her injury won't keep her from work entirely.

It might be nice, if she wanted her children around to help her, but Bellamy's always been the caretaker in the family, so Octavia will come with him, and they'll stay out of her way. They'll be happier like this. Octavia needs the fresh air anyway.

"Did you find something yesterday?" Aurora asks, when he brings her breakfast. "Work, I mean."

"Something, yeah," he agrees. "We'll let you know how it goes. You ready, O?" he calls.

"Ready!" she says. She presents herself as if she's appearing on stage, arms thrown out for his approval. She tends to prefer trousers, and she does look like a newsie, same as he does. Her hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail, and it's not immediately apparent that she's a girl. Which is probably good; he doubts it would be wise to show it off.

"Looking good, O," he says. "We'll be back for dinner," he adds, to his mother. "Do you need us to get anything?"

"I can take care of myself now," she says, but her voice is soothing, not irritated. "Have a good day, you two."

It's a nice morning, sunny and just a little crisp, and Bellamy can't help feeling cheerful and optimistic about the world. It's a new experience for him, but--this seems good. He doesn't know why he didn't think of it sooner.

It's a mob scene around the paper, boys clamoring to be the first to pick up their stacks. Bellamy spots the same boy from the corner yesterday, the one with the blue eyes and golden hair, standing first in line, chatting with some friends. There's a kind of aura around him, and Bellamy realizes he's someone with authority in this world. Maybe not a leader, not officially, but he doubts they have official leaders. But he's the kind of person who starts walking, and other people will fall into step behind him, because they think he knows where he's going.

"Hey, O, you think we can get to the front of this line?" he asks, not taking his eyes off the boy.

"Race you," says his sister, and ducks between two boys like she's a fish in water.

He grins, shakes his head, and follows, making sure to keep an eye on her as he makes his own way. He's not very tall for a man, but he's bigger than most of the other boys, and he lets himself use it, forcing his way through the crowd by virtue of no one wanting to get in his way.

Octavia still arrives first, being both smaller and faster, so he sees a boy toward the front stop her with a hand on her chest long before he's near enough to stop him.

He's honestly not worried for his sister; he's worried for the boy. Octavia bites.

"Sorry," he says, bumping into someone, and he's just able to hear, "Hey, you're a girl! What are you doing here, girl?"

Yeah, that's not going to go well at all. He starts pushing, but the golden-haired boy leans down and offers O his hand before Bellamy gets there.

"She's here to sell, brainless," he says. His voice is pitched to carry through the throng. "The same as everyone else."

By now, he's close enough to see the other boy's jaw work. He's got straight brown hair that's a little matted, and mean eyes. "What's it to you, Clarke?"

Clarke rolls his eyes. "I need a reason to stop you beating up a little girl now, Murphy?" He smiles at O. "What's your name?"

"Octavia." She glances back. "My brother is--"

Bellamy raises his hand. "Present."

"Lots of new blood today," mutters Murphy, but he steps out of the way so Bellamy can get to the front of the line. Clarke offers his hand and Bellamy takes it; it's smaller than he expected, and softer, but he can feel calluses starting to form there, in different places from his own. Bellamy's come from sewing, so if he keeps this up, maybe his hands will end up one unbroken rough patch.

"You brought your sister with you?" Clarke asks, looking Bellamy up and down. He's shorter than Bellamy expected, and younger too, probably not even sixteen and maybe as young as fourteen. But his eyes are as fierce as ever.

"I don't see why she can't sell as well as I can," he says. "Is there a rule?"

"More of a custom." His attention shifts from Bellamy to Octavia, giving her the same intense once-over he just gave Bellamy. "You want to be a newsie?"

"I want to see if I like it," says O. "If I like it, I'll keep doing it."

Bellamy wraps his arm around her with a wry smile. "If you need money, you'll keep doing it," he tells her. "Not eating gets old fast." His eyes flick up to Clarke's. "Do we have a problem?"

"Not yet." He taps his jaw. "It's a gamble. Are you selling too?"

"That's the plan."

"And she'll help?"

"I saw kids her age selling. I don't see why she can't."

"It's either going to make you a fortune or get you arrested," he says. "I'm kind of curious to see which." He pauses another second, and then offers his hand again. "Clarke."

"Bellamy. And you met my sister."

"I did. You two can come with me today."

"And why would we do that?" Bellamy asks.

There are gasps from some of the crowd, some murmuring like Bellamy's made some huge mistake, but Clarke only smiles. "Because it's your first day and I assume you don't want to get arrested."

He inclines his head. "Yeah, okay. Why would you do that?"

"Because I think your sister can make me some money. The same reason anyone does anything."

"It's her money if she earns it," Bellamy counters.

"Haven't you ever heard of teamwork?" asks Clarke. He kneels down to Octavia's level. "How old are you?"

"Ten."

His eyes flick back up to Bellamy for a second, and then his focus returns to O. "You can pass for eight. And you should be sick and hungry. How does your cough sound?"

"Her cough?"

"Which one of us has experience with this?" Clarke asks, sounding more amused than irate. "I don't know why you don't want to listen to me."

It's a fair point; Clarke clearly does know what he's talking about, and he has the respect of the other boys. If Bellamy wants to make money, he should listen to him. "How much of a cut do you want?"

"Seventy-thirty," says Clarke.

"Seventy for us? Works for me."

His mouth twitches. "Fine. Sixty-forty."

"There are two of us and one of you. Why are you getting more?"

"You're going to get more working with him than you will working alone," says another boy. When Bellamy looks at him, he shrugs one shoulder, smiling with half his mouth. "Clarke's the best. If he wanted to split with me sixty-forty, I'd take it. Me and Jasper, even," he adds, jerking his head to another boy.

Clarke is smirking. "Thanks, Monty. Your call," he adds, to Bellamy. "Take it or leave it, but the papers are coming out in a minute, so pick fast."

"Take it," Bellamy says. He can tell his sister wants to, and he does too. And if the arrangement stops being good, they can stop doing it.

"Good," says Clarke. He jerks his head to the window, where the clerk is preparing to open; the crowd lets them through without protest, so this was definitely the right call. He can even see some people watching him with hungry, jealous eyes, as if they're thinking of finding a little sibling of their own to make it into Clarke's good graces.

"We're gonna be fine, Bell," Octavia says, with a grin Bellamy can't help matching.

"Yeah," he says. "It's a good start."

*

"So, why are you entering the exciting world of newspaper sales?" Clarke asks.

Octavia is off trying her luck as a poor girl on the street just trying to get by, so it's just him and Clarke. He's calling out headlines now and then, but they're positioned well for people to just buy as they pass right now, so they can talk a little.

"Why does anyone? We need money."

"Just the two of you?"

"My mother too. She was working in one of the textile factories, but there was an accident." He shrugs; it's a familiar story, he knows. Probably plenty of others here have the same one. "I've always worked, but I have my sister to watch too. And I wouldn't be caught dead in the factories."

He nods. "I've heard the horror stories."

"At least you're just hearing them. What about you? It seems like you've been doing this for a while."

"A year," he says. "I'm just good at it. You just need to know what people want to hear."

"And what's that?"

Clarke smirks. "It depends on the people. Here, everyone wants to buy the paper because they need the latest stock numbers. It's boring, but it's a good place to start. After this, it's the market. Headlines about children in danger work well there. Anything the women out shopping for their families think might threaten them." He looks Bellamy up at down, and Bellamy doesn't think he imagines the hint of heat in his gaze. That's interesting. "You and your sister are going to do well there. They'll feel sorry for her, and they'll want to buy from you just to get a smile."

"I've never had anyone pay me to smile before."

"Then you must be going the wrong places."

That makes him smile for free. "I must be. After that?"

"The square. It's a fight today, so violent stories. Anything with a little blood."

"Do we have any violent stories?" he asks, frowning. He'd glanced at the front page, but it hadn't been anything too interesting. Updates on the strike, but most people seem sick of that by now. He's the only one still following it, from what he can tell, aside from those involved.

"No big ones," says Clarke, thumbing through to page eight without remorse. The "violence" is apparently a two-paragraph writeup of a drunk fighting with a tree he thought was a police officer. "They already know what's on the front page," he goes on. "We're here to tell them what they might want to hear about inside."

"Local lush knocks himself out on tree. Yeah, can't wait to read that one."

"Stiff new policeman takes no prisoners," Clarke says promptly. "You could be his next victim. Better read to find out."

Bellamy chokes out a laugh. "Holy shit, you don't actually say that." Clarke doesn't respond, and his jaw drops. "Aren't they angry? Why do they keep buying your papers?"

"They forget," he says, with a shrug. "We're not real people to them, Bellamy. Some of them will remember you, but usually in a good way. The women in the market you flirt with will come back because they don't care about the paper. Your lie will catch one person one day, but by the next week, they won't remember it was yours. You catch enough it's worth it."

"Gambling," he says. "Like with Octavia."

Clarke worries his lip, watching O work the crowd. She's basically begging, but she's good at it, so maybe Bellamy should have tried this earlier. He doesn't want his sister to live on the streets for her whole life, but it's easier to get off the streets if you have a lot of money saved up before you try to leave.

"It is a gamble," he says, soft. "Whenever you're the only one, you stand out. She's going to be the girl, and that's risky. Maybe even dangerous."

"You're worried," he says, and tries not to let it sound like a big deal. But it is, honestly, a little staggering. It's his job to take care of his sister. He's never had a stranger try to help.

"Cops are always looking to take us away. It's best not to give them an excuse. You could make her look more like a boy without much trouble, if you need to. At that age, it doesn't take much work."

Bellamy snorts. "How much experience do you have with dressing girls up like boys?"

"Enough, apparently. Besides, it's just common sense. Murphy didn't notice she was a girl until he was up close. It's just her hair that really gives her away right now." He shrugs. "Something to think about. We can see how it goes today."

"You help all the new kids out like this?" he can't help asking. "Seems like a lot."

"More attention isn't good for anyone. If someone like Octavia starts getting noticed, the rest of us will be too. It's bad for business."

"And telling me your secrets isn't?"

He looks amused. "What secrets am I telling you?"

"Finding the right spin for the stories."

He laughs at that, a surprised, bubbling sound that makes him seem even younger. "That's not a secret, Bellamy. Everyone knows. It's the first thing you learn. I'm just the best at it."

"You were the best at it," he says, taking a paper from him, deliberate. "I haven't tried yet."

Clarke grins. "That's how it's going to be, huh?"

"We're on the same team, right? The more money I make, the more money you get."

"Sure. Not a competition at all."

"Not at all."

"Then may the best man not win," says Clarke, and they shake on it.

*

Bellamy takes to the job as well as he hoped he would. Better, even. He'd thought he would be getting some money, and he is. He's making good money, even. He's not getting rich, but he has enough for food and rent, and he can even set some aside to save. He's in good shape.

And, on top of that, he has Clarke. Clarke was completely unexpected. He'd thought that their arrangement might be temporary, something that would end as soon as Clarke was sure that Octavia wasn't going to be a problem. Which, so far, she isn't. Most days, she dresses as a boy, just because it's easier, but as herself, she becomes known as his sister, which everyone seems to accept as a valid reason for hanging around with the rest of the newsies. She's good at pretending to be a boy, pretending to be sick or otherwise in dire need of aid, and good at being cute and making people want to buy things from her.

"I'm raising a con artist," he grumbles to Clarke one afternoon, and Clarke pats his shoulder.

"Well, at least you're raising an artist," he points out. "Not just a two-bit hustler."

He snorts, and Clarke grins, and his heart does a palpitation that may or may not be unfortunate. He hasn't figured that part out yet, and it's honestly a little irritating.

Bellamy likes men and women both. Men are easier to like, at this point in his life; he is, after all, seventeen, with no plans to marry any time soon, and no desire to get anyone with a child. He's done some enjoyable fumbling with girls, but it does feel riskier, for all that being with men is less accepted in society.

He doesn't think he's ever been in love, but he thinks he could be. He probably could be with Clarke, who is smart and sarcastic and looks out for all the stupid, impulsive kids who sell papers in his neighborhood. Clarke, with the mole over his lip and the half smile when he meets Bellamy's eye.

Clarke, who flirts with girls as easily as he breathes, but whose eye has definitely lingered on Bellamy's jaw and his arms when he thinks Bellamy isn't paying attention.

From what he can tell, most of the boys are fairly liberal with their affections. Most of them are firm about preferring girls, but will take any port in a storm, and male ports are everywhere, here. Bellamy hasn't taken any of them up on it, as yet, but it definitely happens.

If it happens with Clarke, he hasn't heard about it, but he's not convinced he would hear about it. Both he and Clarke are somewhat separate from the rest of the boys, Bellamy because he lives with his family, and Clarke because he--

Well, that's the other thing about Clarke. No one really knows much about him, not where he lives or where he's from or what happened to his family. Like a lot of the boys, he goes by his last name, but there's not even a consensus on what his first name is. Everyone agrees it begins with a J, so every boy who has a J name claims Clarke shares it. John Murphy thinks he's John Clarke; Jasper Jordan says he's Jasper Clarke, or maybe even Jordan Clarke. Bellamy has heard Jim Clarke, Jake Clarke, Jack Clarke, and Joe Clarke, but no one has presented any more compelling argument than, "He goes by Clarke so he won't get confused with me."

He did ask Clarke once, and Clarke only smiled and said, "One name is enough, right? Just Clarke."

So Clarke is something of a mystery, and it doesn't even bother Bellamy that much, because Clarke is also his best friend, and he's never had a best friend before. He assumes it's normal, to go through a period of wanting to kiss your best friend, and either he'll kiss him, or the feeling will pass.

Bellamy's hoping to kiss him, though. Clarke looks like he'd be nice to kiss. But even if he never gets to do that, it doesn't matter, because he gets all sorts of other things. He gets Clarke grumpy first thing in the morning, letting Bellamy pick up the papers so he doesn't have to fight his way through the line. They track who sells the most on any given day, and the winner switches off enough that they can't actually say one of them is better at it than the other. He drags Clarke back to his apartment for dinner most nights, and gets both teased and complimented for being such a good cook. Most of the time, Clarke leaves after that, to return to wherever it is he sleeps. Bellamy suspects it's at the theater where his friend Luna works, but he'll admit that might be jealousy talking. Clarke's never actually said that; Bellamy just can't help worrying that he prefers to share another bed.

His favorite nights are the ones where he can talk Clarke into climbing the fire escape to the roof, and the two of them will stretch out on their backs while Bellamy finds and names constellations. They'll fall asleep like that, and that's the kind of happiness Bellamy never could have predicted, the kind that fills him up like some huge, unbelievable thing.

That's the life he has now. That's the life he didn't even know enough to want. And sometimes, it really does feel perfect.

*

"They're raising the price on papers."

It's Monty who tells them, first thing on a Monday morning. Bellamy glances at Clarke, and Clarke frowns.

"Raising the price?" he asks.

"Sixty cents for a hundred papers," says Monty.

Bellamy does the math quickly. Even if they can pass on the price to consumers, it's a problem. Unsold papers are always burned money, and needing ten more cents for the initial downpayment cuts into daily profits by a large margin. And he doubts many people are going to want to pay a penny more for their papers because the newsies increased cost. The sell is already hard; they don't have much room to demand a higher rate.

"Fuck," he says, and Clarke snorts.

"It's not funny," he says quickly. "I just like when you swear."

"I'll try to do it more often." He runs his hand through his hair. "This isn't going to work."

"No," Clarke agrees, glancing around. He's doing the calculations as well, Bellamy is sure. Everyone's bottom line just went up by ten cents. It's not hard, right now, for people like them to step in sometimes and help out. They went to a fifty-fifty split on their own profits as soon as Clarke saw how Bellamy and Octavia lived, but they also agreed that if someone needed a little help, an extra penny for food or a few cents to buy their daily papers, they'd give that too. At sixty cents for a hundred papers, more and more people will find themselves short of funds. One bad day will become catastrophic.

"We can't do it," he adds, when Clarke still doesn't say anything more.

"I know," says Clarke. "Fuck, I know, okay? But they don't." He gestures to the newspaper offices with a vague wave of his hand. "People like that, people like Marcus Kane and Charles Pike, they don't think about people like you. About people like us. Their profits will go up until enough of us run out of money to buy papers, and by then it'll be too late. They'll decide it was a bad idea, but it'll be too late. They'll find a new way to sell papers, and we'll be dead or out of a job."

"So we have to cut into their profits now," says Bellamy. "If they want to us to lose money so they can make more, we just have to show them it's not going to work."

Clarke is watching him. Actually, everyone is watching him. Watching them. Because that's how it works, isn't it? When he and Clarke go somewhere, other people are going to think it's the right place to go. They'll follow.

"Okay," says Clarke, with a slow nod. "How?"

"Strike," he breathes.

He doesn't quite mean it as a suggestion. It's not even a fully-formed thought yet. It's just--that's it, right? That's the way that workers can make their voices heard. They aren't employees, aren't paid anything by the papers. But if they don't sell papers--

"Strike?" asks Monty, louder, and the word starts spreading through the crowd like wildfire.

"We're not a union," Clarke says. But his tone is thoughtful. "And it only works if everyone stops selling. Anyone can pick up a hundred papers and try to sell them. They might not sell any, but the publishers still end up with money in their pockets."

"So we stop anyone else from selling papers too. If they won't listen to us, we have to make them listen."

Clarke is still watching him. "That's a lot of attention, Bellamy."

Octavia's by his side, her jaw set, angry, just as angry as the rest of the newsies. This is a good thing they have going here. It's not perfect, not even close. But every boy who's got a job here isn't in the factories, and feels like he's the master of his own fate. And they won't give it up easily. Workers will turn into beggars, and then they'll starve. He can see it so clearly.

"Maybe it's time we got some attention," he says. "We've let them ignore us long enough."

It was meant for Clarke, but they're not actually having a private conversation. The boys to the front of the crowd hear him, and Murphy is the one who says, "Yeah! They can't ignore us anymore! They don't get to jerk us around!"

A smile plays on Clarke's lips, but it doesn't make it to his eyes. He quirks his eyebrow at Bellamy, and Bellamy shrugs. "Strike?" he asks.

Clarke nods once, exhales. "Strike," he agrees.

*

"It can't just be us," Clarke says. They've got a group of the larger, surlier, and generally more bellicose boys stationed in front of the window, and some of the more reasonable and persuasive boys next to them, to explain why they won't be selling any papers, and why they will have to insist, very strongly, that no one else sell them either. So far, no one's trying their luck; they, at least, are a united front. "We need to get in touch with the other boroughs. If kids in the Bronx decide they can come over and make more profit today while we're not selling--"

One of the boys raises his hand. "My cousin's in the Bronx. I can go talk to them."

Clarke nods. "Take--" He glances around, making a face.

Bellamy considers too. "Two big kids, one slick kid," he finally says, and Clarke smiles.

"That sounds right." She points for three boys, and they nod. "Anyone have a friend Queens?"

They get Queens and Harlem and Midtown figured out, and then Monty says, "Brooklyn."

"Shit," says Clarke. "Brooklyn." He gives Monty a wry smile. "You always like going to Brooklyn."

"I'll go, but me and two big kids isn't going to do it," he says. "You know it's not."

"No."

"What's in Brooklyn?" Bellamy asks.

"Miller," says Monty.

"What's a Miller?"

"He's the Clarke of Brooklyn."

Clarke nods. "Yeah, and no matter how much he likes Monty, he's not going to agree unless we bring out the big guns."

Monty goes a little pink. "He doesn't like me that much."

"He does, and you're coming." He pushes himself off the box he was sitting on and stretches, and then turns his attention to Bellamy. "You and Octavia too."

"Yeah?"

He smirks with half his mouth. "The big guns, like I said. And you'll like Miller."

"Works for me," says Bellamy, standing himself and shaking out his own shoulders. "I've never been to Brooklyn."

*

Bellamy really hasn't ever been to Brooklyn but, more than that, he's never really just taken a day to not worry about making money. Not that he's not worried about making money right now, but it's a different kind of worry. He has a position, and he's fighting for it. And fighting for it today means taking a long walk to Brooklyn with his sister and his best friend and Monty, whom he also likes a lot. Clarke teases Monty about how excited he must be to see Miller, and Monty flushes and glares.

That's nice too, to hear Clarke talk about that kind of attraction so casually, and for Octavia to hear them talking about it. Discretion is all well and good, but he'd rather his sister grew up thinking this wasn't something that had to be kept hushed and secret.

As strange as it may seem, this is exactly how he wants his sister to grow up. Fighting against the real injustices, and full of love.

Clarke falls into step with him instead of Monty as they get close, and Bellamy lowers his voice. "So, what's the plan?"

"I think he'll on our side," Clarke says, thoughtful. "He's a good man. I like him. But--he's not going to want to do anything that might get attention from the police."

"You don't want that either."

"He doesn't want that even more than I don't want it."

"Wow. Okay, that's a lot. So, what do we do?"

"You talk."

"I talk?"

"You're good at it," Clarke says, easy.

"So are you. And you're the one they know."

"You were the one getting everyone riled up. Besides, Miller knows me too well."

He frowns, glances down at Clarke, who isn't looking at him. He looks older today, worn out, and a little cleaner than sometimes. There's a wisp of surprisingly long hair blowing in the wind of the bridge, and Bellamy's fingers itch to tuck it back, maybe tease a little. Tell him to get it cut.

But the statement nags. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Old friends," says Clarke, simply.

"Friends?" Bellamy asks. "Were the two of you--"

He makes a face. "No, nothing like that. Miller's not--we were never like that, no. We grew up together."

That's even weirder. "So, does he know your first name?"

Clarke grins. "I know his first name, he knows mine. No one else does. That's the agreement."

"But you still want me to do the talking."

"I want to convince him," says Clarke. "So, yeah, I want you to do the talking. I'm just here to back you up."

The statement makes his chest ache from fullness, and he clears his throat to try to dislodge the feeling.

"Like you're really going to be able to keep your mouth shut," he teases, and Clarke laughs.

"I'll try very hard," he says, and sways into Bellamy, bumping their shoulders together. Impulsively, he slings his arm around Clarke's shoulder, giving him a warm squeeze, and Clarke doesn't move away at all.

So, yes. It's a very nice walk, all things considered.

*

Less nice is meeting Miller. He must have heard what was happening, because he's waiting for them, and apparently already knows what they're going to say.

"You can't strike without a union," he says, by way of opening. His eyes flick to Bellamy. "You must be the new guy."

"You must be Miller." He offers his hand, and Miller doesn't take it, but he does shake Clarke's hand, and grin at Monty.

"Pulling out all the stops, Clarke?"

"Nothing but the best for you." He pauses, lip caught in his teeth. "You have to see how bad this is."

"Hey, if you Manhattan kids can't sell all your papes, that's not my fault," says Miller. "Sounds like you've got a marketing problem." The Brooklyn guys whoop and jeer, and Miller smirks.

"Can you get ten cents more a day, selling all your papers?" Bellamy finds himself asking. "I sell out every day, but I can't get more than five people to give me an extra penny, and that's on a good news day. If you're making that much more in Brooklyn, maybe I'll move." He pauses, just for effect. "Actually, it doesn't matter. No matter how much you're making in a day, you're making ten cents less now. You don't care about that?"

"If we strike, we're making no money," Miller shoots back. "Losing everything is worse than losing ten cents. Maybe in Manhattan you can afford to sit on your asses all day--"

"Wait," says Bellamy, holding up his hand. "Clear something up for me. Are you guys selling every paper every day and making more than we are, or struggling so much you can't take a stand and make sure you'll keep on making money? It's not going to be a fun time for us in Manhattan, or for anyone else. But I'll starve today to make sure all of us aren't starving in a month."

There's a pause, and then Miller turns his attention to Clarke, deliberate. "I can see why you like him," he says.

"I have good taste." He wets his lips. "You know we're right, Miller. We can't just stand by and take this. They don't care about us. They won't listen. And we can't raise the sale prices ourselves, not if we want to get paid. Kane and Pike want to make more money without upsetting anyone they think matters."

"So we have to show them we matter," Bellamy adds. He can see the Brooklyn kids wavering, so it's time for the kill. "Do you think this is going to stop? Maybe you could make it through this. Maybe I could. Maybe we'd learn to get by on ten cents less a day. And you know what happens if we do? They'll do it again. If we don't do anything now, all we're telling them is that they don't have to give a shit about us. So that's fine with me, if you tell them not to give a shit about Brooklyn. But if you try to come into Manhattan to sell when you realize you're not making enough anymore, we're going to have problems."

Miller watches Bellamy, and Bellamy doesn't shy away. He's right, and Miller and the rest of Brooklyn knows it.

"We won't sell in Manhattan," is what he finally says. "That's your beat. But I'm not saying we're joining you yet. We've got our own choices to make."

"Sure," says Bellamy, with a fluid shrug of his shoulders. All eyes are on him, and he knows how this works. Presentation matters. "If you decide you're interested in helping out, let us know. We'll be the ones on the picket line."

Miller actually laughs, a quick, sharp bark of it, and shakes his head. "Jesus, you're an asshole."

Bellamy grins. "Thanks. Good luck, Brooklyn."

This time, when he offers his hand, Miller does shake it. "Hope you can make them give a shit about you," he says.

"You're going to owe us if we do," he shoots back, and Miller raises one shoulder. "Don't forget."

"Yeah, don't worry. I'm pretty sure I'm going to remember this one."

As they leave, Clarke wraps his arm around Bellamy's neck, pulls him down for half a hug. "I told you you should do the talking," he adds, and Bellamy grins.

"Yeah. Guess I'm not bad at it."

*

Admittedly, Bellamy hadn't expected to keep doing the talking. Some of the talking, of course. He and Clarke have different strengths, and sometimes one of them will know how to rally the crowds and sometimes the other will. But Bellamy thinks of them as a team, the two leaders of the strike. And they are, at all times but one: when Sinclair shows up.

Sinclair is the only reporter who seems to think they're worth writing about. Or at least the only one who thinks he should be talking to them, if he's going to write about them. There might be other stories about the strike, although Bellamy hasn't seen much of them. The headlines that they aren't selling don't mention them at all.

So he appreciates that Sinclair seems to not only think they're a good story, but even seems to think they're in the right. And he's happy to talk to him about the strike, and unions in general, his father's death in bad working conditions before he was born, his mother's injury. He has a lot to say.

But Clarke stays quiet, and that bothers him. Clarke is, after all, the one who got Bellamy involved in all this. If Clarke hadn't taken him and Octavia under his wing, Bellamy's not sure they'd still be here, not sure they'd have anything to do with the strike at all. And he might have gained status and respect on his own--he likes to think he would have--but Clarke's influence made his own rise to power fast and easy.

More than anything, he and Clarke are partners, and it feels dishonest to take all the credit himself. Sinclair should be writing about both of them.

Sinclair seems to agree. "I don't even have your last name," he observes.

"Clarke," says Octavia, helpful, and Sinclair smiles.

"I don't have his first name, then."

Bellamy nudges Clarke with his foot under the table. There's a diner that's on their side and feeding them on the cheap; Bellamy is going to come here at least once a week for the rest of his life. "Is your name Clark Clarke? Is that why you won't tell anyone your first name? Be honest."

Clarke rolls his eyes. "You guessed it. Clark Clarke. My parents couldn't agree on how to spell it."

"Yeah, I'd be bitter if that was my name too."

"You're bitter anyway. What's your excuse?"

"Born this way."

Sinclair hides a smile in his coffee. "This is the kind of thing readers like. A band of brothers, allied against evil."

"Bellamy already has a sister he's protecting," Clarke points out, which is probably better than Bellamy pointing out that his feelings for Clarke are decidedly non-fraternal. "What do you need me for?"

"You're an important part of the story," says Sinclair, and Clarke just shrugs it off.

"The story has plenty going on without me."

They linger on the roof that night, long after they should be in bed, and once it's soft and quiet with night, Bellamy lets himself ask, "Honestly, though. Why don't you want Sinclair to talk about you? It's our story, Clarke. It's not just me."

There's a long pause, and Bellamy watches him stare at the sky. He's always the same Clarke, and it's strange to Bellamy. He never takes off his hat, never even unbuttons the top button of his shirt. He's careful, all the time, of giving too much of himself away, and Bellamy can't understand it, because everything Clarke gives is amazing, and he's always greedy for more.

"There's a lot you don't know about me," Clarke finally says.

He wants to make a joke of it, because, yes, of course there is. He's noticed. But Clarke's voice is heavy, and he doesn't want to make it any heavier. "I know, yeah. But--you can tell me. You're my best friend, Clarke. Nothing is going to change that."

"I do know." His voice cracks a little. "I know, Bellamy, it's not--"

He shifts closer, offers his arm, and Clarke curls into him. "You don't have to tell me," he says. "Just--you could. Anything."

"What if I killed someone?" he asks, in an amused tone that suggests he hasn't.

"I'd assume they deserved it."

He laughs. "Thanks." Another silence, and then he says, "It's just--this isn't about me. The strike. And if I'm in the story, it might start being about me. So I don't mind if it's about you instead."

"I don't like hogging all the credit," he admits.

"You're not taking it. I'm giving it."

Bellamy smiles, and presses his nose against Clarke's head. His hat smells like wood smoke and grease, and he can't actually maintain the position for more than a second. It's not a good smell. "You know you can take that hat off, right? And wash it. Hats are washable."

"I like this hat," says Clarke.

"I like it too. That's why I'd wash it, but--" Clarke laughs and shoves him, but not so hard that he has to move away, so he doesn't. "You could stay here tonight," he offers. "I'd clean your hat off and everything."

It's the wrong thing to say, because Clarke slides out of his arms and stands, and Bellamy follows almost instantly.

"Just because you don't want to stay doesn't mean you have to leave," he says, running his hand through his hair.

"I do, though. It's late."

"Clarke--" he starts, and to his surprise, Clarke leans up and brushes his lips against the side of Bellamy's mouth. It's not quite a kiss, but it's so, so close, and if he weren't so surprised, he'd probably tug him in for a real one.

But by the time he recovers, Clarke's out of his personal space. "I'm not--I'm not saying no," he says, soft. "I'm just saying--not yet."

"Oh," he breathes.

"Yeah," Clarke agrees. He rubs the back of his neck. "I'll see you tomorrow, Bellamy."

"Tomorrow," he echoes, and falls back into his chair on the roof, staring at the sky.

There might be a huge, stupid, painful grin on his face. But no one else is around to see it, anyway.

*

The next day, their rally nearly turns into a massacre, which is enough to mostly ruin his good mood. They haven't had much trouble with scabs--most people, apparently, are sympathetic to a bunch of kids who just want to be paid--but apparently the publishers are getting annoyed and desperate, and apparently their best play was to attempt to start a brawl. Which, honestly, it's not hard to start a brawl, so he's not giving them much credit for either the idea or the execution.

"But you," he tells Miller. "You're good."

Miller snorts. He and some of his Brooklyn friends showed up and absolutely saved their asses, causing enough of a distraction that everyone could get out before any of their people got arrested. They're in the diner, celebrating, and Clarke is curled into Bellamy's side, ostensibly because it's crowded and there isn't enough room at the table, but he's hoping it's really because, at some point in the near future, Clarke will want to kiss him again.

"I'm the best," says Miller. "But you deserve some credit too. You were right, I want Brooklyn on the right side of history."

"And you're there," Bellamy says, raising his glass of water. "Thanks for the assist."

"Should have been here sooner."

"Yeah, well, better late than never. I gave the best speech I could."

Miller snorts again. "Yeah, points for effort." He turns his head, looking at Clarke. "Hey, there's a camera."

Clarke startles. "What?"

"It's just a picture," Miller says, mild. "Probably no big deal."

"You think?" he asks. He doesn't sound at all convinced.

"It's going to be worse if you try to get out of it," says Miller. "Nothing says there's a story here like acting like you have something to hide."

"That makes me feel so much better."

Miller's eyes flick to Bellamy. "How much is this conversation annoying you? You seem like you hate not knowing shit."

"I do hate that. But it's no worse than usual," he says, but his focus is on Clarke. "Do we need to get out of here?"

He smiles. "No, it's fine. Miller's right--it's just a picture."

"How famous are you?" he can't help asking.

"So famous," he says, with an easy grin, and Bellamy lets it go. Sinclair's story is on the front page of his own paper the next day, and Bellamy gets the surreal experience of people asking him to autograph their papers. He's glad The Sun isn't involved in the price strike; he doesn't even have to rip them up on principle.

"You can't even really tell it's you," he tells Clarke, as they study the picture. They're at her friend Luna's theater with Miller and Monty and some of the other older newsies, all of whom are being somewhat inappropriate about the girls. Bellamy keeps having to kick Mbege to shut him up.

"I can tell it's me," says Clarke.

"Sinclair didn't use any of your name," Monty says, which is true. The photograph is captioned with everyone's name from left to right, and Clarke's just down as unknown. He's leaning across Bellamy, to talk to Miller, and Bellamy knows it's him, but he's sure plenty of people wouldn't. He just looks like another newsie, to Bellamy's eye.

"You know what he's worried about?" Bellamy can't help asking.

"He's Clarke," says Monty, with a shrug. "He's always worried."

"That's true," Clarke agrees. Jasper punches him in the shoulder, and he winces. "Ow, what?"

"Is Maya here tonight?"

"How would I know?"

"You talk to Luna."

"And you could too. Talking to girls isn't hard."

"That's easy for you to say," he grumbles. "You're great with girls."

"I am, thanks."

"What about you, Bellamy?" he asks.

Miller cocks his head. "Yeah, that's a great question. How are you with girls, Bellamy?"

"Uh, normal?" he tries, confused. "How am I supposed to be with girls?"

"Come on, you've got to be so popular," says Jasper, miserable. "I bet they're all chasing after you, and you don't even appreciate it."

It feels like a trap, so he glances at Clarke, who's leaning forward, watching the stage. "Just because I'm not interested doesn't mean I don't appreciate it," he says.

Miller jumps on the statement like it personally offends him. "Not interested at all?"

"I'm, uh--" Bellamy starts. He has no idea why anyone cares. He knows he's less obsessed with girls than some of the other boys, but he thought everyone had figured out why too. "Not right now? Not looking. But I'll let you know if I am later."

"Will you guys shut up?" Clarke asks, still not looking at any of them. "It's about to start."

"Thank god," says Bellamy, leaning forward himself.

Miller, of course, joins them. "Just so we're clear," he says. "You're interested in girls."

"Do you have a bet going about this? Yes, I'm interested in girls too. Listen to Clarke and shut up."

Clarke shoots him a grin. "It's not easy being in charge, huh?"

He rolls his eyes, fond. "Just watch the show, Clarke."

Bellamy never went to the theater before he met Clarke; the cost never seemed like something he could justify, even if he wanted to go. And this isn't the kind of theater he thought about going to before--he always assumed he'd take O, and O's definitely too young to watch dancing girls--but it is nice. Luna lets them in for free, and it's fun to just relax and enjoy himself.

And when the lights are down, Clarke takes his hand and doesn't let go. That's even better.

It goes wrong just before intermission. The door bursts open, flooding the dark theater with light. Clarke drops Bellamy's hand, and everyone is on their feet and protesting the delay, right up until they notice it's the police.

Bellamy never had run-ins with the law before he met Clarke either, but he never had much worth fighting them over, so it makes sense.

Now, when one of the officers says, "We are looking for an unknown newspaper seller, pictured in The Sun yesterday," Bellamy doesn't even hesitate.

"Run," he hisses to Clarke. The police are already coming up the stairs, toward the group of them. "Clarke, you need to--"

"Anyone found to be assisting this fugitive will be--" the officer starts, and Murphy kicks him.

"Get out," says Bellamy, and Clarke glances around, and then tugs him down and kisses him, once, so fast he barely feels it.

"I'll be fine," he says, firm. "Don't worry about me."

"Clarke, you can't--"

"Trust me, I can." He bites his lip. "I draw the line at you guys getting hurt for me. That's--I can't do that, Bellamy." And then, before he can say anything else, Clarke jumps up on his seat and says, "I'm here! You're looking for me."

"Will you just--" Bellamy hisses, trying get a grip on him, but he can't.

"Trust me," says Clarke, and he can't argue with that. Of course he trusts Clarke. "Bye, Bellamy," he adds, and then the police make it to them, grabbing him roughly by the arm, and Bellamy would probably get himself arrested too, if not for the look in Clarke's eyes as he leaves, the knowledge that Clarke doesn't want him to do anything stupid.

"He'll be fine," Miller says, and it's hard to not punch him. Just because he wants to punch someone.

"If he's not--"

"I promise, Bellamy. He might not like it, but--nothing bad is going to happen to him, okay? Trust me."

Between the two of them, he trusts Clarke a lot more than he trusts Miller. But--there's no way both of them are lying to him. It's not possible.

He lets out a shaky breath. "Yeah," he says. "It better not."

*

First thing in the morning, they ask at the police station and are told in no uncertain terms that there is no Clarke there, and the boy who was taken in at the theater has been turned in to the proper authorities. Which does not make Bellamy feel better at fucking all, but for better or worse, he doesn't have time to worry about it too much. Because the picture got the strike more attention, and now it's on his shoulders alone. Sinclair tells him that reporters have been told not to write about it, and he himself has been reassigned. Public opinion is on their side, but if they want to keep it, they need to find a way to get the message out, and get people doing something. When they have rallies, they get support, but it's not turning into action.

It's probably good, that he has something to concentrate on. He can't worry about Clarke, because if he spent all his time worrying about Clarke instead of taking care of everyone else, Clarke would be furious. And he'd be furious with himself, too.

But if he hasn't heard anything about it in a week, he's going to make Miller tell him everything he knows about what got Clarke arrested and where he might have gone. That seems like a fair compromise.

As it turns out, he doesn't have to wait nearly that long. When he gets to the picket line the next morning, there's a row of scabs there, and Clarke is with them. For all he claims he's seventeen, the same as Bellamy, Bellamy's never been able to quite believe it, and seeing him like this only makes it seem more absurd. He's dressed in a suit and hat, and he looks like a little boy who found his father's clothes.

He looks like a traitor, and Bellamy's heart stops.

"Clarke--"

His jaw is tight. "I told you I'd be fine."

"This is fine?" he demands.

"They told me as long as I broke the strike, they wouldn't press charges." He gestures. "So--here I am. And they'll pay me, too. It's a pretty good deal."

"You really expect me to believe you're happy about this?" he asks. Clarke could have done this any time. Whatever they have on him is bad, and he agreed to do this instead of going to jail. It makes sense. "You took a fall for us."

Clarke considers him, blue eyes cool. Then he finally says, "You know what happened, Bellamy? I'm rich. My mother saw the picture, and figured out why her precious boy hasn't been around much lately. She told me I could break the strike, or she'd disown me." He shrugs. "What would you pick?"

His jaw drops, because it's so stupid. "That's it?" he asks. "That's your big secret?"

"That's my big secret. I didn't need the money, I didn't need the job, I didn't need any of it. I was just bored. And now she knows, and I'm done. It's over, Bellamy." His smile twists into something ugly. "Like I said. I'll be fine. But hey. Good luck with the strike."

They can't let the scabs through anyway, so when he lunges, it's legitimate, but even through the rage, there's a stab of guilt. He doesn't like fighting people who are smaller than he is, and it wasn't much of a problem before. He could intimidate the other boys, and the strikebreakers were older.

When he goes for Clarke, it feels wrong, and it's a relief that Clarke dodges back instead of letting him get a hit in.

"I'm supposed to meet with Mr. Kane," he says, once he's safely out of reach. "Talk about strategies to deal with this situation." He gives a little wave. "Bye, Bellamy," he adds, deliberate, this horrible echo of when he said it last night, and Bellamy feels his jaw lock.

The line of scabs fills the space Clarke left, and Bellamy just looks at him. He's a good two inches shorter than the man, and not nearly as broad, and he just does not care.

"I wouldn't start a fight today," he tells him, and feels a slight twinge of vindictive triumph when the scab actually flinches.

It doesn't really help that much.

*

"No way," says Monty.

"He told me himself," says Bellamy. "He doesn't want to get disowned, so he's a scab now. Talking to Mr. Kane personally about tactics. He was on our side until--"

"I don't believe it," Monty says, firm. It's easy to forget that Monty has as much fire and fierceness as any of them; he tends to stay quiet. "I believe that he said it, but I don't believe it's true." He pauses. "Besides, if it's true, we can't trust Nate either."

"Nate?"

He flushes a dull red. "Miller. His first name is Nathan."

After everything else that's happened today, it feels stupid to be jealous over that, over Miller telling Monty his first name. But somehow it's the final nail in the coffin. No wonder Clarke didn't want to tell him anything.

The rest of the statement catches up with him, though, and that does help.

"You're right," he admits. "If Miller really knew Clarke's secret, and Clarke's secret was just that he's some rich boy slumming with us for fun, he wouldn't have kept it. He wouldn't have cared."

"And you know," his sister starts, hesitant. She's been keeping quiet about most of the strike stuff, too young to get that involved, but she was as angry as he was about Clarke. "That's not one of the rich families."

"What?" Bellamy asks.

"The Clarkes," she says. "I've never heard of them. We know about the rich families. They have stuff named after them. The Jahas and the Griffins and the Kanes. People like that."

"You can be rich without being a Jaha or a Griffin," he says, absent. "But you're right. We should know who he is." He glances at Monty. "Miller's back in Brooklyn?"

"Yeah."

"We need to deal with today's shipment," he says, because the strike isn't stopping just for this. He's not going to let that happen. "But after that we're having a talk with your boyfriend."

*

Miller takes one look at them and asks, "What happened to Clarke?"

"Joined the scabs," says Bellamy. "He said it was the only way to keep his rich mother from disowning him. So--talk."

"That's bullshit," Miller says, crossing his arms over his chest. "He doesn't care if he gets disowned. He's doing this to get enough saved up he can tell his family to go fuck themselves."

"But he doesn't have it yet, so he's not going to tell them that," Bellamy spits. "Perfect."

Miller looks more unimpressed than Bellamy has ever seen, which is an accomplishment for Miller. "Come on," he says. "You know that's not why."

He maintains his righteous anger for about ten seconds, and then he slumps. Clarke gave himself up at the theater for them; he was so careful to keep himself out of the spotlight, to not draw attention. He didn't want this, and whatever he said happened, it wasn't enough reason for him to not want it.

"His mom probably said she'd get you put in jail," Miller adds, to twist the knife. "She saw the paper, she knows you've got a baby sister to take care of."

It all sounds so likely. Clarke knew he wouldn't be hurt, because that's how it is for rich kids. He knew that his mother wouldn't let him go to prison or to an orphanage. He didn't have anything to be afraid of, and the rest of them had everything to be afraid of.

"How do you know him?" he finally asks Miller.

He thinks the question over, glances at Monty, and then nods. "My dad was a cop, until he got hurt and had to take early retirement. I wasn't rich, but we lived in a nice neighborhood. We knew each other when we were kids. Fell out of touch for a while, but--I recognized him as soon as I saw him."

"And you trust him," says Bellamy.

"With my life."

Bellamy lets the relief spread through him. He didn't want to hate Clarke. He didn't want Clarke to have betrayed them, to have never cared. Believing Miller almost feels like selfishness, but--he can believe Clarke wants to be on their side and can't be. It doesn't change anything, not really. If he acts like an enemy, Bellamy will treat him as one. But he can allow himself this one thing.

He can still love Clarke.

"So, what do we do now?" he asks Miller.

"Strike," says Miller, with a shrug. "Same as before. They won't even talk about us. That means they're scared."

"Yeah." He exhales. "If you're lying to us--"

"I'm not lying. Not telling you everything," he adds. "But this is Clarke. He'll find you, and he'll tell you the rest. And I think you'll get it when he does."

"You think you could be a little more ominous?" he grumbles.

Miller snorts. "Yeah, no problem. Anything for you."

"Thanks." He offers his hand, and Miller shakes it. "You coming back with us, Monty?"

Monty looks a little embarrassed, but nods. "Yeah, I better." He fidgets, nervous, and Bellamy realizes he's probably debating how intimate a goodbye he wants to give Miller.

So Bellamy hooks his arm around Octavia and says, "Fine. You can catch up."

It's not until they're alone that she asks, "Do you still think we can trust him? Clarke, I mean."

"I think it doesn't matter," he says, which is about half true. "He's on their side right now, so--until I hear otherwise, I'm taking his word for it. He can't help us like he used to, and whatever he's doing, it's not going to seem like it's for us. But I still think he wants us to win."

"Me too," says O. And then, "I miss him."

Bellamy sighs. "Yeah. I miss him too."

*

There are no scabs on the picket line the next morning, which is both a relief and a disappointment. Bellamy's gotten so used to Clarke as a part of life, as someone he spends most of his time with, that the sudden lack of him is a near-constant ache. It's strange, because he spent plenty of time not knowing where Clarke was before. He'd leave sometimes during the day, and only rarely stayed for the night, but--this is different. The gap between them feels unbridgeable. He could keep a poor boy or an orphan, even a criminal. But he has no idea what to do with a boy rich enough that being disowned is a real threat.

Those aren't the kind of people who stay with people like him.

He gets the usual crowd set up blocking the sales window, stays with them through the morning, until they stop trying to sell. Unless there's a special edition, they won't have to worry about it again, so he's free for the rest of the day. He recruits Monty to come with him and Octavia to pick up groceries and try to get a feel for how much the public knows and cares about the strike. If they've noticed the rallies or the disruption, if they realize just how full the city is of kids who are scraping by without any confidence they'll be able to eat on a daily basis.

From what he can tell, they don't. It's not that they're unsympathetic, it's just that they don't really get it. They don't understand the problem, don't really get the impact. He can't even blame them; he didn't realize either. Not really.

"We need to be more disruptive," Monty says, and Bellamy sighs.

"Yeah. Shut down traffic, maybe. Come up with some slogans."

"That's you," says Monty. "You're the word guy."

"Yeah? What are you bringing to this operation?"

"Replacement Clarke. I'm not great at it yet. Feel free to tell me how I'm doing."

"No comment," he says, and Monty smiles.

"Fair enough."

Bellamy rubs his face. "Sorry. We're doing fine, right?"

"We all miss him," says Monty, but Bellamy's not really listening. Because there are a few guys following them, he's sure now. They've been on the corner of his awareness for the last block, and he keeps pausing to see if they pause at the same time, and they do. And now they're getting out of the crowded part of the street, so--

"How are you in a fight?" Bellamy asks, low.

Monty drops his own voice. "Not great. Why?"

"Because we're about to get jumped." He looks down at his sister. "O--"

"I'll run if it gets bad," she says, which he doesn't really believe. But it's the best he's going to get from her, so it doesn't seem worth fighting about. Not when they have more trouble coming their way, and worse trouble still to come.

"Good," he says. "My nose is too straight anyway."

"There isn't a way to avoid this?" Monty asks, with a kind of wistful tone that suggests he spends a lot of time wondering if there is any way to make his friends and loved ones fight less and concluding that there is not. Which, based on Bellamy's knowledge of Monty's friends and loved ones, is probably accurate.

"We could--" he starts, because if they turned back, returned to the more crowded part of the street, it might help, but before he can try it, one of the guys surges forward, grabbing his shoulder, pulling him off the main street and into an alley. There are three of them, which means they aren't outnumbered, but the goons have a lot of height and weight on all of them, especially Octavia. And Monty doesn't seem like much of a fighter.

Which is probably why he's getting the shit beaten out of him. Monty's restrained, and Octavia is cowering, which he thinks is probably a strategic choice. He's the threat, and they're trying to deal with him. Which is fine. He'll be in rough shape, but he's not afraid until the brass knuckles come out. Someone wants to hurt him a lot.

"Bell," O screams, and that snaps him back into focus.

"Get away, O," he says. "Go find--" He scrambles for a name that isn't Clarke's. Miller is too far, Monty is already here. "Go find Sinclair," he settles on. He lives around here. They went to his place once. He's an adult, a respectable one. He'd probably take Bellamy to the hospital. "Just--"

"What the fuck," says a voice, a woman, vaguely familiar. "What are you doing? Get away from him!"

Bellamy can't see her, but at least she's a person. A witness. And the sound of her voice distracts the guy with the knuckles, so Bellamy kicks him in the groin, and he's about to try to deal with the one holding him when someone else punches him first. Monty and Octavia are on the last one, and just like that all of them are dealt with, and someone's hands are on his face.

"Are you all right?"

The girl comes into focus as a strange collection of parts, and they're all Clarke parts. Which he assumes is a sign he got hit way too hard already. Just because a girl has blue eyes, and wavy golden hair, and Clarke's nose, and Clarke's mouth, and that mole on her lip the same place Clarke does, and her hands feel like Clarke's as they map his face, the familiar callouses--none of that means anything, except that he got punched a lot.

"He's right, we should go see Sinclair," says the girl. "I want to get a better look at him, he seems pretty out of it. Fuck. Come on, Bellamy, help me out."

Her arm is under his, and she's the exact same height as Clarke, and warm and familiar, and no matter how he looks at her, she still looks like Clarke.

When he looks over at Monty and Octavia, they're staring too, and it's Monty who finally says, "Clarke?"

"They're going to wake up soon," says the girl. The Clarke girl. "I don't want to be here when they do, do you? I promise, we can talk about this anywhere else. Bellamy, work with me."

"I like your hair," is what he says. It's so long, down past her shoulders, and it's not as curly as his, but there's so much of it, and it's all full of waves. He leans down to put his nose into it, like he always wants to, and it's soft and and bright and fresh. "So much better than the hat."

"Oh good." She sounds annoyed. "Monty? Please?"

"Yeah," says Monty, and he's on Bellamy's other side, and they drag him for a few feet before he his brain finally catches up enough that he can get his own legs moving and helping out. His face is still in the Clarke girl's hair, and he's probably bleeding on her. She's wearing a dress, a nice dress, and he's making a mess of that too.

No matter how much he looks at her, he can't see anything in her that isn't Clarke, except for the her part.

Octavia finally says, "No wonder you knew how to dress me up like a boy."

Her laugh is Clarke's laugh too, warm and familiar. "Yeah, I have some experience with that." She squeezes his side, gentle. "You still with us, Bellamy?"

"Clarke," he says, and nuzzles her hair.

"I'll tell you about it when I'm sure you'll remember what I'm saying," she tells him, and that's really all he needs. She's here, she's Clarke, and she punched some goon in the face for him. If she wants to be a girl while she does that, he's fine with it. As long as she stays with him.

When Sinclair opens the door, he just stares at them for a long moment. Bellamy can't blame him; his brain is still a jumble, but he can figure out how they look. Octavia and Monty are beaten up, but not bloody, and he's beaten up and bloody, and then there's Clarke, who is currently a well-dressed girl, instead of a dirty street boy.

Still, he just shakes himself, smiles, and says, "Please, come in. Why don't I start some tea?"

"Thank you," says Clarke. "Sorry to barge in on you like this. We were close and didn't know where else to go."

"No, please. I wouldn't want to miss this. What do you need?"

"A place to put him, a clean cloth, and warm water."

Bellamy finds himself on a soft cushion, with his sister sitting next to him. After a second, Clarke is back, leaning over him with the cloth she asked for. He can look at her head-on again, and now that he's started, he can't stop staring. It's like the last few pieces of her slotting into place, the last few lingering questions he had clearing up. The secret she didn't know how to tell him.

"Go see if Sinclair needs help," he tells his sister. Monty is already in the kitchen.

"Why?" Octavia demands.

"Because it's polite," he says, and waits until she goes before he curls his hand around the back of Clarke's neck and tugs her down to kiss her.

She laughs, soft, against his mouth. "I'm still not convinced your head is on straight," she teases.

"As it ever was," he says. "What happened?"

She sits down next to him, warm against his side. "When?"

"Maybe just start at the beginning."

"Well, I was born in--" He laughs, and she inches closer, leaning against him fully when he puts his arm around her. "My father died a year ago," she says, soft. "He was killed."

"Killed?"

"He was an engineer. My mother's family were the ones with money, factory money. He wrote up a piece about--safety conditions, all the things that needed to be changed, and when he said he was going to publish it--" She shrugs. "They wouldn't let him. Officially, it was an accident, but--"

"Jake Griffin," Sinclair offers. He hands Clarke a mug of tea, and Bellamy doesn't even realize he's being offered one too until she nudges him.

"Jake Griffin?" he asks. He remembers the accident, and he'd thought it might make a difference, someone important getting killed in a factory.

"Clarke Griffin," she says. "I never actually told anyone it was my last name. Everyone just assumed."

He drops his head back against the back of the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. "Holy shit, someone's going to throw me in jail for kissing you."

She laughs. "I think finding out I'd been moonlighting as a news boy destroyed what little faith my mother had in my propriety and virtue."

"Yeah, that makes me feel so much better." He sits up again so he can drink his tea. "Miller said you were trying to make enough money that you could get away from your family."

"When did he say that?"

"When I asked him why the fuck he trusted you if you were just some asshole rich boy."

"But he didn't tell you I was--" She gestures at her dress. Or maybe at her breasts, but Bellamy's trying not to notice those. Not until they're alone and they have a lot of time to themselves.

"No," he says. "Just that you didn't like your family and he trusted you."

She ducks her head, hair spilling over her shoulder. "Considerate of him."

"So, your dad."

"Yeah. Once he died, and my mom just--she kept going on with her life, like nothing had changed. Like she didn't care how dangerous the factories were, how people were getting hurt and killed, not when her family could make money. I started reading the papers, so I'd know what was happening, and I saw the newsies working and I thought--I could do that. And I'd make enough money to go somewhere else."

"Don't you already have enough money to go somewhere else?" he asks. "Isn't that how being rich works?"

"I don't really have access to the money. Not like that."

"Isn't your house full of things?" Monty asks. He's sitting on the floor, watching them. "Just sell the stuff."

Clarke inclines her head. "I thought about that. But if I steal things, then I've committed a crime. She could send the police after me. But if I'm of age and use my own money, she has no claim to me."

"Except you can't sell papers anymore," he says. "She won't let you."

"She told me that if I didn't shape up and be a proper daughter, she'd make life miserable for my friends."

"My life is a lot more miserable without you," he says without thinking, and she twines their fingers together and squeezes.

Octavia makes a gagging noise. "Don't be so sappy, Bell."

"You don't have to listen, O," he shoots back. He turns his attention to Clarke again, sees her smiling down at their linked hands, soft. It's not even hard anymore, to just remember that this girl is Clarke. His Clarke. His best friend. "So, what now?" he asks. "You're not really working as a scab, right?"

"No. I told my mom that if you didn't see me again, you wouldn't stop trying to find out what happened, so--that seemed safest. Until I could figure out what to do next."

"Did you decide?" he asks, and she rolls her eyes, her smile fond.

"I heard you telling your sister to leave when you were getting beaten up in an alley, Bellamy. What did you think I was going to do, keep walking?"

"The police were an option." He drops his head onto her shoulder. "But thanks for the rescue."

"Any time." She looks up at Sinclair. "I actually was coming to talk to you."

He looks startled, and Bellamy can relate. "To me?"

"You have the article, right? The one you wrote about the strike."

"Of course I do. I can't print it. The Sun might not be involved in the strike, but the publishers don't want to go up against Kane and Pike." His face twists up. "Not unless it's a better story, of course."

"Don't tell me you want to be the story," Bellamy tells Clarke. No publisher could resist that, but--he doesn't want to know what her mother would do. Rich, powerful people can do whatever they want to people like him.

It would work, but it feels so dangerous.

"Not a bad idea," she says, thoughtful. "But no, that's not what I was thinking." She lets go of his hand so she can lean forward, elbows on her knees. "I know someone with a printing press. Someone who will let us use it. But I don't want to get you fired."

Sinclair smiles. "They already gave me a reassignment I don't want," he points out. "They deserve whatever comes to them, after this."

"You just know someone who has a printing press?" Bellamy asks, and Clarke grins.

"I know all kinds of people," she says. "It's worth a try, right?"

He's incapable of not returning her smile. "Yeah. Let's do it."

*

"So, you just built a printing press," he asks.

"Found a printing press. Old, broken model. I go to a lot of junkyards."

Bellamy isn't really sure what to make of Raven Reyes. She's gorgeous and more than a little terrifying, and if he wasn't already in love with the girl next to him, he might be in love with her. As it is, he just doesn't want her to murder him.

"Yeah, that's a normal thing to do," he says, because his reaction to terror is to be an asshole. It might, someday, get him killed.

"You did an amazing job on this," Sinclair says, running his hand over the machine. "Really. It looks better than the one The Sun uses."

"Yeah?" asks Raven. "If they want to buy it, they can let me know." Her gaze flicks to Clarke. "When I heard there was a strike, I figured it was your idea."

"Bellamy's idea," she says, giving him a smile. She seems more comfortable, as a girl. Maybe she's just happy to not be lying to him anymore. Whatever it is, it suits her. "I just went along with it."

"So what's going to happen to me if someone finds out I printed this?"

"Marcus Kane says he'll make sure your paper goes out of business," says Sinclair, straight-faced, and Raven snorts.

"Yeah, he can do that as much as he wants." She claps her hands. "Okay. Let's get this thing ready to print."

Bellamy's not sure where Clarke got the paper, but he assumes that's one of the advantages of wealth. She can just get whatever she needs.

"Where does your mom think you are right now?" he can't help asking, as they get the letters lined up.

She grins. "Asleep in my bed."

"That explains why you had to go home for dinner. I'm glad she learned a lesson from all of this. Keeping an eye on you."

"I told her I was just bored and it was something to do. She thinks I liked sneaking out and now that she knows what I was doing, it won't be fun anymore."

"Good job on that one," he says, and she bumps her hip against his.

The whole thing feels like something they need to talk about, but if he's honest, he doesn't really have any questions. He understands why she did what she did, he understands why she hadn't told him. He especially gets why Miller really wanted to make sure he liked women. If Clarke's mother hadn't found out about her when she did, he's even sure she would have told him herself.

Mostly, it doesn't really matter. She's still Clarke, and he still loves her. And he's pretty sure she loves him too.

"I won't be able to sell these with you tomorrow," she muses.

"No?"

"Too risky. If anyone found out about me, it would be the wrong kind of attention. Marcus already knows."

"Marcus Kane?"

"He and my mother are friends. He was the one who got the police to come after me. He won't bring up my name unless he has to, out of respect for my mother, but--let's not tempt him."

"But you'll be back," he says. "To, uh--this isn't the last time I'm going to see you," he settles on.

"I'm not going anywhere," she says. "Don't worry."

"You know, this would go faster if no one was flirting!" Raven calls, pointed, and Clarke laughs.

"We can flirt and work at the same time!" she calls back, and Bellamy bites down on his smile.

They're going to be fine. He just knows it.

*

The next day, newsies are back out in force, hawking their own paper for the first time ever. Clarke doesn't help, but she stops by and buys one from Bellamy right around noon, takes him off to eat with her, and pulls him into a back alley for a long, hot kiss after they finish.

"Honestly, I am still expecting to be thrown in jail for this," he says, tangling his hand in her hair and pressing his mouth against her jaw, her neck, all the smooth, bare skin he can reach.

"You're not doing anything illegal," she says.

"Not a comfort."

"Well, as long as it's not stopping you," she says, pragmatic, and pulls him back up to her lips.

They still haven't had a chance to sit down and discuss anything, and he can't tell if they're busy or actually avoiding the subject. She is being more careful about the time she takes away from home, not wanting to draw her mother's attention to the strike or divert attention from it with her own scandal.

But they've been making time to see each other. So it's not all bad.

The paper sells well, but they need to keep the momentum up, so he spends the afternoon writing and typesetting his own follow-up article, and that's the routine for the next few days: selling in the morning, lunch with Clarke, and the afternoon spent writing and printing a new paper.

Clarke sneaks out one night and climbs up to the roof with him, and they barely do any stargazing, but he doesn't mind at all.

On the third day, Clarke says, "Marcus Kane thought I might be able to get in touch with you."

He raises his eyebrows. "I'm not actually hard to find. He could have gotten in touch himself."

"He thought I'd make a better impression."

"That's certainly true." He cocks his head. "What does he want?"

"He wants to talk to you. The strike's gaining momentum. Child workers in factories are joining in. Children all over the city, actually." Her grin flashes out, bright and perfect. "I think he's ready to hear your demands."

"Our demands," he corrects. "You're going to help me figure them out."

It's not that he doesn't know what they want, it's just that there are plenty of ways to get it. The papers could hire them as employees and pay them a base wage, set a higher price for the papers themselves, buy back their unsold papers at the end of the day. Clarke, who knows more about the business from their side, suggests the last one as most likely to succeed, but they agree to suggest hiring the newsies as employees first, because she wants to see the look on Marcus Kane's face when he says it.

It's strange, meeting the man face-to-face. Bellamy's seen pictures of him, and of course he knows a lot about his reputation. He's a rich man who's mostly interested in making himself richer, but, by all accounts, he's not that bad a person. Not as nearly as bad as he could be.

Clarke opens with, "Did you hire a bunch of guys to beat the shit out of Bellamy?"

Kane looks faintly amused. "Hello, Clarke. It's good to see you too. I didn't realize you'd be joining us or this meeting, but of course I'm happy to have you."

"He's still got a back eye," Clarke continues, crossing her arms. "Was that you?"

To his credit, he seems to be thinking it over. "I can assure you I did not tell anyone to use violence against any of the striking workers. But I can't promise that no one who worked for me decided that violence would be a good way to deal with the situation. For which I am sorry," he adds, to Bellamy. "I assure you, I will follow up on this."

"Wow, he really wants to get on our good side," says Clarke.

"Lucky us." He wets his lips. "So, you wanted to talk?"

Once they get down to business, the conversation goes quickly and surprisingly well. Kane's jaw ticks at the idea of hiring a bunch of boys as paid employees, which seems weird to Bellamy, considering he was willing to hire scabs to try to break the strike, but that's a short-term solution. He wouldn't have had to keep it up for long.

But Bellamy lays out the problems the price increase causes for the newsies, and how those will turn into problems for Kane himself sooner rather than later. Kane listens, and nods along, and when Bellamy proposes buybacks, he agrees readily.

Once they're talking, it doesn't even take that long. It's ridiculous; these people should just listen to their employees right from the start. But apparently that's too much to ask.

They shake hands, and Kane says, "Clarke, will you give us a moment in private?"

Clarke raises her eyebrows, and Bellamy shrugs. "He already had me beaten up once, he probably won't do it again, right?" When she still looks worried, his expression softens. "If I'm not out in ten minutes, I bet you can get back in."

Her smile turns sheepish. "I get it, you'll be fine. Good to see you as always, Marcus," she adds, and Bellamy lets himself watch her go before he turns his attention back to Kane.

"The newspaper you put out," he says. "The one about the strike."

"I'm not telling you how we printed it," he says. Sinclair's already looking into hiring Raven, so she doesn't need the job. Kane doesn't deserve her.

"I was actually wondering about the bylines. I suspect I know why the first article didn't have one. But the rest had your name attached."

"Everyone already knew I was involved. Didn't see much reason to pretend it was anyone else doing it."

"They were good articles. Unpolished, but you show a lot of potential." He cocks his head. "I'd like to offer you a job."

His jaw actually drops. "A job?"

"I think you could make a decent reporter." When Bellamy is still just stuck gaping at him, Kane gives him a smirk. "I've noticed you have a knack for headlines."

*

Clarke is waiting for him outside, ignoring Murphy as he gives her the stink eye. Bellamy wonders if her mother knows where she is, and if it's possible her mother actually hired some goons to beat him up. It's hard to care that much, given the way she smiles when she sees him.

If he had to fall in love with a rich girl, he's glad he found the one who punched someone in the face for him. She'll get him out of jail, if he ends up there. They'll take care of each other.

"What did he want?" she asks.

"He wanted to hire me."

She frowns. "I thought that was what he didn't want."

"Not to sell papers. To write them." It still feels unreal, but a smile is tugging on his mouth. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't excited. This is a real job. "I might get married some day, you know. Have to start thinking about my future."

"You might?" she teases.

"Reporters are respectable, right?"

"Respectable enough." She offers her hand and he takes it, twines their fingers together and lets her tug him forward. "Come on. We have some good news to spread, right?"

He leans down and presses a quick kiss to her lips, and she smiles. "Great news," he agrees. "Let's go."