If not for Finn's involvement in the band, Bellamy probably would have agreed to join up right from the start, when he first heard about it. If it was just Monty and Lincoln and even Murphy, he would have been happy to get involved. He does like music. He misses having an excuse to play the drums anywhere other than in his basement.
But Finn was the songwriter, the leading man, and the driving force behind the project, so Bellamy couldn't muster up any interest in it at all. They'd tell him about it sometimes, updates on practices and potential gigs that fell through, and he nodded and made half-committal supportive noises. Because he does support them, of course, on a sliding scale. He supports Monty the most, and then Lincoln, then Murphy. He'd be happy for all of them if this went well.
Meanwhile Finn is another person who is currently alive and in the band. Bellamy wishes him well because he wants everyone else to succeed, and bad things happening to Finn would hurt the people he actually likes.
Which is why he wishes, so very much, that Finn was the one who took himself out of commission for the concert.
"Except that you don't play guitar," says Monty. "Or sing. Right?"
"I can sing," he grumbles.
"Yeah, not what we actually need. If Finn couldn't perform, we'd honestly probably just give up," says Murphy. "No one else cares that much."
"Inspirational," Bellamy says. "So you don't want me to be your drummer?"
"Don't listen to him," says Monty. "We all want to play, and we need a drummer. It's just one night."
"Just one night. You know I don't have time to actually be your drummer."
"Yeah, yeah," says Murphy. "We know. You're the busiest asshole in the world. All we need is one night. If we don't play this stupid showcase, Finn's never going to shut up about it. And he'll take it out on us. Monty, specifically," he adds.
"Definitely," Monty agrees, and Bellamy rubs his face.
"You don't actually have to guilt-trip me into this. I was going to say yes. Just for this," he says again, giving the two of them a look. "I'll cover for the showcase only."
"And a couple rehearsals," Monty wheedles. "So you're ready."
"One show, two rehearsals," he says. "And you're both buying me a beer for making me put up with Finn."
"Deal," says Monty.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Murphy adds.
"Fuck you both," says Bellamy, and drains his current beer. "When do we start?"
He's expecting Monty to be the one who greets him when he gets to Finn's garage, but instead it's Clarke Griffin, giving him a speculative look like she's the one who has final approval over his status as replacement Lincoln. Which is absurd, because they don't have other options, and he's doing them a favor, and Clarke is about five inches shorter than he is and doesn't have any muscle mass, so she's probably not going to pick a fight.
Still, it's quite a look.
"Bellamy," she says.
"Clarke. Are you in the band now?"
"I'm in management. Thanks for filling in," she adds, her expression softening. "I was really worried they'd have to drop out of the showcase."
In theory, Bellamy doesn't like Clarke. She moved to Eden after he'd already graduated from high school, so the two of them never really got to interact much, and by the time he met her, she was dating Finn, which was the kind of thing that indicated both poor taste and poor judgement. It had seemed logical to assume that he wouldn't get along with anyone who was in an actual relationship with Finn Collins.
In practice, he kind of likes her. It's not like she's the only person he knows to be somewhat inexplicably fond of Finn Collins. And aside from her questionable relationship, she's great--unapologetically smart and shrewd, overly serious without being a drag about it, and not really funny, exactly, but the two of them are on the same wavelength with both humor and serious conversation. She's easy to talk to, when they do talk, which isn't really that often. Usually just when they're drunk.
If he gets to talk to her a little more because of this, he won't mind.
"I don't mind. I don't get to be a hero that often."
"Monty makes a good damsel in distress," she says, just a little too casual, and he gives her a critical once over.
"That was your idea?"
"I thought it would work."
"You really didn't need to work that hard," he says. "I don't mind. Just the time commitment."
She considers him for a second. "If you win there's a cash prize. So just be awesome."
"I'll do my best."
"I knew you would." She steps out of the doorway and gestures him past. "Murphy's late. But everyone else is around."
"Of course he is."
Finn and Monty are warming up, so Bellamy just nods to them, goes to check the drum kit. It's nicer than his, which he scraped together from spare parts over the course of high school, and that only bothers him a little. He gets to play it, that's cool. And drums are drums. They all serve the same percussive purpose.
"Did anyone give you the song?" Clarke asks.
"Have you met the rest of the band?" he asks, and she rolls her eyes.
"I thought you might have," she tells Finn.
"I found out he was our replacement today," Finn says, looking less than pleased about the whole thing.
"And he only agreed yesterday," Monty adds. "We're on a time crunch."
It's a little funny to Bellamy that getting him to sub in for Lincoln was a plan Clarke was in on, but not actually surprising. Clarke is the brains of that relationship. She might be the brains of the whole band. She is the one who hands him the song, after all.
"This is your big break?" he asks, absent, as he scans the sheet music. He's heard them play before, and he thinks he's even heard pieces of this song, but he's not sure it was finished before.
"That's the plan," says Clarke.
"It's really supposed to be this slow?"
"It's a ballad," Finn says. "To win back a lost love."
Bellamy glances at Clarke. "Did you guys break up or is he just winning back someone else and you don't mind?"
"Songs aren't documentaries, Bellamy," she says, mouth twitching with a smile.
"So if you break up, you already know how he's going to try to win you back."
She rolls her eyes, but the amusement is still written all over her face. "It's efficient. I can factor it in to any future disagreements and plan accordingly."
This is why he likes Clarke. And part of why he hates Finn, since he looks like he's sucking a lemon instead of thinking it's funny.
But the song itself isn't bad, aside from the tempo. He likes it, even, which is annoying, since it's Finn's. The lyrics aren't anything special, but they're snappy, and so's the music. If it was just a little faster, it would be a lot of fun.
As it is, "May We Meet Again" is kind of like Finn Collins himself--all the basic parts are fine, but Bellamy just doesn't get the appeal of the final product.
Still, he's not actually planning to fuck with it. He does as he's told through rehearsals, playing the song slow and romantic even though it half puts him to sleep, because this isn't his job. It's not even his band. But it is the closest they're going to get to a big break, and it bothers him in the days leading up to the showcase. If this goes well, they could get other gigs. If it doesn't, they won't.
As written, the song could be a ballad to win back a lost love, like Finn says it is, or it could be an upbeat dance number about the first stages of a crush. And of those options, the second is a lot more likely to please the crowd than the first. If he thought Finn would listen, he'd try to make the argument, but there's no way.
But he's the drummer. He sets the pace. And with the lights on him and the crowd looking bored after the last act, which was basically a girl begging a guy to come back to her, he doesn't really think they're going to be a welcome follow-up. After all, they're playing for a bunch of high-school kids. They don't want to hear some lover's lament; they want to have a fucking good time.
So he sets the beat hard and fast.
If he'd known Finn would look so horrified, he would have put more thought into the whole thing. He could have made a production of it, maybe even provided his own drum roll for effect. As it is, he's winging i, monitoring the crowd response, and when he finds the right pace, he sticks to it and lets the rest of the band catch up.
Which, at least, they do. Finn's scowling, but he's not actually stopping, Murphy's grinning like this is the best day ever, and Monty is just concentrating on keeping the pace.
He can't see Clarke, but the crowd seems to love it it. So he figures she'll understand the wisdom of the move. Clarke is nothing if not pragmatic.
The song ends to riotous applause, far more than anyone else has gotten, but Finn's still glaring at him so hard Bellamy's honestly worried he's going to start a fight. Which he thinks he could win, but it doesn't seem like a productive use of anyone's time.
Unless they do it on stage. The crowd would probably love that.
"What the fuck was that?" Finn explodes, as soon as they're backstage.
"I think we won," says Bellamy.
"Bullshit, that's not the song!"
"It was so much better than the song," Murphy says. "Way less mopey."
"It was romantic," Finn says.
Murphy shrugs. "Yeah, and now it's good."
"I was going to ask if you planned that, but I think I got my answer," Clarke says, making all of them jump. She has her arms crossed over her chest as she regards them, and while her eyes dart over everyone--Monty, quiet, Murphy, smirking, Finn, scowling, and himself, calm--she does settle on him in the end.
He returns her gaze, still calm. "I read the crowd. If your boyfriend was smart, he'd be thanking me."
"He's right," she tells Finn. "You know I love your version too," she adds quickly, and he's glad she can say that with a straight face, because he couldn't. "But it wouldn't have played well here. You guys were amazing, and you're probably going to win. And that's thanks to Bellamy."
For once, he and Finn have the exact same reaction to something, albeit for different reasons. Bellamy's not used to getting so much credit, and Finn's not used to getting so little; they both tense and shift, awkward and unsure how to respond.
Finn's the first to figure it out. "It's my song."
"Trust me, I don't want it," Bellamy says. "It's all yours."
The band on the stage wraps up with tepid applause, and Bellamy watches the way Finn's jaw ticks, like the fact that they got a better response is a personal affront. Bellamy's about to comment on that, drive the point home, but then the emcee is back. "That's it for tonight, folks! Only one thing left to do. I think we all know who wins the big prize today. Let's give it up one more time for Wonk-ru!"
Finn scowls, and Bellamy has to put actual effort into not smiling. Clarke came up with the name, and he gets that it's kind of cute, but no one is ever going to pronounce it correctly. Still, Clarke's so proud of herself, he's never going to be the one to point that out. If she wants him to, he'll explain the weird One Crew/Won-crew pun until the day he dies.
But for now, he's got better things to do.
"You're welcome," he tells Finn, and follows Murphy back onto the stage without giving him a chance to respond.
"It's after the store is closed," Bellamy says, arms crossed over his chest. "Rehearsal once a week when I'm not on shift and then shows on the weekend after hours. It's not going to interfere with my work. It's pure profit."
Roy crosses his arms right back. He and Bellamy have always had something of an uneasy alliance, even when Bellamy was too young to understand why. His mother had presented it as getting a father, when the two of them met, and Bellamy does believe that she thought it would be. But Roy's always felt like a step-father to Bellamy, not his dad. Even though he's cool with Octavia sometimes, distant, he clearly knows she's family in a way that Bellamy isn't.
So ever since he was a kid, Bellamy's felt like he was living off Roy's charity, and he's sick of it. He's sick of being expected to give everything to the store because they're family, but also having to prove himself, because they aren't. It's unfair, but he doesn't know how to just abandon them. Roy he could leave, and even his mother, but--without him around, he doesn't know what would happen to Octavia.
But this could be his breaking point.
"This store is your top priority," says Roy. "I don't want this--rock music getting in the way of what matters."
It's nothing Bellamy hasn't thought himself, of course. The band was supposed to be a one-time thing, but winning the showcase turned into actual gigs, and even if Lincoln's arm wasn't still recovering from the break, Bellamy would be a little offended if they didn't ask him to be the drummer. Lincoln's cool, but everyone, even Finn, acknowledges that Bellamy's the reason those gig offers exist.
And he wants to be involved. He cares a lot more about this than he cares about the store. He's doing something for himself for the first time in his life, and even if it's not what he pictured, he likes it. He likes playing the drums, and it was one of a thousand things he was pushing to the side because he didn't think it was worth thinking about what he couldn't have.
"If I'm making money, what do you care?" he asks Roy. "Don't tell me you want me miserable more than you want profits." He bites back on further arguments or insults, resisting the urge to let it all out. It's not as if Roy has any real control over his life. He's an adult, he could get another job, find a new place to live. He could just tell the man exactly what he thinks of him and leave, but he's hoping the appeal to logic will work first.
"You miss a day of work for this and that's it," says Roy. "If this interferes with your real work--"
"I got it, yeah. Are we done here? I have rehearsal."
It's his day off, and Roy has no official claim to his time. The fact that he was demanding an explanation for where Bellamy was going was already shitty of him, and it's possible they've both just been itching for this argument. It's not Bellamy's fault that the store is struggling, but he's the easy scapegoat for Roy, either because he's a boy or visibly not related to him or whatever else.
He doesn't know how good a band has to be to make a living, but he's hoping they get there.
"One day and you're done," says Roy. "Go."
It's not the end of the argument, of course, it's just the prelude to the next one. This one will involve a lot of passive aggressive comments about how the band is doing and how it's a waste of time.
He needs to get out permanently. But he can start with spending the afternoon in Monty's garage. If he plays his cards right, he might even get dinner.
To his surprise, Clarke is loitering outside his house, doing her best to look like she's not waiting for him. It's not very convincing, but it's more amusing than offensive.
"Didn't want to walk over alone?" he asks.
"Wanted to make sure you actually came," she shoots back. "You were worried."
"What was your plan if I didn't come out?"
"You had ten more minutes, and then I was going to knock on the door. Crazy, but I thought it just might work."
"You're a visionary." He glances at her for a second, taking her in. She looks neat and respectable, and Roy probably would have been friendly. Clarke doesn't look like someone who'd be involved with a rock band. "Where's Finn?"
"Probably already there. He likes to be early. You don't like him," she adds, and it's not a question.
"He's not my favorite person. No offense."
"None taken. You're not saying I'm not your favorite person. Although I assume I'm not."
"Yeah?" he asks, surprised. He likes her. He'd assumed she knew that.
"You only get one favorite person, Bellamy. I didn't think you were going to waste the slot on me."
The laugh surprises him. "Okay, yeah. That's true. You're a lot closer to being my favorite person than Finn is, though."
"Thanks. That means a lot."
"I don't hate him or anything," he feels compelled to tell her. "We just don't get along. Like oil and water."
"But you're not bailing on the band."
"I like money more than I don't like Finn. And I like the band," he admits. "Finn's a pretty decent writer."
Clarke brightens in a way that makes his stomach clench a little. She's dating Finn. That's a level of liking him beyond Monty and Murphy, a level beyond Bellamy's understanding. He can understand enjoying Finn's company, but he has no idea how to make the leap to being attracted to him.
"He is," she says. "I know he's kind of touchy about it, but--he takes it really seriously."
"Clearly. He'd write better songs if he had a sense of humor," he can't help adding, and she laughs.
"You should tell him that."
"Yeah, he seems really receptive to my feedback."
"What about you?"
"He takes some of my feedback."
Bellamy smiles. "Not what I meant."
"Yeah? What did you mean?"
"Why aren't you in the band?"
That makes her laugh again."Because i want the band to be good. I'm tone deaf with no rhythm. I like music, but I can't make it. Finn won't even let me sing along with the radio."
"Ever?" he asks, making a face.
"Like I said, tone deaf."
"Yeah, but who cares? My sister can't sing, I'd never tell her not to. That's shitty."
"I'm starting to see why you and Finn don't get along," she says, amused.
"I'm not starting to see why the two of you do."
"He grows on you."
"That must be it." He holds the garage door open for her. "After you."
"I prefer polite. But whatever you want to call it is fine. If you just move."
"Very polite," she says, throwing a teasing smile over her shoulder, and he can't help smiling back.
The best thing about the gigs is how much they annoy Finn. Not only because it's funny, but because Finn being annoyed means he won't be. Because in theory, he agrees with Finn: it does get boring playing the same song over and over. It's all anyone wants to hear, which makes no sense to Bellamy, because "May We Meet Again" is stuck in his head all the time, and if he never heard it again he's pretty sure he'd still wake up in the middle of the night with the chorus haunting him for the rest of his life.
But unlike Finn, he doesn't actually care that no one appreciates their other songs (all whiny ballads about lost loves, which Bellamy takes as a sign that Finn knows Clarke is way too good for him and will definitely dump him someday, and he's preparing for it like some people prepare for nuclear war), and so he's mostly just grateful that people keep paying them to play the same song over and over.
And they do keep paying. They get two regular weekend gigs, one at a pizza place on Friday and one at a roller rink on Saturday, and when Murphy gets his weird uncle to make a record for them, it actually sells.They aren't getting rich, but they're certainly doing a lot better than Bellamy thought they would. Even Roy's basically shut up about it.
Which doesn't mean that Bellamy really thinks he can get away with being back late from his lunch break. The good will doesn't extend that far. It's less good will and more neutrality. With some lingering passive aggression.
So he's all ready to ignore the guy who jumps out of the RV in front of the store, right up until he says, "Bellamy Blake."
"Can I help you?"
The guy smiles, all bright white teeth, and Bellamy is a little scared. He's heard stories about people like this. Men who lure children into their vans and take them away to kill them.
But Bellamy is twenty-three, so he's probably too old for that. If nothing else, he thinks he could hold his own in a fight.
"I'm hoping I can help you." He jumps down and offers his hand. "Thelonious Jaha. I'd like to represent you."
"Your promoter. For the band. The song, it's catchy. Fun." He says the word like he's heard it and knows the definition, but has no personal experience with the feeling. "I think it could be the real thing."
On the one hand, Bellamy has trouble trusting anyone who came out of an RV like the weirdest fairy godparent ever. On the other, after the last few weeks, it really does feel possible. People like them. He's been getting girls. Even a couple guys, once they worked through the complicated attraction dance.
None of which means anything, necessarily. But it's more than he's seen from any other band that won the high school's talent show. None of them even made records, let alone sold them. They're making actual money. People sometimes recognize him.
"How sure are you?" he asks, sizing Jaha up.
"If I'm not back at work in five minutes, I'm getting fired. So unless you can guarantee that I'll make more money doing this than I will working, we have to wait. I need to talk to the rest of the band anyway," he adds. "I'm not really the decision-maker."
"No? Doesn't look that way from where I'm standing. You and that blonde-haired girl, you're the ones who are always figuring out the record sales and the schedule."
It's true, but Bellamy hadn't really thought of it as a sign of anything. Clarke's not in the band, so it's easy for her to deal with the business side of things, selling the records and handling the money. Bellamy helps with that because he's always been good with money and likes knowing what's going on. Finn's more concerned with writing songs, Monty's more concerned with finding a real job, and Bellamy doesn't really know what Murphy does in his free time and is pretty sure he's happier that way.
He wouldn't call himself the leader of the group, but he might be the brains.
"I'm not going to make the decisions alone. I'm done with work at six," he adds. "If you want to get dinner and talk about whatever you're offering with the rest of the band, we can do that."
"I've got some grub in the camper," says Jaha, which is not a reassuring statement. "You can come on over, we'll talk. You don't want to miss out on this opportunity."
"Six it is," he says. They don't have to say yes. And he probably can't murder all of them in the camper. Some of them will escape. "See you then."
There's no sign of Roy or his mother when he gets back to work, just his sister standing behind the counter, watching the row of TVs and looking bored.
"Where's everyone else?"
"Eating. You're lucky, you're totally late."
"I know, sorry." He leans on the counter next to her. "Someone wanted to talk about the band."
She rolls her eyes. "Another girl wanting an autograph? You know you're not that good, right?"
"A manager," he says. "He thinks we are that good."
"Oh my god, Bell! Really?"
"Really. We're going to get dinner with him after work. So stay here while I get in touch with Clarke, okay? And then you can go for lunch."
"Clarke?" she asks, dubious. "Why Clarke?"
Bellamy was already dialing, but his fingers freeze at the question. "Because I know she's at a telephone," he says, although it's a lie. Clarke works as a receptionist at her father's company, so she does tend to be at a phone, but he could get in touch with Finn or Monty too.
But she works for her father, so she'll be able to get in touch with everyone else. And it's not like he wants to talk to Finn.
"Griffin Technologies," Clarke says when she picks up, and Bellamy snorts.
"Fuck, you sound so perky."
"Shut up," she says, just as bright, but then she relaxes back into her usual demeanor. "What is it? Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine. There's a music agent in a camper outside the store. He wants to talk to the band about new opportunities."
"He thinks we can make it big."
"Does he live in the camper?" she asks, after a pause, and Bellamy barks out a laugh.
"Are you questioning his judgement?"
"Just his credentials. Have you told everyone else?"
"No, I need to cover my sister's lunch break. I figured you could let them know. You don't really work, right?"
"Dick," she says, without heat. "What time?"
"Six in the camper outside the store."
"That does not sound safe," she says. "I'll let everyone know. Tell your sister to get lunch."
"Thanks, Clarke. See you tonight."
"Yeah, we'll talk contracts. Bye."
Bellamy's mostly useless for the rest of the day. He's never very excited about selling appliances, but it used to be easier to ignore, how boring he finds his entire life. He's not convinced he wants to be a drummer for the rest of his life, but he wouldn't mind being a drummer successful enough that he could finance something better than this, for himself and his sister.
It seems like a lot to hope for, especially from a random guy in an RV. But he can't stop hoping for it anyway.
Finn shows up first, which is awkward. He wants to talk shop with Bellamy, and Bellamy has trouble with that, because the asshole part of him inevitably just wants to pick a fight every time. Even when Finn's right, Bellamy wants to disagree on principle.
In this case, at least, Finn is wrong, so that makes it easier.
"I just think our top priority should be making sure he's getting more of our music out there," Finn is telling him. "This isn't all we're capable of. If we aren't careful, we're never going to be more than this one song."
"Well, right now, we're nothing," Bellamy points out. "We don't really have anything to bargain with except this one song. It's our selling point, not whatever other stuff you might write someday."
"Do you and Clarke talk about this stuff?"
"Band stuff. That's what she said too."
"That's because she's the other person in the band with actual common sense."
"She's not in the band. And neither are you." Bellamy tenses, and Finn actually looks sheepish. "I didn't mean--you were replacing Lincoln. You were pretty clear it was just for one gig. Now we're talking to a manager and signing contracts."
"Oh," he says, feeling awkward. He had been pretty insistent about the one-gig thing, so Finn's not really being an asshole with this. The Clarke thing feels unnecessary; she might not be a part of the band, but it doesn't really matter. She does a lot more for the group than Murphy does. "I'm in, yeah," he says. "If I get fired, maybe Clarke can get me a job at her dad's company."
"It's your family," says Finn, with blank incomprehension. "Why would they fire you?"
He doesn't know how to explain it to Finn, so he just shrugs. "No idea. If they tell me, I'll let you know."
Monty and Murphy show up before six, but Clarke doesn't, and Bellamy has to wonder if Finn told her she didn't belong in the meeting, as a non-band-member. He's not going to ask. He doesn't want to punch the guy before their big meeting.
But the meeting itself isn't actually as weird as he was expecting it to be. Jaha serves them some odd stew he made on the burner in the camper, Murphy can't stop making snide comments, and Finn asks about other music four times, but Jaha seems happy to ignore all stimuli and just plow forward with whatever he cares about.
Which is, in this case, being their manager. He loves "May We Meet Again" and thinks it has real potential.
"How would you like to be on the radio?" he asks, finally, like this is his finishing move.
"Like sitting on it? Or standing?" Murphy asks, and Bellamy elbows him.
"Give me one week," says Jaha. "And I'll get you air time."
"One week?" asks Finn. Even he sounds impressed.
"One week. If I don't have you on the radio, we're through. I won't deserve to be your manager."
"I'm in," says Murphy. "This guy's got a plan. I say we follow him blindly."
"I'm in too," says Monty. "I want to hear the song on the radio."
"What comes after the radio?" Finn asks.
"Real shows. Not just pizza joints. State fairs, theaters. Showcases that don't take place in high-school gymnasiums. Anything I can do for you, I will do for you."
"That is terrifying," says Murphy. "We should totally do this. Will we get more van stew? That's a big thing for me."
Jaha claps his hand on Murphy's shoulder, grinning. "As much as you can eat." He looks at Bellamy. "Well? Do you need to check in with the girl who sells the records?"
"Her name's Clarke," says Bellamy, at the same time Finn says, "No." He scowls, holds his hand out to Jaha. "We're in. Let me sign."
The contract comes to Bellamy last, and it's strange to see his name there, Bellamy Blake in black and white. A member of the band. One of the group. Once he signs this, he's in it. Legally committed. He has no such agreements with Roy. If there's a conflict, this is his allegiance. He's choosing sides, and for the first time, he's not choosing his family.
"A problem, Mr. Blake?" Jaha asks.
"No problem," he says, taking the pen and putting his name down. "Let's do this."
Of Bellamy's bandmates, Clarke is Roy's favorite, which mostly just makes Bellamy dislike him more. Bellamy likes Clarke because she's the most competent of them and the one whose values most closely align with his, which is, in his opinion, a good reason. Roy, he's pretty sure, likes her because she's an attractive young woman from a well-off family. Clarke is one of the good ones to Roy, and while Bellamy agrees, he can't believe Roy has any real appreciation for her.
Which is why she's so easily manipulating him right now.
It's kind of fascinating to watch, the same way any disaster is; he can't look away. Clarke is leaning on the counter, charming Roy out of some radios. Bellamy didn't even know she could be charming.
"You must be so proud of Bellamy," she's saying, even though she knows it's bullshit. "It's amazing."
"Of course," Roy agrees, clearly caught off guard.
"I've been stopping everywhere to try to catch it on the radio. It took me forever just to get here because I was going into every store on the way. Which is why I'm getting the radio," she adds.
"It's a good one."
"Yeah, I'm really excited. It's just--" She worries her lip. "Finn."
"My boyfriend. He wrote the song, and he's dreamed of having his music on the radio ever since he was a kid. But he can't afford to get a radio himself, so--" She looks up at Roy, all huge, beseeching eyes, and Roy actually melts.
"I can't believe that worked," Bellamy says, with some awe. Clarke talked her way into free (loaner) radios for the whole band, himself included. It feels like a minor miracle.
"Yeah, I wasn't sure it would either," she says. "But it was worth a try. Sorry you can't just ask him," she adds, looking a little guilty about it. "I hope you don't mind--"
"Jesus, I don't care. I wasn't even going to ask."
"I know. So I figured I might as well," she says, still a little shy, and he puts his arm around her and gives her a quick squeeze. If nothing else comes of this, at least he got Clarke out of it.
"As long as we don't miss it if Jaha actually gets the song on the radio."
She grins. "Yeah, that's the most important thing. I want to hear it."
Bellamy does too, but he doesn't really believe it. He doesn't actually think it's going to happen.
Then again, they haven't given Jaha any money yet. It would be a pretty bad con if he didn't make any cash off them. But the next step is probably telling them how much money they need to give to get on the radio. That would be logical.
Instead, it's Sunday afternoon and Bellamy's trying to sell a washing machine when Clarke and Monty burst into the store, screaming. It's actually kind of terrifying, seeing both of them that excited about something. Especially Clarke. Monty is, at least, theoretically excited about things. But Clarke is, well, Clarke.
He's the one who goes for the radio, while Clarke runs basically directly into Bellamy's arms. He catches her, and even before she shoves the headphones at him, he knows what it has to be.
"It's our song," he says, numb with the shock, and Clarke grins.
"It's your song."
Monty gets the radio tuned and suddenly it's blasting through the store. Even Roy looks pleased, he notices vaguely, as the three of them celebrate. The guy must really like Clarke.
"It's our song on the radio!" Monty says, and Bellamy hugs him too, feeling a grin split his own face.
"We really made it, huh."
"I think this is supposed to be the start," Clarke points out. "First the radio, then fame and fortune."
"Yeah," he agrees. "But you really think it gets better than this?"
Her laugh is bright, and he could get used to her being this happy. "Let's find out."
Roy doesn't fire him.
Bellamy would like to believe it's from affection, or even just realizing he was an asshole about the whole thing, but he's pretty sure it's pure greed. Bellamy had a song on the radio and is now getting asked to play at real venues, and Roy wants that money to come to him and his family.
Which, to be fair, is also where Bellamy wants the money to go, at least some of it. But if Roy thinks he has to be on his best behavior for that to happen, Bellamy won't mind.
Their first big gig is only a week after the song gets on the radio, and that's still amazing to Bellamy. The whole thing is moving so quickly, this impossible rush from showcase to pizza places to radio to, now, Pittsburgh. A real theater with a real audience. A place real musicians play.
Although he doubts the real musicians show up in an RV.
That part's kind of fun, though. Finn apparently likes to be alone before shows, and Jaha insists that Murphy is the only one allowed to take the passenger seat, so Bellamy spends the ride playing cards with Clarke and Monty. Octavia talked Roy into letting her leave early, so she'll be at the show, and Bellamy can't help thinking it's going to be fun. They're already so much more successful than anyone but Finn thought they would be, so every new step just feels like a bonus, some unexpected boon. Bellamy isn't unambitious, but he is realistic. They're fine, but he doubts they're ever going to make it big. This probably isn't his future.
But if his summer is nothing but weekends spent on the road to shows Jaha finds them, sitting in the back of a camper with Clarke and Monty, he'll count it as a summer well spent. It's the kind of summer he's never actually had before; he's always worked as many hours as he could, prioritized that over everything else. The store has never done well enough that they could take vacations or anything like that; the best they did was drive to the beach sometimes, when they used to close on Sundays.
This is a lot better. He could live with this.
"Bellamy," says Jaha, catching him after their matinee performance. He clamps his hand on Bellamy's shoulder, his favorite way to display affection, and Bellamy resists the urge to shrug him off. "We have an appointment."
"Since now. I'm sorry, do you have something more important to do?"
"I'll get Octavia," Clarke tells him. "We'll sight-see until you're done."
"Yeah, it'll be fun," says Monty.
Even Finn doesn't object, which Bellamy always finds a little strange. It doesn't surprise him that Jaha decided he was the band's real leader, but he always expects Finn to be more upset about it. Maybe he just prefers being alone with his art. That's certainly Bellamy's preference for him. Alone with his art is the best place for Finn to be.
"I guess we have an appointment," he tells Jaha, and gestures. "Lead the way."
Jaha is one of those people who doesn't understand why anyone would give a straight answer when an ambiguous will do, so Bellamy doesn't even bother trying to find out where they're going or why. He'll find out when they get there. And at this point he's fairly certain Jaha isn't actually planning to kill any of them.
Almost entirely certain. So close.
"I just want you to listen to this," Jaha tells him, holding the restaurant door open.
"You always say that," he grumbles. "I always listen."
"Really think about it."
"I'll listen extra hard," he says.
"Good. Marcus," Jaha adds, and a man in a suit rises to shake his hand. He looks a lot more like a legitimate professional than Jaha does, although Bellamy assumes not working out of his RV is biasing him. "Bellamy, this is Marcus Kane. Marcus, Bellamy Blake. Drummer for Wonkru."
"A pleasure," says Marcus, offering his hand. "I saw the set. It's a catchy tune. Terrible name, though. It's pronounced One Crew?"
"Yeah. But we're winning, so--"
"You should just call yourselves One Crew. Unless you want to be The Wonks."
"Thanks for the feedback, really appreciated," he says, dry, and Jaha clears his throat.
"Marcus works for Arcadia records."
Bellamy's hand freezes on its way to the glass of water on the table. "Arcadia?" He's not an expert on labels or anything, but they're big enough he's heard of them. They're the real deal.
"I didn't think you had actual contacts," he tells Jaha, to test the reaction, and to his relief, Kane smiles.
"Thelonious and I are old friends."
"So he called in a favor?"
Kane taps his finger against his own glass, watching Bellamy thoughtfully. "The favor was coming to see you, if you can call it that. I trust his judgement; when he tells me a band is worth my attention, I listen. And once I'd seen you, I asked for the meeting. I think you could fit on the Arcadia label."
"Us?" Bellamy asks. "As in--us. The band."
"How many bands are you in? Yes, the band. It's a catchy song. We've got a tour going on right now, I think you'd be perfect for it."
"Heading through the Midwest. You'd be booked up for the whole summer. But the money's good and you'd be a part of the Arcadia family. Radio play, publicity, and an album, somewhere down the line."
"And what's in it for you?"
"This is my job," Kane says, amused. "What's in it for me is signing a band that will bring in profits. It's all I do."
"Okay. What are the expectations? What do we have to do for you and what happens if we don't do it?"
"I told you he was smart," Jaha says, and Kane smiles.
"Warned me he was smart," he corrects. "I have the contracts, if you'd like to see. It's all fairly standard. You play for us, you record an album for us using songs from the Arcadia catalog--"
"Catalog?" Bellamy asks, wary.
"We have a wide variety of music available for you. I'm sure you'll find something that fits your group."
"What about our songs?"
"The ones we wrote."
"There will be room for one or two of those. Think of it as building trust. Our first priority is making you famous. Our songs will do that. Your own songs--"
"Our song is what got us on your radar in the first place," he shoots back. "Look, it doesn't matter to me. I don't care about writing my own music. But our lead singer writes the songs, and he wants to perform more of them. I don't know if he'll be interested."
"So talk him into it," says Kane. "Or don't sign. It's up to you. I can't tell you what to do, Bellamy. But I wouldn't want to walk away from money just because I had to sing someone else's songs."
"Yeah, I'm with you." He rubs his jaw. "When do we need to sign? Does this offer expire?"
"We're leaving Pennsylvania on Monday. If you want to come with us, your travel is covered. If you wait, you have to find your own way to wherever we are. Sound fair?"
"Sounds good," he says. "Are you paying for what I eat?"
"Very smart," Kane says, amused. "It's on me."
"Don't tell him," says Clarke.
Bellamy has to smile. "Don't tell him?"
"Not unless he asks."
"You're enabling me to lie to your boyfriend?"
"Deceive him. If he asks, tell him the truth, but--" She sighs. "You know I love Finn."
She rolls her eyes, not taking any offense, like he knew she wouldn't. "This is good for him, and it's good for you. If he doesn't ask, it probably means he knows that, and he doesn't want to hear it. We all know how record labels work, Bellamy."
"Really?" he asks. "Because I had no idea. How is that common knowledge?"
"Well, the rest of us weren't in denial about having a band," she teases.
"Okay, fine. And what about when he finds out we didn't tell him?"
"You can say it was my idea and I'll deal with it."
"It was my idea, and I can deal with it," she says, and he inclines his head.
"So you think we should do it."
"It's a record label. Of course you should do it. This is what you've been waiting for, Bellamy."
"I haven't been waiting. I've barely been in the band for two months."
"You've been waiting for something," she says, with that confidence of hers that always makes him feel like he's made of glass, not only transparent, but a little fragile. "And here we are."
"Yeah," he agrees. "Here we are."
Finn doesn't ask, and Bellamy takes it to mean Clarke was right. He hasn't shut up about other songs since they started, and now when they're signing a contract, he suddenly doesn't care. And Bellamy's going to let him not care, because they're going to make money. Real money. Good money. They can fight about it later.
It's kind of a whirlwind, once they've signed the contracts. They have a day to pack and say goodbye before they're on the road. He and Clarke have the hardest time of it, him because of Roy and her because her parents require convincing that it's both appropriate and necessary for her for her to join them. Kane provided an official title for her, and promised she'd always have her own hotel room, but Bellamy can't say he's surprised her parents don't approve. Finn hasn't even proposed yet.
Still, it wouldn't be the same without her, and his relief when she's there waiting for to get on the bus with Finn is so profound he nearly staggers. He doesn't know how to be in the band without Clarke.
"Wardrobe manager, huh?" he teases, and she shoves him gently.
"Watch out or I'll give you the worst clothes."
"Yeah, I'm shaking in my boots."
Later, he'll look back on this part of his time in the band as the best part. There's something giddy and free about being on the tour. They don't have to do much, just play the song once at whatever festival they're at and then they're free for the rest of the time. They get to meet actual celebrities, other artists whose music Bellamy knows from the radio, whose records he's bought. And now he's on stage with them, their equal, in some surreal way. They come sightseeing with him, go to fairs. He even gets to sleep with a few of them, not that he has much time or privacy for it, but he manages once or twice.
Mostly, though, he spends time with his own band and Kane, watching their single climb the charts. That might be the actual best part of that summer, seeing how many people are buying the record, the giddy, breathless feeling of knowing that they're an actual sensation. "May We Meet Again," is sweeping the country, and it's so fucking cool.
The dark spot is Finn. Or, rather, Finn the boyfriend. Finn the bandmate is actually at his most tolerable, good-tempered and easy to get along with, actually as happy with the success they have as everyone else is, for once. If Clarke wasn't around, Bellamy might even think about liking him.
But he's such a shitty boyfriend.
It shouldn't be news; Bellamy's always assumed it to be true, and all evidence pointed to it. But the assumption was easy, unconscious, and not particularly serious. He didn't like Finn, so he didn't understand why Clarke would either. But he'd also thought she must have a good reason.
And then he finds her sitting on the steps of their hotel one night, legs pulled up, chin resting on her knees, and he doesn't understand how anyone who claims to love her couldn't be with her.
"Hey," he says, sitting down beside her, close enough their shoulders are brushing.
She startles. "Bellamy?"
"What are you doing down here?"
"I was, uh, out," he says, a little awkward.
Clarke just smiles. "Yeah? With who?"
"Luna, from The Waves," he admits.
She leans her head on his shoulder. "I'm glad you're having fun."
"You don't look like you are."
"I am, most of the time."
"Yeah? So why not now?"
"Sorry, do you have fun all the time? Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?"
"Non-stop," he says, dry, and nudges her shoulder. "I'm not always having fun, but you're the one who was sitting on the hotel steps alone in the middle of the night."
"It's not even eleven."
"Just--sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be here," she admits. "That I don't belong on this tour."
"Of course you do."
That makes her smile. "Just like that."
"If Murphy should be here, you should be here."
"Murphy plays an instrument."
"Did Finn say something?" he asks, against his better judgment. He can't imagine anyone else would, but it doesn't feel entirely like his business.
"He doesn't have to say it. It's obvious."
"Not to me."
She looks at him sidelong, cheek propped against her arms. "Which part?"
"I don't know how to be in this band without you," he says. "So of course you belong here."
"Who else am I going to talk to? Murphy?"
"Monty doesn't really care. Finn cares about the wrong things. You get it." He squeezes her shoulders. "You really think he doesn't want you here?"
"He could be out meeting girls like you."
"I'd kick his ass," he grumbles. "I'm meeting girls because I don't have a girlfriend, not because she's not here."
"You know what I mean. This is a whole new life for you guys, and I'm part of the old life."
"You think he wants to break up with you?"
"No. I think he just wishes things were different."
"He's a dick," Bellamy says without thinking, and she smiles.
"You always say that."
"Yeah, but this time I mean it. You shouldn't be sitting out here alone on the steps, Clarke."
"Maybe I like being alone," she says. "And anyway, I'm not. You're here."
She doesn't mention the conversation the next morning, and by all outward appearances, she's not worried about it any more. But Bellamy is aware of this now, on alert for every small sign of Finn acting as if Clarke might not belong with them. He doesn't see many, admittedly, but what he sees is that, in all honesty, Finn is an ass.
Which is, again, not a surprise. But he never saw the private parts of their lives before. He'd assumed there must be good parts he didn't witness, something that makes it worth it. He's seen that with Roy, with his mother and his sister. He wouldn't personally want to marry the man, but he's seen him be kind and loving, a good father and husband.
Finn and Clarke seem to have reached the worn-in part of their relationship, the part where they've been together for long enough that they don't worry about romance, and that's fine. But he can't help feeling as if Finn is taking Clarke for granted too. If his girlfriend was doing all this for him--organizing schedules, selling records, finding gigs, leaving her entire family behind to come on tour when she's not even getting any credit--he'd be fucking grateful. And Finn seems to feel like it's such a trial, like Clarke is sticking her nose where it doesn't belong.
So Bellamy goes out of his way to make sure she feels included, and that's when the tour really becomes the best time of his life. He and Clarke have always been something of a team, but the guilt he felt for spending too much time with her evaporates once he realizes how little thought Finn is putting into it. He and Clarke hit state fairs and local historical sites, and she teases him for wanting to actually read all the plaques and take all the tours, and he teases her because she insists on stopping by every zoo and aquarium.
They're at the Lake Superior Zoo in Minnesota when what Bellamy still thinks of as the best part of summer ends. Monty came with them, but Finn and Murphy passed, and Clarke's the one who notices the girls while he and Monty are reading an information card about bears.
"Put on your sunglasses," Clarke tells him, low.
Bellamy frowns, but does as he's told. The glasses were Kane's idea, something to give him a little edge. He has to admit, he likes them. They do make him feel cool. "Why?"
"Because they're your trademark," she says. "And you've got fans watching you."
Monty nearly jerks around to look, but he manages to rein it in. Bellamy does the same. "We have fans?" he asks, and Clarke rolls her eyes.
"You're number nineteen on the Billboard charts," she says. "Of course you have fans."
"Fans who recognize us?"
"I don't want you guys to think you're popular just because you're cute, but--you are cute."
"Thanks. That means the world to me."
Clarke rolls her eyes. "They're getting up the nerve to come over, so be nice, okay?"
"I'm nice," he grumbles, and she pets his arm.
"You'll be fine. I'm going to go check out the monkeys. So they won't think I'm your girlfriend," she adds, before he can ask. "Meet you there."
Bellamy had never expected to be recognized as anything other than the guy who works in the appliance store. Maybe sometimes as Aurora's son or Octavia's brother, someone's friend, but never a celebrity, someone people actually care about. But Clarke was right. It just takes a few minutes for the girls to get their nerves up, and then they're coming over, nervously gushing about how much they love the song and the band and how they'll be at the show on this day and they can't wait to see him and--
"Was that your girlfriend?" one of them asks, looking after Clarke, and Bellamy smiles.
"No, just a friend."
"So you don't have a girlfriend."
"Not at the moment, no."
"What kind of girls do you like?"
He really wishes Clarke hadn't left. It would be a lot easier to just say she was his girlfriend, and not have to tell a sixteen-year-old fan that he likes girls who are old enough to legally drink. It's probably not the most diplomatic response.
"Pretty girls," he says, and winks for good measure.
But of course he's wearing sunglasses, so that doesn't help. He is good with girls, really. At least when he's prepared for it.
But fans aren't like girls he's trying to pick up. They're so much more confusing.
The response seems to satisfy her, at least, and her attention shifts to Monty.
"What about you?"
Bellamy's never been entirely sure Monty likes girls at all, or if he likes both and prefers men, but he takes the question in stride, like Bellamy did, and they give autographs and promise to look out for the girls at the show tomorrow and the whole thing isn't that bad, mostly just surreal. He's not supposed to be this person. People aren't supposed to care.
"You're going to have to start going out in disguise," Clarke teases, smug.
"We're really not that big a deal," says Bellamy.
"I don't know," Monty says. "She might be right. We might be famous."
He rolls his eyes. "Keep telling yourself."
And he honestly does think it's an isolated incident until their next show, when he's nearly knocked over by a wave of cheering as they make their way off the stage and to their limo back to the hotel. Girls are actually begging him to put on his sunglasses, and when he does some of them actually swoon.
"Holy shit we're rock stars," says Murphy, and even though he yells it, Bellamy can barely hear it. The sound is overwhelming, like every sleepover his baby sister has ever had but multiplied, amplified, and directed at him.
Murphy's right, for once; they are absolutely rock stars.
It's not until he's half in the limo, the sounds of the crowd muted, that he looks for Clarke, and it's only then that he realizes she's not with them. Kane raises his eyebrows as Bellamy pulls back out of the limo, and he says, "We lost Clarke!" and assumes it will count as sufficient explanation.
The noise is deafening again as he gets back out, but luckily she isn't far, involved, of course, in a heated argument with the security guards who assumed she was another fan. It's a good thing Bellamy noticed her when he did, honestly, or he'd worry she was going to start throwing punches.
He loves Clarke, he really, truly does.
"If you'd just fucking ask someone--" he hears her saying, and then, "Bellamy!"
"Jesus, we can't take you anywhere," he teases, taking her arm. "She's with us," he tells the security guards. "Thanks for looking out for her."
He puts his arm around her shoulders, guiding her back to the front of the limo, where there's actually room for them. He gets her in first and then slides next to her, laughing when she collapses against his side. It's like being drunk, almost, the same giddy affection, the same warm, surreal feeling in his stomach.
"Feel like a celebrity yet?" Clarke asks, and he laughs.
"Yeah. I've finally arrived."
She squeezes his arm. "You have though."
There's a thump as some girls actually climb onto the car; it's a little like being in a horror movie, only without any real danger. Mostly, it's kind of hilarious.
"Yeah," he agrees. "We're fucking rock stars."
Two equally surreal days later, Kane says, "We're pulling you off the tour."
Clarke's the first to recover from the shock of the announcement. "Why? They're headlining, they're selling out shows, they're doing everything you wanted--"
"We're taking you to L.A. This was the minors, and it's time for the majors. This is the fastest moving single Arcadia has ever had, and we don't want to waste you out here."
"L.A.?" Finn asks, in awed tones. This is what fame means to him, not the screaming crowds or the money, but the location, the creating.
Honestly, Bellamy kind of wishes that was how it was for him, too. He'd like to feel like this is his passion and he's an artist, but mostly it's kind of fun and novel. His favorite part isn't exactly the celebrity, but meeting people, ordinary people. The ones who really like the music, the ones who want to hear about being in a band and what it's like.
Or maybe he just likes kids. That could be it.
"Hollywood," says Kane. "TV, maybe even a movie. The big leagues, like I said. If you're ready for it."
"We're ready," says Finn, no hesitation. "When do we leave?"
"You know there are other people in the band, right?" Murphy asks. "Not that I don't want to go," he adds, when Finn glares. "But Bellamy at least talks through decisions with us. Put some effort in, Collins."
"This is what we've been working for!" Finn says. "If we say no to this--"
"No one's saying no," says Bellamy. "Monty, you're in, right?"
"It's not--" Finn starts, but Clarke doesn't let him finish. Which is a shame, because Bellamy spends about ninety percent of his time at this point wanting to fight Finn because he doesn't appreciate his girlfriend enough. If he gets a good opening, he's definitely going to go for it.
But Clarke says, "I'm in," and Finn doesn't object, so Bellamy doesn't either.
"So we're going to L.A.," he tells Kane. "When do we leave?"
One he thinks about it, he's not sure how it takes him so long to realize what's happening. It's been months of spending most of his time either with Clarke or thinking about Clarke, worrying about her, wondering why she's dating Finn and why he doesn't appreciate her. Given how busy he's been, it's a miracle he's managed to put so much thought into her, and there's only one explanation for it, really.
He's in love with her. Of course he's in love with her. It's so fucking obvious. But he doesn't figure it out until the plane.
He's out of commission for a while, first because he's never been on a plane before and is kind of airsick, and then because he's never been on a plane before and he can't stop looking out the window. It's a whole new world up here, and it's only belatedly that he realizes none of the voices he's hearing are Clarke's. Finn is talking about what he's going to do in L.A., Murphy is making sarcastic comments that Finn doesn't notice are sarcasm, Monty is sleeping, and Kane is reading.
No sign of Clarke at all.
"Where did Clarke go?" he asks, frowning, and Kane's the one who looks up.
"She's not feeling well. She's worried she's contagious, so she asked the stewardess if there was somewhere she could be alone."
"So that's why you're here?" Bellamy asks Finn.
"She's probably airsick," Finn says, unconcerned. "You were. She said she was fine."
"And you didn't check on her?"
"She said she was fine," he says again. "What am I going to do?"
"Jesus," he mutters, and turns his attention back to Kane. "Where is she?"
"First class. You're lucky Arcadia likes your band. I believe there's even a free seat next to her."
"Great. I'll tell her you say hi," he can't help adding to Finn, and Finn just waves him away.
It's a late flight and off-hours to boot, so it's not hard to find Clarke in the first class section. As Kane said, she's alone, leaning against the window with her eyes closed, curled up into her like she can't get warm enough.
He finds a stewardess and gets a blanket and the takes the seat next to her, smiling when she opens one eye to glare.
"You look like shit," he says.
"Thanks. I feel even worse."
He offers the blanket and her face melts into a smile as she takes it. His own smile is inevitable.
"What's wrong? Airsick, or--"
"I have a cold," she says, petulant, as if this is the most unfair thing in the world.
"Do you need anything? Have they been checking on you?"
"I've been trying to sleep."
"How's that going?"
"Not that well."
He lifts his arm. "Come on. Body heat."
"I'm going to get you sick."
"You have to be on TV soon. You can't be sick."
"I won't be. Clarke, trust me. I took care of my sister whenever she got sick because Mom and Roy had to work. I never catch anything. My immune system is amazing."
She hesitates for just a minute more and then leans into him, snuggling up. He repositions the blanket for maximum coverage and checks her forehead. It's warmer than it should be, but not such a bad fever he's worried. Sick, but nothing too serious yet. Just bad luck.
"How old were you?" she asks.
"When your mom married him. Your sister is a lot younger."
"My dad died when I was about a year and a half old," he says, letting his fingers settle in her hair to stroke it. Octavia used to feel better when he did it. That's the only reason. "Mom met Roy when I was four and married him when I was five. O came a year after that."
"I can't imagine."
"You were so little, and he must have been--I hate him for not just being your dad. For making you feel like you weren't a part of his family."
He swallows hard, looks down at her. She's not looking at him, so all he can see is the top of her head and the way her fingers are bunched in his shirt, holding on tight.
He never told her that. She just knows him. It feels like such a selfish way to realize you're in love with someone, because they know you so well and hate the people who have hurt you, but it's not like that's why he loves her.
It's just why he notices.
"I had my mom and Octavia," he says. "But yeah, I hate him too." He rubs the base of her skull, gentle, and wonders if there's any way he can leave now. It feels more inexcusable to be here, now that he knows how he feels. "Are you going to be able to sleep?"
"I hope so. Will you stay?" she asks, and the second revelation hits him then: the band can't last. One way or another, his being in love with Clarke is the beginning of the end. Even if he never tells her, he won't be able to watch her with Finn, to keep his mouth shut about how much better she deserves. They can't survive this.
But it won't end tonight, and she's sick and miserable, so he tugs up her blanket and kisses her hair. "Yeah," he tells her. "Of course I'll stay."
There's a man waiting for them at the airport, older, with salt-and-pepper hair and a slightly nervous smile. Kane looks as surprised to see him as the rest of them, but not upset.
"Jacapo. I told you that I could take a taxi."
"And I told you it was a pointless waste of money. I was still awake anyway."
"Meaning you wouldn't be able to sleep until I was home," Kane says, amused.
"Meaning that, yes."
"Well, I appreciate it. This is the new band. Band, this is my partner, Jacapo Sinclair."
Bellamy gets it first, he thinks, and then Monty, with Clarke lagging because she's feverish and half-slumped into his side.
Finn, of course, asks, "You work for Arcadia?"
"Wrong kind of partner, dipshit," says Murphy. "Right?"
Kane rolls his eyes. "As always, you have a way with words. Will the five of you be able to get to your hotel without supervision, or do you need me to load you into the taxis myself, with Clarke incapacitated?"
"We've got it," Bellamy says. "Go home, get some sleep. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Sinclair."
They don't all fit in one car, and Bellamy is planning to volunteer to go with Monty and Murphy, to give Clarke and Finn some privacy and to get some space from his newly discovered feelings, but Clarke doesn't show any sign of letting go of him, practically drags him into her cab. Before, he would have hoped Finn understood this was what he should be doing; now he hopes Clarke understands the same thing and acts accordingly.
Finn does at least take Clarke's other side in the cab, frowning with something like concern, but once they're on the way to the hotel, it's not Clarke's health he asks after.
"That was Kane's boyfriend?"
Bellamy's preferences are fluid enough that he knows how to read the signs of men who prefer other men; he didn't know Kane had a boyfriend, but he was fairly confident he wanted one. It wasn't as much of a surprise for him.
He's not confident Finn knew men could prefer other men to begin with. It might not have ever occurred to him.
"Sounds like it, yeah," he says, refusing to make it a big deal. "He seemed nice."
"You're just okay with this?"
"What am I supposed to be?"
"He's seen us changing, Bellamy. He comes into our dressing room."
If he wanted to have a real fight, he'd point out he and Monty are just as attracted to men as Kane is, but it's not his place to say that about Monty, and he doesn't really want to fight in the cab. He's jetlagged and grumpy and in love with Finn's girlfriend; it's a bad time for that.
"You're not that cute," he settles on. "If he's looking at anyone, it's probably Murphy."
"You really don't care," Finn says, with blank incomprehension.
"I care. It's a big deal, and I bet he and his boyfriend had an argument about telling us. Some people would be assholes about it. I appreciate that he trusted us."
"It's not normal," Finn grumbles.
"Neither is having a hit record. Most people never do that. You seem fine with it."
"That's not the same thing."
"No, a lot more people are attracted to the same sex, I bet." He doesn't often try to boss Finn around, not interested in power struggles with him, but this one matters. "Let it go, Finn."
He huffs, leaning against the window and staring out at the streetlights as they pass. Bellamy hopes he's coming to the right conclusions.
Clarke is leaning on him now, not on Bellamy, but her hand finds his and squeezes, just once, and he takes it to mean she's grateful.
He stops by her room on his way to breakfast the next morning, in case Finn hasn't. As always, he's torn between annoyance and relief that he's right: Clarke is alone, nose red and eyes bleary.
"I was going to ask if you were feeling better, but I think I figured it out."
Her smile is wry. "Good morning to you too."
"Are you going to make it to breakfast or do you want me to bring it to you?"
"I can call room service. Arcadia is paying, right?"
"I guess. Do you need anything else? Medicine?"
"You know it's not your job to take care of everyone, right?"
She worries her lip. "Can we talk about something?"
For one panicked second, he thinks she's going to ask how he feels about her, but he dismisses the worry. She doesn't know anything has changed. There's no reason she should be wanting to have that talk.
"Yeah. What's wrong?"
She pulls him into the room gently, closing the door behind them. She still looks exhausted, so he sits in the chair and gestures for her to take the bed. She sits cross-legged, watching him with more lucidity than he feels like she had last night.
"Do you know why we moved to Eden?"
It's an interesting question, one he's never considered since getting to know her better. It's a fairly small town, close to some cities but not so close that anyone wants to live there and make the commute. Clarke's family is wealthy, and the Griffin Technologies factory near town is one of many. It's surprising that the CEO works from there, instead of a corporate headquarters.
"I assumed your dad got a job, but he already had a job," he says.
She worries her lip. "I got caught kissing a girl."
It's more surprising than Kane's boyfriend, but not as surprising as it could be. He'd wondered, from some of their conversations about the other artists on the Arcadia tour, if she might be interested in women, but he hadn't even been sure she knew.
"And you had to leave the state?" he asks. "I can't imagine being that rich."
Her posture relaxes, and she smiles. "You probably are, now. You're a rock star."
"I can't imagine spending my money on that, fine. I bet I could come up with something better." He hesitates for a second, but he wouldn't have a day ago, before he knew how he felt, so he doesn't let himself second-guess the impulse to comfort her. He sits down next to her on the bed, shoulders pressed together. "Did your parents think the city was a bad influence?"
"I don't know. They thought they could avoid the scandal if we left, which we did, and that it would be less liberal in Eden, which it is. I don't--I do like men, it's not as if--"
"I get it." He bumps her shoulder. "I'm the same way."
She ducks her head. "I thought you might say that. I just--I never told Finn, but I always hoped I could. And now I'm sure I shouldn't."
"I'm sorry," he says.
She shrugs. "It's fine. I knew I shouldn't."
"It's not fine," he says. "You should be with someone you can talk to, Clarke."
Her voice is soft. "I know." Before he can say anything, she adds, with a small smile, "I shouldn't have come here. It's weird to break up with a guy when you're on tour with his band. I could have just had Kane fly me back home instead."
"You don't have to be dating Finn to be here."
He probably deserves the dubious expression. "It's his band."
"You're our friend too. And we need a wardrobe manager, so--"
She laughs softly. "Yeah, you'd be lost without me."
"We would. Or at least, I would be. I told you, Monty and Murphy--I can't talk to them like I talk to you.."
"And you hate Finn."
"I hate Finn," he admits. "He doesn't deserve you. And you don't deserve him either."
"So we're both too good for each other?"
"No, you're too good for him. You should be with someone--" His voice dies for a second, because he thinks all this is true even without himself as a viable alternate option. "You should be happy," he settles on. "And you should stay."
"I'll see how the breakup goes. Thanks for talking it through with me."
"If you want someone to tell you to dump Finn, I'm your guy." He clears his throat and stands, feeling awkward. It's possible his relationship has never been very appropriate, but it feels even less appropriate now, for him to be alone with her when she's thinking about breaking up with Finn and he's thinking about curling around her in the bed and holding her until she feels better. "Seriously, breakfast? Medicine? Do you need anything?"
"Some medicine would be nice," she admits, and he smiles.
"I'll see what I can do. And call room service."
"I will. Network execs and contracts today, right?"
"Thanks. Feel better."
She bites the corner of her mouth, and his heart flips over. "Already do. Have a good day, Bellamy."
It's his turn to smile. "Already am."
Hollywood is not good for One Crew. Finn is dissatisfied because it's not immediately what he was looking for: new songs, new recordings, moving on from their one hit single to new songs, new work, a real album. Bellamy's waiting for someone to mention that whatever album they record won't be made up of primarily their own music, but he's not going to be the one to bring it up.
Clarke still has her cold, and Bellamy stops by every morning, but if she's broken up with Finn already, she doesn't mention it. No one is trying to kick her out yet, so he assumes they're still together. But it feels like only a matter of time before everything disintegrates, and Bellamy's on edge through a few days of hobnobbing, networking, and the truly bizarre experience of being the band in the background of some awful teen movie.
He assumes that will be the last straw for Finn, but he survives it, even if he's in such a shitty mood that none of them want to spend time with him. Not that Bellamy ever wants to spend time with him, but even more so.
It really feels like Finn is going to be the first to bail, and Bellamy's as excited about it as he is anxious. Finn is the front man, and he doesn't know if they can survive him leaving.
But it's Monty who goes first, after all. He and Bellamy go to a jazz bar to drink and listen to some music, which is the kind of thing that's been kind of lacking in his life recently. Bellamy likes music, even if what they actually do isn't necessarily his thing. It's nice to just relax and appreciate it, with no one trying to make it out like he's the real star here.
Not until someone slides in next to him and says, "Oh my god, Shades, you're my favorite one, will you sign my arm?"
He's frozen until he realizes the person next to him is Nathan Miller, his best friend from high school who came out to California to try his hand at acting, and he grins and punches him in the bicep. "Happy?"
"Deliriously." He offers his hand. "Seriously, I can't believe it's you. When did you get to L.A.? Last I heard you were causing mass teenage girl hysteria in the Midwest."
"Just a few days. We're making movies now."
"Background band in a teen flick about an alien invasion. Try not to be jealous. You know Monty?"
"Kind of," says Miller. He offers his hand to Monty too. "You're my actual favorite."
"Seriously?" Bellamy asks.
"I like bass players. Drummers bang too hard."
"Wow. How long have you been waiting to use that one?"
"Who says I've never used it before?" His eyes flick back to Monty. "Can I get you guys' next round?"
"We never say no to free drinks," says Bellamy. "Thanks."
It's not hard to see the sparks flying between Monty and Miller once they really start talking, and he's all for that, so he makes his excuses to leave early, ends up walking back to the hotel by himself, trying not to feel too overwhelmed.
Six months ago, he'd never left Pennsylvania. He wasn't sure he ever would. Now he's not sure how he can ever go back.
He stops by Clarke's room on the way to his own, but he hears raised voices and changes course. If she and Finn are breaking up, he'll hear about it sooner rather than later. And if they're not breaking up, he doesn't want to overhear them resolving things.
If they're resolving things, he's not sure what he's going to do. It's going to be bad.
He oversleeps the next morning and barely has time to stop by Clarke's room; she seems upbeat, finally almost over the cold and smiling at the mess of his hair.
"You know you don't have to check on me, right?"
"Just wanted to make sure everything's okay."
"You don't need anything?"
She reaches up to smooth his hair down. "For you to not be late or hungover. You're going to be on TV. That's a big deal."
He swallows hard, trying to figure out if great means she and Finn broke up or if they're still together. He can't decide if she'd be so upbeat if that happened. "Are you going to be there?" he asks. "Are you feeling up to it?"
"Of course I'm going to be there. It's your TV premiere. I wouldn't miss it." She shoves him gently. "I'm fine. Get going."
He's hoping to get some sense of what might have happened from Finn, but when he gets to the lobby, all he gets is, "Where the fuck is Monty?"
"Monty. We thought he was with you."
"Probably in his room," says Bellamy, frowning.
"No answer there," says Murphy. "He usually picks me up on his way down, so I checked for him. I thought he got drunk and crashed in your place."
Bellamy shakes his head. "No, uh--I left without him. I think he might have found someone to go home with," he adds, delicate. "So maybe he's meeting us there."
"Wow, go Monty," says Murphy. "Guess we'll find out."
But Bellamy feels as if he already knows, and when they arrive to find Kane at the studio alone, his suspicion is confirmed.
"You seem to have lost a bass player," he says, mild, and Bellamy shrugs.
"One down, three to go," he agrees, and it feels like a prophecy.
Given their pinch-hit replacement bassist introduces himself with, "I'm Roan, but please, call me Iceman," Bellamy's amazed by how well the actual recording goes. Iceman learns the song in about five minutes, which clearly annoys Finn, and then it's all hair and makeup and getting ready for the cameras. The lights are brighter than any others they've performed under, but Bellamy surprises himself by actually being excited to perform again. It's been a few days since he's played "May We Meet Again," and by now, he's feeling a little nostalgic for it. He likes the stupid song. It's fun, and it makes people happy. And the applause is a nice rush too. If this is the last time he gets to do this, it's going to be a good memory.
"Do you want to watch the take?" one of the techs asks, and it seems like such an innocuous question.
Bellamy's seen pictures of himself before, but it's different to see himself in motion. He's the first to start playing, of course, setting the same blistering pace he did at that first show in the high-school auditorium all those months ago. The rest of the instruments kick in, and then Finn starts to sing, Murphy and Iceman backing him up, and it's like magic, seeing everything come together.
They introduce Murphy first, with just his first and last name, John Murphy, as the caption, which is a surprise only because Bellamy never remembers Murphy has a first name. Roan is just Iceman, like he has no other identity, while Bellamy gets to at least be Bellamy "Shades" Blake.
No one asked him how he wanted to be credited, so he assumes no one asked Finn either, which must be why the name Finn Collins comes with the note, Careful girls, he's engaged.
Finn sucks his breath in so hard even Iceman looks at him, and he has no fucking context for what's happening. Finn's jaw twitches, and then he storms out without looking at any of them, slamming the door behind him.
"Are you fucking her?" Murphy finally asks.
"No," says Bellamy.
"Huh. Good thing Monty's dead, or I'd owe him money."
"He's not dead." He scrubs his face. "Fuck. I guess they broke up."
"About time," says Murphy. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to miss this. I hope Clarke slugs him."
Bellamy considers this. "Yeah. But I want to stop her from murdering him."
"Spoilsport," says Murphy, and the two of them make a run for the green room.
"--the fuck would I do that?" Clarke is demanding, when Murphy pushes the door open. "I broke up with you, remember?" she adds, and some small knot of tension in his stomach unwinds.
"Just because I was being nice! I should have left you in fucking Pennsylvania. What are you even still doing here? Pretending to be engaged to me while you fuck Bellamy on the side?"
Bellamy winces, but Clarke doesn't miss a beat. "I never cheated on you, Finn. Can you say the same?"
"There's more to infidelity than just sex," he says, and it's not exactly an unfair point, but Finn was the one who brought sex up in the first place, so he's kind of shifting goalposts here.
"That's not an answer," says Clarke, but she deflates almost immediately. "Honestly, I don't care. It doesn't matter. Sorry your first day as a bachelor got ruined by some exec who wrote a shitty caption. I'm leaving tomorrow, you can tell everyone who wants to sleep with you that you're a free agent."
"Tomorrow?" Bellamy blurts out, and immediately regrets it when all the focus turns to him.
Finn huffs, but Clarke smiles, a little sad. "Tomorrow afternoon. The advantages of being rich, last-minute flights are easy. My parents are thrilled."
Before he can say anything, Kane bursts into the room, all smiles, with an open bottle of champagne. It's awkward, to say the least.
"Great show," he says. "Iceman, I can't thank you enough for subbing in. Everyone else, you looked amazing, you sounded amazing, you--"
"She dumped me," Finn says, flat. "We're not fucking engaged."
"Ah," says Kane, unperturbed. "Well, I took a guess."
"That's it? That's all you're going to say?"
"We'll issue a correction. It's not a big deal."
"My family was watching that. My friends. Everyone I know."
"What about your bass player? I'd be more worried that your band is shedding members. It's been less than six months and you've already had two substitutions. You lost a drummer before you even had a hit."
"And?" Finn demands.
"And you're in the recording studio tomorrow. If you aren't all there, you'll break your contract."
"I'll be there," he snarls. "Everyone else can do whatever the fuck they want."
It's not until he storms off that Bellamy sees Clarke is already gone, and his stomach sinks.
"Well, tomorrow sounds great," Murphy says, into the awkward silence. "Wouldn't miss it."
"Glad to hear it," says Kane. "Bellamy?"
Clarke's going home to Pennsylvania, so he knows where she'll be. He can go after her. She wouldn't want him to leave just for her.
Especially not if it meant Finn won. She'd definitely never forgive him.
"Can't wait," he says. "Let's get some sleep, Murphy."
Clarke managed to get out before they did, but Finn is waiting for his own cab at the curb, and since they're all going to the same place, there's no very good way for them to not travel back together.
It's a very awkward silence in the back seat until Finn finally says, "You must be happy." Which is just as awkward, but not silent.
Bellamy closes his eyes and leans back against the seat. "Yeah, that was a great day. Really awesome. Went exactly like I wanted it to."
"Don't pretend you didn't want this," he says. "Don't--"
"Don't act like I didn't fucking try for you. Jesus fucking Christ, I gave you every chance. Every time I asked you if you wanted to treat her right, you said no. Every fucking time. You don't get to pretend it's my fault that you didn't put in the basic effort to be a decent boyfriend, okay?"
Finn doesn't respond, which Bellamy takes as a blessing. He has no desire to hash out this breakup. He's on Clarke's side. He's always on Clarke's side. And it's not as if he didn't want it to happen.
But he wanted it to happen because Finn was a shitty boyfriend. If Finn had been better, maybe he would have been rooting for them.
Then again, maybe not.
"See you tomorrow?" he offers, once they get to the hotel.
"I'll be there."
"Murphy?" Bellamy asks.
"This was so great, I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring."
Since Finn is in the elevator with them, Bellamy doesn't feel like he can go check on Clarke, so he hits the button for Monty's floor instead. He can easily imagine a world where Monty and Miller got drunk and ended up in a weird situation that kept Monty off the show, but he thinks Monty would probably come back here eventually. He knows Bellamy will be worried.
There's no one in the room, so he checks in at the front desk, which he would have done earlier if he wasn't so distracted with everything else going on. Monty has left a message, but apparently he and Miller somehow decided they really needed to see the Grand Canyon, and they're not bothering to come back yet.
His life really is unraveling at an unprecedented rate. But it came together at an unprecedented rate too, so this is just the summer where everything moves way, way too quickly. Monty is alive and well and probably sleeping with Miller, and that's what really matters. Bellamy's happy for them.
On his way back upstairs, he lets himself stop by Clarke's room, but she has the do-not-disturb sign up. He tries to tell himself that she doesn't mean him, but it's not really working.
So he finally returns to own his room, collapses back onto the bed, and feels like he's asleep before his head even hits the pillow.
The sign is still on Clarke's door in the morning, and when he knocks anyway, there's no response. It's an unambiguous message, and it puts him in an even worse mood. She doesn't have to feel the same way he does. She doesn't have to want him. He's not even planning to tell her. He just wants to check in, hear how she's doing, make sure she's okay.
He leaves a message at the front desk for her to call the studio before she leaves, just in case, and then grabs his coffee and heads to the studio.
Finn and Kane are already there. Murphy isn't.
"Did you look for him?"
"No," Bellamy snaps. "He's a fucking adult. I'm not his mother. Monty's at the Grand Canyon, by the way," he adds, to Kane.
"What a fascinating place to for him to breach his contract. If your last bandmate isn't here in twenty minutes, I'm calling it."
"Calling what?" asks Finn.
"One Crew," he says. "The entire band. Half the members being gone and the other half hating each other isn't an auspicious start to the next stage of your careers."
"But you haven't even looked at my songs," Finn says. "I don't need the band, I can still--"
It's maybe cruel, but Bellamy has had a shitty few days, and most if not all of that shittiness is on Finn. "He doesn't want your songs," he says, more tired than anything. "He never did. Didn't you read the contract?"
"We got what, two songs we wrote on the album? And the rest are from the Arcadia catalog. But hey, you get to pick them, so at least there's that."
"And you didn't care?" Finn demands.
"Not at all, no. Clarke said we shouldn't tell you," he adds. If he's being a dick, he might as well be as much of a dick as possible. Really lean into it. "She thought you'd rather not know."
His jaw works, but no sound comes out for a few moments. "You two deserve each other," is what he finally comes up with, and then he's gone.
"That's what I'm hoping," he mutters. And then he turns his attention to Kane. "You can probably just call it now."
"Honestly, I called it as soon as I saw Clarke leaning on you at the airport. There are certain things a band can't survive, and that's one of them."
"That wasn't new," Bellamy points out.
"No. But I thought I had longer before it would be fatal." It's his turn to put his attention on Bellamy, his gaze shrewd. "So, what now?"
"You can't tell me you're planning to go home and work at the family store again."
The thought makes him break out in a cold sweat. "I didn't really have a plan."
"Get the girl, I assume."
"This afternoon. I assume not yet."
"She wasn't in her room this morning." He rubs his face. "But yeah. If we're done here, I'm going back to talk to her."
"Well, when you're done with that, you can give me a call."
"Didn't I breach the contract like everyone else?"
Kane shrugs. "You made us a lot of money first. You were in a band with Finn and Murphy and managed to make it work despite their--eccentricities. Your earlier display aside."
"We all have our off days. You're smart and capable and talented. I think Arcadia could use you. If you want to stay in California."
"I'll think about it."
"I'll be gone again at the end of the week."
"Does everything in your life move this fast?" he asks.
"If I'd waited another week, One Crew might have already fallen apart. I have to be fast."
"It's Wonk-ru," he says, putting Kane's business card in his pocket. "I'll give you a call tomorrow."
Clarke's door still has the do-not-disturb sign up, but he knocks and says, "It's Bellamy. I just want to make sure you're alive. People keep disappearing, I feel like I'm in a horror movie."
To his profound relief, the door opens and there's Clarke, smiling at him. Her hair is braided loosely back from her face and she looks completely healthy again, no red around her eyes or nose.
"I didn't mean you," she says.
"Could have added an except Bellamy to the sign."
"I didn't have a pen. What happened with rehearsal?"
"Murphy didn't show and I told Finn no one cared about his music and he stormed out. Not my finest moment."
"I don't know, it sounds pretty awesome to me."
"Yeah, I guess it was probably up there."
She smiles, and he smiles back, but it feels a little awkward. He's never been alone with her when she hasn't been dating Finn, and it feels like that novelty is heavy between them.
"When's your flight?" he finally asks.
"I'm leaving in half an hour. You could probably get on it, if you want."
"Kane said he'd find me a job."
"I thought you might get something." She nods, but it looks a little like she's trying to convince herself. "That's great. I'm happy for you."
"You should stay," he blurts out.
"You should." He takes a step closer. "Fuck, Clarke. I always want you to stay. Don't go back to Eden, fuck Eden. I'm so--"
She steps in and kisses him, swallowing the confession, and he slides his arms around her, holding her close. She tastes like toothpaste and lip balm, and he knew he loved her, but he hadn't let himself want this yet. Not really.
He's not sure how long they stay like that; every time he thinks about pulling away, trying to talk about it, she's smiling, and it's so easy to keep kissing her, long and deeper, and the only question left is really if she wants him to push her onto the bed or if she wants to wait.
She's the one to finally say, "Bellamy."
He trails his mouth down her jaw. "Yeah?"
"I should at least cancel the cab. And get the room for another night."
"You should." He tucks her hair back from her face, smiling like an idiot. "You're going to stay?"
"You didn't notice? I always listen when you tell me to. All you ever have to do is ask, Bellamy."
He grins, brushes his nose against hers, kisses her just for a second. "Stay with me," he says, and she does.
"Oh my god, Shades?"
The words don't really process; Bellamy assumes the girl is talking to someone else until Clarke elbows him. "Shades," she says, low. "You've got a fan."
He blinks at her, and she inclines her head, directing his attention to the girl. She's probably eighteen or nineteen, looking more embarrassed by the second. She would have been in high school during the summer of Wonkru.
"Hey," he says. "Sorry, it's been a while since anyone called me that. And since I met a fan. Assuming you're a fan," he adds, making her laugh.
"Yeah, um--I was such a huge fan when I was in high school. I listened to your record so much my dad locked it up so he wouldn't have to hear it anymore."
He laughs. "Wow. I'm glad you liked it and sorry for your dad."
"He gave it back when I got an A in history." She tucks her hair back. "What happened to you guys? I was always hoping you'd do another song."
"One-hit wonders," he says, with a smile. "Same old story." But she looks upset, so he adds, "Honestly, we were kids. We're still kids, mostly. Our bassist got drunk and drove to Arizona, our guitarist got married in Vegas, our lead singer--" He makes a face. "Our lead singer wanted to go in a different direction. It happens a lot more than you'd think. We just fell apart."
"That's too bad. You guys were amazing."
"Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. It was a lot of fun. Do you want an autograph?" he offers. "I haven't done one in a while, but--"
"No, I just wanted to say hi, I guess."
"Well, hi. Nice to meet you--"
"Fox. I hope you found a new record to drive your dad crazy."
She giggles and takes off, and Clarke presses against his side, grinning. "Can you believe I sometimes forget my boyfriend is a rock star?"
"I don't know. Can you believe you sometimes forget I'm your fiance now?"
Clarke grins, playing with her ring. "Sorry, my fiance is a rock star."
"Was a rock star. If you were trying to marry me for my fame and fortune, I've got bad news."
"I'm already rich, and fame kind of sucks, so--I guess I can settle for just you. And a little fame," she adds, grinning, and he leans down to kiss her. "Old fans recognizing you at the grocery store."
"That sounds perfect. Just enough fame."
"Yeah," she agrees. "Exactly enough."