When Bellamy was six years old, he nearly drowned in his neighbor's pool. He remembers that day only in flashes, light on the surface of the water and pain in his chest. By the time they'd pulled him out, he hadn't been breathing. No one was ever willing to tell him how close he'd really been to death, but he knows. He'd felt it, like a shadow crossing in front of the sun, throwing him into shadow. For years, that shadow haunted him, the mystery of death, just out of reach.
As it turns out, being dead is excruciatingly boring. Or, at least, the kind of dead Bellamy now is- a ghost, trapped in the house he died in, being forced to watch boring family after boring family live within its walls. He's had a lot of time to consider alternatives. If ghosts, why not vampires? Zombies? Both sound a lot more interesting to him than his current state, unseen, unheard, tangible only for moments and with great effort.
In the nearly ten years that Bellamy has been stuck here, he's seen four families come and go and he's mainly the cause. You know, make a big thump here or there, slam some doors, move a few objects around, stare at people (they still get creeped out even though they can't see him) until they're convinced they're being watched, etc. and eventually people up and move. They talk about bad energy and a sense of foreboding and that's as real as Bellamy has managed to be since he died. It's not so much that he likes scaring people, he's just bored. Everybody needs a hobby. With each move, he's hoping for people who are a little more interesting.
Unfortunately, the Griffin family, currently in the middle of unpacking their things, does not seem to be anything except exceedingly bland. Well dressed, happy parents and a single child, nice things, dull, dull, dull. The mother has brown hair and stern eyes and Bellamy learns, from the wallet she leaves on the counter, that she's a doctor, Abby Griffin. The man has laugh lines at the edges of his eyes and boundless energy. The daughter is blonde and pulled together and somewhere around college age, if the university parking sticker on her car and the boxes labeled “dorm stuff” stacked in her closet are anything to go by. She's also utterly boring, even if she is probably the prettiest girl Bellamy can remember seeing (but he hasn't gotten out much lately, so who's he to judge?).
The girl drops a cardboard box onto the dining room table. Her eyes slide over the room and she seems almost as bored as him. Pretty, but so depressingly uninteresting.
“Seriously, Mom. Someone died here,” she complains, as Abby bustles by. “No one wants to live here because that's fucking creepy.” Bellamy perks up a little. They're talking about him.
“Language, Clarke.” Abby uses scissors to slice open the box she'd just set on the kitchen counter, but takes the time to give her daughter a sharp look. “And stop being so irrational. It was a tragic accident, not a grisly murder.”
Bellamy scoffs. Tragic accident, his ass. Accident. Sure.
“Dead is dead,” Clarke grumbles under her breath.
“Not quite,” Bellamy shoots back, but she doesn't hear him; no one ever hears him. She takes one last glance around the room before heading back outside for another box. Bellamy trails her, feeling that invisible tug as he gets farther away from the spot he died. He can make it to the end of the block before he blacks out and ends up back in the house. Ten years has given him a lot of time to test his limits.
Clarke passes her father on the way back out to the U-Haul parked in front of the house. He smiles at her and balances a box on his shoulder.
“Have you talked to Wells since we got here?” her father asks. He's got a softness to him, not so much physically, but in presence. Whereas Abby is a study of deliberate sharpness.
“Not yet. He had some sort of fundraiser with his dad today.”
“Make sure to tell him he's welcome to visit anytime.”
“He knows, Dad,” Clarke says, but there's a smile on her lips. There's an ease between her and her father that Bellamy notices is lacking in her interaction with her mother. God, if this is what all their conversations are going to be like, Bellamy might just die again, this time from boredom. Clarke grabs another box from the back of the truck and as she turns back to the house, for just a split second, Bellamy thinks her eyes focus on him, but her stride never falters and her eyes slide away and he realizes it's just wishful thinking. They can't see him. No one ever will.
The Griffin family settles in quickly and efficiently, due largely to the drill sergeant manner in which Abby Griffin runs the household. Bellamy gets to know them slowly, the way he has with everyone who's ever lived here. Which is to say, mostly by snooping through their personal things and listening to their private conversations. Sometimes, he even reads their emails over their shoulders, though that's largely because he just misses reading.
Jake is grounded, quiet, seemingly comfortable in his job and his and family and himself. He's never raised a hand to either his wife or daughter, which hadn't been the case for the last man who lived here. It certainly hadn't been the case in Bellamy's home. The walls of the house have seen enough violence to last a lifetime, but the Griffins don't seem likely to add to it. In fact, Bellamy's only heard Jake raise his voice once, in an argument with Abby. He's never seen him argue with Clarke.
Abby's cooler than her husband, sometimes bordering on cold. She approaches things logically, with calculation instead of emotion. Bellamy has never seen her shaken. She seems to have an answer for everything, a carefully plotted plan. He's also not sure he's ever seen her really smile, either.
And then there's Clarke. Bellamy finds himself thinking of her in contradictions. Calculating like her mother, but unexpectedly warm when she thinks no one can see. Regimented, but anxious. Beautiful, but remote. She is insular. She's a worrier. She works hard and forgets to take care of herself and spends weekends sleeping off the exhaustion. Three months of living in a new home and Bellamy has never seen her with a friend.
They aren't home a lot. Clarke's taking classes at the local university, Abby works long hours and even sleeps at the hospital occasionally, and Jake is in and out constantly, but more out than in (Bellamy thinks his job is some sort of engineering, but he isn't sure. Jake doesn't bring his work home and sometimes Bellamy gets the feeling it's confidential). Clarke is home the most, out of the three, and she cooks more than anyone else too. She wakes up after her parents leave for work and she comes home and eats alone and does homework and goes to bed. Which isn't exactly thrilling entertainment for Bellamy, even if he's perhaps grown a little fond of her. All of it feels very lonely.
Because Clarke is the only one around, she's the one Bellamy begins to haunt. He can't help it. He's going out of his mind he's so bored. It's not that he really wants to bother her. To be honest, he finds himself feeling a little bit protective of her, hovering, irritated, when she argues with her mother over her major and her classes and how long her mother's hours are.
But being unseen and unheard and unreal to the entire world takes a toll. So he moves her stuff around in her room and he makes things go bump while she's sleeping and watches her a lot. It's probably cruel, and sometimes he even feels vaguely guilty, but it's literally all he can do to interact with anyone and he needs it. Clarke, for having mentioned how creepy it was that someone died in the house, never seems particularly concerned. He'll move her school supplies and she'll come into the room and find them somewhere else, pause for a moment, and frown. She's either very unobservant, or very difficult to worry. The second doesn't seem right, because Clarke appears to worry about everything. Sometimes, she even mutters to herself about her schedule and her schoolwork and her mother. Bellamy listens and soaks up the information given to him. He's always been nosy with the people who live here, but with Clarke... Bellamy doesn't know exactly what it is, but sometimes he just feels like she senses him. Like her eyes will catch for just a moment on where he is, as if he's caused the tiniest disruption of light, a crack in the stars. He knows it's just wishful thinking; he's never wanted to be real as badly as he does in those tiny breaths where he feels seen.
Five months into haunting Clarke, she becomes even more tense than usual, spreading out piles of papers on her floor and using some sort of color coded highlighter system and sleeping very little. Bellamy tries to read some of the papers but they all seem to be advanced science stuff that he never found interesting and he gives up pretty quickly.
She hasn't been eating regularly, Bellamy notices, and dark circles appear under her eyes. From what he can gather, she's got exams coming up. So Bellamy decides that really, he's doing her a favor, whenever he interrupts her with closing doors and mysteriously knocked over items. It means she has to take a break. It's for her own good. Plus, Bellamy gets a little thrill every time Clarke reacts to something he does. He knows she doesn't really have a sense of him, but it's as close to human interaction as he ever gets. She's been getting progressively frazzled, jittery and irritable with her parents. He rationalizes that he's actually a good distraction.
When it changes, it happens very fast. One night, when Clarke's home alone with her stacks of papers and a hot pink highlighter mark on her cheek that Bellamy is unsure how she even managed to get and her fifth cup of coffee, he loudly scrapes her desk chair back a few inches and, to his complete surprise, she whirls around and glares directly at him. For a moment, he assumes she's only reacting to the sound, but the expression on her face is furious, not startled.
“Bellamy Blake if you don't fucking stop this instant, I'm going to figure out some way to revive you and then murder you myself, you complete and utter asshole!”
Bellamy stares at her, brain unwilling to process her words. That cannot have just happened. Clarke turns back to her papers, ignoring the shocked look on his face and he drifts towards her on instinct.
“I- You-” he can't form a sentence.
“I swear to God if you don't shut up,” Clarke growls.
“But you can... You know that...” If he could die of shock, he probably would. Clarke turns irritable blue eyes back on him.
“Yes, I can see you. Yes, I know who you are. Now if you don't let me study for this midterm, I'm going to make you sorry you ever even considered trying to haunt me.”
Clarke mutters something like, I don't have fucking time for this.
“You've been able to see me this whole time!” His shock wears off enough to make room for anger. Ten years. Ten years he's been stuck in this stupid fucking house, living, if you can call it that, as a specter, in what soon became someone else's home, but in a way that left him always completely and totally alone. All this time. And Clarke can see him. She's been pretending she doesn't.
“Yes, I have. And I'm getting real sick of your bullshit.”
“What the fuck? How the fuck can you see me? And talk to me?”
“So ghosts are no problem, but the idea that some people can see ghosts is somehow too much to comprehend.” Clarke rolls her eyes. He's pretty sure she also says, moron, under her breath.
“You see ghosts? Like, ones other than me?”
Clarke throws a highlighter at him. It's pretty ineffectual, passing straight through him, but he gets the message. He can sometimes sort of touch things, but it takes a lot of concentration and they never feel quite right. He can shove chairs, or move things around a bit, but he can never get a very solid hold. He can sort of feel the floor beneath his feet, or sit on things, but he can also walk straight through the walls.
“Stop staring at me,” Clarke mutters.
“Oh, now it's difficult to ignore me?”
“Okay, listen,” Clarke turns her fierce gaze back on him. She picks up the TV remote on her bed and flips on the TV, scrolling through the menu until she finds an episode of CSI and stops. “You watch TV for the next two hours and don't bother me, and I'll answer some of your questions.”
“What if I want to watch something else?”
“Don't even fucking try it. I've seen the way you're glued to the screen whenever I'm watching crime shows. Kind of morbid, considering your state of existence, but hey, if it gets you to shut up, I'm all for it.”
“Why did it have to be you who could see me?” Bellamy mutters, but he flops down on the futon in Clarke's room anyway, facing the TV. He can almost feel the pressure of something against his back, but not quite. He's still angry with her, but he doesn't think pissing her off is going to do him much good. He wants to talk to her. He needs to be able to talk to her, even if he's angry.
Two hours suddenly feels a lot longer when there's someone, for the first time in years, who he could actually hold a conversation with. He can't really concentrate on the TV and he spends the majority of the next two hours watching Clarke work, brow furrowed, chewing on her bottom lip, occasionally making annoyed sounds in the back of her throat. He's been worried about her for weeks, but he's feeling a lot less charitable at the moment.
“It's been two hours,” he says, the moment the second hour of TV ends.
Clarke glances up at him and her eyes have a glazed, exhausted look. He almost feels bad. Almost. But she's been ignoring him for weeks, and he's more than a little pissed about it. She closes her textbook with a sigh.
“Fine. What do you want?”
Bellamy frowns. “How can you see me?”
“No idea. Next question?”
“That wasn't an answer!”
“Sure it was. I don't know. I see ghosts. Always have. So either I'm crazy or there's some sort of explanation that I don't have. That's all I can tell you.”
Bellamy wishes he could concentrate enough to throw something back at her. “Fine. Tell me about the other ghosts.”
Clarke shrugs. “I don't usually talk to them. Ghosts tend to be clingy. They're lonely, mostly. From what I can gather, they are generally people who couldn't bear to leave someone else behind. Not that it does them much good since they can't go far from where they died. I talked to them more when I was little, but then some pretty scary ones started following me around, pestering me, since then I learned it's best if they don't know you know about them, particularly if you can't avoid them.”
Fair. Except it's not. Not when he's lived this horrible, isolated existence for so long. There's nothing fair about that.
“And you were just going to pretend like there wasn't a ghost living in your house forever?” Bellamy asks, unable to keep a little bit of his anger from leaking into his tone.
“Maybe,” Clarke snaps at him. “I had to do some research first.”
“On you. It's not like I get a choice in who you are, either. I wanted to figure that out before I got stuck with you for good.”
“And? Who am I, Princess?” Bellamy has no idea where the nickname comes from, it just kind of bursts out. He's annoyed, but he wants to keep talking to her. Everything feels like it's coming out wrong. This isn't how he ever dreamed he'd speak to someone, if he could.
“An asshole, for one,” Clarke snaps. “But honestly there's not a lot... I mean everything about you online is just about your accident.”
Bellamy snorts. “Some accident.”
“No,” Bellamy says, bluntly. Well, sort of. He doesn't think his stepfather actually meant to kill him, but Bellamy wouldn't call it an accident either. He doesn't think his stepfather was particularly sad to see him go. It still gets under his skin, thinking about it- that that horrible man won, that Bellamy was gone (mostly, anyway) and he was still here. Or out there, somewhere.
“My stepdad was beating the hell out of my mom. I got in the way. He sucker punched me in the jaw, smashed my head on the kitchen counter on the way down. Next thing I know, I'm like this.”
If she's shocked, Clarke doesn't show it. She meets his eyes, searching, like she's trying to judge if he's telling the truth or not. Bellamy doesn't know why he would lie, the real story is honestly pretty embarrassing and he just told it to her. It occurs to him then, that it's not just that Clarke can see him, she is a connection to everything in the living world, a link that's been missing for ten years.
“I want you to do something for me,” Bellamy begins, suddenly eager, there are a thousand possibilities suddenly unfolding before him.
“No,” Clarke interrupts him immediately.
“What do you mean, no?”
“No. Look, I know that this whole arrangement is new to you, but it's not to me. I know how ghosts are, and it's better for both of us if I don't involve myself with you.”
“Involve yourself? I'm fucking trapped in your house, so that rule is great for everybody else, but I think it's a little goddamn late to avoid involvement with me.”
Clarke pinches the bridge of her nose. “You're really making me regret letting you know I see you.”
“Good. You're making me regret I ran off the last couple that lived here and ended up with you instead.”
It falls a little flat. It's impossible for it not to, when Bellamy honestly can't regret anything about Clarke when she can see him, but he'd like to, just for the sake of his pride.
Clarke sighs, shoulders slumping. “What is it that you want then?”
It suddenly feels a little too personal to share with her, like she might use it against him, but it will be worth it, if she helps him.
“I just wanna know what happened to my mom and sister. That they're okay. They moved out less than six months after I died, and my asshole stepfather was still with them. Octavia, that's my sister, would be 18 now. Senior in high school.”
Clarke squints at him. “18? You died ten years ago and you were 22.”
“Yeah, I'm actually aware of all that, thanks for reminding me. It's not like I've had ten fucking years to dwell on it or anything.”
“That means your sister is 14 years younger than you.”
“Also already aware of that. Was 14 years younger than me, though. I don't really age anymore.” It's actually a weird thing to think about. Octavia's always been his baby sister, and he knows logically, that she's not a little kid anymore, but that's the only image of her he has.
“That's a big age gap,” Clarke comments, but she's already typing away on her phone.
“My mom had me when she was 15. I wasn't exactly planned.” Bellamy doesn't see how any of this really matters.
“Okay, I'll make a deal with you.”
It startles Bellamy a little, that Clarke has shifted so quickly from frustrated and flustered to cooly bargaining. But then, she's not the one who had a massive revelation dropped on her out of nowhere. She's always been able to see him. She's known he was here the whole time. He's going to have a hard time getting past that.
“You don't bother me until after midterms next week. You don't interrupt my studying. You don't make noise while I'm asleep. And you quiz me when I want to review. If you do all that, I'll go find Octavia.”
“And my mom,” Bellamy adds. “If Octavia isn't with her.”
“Sure, and your mom.”
Bellamy hesitates. He has no reason not to trust Clarke, and really, he has absolutely nothing to lose, but there's something a little bit terrifying about the idea of actually finding out about his family. In his head, they're preserved, frozen in time with him. Facing reality might not be what he wants.
“Deal,” he agrees; Blakes slay their demons.
As it turns out, Bellamy is good company once he gets over being mad at her. Clarke hadn't expected it, not from a ghost and particularly not from a pretty ghost, but he's incredibly helpful as a study partner. He might not know a lot about the sciences, but he's decent in Math and absolutely brilliant in English and History. His memory for facts and quotes and historical context is at least twice as good as Clarke's. Bellamy's also surprisingly patient about going over her flashcards with her until she can answer them in her sleep. He laughs when she mentions this.
“Patient is not a word anyone would have applied to me when I was alive. Death becomes me?”
She thinks, as she slides through midterms with less than half the anxiety of the previous year, that Bellamy would have made a really good teacher. He's charismatic, charming when he gets caught up in whatever he's talking about, like he's lit up from the inside. He makes you want to listen. He makes you want to act. If he'd lived, Clarke thinks he's the sort of person who could have changed lives.
But he hadn't, and now, with midterms behind her, Clarke finds herself scouring the internet for signs of his little sister, and wondering if she's making a mistake. She's never done a favor for a ghost before. It feels dangerous.
Clarke may have only been interacting with Bellamy for a couple of weeks, but she's been aware of him since the moment she set foot in the house and found him lounging on the newly arrived sofa in the living room. He was so casually, stunningly beautiful that it had almost hurt not to look at him. Clarke hasn't had such a hard time pretending she can't see a ghost since she was little and still scared of them. Bellamy's the kind of beautiful that commands a room. Which makes it extra tragic that Clarke's the only one who can see him. Ignoring him has been a huge chore, exhausting.
He's a bit of a grump, but Clarke supposes anyone who's spent ten years as a ghost has reason to be. He'd certainly been grumpy with her initially, making it very clear that he didn't appreciate months of her ignoring him, but Clarke doesn't regret that. Not all ghosts are friendly. Not all ghosts are decent people. There'd been a man, tall, in a long dark coat, who followed her every time she was on her elementary school playground. She still has nightmares about him sometimes.
It takes Clarke two and half weeks to track down Octavia, living across town with her aunt and attending Sydney Memorial High School. Aurora Blake, on the other hand, Clarke had found quickly, immediately, from a google search- in local obituaries. She hasn't figured out how to tell Bellamy that yet. She'd died at 43. Cancer. Clarke's absolutely dreading having to bring it up. She isn't afraid of Bellamy. She's never met a ghost powerful enough to actually physically hurt a person, and Bellamy wouldn't be that type even if he could. It's just... he's spent ten years imagining a life for his mother and sister, now she's supposed to figure out how to tell him that didn't happen.
Clarke finds finally finds Octavia listed on the school's rock climbing team, but there's no picture. She doesn't tell Bellamy that either. She knows as soon as she opens that door, Bellamy will be an unstoppable force. She's learned a lot about him in the last couple of weeks, which she thinks is only fair, since he's been spying on her for months. Clarke gets the impression that Bellamy would be a lot more guarded with her if he weren't just so sick of being alone, ten years worth of thoughts and feelings spilling out.
He tells her a lot of things, like how much Octavia loved butterflies and climbing trees and painting her fingernails bright blue. He tells her his mother always felt fragile, sort of insubstantial, but when put under pressure she'd never bent. He tells her about his father, Gabriel, who Bellamy rarely saw because his grandparents had moved him to Colorado when they found out he'd gotten Aurora pregnant.
“They thought I'd ruin his life,” Bellamy explains, “And last I heard he's some hotshot heart surgeon, so I guess they were probably right. I've only met him like four times, but he used to send me a hundred bucks for my birthday and Christmas. And after Octavia was born, he sent money for her too, even though he really didn't have to. I think he could have been a good dad... Maybe he is to someone now.”
He gets very quiet after he says this, watching Clarke out of the corners of his eyes, nervous, like he's suddenly remembered to put up walls.
“Do you...” Clarke isn't sure if she's overstepping. She is sure she shouldn't be offering him anything, tangling herself up with the dead further. She does so anyway. “Do you want me to find out?”
Bellamy gives her a sardonic grin.
“That wasn't part of our deal.”
Clarke tosses a pillow at him, but he catches it, shocking them both. He's getting stronger. Clarke isn't exactly sure why. She's been giving him things to practice, but she's never seen a ghost gain strength so quickly. He still can't quite get books off her shelves without dropping them on the floor, but he can turn the pages. If Bellamy could cry in his ghostly form, which Clarke doesn't think he can, she's pretty sure he would have then. Bellamy loves books like Clarke loves painting, like it settles something in his soul. It lights up an ember of warmth in Clarke's chest to give that back to him. She tries to remember to leave books out for him as much as possible, so he doesn't waste energy knocking them off the shelves.
Across the room, Bellamy is still holding the pillow, stunned. He's never actually caught anything before. Touching real objects tends to take a lot of concentration on his part.
“You know I'll look for you dad if you want me to,” Clarke tells him, even though she shouldn't.
Bellamy meets her eyes and grins, tossing the pillow to the side.
“I think you've grown rather fond of me,” he says, eyebrows raised, dark eyes twinkling.
She has. Which is stupid. He's not real, not in any way that ultimately counts, and this friendship isn't sustainable. But, despite being nosy and stubborn and a little bit defensive at times, she's come to see Bellamy as a person, something she's always avoided with ghosts before. And he's a person she likes- intelligent and passionate and sarcastic. And warm. When he forgets himself in stories about his childhood, his mother, Octavia, he is deeply warm. It's the kind of warmth that makes Clarke want to come closer. It's so dangerous.
She has to tell him about his mother. Clarke knows, she does. But everyday Bellamy feels more and more alive and less and less like a shadow. And the idea of stealing some of that color back from him feels so inherently wrong, she hasn't been able to do it yet. So she wants to go see Octavia first, so there's something to temper the blow about his mom. Clarke just has no idea what she's going to say to her when she does. Somehow, she doesn't think, Hey your ghost brother sent me to check on you, would go over too well.
And now there's Bellamy's father to consider. It's been ten years since his son died and they never really knew each other. Clarke resolves to take the weekend to research Bellamy's father and come up with some way to meet Octavia. Then she'll tell Bellamy- everything.
Bellamy's father looks shockingly like him. Clarke stares at his professional work photo for minutes, picking out the differences. He's older, obviously, though only just pushing 50. His hair is a little bit tamer, slicked back in a way that Clarke finds she's glad Bellamy's isn't. They have the same eyes, freckles, and chin dimple. Bellamy has a scar on his upper lip and Dr. Gabriel Santos has lower set eyebrows. But their relation is unmistakable.
He's married. Two daughters, 7 and 3. Half sisters Bellamy doesn't even know about, that weren't even born when he died. Another thing added to the pile to tell him. Will he be happy or upset? It's impossible for Clarke to even speculate.
But first, Clarke needs to meet Octavia. That's who Bellamy really wants to know about, and Clarke doesn't feel like she can say anything until she has some real answers there. For some reason, this is the most daunting task ahead of her. There is inevitably going to be a big difference between the eight year old that Bellamy remembers and the 18 year old Clarke is going to meet. She doesn't want him to be disappointed.
The night before Clarke plans to meet Octavia, she can't sleep. After some digging, she'd found out that Octavia works afternoons at the local climbing center after school and booked an appointment for a beginner's climbing lesson with her. It's not exactly Clarke's first choice, but it gives her a good excuse to approach her.
Lying awake in bed, Clarke's not sure what she's more nervous about- the prospect of meeting Octavia, or the idea of having to climb a rock wall. Both seem equally terrifying. So she spends two or three hours tossing and turning, fretting over everything from what she can possibly say to Octavia to what she's supposed to wear to something like this.
Bellamy's been quiet, but Clarke knows he's there, lounging on her futon and respecting her demand that he not make noise while she tries to sleep. The problem is, she isn't sleeping.
“What do you miss most about being alive?” Clarke asks. In the dark, where she can't see his face, can't her him breathe, or shift, she could be talking to herself. She also can't tell if the question upsets him. It's obvious, after all, isn't it? Everything. You would miss everything. Ghosts aren't really like people. They leave impressions of impressions if they're lucky. With immense effort they forge tiny gaps in reality, little cracks in the stars. They are, in practice, a trapped memory, forever the same.
“Pain,” Bellamy says, very soft. Clarke nearly misses it, and the response startles her.
“What the fuck? Are you about to tell me you're some kind of masochist?”
There's the tiniest sound, a puff of air. She thinks that's Bellamy huffing in amusement.
“I don't mean it like that, I just mean... You know when you take too big of a bite of wasabi and it goes searing up your nose and you have that moment of 'oh fuck, what I have I done?' but then when it fades there's this... giddiness to it? I miss that.”
Clarke means to answer him, but he breath has gotten tangled with her words, caught in her throat.
“Or... like the first time you ever jump off a cliff into water? How you stand up there at the very edge and you don't know what it's really going to be like yet, even though you've seen other people jump. And you curl your toes around the edge and look down and even though you aren't normally afraid of heights, you also aren't normally planning to jump. There's that split second, when you've committed to it, and you can still feel the sting of the rocks against you feet where you pushed off, and you wonder if you were wrong and you're about to die and your stomach drops out. And then it's over and you're alive and laughing and life means more in those few seconds after than it did right before. That. That's what I miss the most.”
None of it is what Clarke thought he would say. She thought he'd brush the question off, or if pressed, say the taste of food or the feeling of a hug or even just his sister.
“'You're never more alive than when you're almost dead.' Didn't someone say that?” Clarke asks.
“Tim O'Brien,” Bellamy replies easily. He never forgets anything.
Clarke thinks he says something back to that, but she doesn't remember it. Somewhere, in listening to him speak, all of the anxiety has seeped out of her, muscles loosening, and by the time she registers the low rumble of his voice, she's already falling into sleep.
Clarke arrives at the climbing center just after 4 pm, feeling all kinds of intimidated. The last time she was on a climbing wall, she was 10, in girl scouts, and had cried. She's not exactly looking forward to repeating the experience. Not to mention, she's going to have to figure out how to make small talk with the girl whose ghost brother is haunting her. This is not a situation Clarke ever foresaw happening in her life. She's not entirely sure how she got into this mess. Bellamy, her mind supplies unhelpfully, this is entirely Bellamy's fault.
Clarke's still never seen a photo of Octavia, but it isn't hard to pick her out of the employees.
I should have known, Clarke thinks, when she first sees her, that any sister of Bellamy's would be as intimidatingly beautiful as he is.
Octavia Blake reminds Clarke of sharp edges. Like Bellamy, she was clearly born with phenomenal bone structure and a casual kind of confidence. And like Bellamy, there's a defensive sort of guarded set to her shoulders. But with Bellamy, Clarke's seen past that, under the rough exterior to the softer places protected underneath. Octavia makes Clarke wonder if she has softer places.
“No offense,” Octavia says in a blunt tone that makes Clarke think she doesn't really mind offending her, “but why exactly are you here?”
For a moment, Clarke panics. How could she know? She can't know? And then she realizes this question is aimed at the fact that it's been ten minutes and Clarke hasn't made it more than two feet off the floor.
“It's a facing your fears thing,” Clarke answers, because pretending like she's actually interested in climbing seems too ridiculous to comprehend, more ridiculous even than the fact that she's currently running an errand for a ghost.
“Does it count as facing them if your feet are barely off the floor?” Clearly the talent for teaching isn't genetic.
“It's a start,” Clarke snaps at her, and something about it is weirdly reminiscent of the first time she spoke to Bellamy, both irritated with each other. Except Octavia is getting paid. And Clarke is a lot more freaked out.
“I'm not going to drop you,” Octavia says, like Clarke hadn't spoken. “It's very safe.”
“Maybe you could distract me or something?”
Octavia just raises one, perfect, eyebrow at her. Honestly, it's unfair. She could be a model.
“Tell me something about yourself?” Clarke suggests, taking a deep breath and forcing herself a little bit higher on the wall. This could be a good thing. If she can convince Octavia that talking calms her down, maybe she can get a little information for Bellamy out of her.
“I don't know. Where do you go to school? What's your family like?”
“I'm a senior at Sydney Memorial. My mom and brother are dead and my dad is an asshole who I haven't seen in five years. Is that helpful?”
Clarke climbs a little higher, just to spite her. “Tremendously.”
They're both quiet for a moment, at an impasse.
“Do you have any plans for after you graduate?”
“Yeah, my boyfriend and I are going to drive out to Oregon to climb Smith Rock.”
“I have no idea what that is.”
Somehow, Clarke's halfway up the wall. She didn't actually think this conversation would distract her, but it has.
“And when you're not risking your life hanging off scary cliffs?”
“I do a lot of CrossFit. My boyfriend is a fitness model.”
Of course she does. Of course he is.
“You and I could not be more different.”
“Again,” Octavia says, though Clarke thinks she sounds the tiniest bit amused. She would check, except that would involve looking down. “I'm shocked.”
Without really meaning to, Clarke finds herself at the top of the climbing wall. She has no idea how she got here. And even though she thinks she hated every second of it, Clarke finds herself laughing. Never more alive than when you're almost dead, right? Maybe the danger was perceived, but the rush that comes after isn't.
Clarke's heart is still racing, even after her feet a firmly back on the floor. The expression on Octavia's face has shifted, but Clarke doesn't know her well enough to read it.
“Look, you survived.”
“And very likely won't ever do that again,” Clarke informs her, struggling to take her harness off. Octavia steps over to help, batting Clarke's hands away.
“You know you're kind of a nosy bitch,” Octavia says to her, but there's no bite to it. She's actually smiling a little.
“You're kind of a terrible teacher,” Clarke responds immediately, equally mild. Octavia does smile then, and it's as sharp as everything else about her.
Clarke leaves the climbing gym with no idea if she likes Octavia Blake or not.
Clarke only knows one other person who can see ghosts, and they have never seen eye to eye. After an afternoon with a semi-hostile Octavia, Clarke really doesn't want to go see them. But there's this ball of dread in her chest that tells her it's time. Five years and they haven't spoken, but if anyone will know how to handle a ghost situation, it's Indra.
Clarke rings the doorbell three times before she gets an answer, standing uncomfortably on Indra's front porch, perfectly maintained with a riot of potted ferns all around her.
“Oh, it's you,” Indra says when she finally answers the door, looking at Clarke with the same kind of general disappointment that she always does.
“I have some questions.” Clarke doesn't bother to explain about what. They have exactly one thing in common, and that's ghosts. Indra just has a lot more experience than her.
“You better come in, then, and tell me what you've done.”
Clarke's known Indra for as long as she can remember, but you wouldn't know it from the cool way she ushers Clarke into her living room. Her house is full of plants, herbs in the kitchen and ferns in the dining room and lilies in the living room. She had been a nurse at the hospital when Clarke was little, and she had been the first person to realize Clarke could see ghosts. Mostly because so can she.
She'd taught Clarke the rules, almost everything she knows about ghosts, their behavior, and why they're around. Usually, they're young. Usually, they died suddenly and violently. Usually, there is a particular person they didn't want to leave. Always, it's best if they don't know you see them. Indra lives by this. Clarke's had a harder time with it.
“Shouldn't we help them?” Clarke remembers asking once, when she was very young.
“Help them do what?” Indra had replied.
“I don't know.” Clarke hadn't known how to explain that feeling in her gut, the one that told her there was something more to do.
“Ghosts aren't people, Clarke. They're shadows. And someday, eventually, they learn to let go and they fade away. That's why the world isn't full of them. But they have to choose to let go. You can't do that for them.”
But Clarke hadn't wanted to help them fade. She'd wanted to help them become real. She'd wanted the impossible, which is exactly like her to want.
Indra is not impressed when Clarke explains about Bellamy.
“Haven't I told you not to get involved with ghosts? They get attached, take longer to fade.”
“I don't want him to fade.”
“So you want him to what? Spend another ten years in that house all by himself? Spend another ten years wondering about his family and holding on to something he doesn't ever get to have again? It's not a kindness, Clarke. He doesn't get to be real. And pretending won't make it so.”
But he feels real. He feels so, painfully, deeply real that Clarke doesn't know how to let go in return. She hasn't known him long, but she knows him. And how is that possible if he's just a shadow?
“You knew what I was going to say to you when you came here,” Indra says, slowly. “Don't get involved with ghosts. But that's clearly fucked. So here's my advice, if you really want it. If you want to help him, help him go. What ghosts have isn't life, it's just the spaces in between.”
She has to tell Bellamy. That his mom is dead. That she met Octavia and she's a rock climber with a fitness model boyfriend who is planning to road trip to Oregon after graduation. That he has two little half sisters in Colorado. All of it. But it still scares her.
Clarke realizes, now, it's not his reaction that she's afraid of. It's what happens if he doesn't feel the need to stay. Will it be enough- to know that his mom is gone and his sister is living her life and his father has a new family, to erase whatever bond he has to here and now? And why does she hate the idea of that so much?
Indra's right. If she wants to help Bellamy, she should be helping him figure out what he needs to be free. Not real. But not stuck any longer, either. She wants to help Bellamy. She really does.
“I found Octavia.” Clarke decides it's best to start with the good news.
Bellamy looks up from the copy of The Iliad he's reading so quickly, Clarke nearly jumps. He doesn't say anything, expression frozen.
“She goes to Sydney Memorial and works at the climbing center after school. She is also kind of terrifying, which you didn't happen to mention, so thanks for the warning.”
“You met her?” Bellamy breathes.
“Yeah. I took a climbing lesson yesterday afternoon and I hated it. She's tough as nails, Bellamy. But she seemed okay. Also she called me a nosy bitch.”
Bellamy laughs, truly laughs, and Clarke realizes she's never heard him do that before. It makes the dread in her throat about the rest of her news tighten.
“And my mom?” Bellamy asks. The way he's looking at her, studying the lines of her face, she thinks he knows there's something she doesn't want to say.
Clarke doesn't know how to say it.
“She had cancer,” Clarke breathes out. “She passed four years ago. Octavia lives with her aunt now. She hasn't seen her dad in a long time.”
“My mom's dead?” The way he says it feels disconnected, automatic, there's no expression on his face.
“Yeah, she is.”
He goes very quiet, not meeting her eyes. Clarke doesn't dare break the silence. She doesn't know what she would say even if she did.
“What if she's a ghost?”
“What?” Clarke isn't prepared for this. It's not something that occurred to her.
“She could be out there somewhere,” Bellamy says, suddenly agitated. He's right, she could, but...
“I don't think so,” Clarke tells him. It's an instinct, something she has no facts to back up. It's something in her gut that makes her say those words.
Clarke rolls the feeling around inside her head, searching for the edges, trying to find the right way to explain.
“Not that many people become ghosts,” Clarke starts. “If they did, there would be spirits everywhere, but there's not. Like I said, most of the time, it's people who can't bear to leave someone else behind, who died too soon.”
“She was only 43!” Bellamy snaps.
Clarke hates to say it, but she read Aurora's obituary, so she knows. “But she was suffering.”
Bellamy blinks at her.
“People who become ghosts... they aren't ready to go yet. I've only ever met one ghost who had been dying for a long time. A little girl. When people have time to come to terms with things, to say goodbye, they don't usually leave ghosts behind. Your mom had that.”
She almost doesn't say the next part. It would be so easy not to. It's something that will undoubtedly hurt to hear, and she could save him that, but there's some part of her that rebels against the idea of hiding something so personal from him. Besides, it's not her job to protect Bellamy Blake.
“And your mom... She lost you. Octavia might have been a reason for her to stay, but you were a reason to go. Moving on, she might get to see you again.”
“Except she doesn't.”
She couldn't have known that, Clarke thinks, but doesn't say.
“I just...” Bellamy shakes his head. He looks so real, like she could reach out and touch him. She wishes she could. “I need a minute.”
She doesn't try to stop him when he goes. He doesn't have much. Clarke supposes everything else can wait.
Bellamy isn't sure if there's a right way to react to finding out your mother is dead. Particularly if you're a ghost. After all, it's a little confusing. How can it feel both like the end of the world, and also like... nothing? He knows death, and it's not the 'death' part that's bad. It's the lack of everything else.
But maybe it's not like that for his mom. Maybe she's somewhere better. Maybe she got to go where he didn't. But maybe she didn't. That thought follows him. What if she's as trapped and lonely as him and there's nothing he can do about it?
So he broods. That's the word Clarke would use for it. He knows, because she spends three days tiptoeing around him and looking at him out of the corners of her eyes. He hates it. Clarke's the only dose of normalcy he's had in a long time, and okay, their friendship isn't normal, but it's something. It's all he's got.
He can tell there are other things she wants to say to him, things she's holding back. Bellamy just isn't sure he's ready to hear it, whatever it is. He's the ghost, but these days he feels like it's Clarke haunting him, not the other way around.
“You do know that I can see you too, right?” Bellamy asks, finally, when he catches Clarke watching with a worried frown for about the hundredth time since she told him about his mom.
“You don't have to be grumpy with me,” Clarke says. “I didn't even say anything.”
“I'm not grumpy.” He is. He's been on edge thinking about his mother, and he misses Clarke talking to him like he's just another person, and now he's looking for a confrontation to burn off steam. He knows it's a terrible way to deal with his emotions, even as he's doing it.
“Okay,” Clarke says, mild. Which really pisses him off.
“Look, just say whatever it is you want to say, because it's fucking driving me up the wall the way you're looking at me.”
“I don't think you're in the mood.”
“Try me.” The thing about Clarke, which he learned very early on, is that she's not good at backing down from a challenge, even when she knows someone's baiting her.
“Fine,” Clarke snaps, finally, and it feels good to see some emotion from her other than worry. He's so sick of feeling her worry about him.
“I went to see a... friend of mine who knows about ghosts. She thinks I should help you move on.”
Bellamy blinks at her. “Move on? What does that mean?”
“You know, move on. Whatever it is that happens to ghosts eventually.”
“What? What happens to ghosts eventually?” Somehow, it had never really occurred to him that anything would happen to him ever again. Sure, he's not unaware of the idea of ghosts moving on or crossing over or ascending or whatever the fuck any of that means. He's just never applied that thought to himself. He's here. He's dead. He'll be here forever. Right?
“Ghosts aren't permanent,” Clarke says, slowly, like she assumed he already knew this. He definitely did not.
“If they were, we'd be completely overrun with them. Eventually they just... fade. Some faster than others.”
“Fade?” Bellamy doesn't like the sound of that. In fact, he wants everything that is the opposite of that.
“I don't think it's a bad thing.”
“Oh, well that's comforting,” Bellamy says sarcastically.
“You don't have to be an asshole about it. I'm trying to help you. All ghosts have to go eventually. It seems like it would be best if you could figure out why you haven't.”
“Well, I'm not interested in going, thanks.”
Clarke looks pained, which pisses him off a little. So she wants to get rid of him? That stings. He knows it's probably a little tiring to have to share your space with a ghost, but he's been so good these last few weeks. He helped her with midterms and he's only knocked things over on accident, and he hasn't even woken her up once.
“I'm not trying to get rid of you.”
Clarke stands up, and her cheeks are pink, frustration tugging at every line of her.
“I knew it was a bad idea to talk to you when you're like this.”
“Busy sulking,” Clarke spits back.
“I'm sorry I'm not coping with finding out my mother is dead in a way that's convenient for you. How exactly would you like me to handle the situation?” He's not really being fair, and he knows it, but he doesn't care. He'd reach for any feeling that wasn't uncertainty.
“I am not doing this.” Clarke starts for her door, picking up her car keys off her dresser as she goes.
“Wait, you can't just go storming out, that's not fair,” Bellamy protests, as Clarke side steps him. It's instinct, only that, which has him reaching for her arm, a futile action, considering what he is. Or it should be. But his fingers make contact with her, warm, solid, absolutely real. They both freeze, staring at where his fingers are touching her elbow.
His grip tightens in surprise. Her arm is soft in his hand, skin smooth and warm and he can't believe he's feeling it. He stares at the place where his hand is pressed against Clarke, skin on skin. Clarke's other hand comes up to cover his, eyes wide.
“Holy shit,” she breathes. Bellamy is suddenly aware that he can feel his heart, thundering in his chest and he shouldn't. He hasn't had a heartbeat since he bled out on the floor downstairs.
“What the hell is happening?” Bellamy asks, not that he expects an answer. Not that Clarke looks like she knows. There's just this, her skin on his and his heart beating in his chest. She can touch him. She can make him real.