The leaves crunch under their feet as they creep through the forest and Bellamy frowns — on the Ark it was impossible to understand the way an environment could change so completely but here, on Earth, the leaves are falling faster than he can keep track of and the forest he was able to tiptoe through just two days ago is now thickly coated in a layer of dead, crunchy leaves that make it impossible to sneak through. Now, when they need every element of stealth to get back to camp alive, the ground creaks with their every movement.
Clarke walks beside him, fists clenched around her pack as they follow Octavia. Her knuckles are white, mouth set in a deep frown as her eyes flit between the ground and their guide, her steps as cautious as ever. She tilts her head towards him suddenly, as if aware of his gaze, and her mouth tips up in what he thinks is supposed to be a smile. It turns into a wince at the clatter of noise behind them. Bellamy doesn’t have to turn to see what made the noise — Finn has been staggering a few meters behind them for miles, hands loosely bound as Murphy prods him forward with surprising gentleness.
She steps close to him, their shoulders brushing as they walk. “Every Grounder in a five mile radius is going to hear us coming,” she mutters. She has that crease between her eyes, the one that means she’s thinking too much. Bellamy knows she’s right; even now his eyes scan the trees for enemies, the grip on his gun never relaxing.
“Octavia,” he calls, the quiet of his voice loud in the silence of the woods. His sister pauses but doesn’t turn around, shoulders tight and tense. He’s seen her shaking most of the way, and he saw the hollow look in her eyes as they left the ruined village behind. “Take a few.”
She shrugs, ducking behind a tree at his words. His chest grows tight with the urge to follow after (I will always keep you safe). He still feels Clarke looking at him though, and knows for once something else has to come first.
When he looks down at her, her bright blue eyes are fixed on him. He can’t get over it, the way she’s seemed to age a hundred years in the weeks since he last saw her. He smiles softly, reaching out and brushing his thumb over her white knuckles. “Take a break,” he orders, voice gentle but firm, and he thinks it’s a sign of the shock she’s in that she does nothing but nod, slowly dropping her pack and sagging against the wide trunk of a nearby tree.
He turns around to the two behind them; Finn’s sitting on, eyes are wide and dazed and fixed on the blonde who is resolutely turned away from him.
Bellamy jerks his head at Murphy, walking a few steps away from the group. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s lost it,” the boy mutters, jaw set in a tight line. “I tried to stop him—“
Bellamy frowns. “Hey,” he shakes his head, “you can’t blame yourself. If anyone’s to blame—” Murphy looks at him sharply and he frowns, looking away. “You just…it’s not your fault.” Without waiting for a response he walks away.
Finn’s eyes are still locked on Clarke when he stoops down in front of him, lips curled up in a manic kind of smile. “I found her,” he whispers. His eyes drift to Bellamy then, and he seems desperate for some kind of confirmation.
“You did,” he lies, swallowing hard. (She’s too strong for them both, really, too brave to need rescuing, but he knows saying that won’t help at the moment.) Bellamy grips his shoulders, gripping tight to ground him to the moment. “But we haven’t made it back yet,” he says grimly.
Finn looks alarmed, his hands jerking against their restraints. “You think—“
Bellamy shakes his head. “We just have to be careful, quiet. Watch our steps.”
“Watch our steps,” Finn repeats faintly. “To keep her safe.”
He looks back at Clarke, surprised to find her staring at him, expression unreadable. “To keep her safe,” he agrees.
The rest of the trek back is mercifully silent.
He wakes up one morning to a different kind of chill than what they’ve felt before. Winter is no longer coming, it’s suddenly here, and he shivers under the tattered heap of fabric he’s managed to scrounge up for a bed.
By the time Bellamy steps outside, the ground is dusted a pale white, the leafless trees in the distance stark against the gray sky. They learned about snow on the Ark, frozen water molecules turning into deadly blizzards, but he doesn’t ever remember hearing about this, a gentle calm that doesn’t seem like much of a warning. It should be frightening, the way the white blankets everything, erases every land mark and turns the world blank — he knows this will make life harder, make rescuing the kids even more impossible, but it’s so…
The camp is awestruck, abandoning their duties and squinting up at the sky, kids shrieking in delight as the flurries land on their cheeks. He sees Monroe laugh for the first time since Sterling died, all arms and legs and breathless laughter as she chases after a gaggle of kids who survived the Ark’s landing. Even the adults are in on it, helping the little ones gather up piles of snow into roughly shaped balls, rolling it over the thin layer of snow until there are dirty snowmen and tracks on the ground where the brown grass peeks through.
He feels her behind him (which seems like a stupid thing to think, but he does, after all this time working side by side) before she even speaks. When he chances a glance over his shoulder he sees her frowning, blue eyes taking in the scene before her with a heavy kind of look. “This is ridiculous.”
“Oh?” He cocks an eyebrow at her, smirking, and she rolls her eyes dramatically although he can see her stern frown twitch. “You’re definitely right,” he agrees teasingly. “Look at all this happiness, it’s disgusting. Total waste of time.”
Clarke groans, stepping close enough to jab an elbow into his side. “Shut up,” she orders with a reluctant laugh. They’re standing just enough under the Ark to be shielded from the snow but she steps forward, snowflakes quickly catching in her hair before melting away. When she looks up at the bright gray sky it reflects in her eyes, brighter than the constellations that are so easy to see at night.
“—don’t you think? Bellamy?”
She’s been talking but he’s distracted by the flurries that have tangled in her eyelashes. “Huh?”
Clark scowls. “They’ll get hypothermia,” she says with a frown, arms crossed tightly over her chest to ward of the chill.
He tries to keep his eyes focused on her face, grinning in a way that isn’t as mean as it once was. “Isn’t that why we keep you around?” She lets out another huff, trying to look displeased, and he steps out into the open with her, shivering at the first feel of snow.
“Did you ever think you’d see this?” he asks, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. The snow is cold and sharp on his skin and he laughs quietly, shaking his head in disbelief. “Every time Earth seems like it can’t get any shittier you see something new and it’s just — like, how can it be this good too? You know?” When he blinks his eyes open and looks at her again she’s staring, lips parted slightly. Her expression is shuttered off and guarded, and when he licks his lips she looks away quickly, a habit that’s been developing since she escaped from Mount Weather and found him alive. They both stare out for a long moment, warm breaths turning into clouds against the cool air.
“It’ll make it harder,” she says finally, voice so quiet he has to lean close to hear her. He doesn’t need to ask what she means — harder to fight the mountain men, harder to get their friends back.
“Princess,” he says, reaching out to grab her hand. “It’s just snow.” When she shakes her head in protest he smiles more confidently than he feels and squeezes tight. “I mean it. You and me? We’ve made it past acid fog, grounders, your mom—”
She finally cracks a smile. “You consider my mother one of the greatest threats we’ve faced?”
“She’s kind of terrifying,” he admits, only half joking. He bumps her shoulder with his own, belatedly realizing he’s still clutching her hand.
“You really think we can do it?” she ask, somewhat skeptical. “Get them out?”
“I think you can do anything you set your mind to,” he says, surprisingly earnest. Her cheeks turn pink and he smiles crookedly, ducking his head. “I mean, you certainly were enough of a pain in my ass—”
Clarke groans loudly, wrenching her hand out of his grasp. “Thanks, asshole,” she scoffs. But then her face softens, till she’s all blue eyes and pink lips and giving him that look again. “I mean it. Thanks.”
Before Bellamy can reply there is a shout — someone’s already slipped in the snow, a girl leaning heavily on her friend and hobbling towards them. Clarke turns away enough so the kid doesn’t see her rolling her eyes. “Snow sucks,” she mutters, brushing past him to head back to the med bay.
He grins broadly even after she’s gone, hand still warm from her skin. Across the field Raven catches his eye, arching a dark eyebrow at him and smirking suggestively. He doesn’t have to be close to hear the way her smug, knowing laugh sounds like when he flips her off and turns away.
The forest is startlingly alive in the spring, at least on the days that it’s not sodden with sudden, torrential rain showers. It’s greener than it was when they’d dropped in — greens in so many shades it makes him dizzy sometimes, deep greens and yellowy greens, the new leaves forming a mosaic with a hundred variations of the color.
It’s a foraging day, and there’s a group of hunters deeper in the forest, far enough away from where the others gather so there won’t be any accidents. He used to like to hunt (okay, still likes to hunt), but today he trails behind Clarke, hands loosely holding his gun as his eyes follow her. It’s hard to be suspicious, worried, when everything is so green and covered in flowers. Blossoms in all shades imaginable sprouting everywhere, yellow weeds poking through the grass and pale pink buds on vines and white petals bright in the trees.
“You should’ve gone hunting,” she says reproachfully, frowning at him as she bends over and picks at a cluster of green leaves. (Good for a minty herbal tea, she’d said. Or possibly poisonous and deadly, she wasn’t sure, but she’s gathering it just in case.)
Bellamy hums lazily, trying to hide the way he’s eyeing the line of her legs, among other things. “Good to know you appreciate the pleasure of my company,” he says dryly. She glares at him with astonishing severity and he blinks in surprise.
“The pleasure of your company,” she mocks. “Like you volunteered.”
His mouth twists, an uneasy feeling bubbling in his stomach. Because okay, yes, Abby Griffin had suggested that it might be definitely beneficial (slash mandatory) for him to tag along with Clarke while she searches for her precious plants. But it’s not like he hates it, or anything.
“Uh.” He scratches the back of his neck nervously.
Clarke lets out some kind of unintelligible swear, ripping the plants from the earth with more force than is strictly necessary. “We need enough food to feed an entire village, but my mother keeps one of the only capable hunters from actually helping so he can babysit me.” She shakes the plants in her hand violently; and okay, if they were ever useful he kind of doubts they will be now. “I swear—”
“She just wants you safe,” he interrupts, trying to placate her. It doesn’t work, her spine turning rigid, and she drops the bundle of leaves she’s gathered as she whirls around and plants her hands firmly on her hips.
“I know why my mother asked you to come,” she snaps, eyes blazing with something stronger than the standard irritation she levels his way on a daily basis. “What I don’t understand is why you agreed.”
He can feel his eyes go wide in surprise because — well, he thought it was obvious.
Before he can say anything, she steps forward, a dangerous look on her face, and she pokes him hard on the chest. “I can take care of myself,” she hisses, and she rears her hand back to poke him again.
“Hey, whoa,” he says hastily, scrambling back in retreat. “Jesus, Clarke, I know you can take care of yourself.” He thinks of Mount Weather, remembers the way she’d completely saved his ass, like some kind of fearsome goddess from the mythology he loved so much growing up. It’s mostly because of her that they’d made it out at all, much less with the delinquents in tow.
She drops her hand but doesn’t back down, eyes still narrowed into slits. “Then why—“
“Your mom isn’t the only one who wants you safe,” he mutters, feeling his cheeks turn hot. He thinks about trying to explain the fierce something of protectiveness he feels whenever he looks at her, but it’s too embarrassing, too hard to put into words, and he looks away. “I know you can take care of yourself, and I know you don’t need anyone, least of all me. But we’re partners, you and me, and if anyone’s gonna watch your back out here it should be me.”
When he meets her eyes again she’s gone all soft, and he thinks he’s probably imagining the way she’s looking at his mouth, but it’s a nice thought so he lets himself believe it a few minutes longer. After a long while she shakes her head, murmuring something that sounds regretful under her breath, and they stay quiet until they make it back to camp a few hours later.
That night Mel finds him while they’re eating, the light from the fire glinting off her pretty dark hair, and he knows that it would be easy to take her back to his tent. Instead he smiles politely, eyes straying every few moments to the group of friends a few tables over. Monty and Jasper have stopped looking all guilty every time Clarke enters their vicinity and tonight they are clustered together, laughing in a carefree way that makes him think maybe they’re not just drinking water. Raven’s there too, sitting between Octavia and Wick and across from Spacewalker, whose eyes are less manic but still soulful, especially when fixed on Clarke like they are now.
“I’ll see you later,” he says with a tight smile, ignoring the disappointment on Mel’s face as he walks abruptly towards his crew. Raven bursts into laughter the moment she sees him, elbowing the engineer beside her with thinly veiled glee.
“Bell,” Octavia cheers, saluting him with her cup, oblivious to his scowl. Clarke scoots over on her bench the moment she sees him, the bright smile she graces him with a pleasant surprise. When he sits down she sags against him, and it’s easy enough to smell the moonshine on her breath.
“Aw, I love it when Mom and Dad aren’t fighting,” Jasper teases, words slurring together as he grins at them wildly.
Finn scowls but Clarke just lets out a soft noise, leaning into him further. She scoffs but there’s no heat behind it.
“Can you believe they still call us that?” she asks with a roll of her eyes. He knows it’s the moonshine that’s making her press against him like this but for the moment he doesn’t care, swinging an arm around her shoulder and pulling her closer.
“It’s awful,” he agrees cheerfully, ignoring Monty’s snicker beside him. It’s hard to be anything but happy on nights like this — the air warm and sweet with spring, Clarke’s hair tickling his throat.
He dreams of her when he goes to sleep that night, not for the first time, golden in sunlight with flowers in her hair and surrounded by a sea of green, with eyes only for him.
. . .
When Bellamy comes to, he is aware of three things.
1: He has somehow ended up flat on his back, head throbbing and world spinning, and the thought of opening his eyes send waves of nausea rolling through him. 2: someone is gently combing their fingers through his hair, tilting his head from side to side and murmuring softly under their breath. 3: It’s fucking hot.
He finally blinks his eyes open with a groan. The sky is a blinding blue, the kind of color that seems more like something from a picture book instead of real life, and the sun is white hot and blistering as it shines above. Clarke hovers over him (the fingers carding through his hair, he realizes with annoyance, was he really unconscious for that?), face pale with worry. When their eyes meet she glares at him.
“Bellamy, you idiot,” she scolds, although her tone is counteracted by the way her thumbs rub against his cheeks. The sun is haloing around her and turning her into something too brilliant for this world and god, she’s so pretty it makes his head hurt. Her cheeks are turning pink, and he thinks he might’ve said that last part out loud. Whoops.
“What happened?” he asks groggily. When he starts to sit up on his elbows she presses him back down forcefully, and if he didn’t have a concussion before he might now. “Shit, Clarke, what happened?”
She pulls her hand away to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, and he sees her fingers are red with blood. This time he sits up more frantically, too sudden for her to stop him. He clutches at her hands, staring at the blood, before whirling around to sweep his eyes over their surroundings despite the pounding in his head. “Was there an attack? Are you hurt? Is everything okay? Are you hurt?”
Is she laughing? His eyes land back on her and she is, hand pressed over her mouth to try to hide it, but when his wide eyes meet hers it seems to bubble out of control. “Calm down,” she says with an (affectionate?) roll of her eyes. “There wasn’t an attack.”
She swats at his hands still grabbing at her, pushing him back down more gently this time. She turns his head to the side, fingers probing at a spot on his head that makes him wince.
“Ugh, ow,” he pouts, feeling sorrier for himself now that he knows there’s nothing to actually worry about. “Then what happened?”
She’s still smiling, leaning in close to look at his injury, and his head is clearing up enough to catalogue other things. Her skin is red and hot from the sun, hair damp and curling over her shoulders in springy waves, shirt wet and clinging to her skin.
Oh. Oh. He remembers now.
“You fell,” she explains, oblivious to his sudden horrifying revelation. “The rocks were slippery—” The rocks leading down to the same creek where Clarke was splashing around with some of the kids, fishing with the nets Lincoln has been teaching them to weave. She’d been standing by Fox and Harper, knee deep in the clear water.
“They’ll never catch anything like that,” Lincoln had muttered with a derisive glance in their direction. They’d been crouching on the river bank near the tree line, setting traps — the Grounder was annoyingly useful, much to Bellamy’s chagrin (once he stopped being, y’know, insane). He secretly didn’t think it mattered much, if the girls caught anything. Things had been peaceful for an unprecedented amount of time and they were allowed out of camp more. It was nice to see the kids getting out, helping and carefree, something like the first couple of days they’d had on Earth before everything went to hell.
And then Clarke had looked over at him, right at the moment he’d been looking down at her, and she’d given him that smile. The one that’s been more and more common lately, bright and warm and unguarded and making him feel like less of an idiot for wanting her so bad. She’d crooked her fingers at him, tilting her head and beckoning him to come down. In his haste he must’ve wiped out; this time when he winces, it is from humiliation alone.
“Can we just say it was an attack?” he asks hopefully, and her face does that thing where she grins but also gives him a you’re-such-a-moron look.
“Even if your ego was worth starting another war,” she teases, “I’m afraid there were too many witnesses.”
“Dammit,” Bellamy sighs, pretending to be aggravated while mostly just enjoying her still being so close. She prods another sensitive spot. “So what’s the verdict? Am I gonna live?”
Clarke rocks back on her heels, looking somewhat satisfied. “Looks like it.” She still has her hand in his hair, twisting the curls around her fingers. He doesn’t think she’s really aware of it.
“Well that’s good,” he says with a grin, sitting up finally. The world spins a little but it’s nothing he can’t handle. “God knows what you’d do without me.”
“Watch it buddy,” she warns, eyes dancing. “A bunch of people just saw you fall, I can still make it look like an accident if you don’t make it back.” She stands up, reaching a hand down and pulling him onto his feet. When he sways she braces him, wrapping an arm around him and resting her hand on his hip.
They gingerly make their way down to the river, and she sits him back down, cupping water in his hands and splashing it on the back of his neck to wash away the blood.
“Couldn’t wait to get your hands on me, huh, Princess?” Her cheeks turn a soft pink but she doesn’t falter from her task.
“I will drown you.” Her threat has no heat behind it.
Bellamy winks. “You just want to get me all wet,” he teases, and the way she flushes stays with him for a long time.
. . . .
Octavia doesn’t even bother to smother her grin when he stops in the middle of (another) hunting trip to stoop down and investigate a random clump of plants, this time a white flowered plant bobbing along the edge of a wide lake several miles north of Camp Jaha.
“Whatcha doin’, big brother?” she asks, wide eyed innocence to his face as if he can’t see the smirks she’s shooting Miller behind his back. Bellamy doesn’t even bother glaring at her, just sighs through his nose in exasperation as he hedges closer to the water’s edge, cautiously tossing rocks into the murky water and waiting to see if anything moves. After a moment of stillness he reaches in, searching down the plant for the root, smiling when he feels the tubers growing.
(Sagittaria latifolia, Clarke had told him matter-of-factly as he’d leaned over her shoulder to look at the book she was pouring over. He’d smiled at the little sketches she’d doodled in the margins, arrow shaped leaves carefully shaded with one of the pencils she coveted.)
They’ve been like that (‘they’ being pretty much everyone that’s not Abby Griffin, who is actively in denial that an attempted murderer is kind of completely in love with her daughter) for months now, giggling and teasing and making sly, obvious digs at Bellamy at every available opportunity. He grumbles sometimes, usually when Clarke is around and he feels the need to protest, but has kind of accepted that everyone just somehow knows how he feels and aren’t as afraid of him as they rightly should be.
He ignores the knowing look his second sends him the whole way back, eyes on the trees instead. He doesn’t remember the world being this on fire last year, trees washed in yellows and reds and oranges, but then again they had more pressing things to worry about. It’s nice, he thinks, to not be at war with the world.
They arrive back at camp when the sun is low in the sky — the sunsets are happening earlier this time of year, the temperature dropping rapidly at dusk and sending people into their newly constructed homes soon after. The cool air is a welcome change, especially after the blisteringly hot summer — the first of many, Lincoln had promised, which was actually more reassuring than he probably meant it to be.
“Better go take Clarke her present,” Octavia says with a grin as the gate swings open to let them in.
“It’s food, O, not a gift,” Bellamy sighs, but it’s clear from one look that his sister isn’t buying any of his bullshit. He heaves a sigh under his breath, making his way across camp to take Clarke the Important Food Source (read: present).
It’s weird for there to actually be a door to knock on and he waits somewhat patiently for her to call him in. When she does he finds her sprawled face down on her cot, boots and everything still laced on her feet. She quickly rolls over when he walks in though, giving him a soft, sleepy smile.
“Bad time?” he asks, closing the door and leaning on it. He hefts his bag higher on his shoulder, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Clarke grins. “Always,” she says, but she sits up anyway and pats the space beside her. He walks over and sinks down, long legs stretching out far past hers. He forgets how small she is sometimes.
She groans at the question, resting her head on his shoulder. He’s glad she can’t see the way he smiles broadly. “Looong day,” she corrects. “You better have something in that bag to cheer me up.”
He takes out the plant, wiping the dirt from the tuber on his shirt and placing it in her hands (not so accidentally brushing as much of his fingers against hers as possible).
“Um.” She holds it up to inspect it, wrinkling her nose in a way that makes him frown. “You brought me a…root. Thing.”
Bellamy grunts, grabbing it away from her as his ears turn hot. “Sagittaria latifolia,” he corrects brusquely, moving to stuff it back in his bag. Clarke sits up sharply, twisting her body to face him and studying his profile hard.
“Duck potato?” She grabs his hand and tugs it back, looking at the tuber more closely in the dim light of her room. “Bell, I told you about that like two months ago.”
He scowls. “It wasn’t two months ago,” (it was only one, thank you) “and I just have a good memory.”
“A good memory.” Her voice is flat, and he chances a look over at her. He sets his jaw stubbornly and she lets out a little scream of frustration. “God, you are such an idiot.”
Bellamy reels back as if physically struck. “An idiot? What—“
She lunges forward, grabbing his face hard between her hands and tugging him closer until her wide blue eyes are dark with his shadow and all he can feel is her breath on his lips. “I have to do everything myself,” she complains with a quiet, affectionate sort of exasperation. And then she is kissing him, soft lips insistent against his own, and her fingers are tugging at the hair that curls at the nape of his neck and holy shit, Clarke is kissing him—
If he hesitates at first he makes up for it with raw enthusiasm, pulling her hard against him and trailing a hand up her spine. She shivers and he smiles, which kind of makes the whole kissing thing weird, but she pulls away and leans her forehead against his.
“If you kissed me every time you called me an idiot, we’d have been arguing a lot less,” he jokes breathlessly; she rolls her eyes and he kind of thinks it means she loves him. At least a little. He kisses her, deeper this time, and any self-control he has is lost after she moans and shifts herself onto his lap.
O and the others are never going to let him live this down.
(They wake up the next morning tucked against each other, Clarke’s hair wild and creeping into his mouth, bare leg swung high over his hip to lock him in place. And this, he thinks, is definitely the best way to ward off the fall chill. Jasper can keep his moonshine.)
. . . . .