Clarke has known Bellamy Blake for two months when she finds out two completely unexpected things about him: he's married, and he has an eight-year-old son.
It's not exactly like she thinks she should have known earlier. They're co-workers, but not close ones; he does typesetting and printing at the publisher where they work, and she does illustrations, so while they email a lot about resizing he needs done and she tells him he doesn't appreciate her art, they don't chat. She likes him, in a fairly limited, superficial sense. But just like he doesn't know she's bisexual and has a long-distance girlfriend, she doesn't really know anything about him. She would have been happy to learn, but it's not really that kind of office.
So it's not surprising that the way she finds out is through Octavia, who is dating her friend Luna, who is trying to get Clarke more friends. Clarke moved to Boston from California without really knowing anyone, just because she hated the west coast, and she hated feeling like she was living the life her mother had picked out for her instead of the one she wanted. She'd found a job where she could support herself and do art and she took it, leaving behind everyone she knew, Niylah included.
It still feels like the right call, two months later. But it also feels a little cowardly. Maybe she could have made things better there. Maybe she should have tried harder. There were probably illustration jobs she could have gotten closer to San Diego.
But even alone, even with just her job and occasionally Luna to keep her company, she's happier. So much happier. Enough to counter-act the guilt.
And she's working on making more friends, which is why she's at Luna and Octavia's apartment, and Octavia is saying, "Clarke, this is my brother, Bellamy. He's going through some shit, so he'll probably be even more of a dick than usual. Bell, this is Clarke."
"Don't introduce people with going through some shit," Bellamy says. He's talking to his sister, but his eyes are steady on Clarke, and it's almost too much. She only sees him in person about once a week, and he disconcerts her, a little. He's her type, and she hates knowing that, when she's in a relationship. It happens from time to time, and it never has any impact on her life. She's never been unfaithful in a relationship, never even come close. But it makes her feel like every shitty cliche about bisexuals, and that just makes it worse. Everyone does this. You can't just turn off the part of your brain that feels attraction. It has nothing to do with being bisexual.
It's especially bad right now because he's looking good tonight, better than he does at work, casual in a black t-shirt and jeans, with a beer in his hand and wire-rimmed glasses on his face, to say nothing of the flush on his cheeks from what his sister said. Still, she won't let herself look away. It's awkward and they're going to power through it. "Maybe people don't want to talk about their shit," he adds, pulling her back to socializing. "And I'm always a dick, I don't need an excuse. Hey, Clarke."
"Hey," she says. "We work together," she adds to Octavia.
"Oh!" says Octavia. "I knew you were an illustrator, but I didn't really think--wow, I can't believe I didn't realize."
"You've only met me like twice," Clarke says, smiling. "I didn't even know you had a brother."
"Yeah, okay. Guiltiness passed."
"Wow, thirty whole seconds," Bellamy teases. "That's a new record for you feeling bad for making my life awkward."
The doorbell rings, and Octavia grins. "Oh no, hostess duty calls. Have fun, you two."
Bellamy turns his attention back to Clarke, smile still wry. "So, you know Luna?"
"We went to college together, yeah." She pauses, but it's better to just ask. "So, should I ask about the shit you're going through or just pretend your sister never said that?"
He huffs. "It's not like it's a secret, but it doesn't really come up at work. I'm, uh--getting a divorce."
If anyone had asked her, Clarke would have put Bellamy's age at somewhere between twenty-seven and thirty-two, without that much confidence. She feels sure he's older than she is, but she's not sure by how much. And it's not as if people her age can't be married, but--it's sort of incomprehensible to her, that Bellamy should not only be married, but that his marriage should already be ending.
"I'm sorry," she says, when she realizes she should be saying something.
He shrugs. "Honestly, I'm not that broken up about the actual divorce."
"Oh, I shouldn't have assumed," she says, sarcasm a kneejerk response. But Bellamy smiles, because of course he does. That's part of why she likes him. "When you said that was the shit you were going through, I thought that was the shit you were going through. Stupid of me."
"Yeah, rookie mistake." He rubs the back of his neck. "She wants full custody."
Clarke blinks a few times. "You have kids?"
"A kid. Marcus."
"How old is he?"
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-nine." He regards her. "I got her pregnant, she was raised in a family where abortion wasn't an option, I was raised in a family where abandoning your kid wasn't an option. So we got married."
"And now you're getting divorced."
His shrug is fluid, looks easy. "Like I said, I'm not that broken up about that. But it's been almost nine years of marriage. It's a lot of life to--untangle."
"And she wants full custody."
"She wants full custody." She can see him visibly deflating on a long sigh. "We don't have to talk about it."
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asks, genuinely curious. The party is fairly crowded, a lot of twenty-somethings hanging out, chatting and drinking, and she wonders what that's like for him. He's been married for a third of his life, a father. His life is probably nothing like hers, not really. But she's curious what it is like.
"I asked you first." She bumps her shoulder against his. "Let's get me a drink and then we can talk about whatever you want."
He follows her over to the drinks table, finishing his beer and grabbing another while she mixes herself a half-assed cocktail with juice and rum.
When she looks at him, expectant, Bellamy wilts. "You know you could just socialize like a normal person. I probably shouldn't have even come out tonight, but O thought I should get out of the house."
"You're the only person here I actually know, aside from Luna and your sister. And, honestly, I'm really curious. You have a a wife and a kid, Bellamy. You think I'm not going to be nosy as fuck about that?"
He laughs. "So, you're not married?"
"No. I have a girlfriend, but she's still in California." It feels weird, but she adds, "I'm bisexual, by the way." She's too used to people hearing girlfriend and gay together, and it feels dishonest, letting them make the wrong assumption.
"Cool," he says. "Me too, probably."
"Married at twenty," he points out. "Didn't get a lot of chances to try this stuff out."
"Do you think guys are hot?"
"Some guys, yeah."
"Then as an official bisexual, I give you permission to ID as bisexual."
He laughs. "Thanks."
"Any time. So, you want to tell me the whole story?"
Even with her prompting, he still takes a minute, studying her. But it feels like the kind of thing he needs to talk about, probably a lot. Sometimes Clarke is like that, so overflowing with emotions that she can't just tell one person. She needs to tell everyone.
"She met someone," he finally says. "Which--fuck, good for her, right? I'm not going to pretend our marriage was good enough that we should have stayed in it, if we got better prospects."
"You don't love her?"
He runs his hand through his hair. "Fuck, I don't know. Of course I do. But--" He looks at her, and Clarke looks back, easy. He really needs to talk about this. She can listen. "She's Marcus's mom. He loves her. I love her too. She's family, and she always will be. But, yeah. We gave up trying to be together as a real couple years ago."
"And she met someone else."
"Yeah, and I'm glad. But--fuck. I don't want to be that guy, but--she's not a great mother, honestly. I do most of the work. And it's not like it's a fucking surprise. I took care of O most of our lives, even after I got married. She'd hang out at our place after school and I didn't let her babysit because I didn't want her to have to take care of Marcus like I took care of her. But now--" His smile is wry, a little sheepish. "You already think I'm an asshole, right?"
The question surprises her. "What kind of asshole?"
"How many kinds are there?"
"A few. I think you're kind of rude in emails, but it's funny. I think you like complaining about shit that goes wrong. From what I can tell, you're a good guy. Whatever you say now isn't going to ruin my opinion of you."
"That's a big promise."
It is, she guesses, but it doesn't feel dangerous. In the last two months, she feels like she's gotten a good sense of Bellamy. Even right now, in this conversation, where he's tipsy and upset, he's worrying about being fair. He's a good guy. "I'll still make it," she says. "Tell me. You need to talk about this."
"I think she wants Marcus because--she has this idea of the three of them as this happy family. And I'm worried about what happens to him when she figures out how much work I was doing."
"That doesn't make you an asshole," Clarke says. "You're worried about your son. That's understandable."
"I'm saying Roma's a bad mother."
"I don't think you are. Do you think she is?"
"No," he says, but there's something grudging in it. "My mom was shitty. Roma's--fine. She wasn't really ready to be a mother, which, fuck, I shouldn't have been ready to be a father either."
"But your mom was a bad mother."
He lets out a soft snort of laughter. "She needed me to help. I get it, but it was still way too much for me. I think about Marcus doing what I did and it's--I get so pissed. But it was my life." He sighs. "I just--I met the guy, Sterling. The one my ex is into. He's cool. He and Marcus get along. But--I should keep the kid. She shouldn't. And I'm pretty sure they'll look better if it goes to court. He's middle class, has parents who can support them, and she went to college while I was working, so--" He shrugs. "My job's good, but I know how this works. I'm poor and brown, and they're white and better educated." He scrubs his face. "I don't even know if I can afford a good custody lawyer."
"How about other assets?" she asks. "Do you guys own or rent? Cars?"
This time, his laugh is stronger. "Wow. You're kind of good at this."
"My parents got divorced when I was eleven. I heard a lot of stuff. But--those are bargaining chips. If you're both on the lease and they want the house, maybe you can settle out of court."
"We rent, so--" He rubs his face. "Not trying to act like I don't appreciate your help. I really do. I just don't--I'm still reeling."
"When did she tell you about the divorce?"
"Three weeks ago. But the custody thing was last week."
She thinks. "I assume we're in this weird place where I can just say whatever, right? Because you need it."
"Basically. I'm open to all suggestions."
"You might not be open to this one. Are they planning to move? Like, out of the city."
"I don't think so."
"And do you think--" She lets out a soft breath. "Do you think they'd like being parents? I know you don't think they'd be good at it, but do you think they want to be parents, or they'd regret it?"
His expression is wary. "I think they'll be good parents someday. I don't think they're ready to take care of Marcus on their own."
"They'd regret it," Clarke supplies.
"You really want me to say that," he says, amused.
"Trial custody," she says. "You find a place to live for, like--a few months. Work out a schedule where you get to see your son a few times a week. Make sure he can still get in touch with you. You don't want him to feel like you abandoned him. But--maybe if they tried it, and they didn't like it, and he missed you, they'd reconsider trying to get custody in the first place." She makes a face. "This sounds like I'm telling you to--gamble with your kid or something. That's fucked up. But--it might help. You don't have to get the law involved yet, not if everyone's still on good terms with each other."
"It does feel like gambling," he admits. "Not a bad idea, but--"
"If you really think you'd lose the court case, then you don't have anything to lose," Clarke points out. "And neither does he." She wets her lips, feeling out of place and helpful, all at once. "This way, they have a chance to realize if it's not going to work. And you can still be around for him."
He nods once. "Yeah. Thanks for--" He laughs, soft. "The worst party conversation ever, right?"
"Nah. Not ever. I'm--anything I can do to help, honestly."
He holds his beer up, and she clinks her mostly empty cup against it. "Thanks," he says. "I might take you up on that."
Clarke's not sure what to expect from work on Monday. It's not as if she and Bellamy have any reason to interact in person, and she can't see herself emailing him to ask him about his divorce. Even the thought of it, Bellamy's divorce, feels vaguely surreal. It all makes sense, academically checks out, but--it feels like such a huge thing. She doesn't know how she can get along with him so well, when his life seems incomprehensible. But at the same time, she couldn't imagine him doing anything else, with any of it. She doesn't know him well, but it just makes so much sense.
And she wants to know him better.
On Tuesday, when she goes to the break room to grab her lunch, she sees Bellamy is already sitting at one of the tables, reading a book called The True Meaning of Smekday with a sandwich falling apart in his hand. It's late--Clarke prefers to eat later in the day, so she doesn't have much time left after she's done--so no one else is really around, and it seems completely normal to sit down across from him, instead of eating at her desk like she usually does.
He looks up, and his smile at the sight of her seems genuine, without any strain. "Hey."
"Hey. Good book?"
"Surprisingly, yeah. I'm reading it before I read it to Marcus, so I can be prepared if he's got questions."
She has to smile. "What's it about?"
"Alien invasions. Colonialism. Racism. It's actually got a lot going on." She can see his mouth twitch. "Is this weird, or is it just me?"
"Probably just you. I didn't realize you were this awkward."
"The more people know about me, the more awkward I am," he says. "But--I really appreciate your talking to me at the party. It helped."
"I'm glad. Have you figured out what you're going to do yet?"
"I talked it over with Octavia and my best friend Miller," he says. "They thought your idea was pretty decent. Mostly, we're all basically thinking I don't have a better plan. And it might work. I'm going to talk to Roma once I've figured out where I'm living." He runs his hand through his hair. "Which could be a while. All the places I could afford and get on short notice are places I don't want Marcus going to."
"You should make more than I do," Clarke says, thoughtful. It's not the best job, or the best rate of pay, but it's not bad.
"Maybe. But it's not just the money." He counts on his fingers. "I need somewhere close to public transportation, in a good neighborhood, with either no roommates or roommates who don't mind if my kid crashes sometimes, and I have no idea how long I'm planning to stay. I'd stay with Miller, but he and his boyfriend don't really have any room. Ditto Luna and Octavia."
It feels stupid to offer, but it feels even stupider not to offer. She has a room she's not using, because her mother owns the condo where she lives. It's decently large, in a good neighborhood, and she can afford to not have any roommates. She's been considering if she should find someone, because the income is good, but she's never lived alone before, and it was nice. And if Niylah ever moves, not having a roommate will be nice.
On the other hand, Bellamy doesn't need to stay forever. He just needs somewhere to be while he's figuring out the rest of his life. And Clarke could give him that. He's Octavia's brother. He's her coworker. He's a guy who's going through a rough patch, and he need some help.
"I've got a spare room," she offers, and he stares at her. "I haven't figured out if I want a long-term roommate now, so if you want to pay me some rent while I'm figuring it out, that would be cool."
"Clarke," he says, slow and vaguely horrified. "You really don't have to do that. I appreciate it, but--"
"I know I don't have to," she says. "Seriously, I'm not really that noble. I could use some extra cash, and you need a place to crash while you figure stuff out. If you want to come over and check it out, just let me know."
He stares at her for another minute, and Clarke just looks back, placid, letting him think about it. "You'd have to deal with Marcus too. I honestly have no idea how much."
"I figured, yeah." She taps her fork against the rim of her tupperware. "Part of why I moved here was that my mom actually owned a place. She lived here before she went to DC. So I have a furnished guest room with a queen-sized bed that you can just stay in. I don't know about Marcus. Is he too old to sleep with you?"
"Under normal circumstances, yeah. For a few nights a week if he doesn't want to be home--" She can see him swallow, his face so raw that it looks like she broke him open. "Shit, Clarke. I can't--"
"You didn't ask. I offered. It might not work, but--if you want to come look at the place, you should."
"That would be great, yeah. How far is it?"
"I can walk to work," she says. "Ten minutes."
"Good thing you're doing me a huge fucking favor, or I'd hate you."
She smiles. "I get that a lot. Like I said, my mom is rich and happy I'm back on this side of the country, so you might as well benefit too. Want to come by my office when you're done for the day? You can follow me home. It shouldn't take too long, right?"
"You're acting like there's a universe where this is benefiting you more than me."
"I assume you'd be paying me some rent."
"Yeah. How much do you want, by the way?"
She considers. "I don't know yet. I'm getting by without a roommate, and I know you're going to need the money for the divorce and everything else. I'll think about it, but--I'd be happy with like three hundred a month."
"No way. Clarke, that's nothing."
"No, nothing is what I'm currently getting. Three hundred is more than nothing." She shrugs. "If you suck as a roommate, I'll charge you more. And you might not like the place."
He rolls his eyes. "Yeah. Fully furnished, three hundred dollars a month, ten minutes from work, and your rich mom owns it. I'm definitely going to hate the place enough to turn down an offer like that."
Clarke smiles. "I'm kind of a slob."
"Yeah, I bet I'll live. See you after work?"
"Yup. Just stop by when you're ready."
He comes just after five, and Clarke takes a second to wrap up what she was doing and then follows him out. It's way too hot and humid, but she's basically accustomed to that by now. It's not like she lives in the actual south. If she moved past DC, she'd probably just melt.
"So, tell me about Marcus," she prompts.
"What about him?"
"He's eight, right? So--starting third grade soon?"
"Yeah, next month."
"Is he looking forward to it?"
"He is, yeah. O says it's because I'm a nerd and he inherited that from me, which is probably true. I always liked school. I wish I'd gone to college, but even without Marcus, I would have had trouble affording it."
"How did you get into publishing?"
"They hired me." He shoots her a grin. "Nothing exciting. I needed a job and they gave me one. I was a hard worker, so I ended up getting promoted a few times, and it's working out pretty well for me. But it's not my passion or anything."
"What's your passion?"
He toys with the strap of his messenger bag. "History, probably. I like history. But it's not really a career."
"Yeah, it is. Plenty of people make a living doing history."
"Not the kind of living I need to make," he shoots back, and she shrugs one shoulder.
"Okay, I guess that's probably true. You're good at this, though."
"Octavia says it's because I'm a control freak."
"Yeah, but in a good way."
Clarke's condo is nice, if she does say so herself. It's on the second floor of a four-story building, no doorman, but clean with good locks and a nice entryway. Bellamy looks a little overwhelmed before they're even inside, and she feels caught between pride and embarrassment. She's glad she has a nice home, but--she hasn't really earned it.
"It's this one," she says, unlocking the door.
He whistles, low, at the sight of it. "Jesus. This is bigger than my apartment."
"Well, my mom is really rich."
"It looks like a hotel."
"I haven't really settled in yet."
"My kid would destroy this place."
"That's fine. It's way too clinical for me anyway. I've been painting to try to make it--less like this. Come on, the guest room is back here."
"You have a guest room," he mutters, like this is a great crime.
"You knew I had a guest room. You came here to check out the guest room."
"Yeah, but still. This is--fuck. I can't live here."
"You don't want the room?"
He rubs his face. "You know that's not what I meant."
"I know. Look, Bellamy, you can take it or leave it. I'm honestly good with either. But I also think you would be stupid not to take it."
"I would. I'm still waiting for the catch. Like, you harvest my organs or something."
"Honestly, I think if I wanted your organs, there are easier ways to get them. I could have just roofied you at the party."
He lets out a surprised laugh. "Wow. Yeah, when you put it like that."
"The room's yours if you want it," she says, going serious now. "Whenever you want it."
"I need to talk to Roma," he admits. "But, yeah. This sounds like a great deal. I can't wait for you to murder me."
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to that too," Clarke agrees, cheerful. "Like I said, just let me know."
Clarke hadn't really thought about telling other people Bellamy was moving in. After all, she got a roommate. Getting a roommate isn't a particularly huge deal. The circumstances are definitely weird, but it's practical, and, honestly, she feels like she's doing the right thing.
Niylah's the first to think it's weird.
"Who is this guy?" she asks that night.
"My coworker," says Clarke. "And Luna's girlfriend's older brother."
"And he's moving in with you?"
"Probably not for very long. He's going through a divorce right now, and he's hoping to keep custody of his son. So he needs a place to stay."
"I don't follow," says Niylah, her face distorting in the skype window as she frowns.
"It's a weird story. Anyway, I've got a guest room, he needs somewhere to crash while he and his ex sort it out, so--yeah. He's a good guy, I'm happy I can help him out."
"Yeah, but--how well do you really know him?"
"We've been working together since I got here. And Octavia's cool."
"So, not very well."
"How well do you have to know someone to live with them? You met your roommate on craigslist."
It's not supposed to be defensive, but it comes out that way, just a little too harsh. Niylah winces, and Clarke does too.
"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that."
"Like what?" asks Niylah, and that's a pretty valid question.
"Just--I don't get why you think this is a big deal. One of my coworkers is moving into my spare room. Possibly just for a month or two. He doesn't really want to live here long-term; he needs somewhere with room for his son. Which was why he was having so much trouble with finding anywhere else short-term."
Niylah looks away, and Clarke thinks she fidgets, but it might just be the way the video skips. "I guess I thought you would have talked to me about it first."
A lump rises in Clarke's throat, her mouth flooded with guilt, but also a little bit of resentment. It's not that she thought Niylah wouldn't care, just that she didn't think Niylah had much of a say in it. Clarke wouldn't expect a consultation before Niylah got a new roommate. It's Niylah's apartment, not hers.
Which is another thing, she supposes, another ugly feeling that happens sometimes. This might be Niylah's apartment someday, but Clarke wouldn't mind if it never is. And she doesn't want to think about it. They're trying. She wants to try.
"It didn't feel important before. I found out about the divorce at the party last weekend, and then he mentioned he was having trouble finding a place today. I didn't have a chance to talk to you first. It just happened."
"It just happened," Niylah repeats, her incredulity all over her face. "You just invited someone to move in on a whim. Like you moved on a whim."
Clarke leans back on the couch, closes her eyes. That makes more sense. This isn't really a conversation about Bellamy moving in. It's a conversation about Clarke moving away. And that's honestly fair, because moving across the country is something you're supposed to discuss more with the person you're dating. Niylah found out Clarke wanted to move when Clarke said she was applying for jobs, and it was never really a discussion. They hadn't been dating for that long, but still. That's how it should work.
If she's honest, Clarke hadn't thought the relationship would survive the move, and she was ready for it to be a casualty. It still felt like it was worth it to her, and it still feels like she's waiting for that argument.
But she's not ready to have it tonight.
"Not like that. It's just--he's not going to stay for long. No lease or anything. He's just--crashing for a while."
It doesn't really feel true, because it is a big deal, not just because of Bellamy, but because of Marcus. She might not be signing herself up for a long-term roommate, but she's getting involved. She's invested in this.
But Niylah doesn't know that, and Clarke doesn't tell her, just adds it to her mental list of things she's going to have to deal with someday. The Niylah conversation is ugly, and the longer she waits, the uglier it gets, but--she's not ready for it yet, and Niylah lets it go.
On Thursday, Bellamy tells her he'll be moving in over the weekend, and on Friday, Octavia calls.
"Bell's moving in with you?"
"He's staying in my guest room for a while," Clarke says. "He's not even bringing all his stuff." She pauses. "Don't tell me you disapprove."
"Oh, it's great for Bell. He gets a cheap place to stay that's close to work. But I'm kind of worried about you."
"What about me?"
"You're signing up for Bell and Marcus. Not all the time, I guess, but--what did he tell you?"
Clarke considers, but she's pretty sure there's nothing Bellamy told her that his sister didn't know. "This is a stopgap," she says. "Or maybe a test run. Seeing how Roma does having Marcus full time, which is hopefully not well, and she realizes that she's not really interested in custody. Either way, it's a good way for him to get out of the house and get stuff moving toward--some kind of solution. I assume he'll be looking for other places while he's here. Sort of like a hotel, but cheaper, because I'm rich and we're friends."
She hears Octavia huff; apparently it's a genetic Blake thing, because she sounds just like her brother. "Okay, yeah, but--you haven't met Marcus, right?"
"Bell wants custody because he's a good dad and he loves his son, but it's also--Marcus is going to be coming over a lot, if Bell lets him. And of course Bell is going to let him."
"I doubt he's going to expect me to do anything, though," Clarke muses. "If he's not around, I'm not going to provide child care. Maybe if he has an emergency or something, but Marcus is eight. That's definitely old enough to amuse himself. If I'm home, I might hang out with them, but I don't have to. And I doubt Bellamy will expect me to."
There's a long pause, but when Octavia speaks, she sounds sure. "Yeah, you're right. But--it's still a lot. Having a kid around is always work for me, even if Bell's there."
"It's temporary," Clarke says. She's starting to feel like a broken record. "It might not be great, but--a couple months for a friend isn't too bad."
"It might be. And it's a huge favor for Bell. Don't blow it off like it's not. Even if it's not a big deal to you, it is to him, and it should be. So--let him be thankful, okay?"
She smiles to herself. "Yeah. I'll let him. Thanks, Octavia."
"Let us know if you need any help with the moving. Bye, Clarke."
Bellamy moves in on Saturday, and he brings two suitcases and Marcus. Bellamy's son looks a good deal like him, at least in details. He has the same curly black hair and dark eyes his father does, and his own pair of glasses. Clarke doesn't know if he's big or small for his age, mostly because she doesn't really know any other kids his age. But he seems small, and a little scared too.
She doesn't know what Bellamy actually told him, about why he was moving. Maybe he thinks this is going to ruin his life.
Maybe it will.
"Marcus, this is Clarke," Bellamy is telling him. "She works with me. She's an artist."
"An artist?" asks Marcus.
"Yeah. She did that dragon drawing I gave you."
Clarke had forgotten all about that; Bellamy caught her doodling in the break room her second or third week of work, and when he'd complimented the piece, she'd asked if he wanted it. It had been sarcasm, a little defensive, embarrassed to be caught, and she'd been so surprised when he said yes. It makes a lot more sense, if it was for Marcus.
"Oh!" says Marcus. He has freckles too, but his face is much more open than Bellamy's. Which makes sense, but it twists her up a little too. She wonders when he stopped looking like that. "You're really good."
She tries out a smile; she doesn't really know much about kids. "Thanks, I'm glad you like it. Are you helping your dad with his stuff?"
"Yeah," says Marcus, glancing at Bellamy. "He said I could sleep here sometimes too."
"If you don't mind sharing with me," he says. "I snore. And kick. And fart."
"Daaaad," says Marcus, and Bellamy grins.
"There's also a couch. Sharing with your dad sounds pretty bad."
"He does have his own bed at home too," Bellamy says, but he puts his arm around Marcus and squeezes. "Any time you want to stay, you can. But I think you'll be more comfortable at home."
"So would you," says Marcus. The petulance is familiar, something she remembers from her own parents' divorce. She was a few years older, but she still felt like she was the only one thinking clearly. They were all happy. They could keep on being happy, if nothing changed.
"Sterling doesn't want to share the bed with me," says Bellamy. "He knows I kick."
"You want to come see your dad's new room?" Clarke offers, before the silence can get awkward. "See how you like it?"
"Yeah," says Marcus, without much feeling.
Clarke has exactly two things she thinks an eight-year-old kid might be excited about: her Wii-U and her cat. She doesn't know if they have either pets or game systems at home, but she suspects they don't. Not when money is so tight.
The cat was asleep on the couch, but Clarke assumes, from previous experience, that she fled at the sound of other humans. Marcus still spots the Wii as soon as they get into the living room and turns to Clarke with excitement written all over his face.
"What games do you have?"
"Mostly multi-player stuff," says Clarke. "I got it in college so I could do stuff with my friends."
"Do you have Mario Kart?"
Bellamy rolls his eyes. "Let's get my stuff unpacked first, okay? Clarke probably has other stuff to do."
"A lot of the time, yeah," says Clarke. "But you guys are always free to use the Wii. When your dad says it's okay," she adds, just to be safe.
"After we unpack," Bellamy says, firmly. But he flashes Clarke a smile, so she figures she didn't fuck anything up. "This is basically my homework."
"Why do I have to help with your homework?" Marcus protests.
"I'll help you with your homework."
"You're my dad, that's your job."
"Think of this as the first step in you taking care of me. Next thing you know I'll be old and you'll be pushing my wheelchair around."
Clarke smiles. "It's not my job, so I'm leaving. Let me know if you guys need any help. And tell me if you start playing video games. Oh, and watch out for the cat."
She hears Marcus's excited, "There's a cat?!" as she goes, and she can't help a smile.
Marcus stays for dinner and then Bellamy brings him home. It's a straight shot back on the red line, which is another positive. She's in a good location for him.
He pauses when he gets back, and then sits down on the couch next to her, hands in his lap, clearly awkward. A smile tugs at her mouth. It's been a while since she had this kind of roommate, someone she knows but doesn't know, and Bellamy probably never has.
They'll get used to it.
He clears his throat. "I really can't thank you enough."
She nearly dismisses it, but Octavia's words come back to her. "You're welcome," she says instead. "It went okay? It felt like it went okay."
"Really well," he says. "He's excited about--it's nice here, he wants to come back soon. So when I get my own place, I know I need a cat and a video game system and he'll be happy."
"Glad I could help." She worries her lip, unsure how to phrase her question. Finally, she says, "I should have checked with what you wanted me to say beforehand."
"Fuck, no," he says, surprised. "You did great. That was perfect."
"You're cool, friendly, and you played video games with him. He's a good kid. He doesn't need much encouragement to like people. And you didn't overstep, don't worry."
"Okay, but still. I wouldn't mind some ground rules. I don't deal with kids much."
"I guess not." He huffs, leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Mostly, I'm not worried. I guess I don't know what the divorce is going to do to him, but he's never been one of those kids who tries to play me against Roma to get what he wants or anything. And it's not like you're going to be alone with him much. If you tell him he can do something and he can't, I'll just tell him. I don't mind. If you ever aren't sure and I'm not around, tell him he has to ask me."
"That's not really what I meant."
"What did you mean?"
She can't look at him. "What did you tell him about--what does he know? Does he know you're getting divorced? Does he think you guys love each other?"
"Oh." He lets out a long breath. "It's complicated."
"Complicated, cool. That's different for you."
His laughter drains some of the tension from his shoulders. "Yeah, shut up. Me and Roma--I don't know. It's not like I had a normal family I can use as a reference. We've never told him, you know--you were a mistake and we never would have gotten married if you didn't exist. And I know you don't have to tell a kid that for them to hear it. My mom never told me she didn't mean to have me and I still figured it out."
"He knows how much you love him," Clarke offers. "I was never worried about that."
"I know. But--yeah. Me and Roma shared a bed, but that was more--convenience. We could get a smaller place if we didn't need three bedrooms, so we got two and shared. But we, uh--" He rubs the back of his neck. "You don't need details about my sex life and neither does Marcus. I haven't gotten laid in a while. He knows his mom has been dating Sterling and that I'm cool with it. When we told him we were going to get a divorce because she and Sterling were serious, he didn't seem surprised. I told him I was getting my own place because ours is small and Sterling and Roma needed the bed. I don't want him to think she's the bad guy, and--fuck, it would be so easy."
"So, he knows you're not coming back," Clarke prompts, once it becomes clear his thoughts have turned dark.
"Yeah. He knows I'm staying here while I look for a new place. He asked if he was going to live with me and I told him it depended on where I could find."
"So Roma won't be the bad guy."
"It doesn't do him any good to think his mom is an asshole," he says. "Even if I don't agree with her. I don't want him to resent her if she ends up getting custody. I'll just get a small place and tell him I couldn't afford somewhere he could live with me. I don't like lying to him, but--fuck, it might not even be much of a lie. If I wasn't getting child support from her, I probably couldn't take care of him. Not like he deserves to be taken care of." He sighs. "To get back to your question, he thinks you're my coworker who's letting me crash while I find my own place. We're not telling him this is--a test or whatever. And I'm trying to prep him in case I can't convince Roma we'd all be better off if I took him."
"I still think you're not an asshole," Clarke offers.
His smile is wry. "Thanks. I think I'm going to turn in."
"Sure," she says. "See you in the morning, Bellamy."
When she goes to her own room, she opens up a new Word document, writes, Things Bellamy Has Done for His Son at the top, and goes from there. She gets seven without even trying and saves it for later. So she'll have it handy.
As roommates go, Bellamy is a pretty good one. They have the exact same work schedule, 8:30 to 5, and he doesn't have as much of his own life as she would have expected. Of course, she probably should have guessed; he already made clear he didn't have much of a social life. Aside from his son and Clarke herself, the only people he seems to see with any regularity outside of work are Octavia (and, by extension, Luna) and his friend Miller (and, by extension, his friend Miller's boyfriend). And even that's rare, only once each in the first week of their cohabitation.
Mostly, she hangs out with Bellamy every day, and Marcus every few days. As promised, she's rarely alone with Bellamy's son; the closest she comes is when she happens to be in the living room with them and Bellamy goes to the bathroom or something. It's not hard to interact with Marcus, though, either with or without Bellamy. He's got after-school programs until Bellamy is done with work anyway, and he knows the bus to take to get to Clarke's. At first, he comes up with excuses, like that he wants Bellamy to read to him or that Bellamy is better at helping with his work, but by the weekend, he's stopped supplying reasons. Roma calls on Saturday and says Marcus wants to come over, and Bellamy goes to pick him up because of course he does. Clarke spends the day alternating between getting her own errands done and playing pick-up games of Mario Kart with Marcus while Bellamy reads. It's fun, but when Bellamy takes off to bring Marcus home, she can't help fretting.
"I just--if all he's doing is sleeping at home, I'm not sure it really helps," Clarke tells Niylah. "Like--I don't know if they'll really get it. If Bellamy's still doing all the work when they have custody--"
"That's kind of his business, isn't it?" Niylah asks, gentle. "It's not your problem."
"No, of course not." She sighs. "But it was my idea. I feel like if it goes wrong--"
"It's not your fault, Clarke. You barely know this guy. It's not your job to fix his life. You're already going above and beyond."
"That's not what I'm trying to do. He's my friend."
There's a long pause, and Clarke tries to figure out if she's glad they're doing this on the phone. She can't see Niylah's expression, for which she's grateful, but the silence is pointed enough she can imagine it.
"It's been less than two weeks since I heard about him. He's not your friend."
"Wow," says Clarke.
"I didn't mean it like that. But--I don't get it. You have to understand that. How would you feel, if this was me? If I just--suddenly had a new person in my life, living with me."
It's not an unexpected question, but it's an awful one, because Clarke knows how she'd feel. Relieved. The knowledge slams her in the sternum, and for a second she can't breathe. It's too much, knowing that Niylah is jealous--which she shouldn't be--and that if Niylah gave her someone she was supposed to be jealous over, Clarke would be happy. They'd have her blessing.
She's not sure exactly what excuses she makes to dodge the question, but they're not good ones, and once the call is done, she goes into the living room to wait for Bellamy. She's being an impartial observer for his life; he can be an impartial observer for hers too. That's how it works. Quid pro quo. Friendship.
Her distress is apparent, it seems; Bellamy is frowning as soon as he sees her.
"I think I need to break up with my girlfriend," she admits.
"Oh. Shit. Do I need to get booze for this conversation? I'm getting booze. What do you want?"
"Just a beer," she says, unable to keep a smile off her face. "Thanks."
"Sure. Why are you breaking up with your girlfriend? Distance getting to you?"
"Distance isn't getting to you?"
"It should be, right?" she asks, accepting the beer from him. "I should miss her all the time. I should want her to move up here, but I don't--I like her. I wouldn't mind if she moved and we were--" She rubs her face. "Honestly, I thought we'd probably just break up when I moved. I was all ready for it. And then she said we could try long distance."
"And you didn't argue."
"We could," Clarke says, a little defensively.
"You did," he agrees. "And you think you need to break up. That's what you said," he adds, with a small smile. "This wasn't my idea."
"No, I know it wasn't. I just--I know you're right. I'm right. I should have broken up with her before I left, but if she was willing to try--"
Bellamy nudges her beer with his, a reminder. "Tell me about her. How long have you guys been together?"
"Just a few months before I moved. We actually went to college together, hooked up once, and lost track of each other. So when we ran into each other again, it felt--significant. It's not, obviously, it's just random chance, but--"
"Yeah. I get that."
"Honestly, I've never just broken up with someone before. Not without some big fight."
"I really get that," he says, and that makes her smile. "Even knowing she liked Sterling, I never really thought we'd get divorced." He's clearly thinking it over, but then he lets himself say, "I felt like I was done, I guess. I didn't love her, no one could spin our story into an epic romance or anything. But I figured I didn't have to deal with any of the dating stuff anymore, and that was nice. It feels good to be in a relationship, even one that isn't amazing. But I bet we can do better. And I bet your girlfriend can too."
She smiles. "That was such a good speech, I don't want to keep complaining."
"No, go ahead. That was mostly about my issues anyway."
"It was good." She hesitates, considering him. She and Bellamy aren't really that close, if she thinks about it. They worked together for two months and have been friends for two weeks. But he feels like--he's easy to trust. He's important to her, against all the odds. So she lets herself rest her head on his shoulder, and he leans his head on hers right back. Every day is stressful for him right now, probably. He might need the comfort even more than she does. "I didn't want to break up with her because I was moving, but I wanted her to break up with me. That's fucked up, right?"
"Is that why you moved?"
"No. I wanted to get out of California, it wasn't for me. I wasn't happy there. But I didn't talk to her about it, and I didn't think she'd forgive me. And I don't think she really did," she lets herself admit for the first time. "Neither of us wants to be the bad guy, so we're just--it feels like we're playing chicken or something. And I'm not trying to blame her, I'm not being a good person, and I might be projecting--"
"Breathe," he says. "Look, you don't actually know how you would have felt if she broke up with you. You thought she would, and she didn't. You were ready for rejection. That's--it's hard." He huffs. "I'm not an expert or anything, but I was kind of a dick about girls when I was--right up until I had to get married."
"Yeah. I'd fuck them and never call, and if they called me I'd fuck them again and still never call. I figured if I wasn't leading them on I wasn't a dick. And--" He sighs. "I'm a poor biracial kid with a shitty family. I never expected anyone to really be interested in me, so I shut myself off before I could get hurt."
"And then Roma got pregnant and she had to keep you," Clarke says.
"I think she's stupid to give you up," she says, and he laughs.
"I don't. Like I said, I bet all of us can do better."
Clarke breaks up with Niylah that night, mostly because it feels polite. If she waits for tomorrow night, then Niylah has to go to work in the morning, and a full day off to process feels better. It's the nicest way she can do it.
It's a shitty conversation, but not as bad as she feared. Niylah throws a few things in her face and Clarke takes them, figures she deserves them. But at the end, Niylah admits, "You're right, it wasn't working," and they both apologize.
It's odd, feeling like breaking up was the more adult decision. She's used to thinking that adults deal with their feelings and make it work, but maybe it's better to recognize that not everything can work.
She and Niylah had an expiration date. It's not a happy thought, but it's true. And she did the right thing.
On Sunday, she hangs out with Bellamy and Marcus and plays video games in her pajamas, and on Monday she goes back to work, and life goes on. Life falls into a much easier routine, actually. It's like a strange weight is off Clarke, and it makes her feel guilty, until she reminds herself that breaking up is supposed to be a good thing. If it wasn't going to make her feel better, she wouldn't have done it.
And it's hard to feel guilty for not feeling bad, because most of the time, she just feels good. Now that Bellamy lives with her, she sees more of Octavia and Luna, and starts getting to know Miller and Monty. Bellamy never used to go out for drinks with their coworkers, which makes sense in retrospect, but after going to the first one and feeling awkward, Clarke stopped going herself. With an ally, it's easier to go, and she starts socializing with other people.
It feels like she's finally finding a routine, a place of her own, and she doesn't realize how unstable it is, not until Octavia asks Bellamy, "How's finding a new place going?"
He's been living with her for just about two months, and it's impossible to really forget the details of his life--Marcus is around all the time, and they talk about Roma and the divorce--but she somehow hadn't thought about him leaving. It's nice, living with Bellamy. They have a good routine.
She doesn't really want him to leave, and it's incredibly unrealistic. He's temporary. She's always known he's temporary. He has a son, and he deserves to get his son. And he needs a place where he and Marcus could live, not just--crash. Even with Bellamy around, Clarke is pretty sure her apartment isn't a real place for Marcus. It's like summer camp, and he likes it, but it's not the same as his life.
"Not that well," Bellamy tells his sister, and Clarke feels tension she didn't want to be holding draining from her body. "Roma's still--" He glances at Clarke; this they have talked about, and it's probably part of why she hasn't been worried. "I don't know how to make her get that she's not ready for this without hurting Marcus."
"It's not fair," Octavia says, fierce. "You do all the work and she thinks she gets all the credit."
"Parenthood isn't about credit, O," Bellamy says, with the weariness of someone who's had this conversation a lot. "And she's doing work. He sleeps at her place most nights. They're paying for most of his stuff. I'm still not really a viable parent on my own."
"You could be. You would be, if--"
"I'm better off saving money for now," he says. "What we're doing now--it's not bad."
"She's going to want to get divorced soon. And when she does, she's still going to fight you for custody."
"I know," says Bellamy. His voice is weary, and Clarke almost reaches for him, until she remembers it would be weird. "You're not telling me anything new, O. If I found a good place I'd live there, but it doesn't really matter. If she pushes for the divorce and the custody now, I'm going to lose it. Even if I have my own place."
"I didn't mean it in a bad way," Octavia mutters, and Clarke and Luna exchange a look, so natural it doesn't even occur to her how weird it is. Her and Luna, not stepping in, just quietly siding with their respective Blakes.
"Do you think she's going to press the divorce soon?" Clarke asks him later, when they're walking home.
He scrubs his face. "Fuck, I don't know. It's not like I don't worry about it all the fucking time, and then I think--it's stupid. She's not trying to take him away from me. She just thinks sole custody would be better for him. She's probably even right. But I don't want to--I don't want to lose my legal rights to him. I don't want her to be able to move and take him away. And--" He smiles at her, one side of his mouth twitching up. It's a good look for him. "I think your idea was the best plan I had. But I don't think she's getting it."
"So you need a new plan," Clarke says, hating it, because a new plan probably involves a new place. It involves change, and she likes this.
But it's the right thing.
"I think I need to talk to Roma. Just lay it out. I might need to do--trial custody. Actually tell Marcus he can't come over. But it feels like punishing him for her."
Marcus spends the night most Fridays, and he's usually around at least two weekdays. It's a huge pain for Bellamy, not that he'd ever say as much, because he spends at least an hour a day just bringing Marcus home, taking care of him in ways he wouldn't have to if they just lived together. He doesn't mind, would do everything he had to and more, but it nags at Clarke.
"You guys haven't talked in a few weeks, right?"
"Not about anything important. Just--logistics. When I'm bringing him home and stuff. This is probably pretty good for her, honestly. I'm out of the house, Marcus comes to me with homework and problems. And if I tell him he can't, I don't think he'll start going to them. And if I tell her that, it sounds like I'm saying she's a bad mother."
"And you're never willing to say that."
"What I said to O was true. Roma does lots of important stuff. But--I think what I do is more important. And that fucking sucks."
He smiles, all wry self-deprecation. "Most judges consider food and shelter more important than love. And I can't really disagree with them. And obviously she loves him," he adds, fast, and Clarke slides her arm through his out of a general sense of overwhelming fondness.
"You're a really good dad, Bellamy," she says. "Everyone in the world should be able to see that. She doesn't have to be bad for you to be better."
"Thanks," he says. "You think I should talk to her?"
"I think so. I just don't know what you should say."
"Can't believe you don't have the answers to all my problems," he says, and he's teasing, she knows it, but--
She squeezes his arm. "I wish I did."
His voice sounds thick. "I know. Thanks, Clarke."
A week later, Clarke has her first time being truly alone with Marcus. It's Saturday morning, and Bellamy is meeting with a lawyer friend of Miller's, and she's planning to just hang out watching Netflix until he gets back and they can resume their Luke Cage binge. The door buzzer is completely unexpected, and she almost doesn't go to check it, but it doesn't stop, and it's bugging the shit out of her.
Marcus is in the entryway with his backpack and a sleeping bag, shifting from foot to foot, not looking at her.
"Hi," she says, wary.
Her first impulse is to ask him where Bellamy is, but she knows where Bellamy is. She's never met Roma, but if Roma was involved, it seems as if she'd be here, interacting with Clarke somehow. Dropping him off. So there's no reason to bring her up either.
"You want cereal?" Clarke finally asks.
"Yeah," says Marcus, and follows her back up to the condo. She gets him set up with a bowl of Cheerios on the couch and goes to call Bellamy, because she doesn't have a better way to deal with the situation. His phone goes straight to voicemail and so does Octavia's, and she doesn't have Roma's number, so she just sends Bellamy a text--Marcus is here. I think he was running away from home. I've got him on the couch with video games. Lmk what else I should be doing.--and goes back to the living room.
He's looking down at his bowl, not eating, and Clarke sits next to him gingerly, like he's a wild animal. She doesn't know exactly what to do with Marcus. She likes him, of course. He's bright and sharp, likes all the things she'd expect from an eight-year-old boy and plenty she wouldn't. He likes to draw with her sometimes, likes to hear how he can be better. He loves to read, with or without Bellamy.
It doesn't feel like enough to keep him occupied, but then again, he showed up at her door with his possessions. If he was a friend, she'd ask him what was up.
Just because he's a child doesn't mean he's not a person.
"So, what's up?" she asks.
Marcus looks at her, quick, and then back into his bowl. "Nothing."
She snorts. "Dude. You showed up at my apartment with your sleeping bag and a backpack full of stuff. Without your dad. Did you take the train?"
"It's not hard," says Marcus, petulant. "I do it with Dad all the time. I just had to get on and wait for the right stop. And I knew the way. All I had to do was walk."
"You didn't have to walk," Clarke points out. "You came over. That means something's up."
"I just wanted to play games."
"Yeah, definitely not. Sorry. I don't buy it." She pauses and then asks, "Does your mom know where you are?"
His scowl is quick, but Clarke catches it. "She doesn't care."
"She does. Look, I know where your dad is most of the time and I'm not even legally responsible for him. It's just kind of normal when you live with someone. If he goes out, I ask where he's going. Your mom definitely cares where you are."
"Sterling wants to move," Marcus admits, quiet.
Clarke's heart lodges somewhere in her throat. "Where?"
"I don't know. I heard them talking about it. Where his mom lives, I guess. She's sick. Mom says we can't move until the divorce is finalized and she doesn't want to take me out of school, but she doesn't have to. I can just stay here with Dad. And then I can stay in school and they'd leave."
"And you wouldn't mind?"
He sinks further into himself. "She likes Sterling better than me and Dad anyway."
"Hey, no," says Clarke. "I know--I get why you feel like that. My parents got divorced when I was eleven. But I promise she loves you just as much as she loves him."
"Really?" he asks, like this is some amazing coincidence. Like the world isn't full of broken up marriages.
"Yeah. And I figured--I don't know. I was a lot closer to my dad than my mom, the same way you are. Especially with the divorce. I thought it was her fault. But--people staying married when they don't love each other isn't good either."
"Why don't they love each other?" he asks.
"I don't know. They do, I guess. My parents never stopped loving each other. They just didn't want to be married anymore."
Marcus thinks it over. "Does my dad want to be married to you?"
It shouldn't surprise her. Honestly, she should have been preparing herself for the question. It's what she would have asked, in his place, because that's the nice story, isn't it? There's a reason his parents are breaking up, and if Clarke were him, she'd sort of hope Bellamy had someone too. It would make Roma feel less like a villain.
"He hasn't mentioned it to me," she says. "And he probably would have told one of us, right?"
That gets a smile out of him. "Right."
"Have you talked to your mom about it?" she finally asks. It's what she always asks Bellamy; if she's treating Marcus like a person, she should ask him too. "The divorce and her moving and stuff."
"They don't want to talk about it," he says. "Her and Dad and Sterling. None of them want to."
"Yeah, it sucks to talk about. But you guys need to do it."
"I don't want Dad to tell me he doesn't want me," he admits, soft.
"He does," Clarke says, instantly. She doesn't know how to not tell him that. He sounds so scared. "Of course he wants you. Your dad loves you more than anything. As soon as he gets my text that you're here, he's going to be terrified."
"You told him?"
"He'd find out when he got back anyway," she points out. "And I don't have your mom's number, so if she calls him, he can tell her where you are."
"Do you really think she'll call?"
"Yeah. As soon as she notices you're gone."
"I still don't know why I can't just live here. Dad's bed is big enough. And I have my sleeping bag. I could just sleep on the floor."
"You don't want to sleep on the floor for more than a day or two. I know you're young, but you can still do serious damage to your back. And you don't want to share a bed with your dad forever. Not that you should care what the other kids think of you, but that's just giving them ammo."
Marcus does not look impressed. "I'm pretty sure adults aren't supposed to say that."
"I'm not a very good adult."
"Did you live with your mom or your dad after they got divorced?"
"My mom. My dad stayed close for a while, but he got offered a really good new job about a year later, and then my mom moved us to DC. So I didn't see him except at holidays for a while."
"I don't want it to be like that."
"I know," Clarke says. "I don't think your dad would let that happen. But--you should tell your mom that."
"Tell her what?"
"That you want to stay with your dad."
"Did you tell your mom that?"
"Yeah," Clarke admits. "I'm not going to promise it's going to work. But--it can't hurt, right? The worst she can do is not care and move with you anyway."
"I guess," he says, and Clarke thinks she knows what he's thinking. Because if he says that, and it doesn't make a difference, he knows for the rest of his life that his parents decided where he would go, and they didn't listen to him. And Clarke knows what it's like, living with that knowledge.
"You want to play video games until your dad calls?"
"Yeah," he says. "Thanks, Clarke."
Bellamy does call about fifteen minutes later, as frantic as Clarke expected. She goes into the kitchen to talk him down, and it isn't even hard.
"He overheard Roma talking about how Sterling wants to move out of town," she says. "So he decided to run away. He said he took the train by himself and knew the way, which I believe. He's old enough to remember that stuff. We talked and played some video games. I think if you just talk to him, you can bring him home." She wets her lips. "He thought Roma wouldn't notice he was gone."
"She did. But she assumed I'd just come to pick him up, so she told me to let her know next time." He lets out a sigh. "Thanks for keeping an eye on him."
"You don't have to thank me," she says. "I don't mind."
"Just come home already," she says, and when she hangs up, she stares at the phone for a long minute, throat suddenly dry.
Home, she thinks, and for the first time she wonders if she's in trouble.
Clarke has had two boyfriends and two girlfriends. The first was Myles, in high school, whom she thinks of as her starter boyfriend. He was nice enough, and she liked him, but they hadn't been anything special. In a way, Niylah feels like a bookend to that, someone safe after the twin disasters of Finn and Lexa in college.
Bellamy isn't like anyone else Clarke has ever had in her life. He's not like her previous roommates, because she feels like she really lives with him. Like they have a mutually beneficial coexistence, instead of just sharing the same space for convenience. He's easy to talk to, even when they're talking about difficult things. He's smart and he's capable and he's honestly one of her best friends, even if they've only known each other for a few months.
And that's all fine. Great, even. And she was doing really well with not thinking about the other parts of Bellamy. It didn't even feel difficult. In some ways, it was easier to not be attracted to him, after he moved in. It's one thing to occasionally admire his arms or the curve of his smile at work, but it's another to check out your roommate. At first, it was because of Niylah, and then even when they broke up, it was probably because of Niylah too. Clarke doesn't want her to have been right, to have been justified in her suspicions.
But he is handsome. And he has the best smile in the entire world, and he's kind and loyal and a good father, and Clarke might actually be in love with him.
Which is up there with the stupidest things she's ever done.
"I need to talk something through with you," she tells Raven.
It's two days before Thanksgiving, and Clarke is in DC to spend the holiday with her family, even though she really doesn't want to. Her dad is here with his new girlfriend, which she broadly approves of, but being reminded of the ins and outs of divorce and remarrying is really not something she wants right now. Bellamy and Roma had a few good conversations in the month since Marcus ran away, and now they're on pause for the holidays, back to a holding pattern. No one is moving away, they've both promised Marcus, but he's going for Christmas with her and Sterling for almost two weeks without Bellamy, and it's pretty obvious to everyone it's a test run of how it would be for them as their own family unit in Wisconsin. It's a good thing, broadly, for everyone to try, but it's a month away, and she's pretty sure Bellamy just wishes it was over.
Raven raises her eyebrows. "Yeah? How bad? Scale of one to ten."
Clarke and Raven went through the Finn thing together in college, which was definitely a ten on the badness scale, and then the Lexa thing, which was a hard nine. Raven knows from bad.
"Bad? Probably just--seven or eight. But ten on complexity."
"Huh. Okay, cool. Hit me."
"I've got a thing for my new roommate."
"Is he the hot guy with the curly hair you keep getting tagged with on Facebook?"
"That's really not a surprise. He's hot and you guys are always cuddling."
"We're not cuddling, we're squishing together for photos," Clarke grumbles.
"Uh huh. So what's the issue? Is he why you and your girlfriend broke up? Fucked up, but understandable. Just roommate isn't that bad. You guys are already living together. It's convenient."
"No, he's not why we broke up. He's married," she admits, and Raven chokes on her beer. "Separated, I guess? Definitely working on getting a divorce. And he only married her in the first place because she got pregnant, so he's got an eight-year-old son who hangs out on my couch half the time, but his ex wants full custody so he's kind of a mess right now. So--yeah. That's what's happening."
Raven blinks. "Wow."
"And you still want to date him?"
"What do you mean?" Clarke asks, frowning.
"I mean, he's got a kid. No offense, but I've never really thought of you as super maternal. You really want that?"
"Oh. Yeah, I guess--yeah."
Clarke wouldn't really identify as particularly maternal either, honestly. She likes kids as a concept, and always assumed she'd have one or two, in the same way she assumed she'd get married some day. But she doesn't know much about parenting.
"Just saying," Raven adds. "You might be, but--fuck. A kid. You were, what, sixteen when he was born?"
"He's a good kid," Clarke says. "I like him."
"No, I know." She looks down at her hands. "I sort of assumed if he got custody, I wouldn't really see him anymore anyway. God, that sounds shitty. He'll just be finding his own place and he'll be busy with Marcus so--I want him to get custody. He's a great dad. And I think it would break both their hearts if he didn't."
Raven pauses, looking critically at Clarke across the bar. "I guess I buy into some stupid shit," she says.
"My mom sucked. Your mom is a better parent to me than she was to you." Clarke snorts and she grins. "Should have gone to med school and gotten into an accident where she had to put your leg back together."
"I should have."
"Never too late to break your leg. I know a guy."
"Thanks, Jean Raphio. Did you have a point?"
"Maternal is stupid, as a concept. And I have no idea what to tell you about your whole roommate thing. But it's obvious you care about that kid a lot. And that's the most important thing."
Clarke swallows. "I don't care about him like a parent."
"Yeah, well, you're not a parent. You're a roommate. But if that guy wants to make out with you--and he definitely does--I think you're going to be better than any of my mom's boyfriends ever were." She signals the bartender and gets another round. "So what's the plan?"
"When's the trial? How are you helping him? What are you telling him?"
"Oh. His ex and her boyfriend are thinking about moving to Wisconsin. Family illness. So they're taking Marcus home with them for Christmas, and Bellamy is staying in Boston. So they actually have to try to be a family unit without him. And then when they see how that goes, they're going to figure it out."
"What are you doing for Christmas?"
She tries not to flush. "Staying in Boston, obviously."
"Obviously. You've got it bad."
"Yeah," Clarke agrees. "The worst."
If Clarke hadn't already figured out she had a thing for Bellamy, December would have done it. She never got particularly involved in family excursions before, but there's a hill by her place that Bellamy identifies as perfect for sledding, and when she's right there, she doesn't have any excuse to stay home. Especially with both Blakes looking at her with wide, hopeful eyes, their combined cuteness too much for one woman to ever hope to resist.
Bellamy lets Marcus carry the sleds and run ahead while they lag, chatting easily. He bundled the kid up so tight Clarke is mildly amazed he can move as quickly as he is, but apparently where there's a will, there's a way. Bellamy himself is kind of unfairly attractive dressed in wintertime, hair curling out from under a black beanie, wearing a scarf and pea coat. It's bad enough when they're walking to work, but somehow even worse like this.
A woman smiles at her, an approval in her gaze Clarke isn't used to, and when her eyes flick to Bellamy, the realization hits her all at once: they look like a family. She's walking at Bellamy's side, talking with him easily, and anyone would assume she's his wife and Marcus's mother. It's not even an assumption she can get angry about, like the way people think they know her sexuality based on her current significant other. This actually looks like--well, it doesn't look like what it is.
It doesn't stop, obviously. They have two plastic sleds, one a disk, the other for two people, and every possible combination of people and sleds is a lot to handle. Her on the disk while Bellamy holds his son on the sled, Bellamy on the disk with her and Marcus trying to knock each other into the snow, those are both a lot.
But the worst is Marcus on the disk and her and Bellamy together, because Bellamy decides he should be holding her too, like this is just how people sled, the person in the back hugging the one in the front. Even through more than a few layers, it's too easy to settle back against him, to let herself think about doing this again. About always feeling like this, like she belongs with them.
After, they sit on her couch and drink hot chocolate and play video games, and the feeling of belonging doesn't fade. Clarke hasn't ever really pictured herself as fitting in with them like this, but now it seems so easy. Her and Bellamy curled together on the couch while Marcus draws on the floor, him going to sleep in Bellamy's room and Bellamy following Clarke back to hers.
It's probably good she never thought about it before. The ache of it is so deep she almost can't stand it for a minute. She can't feel like this all the time. It's going to be too much.
And then, after dinner, they start a movie and Marcus falls asleep at her side, a warm, small body curled against her, so dear it makes her throat close.
She loves him, and she didn't even realize it. It would have been easier, to not realize it.
"Sorry," Bellamy murmurs, soft. He's watching the two of them in a way that makes Clarke itch. She doesn't know what he sees when she and Marcus are together, but she knows exactly what she hopes he sees. "I can take him."
"No, I don't mind," she says. "We can finish the movie." She lets her hand stroke Marcus's hair, soft and thick under her fingers. He sighs in his sleep. "Is he staying the night?"
"Yeah, he better. He's not going to do well on the train. I should text Roma."
He gets up quietly to find his phone, and when he sits back down, he's closer, close enough Clarke could just lean into him. She very nearly does it, except that knowing how this feels is bad enough without adding Bellamy himself into the equation.
The movie ends, and Bellamy gathers Marcus out of her lap and into his arms to take him to bed. Clarke thinks about retreating to her own room, escaping the weight of the night, but the house is warm and dark, and she can't help wanting to know if he's going to do anything. To say anything. It doesn't feel like this could just be her.
He does join her again, sitting back by her side, closer than he has to.
"Christmas is going to suck, isn't it?" he asks, and it makes her smile.
"That's the spirit."
He smiles too, but he's not looking at her. "Just--this was really nice. I wish it was going to be the three of us." Clarke freezes; Bellamy looks vaguely panicked. "Not, uh--just--I didn't mean--"
"I'm going to miss him too, yeah," she says, and moves the last few inches to tuck herself into his side. It's his turn to freeze, but he relaxes quickly, wraps his arm around her and pulls her close. "You want to watch something else?" she asks. It's Saturday, and she has nothing to do tomorrow at all.
"Yeah. Sounds good."
She's not sure when she falls asleep, but Bellamy picks her up too, carries her into bed. She wakes up as he's putting her down, just enough to wonder, briefly, about not letting go of him, tugging him down with her. But Marcus would be confused, so he wouldn't stay, and she doesn't want to hear him say no.
"Goodnight," she murmurs instead.
"Night," he agrees, and she's asleep again before he's out of the room.
It's as seismic a shift as when she realized how she felt about Bellamy, if not more. Even if the way she feels about Bellamy is different from her other crushes, she's never wanted something like this before. It's as if she's fallen in love with an entire life, and she's sure she's going to get her heart broken, because even if she gets him, she doesn't think she can get everything she wants.
The only upside is that things seem to have changed for Bellamy too. There's something different in the way he looks at her, the way he moves by her. Clarke always thought he liked her, but she never really thought he'd really keep her once he moved out, not even as a friend. She was helpful, and she knew he was enormously grateful to her. But he had more important things to worry about than--her. He's busy.
Now, she wonders if he maybe thought she didn't want to worry about it. Every time she realizes another thing about Bellamy's life she can't understand, it's staggering, but this one makes sense. Bellamy might want her--she'd wondered about it before, even before she realized how she felt, in the same way she always wonders, idly, if all attractive people might like her--but Bellamy probably didn't think he could have her. Not like how he'd want to have someone. Clarke likes and enjoys Marcus, but it's just what Raven said: she's not a mother.
But she could be a part of the family. And she wants it with a longing she didn't know was possible.
And for all she wants it, she's sure if Bellamy wants it, he wants it even more. She wants a partner; he needs one.
So, yeah. It's different, once they've both gotten a real taste of it. It's not how life would be, if Bellamy got custody. It was a good day, and there would be bad ones. Marcus is getting moodier as they get closer to Christmas, angry at his mother for taking him away for the holidays and angry at Bellamy for not stopping her, and that would happen even more. But it feels like they could survive that. It feels like they'd be good.
Marcus must think so too, because she's the one he asks about the holiday trip. "What if we don't come back?" he says. Bellamy is on the phone with Roma in the other room; they're private. "What if we're really moving and she doesn't want me to know?"
"You'd notice them packing up all the stuff in your house," Clarke tells him. "Have you ever moved before?" He shakes his head. "You have to pack up the whole house. So if they do that, you'll know. And then you worry."
"You could just tell him it's not happening," Bellamy remarks. Clarke and Marcus both jump, guilty, and he smiles at them. "Trust me, Marcus. You're coming back."
"He asked me, not you," Clarke says. "You're trustworthy, you can just give your word and people believe you. I'm better with evidence. They're not just going to leave all your stuff behind."
Bellamy rolls his eyes, but he's still smiling. He sits down next to Clarke, leaning across her to talk to Marcus, the kind of contact with her he's been favoring lately. Plausibly deniable. "If you move, you're not moving until summer. I promise."
"They wouldn't tell you either," Marcus says. "I'm looking for boxes."
"If you want," Clarke agrees. "But you know if there was anything to worry about, your dad would be worried. Your dad's the best at worrying."
"Yeah," Marcus agrees, and Bellamy snorts.
"Thanks, guys. Really."
Clarke glances over her shoulder to grin at him, and it's a huge mistake, because he's already close, smiling down at her, not upset at all, and it would be easy for her to lean up and press her mouth against his.
"I don't want to go," Marcus admits, soft, and Clarke and Bellamy both turn their attention back to him. "I don't get why I have to go. Or why you can't come too."
Clarke's stomach flips when she realizes he means both of them.
Bellamy sighs, slides out from behind Clarke and picks Marcus up to put in his lap. He'll be nine in January, and Clarke wonders when he'll be too old to sit in his father's lap.
"I can't go because joint custody is complicated, and I think it wouldn't be good," he admits. "That would be where your mom gets you sometimes and I get you other times. That's--easier, because then we don't have to--when people get divorced, they split up all the stuff they owned together. And it's really weird, treating kids like one of those things. But they do, and if your mom and I can't agree on how to do it, a judge is going to tell us how. It's a lot better if we can agree."
Marcus squirms, and Bellamy doesn't let go. "So you're just going to give her to me, like you gave her the house!"
"No." He glances at Clarke, like he's checking in, and she smiles. "If we can't agree, I'm going to fight for you. I'm going to tell the judge I want you and I don't want to give you up. But you might like Wisconsin, and Sterling's family. And you should give it a chance, okay? I just want you to be happy, Marcus. And if that's going to make you happy, that's fine."
"I'm going to hate it," he mutters.
"You might. But it could be cool, too."
"What are you going to do for Christmas?"
"Me and Clarke will do something fun. Probably Aunt Octavia will come over too. And we'll call or skype or something so you can see us."
"And we're doing our own Christmas with Mom before I leave," says Marcus.
"And that," Bellamy agrees. "You're going to have fun. We will too. Not as much as if you were here, but--I think it's a good idea for you to go. You can't know you aren't going to like it if you don't give it a chance."
"Yes I can," he says; Clarke offers her fist for him to bump.
"You're not helping," Bellamy tells her, but his smile says the opposite, and Clarke returns it.
"Thanks for coming to this," Bellamy says. They're on the train, heading out to Bellamy's old house for the pre-Christmas Christmas celebration. "It's probably going to be awkward."
"Honestly, I'm kind of curious to meet Roma and Sterling."
"Yeah, I was afraid of that," he teases, and she elbows him. "No, honestly, I'm really glad you're coming. Octavia's going to be on the offensive, I need someone on my side who knows how to be mad and polite at the same time."
"You think I'm going to be mad?"
He raises his eyebrows at her. "I think you're already mad."
"Okay, fine. You think I'm going to get madder?"
"Honestly, no idea. It's Christmas. We're going to have dinner and exchange presents. It probably depends on what you think of Roma."
"I guess I don't really know anything about her, except that you got her pregnant."
"Which is her major personality trait." He shrugs, looking out the window. "I like her, which is lucky. Marrying the girl you accidentally knock up can probably go pretty wrong. I think we'd be pretty good friends, but--now it's complicated."
"She made it complicated," Clarke points out.
"Divorce made it complicated. And I can't blame her for that. I want her to just give me Marcus, but--it's not like she doesn't love him."
"But he wants to stay with you."
"Yeah." His smile is wry. "I feel kind of bad for her about that, honestly. He's been pretty vocal about that, and it's gotta be hard to hear."
"I'll feel bad for her when she gives you custody," she grumbles.
"She still says she's worried about my finances. And it's not like I'm not. I still don't have a place for him to live, even if he's convinced he'd be happy on your couch forever."
"Are you still looking?"
"Not really," he admits. "If they move and don't take him, I could probably afford the house on my own, at least until the lease is up. And then I could find us a new place."
"Yeah," Clarke agrees, like she doesn't have two rooms that could easily be divided among three people. Like the sleds--they just need to rearrange themselves.
But it's a lot to just ask someone.
"If she wants to fight, I've got a couple leads. I think I could make myself look like a pretty good dad."
"You are a good dad," Clarke says, instant, and he grins.
"Yeah, but I don't look like one."
"We can make sure you do."
"Yeah," he agrees, soft, and then clears his throat. "Yeah, uh--I think you'd like Roma if you guys weren't on opposite sides of a divorce. Sterling is fine, even if he doesn't like me."
"Because of the divorce?"
"No, not just that. He doesn't like me because I'm Roma's husband and Marcus's dad. He got over the Roma part, because we're really not like that, but--the Marcus part is hard for them."
"They don't have to be assholes just because they're jealous."
"No, but I get it." He lets out a breath. "Come to think of it, Roma might be jealous of you too."
"Because of Marcus?"
"You're both on my side. And he adores you."
"I just get to be fun," Clarke says, trying to keep her voice even. "I don't have to actually do parenting."
"No," he agrees. "But you're good at--I don't know. Talking to him. You take him seriously, and he likes your sense of humor."
"He must get that from you. You guys have such shitty taste."
"Clarke," he says, and it's actually serious. She meets his eyes, even though she's been trying to avoid it recently. "You're great with him. You know that, right?"
"Yeah," she says. "He's a great kid."
"Yeah," Bellamy agrees, and they lapse into silence.
That's the thing about being on the edge of something; even if it's a good thing, even if you want it to happen, the idea of falling is still terrifying.
The house that Clarke still thinks of as Bellamy's is a duplex, the second floor of a white building with peeling paint. There's a tree with a swing on it, something that feels surprisingly rustic for the city, and Clarke can't help thinking of the park near her condo, the one with slides and and a jungle gym, on top of a full swing set.
There's probably something like that near here too. Her neighborhood is nicer, because she has more money. That doesn't make it a better place.
Bellamy lets out a breath. "Ready?"
She gives his hand a quick squeeze. "I am. Are you?"
"If there are moving boxes, I'm going to freak out."
"They're not stealing him."
"Not yet." He squeezes her fingers back, once, and then lets go to knock on the door.
Marcus is the one who opens it, and he grins at the sight of them. He's wearing a bowtie and someone has tried to slick his hair down, which seems excessive. He's eight and it's a family party. Bellamy should definitely get custody.
"Clarke! Mom said I could give you a tour. Do you want to see my room? You haven't seen my room."
"Let her take her coat off first," Bellamy chides, gentle. "Then you can show her around. Is Aunt Octavia here yet?"
"Nuh uh. Mom and Sterling are cooking. You can put your coat in here, Clarke," he adds, opening a closet for her.
"Thanks," she says. "You're a way better host than I am."
He takes her hand and tugs her. "My room's back here."
"Introduce her to your mom and Sterling at some point," Bellamy advises, but to her surprise he doesn't follow them, ducks off into another room and leaves Marcus to guide her down the hall alone. It's a little run down, but nice, and Clarke can't help giving Bellamy the credit for that. It feels like him, more than her place feels like her. Bellamy knows how to make a home.
For Marcus, giving Clarke a tour actually means taking her directly to his room so he can show off his action figures and favorite Lego creations, which she's more than happy to see, but it feels a little like hiding. She should be off talking to adults, even if sitting on Marcus's floor with him is more appealing. She's here to meet people. Maybe.
Honestly, she doesn't really know why she's here. She's not family. So she's going to keep on sitting on Marcus's floor for as long as possible. Which turns out to be until Octavia and Luna arrive and her conscience gets the best of her.
"We should go out there," she tells Marcus.
"It probably stopped being awkward," he agrees.
"Your mom and dad?"
"Yeah. Does it get better? Are your parents still weird?"
"Not really," she says, standing and offering him a hand up. "They didn't see each other for a while, but--your parents got along okay before, right?"
"I don't think that goes away. Especially with--" She makes a face. "You're the only thing they're fighting about."
"No one else is willing to say that," he says. "That they're fighting over me."
"It's not like you don't know," she says.
He nods. "Are you marrying my dad yet?"
"He hasn't said anything to me. You?"
"Then I guess I'm not. Let's go socialize."
Roma Cooper is tall and dark-haired, pretty in a way Clarke has never thought of herself as being, and that makes her gut twist. Her smile for Clarke is polite but distant, and Clarke is too aware of Marcus's hand in hers. It feels like she's interrupting. It definitely feels like they walked in on something that no one wanted Marcus to overhear.
"Hi," she says. "Sorry for not coming out sooner, Marcus was giving me the tour." She offers Roma her hand. "I'm Clarke, it's so nice to finally meet you."
"You too. I can't thank you enough for letting Marcus stay with you."
"He stays in Bellamy's room," Clarke says. "Mostly." She grins at Marcus. "Except when he's stealing my TV or my cat."
"I'm borrowing them," Marcus says, grinning back, and Octavia makes a noise that Clarke can't quite interpret. But she figures she could probably be a little less--easy. With Marcus.
"And you must be Sterling?" she offers, and they shake hands as well.
"Nice to meet you," he says. "Dinner first, presents second?" he adds, and it's--
Well, okay, it's awkward. It's a party made up of people with tenuous, strange connections, and they don't have much common ground to discuss. TV is the most successful, and Marcus has a lot to say about books, even if no one but Bellamy has read most of the things he has. Clarke and Bellamy can tell some fun work stories, and Luna is a teacher, which means she always has fun kid stories, even if some of those go over Marcus's head.
Clarke finds herself mostly watching Roma, trying to put the puzzle together. Roma is, after all, Marcus's mother, and still Bellamy's wife. She must have had some influence on both of them.
There are definitely parts of Roma in Marcus's face; she can see where he takes after his mother, as well as his father. And there's something of her in the way he shows his emotions, the way he carries himself.
It was easy to tell herself he was Bellamy's and Bellamy's alone, but it's not true. And it's impossible to tell herself that Marcus's mother doesn't love him. But the strain never leaves her eyes when she looks at her son, and that's the only time the strain leaves Bellamy's. She thinks that means something too.
After dinner, they exchange presents, which really just means all the adults give Marcus presents and Marcus gives them cards or small gifts. Clarke rates a clay dinosaur he made in art class, which actually gets her choked up, and when they're leaving she hugs him tight and tells him she loves it.
She won't see him again until the new year; she's trying not to think about that.
"So?" Bellamy asks. "What do you think?"
"It went about as well as it could have. No one killed anyone. Octavia and Roma were civil." She looks at him. "Marcus is going to be fine. Even if--I wanted to stay with my dad and I was pissed that my mom got custody. But she loved me and wanted me, and I know how lucky I was. That's how it would be for him."
He lets out a breath. "I know. That makes it worse sometimes. Like I should just--"
"You shouldn't. He'd be happier with you. And--if he thinks you don't want him, that's going to be worse. You shouldn't sacrifice yourself to make Roma look better. Not unless it's good for him."
He leans his head against hers, all warmth. "Have I ever told you how much I appreciate you?"
"Not in those exact words."
"I really do."
She's going to kiss him before the new year. There's no way she doesn't. Marcus won't be around to be a buffer and they'll both be missing him. It's inevitable.
"I know," she says. "You want to get drunk when we get home?"
"We have work tomorrow."
"The question stands."
He laughs. He's still leaning on her. "Yeah. I really do."
The office is closed on the twenty-third and the twenty-sixth, so she and Bellamy have a four-day weekend and no real plans. They've been getting periodic updates on Wisconsin, which is apparently going awkwardly. Marcus is being difficult, which doesn't surprise her, because she's pretty sure even if Bellamy gets him, he'll be difficult. Divorce is difficult because change is difficult. Marcus wants to stay with Bellamy, but she knows that no matter how much he might like her and Sterling, what he really wants is for none of this to have ever happened. For his life to go back how it was. And that's not possible. They're coming up with a best-case scenario now, and all of them will still be bad.
But there's nothing they can do about it now, so Clarke figures they should just have the best holiday they can. Bellamy hasn't ever seen Parks and Rec, so that's their plan for the long weekend. They'll have dinner with Octavia and Luna on Christmas Day but no plans aside from that, and she's looking forward to it, except for the way she can feel Marcus's absence.
Even the cat misses him.
"What did you tell your parents?" Bellamy asks on Christmas Eve. He's been antsy all day, and Clarke would ask why, except she already knows. It's his first Christmas without Marcus. Of course he's antsy.
"Why you weren't coming home."
"I said I didn't want to take time off work," she says. "And that I wanted to hang out with you."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. Were they upset?"
"My dad is with his girlfriend's daughter and her ex in Washington, so he wasn't planning to see me anyway. My mom was mostly just suspicious."
He frowns. "What did you tell her?"
"That it was your first Christmas without your son and I wanted to be here for you. It was perfect. She couldn't argue without being a total asshole."
"Always glad to help." He sighs. "Marcus and I always stayed up to midnight together. He got to open one present."
"So call him at midnight here and stay up for an hour," she says. "You gave him presents to bring with him too, right? I did if you didn't."
"Of course I did."
"So tell him one he can open." She puts her head on his shoulder. "It sucks but you don't have to be a martyr about it. Just make it work."
"Thanks for the pep talk."
"Seriously. You don't have to give up your traditions, just adapt them."
"Yeah," he agrees. "Okay." She feels his lips press against her hair. "Thanks, Clarke."
She goes into her room once the call starts, both to give them privacy and finish up on Bellamy's present, but she's not surprised when there's a knock on the door at midnight and it's Bellamy and Marcus wanting to wish her a merry Christmas.
"Merry Christmas to you too," she tells Marcus, once Bellamy gives her the phone.
"Thanks! I didn't get a midnight present for Dad. Do you have one you can give him?"
She glances at Bellamy, who is awkwardly studying her bookshelf in an attempt to give them privacy. "Yeah," she says. "I can find something. What did he get you?"
"A Yoshi Amiibo! We're gonna teach it how to fight, it'll be so cool."
"A Yoshi Amiibo, huh?" she asks, and watches Bellamy's neck go red. It seems like a very optimistic present; not only will Marcus have to stay in town, but she'll have to stay in their lives. A lot. He doesn't have a Wii of his own for it. "That sounds awesome. I don't know how they work, you'll have to show me."
"Yeah! I've got a couple days of break when we get home, I bet I can stay with you guys."
"As long as your parents don't mind, I don't mind," she says.
"Are you getting a present at midnight?"
"I better be. Here, ask your dad. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas!" he says, and Clarke passes the phone back to Bellamy.
The call doesn't go much longer, and when it's done Bellamy comes back, still a little red.
"Marcus says we have to do presents. He made Roma and Sterling do it too. I might have done too good a job teaching him about traditions."
Clarke smiles. "You've created a monster." She wipes her hands on her pajama bottoms, doesn't look at him as she gets the envelope off her desk and hands it over. "Here. Merry Christmas."
He turns it over a few times, inspecting it. It's nothing special, as envelopes go; aside from being red, it has nothing to set it apart.
"You're supposed to open it," she prompts.
"Oh, right," he says, but the sarcasm doesn't really land, not with how he's looking. He opens it carefully, like he's planning to preserve the envelope for later, and she watches his face as the words hit home.
"One hundred reasons Bellamy Blake is an amazing father," he reads.
"I started it the day you moved in," she says. "It was kind of tough. Not finding enough stuff, but--I ended up doing categories, and then examples. I'm kind of weird with organization. It was so easy to think of things. I just--I don't think you get it, Bellamy. I know you're fighting for him but you think it's selfish and it's not, because you're so--"
It takes only a second for him to drop the list and cup her face in his hands, the kiss quick and sharp and then he's pulling back, face wide open, like he can't believe what he just did.
Clarke can't either, but she mostly can't believe he stopped.
"I guess you like it," she mutters, and tugs him back in, hands bunching on his shirt, leaning up so she can catch his mouth. He smiles into it, and melts as she presses closer, and she's pretty sure the sound he makes when she bites his bottom lip is going to be the second best present she gets this year.
The dinosaur basically has first locked up.
"Clarke," he breathes, and his hand slides up into her hair, keeping her close.
"Hi," she says. She bumps her nose against his. "Was that my present?"
He laughs. "Your present?"
She kisses him again. "Yeah, you're right. My present should be better." Her hands toy with the hem of his shirt, and he wets his lips, looking a little spooked. "Or not," she adds.
"No, uh--" His laugh is slightly disbelieving, and his smile is the best thing she's ever seen. His smile is always the best thing she's ever seen. It's ridiculous, how much she loves him. She doesn't know how it happened. "I want to. It's just--I feel like now is when I'm supposed to give the speech?"
"The one about how I love you and I've been trying to figure out how I got this lucky for months," he says, mouth trailing down her neck. "God, Clarke, I didn't think you could ever--"
"I love you too," she says. "Can I take your shirt off yet?"
He rolls his eyes and tugs it off himself. He's ripped, and Clarke runs her hands over his chest with a sense of genuine wonder, making him laugh. "That's your present?"
"I didn't get to unwrap you," she points out, and he snorts.
"I'll live." She pulls him back toward her bed. "We don't have to have sex," she adds. "I just don't want you to leave."
"Or we could have sex," he says.
"Or we could have sex," she agrees, and pulls her own shirt off. She'd already gotten rid of her bra, so Bellamy's reaction is fairly gratifying, and when he swears under his breath and pushes her back onto the bed, she laughs and goes willingly.
"Seriously," he says. "I'm a fucking mess, I don't see why you'd--"
"Shut up, I don't want to work on your self esteem when I could be getting laid," she says, and pulls him up for a kiss. "You're amazing, Bellamy. And I'm going to tell you all about it. After I get laid."
"You've gotten laid way more recently than I have," he points out. "You don't hear me complaining."
"You should be," she says, but then his hand is on her breast and all the words spill out of her head. She loves his stupid hands, has had more than one guilty fantasy that's just about them, his hands roving all over her, mapping her body.
"I don't mind waiting," he says, and the kiss is sweet even as his touch is making her wild. It's kind of unfair, honestly, that he seems so in control. She did get laid way more recently than he did. He should be a lot hornier.
She pushes him gently, just so she can roll them over, and when she straddles his hips, he looks up at her, all messy hair and bright eyes, and she almost forgets what she was doing. He still just looks happy, and it's hard to be upset about that. Even if she was aiming for overcome with lust.
She leans down and kisses him again, sliding against him deliberately, grinning when he finally groans and presses his hips up against her, desperate.
"Are you trying to prove I'm into you?" he asks. "Because I'm into you. Everyone knows. You should have heard Octavia. Fuck, even Roma was telling me to make a move."
"Please don't talk about the woman you're still technically married to right now," she says. "Just--life tip."
He laughs. "Yeah, okay. I'm just saying. I'm stupid into you, okay?"
"Me too. And I really want you to get stupid in to me," she adds, and he groans.
"Jesus, I can't believe I still want to fuck you after that."
"But you do."
"I do," he says, and pushes her pajamas off. "So, it's been a while, but I think I can still eat you out, if you want."
His fingers slide between her legs, rubbing her clit, and she whimpers against his neck. "You know, I was supposed to be getting you off."
"You're going to. I've been thinking about eating you out for months, though, so if you want to get me turned on, that's a good start."
"If you insist," she says, and he pushes her back against the headboard, kissing her wet and dirty while he gets her ready with his fingers, until she's begging too hard for him to keep kissing her.
He kisses down her chest, lingering briefly at her breasts, but then his mouth is on her clit, and she actually cries out from how good it feels. It's been way too long.
She comes for the first time with his tongue inside her, and once she's recovered she shoves him down, finds a condom, and climbs on top of him, riding him until he goes incoherent, and she comes twice more before he does.
She slumps on top of him, breathless and sated, and his arms wrap around her and his lips press against her hair.
"Fuck," he says, laughing. "God. I didn't think that would actually happen."
She noses his neck. "It can happen a lot. I just need to be quieter when Marcus is here."
His arms tighten, just a little. "I feel like I should be telling you what you're in for. But you know."
"Yeah, I know. I want it. All of it."
He lets out a long breath. "Somehow," he agrees. "Merry Christmas. I'll give you your other presents tomorrow," he adds.
"Don't worry about it," she says. She's warm and sleepy and very, very content. She can be sappy right now. It's allowed. "This was exactly what i wanted."
Clarke is kind of a wreck while they're waiting for Marcus to show up on the second, and Bellamy thinks it's funny, because he's an asshole.
"Shut up!" she says, but she's laughing too. "Are we going to tell him? Is he going to be upset? And we need to hear about how it went and--I have a lot to be nervous about."
"Apparently getting laid is good for my mood," he says. "And he's going to be thrilled. He loves you, Clarke. Way more than he likes Sterling."
"Yeah, that was my main concern."
He catches her by the hips, pulls her in for a warm kiss. She might have suggested waiting to tell Marcus, except that they're really obvious. She thinks he'd figure it out in no time.
"I'm still worried about the actual divorce," he says. "But I think it's a good sign Roma is coming to drop him off."
"It means she wants to talk. Which--I wouldn't be surprised if she liked Wisconsin and he didn't. And if I've got you--" He lets out a breath. "I still feel bad. Asking you to be a parent. It's only been a few months."
"You're not asking. I'm offering. You know how I am," she adds. "With Marcus. If that's what you're looking for, I'm your girl."
"You're definitely my girl," he says, and kisses her again. "I just think you could do better."
"Next Christmas, you're getting a list of a hundred reasons why I love you. Maybe for your birthday."
He smiles with half his mouth. "Whenever you want. I'd take that any time."
When Marcus and Roma show up, Clarke is drawing on the couch, and she doesn't go to the door with Bellamy. She figures she can wait. She hears Marcus, all excitement, wishing his dad a happy new year and telling him all the cool presents he got. Roma is quieter, but Clarke can hear the murmur of her voice too. She does her best not to listen; it's not her moment yet.
"Me and my mom are going to talk about you behind your back," Bellamy says, loud enough she's sure he wants her to hear. "Go say hi to Clarke."
Marcus jumps onto the couch, grinning, and the cat flees even though she likes him. There are some things cats just can't allow.
"Did you eat nothing but sugar on the plane?"
"Sterling's family didn't know what to get me for Christmas so they just gave me candy," he says. "Happy New Year!"
She puts her sketchpad aside so she can hug him, holding him so close. She missed him, even though she talked to him almost every day. "Happy New Year. How was Wisconsin?"
He makes a face. "I wouldn't mind going back for Christmas. Sterling has a huge family, I got a ton of presents. But I don't want to live there. And I got so bored. Mom and Sterling aren't good at coming up with stuff to do."
"Didn't you bring books?"
"Yeah, but--I like reading with people, you know?"
"I know. Why do you think I was sketching with your dad?"
"I talked to Mom, too," he says.
"I think it went okay. It's not--" He buries his face against Clarke's shoulder, and she hugs him again. "I don't want her to leave. I want her to stay. I could visit her, instead of visiting Dad. But I like it here. I don't want to leave. And I don't want to pick between her and Dad, but they're saying I have to. It's not my fault I'd pick him."
"No, it's not." She kisses his hair. "It sucks, and I'm sorry. Do you feel better?"
"Yeah. I think it was good."
"Cool. You bring your Amiibo?"
They're playing Smash Brothers when Roma comes to say goodbye, and Bellamy slots himself in behind Clarke once she's gone, wrapping one arm around her.
"I hear you hated Wisconsin," he says.
"I might have exaggerated to Mom," Marcus tells Clarke. "I really don't want to live there."
"Smart kid," she tells Bellamy.
He shakes his head. "She thinks if I move in with Clarke, it would probably be okay for you to stay here too."
"You already live with Clarke," Marcus points out.
"Yeah, but we don't have a bed for you. So I'm going to share Clarke's room, and you get your own."
Marcus gives him an unimpressed look. "So, Mom's okay with you taking me if you marry Clarke."
"I don't have to marry her. But, yeah. Clarke and I are going to date, so she's not as worried. We have a place and another adult in the house and--she really liked Wisconsin. So, yeah. I think we can work something out. If you want to live here."
"Are you going to marry Clarke?"
"Not until after your mom marries Sterling," he says. "They have dibs. But after that, maybe. We'll see how the living together thing goes first." He clears his throat, and Clarke presses back against him. He shouldn't be nervous. "We're going to talk to a judge about getting an official divorce. And she's giving me custody. Is that what you want? She's still not moving until summer, so you'll see her for a while. And you can visit. But--I'd have custody, so you'd have to live with me."
Clarke smiles at Marcus. "He just wants to hear that you want to live with him. Do you not tell him that? Is it just me?"
"I want to stay here," Marcus says. He looks away, and Clarke nudges Bellamy so he'll go hug his son instead of her. He gets the message quickly, at least.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I know this sucks. I wish you weren't--I know this is hard. But I'm really glad I can keep you."
"Me too," Clarke adds. Marcus looks up at her, and she gives him a smile. "I get both of you. I'm totally winning this divorce."
It makes Marcus laugh, and Bellamy just shakes his head. "Jesus, I can't believe I let you talk to my son," he says.
"Me neither," she says. "But like I said, I'm really glad. Someone's got to level up this Amiibo."
It's hard in all the ways she thought it would be, Marcus not as happy with getting what he wanted as he feels like he should be. But Bellamy is good, and Octavia is good, and Sterling and Roma are good, while they're around. She's good too, which she wasn't sure she would be, but she still knows how to use her own experience to talk to him, and that still seems to help.
And she gets them. Even when it's hard, she'd rather have them that not. They're worth it.
Bellamy gives it a year from when he moved in, like he thinks she's going to change her mind or something. Or maybe he just thought it was romantic, it's always hard to tell, with him.
"None of the above," he says, when she's finished kissing him and finally asked what took him so long. "Rings are expensive. I wanted to make sure our finances were set first."
"So romantic," she says, and kisses him again. "What did I do to deserve you?"
"Something awful," he teases.
"Must be. Did you tell the kid?"
"Cool," she says. "I got this."
Marcus is on his floor with his Legos, which is the main reason Clarke is telling him instead of getting laid. But it's not like she can't get laid later. She gets laid all the time. It's awesome.
"Your dad say anything to you about marrying me?"
Marcus gives her a wary look. "No. Why?"
"He told me," she says. "So I'm telling you. That was the deal, right?"
He thinks it over. "Are you going to?"
"Cool," says Marcus. "Want to help me? I'm making a city."
She bites her cheek on her smile. "Yeah," she says. "That's exactly what I want to do."