He knows it’s going to be her name before he even pulls it from the bowl. There are only eight of them now, and it comes down to picking her or Raven, and somehow he knows he just can’t be that lucky. He opens the card, unsurprised to find the familiar blue eyes in the photograph staring back at him. Of course it would be her, Clarke Griffin, ballerina extraordinaire.
He locks eyes with her, the living, breathing version standing just across the room as he hands the card over. She looks just about as happy as he feels, which is to say not much at all. They’ve only just figured out how to be around one another without feeling like the wind had been pulled from their lungs – okay, maybe he’s projecting and it’s him who still struggles to breathe around her – and now they have to dance together. And he knows, just as he had that he would pull her name, that it isn’t going to be some fun hip-hop routine. It’s going to be something intense. Emotional. And he’s going to have to pretend that his entire world isn’t tilting on it's axis when it is.
That’s just how it goes.
When the cameras stop rolling and they break for lunch, a bad idea before being scheduled to meet with a choreographer for the following four hours, she sidles up to him. “So, are you okay with this?”
And he hates that because it makes it all sound so one sided, like he’s the only one who had been completely blindsided when they showed up to the same audition. Like he’s driving himself practically crazy watching her dance trying to pretend those same legs, forming gorgeous lines and stretching into the sun, hadn’t once been wrapped around his waist as they danced together. Intimately.
It’s stupid, really, it all happened so long ago. They were kids and thought they were in love, thought that it could withstand time and distance and dreams. It’s no ones fault, though admittedly he spent an embarrassing amount of time blaming her.
She’s the one that left. She’s the one that went to Julliard. She’s the one that…
Some of that bitterness reared its ugly head when he saw her again in Vegas, showing off her trained skills while he flailed around stage like the untrained idiot that he is. Somehow, the judges were fond of his flailing and found it good enough to send through to the live tapings and what’s more surprising, he’s survived almost twelve cuts.
“Sure, Princess,” he says, the nickname falling easily off his tongue. This is what he does – he hides behind faux confidence and stupid smirks.
“Cool,” she responds awkwardly, “I’ll catch you after lunch then.”
They’ve managed to make it this far together, twelve weeks to be exact (not that he’s counting), never having really talked about their past. They’re civil and friendly, mostly so it doesn’t make hanging out with the other dancers weird. They all get along and they’ve formed a somewhat dysfunctional family. They’ve survived rigorous dance days, live shows, and being cramped in a tiny van together for hours at a time with a jammed CD player and The Pretenders on repeat. It bonds people, you know?
And in that mix, he and Clarke became surrogate parents, tag teaming bar nights as the designated ‘make sure everyone makes it home alive’ person. They’re still a good team, after all these years, which makes him certain they’re going to be a hell of a partnership.
Well that, and they've danced together before. Multiple times, in fact.
(It goes like this: Bellamy Blake, a hip-hop dancer from a borough in Brooklyn, somehow managed to get into a performing arts school in Manhattan – thanks to his mother’s commitment to working three jobs and his mentor's pull with the headmaster of the school. He’s a gangly sophomore with a bad attitude and hatred for the upper class who’s forced into taking a ballet class because it’s a requirement. He hates every second of it, his legs don’t stretch like that, his toes can’t curl in on themselves, and he can’t stop fucking slouching. He’s convinced he’s going to fail out of school before he can even get started.
Enter Clarke Griffin, the walking, talking definition of perfection. All legs and grace. He spots her in one of the practice rooms after hours and before he can stop himself, he asks her to help him. Looking back on it, it was awfully forward for some scholarship kid on the wrong side of the tracks to approach the academy’s resident princess. But she had smiled and introduced herself and suddenly every day after school she was teaching him what the teachers seemingly couldn’t. It’s hard not to fall in love with someone like her, soft and kind and beautiful in more ways than one.
It’s good. Great. His life becomes brighter, he becomes less of the angry kid who danced to get it out and someone who danced because they loved it, loved life. And she teaches him more than just how to point and flex, she teaches him how to take everything that’s happened and give it to the dance, to let emotion drive him to be better.
He remembers the day he first kissed her so clearly. They’re lying on the polished wood of their practice room – it’s been theirs for months – and she smiles, telling him that he would be famous one day because no one dances like Bellamy Blake. He had been so stricken that this girl, someone so gifted and with nothing to lose, decided that he is the one that’s special.)
He’s quiet through most of lunch and all the way to the studio. Clarke is standing outside, fingers playing nervously with the hem of her sweater as she waits for him to approach so they can enter together. Her hair hangs loosely around her face, the blonde curls chopped above her shoulders and impossible to put into a ponytail – she’s complained more than once about it and he can’t help but notice. He thinks it suits her though, reflects her unique and free spirit. He’s met too many ballerina’s that are the picture of poise, tight buns tied on the back of their head and straight spines. It’s never been much her style and he’s glad that that part of her hasn’t changed.
“You ready?” she asks, pushing the strap of her bag up on her shoulder. He nods and they enter the studio, counting to three as they push the door open to find their next choreographer.
Color him completely unsurprised when Luna Flou greets them with a soft smile and bright eyes. Contemporary. Of fucking course. He tosses his bag in the corner and they join Luna where she sits cross-legged on the floor. The room smells like patchouli and he quickly spots a small diffuser puffing along in the corner. Luna is a unique soul, passionate yet quiet, and known for her tranquil state of being. It's a funny contrast to her appearence, all wild hair, colorful clothes, and hoop protruding from her nose. She is one of the sought after choreographers on the show, mostly for the emotion she puts into her pieces.
No chance in hell they’re escaping this routine without shed tears, though Bellamy is more than determined to make sure it isn’t him. Clarke has gotten far too many tears out of him and he’ll be damned that he lets her have anymore.
They’re adults now, for fucks sake.
“So,” Luna smiles, fiddling with a thin gold chain as it slides between her fingers, “I’ve been keeping tabs on you all for most of the competition.”
He shifts uncomfortably.
“You all have some sort of raw energy, raw emotion between you that I haven’t seen in a long time,” the air thickens around them, a cocoon forms and pulls them in and Bellamy wants nothing more than to escape right this second, “I want to use that, I want to tell a story to the audience, one that most of them have probably not only read before, but written.”
“It’s a story about loving someone but it isn’t enough.”
His heart does something funny. Turns on its side, stops beating, and falls straight through his ass. Of all the times they could be paired up, all the dances they could draw, of course it would be the one that strips them down and tortures them both. The universe is cruel and he has half a mind to walk out of the room and just go home. He glances at Clarke through the corner of his eye and her face seems to have grown paler than usual.
Good, he thinks, at least we’re suffering together.
Somehow, they manage to get up and begin walking through the steps. It begins with them wrapped around each other, and he pretends he doesn’t feel the slight tremble in Clarke’s hands as he grabs them in his own. He tries to pretend that a weight hasn’t settled in his limbs, making every movement stiff and unsure. The dance is primarily together, holding on to one another and trying to keep the other from moving too far away. It’s passionate and raw, like Luna said, but with them it feels clumsy and awkward.
Luna seems to notice something off, because she keeps pressing them to stop thinking about the moves and feel them, to stop being afraid and just let it happen. By the end of the four hours, Luna seems more frustrated than satisfied. He wonders if she regrets trying to give them such a personal piece, but she just tells them to keep working and she will see them on Friday.
When she leaves, Clarke turns and rings her hands, “I’m sorry.”
He’s just pulling on his hoodie, hair sticking up every which way as his head pokes out, “What?”
“I never apologized,” she continues, biting at the corner of her lip and his skins flashes white hot, memories flooding through his bloodstream like both poison and antidote, “For what happened.”
(What happened? It’s quite simple: they’re in love, teenagers who think they’re going to rule the world, going to dance and be happy together forever. And then she gets into Julliard and they think things won’t change, it’s not that far. So she goes and he stays in Brooklyn, dancing when he can but working two jobs to help his mom pay for his sister to have a better life and suddenly they’re grown up. They hardly make it four months when Clarke goes away to school before he visits her and she’s too busy to spend more than an hour with him at a time. They argue and she tells him to leave. Later on, there’s a voicemail on his phone telling him it’s over and that’s that.)
“It was four years ago,” he keeps his voice surprisingly even, considering the sudden flood of emotions beating against his brain right now, “We were kids.”
She blinks rapidly, taking two steps back as though recoiling from the words. She opens her mouth to say something, but it snaps closed quickly and she just nods. He can tell she wants to hash it out, lay it all out in the open because this is a storm brewing and the longer they hold back, the worse it’s going to be. But he’s not ready for that.
“Right,” is what he says, instead of opening up the skies and letting pour, “We should head back.”
(As it turns out, the perfect recipe for a storm is as follows: two people desperate to hide that they might actually still be in love with one another, one person still angry about the way it all went down, the other desperate to make the first understand, and a dance with an excessive amount of lifts that just so happens to be the catalyst. )
He drops Clarke what he thinks might be the tenth time in this hour alone and she slams the palm of her hand on the floor with a loud smack. He reaches down to help her up, but she glares at his outstretched hand, standing on her own and rubbing the new sore spot on her thigh. Bruises are peppered along her legs from the past three days of practice, matching the ones on his shoulders where her fingers have gripped and grasped at him to find balance. It’s close to midnight, Luna having long left the studio with a smile and quick statement of encouragement, though Bellamy easily read through those lines. She thinks they’re going to fail and fail miserably.
If the continuous dropping hadn’t been a sure indicator, it’s their lack of ability to engage with the choreography the way Luna had hoped and this dance only works if they allow themselves to feel it. But they’re both stubborn. So instead they’ve shared nothing more than glares and groans of frustration as they miss a step again and have to start all the way over from the beginning. The music choice isn’t exactly helping either, the depressing melody repeating and echoing around them over and over and over. It does things to a person, listening to something so melancholic while trying to tame the emotions threatening to rip your skin apart just to be free. It drives you crazy.
So they finally jump over the edge.
“Are you ever going to fucking catch me?” Clarke is the first one to yell, though it’s less of a scream and more of a controlled hiss.
It burns Bellamy’s ass anyway, “I don’t know, maybe if you fucking relax and stop acting like you know I’m going to drop you.”
Technically, the problem is both of them. Clarke doesn’t fully trust him, it seems, to hold her up and catch her when he needs to. She’s tense and uncoordinated every time they perform the lifts. He, on the other hand, is just tired. Tired of trying to force her to do what she’s supposed to do and gives up as soon as he feels her muscles contract. He should try a bit harder, but how is that fair? He’s always the one to try. It’s how it’s always been.
“Maybe I wouldn’t think that if you would just trust me!”
The first lightning strike is never a surprise, but it stops you in your tracks anyway. There should never be lightning without a following storm. It just doesn't make sense.
“Yeah, because that worked so well for me before!” There it is. Too late to stop it now.
She steps back for a moment, surprised to actually hear him say it aloud. He knows she’s always wondered if he held it against her. If she actually broke his heart the same way she broke her own. She has to be at least a little relieved to know the truth but her eyes flash and she’s throwing her hands against his chest and he pushes himself into it, because this is the shit they used to do. They used to be wild and would fight like they loved, fiercely and dangerously. She’d never actually push him, just apply a pressure to his chest like she wants him to know how furious she is, but no matter what she doesn’t want to hurt him. It’s the same now. Her palms are flat against him, jerking but not shoving and his fingers wrap around her wrists so that they overlap.
“You wanted to know the truth,” he grits out, finally pulling her hands away and dropping them in the space between them, “You destroyed me when you left. You made so many promises and then left me a fucking voicemail.”
She doesn’t even bother to try and hide the tears this time, just lets them fall freely, “I was scared, Bellamy. I thought I was hurting you more by holding on.”
He scoffs, turning to face the mirror so that she can’t see the way his eyes fill, history and memory. Stupid. Stupid. It’s like all the insecurity slams into him again, those days of feeling inadequate, like maybe if he would have went to school he could have been enough. Or if he had more money, he could be enough. He just wanted to be enough and he wasn’t.
“I saw the way you looked at me,” she continues, voice straining further with each word, “You couldn’t even be proud of me. You wanted to but all you could do is compare what I had to you. That was always your problem!”
“We were doomed from the start,” he replies quietly. Two different sides of town, two different lifestyles that thought something like dance could erase all those differences.
(Enough. Enough. Enough.)
“Don’t!” she snaps, grabbing his hand and pulling him around to face her, the anger is back, “Don’t you dare make that less than what it was.”
It was all consuming, that kind of love people talk about in stories where together makes more sense than anything in the world ever had. He’s told himself they were young, just like so many people in their lives had, that they didn’t actually understand what it meant to be in love. But he hasn’t found anything close since, never really tried, because even in all the hurt and anger, he knows that something like that doesn’t come around but more than once. That he could spend the rest of his life searching for it, but would never find it.
A love like this is wild. Untamed and passionate. It made him a better person, made him want to be a better person, and changed the course of his life for the better. It still makes him want to be a better person because…
“You never could accept that I wanted to be with you,” she shakes her head, “It’s like you were waiting for the other shoe to drop to prove me wrong and when you came to visit…I did.”
The truth hooks onto both of them, resisting like a rubber band as they try desperately to turn away from each other, to create distance because this hurts too much. It’s all too much. Because maybe, in the end, neither one of them ever really got over it, the wounds never closed. Just scabbed over only to be picked at again. They’re both bleeding.
“Are you happy?” he asks finally. It’s such a change of course from the outbursts, from him trying to hurt her and make her feel some semblance of what she made him feel. But he knows, and even back then he knew, that she hurt just the same. She felt the pain as much as he did.
Her back is still to him, shoulders hunched forward as she covers her mouth with her hand. He hears the cry escape even as she tries to hide it. He could move forward, pull her to his chest and tell her everything is okay. But they aren’t there yet. So he waits.
Finally, she turns her head, protecting her heart with her back and wrapping her arms around herself to keep herself from falling apart, “I thought I was. Until I saw you in Vegas”
He walks over to the audio station wordlessly, presses play on the song and gets in position. There’s a beat, and then she wraps herself around him likes she’s supposed to, but it no longer feels forced. It’s the ways it’s supposed to be. And they dance, the best they’ve done it in rehearsal and by the end, as they sit back to back, chests heaving, the storm begins to clear.
The show is a whole production, a live and screaming audience, a host, and a panel of judges. It’s not somewhere Bellamy predicted himself to be, ever, but the audition had landed in his lap. The cameras are the worst part, giving scripted interviews and a glimpse into his life. He’s been forced to be a little too candid about himself for his liking, but the producers encouraged it to make him more likable. Not that he’s been having much of a problem with that. Captain Daddy has been trending every week on twitter since his sailor themed Jive with Anya went viral. It’s a little uncomfortable, but it brings in the votes and he’s still here.
Thank God for that.
He glances over at Clarke, doing his best to keep his eyes from lingering. Her hair has been pinned intricately in a series of small braids and the loose tendrils frame her face elegantly. They’ve dressed her in an oversized dress shirt, blue and falling to her mid-thigh. It’s simple and meant to add to the aesthetic of the whole thing. He’s shirtless, in nothing but a pair of pajama pants, a strange choice definitely meant to sexualize him. But it seems to be drawing Clarke’s attention just as well as she draws his.
After they danced the final time at the studio last night, they haven’t really spoken. They returned to the hotel, slept for a few hours only to get up and do stage rehearsals. They’ve spoken, albeit very briefly and about the weather, shoes, and the time. There’s a different kind of tension between them, and he hopes that it helps their performance reach that same place it did last night. He can feel it already seeping from his skin, ready to fall from his lips at any moment.
“You ready?” he asks quietly as their preview tape plays for the audience. It’s filled with the sound of Clarke hitting the floor with every lift drop, every frustrated growl from Luna, and fake optimistic interviews with the pair of them. He doesn’t even remember what he said, having been too caught up in his own head to pay much attention.
“No,” she tells him. But he knows she doesn’t mean she’s not ready to dance. She’s not ready to feel this.
They enter the stage in the dark and find their mark, he wraps his arms around her, fisting the soft material of her shirt as she grips his biceps. His heart thumps wildly in his chest as the last bit of the preview plays and the host announces their names.
Something slips off his tongue, without warning or merit, but as though it’s been sitting there for years and couldn’t bear to wait just one more fucking minute. “I never stopped, you know?”
Oh, I hope some day I'll make it out of here
Even if it takes all night or a hundred years
Need a place to hide, but I can't find one near
Wanna feel alive, outside I can fight my fear.
There’s a moment where he turns and she runs to grip his waist, cheek pressed into his back as he convulses forward, as if the pain is too much to bare, but he can feel something wet trickle down his spine and he knows it can’t be sweat. They keep the stage area frigid to keep the dancers cool. He turns and grabs her hand and they go through the movement, her toes perfectly pointed, back arched as she falls to the ground while he slides next to her. They’re reaching and pulling and grabbing, desperate and wanting but so, so hurt.
Isn't it lovely, all alone?
Heart made of glass, my mind of stone
Tear me to pieces, skin and bone
Hello, welcome home. . .
Every part of him feels like it’s going to explode, bring the entire building down with him. She steps forward and they press their foreheads together, for a moment they breathe in sync and there are tears falling from his lashes as they fall away from one another. They roll out and he turns, pushing against the ground with his feet and their backs slam into one another.
Hello, welcome home.
The stage goes black and there is a long pause, time enough for them to turn and look each other in their own private moment, before he pulls her into his chest and hugs her, lifting her from the ground as the crowd screams at the top of their lungs. Her legs are wrapped around his waist, his head buried into her neck as he walks them over to the host to receive their comments. They don’t say anything, just hold tightly like the other might slip through the cracks if they don’t stay together like this.
The crowd yells, too loud for the judges to even speak, but by the time Bellamy let’s Clarke fall to the ground, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead as he turns to the judges, he can see that they’re in complete and utter disarray. The creator of the show, Roan, a stern man who is hard to please, has his mouth covered with both hands. His cohorts, Niylah, the ballroom expert, and the guest judge, Becca, are wiping furiously at their eyes.
They did it.
Bellamy finds Luna, who is still standing in the crowd holding her fist up with wet eyes and a large smile, one they hadn’t gotten to see from her during rehearsals. He holds his left fist, the one not currently clinging to his partner, up in solidarity and she smiles wider. The audience finally simmers down enough to let Roan speak, though it takes him a moment to formulate words.
"I…you know…” he snaps his mouth shut and shakes his head, offering a small shrug of his shoulders, “You’ve just set a new standard for this show.”
Bellamy lets out the breath he had been holding and smiles down at Clarke, who has both arms wrapped around his waist and lets herself smile into his chest. He squeezes her shoulder. It all feels too intimate to be here like this, not when there’s still so much to talk about. But this feels like their moment, so he’ll be damned if he doesn’t enjoy every moment of it.
It becomes a solid ten minutes of praise and by the time he and Clarke are running off stage, she’s jumping in his arms and he’s spinning her around in victory. The emotion of the performance still lingers around them, hangs in the air like a low cloud that just won’t disappear. He’s okay with it, though. It’s a reminder, they can’t ignore it. But it’ll be there in a few hours. Few days. Right now, they want to bask in the sunlight.
She takes his hand, threading her fingers in his with a soft smile, answering his small declaration with one of her own, “I didn’t stop either.”
And maybe he could kiss her and everything would be okay again. He thinks about it and he sees her eyes flick to his lips. He shakes his head slightly, but tucks a stand of hair behind her ear, “Time.”
There isn’t a rush to fix what’s broken. Healing takes time and that’s what they’re going to do. Heal and be better than before.
He knows it.