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I Count to Three and Grin, You Smile and Let Me In

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Despite the CW network's best efforts, Clarke likes to think she has a pretty good handle on what a teenager looks like. She was a counselor at a summer camp over the break, so between the campers, junior counselors, and regular counselors, she saw basically all the human developmental stages after toddler. And she's an actual college student, obviously, as well as being an RA. She's met five of her freshmen already, and she knows what she's expecting.

The guy in front of her is not eighteen. And it doesn't really feel like he has enough stuff to be moving in, if she's honest. He's got a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, but that’s it. Maybe he has more stuff in the car, but it feels as if he would have grabbed at least one other thing.

She doesn't think it's unreasonable, that she assumes he's looking for someone else. A friend or relative, bringing some of the luggage, but not really invested enough to do a lot of heavy lifting.

"Hi, can I help you find someone?"

"Checking in," he says. He's got a deep, slightly rough voice, a mess of curls and freckles, and a little stubble. "Bellamy Blake."

She checks her student list and finds him without any trouble, right there in black and white: Blake, Bellamy, F, Skai 205. On her floor and everything. She remembers making a sign for his door.

"Do you have an ID?"

He shifts on his feet, looking a little put-off. "I haven't gone to security to pick it up yet."

"Just a driver's license is fine."

He puts the bag down and fishes his wallet out of his back pocket. His license confirms his name--Bellamy Bradbury Blake--and his gender, and it looks pretty legit. She can't help checking his date of birth while she's at it, for all it makes her feel like a little bit of an asshole. Not every freshman comes straight out of high school, but--he's a year older than she is. It's one hell of a gap year.

She returns the ID with an overly bright smile. "Thanks, Bellamy. But--we have a small problem."

His jaw works. "Problem?"

"This actually happened to me too. Housing doesn't always do that well with, um--androgynous names. I had a roommate, so we figured it out pretty quickly. As soon as I got the letter saying I was supposed to be living with Nathan Miller, I called student services and asked if they somehow missed that I was a girl. It looks like you don't have a roommate, so I don't think it'll be a problem to keep you in the room you're in, but you should check in with them to get your information updated."

She was talking quickly enough he didn't have a chance to interrupt her, and it takes him a second to process the information.

When he does, he huffs out a laugh. "Seriously?"

"Seriously."

Another second, and then he asks, "So, what's your name?"

"You think I'm lying about having this happen to me to make you feel better?"

"Or I'm being polite."

She offers her hand. "Clarke Griffin. I'm actually your RA."

He's got a firm, solid handshake, and big hands. "Nice to meet you. Should I go student services now?"

"I can give you your key first, and you can drop off as much stuff as you want. They're going to be slammed over there, so expect to be in line for a while, but you need to check in and get your ID anyway. But maybe bring something to do--I don't know how long it's going to take for them to see you about the records, and you probably want to get it done in case they decide that the single room was just meant for a girl."

His mouth twitches with a reluctant smile. "I think I should get to keep the room. But thanks for the help." She hands him the key and he reclaims his duffel bag. "Can you point me to the right building?"

Clarke squirms around and finds Skai behind them. "The one to the left. There should be another RA in there to make sure you went to the right place, so you can't get that lost. Room 205."

"Thanks for the help."

"Good luck with student services." Her smile this time is less bright, but more genuine. "Nothing says welcome to college like bureaucratic nonsense."

That gets another huff of a laugh out of him. "Oh good. Looking forward to it."

"Bring a protein bar," she advises, and he gives her a sort of smile/nod as he takes off.

There's a line behind him, and Clarke doesn't have time to give him much more thought. She smiles at the next kid--small and scrawny, absolutely eighteen years old--and lets herself forget about Bellamy Blake for the moment.

*

Freshmen at Arcadia University have three days to arrive and check in to their dorms, and even if most of them come on the first day, Clarke isn't going to do anything official until Sunday night. She'll order a bunch of pizza and cover house rules, and for the ten minutes between giving them the pizza and starting in on rules, her freshmen might think she's fun and cool, instead of a type-A nerd.

Tonight, though, she makes herself available without putting a ton of effort in. Her door is open for people who want it, but it's mostly just kids waving on their way out to explore campus or try to find parties.

By the time eight o'clock rolls around, she thinks she and Bellamy Blake are the only people left on the floor, but she does the rounds of occupied rooms to make sure. There's a quiet girl listening to music, someone who doesn't have a roommate yet reading in the common room, and a couple guys playing video games, but all of them seem content without any interference. They're happy to chat for a minute, but they're not feeling overwhelmed or excluded from college. This is where they want to be.

She saves Bellamy's room for last. It's across from hers, and honestly a little intimidating. It's less that he's older, she thinks, and more that he's an older guy. She was worried about eighteen-year-old jocks not taking her seriously because she's blonde and female, and Bellamy can already legally drink. If he wants to make trouble for her, it's going to be annoying.

Nothing she can't deal with, obviously. She's just not looking forward to it.

She takes a deep breath and knocks on the door. He doesn't call out that it's open, but she hears the rustling of movement, and ten the door opens. He's dressed exactly as he was when she saw him earlier today in a plain blue t-shirt and jeans. He's even still wearing his sneakers. If he's relaxed even slightly, there's no sign of it.

His room isn't much better off. She didn't see him bring in anything but the duffel, and she thought maybe she'd just missed it, but nope. His bed is made with fairly plain sheets in earth tones, and there are no electronics that Clarke can see--no microwave, no fridge, not even a computer. Since it's a single, the room is already small, but the emptiness makes it feel even smaller. Like a prison cell, albeit one for a rich, nonviolent offender.

"Hi?" Bellamy offers, when she doesn't say anything, and she shakes herself.

"Hey, I'm just doing the rounds for everyone who's still here. Did you get yourself sorted out with student services?"

"Yeah, pretty simple clerical error, like you said. They're not making me move or anything."

"Good. How are you settling in?"

He looks behind him, like he knows as well as she does how sad his room is. Maybe he was in the military. He doesn't look like the type, but it's not like she knows much about actual military service. Just because his hair is shaggy, it doesn't mean he couldn't have been enrolled. And that would be a reason for him to be starting school later.

"Okay," he says. "It's pretty weird."

She leans on the door, considering him. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Do you?" he shoots back.

"Honestly, the only people on campus right now are RAs and freshmen. My other plan for the night is sitting in my room listening to podcasts. Which I'm happy to do, but--it's literally my job to talk you through the college experience."

"I figured you were mostly here to keep underage drinking under control."

"Yeah, but you're not underage. I have to improvise."

He takes a long moment to think something over, but his gaze is steady on her, so Clarke doesn't feel ignored. She feels evaluated; whatever he says next, it's going to feel like a commentary on her.

"How weird is it going to be?" is what he says, and she thinks she passed his silent test.

"It's going to be worst this year," she says. "I assume. You're going to stick out as a freshman, but after that it's not going to be as obvious. People are probably always going to assume you're a senior. Everyone's going to ask you to buy them booze. It would really make my life easier if you didn't."

"Or at least if you don't know about it." He smiles with half his mouth. "This is probably going to change, but for now buying alcohol for eighteen-year-old kids sounds really creepy."

"You know you're not that old, right? Freshmen are still people."

"My sister's eighteen," he admits, like it's something to be embarrassed of. "If some sketchy twenty-one-year-old guy was living in her dorm and buying her booze--"

"Hey, it's not their dorm. It's your dorm too. Just because you're older doesn't mean you don't belong here."

He gives her the half-smile that's already becoming familiar. "Inspirational."

"Seriously. You're a freshman, this is a freshman dorm. It's going to be weird for a little while, but they'll get used to you. And try to get you to buy them booze. I cannot emphasize enough how much they’re going to try to get you to buy them booze.”

"Can you buy booze, or are you going to try to talk me into it too?"

"Not until November. But I already have people who will get me booze, don't worry."

"Yeah, that was my main concern."

Clarke worries her lip. "I feel like I'm not really helping that much."

"I don't think I'm ready for help yet. I think I need a day to feel freaked out and overwhelmed."

"Okay, that's the difference between you and the other freshmen," she says, and waits for him to cock his head before she explains. "The other ones aren't going to admit they need that."

He ducks his head on a laugh. "Thanks, I feel so much better."

"My room's across the hall," she says. "If you need anything."

"I think I'm good for now." He gives her a smile, a real one, and she has to admit, it's quite a smile. "Thanks for checking in."

"Like I said, it's my job. Adjusting is hard for everyone," she adds. "It's not just you. So don't beat yourself up too much."

"I'll try. Goodnight, Clarke."

It's an obvious dismissal, and she doesn't have any good reason to ignore it, really. Her own desire to find out what his deal is doesn't override his right to privacy, and she's not worried. He feels a little out-of-place and awkward; everyone's going to feel like that for a while. He's got time to figure it out.

So she just gives him another smile. "Sleep well," she says.

She leaves her door open, just in case anyone needs her, but Bellamy's remains closed for the rest of the night.

She does her best to not wonder.

*

"Can I help with this?" he asks the next morning. Clarke's at the check-in desk again, bright and early, and she's a little concerned that Bellamy is already awake. He's in an olive green t-shirt today, with a pair of silver-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.

"With what?"

"I have nothing to do for the next two days," he says, looking a little sheepish. “I figure someone could use a hand.”

Clarke has to smile. "If you want to help people move, I'll be able to keep you busy. But don't feel obligated."

"I'm not great at downtime."

She bites the corner of her mouth. "Military?"

"Sorry?"

There's a free seat next to her that one of the other RAs will take later, but she's alone on this shift, and there isn't exactly a huge rush to be moving in at seven a.m. on a Saturday morning, so she gestures for Bellamy to sit. He doesn't hesitate, and Clarke will admit he seems to be doing better this morning. He certainly looks less cagey.

"Were you in the military?"

"Jesus, no." He runs a hand through his messy hair. "My mom died about two months before I was supposed to start freshman year the first time. Someone had to take care of my sister, so--" He shrugs. "I actually knew one of the deans, that helped a lot. They usually don't let you defer admission for this long, but when I told him I had to drop out, he wasn't hearing it."

"Which dean?"

"Pike? He did a program at my high school, letting some students from, uh--" He sighs, apparently gives up. "It was a thing for gifted kids who weren't likely to go to college, and he got pretty attached to me. I was going to be the first person in my family to go to college.“

"So when you said you couldn't come here after all--"

"He said we'd make it work. And he checked in," Bellamy says, like he still doesn't quite believe it. "Every April. When I said O was going to college this year, he said, great, so are you."

"O's your sister?"

"Yeah, Octavia. She's at UMASS out in Amherst, I drove her out last week."

"And you're here."

"I'm here. I'm still trying not to feel guilty about it."

"Yeah?"

"Trade school probably would have been the smarter choice. Me and O both in college--even with financial aid, it’s not a smart financial choice. And we still might not end up with jobs after. But I wanted to go, and I wanted her to go. It still feels like--"

"What success looks like," Clarke supplies. College was never a question for her, but Arcadia has good financial aid and a dedicated program for recruiting students from traditionally under-served backgrounds. She's heard from friends what college meant to them.

"Yeah."

"Just pick a good major," she advises. "I'm majoring in art history, I'm never going to get a job."

He snorts. "You don't sound that worrying.”

"My mom's one of those rich alums who could get a building named after her if she wanted. I'm not going to starve."

"Must be nice."

"It is, yeah. So, I'm guessing you have a work-study job?"

Now that his secret is out and Clarke's apparently reacted appropriately, Bellamy relaxes further. There's a tentative kind of giddiness lurking at the corner of everything he says, and it takes her longer than it should to realize he's really, really excited about college, and trying to keep his expectations in check.

She's not supposed to be playing favorites, especially not before everyone has even moved in, but it's kind of adorable.

People start rolling in around eight, and Bellamy offers his services pretty indiscriminately. He really does just seem happy to have something to do, and Clarke makes a note to check in on him after the first week or so. She remembers vividly how disconcerting it was to have as much free time as she did during her freshman year, compared to the rigid scheduling of high school. Bellamy's been working two jobs for the last four years; he's probably going to have some culture shock.

Luna shows up at ten to join Clarke at the check-in table, which necessitates a quick explanation of Bellamy, who kind of looks like a cop posing as a freshman in a movie. But deferred admission isn't really as hard to explain as Bellamy thinks it is, and Luna accepts it without any further questions.

"Make sure you take him to lunch when you go," is her only comment. "It's hot, he might get dehydrated."

That's basically how it goes, for the next two days. Bellamy helps out with whatever he can, Clarke makes sure he has water and eats, and once the move-in hours are done and he's eaten dinner, he retreats into his room, where he remains with the door shut. Not that Clarke is looking that often, but her own room is set up so her desk has a view of the door, so she'll see if anyone comes in while she's working. It's hard not to look up whenever anyone passes, and when Bellamy does go out to go to the bathroom or whatever else.

She's not trying; it just happens.

He sits in the corner for her Sunday-night dorm meeting, but he doesn't look as out-of-place as she might expect. When they do ice-breakers, he participates easily, and no one seems to take any more notice of him than anyone else. Well, okay, a couple of the girls are checking him out, but he's wearing this white t-shirt that makes his arms look unbelievably huge, so that's probably unrelated. There are probably eighteen-year-old guys in the world who have upper bodies like Bellamy does, but none of them are in the common room right now.

Regardless, he seems to be doing well, so it's honestly completely irrational, that he's the one Clarke frets over. It's partially just that it's easier to remember him--he made more of an impression than all the other kids put together--but also that she has more trouble convincing herself he'll sort himself out. Between being older and not having a roommate, it seems like he needs more attention.

"Yeah, I'd give him more attention too," says Raven. They're on their way to lunch and passed Bellamy as he was leaving. Clarke hasn’t had that many good excuses to talk to him since classes started, so she took the opportunity to check in while Raven watched like Clarke talking to one of her freshmen was the new hit show of the season. It’s not a surprise, but she’s not excited about it either.

“Shut up.”

“You said it, not me.”

“It’s not like that,” she says, and corrects herself before Raven can do it for her. “He’s hot, obviously. But that’s not it.”

“You guys have a real connection?”

Clarke has to smile. “Yeah, the connection where I’m his RA and supposed to look out for him.”

“I don’t care if you’re into him,” Raven says. “Just if you’re in stupid denial about it.”

“Not stupid denial,” she says, once she’s given it due consideration. “I don’t know. He’s a good guy, and he’s nervous. I want to help. But—“

“But?”

“You know how sometimes you meet someone and you want to know everything about them?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s definitely like that.”

“Crush,” says Raven, decisively.

“Interest,” Clarke corrects, like this is an important and meaningful distinction and not mostly nitpicking.

“Whatever,” says Raven. “As long as you aren’t being an idiot.”

“Kind of. But he could still be an asshole. I’m hedging my bets until I get to know him better.”

“I’d try to fuck him once if I were you, but I’m guessing as an RA you aren’t really supposed to do that.”

“Not really.”

“Then try to not develop any more of a thing for him. Don’t be interested in him. He’s older than you are, he’s going to be fine.”

It’s valid and useful feedback, and Clarke isn’t actively ignoring it, it’s just that Bellamy keeps being around. She doesn’t treat him any differently than her other freshmen, but the differences emerge all the same. When she runs into anyone from her floor in the dining hall, she sits with them, but when Bellamy’s there, they kind of naturally drift together. When they have group activities, Bellamy is much more comfortable in something like a supervisory role. It makes sense, given his age and history, but it makes for a very different vibe than she has with any of the other freshmen, and she can’t help feeling guilty about it.

He shouldn’t have to do that.

“You know you can go have fun, right?” she asks. They’re at the fall carnival, which Clarke has always felt comes too early in the year—it’s only been a month of classes, does anyone need that much of a break?—and he’s sitting with her during her shift covering the RA table instead of literally anything else.

“Who says this isn’t fun?” he teases. She elbows him, and he relents. “I’m supposed to be meeting Miller later, he said to bring you.”

“Nate Miller?”

“Yeah, your former roommate.”

Clarke smiles. “Almost. How do you know Miller?”

He ducks his head. “Uh—hooked up at a party.”

There’s a whole lot of new information in there, and Clarke takes her time digesting it. Finally, she says, “Wait, you went to a party?”

"Yeah, I was surprised too." He shrugs, looking a little awkward. "Last week. A senior in my computer science class was throwing it, so I didn't feel that weird about going."

"So, now you and Miller might be a thing and you want me around as a buffer?”

“Jesus, no,” he says, like the thought had never occurred to him. “It was a one-time thing. We’re friends, he knew I was friends with you—“

“Are we friends now?” she teases.

“After this conversation we might not be.”

She just smiles. “So why aren’t you and Miller going to be a thing?”

“It was a hookup,” he says, like this is an entire explanation on its own. Clarke knows people do that, have one-and-done partners, but she’s never totally understood it. If the sex was good, even if it was casual, she usually isn’t opposed to doing it again.

Bellamy must sense some of that in her silence, because he shifts a little, awkward. “I haven’t done a long-term thing in a while. I was always busy. I like getting laid, Miller wanted to get laid—“

“I’m not judging,” she says. “But if you had fun having sex with Miller, you should have more sex with Miller.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. You’re not going to ask about the guy thing?”

“What’s to ask? You like guys. I like guys and girls. And non-binary people,” she adds. It’s taken some getting used to saying, not because it’s not true but because it’s stupidly easy to get stuck in binary thinking. She’s working on it. “I think I said that when I introduced myself to everyone?”

“You did. I like guys and girls too,” he adds. “And probably non-binary people. I haven’t met anyone who’s told me that’s how they ID, but the gender binary sucks, so—“

Clarke grins and holds up her hand. “So, bi five?”

“Bi five,” he agrees, and slaps her palm. "Anyway, I figured I could hang out until you were off shift and then we could go find Miller."

"Because we're friends."

"We are, right?" he asks, sounding more anxious than she expected.

"Yeah. Seriously, did something happen? I feel like you're being weirder than usual."

"Wow, thanks." He rubs the back of his neck. "My sister thinks I don’t have any friends.”

"So you're out here socializing with your RA and a guy you hooked up with at a party?"

"When you say it like that--"

He actually does look anxious, and Clarke finds herself reaching over to squeeze his knee. "Honestly? You haven't seemed like you're doing great with friends. But it's also only been a month and you're going through pretty major culture shock. We should totally be friends, though."

That makes him smile. "Yeah?"

"Definitely. We can gossip about Miller."

"He said you spent all of freshman year backseat-RAing."

"Then we definitely need to gossip about him. He came back from spring break freshman year with a mohawk. Also our RA sucked," she feels compelled to add. "There are guidelines! He was supposed to do a group meal for us once every two weeks to check in. He did it once and never again."

"So you had to take over," he teases.

"No one else was! If I fail in my RA duties, I trust you to take over for me."

"Yeah, I'd definitely stage a coup. But so far you're doing more RA duties than you need to, if anything."

"Most of it isn't mandatory!"

"Only some of the fun is mandatory. The full Clarke Griffin experience."

"Shut up. You said we were friends."

He does his best embarrassed/secretly pleased smile, which is one of her favorite Bellamy smiles, and she does feel a little lurch at that thought. Just a little.

"I did say that, yeah. No take-backs."

Her own smile is not even a little secret about being pleased. "Nope. No take-backs."

*

Bellamy is an early riser; Clarke has, on several occasions, run into him leaving breakfast when she was going in, even on weekends, even when she woke up early, by her own standards. Anyone who leaves the dining hall before nine a.m. on a weekend is definitely someone who's up before they should be.

So, a week after the fall carnival, she knocks on Bellamy's door at 8:15.

"One sec," he mutters, and there's a sound of scuffling before he opens up, hair a mess, glasses crooked, and--shirtless.

And, okay, they live on the same floor, she's seen him shirtless before, usually in transit from the showers. But there's something different about having to talk to him like this, to having him staring at her all sleep-rumpled and ripped and stupidly cute.

It's not denial if she knows he's cute, right? He obviously is.

He blinks at her, and she puts on a smile. "So, we're friends, right?"

"Does friendship exist before noon on a Saturday?"

"You were already awake, right?"

"I was reading."

"We're getting breakfast and going on a field trip."

"A field trip?"

"Yup. Get dressed."

"Do we need to have another talk about how mandatory fun isn't actually fun?"

"At dinner yesterday, you said you didn't have plans today. You said you wanted plans. Now I have plans for you. What's the problem?"

"Yeah, you're right, this is normal." A smile is tugging at his mouth. "Give me ten minutes."

He follows her out of his room and heads to the bathroom, and Clarke keeps herself busy on her phone as she waits for him. He knocks on the doorjamb after only eight minutes, still wearing his glasses, to her delight, and he's upgraded his usual plain t-shirt/jeans ensemble with a flannel shirt, as a nod to the cooler weather.

"Is breakfast part of the field trip or are we just going to the dining hall?"

She pauses to think it over. "Depends. Assume I'm buying you a lot of stuff today. Do you want me to pay for breakfast too?"

It's his turn to pause. "Dining hall's good. You're buying me stuff?" he adds, once they start walking.

"You're great," she says, "and I like you a lot. So I'm telling you this as a friend: your dorm room is fucking creepy."

He lets out a surprised bark of laughter. "What?"

"You need at least one poster," she says. "Maybe a rug? Something. It doesn't even look like a person lives there. And you’re in there all the time. You must be getting sick of it."

"You know I'm technically homeless, right?" he asks, mild. "I don't have anywhere to put this stuff once the school year is done."

"I promise we will find a place," she says. "You have to live somewhere over the summer, it's not like you're just going to sleep in your car."

"Says who?"

"Bellamy. You can find a job on campus if nothing else. And I'm not saying you need a ton of stuff, no furniture or anything, but--seriously, it's depressing me. It must be depressing you."

He's quiet as they get their trays and load up with food, but once they're at the table, he says, "I don't feel like I should get too comfortable here."

"No?"

He pokes at his eggs a little too viciously. "Honestly? Sometimes I feel like I'm just waiting for someone to realize it's a mistake. For them to drop my financial aid, for Octavia to get kicked out of UMASS--" He sighs. "I know it's stupid."

"It's irrational," says Clarke, careful. "That's not the same as stupid."

"Thanks." The word comes out sarcastic, but his smile is soft.

"I can't promise nothing is ever going to go wrong in your life. But I can promise if you ever bring anyone back to your dorm room to hook up, they're going to think you want to murder them."

"So you're just worried about my sex life."

"And your depression levels. It doesn't have to be a lot," she wheedles, nudging his foot under the table. "And I want to go to the mall anyway, so if you don't want anything, it's cool. But will you at least look?"

"I wouldn't mind getting a little stuff," he admits. "I went kind of overboard purging everything I owned."

"You? Overboard? No way."

"It's a fresh start."

"So get new stuff. For your new life."

"Yeah." He smiles at her, warm and soft. Maybe all his smiles are her favorite smile. "Did I say thanks?"

"No, but you're kind of an ingrate, so--"

"Thanks, Clarke."

"You're welcome. Eat up so we can go."

Arcadia is within spitting distance of Boston, but Clarke's always found it easier to go to malls farther away from the city. They tend to be cheaper and less crowded, and, honestly, driving in Boston is the worst. The traffic is terrible, one way streets seem to appear and disappear at random, and no one understands their turn signals. She grew up driving there and would be perfectly happy never doing it again.

Bellamy settles into shotgun and Clarke hands over her phone. "It's connected to the bluetooth, so you can judge my music selection."

"Or you can judge the fact that I don't know any of your music," he says. "My sister says I have the musical taste of a guy who just woke up from a twenty-year coma."

"That's weirdly specific."

"The coffee shop where I work basically played exclusively 90s rock, so--"

Clarke smiles. "Then just pick random songs and hope you like them."

"Cool, works for me."

It's only about a forty-minute drive to the mall Clarke likes, and there was honestly no reason they had to go this early except that Clarke likes getting things done. And this way, if Bellamy does have other stuff to do, he'll have time.

But he doesn't seem worried about homework he should be doing or additional part-time jobs he should be finding. He seems happy, honestly, his smile easy and his eyes bright.

She’s probably going to need to get some booze and talk to Raven about this one soon.

“So, what kinds of things make me look like not a serial killer?” he asks, as Clarke is looking for parking.

“Any personal possessions are good. What do you like?”

“Maps?”

Clarke bites her lip. Fuck it, he’s so cute. “Maps?”

“I like kind of old ones. Or fantasy ones.”

“We could maybe find that. I don’t know much about your pop culture preferences.”

“There’s not a ton to know. I never watched a ton of TV. More into books, but not the movie adaptations of the books. But—Nintendo games? I got a DS cheap and played some of those.”

“Okay, we can go to Gamestop and see if they’ve got anything good. Honestly, just look around, see what seems cool? Whatever catches your eye.”

“What are you looking for?”

“RA supplies. For Halloween.”

“What do RAs do for Halloween?”

“Trick-or-treating. All the freshman RAs have candy, but we’re also supposed to decorate our hallways and stuff too. I want to get it done early.”

“Of course you do,” he teases, fond. “Any ideas what you’re doing yet?”

"Not yet. I'm open to suggestions."

He taps his jaw, thinking. "Do you want scary or cool?"

"Are those mutually exclusive?"

"They don't have to be. It's more of philosophical thing. Are you into Halloween as a way to scare the shit out of people, or do you want to do the most creative costume you can, even if it's not scary?"

"Whatever I have a good idea for. If you can figure out something really scary, that's awesome, but if it doesn't work, it's just hokey."

"Yeah. I've always been better at creative. Not that I can't do scary, but I always liked coming up with something unexpected."

"Like what?"

They chat about favorite costumes as they wander the mall, darting in and out of stores that catch their attention. Bellamy gets some standard college stuff he was missing--a white board for his door, a cork board and pins to hang pictures, a shower caddy--as well as practical things like a wall calendar and a stapler, but Clarke talks him into fun stuff too. They find some old-fashioned maps he likes at a weird store that smells like dust and hemp, and he picks up more books because he's like that. He is also, apparently, the only nerd in the world who had lived a life completely unaware of Funko Pops, and regards them with a mix of horror and fascination. They spend a good half an hour while he studies every single one, even though he doesn't know most of the sources, and he selects three to purchase.

"I'm definitely never going to get laid with them watching."

"Are you going to put them facing your bed?" she asks.

"I am now." He pauses at a display. "Did you ever play Mario?"

"Not much. I never got that into video games. My friend Wells would play and I'd watch sometimes. Why?"

"That would make a cool hallway theme. Decorate the walls like a Mario level, hang some clouds and boxes from the ceiling--" He shrugs. "It probably wouldn't be that hard. You could dress up as Princess Peach to give out candy. You could probably rock a giant pink ballgown."

"That could be cool. I'll ask Raven, she knows video games."

"Monty and Jasper would help too," Bellamy says. "They'd get really into it. Monroe too."

Clarke's smile is less at the suggestions themselves and more at the fact that Bellamy is making them. He may, most of the time, feel more like another RA than one of her charges, but he is fitting in and making friends. He knows which other kids are nerds.

They grab a snack at the food court and do some googling to figure out what they need. Bellamy might not be a social gamer, but he's pretty familiar with games he could play alone, and he's able to come up with a pretty good sketch of what she'll need to make it feel like a Mario level. Haunted house levels are apparently a staple of the series, and by the time they're done with their coffees, Clarke's got a sketch of the hallway and some fairly simple decorations she thinks they could put together without much trouble. Raven could definitely make some kind of animated chomper plant to descend from the ceiling, and if they get some styrofoam balls, they'll make good angry ghosts.

It's going to be fun.

They stop by the craft store and go a little overboard, but Bellamy apparently really likes projects. He's never talked much about his family--she thinks he's afraid of talking about his sister too much, so he just avoids it--but apparently his mother sold clothes online, and he used to help her with the sewing, so this is right up his alley.

They get back right around lunch time, and Clarke wonders if she's allowed to ask him if he wants to head over the dining hall, or if this has been enough socializing and he's done with her for the day.

He saves her the angst. "I could use some help with decorating," he offers. "You're the artist. Want to get lunch and then help me get my room set up?"

She bites her lip, smiling stupidly. "Yeah. That sounds great."

*

"Okay," says Clarke. "To preface, yes, I have a thing for my hot older freshman. No denial, he's awesome, I want to make out with him."

"Obviously," says Raven. "You want help with that?"

"No, not really. I still think I probably shouldn't. But he's helping with my Halloween decorations, and I'm hoping you're going to too, so I want to make sure you get that I'm not in denial."

"Cool, glad you're working through this. I'm going to get to know him doing Halloween stuff?"

"Probably. He's a good guy, you'll like him."

"Yeah, I'm not worried about that." She smirks. "But I'm going to have a lot of opinions on how much you should make out with him after this."

"Join the club," says Clarke.

Really, though, depending on what private opinions Miller may or may not have about Clarke and Bellamy--she assumes he doesn't care, but Miller's always hard to read--Clarke isn't really sure how much of a Bellamy-and-Clarke-should-make-out club exists. She's in it, and Raven, but Clarke's freshmen are mostly pretty separate from her friend group. Roan stops by sometimes to basically exist as a cautionary tale about drinking and not wearing enough clothing, and Lincoln is essentially the Goofus to his Gallant, but Clarke mostly keeps them separate.

Even Bellamy. They're friends, but she's not really sure he wants to come hang out with her people. If nothing else, they'll all be graduating before he does, and she wouldn't blame him for wanting to mostly make more friends in his year, if not his age bracket.

It hadn't really occurred to her that her other freshmen might have thoughts on the two of them, which is stupid. When she was a freshman, everyone on her floor had been convinced that their RA had a thing going with the one on the floor below theirs, the same way everyone in her high school had assumed their single teachers' dating pools were limited to other people at the school.

She really should have seen it coming, but Monroe still manages to catch her off guard. "Dad said we were just getting gold coins for candy?"

Clarke is working on a papier-mache piranha plant head, which means it takes a second for the words to sink in. "Who now?"

"Bellamy. He said we were getting gold coins to give out."

"And?"

"And no one wants to get gold coins trick or treating, seriously. I get that it’s on theme, but mix in some brand-name candy bars or whatever. Give the people what they want or we’re going to get TP’d.”

"Noted." She pauses, but can't help herself. "Do you guys always call me and Bellamy Mom and Dad?"

"Not always. But come on, can you blame us?"

She admittedly can't. It's probably not even--entirely--romantic. It's a vibe she could have with anyone. It doesn't have to mean anything.

But it still does.

"Don't call us that to our faces, it's weird. I'll get some other candy," she adds, when Monroe still looks expectant. "Don't worry."

"Okay, cool." She gestures vaguely to the decorations scattered around the common room. "This is really good, by the way. It's going to be awesome."

Clarke smiles. "I think so too, yeah. Tell Raven to come in here if you see her? I need to check the weight on this."

Every time she sees Bellamy for the rest of the day, it's on the tip of her tongue to tell him what Monroe said, but she can't figure out the right tone. It's not a big deal, and telling him makes it out like it is. Besides, for all she knows, he already knew. As the actual RA, she's probably the last to find out. The other freshmen probably call Bellamy Dad to his face, the same way some of them still call Jasper Goggles. It's a nickname, and being the mom to Bellamy's dad is better than she would have expected to do.

She still texts Wells that night. She has to tell someone.

Me: Did I tell you about this guy I like?

Wells: I don't think so
But tell me now

Me: He had to defer admission for four years to take care of his sister
So he's one of my freshmen
But he's 21 and the hottest person I've ever met
But also kind of shy and awkward
He's getting better, now that he's figuring out how he fits in
But we're friends and I'm pretty stupid over him
And I just found out the rest of the freshmen call us "Mom" and "Dad"
So I'm dealing really well with that

Wells: Wow
I can't believe you told me all of that and didn't send a single picture
It's like we're not even friends

Clarke laughs out loud, pulling up her photos to find a good one. She has more shots of Bellamy than she expected--Bellamy at the carnival, Bellamy reading in the common room, Bellamy flipping her off in the dining hall--and it feels like having her soul laid bare. She didn't do anything wrong, they're not creeper shots or anything. He knows about every one. But how could she have taken this many pictures without his knowing she likes him?

Maybe he does know. Maybe he's just being polite, not mentioning it.

She picks a nice shot of him, sitting on a bench in the quad, wind ruffling his hair. Strictly speaking, she prefers the next image, where his concentration breaks and he starts laughing. But that one's for her; Wells can see him looking like the cover of a romance novel.

Wells: Yeah wow
That's a crisis situation

Me: It's pretty bad

Wells: Is he straight?

Me: Bi
It's the worst

Wells: So, your actual dream guy

Me: So far
I hate him

Wells: Obviously
Godspeed

*

Between telling Wells and telling Raven, to say nothing of wondering what the freshmen think, the whole thing suddenly feels so much more real. That’s how it always is for her with crushes; they’re fine until she admits what’s going on, and then she feels like there’s this spotlight on her, like there’s a whole panel of Olympic judges evaluating her every move, scoring her performance in charm, competence, and nonchalance.

She thinks she does pretty well in all of them, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful. And the fact that Bellamy seems to have no idea is annoying too, like he’s to blame for not realizing something she’s actively hiding.

There’s a slight possibility she’s terrible at crushes.

Halloween goes off without a hitch, their Mario-themed hallway gaining them universal praise, and Clarke both hopes and fears she’ll see less of Bellamy with that project out of the way.

Instead, November first comes and she’s on her futon reading when he flops down on her bed and says, “I need RA guidance.”

“For what?”

“Holidays.”

She opens her mouth for a snarky retort, but then she remembers whom she’s talking to.

“Nowhere to go?”

“I can stay on campus for Thanksgiving, that’s fine. O’s set, she’s going home with her roommate. She could find somewhere to go for Christmas too, but—“

“Oh my god, you’re not staying on campus for Thanksgiving.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t have to. You can find places to go too. My mom and step-dad live in Cambridge, you can still sleep here if you really want, but you’re at least coming to dinner.”

Bellamy sits up, frowning. “I wasn’t fishing for that.”

“I know,” she says, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Honestly, I can’t believe I forgot to ask you. I’m always behind on Thanksgiving because I get distracted by my birthday.”

It’s true, but she immediately regrets saying it. She knows it’s not actually weird to tell people when her birthday is, but she always feels like she’s, well, fishing for attention. Not to be too Bellamy about it.

“Wait, when’s your birthday?” he asks.

“Next week.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“You’re turning twenty-one.”

“Yeah, but I already get all the booze I want.” She smiles. “There’s a party, you’re invited. You don’t have to get me anything.”

“And I’m invited to Thanksgiving.”

“And Christmas, but I might be able to do better for Christmas.”

“What does that mean?”

“My parents probably know someone who needs a house-sitter for at least part of break. Definitely for Christmas Day.”

“That would be nice,” he admits. “But you don’t have to.”

“It’s really not any trouble,” she says. “And you’re obviously welcome to just crash with us for Christmas if you want, but I assume you’re looking for somewhere you can celebrate with your sister and without a bunch of strangers.”

“That would be nice. No offense to your family.”

She offers him a smile. “I’m going to make the Thanksgiving offer to the whole floor. You’re not the only person who doesn’t have anywhere to go. We have plenty of room. Your sister could come, if she’d rather be here.”

“Probably not, but I’ll let her know.” He clears his throat. “But I appreciate it. All of it.”

“No problem.”

“Is everyone invited to your birthday?”

“Just the ones who can drink.”

He laughs her favorite laugh, the soft one where he ducks his head, and her heart flips over. “Good policy. What exact day is your birthday?”

“The ninth. Party is that night, at Raven’s apartment.”

“You’re going to need to send me the address.”

“Or we could just go together.”

“Or that.” He flops down again. “Can I play video games in here?”

It’s actually painful sometimes, how much she likes him.

“Knock yourself out.”

*

He buys her a bottle of vodka for her birthday, not wrapped, but tied up with blue, purple, and pink ribbon around the neck. There’s even a tag that says Happy bi-irthday!, and as soon as he ducks back into his room for his coat, she snaps a picture to send to Wells.

He immediately texts, wow, you must be dying, which is why they are best friends.

"Sorry I didn't get anything more exciting," Bellamy says, and Clarke jumps. He caught her fingering the tag on the vodka bottle, and she tries not to flush. It's not that weird. "I went with the easy option."

"Booze is always appropriate. Thanks."

"You say that now. I honestly got more booze than I knew what to do with on my twenty-first."

"Yeah?" she asks, curious. "From who?"

He glances at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing bad. You just never talk about anything from before college. I assume you had friends, but I don't know anything about them."

"Honestly, I didn't. I did in high school, but then we graduated. Most of them went off to college, and even the ones who didn't--" He shrugs. "We didn't really stay in touch."

"So who gave you all the booze?"

"Coworkers. I was doing construction, everyone else was at least ten years older than I was." He smiles. "It was kind of like I was everyone's kid brother."

"Must have been nice for you."

"Definitely novel." He clears his throat. "Anyway. Any notes for me?"

"Notes?"

"This is my first time at a party with you. I don't want to be your embarrassing freshman."

"Yeah, no one is going to think that, trust me. You're still a stealth freshman."

"Oh good, I was worried I lost that." He runs his hand through his hair. "Do I know anyone here other than Raven?"

"Miller. You've met Roan and Lincoln, right? Some of the other RAs. Anyone else Raven invited."

"You don't really have friends either, huh?"

"I guess you're about to find out."

She hasn't really done many parties this year, in part because most of her friends are living off campus and it's kind of a pain, but also because she can't help fretting when she's away from the dorm. She knows she doesn't have to always be available, but it still feels like she should be. Just in case.

"You know they call us Mom and Dad, right?" she asks Bellamy. She is, possibly, drunk and hanging on him a little. He's just very solid; he makes a good support structure. "The kids."

"You're calling them the kids, so I can't exactly blame them." He puts his arm around her, getting her positioned a little less awkwardly. "I know, yeah. I didn't think you did."

"Monroe slipped up and called you Dad in front of me."

"I would have bet on Goggles." There's a pause, and then he admits, "It's kind of nice. For me, anyway."

"What?"

"It helps me feel like I fit in. I'd feel weird being friends with kids my sister's age, but--"

"You'd be fine," says Clarke. "They're all eighteen and pretty competent."

"I just do better in big-brother mode."

"You do fine with me."

"Yeah, that was a nice surprise." Another pause, and then he squeezes her. "I've never had anyone like you before." She feels herself bristle, and he laughs. "That's a compliment. I'm trying to be nice. It's really great, having someone I can count on. I'm really glad I met you."

It makes her feel only a little guilty that she was thinking about how nice his abs felt under her fingers. But it's not like his abs are the only thing she likes about him. They're not even her favorite part of him. The fact that Bellamy is hot is really just a bonus. A good bonus, obviously, but really, he's just--

"I'm glad I met you too. You're my favorite."

He laughs. "You're my favorite too. Do you want to stay here or go home? You seem pretty wasted."

"My tolerance took a hit," she admits. "But we should go back. In case the kids need us."

“Like you said, they’re eighteen. They can survive for a night on their own. Do we need to start hiring a babysitter?”

“I take my responsibilities as an RA very seriously.”

He sighs. "I know. Come on, let's get home."

"Did you have fun?"

"Me?"

"Yeah. Everyone liked you, right? They were cool. You're cool. So you weren't--"

He laughs. "I had fun, yeah. Thanks for inviting me."

"Almost like I like hanging out with you."

"Almost like that. Happy birthday," he adds, and she smiles.

"Yeah, thanks."

*

"So, remind me who's joining us for dinner?"

It's a perfectly valid question, so Clarke only winces a little, and she's pretty sure her mother doesn't notice. She'd had a decent number of maybes when she asked if anyone needed somewhere to come for Thanksgiving, but by the time the holiday actually rolled around, she only had one person coming, and of course it's Bellamy. His sister is going to New York State with her roommate, and while Clarke couldn't convince him to actually vacate the dorms and crash at her place, he did agree to come for Thanksgiving.

It's probably for the best, but now she's nervous.

"Just Bellamy."

"What class do you have with him again?"

"No classes, he lives in my dorm."

Abby frowns. "He's one of your freshman?"

"Yeah."

"Hm. I could have sworn you had a class together."

"He's older," Clarke says, and it always makes her feel a little shitty. Four years isn't that long; she could be friends with Bellamy if he was eighteen, too. It might be just the same, but the fact that she's not sure nags at her. Sometimes, it feels like she's part of why he feels out-of-place, and even if she's not the whole reason, it bothers her.

"Older?"

"His mom passed away and he deferred admission for a few years. He'll be twenty-two in spring. So he's--more of a friend."

"Oh. Well, I'm glad he's coming over, then. Do we need to pick him up? Does he really want to stay in the dorms?"

She has to smile. "I tried convincing him to crash here, but he said he was looking forward to having the building to himself. Someone left their PS4 in the common room and said he could use it, so he's just going to play video games all week."

"I wouldn't mind taking a week off to play video games," says Abby, but it's one of those hollow statements. Clarke loves her mother, but the woman doesn't know what to do with herself when she's not working, and that's coming from her. She doesn't know how Abby ever found the time to meet Marcus, let alone marry him. "Just make sure he knows he's welcome."

"He does. He's driving himself over, so I'm hoping I can at least convince him to spend the night."

"Let me know if I can help."

"I will."

Bellamy might be her only guest, but he's not the only guest overall. Abby always has some residents who don't have time to go home, and Marcus teaches at Tufts and picks up a few students who don't have anywhere else to go. But that doesn't really make it better; instead, it makes her feel like she invited Bellamy, personally, instead of putting out a general invitation. It makes her feel like Bellamy is here with her, and not just here.

Apparently the Olympic judges in having a stupid crush are back in full force.

He asked if he could help with cooking, so he's the first to arrive, right around one. Clarke opens the door and feels the sight of him like a physical blow; he'd been getting a little scruffy before the break, but today he's clean-shaven and proper, contacts on, wearing a button-down shirt that he might have actually ironed. And he has a pie covered in tin foil.

"Hey, Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving. Did you make a pie?"

"What's wrong with pie?" he asks, a slight defensive note in his voice. "That's what you eat on Thanksgiving."

Clarke bites the corner of her mouth. It's only been a couple days; she shouldn't be this happy to see him. She shouldn't have been missing him so much. "I just didn't see it coming. My mom will be thrilled. Come on in, you can get the tour."

"I knew you were rich, but I wasn't really prepared for this amount of real estate in Cambridge."

"As it turns out, doctors and tenured professors make pretty good money, yeah. Especially if they don't start in ridiculous debt."

"Sounds fake. Thanks for having me, though. I really appreciate it."

"We're happy to have you. And this way I have a friend around."

"Do you usually need backup for family holidays?"

"Kind of. We always used to do Thanksgiving with my friend Wells and his family, but his dad moved to the west coast a couple years ago, so now it's just me and Mom and Marcus and whoever we invite. You're my only guest this year, so--"

"I'm honored."

"Or everyone else has something better to do."

"Their loss." He clears his throat. "Can we start with the kitchen so I can drop off the pie and thank your mom for having me?"

Abby takes the pie and thanks with genuine appreciation, but when Bellamy asks how he can help, she tells him everything's set for the next hour at least, which means the two of them have actual alone time. There's no way it's the first time that's happened, but it might be the first time it's happened with absolutely no excuse, nothing to do except just hang out.

"Is this where you grew up?" he asks.

"No, we moved here when I was in high school."

"But you still have a room full of stuff I can scrutinize, right?"

She laughs. "Obviously, yeah."

It's not actually that interesting, in her opinion--she brought all her personal items she actually cares about to her dorm room--but Bellamy enjoys checking her bookshelves, squinting at her pictures, and generally being nosy.

"How's your sister?" she asks, watching from her desk chair as he flips through a copy Harry Potter in Spanish.

"Good. She called to wish me a happy Thanksgiving and everything. Oh, that reminds me, we need to take a selfie."

"Why?"

"She's still not convinced I really have anywhere to go. I told her I was at your place and she demanded photographic evidence."

"She's not wrong to be suspicious," Clarke can't help pointing out. "If you thought she'd insist on coming out here--"

"That would have been fine. She would have insisted on me going to spent Thanksgiving with her and her roommate she has a thing for."

"She has a thing for her roommate?"

"I don't want to foist bisexuality on her or anything, but yeah, I'm pretty sure. Every other word is Niylah said this and Niylah did that."

Clarke pulls a face. "You know, I was going to say I did that with my freshman-year roommate, but in retrospect she was definitely a crush before I realized I was bi."

"When was that? Realizing you were bi"

"The end of freshman year. I went to this party and got the chance to make out with a girl and I figured I should just try it, and I ended up going home with her."

He laughs. "Yeah, that's pretty unambiguous."

"What about you?"

"Honestly? In high school, I was really paranoid that if I hooked up with a girl I'd get her pregnant, so I figured I'd just sleep with guys instead."

Clarke doesn't consider herself to be a giggler, but the sound that comes out of her is unmistakably a giggle. Bellamy tries to look offended, but he can't quite manage it. "What?" he demands, mouth twitching.

"That might be the cutest thing I've ever heard."

"Accidental pregnancy is no joke."

"I know. But still."

"Yeah. I did go through some--" He shrugs. "Dumbass biphobic shit, where I thought it was just that girls were too much trouble, but I told a friend of mine and he was like, I'd rather not have sex than have sex with guys. So that made it pretty obvious it wasn't what anyone would do." He cocks his head. "What happened with the girl?"

"The girl?"

"The one you hooked up with freshman year."

"Oh, um--not much. We hooked up a few more times, but she wasn't looking for anything serious."

"What about you?"

"I didn't get my heart broken, Bellamy," she says, with a smile. "You want to take that selfie?"

"Yeah."

Bellamy is one of the worst photographers she's ever met, so once they're smushed together, Clarke takes his phone and snaps a few shots. He smells clean and fresh, with a slight unfamiliar odor, like he decided he needed to put cologne on to impress her mom.

She steps away as soon as she's gotten a couple, not really prepared to be so close to him. Her bedroom at her mom's place isn't exactly an aphrodisiac, but it's not like she needs much encouragement to want to jump him. It feels like one of her basic personality trait, at this point.

"This one's good," she says, pulling up the last picture she took. "Send it to me too, okay?"

"Sure."

They head back down to the kitchen after that and convince Abby to put them to work. Marcus gets back with his gaggle of students, all of whom are happy to help out with whatever she and Bellamy are working on. No one asks if she and Bellamy are together, which is supposed to be a good thing, but it's one of those good things that doesn't actually feel like a victory. Now she's just going to obsess over why no one thought they were a couple.

"I'm going to try to make you stay the night," she says, when they're bringing dishes back to the kitchen. He had two glasses of wine, which isn't really enough that she feels like he can't drive, but she still isn't ready to let him go yet.

"Yeah?"

"Yup. I'm going to go watch Netflix upstairs and I don't want to do it alone."

"That is the kind of thing you need backup for." He smiles a little. "I was actually planning on staying."

"Really?"

"I thought you'd try to make me, so it seemed smarter to just lean into it and bring some pajamas and a change of clothes."

"Definitely smarter. Do you need to get them?"

"I was going to see if anyone needed a ride anywhere, I know your mom and Marcus have dishes to do, I don't mind helping out. But I'll come back after."

"I'll come with you," she volunteers, and they kill an hour ferrying interns around the Boston metro area before they get back. The lights are out except in Abby and Marcus's room, so cleanup is apparently done, and she and Bellamy tiptoe upstairs to the TV room.

"It's like being back in high school," she says, and he snorts.

"Like you ever broke curfew in high school."

"No, but sometimes my mom went to bed before I got home and I never wanted to wake her up. She didn't really believe in curfews."

She's expecting him to take one side of the couch, but he opts for the center, body turned like he's waiting for her to settle in next to him, and she lets herself do it before she can second-guess herself. It's stupid, but--it does feel like high school, in the nice way. The way where they're stumbling toward something because they don't quite know how it's supposed to work yet.

He settles his arm around her shoulders, and she melts.

"Did your sister believe you?"

"Hm?"

"That you were really here."

"I think so. It's not like I could convincingly photoshop a picture to save my life."

"You definitely couldn't. Worst future comp-sci major ever." She settles a little closer to him, finding the remote and getting Netflix up. They settle on some inoffensive comedy, but it's not really the main event, as far as Clarke is concerned, not when Bellamy's breath is occasionally ruffling her hair and his thumb is idly rubbing her shoulder.

He's the one to finally say, "So Octavia thinks I'm here, but also that I'm an idiot."

She looks up at him, frowning. "Why?"

"We were arguing about her thing for her roommate and I told her girls don't invite you to stay with them for holidays if they don't like you. She said if I really thought that, I'd stop making excuses and make a move."

Clarke's heart starts pounding overtime. "She's definitely right. Also, that's complete bullshit. I would have asked you even if I didn't like you."

He exhales a laugh. "But I should still make a move."

"Definitely."

He doesn't hurry, which is a bad thing only because Clarke's so impatient for it. He just looks at her for a second, and then he leans in, so slow, taking his time, catching her lips once, twice, ghosts of kisses that feel less like he's testing the waters and more like he's savoring this moment.

It's cute, but patience isn't always Clarke's strong suit. She tugs the front of his shirt, pulling him closer, and he grins before pressing against her in earnest, mouth firm and insistent as he settles on top of her on the couch.

This is what she's been waiting for.

Bellamy kisses like someone who's done this a lot and likes it, someone for whom kissing is, if not the main event, the first act, a necessary and welcome setup step, not some opening band he's suffering through to get to what he really wants.

Or maybe he’s just not interested in actually having sex on her parents’ couch. That would also be fine. But she’s pretty sure he’s enjoying this part too.

His mouth finally moves away from hers, but he doesn’t go far, kissing down the column of her throat, wet and hot.

“I thought you might be too responsible for this,” he murmurs, right into her skin.

“What?” Words seem a little too complicated right this second.

His laugh rumbles against her. “You’re the most anal RA ever, I figured there was a regulation or something. No making out with your charges, even if they’re twenty-one and crazy about you.”

“Crazy about me?”

He kisses right under her jaw. “I thought it was pretty obvious.”

“Then it's probably fine,” she decides. “If you’re crazy about me.”

*

Abby probably wouldn’t care if Bellamy slept in her room, but she still feels weird about it. They make out until she can’t stand it anymore, and then he goes to take a shower, which is definitely a euphemism, and she doesn’t pretend she’s thinking about anything else when she slides her hand between her legs. It doesn’t take long, and it’s satisfying enough, but it’s not what she really wants.

Then again, he lives across the hall from her. She’s not going to have to wait that long.

She’s still regaining her breath when he knocks on the door.

“Yeah?”

“Just saying goodnight.”

She bites her lip, like she needs to hide her smile, like she’s not alone. Like he’s mind, if he could see it. “Goodnight, Bellamy.”

Her mom doesn’t know that the two of them spent the previous night making out on the couch like horny teenagers, but she’s not an idiot. It’s obvious that Clarke is fond of Bellamy, so Abby gives him an unsubtle-but-friendly maternal interrogation for about twenty minutes over breakfast, until she has to go to work, and then Marcus takes over, asking him polite questions about Arcadia’s various teams before Clarke takes pity on them.

“Neither of you knows anything about sports. Marcus, Bellamy's planning to double major in computer science and history. He likes classics. Bellamy, Marcus teaches political science at Tufts. You both know Dean Pike.”

“That’s an interesting combination,” says Marcus. “History and computer science.”

“I’m really bad with computers,” he admits. “But I know there are jobs in tech. And I know it would be smart to get better at them either way. It's not like computers are going anywhere.”

“Jobs aren’t—“ Marcus starts, and Clarke doesn’t actually kick him under the table, but her foot connects with his leg in a very pointed way. “That makes sense,” he says, and Bellamy snorts, giving Clarke a sidelong smile.

“You’re not actually subtle.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Marcus doesn’t have anything to do today, and in theory she and Bellamy don’t either, and there’s no very good way to tell your step-father to stop being friendly to your (maybe) boyfriend so you can drag him off to get laid. Or, if there is, Clarke doesn’t know it.

Finally, Marcus asks, “So, any big plans for the day?”

“I was going to go hang out at the dorms,” Clarke says quickly. “I’m kind of curious to see what it looks like when it’s empty. And Bellamy’s got video games.”

“No Black Friday shopping?” he teases.

Clarke rolls her eyes. “You know the answer to that. I might stay there tonight?”

His eyebrows shoot up. “Oh?”

It’s not subtle, but she’d rather spend time with Bellamy than be subtle. Especially when the kids will be coming back in the next few days, and they’re all going to know if Bellamy spends the night in her room. It’s probably not going to be enough to stop her, but she’s not looking forward to dealing with it.

“Maybe,” she tells Marcus. “I’ll call and let you guys know.”

“Fair enough,” he says. “A pleasure to meet you, Bellamy. You’re welcome any time.”

Bellamy ducks his head. “Thanks again for having me."

She’s just planning to grab a few supplies, but she didn’t actually bring much, and she ends up filling up her backpack and throwing it in the backseat of Bellamy’s car. It seems inevitable.

He just raises his eyebrows. “If you’re moving back in it would probably be easier to bring your car,” he says, but his tone is mild.

“I thought we should probably talk. Sooner rather than later.”

“I guess. It seemed pretty simple to me.”

“Yeah?”

“I like you. I think you like me. Right?"

It feels like her chest must be glowing. Like the whole world can see. "Obviously."

"That seems pretty simple." He glances over at her. "Are there actually RA rules? I know you looked."

"It was before I ever met you, don't get too excited. I read all the rules."

"I figured, yeah. So, what does it say? Do you have to tell your boss or something? Do I need to sign a release form?"

"There's no official rule, they just say it's discouraged."

"So we're good, right?"

She opens her mouth and then closes it. "You're in a really good mood."

"I wonder why."

That makes her smile. "You didn't even get laid yet."

"Getting laid isn't everything." He pauses. "Not that I don't want to get laid."

"I kind of figured, yeah. We might need to talk about that."

"If you don't want to--" he starts, and she smiles.

"No, I just meant--it's going to be really obvious."

"I hate to break this to you, but the entire dorm already thinks we're sleeping together."

"Yeah, but--they don't really think that."

"No," he admits. "Do you want to just tell me what you're worried about? That would probably save us some time."

"I just--I don't think we're going to be able to keep this subtle."

"I didn't know we wanted to keep it subtle." He pulls over into a gas station, turns off the car and just looks at her. "Clarke," he says, fond. "I don't know who you think is going to be upset about this, but I'm pretty sure no one actually is."

"I'm not worried!" she protests. "I just wasn't sure you'd want to be sneaking into my room every night once the freshmen are back. It's not exactly low profile."

He leans across the seat and kisses her, their first kiss of this morning, warm and soft. She can taste his smile. "I'll sleep in your room any night you let me. I wasn't planning on sneaking in. I didn't think I was being subtle before, I'm not going to start now."

"The kids are going to be assholes."

"The kids are already assholes. So I might as well be your boyfriend."

It's her turn to kiss him, another quick one, but his smile has still upgraded to a grin by the time she pulls away. "So--let's go home."

The stairwell is quiet when they get back, but their hallway isn't; Clarke can hear shouting and the sound of electronic gunfire coming from the common room. She and Bellamy exchange a look, and she takes point as they make their way down the hall.

It's Monty and Jasper, which she probably should have seen coming. Jasper's got his goggles on again, and they seem to be completely surrounded by Doritos and sodas, like their own fortress of saturated fat and sugar.

"Hey, it's Mom and Dad!" Jasper says, beaming. "Happy Thanksgiving! Getting in some early Christmas shopping?"

"What are you guys doing back so early?" Bellamy asks.

"Most of our electronics were here," says Monty, like her question essentially answers itself. "Once we ate and did laundry, we had no reason to stay at home."

"Our biological parents judge us when we spend the whole day inside, gorging ourselves and murdering digital aliens," Jasper adds. "We came here, to the warm, loving acceptance of you, our college parents."

It's one of those statements that's impossible to argue with less because it's correct and more because there's so much wrong with it that she doesn't know where to start.

Bellamy just settles on, "Sure."

"Did you need the common room?" Monty asks, always the more considerate of the two of them. Clarke can't prove they hacked housing to put themselves on the same floor, but they can't prove they didn't. It seems more likely than two childhood friends randomly being placed together. "I know we said we weren't going to be back until Saturday."

It's not even a hard decision. "Nope. We're actually going to go make out. So if you have any crises--"

Jasper chokes. "Wait, really?"

"What else do you think we do when you're not around?" Bellamy asks, just sarcastic enough that Monty and Jasper are going to be second-guessing all night.

Not to be premature, but she might love him.

"See you at dinner," he adds, and they head on to her room without a backward glance.

She's kissing him as soon as the door is closed, and he's laughing against her mouth, tugging her closer.

"Wow, you're really into Dorito dust, huh?"

"I'm really into you," she says.

"Good, I'm really into you too.."

"They're going to be trying to figure out if you were telling the truth for hours."

"They're probably going to be listening with a glass pressed up against the door."

"Shit, I didn't even think of that. You think?"

"Probably." His eyes sweep over her, impossibly dark. "So I guess you should be quiet."

Clarke hasn't gotten laid since the beginning of August, and it wasn't particularly good. The guy was attractive enough, but his technique left a lot to be desired. She has toys, of course, and her fingers, but it's not the same as being with an actual person.

Granted, she's had sexual partners who were less satisfying than masturbating. But somehow, she doubts Bellamy is going to be one of them.

"I guess I should," she agrees.

He tugs her toward the bed, hands gentle but insistent on her hips, and she follows him. It's not the absolute best place to hook up, but as an RA her room is larger, and she bought an extender to make it a little wider, and the sheets are clean. She's hooked up in worse places.

"Are you worried about knocking me up?" she teases.

"I assume you have condoms."

"I do. And an IUD. Two forms of protection."

He laughs. "Perfect, we can definitely go out."

"Date someone as paranoid as you are."

"For your own peace of mind," he agrees and tugs her shirt until she pulls it off.

When she was in high school, before she’d actually had sex, when it was still something she was wondering about, she’d thought it would be awful, if she ever ended up in a situation where she was getting naked and her bra wasn’t cute, or didn’t match her underwear, or any of a thousand things. But with age comes wisdom, so it’s not a surprise that Bellamy does not care at all that she’s wearing a boring, slightly frayed nude bra; he still checks out her breasts with unsubtle interest, and then he leans down, pressing his mouth against the smooth skin right above the left cup of her bra.

“We don’t have to have sex,” he murmurs, and she laughs.

“No, we get to have sex.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“You could take your shirt off too.”

He pulls back just far enough to do just that. It's nothing Clarke hasn't seen before, but she's never actually gotten the chance to look, and she takes him in greedily. His chest is broad and firm, dotted with a few freckles, and he gives her a second to take him in before he leans down again, pushing her bra up so he can kiss her nipple.

“Bellamy—“

“I’ve been wanting to do this for months,” he murmurs, with a swirl of his tongue. “Christ, your breasts.”

It’s not news that she has fantastic breasts, but it’s always nice to be appreciated. She tangles her hand in his hair, which she’s been thinking about for months too. As fantasies go, it's not quite as good for talking dirty as her breasts are, but she likes the intimacy, the closeness.

Plus, her hand tightens when he does something she likes. It would be good feedback, if she didn’t like absolutely everything right now.

“I thought about just doing this last night,” he admits.

“I don’t keep condoms at their place, so unless you were going to try to raid—“

He groans. “Don’t finish that sentence, I still want to be able to get it up.”

She laughs and tugs him back up for another kiss. He doesn’t seem to mind, settling in on top of her with one big hand still on her breast, keeping up the stimulation.

Her bra is really starting to bug her.

“Naked?” she suggests, and he rolls off her without bothering to reply.

She watches him out of the corner of her eye as he pushes off his jeans and boxers, smiles when he hesitates over his socks.

“You don’t have to be completely naked,” she teases.

“Shut up.”

He gets the socks off while Clarke strips down herself, and she waits until she’s got his eye before deliberately not taking her socks off.

“I hate you,” he says, laughing, falling back on the bed and tugging her on top of him. The skin contact is a lot, but in the good way, this overload of warmth and closeness and love. Clarke could live here, on this bed, wrapped up in his arms.

But she could also get laid. That would work for her.

“What do you like?”

He grins. “This.”

“Bellamy.”

He kisses her neck, her shoulder, all the skin he can see. “Seriously, anything. I feel like it’s probably easier for me. I want to get off inside you, how’s that?”

It’s top ten on the list of hottest things she’s ever heard, and she pushes up against his thigh, the friction perfect.

“Okay, cool.” He nuzzles her neck. “My stamina gets me through girls getting off, usually, but I’m not going to fuck you to multiple orgasms.”

She laughs. “Noted.”

“So what do you want first? Unless you don’t do multiples.”

It’s more checking in than she thinks anyone has ever done before sex, but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. Getting carried away with passion is cool, but there’s something to be said for making out naked with your best friend, talking about what your expectations are.

“I usually can,” she says. “And even if I can’t, I’m not, like—getting fucked still feels good. So we can go right to the main event, or—“

He rolls them over so he’s on top again, slides his hand down her stomach and lower, two blunt fingers finding her clit. The first stroke is like an electric shock, and she gasps.

He nips her shoulder. “Quiet, remember?”

On the one hand, she can’t imagine even Jasper and Monty are weird enough to actually be hanging out in the hallway, attempting to verify if they’re having sex.

On the other, Bellamy telling her to stay quiet is really hot, and she’s not going to argue with him.

His fingers are slow on her clit, deliberate, as if he’s gauging her reaction. She’s squirming and gasping, pressing her mouth against his neck to muffle the sound, which is apparently encouragement enough, and his fingers speed up, a targeted strike that she has no defenses against.

That’s her first orgasm, quick and hot, and the aftershocks are still running through her when he slides two fingers down to dip inside her.

“Oh fuck.”

“Jesus, you’re wet,” he murmurs.

“Is that a surprise?”

That makes him laugh. “How many orgasms before the sarcasm stops working?”

His fingers hit just the right spot and her whole body arches up. “Only one way to find out.”

The second takes a little longer, but it’s not like she has anything else to do today. And Bellamy keeps saying filthy things into her neck about how good she feels and how he loves having his fingers inside her, so he’s probably not in a hurry.

Still, she’s more than ready to have him fucking her, the persistent press of his dick against her thigh a constant reminder of what’s next. She wants everything, as soon as possible.

“Condoms in the top desk drawer,” she manages, once she’s caught her breath. “I can’t move.”

“That was the plan.” She watches him cross the room, unselfconscious in his nudity. Not that he has anything to self-conscious about, he’s probably the hottest guy she’s ever met, but it’s nice that he’s so comfortable.

As soon as he opens the drawer, he snickers. “Wow, you have a real variety here.”

“It sucks if you can’t hook up because you have the wrong size condoms! And guys don’t always bring their own, so—“

He grabs one and comes back to the bed, flopping down for a kiss. “You know, I read this article that some government agency had to rename their condom sizes because none of the guys were willing to take smalls. So it seems kind of risky.”

“I only let guys pick their own if I trust them to get the right one.”

“I’m glad you think I’m not overestimating my dick size.”

“I don’t really think you need to.”

He snorts. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

She stretches, and his eyes track her with the kind of open admiration that’s just as good as outright flattery, if not better. “I want it to get me laid.”

“Like this? Me on top?”

“This time, yeah. We have plenty of time to experiment.”

He gives her one more kiss and then slides the condom on, applies some of the lube he got with it. She’s not convinced she’s ever been this wet before in her life, but it probably still can’t hurt.

She settles back, opening her legs for him, and he takes a second to stroke her hair back off her forehead, his smile incongruously sweet.

“You’re amazing,” he says, and kisses her as he slides in.

He takes it slow, giving both of them time to adjust. It’s been a little while since Clarke bothered with penetration—clit stimulation is faster and easier, when she wants to get off—but it doesn’t take long for her to get used to the feel of him inside her, and then all she wants is more.

She arches her hips, and he takes the message, pressing his mouth against her shoulder as he starts to thrust.

Neither of them really remembers the whole quiet thing, but she thinks they probably do a passable job of keeping it down. Bellamy seems to favor a steady stream of low commentary, focused on how gorgeous she is and how good she feels, which definitely does it for Clarke, and she punctuates with gasps and moans and his name, for good measure.

She does come first, within about ten seconds of his fumbling for her clit. It feels like her whole body is coming apart around him, and he must feel the same, because his thrusts go fast and unsteady, and he stops talking to groan against her neck.

They both take a second just to breathe, and then Bellamy kisses her shoulder.

“Good?”

“Good,” she agrees.

“You think Jasper and Monty heard us?”

“I think we’re going to be really obvious, so it probably doesn’t matter.” She tugs him up to her mouth, the kiss long and slow, melting. “I know I don’t care.”

“Cool. Neither do I.” He disengages from her carefully, getting the condom tied off and disposed of, then flops back down next to her. “Are you staying here tonight?”

“Probably. But if you want free food, we could go back to my parents’ place for dinner. I could get my car. We could even bring Monty and Jasper.”

“I’m sure they can’t wait to meet their grandparents.” He nuzzles her hair. “That sounds nice.”

She smiles. “Yeah, it really does.”

*

Octavia finishes up with her finals a few days before the house she and Bellamy are taking care of over the holidays is empty, and, per Bellamy, she's coming to crash in the dorms mostly to scope out Clarke. It seems a little unnecessary--Clarke's going to be in town for break too, and she's planning to spend a decent amount of her time hanging out with Bellamy--but he's giving his sister his bed and crashing with her until they leave, so it works out for her.

Clarke has an exam to deal with while Bellamy's driving out to get Octavia, which is good too. It's impossible not to be a little nervous; she hasn't met a lot of significant others' families, not in a meeting the family capacity, anyway. Some of the guys she dated in high school had siblings she knew through school, and parents too, but that doesn't feel like the same thing. And even aside from that, this isn't just meeting Bellamy's sister--it's meeting his only living family member, the girl he was half-raising even before their mother died.

She's not worried, really--she loves Bellamy, she's pretty sure Bellamy loves her, and even if they haven't said the words yet, it's pretty obvious. They're serious, and she has every intention of keeping him for as long as possible. She's a good girlfriend.

But maybe Octavia won't like her, and that would matter to Bellamy, and that's making her antsy. Clarke's brain is great at worst-case scenarios.

His door is open when she gets back from her exam, and she doesn't even bother going to her room. Bellamy's lying on the bed with a book, his standard look, while Octavia, instantly recognizable from pictures on Bellamy's cork board, examines one of the maps he has up.

"You could at least get a poster with beer on it, Bell," she's saying.

Bellamy doesn't bother looking up. "I don't even like beer that much. Do they make posters with mead?"

"What's the opposite of a hipster? Like you don't discover things before everyone else, you discover them like centuries after. Who likes mead?"

"I think that might still be hipsters," he says. "This is why I didn't send you pictures of my room before Clarke made me decorate."

"God, why did you remind me this is the improved version? I can't believe you actually tricked someone into dating you. Does she not know you're like this?"

"She knows. She likes me anyway. Right?"

Octavia jumps and whirls, and Clarke gives her an awkward wave. "I do like him anyway. Hi."

"Hi," says Octavia. "Bell, go do something."

"Excuse me?"

"I want to talk to her in private."

"I do have my own room," Clarke offers. "If you just want to talk, we can go across the hall. You don't have to kick Bellamy out."

Octavia tilts her head, thinking this over. Clarke assumes kicking Bellamy out of his own room is a feature, not a bug, but she seems to accept that there’s no logical reason they have to do it and folds.

“That works, I guess.”

Bellamy stands and stretches anyway, catching Clarke for a quick kiss before they can leave. “How was the final?”

She smiles. “Not as bad as I thought it would be. I missed a couple painting IDs, but I should still be in the A-range.”

“Cool.” He ruffles his sister’s hair, making her scowl. “Get me for dinner.”

Clarke unlocks her door and Octavia follows her in, giving the room a cursory once-over. Clarke has a lot more stuff than Bellamy does, as well as an actual unified aesthetic, and Octavia seems to approve.

"Your room looks like this, and you let Bell get away with that?"

Something twinges in Clarke's chest every time Octavia calls him Bell; how strange it is, to find out someone you love has a name you never even knew about.

"It's his room," she tells Octavia, shrugging. "He's the one who's supposed to like it."

"It does feel like him," Octavia admits. She takes a seat on the futon, studying Clarke like there's a secret there she's missing. "So, you're Bell's girlfriend."

"Yeah."

"You know he's never really had a girlfriend before, right?"

"It's not like you need much practice."

Octavia smiles. "I guess not. How's he doing?"

It feels like a big question, and Clarke leans against the door, arms crossed over her chest. "As a person?"

"Yeah. With school and stuff."

Apparently the Blake siblings look out for each other. It probably shouldn't be a surprise.

"Good," she decides.

"And what about next year? And the year after that?"

"I think it'll get easier for him."

"But you're a junior, right? So you're going to be gone in a couple years."

"You're worried about me graduating and leaving your brother behind? Already?"

"You're going to, right?"

"I have no idea," she admits. "I like Boston, I might stay in the area after I graduate. I like your brother, too. Just because I leave school, there's no rule that I have to dump him. And we've got a while to figure it out."

"But you're serious about him, right? Because he's serious about you."

"Are you asking me my intentions?"

Octavia doesn't even crack a smile; it's kind of adorable. Cute must run in the family too. "Yeah, probably."

"I don't know what I'm doing after graduation yet. Me and Bellamy haven't even been going out for a month. We're still pretty much in the honeymoon phase. I'm not going to promise you we'll be together forever or anything. But I really like him, and I'm not planning to stop liking him any time soon. Honestly," she adds, "I'm not sure what you were even looking for."

She slumps a little. "I don't know either. Just--he was worried about this. The whole college thing. I want to make sure he's doing okay. I know he really likes you, and that's great, but--"

"He has other friends. He gets along with the rest of the floor. He and this sophomore from his comp sci class have lunch every Tuesday to complain about their professor. I think he's happy," she says, and finds she means it. He's a far cry from the guy she met the day he moved in, sitting alone in his room with the bare walls, volunteering to help everyone move in just to have something to do with his hands. "He fits in here. It's not just because of me."

"No. But he still fits best with you."

Octavia says this with a wariness in her tone, like having a favorite person is a bad thing, but Clarke doesn't think it's true. She got through two full years of college without anyone like Bellamy. She had friends, a social group, people she liked, even boyfriends and girlfriends, but no one like him.

Bellamy Blake isn't really a standard college experience. Not everyone gets one.

She could tell Octavia that, could wax poetic about how comfortable she feels with him, how this is so much better than anyone else she's ever dated, how she already feels like this is really going to last.

But she saw how Octavia and Bellamy were; she knows whose side she's on here. So she smirks and says, "Yeah, he definitely fits really well with me."

It takes a second, and then she makes an exaggerated gagging sound. "Oh my god, please don't reference sex with my brother!"

"You started it."

She huffs. "You and Bell deserve each other."

"That's what you wanted, right?" Clarke asks. "Someone who deserves him?"

It takes her a second, and then she smiles. "I guess so, yeah."

A few of the freshmen join them for dinner, and Octavia fits in easily with them, very firmly on the kid side of the equation, while Clarke and Bellamy hang back, letting them rush ahead.

"Everything okay?" he asks, low. "She didn't scare you off, did she?"

"What do you think she did?"

"I don't know. She can be--weird."

"You're one to talk." She leans into his side, just a little. It's not the most comfortable way to walk, but they're not going far. "She said we deserve each other."

He snorts. "Thanks, O."

"You don't think I deserve you?" she asks.

Just like Octavia, he has to pause at that. He looks like he's trying to do calculus in his head, as he thinks it over, and Clarke bites back on her smile. "I don't actually know how to answer that. If I say you could do better, is it cute self-deprecation or bad self esteem?"

"Bad self esteem." She kisses his shoulder. "I love you. I hope I deserve you."

"I love you too," he says, no hesitation at all. But apparently he's still a little hung up on what his sister said. "That's probably all that matters, right? Anything else is semantics."

"Yeah," she agrees. "That's what matters."