Clarke snorts. “He was just being Bellamy. He’s not taking me out to the woods to kill me.”
“You have no idea what he’s capable of.”
Are they really having this conversation again? She stuffs the bottles into her bag, counting to ten to regain her composure. “He’s kept us alive all winter. I trust him.”
Finn looks shocked. “Him? Bellamy? You trust him.”
“He’s not going to do anything. We’ll find this cache, I’ll check it out, and we’ll come back. Life will go on.”
“Then let me come with. I can keep an eye on him. And you won’t have to deal with his bullshit alone all day.”
“You ready, princess?” Bellamy calls from the gate as he adjusts the strap of his rifle over his shoulder.
Finn gives her a look that says, “See what I mean?”
“It’ll be fine, Finn. I can handle Bellamy.” Clarke stares at him until he gets the picture and leaves. She sighs.
“Ready?” Bellamy asks when she joins him at the gate.
She glances over her shoulder at Finn standing stiffly next to the dropship. “Ready.”
He doesn’t say anything else as they set off. In fact, he doesn’t say anything for a good half hour as they work their way east through the woods, avoiding their own traps. The sun doesn’t penetrate as far under the trees and the breeze cools the sweat on her back, making her shiver.
“How far away is this cache?” she asks, pulling a bottle of water from her bag.
“Getting tired already?”
“No.” She takes a sip and hands him the bottle.
“Then what are you worrying about.” Bellamy walks away with a smirk.
Sometimes she can’t stand him—he’s just as annoying and arrogant as when they landed. Hurrying to catch up, her foot slips, but Bellamy catches her easily.
“You okay?” he asks. She looks down at his hand still wrapped around hers, and he quickly drops it like she burned him. It’s hard to rectify the apparent disgust with the look of concern in his eyes.
It’s pointless to try and figure him out—she learned that a long time ago. “I’m fine,” she says, wiping her sweaty hands on her pants and ignoring the tingle his touch always causes. Sometimes she hates him for the way her body reacts. The way his stupid grin makes her heart trip. Or the way the butterflies flutter whenever he calls her “princess” in that amused tone.
“Come on,” he says softly, “We still have a ways to go.”
Overhead, birds call out the beginning of spring. Squirrels dash from tree to tree, collecting their stores from winter. One scurries right in front of her. Clarke stumbles to a stop and watches it shoot up the tree next to her where it sits on a branch chattering angrily at her. Clarke starts to laugh, but then her eyes drift down the trunk to a symbol carved in the bark. A chill runs down her back.
Bellamy notices her and stops. “You coming?”
She looks from the tree to him then hurries to catch up. “We’re close to Tondc,” she whispers.
He swallows. “I know. It’ll be fine. Just keep your eyes open.”
Her eyes do open, bugging out at his nonchalance. “The grounders will kill us if they see us.”
“We’re not going to get close enough to Tondc for them to notice.”
Clarke is suddenly on high alert. Every snap of a branch or crunch of leaves makes her heart race.
Bellamy squeezes her shoulder. “Clarke, relax. I’ve hunted here dozens of times. We’re safe.”
She gives him a bewildered look. He laughs then pushes the stray strand of hair behind her ear, making her tremble. “Do you trust me?”
“What?” She blinks at him, confused by the change of subject.
He licks his lips as he pulls his hand away from her face. “Do you trust me?”
She frowns. After everything they’ve been through—even as annoying as he is—she knows in her heart that he’d never let anything happen to her. Not on purpose. She nods, locking eyes. “I do trust you.”
The corner of his mouth quirks up. “Okay. Then let's go.” He walks backward a few steps, taunting her. When she rolls her eyes and follows, he turns around with a chuckle.
She thinks about throwing a handful of mud at his head but decides it’s a little immature. Sure enough, the veer away from the grounder village a few minutes later, heading south along the dry riverbed. Bellamy seems to be in better spirits. In fact, he seems downright giddy. Which just raises Clarke’s suspicions. He’s up to something. She knows he’s not taking her out here to kill her, but she’s starting to doubt his story about the medicine.
“How much farther?” She stops to take another drink.
He slows then comes back. “Not that much. Maybe twenty minutes.”
She narrows her eyes, trying to decide what his angle is. “Did you see what kind of medicine there is? Names on bottles or anything?”
“I told you it was sealed up tight.”
“Then how do you know there’s medicine in there.”
He cocks his head. She arches an eyebrow and waits to see what answer he pulls out of his ass. He takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly like dealing with her takes all of his patience. “Probably something to do with the giant red cross on the side of the container.” He swipes the bottle and drinks nearly half of it before handing it back. “Any more questions, princess?”
She rolls her eyes. “Are you ever going to stop calling me that?”
God, he’s so irritating. She mumbles a few choice curse words under her breath that would make her dad cringe.
Bellamy leans over. “What was that, princess? I didn’t catch it all. Something about performing certain acts on myself.”
She shoves him. “Shut up.”
He smiles back at her. There’s a twinkle in his eyes that ignites little fires in her stomach. When he looks at her like that, it makes it hard to breathe. She quickly turns away so he won’t see her blush.
It’s actually more like thirty minutes before he points to her right. “This way. Almost there.”
She’s pretty sure she isn’t imagining the excitement in his voice.
He stops at a wall covered in moss and vines, a stupid grin on his face.
Then he pulls back the vines, and she realizes it’s not a wall. A set of steps descends into darkness. The hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. He pulls a flashlight and battery-powered lantern from one of his bags. He hands her the flashlight and skips down the stairs, stopping halfway to look up at her. He raises his hand. “Come on, Clarke. You said you trusted me.”
His face is shadowed, but there’s a hint of uncertainty in his voice that kills her. She takes his hand, and he helps her maneuver over the crumbling stairs. The lantern illuminates a ten-foot circle around them. Clarke sweeps the flashlight over the large room. Bellamy doesn’t let go of her hand as he winds through centuries-old debris. They come to a rusted metal turnstile. Bellamy easily hops over it then helps her across. More stairs lead them into what she realizes is a subway tunnel.
“This way.” His voice echoes against the concrete walls.
They inch along a ledge above the tracks that are covered in filthy water. Clarke tries not to think about what might be in the water. Or what is making the squeaking she hears. The farther in they go, the more nervous she gets. She shines her light on the arched ceiling far above them. The Cracks criss-cross the concrete, vegetation growing through some, others dripping water into the flowing stream below.
“Bellamy, I don’t know about this.”
He holds up the light so she can see his face. He looks completely calm which helps her relax some. “It’s not that far, I swear.”
He starts to walk again, but she doesn’t move, causing him to stop. This isn’t right. Why would they store a cache of anything in the subway? She sighs and drops his hand. “There’s no medicine is there?”
It’s a long time before he answers. “No.”
Her heart races—the darkness closing in on her. “Then why are we here?”
He licks his lips. “I want to show you something.”
“In the subway?”
She tilts her head, trying to see his face through the shadows. “Then why the whole story about the cache?”
He lowers the light, blocking her view of him. “I didn’t know how else to get you to come.”
He sounds so small. She’s not used to thinking of him as anything but completely in control of everything. It’s a little unsettling to see him so unsure. She takes a deep breath and points the flashlight at his chest so she can see him without blinding him. “You could have just asked.”
He stares at her for a long time. “After yesterday, I didn’t think you’d come.” He looks away, biting his lip.
Clarke lets out a breath. “We had a fight. We fight all of the time. It’s kind of what our entire friendship is built on.”
His head snaps back around. “We’re friends?” he asks, still with that small voice.
How could he not know that? “Of course we’re friends.”
He watches her for a moment. She wonders what he’s thinking. Then he turns and disappears into the darkness. Clarke glances around, heart pounding.
She hurries after him. Up ahead the darkness falls away some. Bellamy ducks under some tree roots growing out of the wall. Clarke does the same then stops with a gasp. They’re in another station. But this one is completely different. Every inch of it is covered in graffiti. But not the occasional anti-government slogans she’s seen tagged on various surfaces. This is completely different. She finally moves into the space. The floor has some kind of three-dimensional art drawn so it looks like a waterfall is pouring into a tropical lake. It’s actually kind of disorienting. The background extends partway up the wall behind it, but then someone else painted over it with an elaborate fantasy-scape. A few feet away is a swirling curling lettering that spells out LIVE LAUGH and the L of another word. But it’s also been covered up with a giant broken heart drawn anatomically correct. The entire room is covered in overlapping designs that must have been painted over years. Decades. Maybe the entire century.
Bellamy is sitting on the steps in front of a collapsed wall that must block the way to the surface. Even the rubble is painted. His smile reaches from ear to ear and lights up his eyes. “You like it?”
Clarke spins, trying to take it all in. “It’s amazing. How did you even find it?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he hops up and hands her the lantern. “I saved the best for last.” He nearly stops her heart as he starts scaling the debris up to the ceiling that’s at least twenty feet above them. She can’t see him anymore—he’s lost in the shadows. Then suddenly the entire space is flooded with sunlight. Clarke throws up her hand to block the light. Bellamy jumps down and comes up behind her. His hands on her shoulders send shivers over her entire body. Either he doesn’t notice or ignores it. He turns her towards the tunnel. The wall across from them is also painted in a mix of designs. She’s amazed at the talent.
Bellamy leans close, his breath warm against her ear. “Look up.”
She tries to ignore the tingling down her neck as she looks up. Her breath catches. The entire ceiling of the tunnel is covered. But not in the tagging or random art of the walls. No, it’s covered in a giant copy of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It’s breathtaking. Water drips onto her shirt. She blinks and realizes it’s tears. Bellamy steps away from her, practically bouncing.
“I knew you’d like it.”
“I don’t even know what to say. This is-” She can’t stop staring. The attention to detail is inspiring. “God.”
“There’s one more thing,” he says, pulling her attention away from the ceiling. He beckons her toward him.
She goes without hesitation now, trusting him completely. He steps over to where an old tarp is hanging haphazardly from some rubble. He grabs the end and yanks it down, exposing a section of wall free of paint.
“I thought you could add your own mark to this world. Don’t worry, I didn’t destroy any of the artwork. The tiles had already fallen when I got here.” He pulls something out from behind some scrap metal. “You’ll need this.” He holds out a box, opening it. Inside are jars filled with colors. “I got the charcoal and pencils from the Art Supply Store, but the paints took some time to figure out. The red was easy from the berries. The green and yellow took a little longer. Then I just started playing around with all of the plants and rocks I could find for the other colors.”
She can hardly tear her eyes from the jars. There are paintbrushes, too—all different sizes. Some look hand made. She picks one up, running her fingers over the soft bristles.
“Boar hair,” he says.
The whole box blurs as the tears escape. “You did this for me?”
He swallows hard. “I know you like to draw.”
She finally looks up at him. “This must have taken forever. How long have you known about this place?”
He gives her a crooked smile. “A few weeks. I found it while hunting.”
She bites down on her lower lip to keep it from quivering. She has to wipe vigorously at the tears before her cheeks dry. “I don’t know what to say, Bellamy.” Her voice is barely above a whisper.
He puts the paints down then takes her shoulders, turning her towards the wall. “You don’t have to say anything.”
She stares at the blank wall for a long time. She can hear Bellamy on the other side of the station, rummaging in the junk. She has no idea how long she just stands there. She’s terrified she won’t think of anything to paint. She’s not even sure she remembers how. She looks around at all of the other art—people leaving their mark as Bellamy put it. All different styles and subjects. Her eyes drift back to the Starry Sky—it’s always been one of her favorite paintings. When she looks back at the wall she instantly knows what she wants to paint. She picks up the charcoal and starts sketching.
She draws and paints until the sun sets. Bellamy brings over the lantern and stands behind her. “What is it?”
She brushes flakes of dried paint from a grouping of trees. “It’s the story of us. Of the one hundred since we landed. Or it will be when I’m done.” She points to a boxy shape at the top.
“The dropship,” he says before she can.
She nods. “This is the river and the tree where we found Jasper. Here’s the garden already growing.” She reaches out and touches the yellow in the center. “The fire in camp.”
“This is me,” he says softly, pointing at a face taking shape over the dropship. There are other faces, but his is the most complete. She’s not sure why. No, that’s a lie. She knows exactly why.
Bellamy swallows slowly. “It’s beautiful.”
She’s suddenly aware of how close he’s standing—of the heat building. She kneels down to collect the paints and wash the brushes in the water he collected from a crack in the wall. “It’s nothing,” she mumbles. “Not compared to-” She nods at the ceiling.
He’s watching her when she stands. He doesn’t move or say anything for a long time. She resists the urge to squirm under his scrutiny. Or run. Then his hand moves slowly to her face. He brushes that same strand of hair behind her ear and runs his finger over her cheek, rubbing away what must be paint. Clarke can’t breathe. She can’t move. Can’t think. He steps closer. And closer.
“I’m glad you like it, Clarke,” he whispers. The way her name rumbles in his chest sends a tingle coursing through her body. When his other hand reaches up to cup her cheek she realizes he’s trembling almost as much as she is. He leans his head forward but hesitates. She can feel his breath against her lips. Her whole body vibrates with anticipation, but he doesn’t move. She suddenly gets it—he’s waiting for her to close the distance. He’s scared.
Well, Clarke is terrified, but she moves anyway. It only takes a fraction of an inch before their lips brush against each other. His are cracked but soft. He tilts his head slightly, his thumbs rubbing across her cheeks. Her heart might beat right out of her chest, and her entire body is on fire. Just when she thinks she can’t take another second of his touch, he pulls back. Only an inch and leans his forehead against hers.
“Clarke-” His voice is rough and catches in his throat.
She’s done talking. She slides her fingers into his hair and pulls him down. This kiss is firmer, the tentativeness of the first gone. Bellamy’s arms wrap around her body as he presses her closer. Then one hand slides up her spine to cup the back of her head as he deepens the kiss.
She gets lost in the kiss—it’s like none that she’s had before. It’s like the sun shining on her for the first time, filling parts of her she didn’t know were in the shadows. She’s lost all concept of time. There’s only her and him and their lips. Bellamy finally pulls away, panting. His hand slips from her hair, trailing down her cheek. His thumb runs across her swollen lips. “God, I’ve wanted to do that for so long.”
When she forces her eyes open, his pupils are completely shot and his hair is sticking up at odd angles. She bites down on her lip, trying to keep from smiling because this is supposed to be some kind of serious moment, but he looks so damn adorable. He cocks his head, his expression faltering. She runs her fingers through his hair, straightening it about as much as you can. She looks back at him, his face blurring as the tears fill her eyes again. The intensity of his stare threatens to burn a hole through her. To turn her to ash. Melt her into a puddle.
He’s still hesitating, uncertain. She leans forward and kisses him again. This time slow and careful. His touch is tender when he runs his hand down her side. He pulls her so close, she’s not sure where she ends and he begins. This kiss is even better than the last because it says so much more than, “I want you”. There’s more to it. There’s love.
The thought makes her gasp. Bellamy pulls back, probably afraid he did something wrong. The tears building in her eyes again probably won’t help dispel the idea. She holds him tighter, burying her face in his neck. He breathes her in. Clarke hasn’t ever felt this way. A few hours ago they were arguing about food and she could barely stand to look at his smug face. Now she can’t believe how she lived without him this close. Her stomach flips as another thought hits her. “Bellamy, I-” She catches herself before she can say the words because it’s ridiculous. There is no way she’s falling in love with Bellamy.
He tangles his fingers in her hair. “Clarke-” That’s all he gets out. There’s a loud bang from down the tunnel. They jump apart and Clarke feels silly for feeling like they were doing something wrong. Bellamy shoves his hand through his hair, his breathing ragged. “We should get out of here—it’s late.”
Clarke agrees. She hides the paints behind the rock while Bellamy shimmies up the crumbled wall to cover the hole in the ceiling. Then he helps her cover the painting with the tarp.
When they get to the ledge at the edge of the station platform, he turns and plants a quick kiss on her still-numb lips. She’s glad he turns away quickly so he doesn’t see the full-body shiver. He twines his fingers with hers and guides her out of the tunnel and back into reality. Because Clarke is still trying to decide if what happened was real or if she imagined it. Maybe there were sewer gases down there that made her hallucinate.
She touches her fingers to her puffy lips and knows that it was real. She kissed Bellamy Blake. And she liked it. She definitely plans to do it again.