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If You Were A Castle, I'd Be Your Moat

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Royal Marriages Act

 

Section 21(9)(ix)

 

"Should the heir to the royal throne be female, she must be entered into a union of holy matrimony, accordingly solemnised by a reigning authority of the state, with a spouse borne of noble blood before (or, inasmuch, by) the day she reaches twenty-one (21) years of age. Should the crown princess fail to do so, her position as First in line to the throne must be relinquished, given immediate effect on the day that does follow her twenty-first birthday."

 

 

 

 

 

The thing about the nobility is that it's one big giant fucking hot air balloon.

 

Yeah. It's a weird metaphor. But, seriously. Floats above everyone's heads? Check. Way too much effort and money expended to carry that few people? Check. An interesting concept in the past, but in practice, more or less useless to modern society? Check, check, and, check.

 

But in Bellamy's opinion, the most annoying fucking thing about it are all the rules.

 

The bowing. The formalities. The clothes. (The clothes have got to be the absolute worst.)

 

In literally any other situation, rules have a point. They maintain an order that makes sense. They facilitate processes that get important things done.

 

Rules for royals, however, are enough to make him feel as if his eyeballs are permanently stuck to the top of his skull.

 

But every once in a while, a rule comes up that is so completely beyond ludicrous, it actually leaves him speechless.

 

Like the rule that's forcing his best friend to marry a complete stranger before her twenty-first birthday.

 

"Okay, well, first of all, it doesn't have to be a complete stranger. I'm perfectly free to choose who I hitch my wagon to." She pauses. "As long as they're a noble."

 

"Your 'wagon' is a two hundred-thousand-dollar Mercedes-Benz," Bellamy says, unamused. "And that's not even your most expensive 'wagon'."

 

Clarke tugs at the elastic band wrapped around the end of her braid, frowning slightly with discomfort. Bellamy's not sure how other princesses do it, but if Clarke had her way, she'd have her hair in a braid or loose and flowing around her shoulders every day. "You love driving that 'wagon'. You literally jump for joy every time we take it out."

 

"Doesn't make it any less expensive," he grumbles, leading the way out of the building and towards the stables. He clenches his jaw, remembering just how few royals out there are actually close enough to Clarke's age for her to even consider marrying. "Anyway, it's not much of a choice when your options are this limited."

 

"It could be worse," she says gravely, the corner of her mouth twitching. "I could be straight."

 

He grimaces, torn between wanting to smile and wanting to lecture her to take her future more seriously. "You should fight this. They can't make you marry someone you don't even" —he flounders for half a beat, stumbling on the word that automatically flashes up in his mind— " know. It's the twenty-first century, for crying out loud."

 

She brushes a stray lock of blonde out of her eyes, her demeanour turning brisk and efficient within the blink of an eye. "Don't be silly. Of course I'm going to fight this. They thought they could corner me by springing it on me at the very last minute, but joke's on them — I work better under pressure."

 

A small surge of relief washes over him, although concern still pricks. "Anything I can do to help?"

 

Just like that, her mood seems to lift, a hint of sparkle entering her blue gaze over the smile she flashes him. "There might be something. I'll let you know."

 

He briefly debates the merits of demanding she tell him everything now, but just then, they pass out from the shadow of a large tree, and the morning sun hits them full force, blanketing his skin in warmth and washing over Clarke's yellow braid with gleaming streaks of gold. She's the one going through this, he reminds himself staunchly. She'll tell you when she's ready.

 

"Just be careful," he says at last as they reach the stables, servants and stable hands already rushing about to greet Clarke and ready their horses.

 

She shrugs, tugging on her riding gloves with a dainty flourish. "When am I not?"

 

 


 

 

As Clarke's bodyguard, Bellamy is all too aware that it's his job to worry about her.

 

Despite that, there are times when he can't help but feel so alone in it. Like there's two of them, but he's the only one who seems even the slightest bit bothered by the constant, overhanging possibility of something bad happening to her.

 

That being said, Clarke isn't ever reckless. She's far more astute than he is or ever will be, and it's not just wisdom borne of years of sociopolitical education and training. It's just how she works — perusing possibilities, calculating consequences.

 

But she is headstrong as hell, and, when you're in the kind of position she's in, that can be just as dangerous as being reckless.

 

It's been less than six months since he's been assigned to her, and he's already surprised his head of black curls hasn't turned completely grey yet.

 

"You have three weeks to shortlist potential candidates," he reminds her once the horses have been put away. "That doesn't worry you?"

 

"Actually, I have three days to shortlist potential candidates," she says nonchalantly, glancing at him when she feels the weight of his stare. "What? I've gotta spend some time with my future spouse before marrying them, don't I?"

 

He just barely swallows a strangled yelp. "You're inviting them here?!"

 

"Did I not mention?"

 

He exhales, resisting the urge to rub at his temples. "Princess, am I or am I not still in charge of your security and wellbeing?"

 

Her brow arches in the way it always does when she thinks he's being overdramatic, but to her credit, her mouth remains neutrally still. "You are."

 

"Did it not occur to you," he says, through half-gritted teeth, "that I would need to know if a complete stranger was about to visit the palace?"

 

"It's the palace. Complete strangers visit every day."

 

"Clarke."

 

Her mouth twitches then, but she merely shakes her head, both of them starting back towards the palace as a stable hand passes by. It's not exactly a secret that they have little "clashes of opinion"  every now and then — her mother's words, not his — but even so, it wouldn't be very becoming of them to just stand there in full view of all the royal stable staff arguing about this. "It was just decided yesterday. We're presenting it to the ministers tomorrow." Her eyes slide to his. "Even Byrne doesn't know yet."

 

He's not sure if he's relieved to hear that this information has bypassed even the Queen's head of security on its way to him. "Oh. Then why—"

 

She inches closer to nudge him with an elbow, finally breaking into a small smile. "Did you really think I was gonna wait till an official order to tell you?"

 

He tells himself that the flush working its way up his neck is merely exertion from their morning ride. "I think you'd do anything to give me a heart attack," he says, as dryly as he can.

 

Her decidedly ungraceful snort makes him feel better about relaxing into the moment, shoulders loosening ever so slightly.

 

 


 

 

If Bellamy's being honest, he'd never wanted to work in the palace.

 

(See: his opinions on the nobility.)

 

Granted, his attitude towards the aristocracy is somewhat compounded by complications in his own personal history. Even so, he'd just never really aimed to go that high.

 

He'd been happy enough working for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sure, the job was a lot more travelling than he really prefers, and the pay could have been a little higher for the hours — but it was easy. And he could go home at the end of most days, if not every one.

 

But he supposes there is such a thing as being too good at one's job, because in less than a year, he was being transferred to the Prime Minister's team. Within six months, he was promoted to deputy head of the Prime Minister's security team. (Not to brag or anything, but that is a rather big team.)

 

Within another year, he found himself at the palace, just in time for the "official" return of Princess Clarke from college — a return that had already occurred a day earlier.

 

"Gives me a few days to chill out before getting back to the grind," she'd told him with a shrug.

 

He hadn't quite known how to react at the time. He'd never had an employer say the phrase 'chill out' to him before. Especially not on the first day. "Yes, Your Highness," he finally settled for saying.

 

She'd cocked her head then, looking at him with an expression he chose to read as amusement. "You know you can just call me Clarke."

 

He'd hesitated again before nodding. "Yes, Princess."

 

She'd merely smiled. "Baby steps," she'd said lightly, before proceeding to drag him all around the palace on an 'introductory tour'. (He's pretty sure she'd only done it to avoid unpacking.)

 

He lasted about two days before using her given name for the first time.

 

 


 

 

"Prince Finn of Mecha. Lady Niylah of Trikru. Princess Lexa of Polis. Sir Jasper—" He pauses, frowning at her. "Isn't Sir Jasper a little young?"

 

She shushes him half-heartedly. "Look, they made me pick seven people. I picked seven people, okay?"

 

"For a potential spouse, Princess. Not someone to deejay your next birthday party." He picks up another file, brows shooting up incredulously. "Roan? You've never been attracted to Roan."

 

"No," she says patiently, "but seeing as there's no plausible way you can spend absolutely every single second of this ordeal with me, I have to have a backup friend."

 

"If by 'friend' you mean someone you can gossip about everybody else with," he mutters. Prince Roan's disdain for upper-class society in general is no secret, much to the chagrin of his mother, Queen Nia.

 

Clarke huffs an easy laugh. "Well, I do need all the help I can get."

 

"My offer still stands, by the way," he reminds her immediately. "Just let me know if you need anything." Satisfied by her responding smile, he peels another file open and squints down at the name. "Lady Luna." He looks at her, slightly accusatory. "You don't even like Lady Luna."

 

"No, she doesn't like me," she corrects. "And yes, there's a difference."

 

He shakes his head, thumbing through the small stack of folders. "This is insane. You're basically having a two-week battle royale, but for suitors."

 

The side of her mouth quirks. "I wanted to name it, but 'Hunger Games' was already taken."

 

"Not sure Prince Jasper would be very enthusiastic about that idea," he says dryly, faltering on the last folder. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he looks up at her. "Think you might have missed something."

 

"What?" She frowns, barely looking up from the screen of her computer.

 

He edges a couple of steps closer, placing the folders on her desk. "You said you picked seven candidates. There are only six files."

 

She snorts then, but the sound is slightly off — more weighted than a casual, offhand snort should be. "Well, you don't expect me to have a whole file printed off just for you, do you?"

 

He becomes distinctly aware of a hollow roaring in his eardrums. It vaguely reminds him of what happens when you put a seashell to your ear, only the sound's been both magnified and shrunken down all at the same time.

 

"For me," he repeats once his vocal cords resume all normal functions, careful to keep his tone neutral.

 

 


 

 

In Bellamy's opinion, it's either a very good idea or a horrendously bad one to become best friends with one's employer.

 

The good: spending heaps of time with them becomes infinitely easier.

 

The bad: spending heaps of time with them becomes infinitely easier.

 

Truth be told, he's known that he's in love with Clarke for a while now. (As for how long he's been in love with her — well, he tries not to think about that.)

 

He's not an idiot. He knows nothing's going to happen. She's a princess. The heir to the Arkadian throne.

 

He's the guy in the black suit and earpiece who stands next to her and keeps her safe. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

More importantly, it's what he chose. His volition, his decision.

 

And he's just going to have to live with it.

 

 


 

 

"This isn't a good idea," he says, for approximately the dozenth time.

 

She glances at him from the couch, where she's slipping her shoes on — beige nude, with two-inch heels. Classy and clean. "It's not a bad one."

 

He's not amused. "That doesn't make it a good one."

 

She sighs, tugging her other shoe on. "Look, it makes sense, okay? We're acquainted. We're relatively close in age. You were born into noble rank."

 

"A rank that I renounced," he reminds her, blood rushing in his ears. "Over seven years ago. Remember?"

 

"Noble blood doesn't go away just because you turn your back on it." She stands, smoothing down the front of her dark teal dress. "And Parliament will just have to accept that."

 

"There are other ways to stick it to Parliament," he says, wheeling about to follow her over to the gilded mirror up on the wall. "Naming your bodyguard as a potential fiancé? Not one of them."

 

She pulls on a sleek blazer, the sand colour matching her heels almost perfectly. "This may come as a surprise to you, Bellamy, but I'm not doing this to stick it to Parliament."

 

His jaw would drop, but he's pretty sure it's stopped working. "What?"

 

Securing the blazer over her midriff with a large button, she turns to face him. "Think about it. If I'm to take this impending marriage seriously, wouldn't it make sense for me to include in my official consideration a ranked man with whom I've already spent half a year?"

 

"Formerly ranked," he reminds her two beats late, too busy trying to catch up with everything else. Somewhere in the hazy hurricane of his thoughts, the realisation that she's right is slowly emerging clearer than ever.

 

Evidently, Clarke sees it on his face, because she nods briskly, turning away to grab her phone off her desk. "We can talk more about this after the meeting."

 

He follows after her, his expression pained. "Why don't you just… not marry anyone?"

 

Anyone who isn't me, he makes sure to refrain from saying.

 

"Haven't you heard?" She glances at him, steel flinting in her blue gaze. "It sucks being a girl."

 

He swallows the urge to reach out for her — to take her hand in silent support, to wrap her in his arms in comfort.

 

"All right, fine," he pretends to relent after a long moment. "Although next time, I'm waiting till after I hear your plan to offer my help."

 

Her face relaxes into an easy grin, and her hand grasps at his arm in an affectionate squeeze. "Sure you are."

 

 


 

 

The first of Clarke's suitors arrives on a Monday, just four days after Parliament approves her plan.

 

Lady Niylah and her father arrive in a limousine, painted a sleek, shiny black but not obtrusive in size. Bellamy grudgingly appreciates them for it. Some nobles tend to go above and beyond with something as basic as transportation, especially when they're looking to make a good first impression. If you ask him, the only thing your five-car envoy attracts besides attention is a significantly higher risk of danger.

 

"They're nice," Clarke idly mutters to him once the father-daughter duo have gone ahead into the palace, escorted by butlers and porters.

 

Bellamy shrugs, resisting the urge to tug at his tie. It feels too tight today, even though it's the exact same knot he's tied it in for the last four years. "We'll see."

 

Her sharp gaze cuts over him, somehow noting his discomfort without him actually indicating it. "Stop fussing. You look fine."

 

"I'm not fussing," he grumbles, but finally gives in to the urge to push the knot of his tie one millimetre to the left. "I don't know, Princess. Are you sure I should be here?"

 

"You're going to meet them anyway," she says idly, flapping his hand away to adjust his tie for him. "Might as well be now. There, all done."

 

"That's not the point," he insists, smoothing a hand over his jacket in a move that's only half self-conscious. "Me standing here with you, receiving your guests with you. It could give the wrong impression."

 

"We've been living under the same roof for six months now," Clarke says dryly, pulling her phone out of her dress pocket. "I think that ship has sailed."

 

"Not when it's a roof of this size," he retorts petulantly, cocking his head towards the high rooftops of the grand palace behind them.

 

She laughs, pulling up the day's itinerary on her phone. "Does it really matter? You'd be standing with me whether or not you were on the list."

 

"It matters because in one of those scenarios, I don't have to worry if I'm being too obvious about scanning a viscount's person for potential threats," he says wryly, before shooting a glance over his shoulder at his replacement. "You're paying attention, right?"

 

Miller promptly nods, face stoic. "Like it's my job, sir."

 

"Yeah, well, that attitude isn't, so can it," Bellamy says grumpily over the sound of Clarke sniggering relentlessly. He turns back to shoot her a baleful sidelong glance. "I'm gonna fire him."

 

"You're the one who hired him," she reminds him, grinning widely.

 

"Which is why I get to un-hire him." That only prompts another laugh from Clarke, and he suddenly feels the acute need to remind himself that he shouldn't entertain the overwhelming desire to compare his best friend's smile to a warm summer sun.

 

Shaking his head, he gestures towards her phone. "Okay, Princess. Who's next?"

 

 


 

 

It's been five days since he was first thrust back into the aristocracy, and Bellamy's already feeling like he's overstayed his welcome.

 

Clarke's been far more considerate of his discomfort than he would have expected. It's not that he expected her to be inconsiderate. He can't help but notice that she takes particular care ensure that their itinerary is dominated by group activities that allows everyone to stay together — picnics, horse riding, and the like. The more public outings (visits to hospitals and soup kitchens, et cetera) are whittled down to clusters of three or four, but it somehow always works out that Bellamy manages to have a familiar face close by in either Clarke or Sir Jasper.

 

For an hour or two every day, Clarke spends time alone with her suitors one-on-one. He dryly tells her that they've already had plenty of one-on-one time between them, but can hardly deny her request for waffles and ice cream when their turn comes up on the schedule. On the drive home, he manages to ask her about her plan to avoid her impending marriage, but all she does is say, with a pensive expression, "Still working on it."

 

Meanwhile, he makes sure to check in with Miller twice a day, and double that amount whenever their itinerary happens to separate him from Clarke. (She's made a half-hearted attempt to remind him that he's technically off-duty for the duration of the "Royal Consort Hunger Games" — her words, not his — but Hunger Games or not, he'll be damned if anything happens to her on his watch.)

 

Despite his technical off-duty status, he's tired. So, so tired.

 

It's not exactly the people, although Prince Finn seems to have taken an immediate dislike to him. ("I told you I shouldn't have been part of the welcome committee," Bellamy said to Clarke, but she'd merely smiled like he'd just told her some private joke.) Lady Niylah seems nice enough but vaguely cautious, but her distant disposition is balanced out by Sir Jasper, who, in addition to being a familiar face, is the kind of person that refuses to answer to "Sir".

 

Prince Roan has been somewhat of a surprise, proving to be a stoic but charismatic presence amongst the princess's suitors. While he seems to pay enough attention to Clarke, Bellamy can't help but feel like his attitude is much closer to political intrigue than romantic interest. For one thing, he doesn't ever make any affectionate advances towards Clarke, despite the unexpected number of private asides the two royals conduct compared to the rest of the group. For another, he seems to pay the exact same amount to Bellamy as he does her. He often catches the older prince studying him, with this particular look on his face that makes Bellamy think that Roan is merely letting himself get caught staring.

 

As for Princess Lexa and Lady Luna, Bellamy can't quite get a read on either, although for entirely different reasons. Princess Lexa gives him the impression that she's too above it all to interact with a mere palace-bodyguard-turned-consort-candidate. Lady Luna gives him the impression that she's too in her own head to interact with anybody.

 

Plus, sitting down to formal dinners every night with the Queen is really fucking stressful. He's used to reporting to her as an employer, not a hostess with whom he has to make polite conversation about the economy or the country's standing in the World Happiness Report. He's really not sure which he's more uncomfortable with: when she doesn't address him, or when she does.

 

All in all, he's very ready to go back to his life of directing and coordinating guardsmen and security agents, and escorting his princess around as she goes about her business.

 

Despite Clarke's occasional assurances that yes, she's formulating a plan to get out of marrying one of her suitors, it hasn't escaped his consideration that even if she does have a plan (or two, knowing Clarke), her attempts at defiance may very well not succeed. Especially if Parliament decides to put its foot down. Monarchy or not, everyone is subject to all the laws of the country, hopelessly antiquated and grossly sexist ones included. And if that happens…

 

At some level, Bellamy realises that Clarke has to take some part of this process seriously. She can fill out the empty slots on her roster with sympathetic friends and non-possibilities, but she has to expend some serious consideration on promising candidates like Princess Lexa and Lady Niylah. If she were to set aside her personal biases, her first cut should, in all likeliness, exclude him from the running.

 

At any rate, the clear frontrunner at the moment appears to be Prince Roan, even if he doesn't exactly have much in the way of competition. Bellamy's probably never going to be happy about it — but, reasonably speaking, Clarke could do a lot worse.

 

 


 

 

"When's the first round of cuts?"

 

Clarke casts him a glance that's far too amused for his liking. "Asking that question six times in two days isn't going to speed the process up in any way."

 

He exhales deeply, buttoning up his black dinner jacket. "If I have to try and make awkward conversation with Lady Luna one more time..."

 

She laughs, pinning the last of her bangs away from her face in a pretty twist. "Don't worry, she's definitely not going to survive the first round. Although I'm not sure who's more happy about that — me or her."

 

"Spoiler alert: it's me," he says dryly, smoothing a hand over his tie before pivoting on his heel. "So? What's the verdict?"

 

Clarke cocks her head, pretending to survey him. "Pretty."

 

He rolls his eyes. "Not as pretty as you." He pauses, shooting a careful glance her way. "Prince Roan is going to love that dress."

 

She snorts, dropping her hands from her hair as she approaches him. "Well, he's welcome to borrow it anytime." She plants her hands on her hips once she's inches away from him, lips pursed as her gaze travels over his jet black suit. "You'll do, I suppose," she says breezily, sweeping the back of her hand down his perfectly pressed lapel.

 

"I'd better," he says, trying to refrain from grabbing her hand to give it an affectionate squeeze. "You're the one who picked the suit out."

 

She flashes a smile that's teetering on smirk territory, giving him one last pat on the chest before spinning away to grab her phone. "It's coming out of your paycheck."

 

He should really be a lot better at suppressing his smiles by now.

 

 


 

 

The first round of cuts leaves Bellamy in the company of Prince Roan and Lady Niylah.

 

When Clarke tells him the news, he has far too many questions flitting through his brain to figure out how to pick just one. Instead, he settles for a pointedly raised brow.

 

She merely shrugs. "What? It'd be too obvious if I didn't cut Jasper. He's nineteen."

 

So, with a small but respectable load of gifts for each, they send Prince Finn, Lady Luna and Princess Lexa off. While the ladies seem perfectly fine with their apparent rejection (truth be told, neither of them showed very much interest in the whole process beyond establishing lucrative trade partnerships and agreements with Arkadia), Prince Finn seems somewhat offended to have been dismissed so expediently.

 

"I do hope you make a wise choice, Your Highness," he says as they're seeing him off — and Bellamy's tried his damnedest to stay objective these last few days, but he swears the prince's gaze cuts over to him in a meaningful way.

 

Clarke nods, completely unruffled by the apparent slight in his intentions. "I will, Prince. Safe travels."

 

What a petty, jealous man, Bellamy thinks idly as they head indoors to meet with Lady Niylah and Prince Roan.

 

Then again, he reminds himself hastily, it's not like Prince Finn had anything to be jealous of. Bellamy's just there as padding. For his princess to fill an empty slot with a friendly face. He's the last person in the palace Clarke would be suited to marry.

 

 


 

 

The next day finds them in the grounds, exercising their archery skills with a few bows and padded wooden targets.

 

It's never been one of his favourite activities, but he supposes he's fair enough at it, even if he does prefer the feel of good old-fashioned steel in his grip. Clarke's always been better at it, landing on giant red bull's eyes with a smooth, practiced grace. Prince Roan is, of course, excellent with a bow and arrow — even better than Clarke in terms of both speed and consistency.

 

Lady Niylah, however, seems to be struggling a fair bit, often lowering her bow to solicit Clarke for advice with a delicate laugh and a dainty bat of her eyelashes.

 

On the fourth or fifth time Clarke graciously sets aside her own bow to render Lady Niylah the coyly requested assistance, Roan sidles up next to Bellamy.

 

"She's a very skilled archer."

 

Bellamy practically does a double take before remembering to tamper down on his reactions, quickly regaining control with a shake of his head. "Yes, she is."

 

Roan's brow quirks. "You two practice often?"

 

"Not really?" Bellamy answers automatically. "I mean, we come out and shoot sometimes, but we prefer to take the horses out if we're going to—" Abruptly, he clears his throat, realising how his casual recounting of his everyday life with Clarke can sound misleading. "That is, no, Your Highness. Not all that often."

 

Thankfully, Roan doesn't seem at all disdained at his momentary lack of propriety. Instead, he pulls an arrow from the quiver sitting on the ground next to Bellamy, giving every appearance of inspecting the pointed tip. "It appears Lady Niylah might be serious about this bid for Princess Clarke's hand in marriage."

 

Bellamy's head whips round in surprise. "And you're... not?" he manages when he finally manages to get his thoughts in order, brows furrowing in confusion.

 

Roan makes a small huff that Bellamy recognises as the aristocratic version of a snort, his arctic irises flicking up from the arrow. "I recognise a farce when I see one, Lord Bellamy."

 

Bellamy narrowly avoids expelling a relieved breath, thankful that at least one other person here is aware of the game Clarke's running. "She told you?"

 

"Not that she needed to," Roan says, his voice low as he pretends to survey the padded target sitting in the near distance. "One look at her assembled suitors was enough to conclude that this isn't a competition so much as it is a parade." His silvery gaze cuts sideways, towards Bellamy. "With one exception, of course."

 

Bellamy blinked, slightly startled by the underlying implication of the prince's words. Does he actually see Bellamy as a legitimate contender for Clarke's hand in marriage? Him? Her bodyguard?

 

Hastily, he considers his options for a response. It wouldn't do to be rude now. "Wow, you're really not as smart as I thought you were" would definitely count as rude.

 

"I'm not sure what you mean, Your Highness," he finally says after a long beat.

 

Roan doesn't seem at all disconcerted by that. Instead, his features shift into something almost skeptical. "You don't seriously see her considering anyone else, do you?"

 

Uh, his brain blurts, you?!

 

He shakes his head, willing his sense of propriety to catch up with his impulses. "Excuse my forwardness, Your Highness, but the truth is, I work here at the palace. I'm in charge of the princess's security."

 

At this point, Roan looks almost bored. "Yes, for six months now. Impressive record, by the way. Four years in the military, to the Foreign Minister's office, and then the Prime Minister's." He taps the flat of the arrowhead against his palm. "I know many who would envy that résumé with no small passion."

 

Bellamy knows it's not polite to stare, but he can't help it. As far as he's aware, the full dossier on nobles who renounce their ranks aren't traditionally public record for his own countrymen's perusal, let alone a foreign prince's.

 

Roan shoots him a look that could practically pass for pitying. "My status does allow me access to some resources, Lord."

 

"Right," Bellamy mutters, too unsettled to remember his formalities. He's beginning to see what Clarke saw in the prince that inspired her to invite him here.

 

Roan glances past him, to where Clarke is adjusting Lady Niylah's grip on her bow. "She's smart. She puts careful thought into her plans. There's a reason for every move she makes."

 

"I know that," Bellamy says, torn between irritation at having Clarke explained to him — him! — and pride at hearing such well-deserved praise from one as stoic and astute as Prince Roan.

 

Roan's sharp gaze returns to focus on him, and all of a sudden, Bellamy gets the distinct impression of bereftness, like he's missed a joke everyone's laughing at, or forgotten to put on pants before leaving his quarters.

 

After a weighted pause — clearly elongated for dramatic effect — the prince nods. "Of course you do," he says, his tone infuriatingly neutral. And then he tips his head in a small bow, before moving back to his own station.

 

Clarke appears at his side, evidently having found a way to extricate herself from Lady Niylah's. "Everything okay?" she asks, with a pointed glance at Roan's back.

 

Pushing down the urge to sigh, he allows himself a quick once-over of her, checking for signs of frustration or annoyance. "I should be asking you that. Doing all right with Lady Niylah?"

 

Clarke grins, shifting closer as she pretends to show him something on his bow. "I think Lady Niylah will be fine, considering she's had an archery instructor since the tender age of eleven."

 

His brows shoot up in surprise, but he covers it up with a low cough, pretending to nod at the bow they're both studying. " That wasn't on her bio."

 

"She told me," Clarke says, clearly thoroughly amused by the whole thing. "It was actually pretty cool. She came clean right off the bat, told me she was only doing it to grab some real face time with me." She shrugs, her shoulder brushing against his. "Gotta appreciate the honesty, at least."

 

"Yeah, at least," Bellamy agrees, still reeling from the sheer ludicrousness of it all. Is this really what people do?

 

Clarke smothers another wide smile, shaking her head so a rogue strand of blonde falls loose from her braid. "What's your read on Roan?"

 

Bellamy swallows and fidgets with an arrow, nocking and unnocking it. "He's… unconventional. Somewhat."

 

"Very," Clarke agrees, with another glance at the subject of their discussion. "But it clearly stems from the region of intelligence. That's not the demeanour of a person who's often proven to be wrong."

 

"No arguments there," Bellamy says dryly.

 

Clarke shrugs, turning to him again. "Well, that's what makes him useful. That, and his knowledge of his mother's ascent to the throne."

 

He falters then, lowering the bow entirely as he stares at her. "What?"

 

"Queen Nia successfully abolished their own nation's royal marriage laws thirty years ago. It's how she's managed to rule all this while without a consort." Clarke tilts her head. "I thought you knew that."

 

He nods slowly, his brain racing to process the information. "Must have slipped my mind."

 

Thankfully, Clarke is too distracted by an approaching assistant to notice the weakness of his response. "And those are today's lunch plans," she guesses, spying the tablet in the assistant's hands. Her hand comes up to rest on his arm, fingers curling around his bicep as she starts to move away. "I'd better go look over them. Back in a minute."

 

He misses his next five shots in a row. One is so off that it doesn't even land on the target, spearing straight into the tree behind it, and he can hear Miller's poorly disguised snigger from a few feet off, but he's too absorbed in his own thoughts to care.

 

 


 

 

Bellamy spends the next few days only half-paying attention to proceedings.

 

He practically sleepwalks through their morning of leisurely rowing on the lake, and both the afternoons spent on visiting local Arkadian farms. He fails to hear a good proportion of Lady Niylah's polite remarks when they're seated next to each other at dinner one night, possibly pissing her off with his nonchalant, vague responses, all of which number two or three words at most. He automatically pulls ahead of Miller to open doors for Clarke on several occasions, having reverted back to bodyguard mode due to his distracted state of mind. She doesn't seem to mind at all, but it manages to attract strange looks from Lady Niylah and infuriatingly knowing ones from Prince Roan.

 

He can't help it. He's too preoccupied with trying to solve the puzzle of Clarke.

 

All this time, he's been fixated on whether or not he deserves to be here in this way — enjoying elaborate brunches out on the lawn, visiting homeless shelters and orphanages with large donations and truckloads of supplies and, whatever, playing fucking croquet with princesses and baronets. (You didn't hear this from him, but as it turns out, he's actually pretty damn good at croquet. Go figure.)

 

He's never really stopped to wonder why Clarke wants him here, in this way.

 

Even if he weren't officially part of the Hunger Games (for want of a better term, the name's stuck in his head, much to his vexation), he's reasonably confident that he'd still have spent this entire process at her side. He's always at her side. That's literally his job.

 

What reason could she possibly have that would drive her to make the effort of including him on the list of candidates?

 

He spends hours and hours shifting and shuffling things about in his mind, trying to see things from her point of view. Princess Lexa and Lady Luna were clearly strategic moves, their visits more political than romantic in intent. Any defiance on Clarke's part would be too obvious if she were to exclude Prince Finn, who, despite being an annoying upstart, also happens to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the aristocracy. Sir Jasper's invitation can be chalked up to the little-known fact that his princess, contrary to popular belief, sometimes just likes to have fun. Even Bellamy is inclined to agree that the young noble's antics were often a welcome source of relief from the stuffy mannerisms of the other suitors.

 

And now, thanks to the revelation of his mother's achievements, even Roan's presence has been explained. (No offence to Roan, but Bellamy just knew there was no way she could have been attracted to him. Clarke has several admirable qualities, but patience is not one of them — especially not for the brooding, mysterious type.)

 

Background and upbringing aside, the only one who still doesn't belong on the list is… him.

 

Nothing new there, really. After all, nobles don't just renounce their title for a laugh.

 

All the same, doubtfulness regarding his rightful place is a sensation he's never once had with Clarke. He's had plenty of adjusting and adapting to do over the last seven years, questioning himself at several points along the way — but being at her side has always felt as natural as breathing.

 

She'll make her final choice soon, he tells himself one night as he's lying sleepless in bed. She'll choose Prince Roan or Lady Niylah. Or she'll find some way to overrule Parliament before her birthday. And then you'll go back to being the bodyguard.  

 

Somehow, the thought doesn't comfort him nearly enough to lull him to sleep.

 

 


 

 

The night before Clarke's final choice is made, she calls him into her chambers.

 

She makes a big show of closing the door behind him, and he frowns at her once she turns around. "That's not protocol."

 

"Yeah, well, neither is this," she says, almost under her breath as if to herself, before taking a deep breath, shoulders squaring as if for battle. "I have the biggest favour to ask of you."

 

He crosses his arms over his chest loosely, one brow raised. "Okay. What is it?"

 

Clarke smooths both palms down the front of her dress, a flattering peach number she'd worn to dinner. "Just… stay calm, and hear me out, okay?"

 

He swallows, trying to ignore the alarming concern that stabs at him. "Clarke. What is it?"

 

She clasps her hands in front of her. "Will you marry me?"

 

A peculiar sensation overcomes him then — almost like the room is starting to spin slowly on the axis that is Clarke, but the outline of her appears to be spinning as well.

 

"That," he musters up after a very, very long moment, "is definitely not protocol."

 

Her nose scrunches. "I think we left protocol behind a long time ago."

 

He raises a hand, and then lowers it. He raises his other hand, and lowers that as well, too out of sorts to decide what to do with his limbs. "I don't understand," he says at last. "I thought you had a plan."

 

"I do have a plan," she says quickly.

 

"One that involves marrying me?" He just about avoids yelping the last word.

 

She takes another deep breath, beginning to pace in front of him. "Well, if everything does go according to plan, no one's going to end up married. But if it doesn't, then, well—" She stops abruptly, wheeling about to face him with a wry expression. "Told you it was a big favour."

 

He exhales, running a hand through his hair. He can't quite wrap his brain around the fact that he's being forced to argue the idea of marriage to the literal love of his life. The fucking irony.

 

"Princess," he says, keeping his voice as steady as possible with great effort, "you've got five days left. This isn't the time for jokes."

 

"I'm not joking." She looks almost defensive all of a sudden, her arms folding over her middle. "I'm still fighting this, just like I told you from the beginning. But there are no guarantees. I need a contingency plan."

 

He shakes his head. "Then why would you choose me?" Prince Roan would be a better political move. Lady Niylah is far more suited to noble society than he'll ever be. Even as a contingency plan, choosing him makes no logical sense.

 

She pauses, looking oddly surprised. "Why wouldn't I choose you?"

 

He stares at her. "What?"

 

She shrugs, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "You know me better than anyone. I like spending time with you more than anything. You care about me. I trust you." She frowns, brows furrowing in serious thought. "If I were going to marry someone, why wouldn't I want it to be you?"

 

He's still staring at her. Unfortunately, all his basic psychomotor skills appear to have taken leave of him.

 

She sounds so… so sure. Not stubborn, no. Not defiant, either. She just sounds... certain.

 

Finally, he blows out a deep breath. "Okay. I'll do it."

 

Her entire face lights up, and suddenly he's wondering why he ever even hesitated in the first place. "Really?"

 

He shakes his head, still not quite believing that this is actually happening, to him. "Of course. Anything you need, Princess."

 

She grins, darting over the few feet of carpet separating them to throw her arms around his neck. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

 

His arms are already locked around her before he can begin to give a damn about protocol, allowing himself a quick nuzzle into her hair. "You do have a plan, right?"

 

They're close enough that he can feel the curve of her smile pressed against the juncture of his neck and shoulder. "Yes, Bellamy, I have a plan."

 

It's not a kiss he presses to her head, because that would definitely be way out of protocol range. He can't help it if his lips happen to brush against her hair as he speaks. "Do I get to hear it, at least?"

 

She pulls back to beam wickedly up at him, but makes no further moves to step out from the circle of his embrace, her own arms still draped over his shoulders. "I'm going to do to them what they tried to do to me."

 

She looks as beautiful and fearsome as he's ever seen her. Suddenly, he can't wait to (contingently) marry her.

 

"Okay then," he says, smiling down at her. "I'm with you."

 

 


 

 

Once Bellamy and Clarke's engagement is announced, life in the palace gets thrown into top gear.

 

Suddenly, they're both overwhelmed by thick albums of flower arrangements and china samples, as many as four or five assistants swarming in to ask for their opinion on this or that, and swatches. God. So many swatches.

 

He can't help but wish for his sister.

 

Other than that, he does his best to remind himself that their decisions don't really matter all that much. After all, Clarke's plan is definitely a priority over which shade of white their dinner napkins are going to be. Even so, it's still a lot for someone who's used to thinking about how to properly and effectively position royal guards and security agents in the grand locations they're slated to occupy for the day.

 

"Don't you worry, Bellamy," the Queen says to him one day, when he forgets to cover up his bewildered expression as thoroughly as he usually does. "We have over two hundred pairs of hands working round the clock on this. Every last detail will be seen to in time for the wedding."

 

"That's very good to hear, Your Majesty," he says, forcing a smile for good measure. Once she moves away to speak with one of the wedding planners, he turns to Clarke, the smile giving way to a wince. "Good to hear that I'm wasting over two hundred people's time, that is."

 

She pretends to consider it. "Well technically, it's two hundred regular palace staff, excluding all the extra hires we've made specially for the wedding, so..." At his pained expression, she huffs a sympathetic laugh, her hand covering his in reassurance. "Don't worry. They're all receiving compensation well above what their time's worth." A small grimace crosses her face. "Plus, technically, it's my plan, so I'm the one wasting their time."

 

"We," he corrects readily, turning his hand just enough so her fingers nestle comfortably in the crook of his thumb and index finger. "We're wasting their time. Together."

 

She smiles at him, leaning into his side. "Together."

 

 


 

 

The night before the wedding, he finds himself exhausted beyond belief but unable to sleep, to no surprise of his own.

 

He drags himself out of bed with the intention of doing a few push-ups to wear himself out, but he's barely completed his first ten reps when the knock sounds at his door.

 

Deciding he doesn't have to bother with a shirt, he goes to open it.

 

"Wow." Clarke's brows are raised high in amusement. "Nice."

 

Blushing hotly, he spins away from the door, grabbing a T-shirt from the row of hooks behind it. "Clarke? What are you—"

 

A bottle of whiskey peeks its way around the ajar door, the hand holding it up shaking it lightly. "I would cover my eyes, but we're kind of done with the whole protocol thing, aren't we?"

 

Finally wrangling his limbs through the correct holes of the shirt, he strides back over, pulling the door properly open. "Well, we are now. What's this?"

 

She gives him a wry smile. "Figured I can't be the only one in the building who might need a nightcap. Can I come in?"

 

He steps back to let her in, automatically looking over her shoulder for an escort. "Where's Miller?"

 

She clicks her tongue nonchalantly. "I may or may not have persuaded him to head down to the kitchens for an extra dose of tiramisu. You know. As a reward for all the good work over the last three weeks."

 

"As head of your security," he says, leading her into the living section of his quarters, "I have to say that is a very unwise move."

 

She grins, whipping the top off the bottle. "And as my fiancé?"

 

He smiles despite himself, grabbing two clean glasses from his desk and holding one out to her. "I say make mine a double."

 

 

 

It only strikes him halfway through their second round that they've never actually drank together until now.

 

"Wine at dinner with your mother doesn't count," he says, setting the bottle aside once he's done topping them both off. "Everyone only drinks one glass. Plus, your mother's there."

 

She chuckles at that, holding her glass up to him. "Well, here's to our first drink together, then."

 

"Technically, it's our second," he says, but clinks his glass to hers anyway. "But sure."

 

They lapse into a comfortable silence then, her legs tucked comfortably under herself on the couch.

 

"Do you think it's going to work?"

 

He looks at her, taking in her pinched expression and her fingers tapping restlessly against the rim of her glass, and, for the first time since this whole thing began, she looks nervous. (Sometimes he forgets that she's not even twenty-one yet.)

 

He clears his throat, making sure she looks directly at him before speaking. "I think it's a good plan," he says firmly. "You're doing your best. And" —he rests a hand on her knee— "I meant what I said, Clarke. Whatever happens tomorrow, I'm with you."

 

She meets his gaze, all traces of laughter leaving her face. "Can I ask you something?"

 

For a brief moment, he wonders if he's said something he shouldn't have. "Sure," he says, keeping his voice as light as he can as he retracts his hand, re-establishing the inches of space separating them. "Go ahead."

 

She doesn't even seem to notice, the stark blue of her eyes focusing directly on his and half-seeming to pierce right through his defenses. "Why did you agree to this?"

 

It almost feels as if all the air rushes out of the room.

 

"I—" he starts, and stops. All the reasoning and rationalising aside, he's all too aware of what the plain, simple truth is. Taking a deep breath, he looks at her. "Because you asked."

 

"That's it?" Her brow is raised, tone understandably skeptical. "You didn't spend all that effort leaving the aristocracy behind just to jump right back in because someone asked."

 

He blinks at her. "Yeah, but it's not just someone that asked. It's you."

 

She pauses, seeming to consider that seriously. "Me?"

 

"Yeah, you." A weak laugh falls from his lips then, and he shakes his head, marvelling at the fact that he's managed to avoid telling her this for as long as he has. "I'd do anything for you, Clarke."

 

A small smile spreads across her face, igniting a faint burst of warmth deep in his gut. "Yeah," she says, her chin dipping in a small nod. "Yeah, I know."

 

He's not sure who it is that initiates the kiss. But it's warm, and sweet, and everything that he's wanted for the last six months without believing he was allowed to want.

 

But he's the one who says "I love you" first.

 

And again, when he sees how it makes her smile.

 

And again, when she says it back to him, with another press of her lips to his.

 

"It's weird," she says as he's walking her back to her chambers, "but suddenly, I can't wait for tomorrow."

 

It's late enough that there's no one in the hallways, but all the same, he doesn't want to risk outright taking her hand. So he settles for brushing his fingers against hers, and an affectionate quirk of his brow. "Oh, you're that confident in your plan?"

 

She spins about as they reach her door to smile happily at him, looking lighter than he can remember her seeing in weeks. "I'm that confident in us."

 

 


 

 

The next morning has him out of bed unseemly early, and he feels a deep pang of sympathy for Clarke, who's definitely been roused from slumber a whole hour or two before him for her bridal preparations.

 

He goes through hair and makeup as mutely as he can, only opening his mouth to drink one cup of strong black coffee and one of equally potent mint tea, figuring that he'll need the extra fortification for today. He hasn't donned his formal uniform in years, but the new one that's been made up for him is slightly less heavy and constricting than he remembers it being. (He wonders if it's really the uniform that's changed, or himself.)

 

They're at the great hall by nine forty-five sharp, and he takes some small pride in the fact that throughout the entire morning he's only stopped to question his own sanity but once.

 

There are a couple of good luck's and cheeky Your Highness' s from his colleagues in the palace, especially from members of the royal guard and the various security teams. He even takes those with good grace, shaking his head and smiling wryly.

 

All too soon, the giant clock on the wall is striking, and, at the wedding planner's assistant's cue, a hush falls over the crowd as the nine-piece string ensemble starts to play.

 

Clarke walks in and, Jesus Christ, if he weren't already sure that she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, this would definitely have done it. He's not even sure if it's the elaborately embroidered dress, or the soft updo her hair's been swept up in, or the smile she's clearly wearing underneath the gauzy veil. At any rate, he's never been more thankful that everybody always turns to look at the bride instead of the groom.

 

Once she reaches him, he offers his arm as rehearsed. She takes it, and squeezes once. "Ready?" she whispers, her grin visible even through the material of the veil.

 

He squeezes back with his other hand, unable to resist from smiling back. "Ready."

 

When the state officiant reaches the part that calls for objectors of the union to "speak now or forever hold their peace", neither of them hesitate. Standing side by side, with one voice, they proclaim "I object!"

 

 


 

 

To be perfectly honest, Bellamy doesn't remember much about the specifics of Clarke's speech.

 

He'd spent most of her oration in rapture, gazing up at the woman he loves as she roundly lectured the congregation of guests on the misogynistic nature of the country's most archaic marriage laws. Her was a speech brimming with logic and reason, coupled with a skilful dash of emotional appeal that had most of the great hall murmuring in agreement. She'd also somehow managed to, at the exact same time, deride the members of Parliament for their transparent attempt to entrap her in marriage, while entreating them to exercise compassion and understanding for her plight. (Bellamy's pretty sure that at one point, he distinctly heard someone actually  tsk  Parliament.)

 

The only part he really recalls with stark clarity is the break in her speech where she'd said, "The women of this great nation are every bit as deserving of the chance to pursue ambitions and aspirations of their own choosing as the men are. We deserve to choose the paths that excite and empower us. We deserve to choose who we love", and yeah, it's probably beyond cheesy, but she'd looked right at him on the word "love", and he'd been so close to bursting that he could barely contain it.

 

And then she'd proceeded to put Parliament on the spot the way she'd been put on the spot three weeks ago, calling for a vote to abolish the marriage laws right then and there in front of a packed hall of nobles and diplomats and ambassadors from other nations, as well as with an entire nation watching on live television. With no chance to adequately counter her impassioned, thorough speech, they'd had virtually no choice but to vote in her favour.

 

She ends the whole thing off by turning the reception into a huge celebration of the abolishment, pronouncing it an "a historic step forward and a great victory for the women of Arkadia, and, indeed, all of Arkadia".

 

"How did it go?" he says once she finds her way to him in the happy chaos of the reception.

 

To his surprise, she grins. "My mom said she's proud of me, and that my dad would be too."

 

He would wrap his arms around her, but they're currently surrounded by about a thousand other people guzzling champagne and crowding up the dancefloor. There's definitely at least a hundred civilians here who weren't even invited, but managed to crash the party anyway. He's pretty sure he saw Sir Jasper trying to start a conga line earlier.

 

He settles for taking her hand instead, confident enough that the movement will be hidden from the few cameras dotted about the reception. "I'm proud of you too, Princess."

 

She squeezes his hand, her grin dropping ever so slightly. "Although I do hope I haven't completely killed the idea of a royal wedding for you."

 

He knows she means it to be a joke — but he catches the slight knit of her brow and the tense set of her jaw.

 

"You mean we might get to do all of this" — he waves at the joyful commotion surrounding them — "all over again some day?" He smiles, stepping closer. "Can't wait."

 

Her own smile still doesn't quite reach her eyes. "I know you renounced your rank for a reason," she says quickly, expression slightly pinched. "And I don't expect you to undo that. None of that matters, okay? Not to me. In fact, if you ever want out of this, just say the word and—"

 

He takes her other hand in his free one, inching another step closer. "Clarke. It's okay. We've got time." He smooths his thumb over the back of her hand. "Whatever happens, we'll figure it out. Together."

 

She finally smiles then, a real one that shines through her eyes and spreads all over her face. "Together," she agrees, squeezing his hands.

 

He grins, fighting the urge to kiss her. "Okay. Now that's settled, I think I deserve a drink."

 

Her brows shoot up. "You? I'm the one who got a sexist marriage law abolished!"

 

"Yes," he says, as seriously as he can, "but I'm the one who won the Hunger Games."

 

"Oh my God."