a/n Here's the first of a number of retakes of episode 7.13 I'm working on! Huge thanks to Stormkpr for betaing. Happy reading!

Content note: depression and attempted suicide.

"You're not gonna shoot me, Clarke." Bellamy says, hoping against hope that it's still the truth.

"No." She agrees, voice shaking, tears falling. "But I will shoot myself if you don't hand over that book. You say you're still trying to save me? Prove it."

He watches in utter horror as she turns the gun on herself, presses the barrel to her temple. The worst thing of all is that he knows she's deadly serious. She's always been too quick to sacrifice herself.

Giving her the book is easy. It's the work of a second to toss it towards her, then raise his hands in a gesture of surrender. And it's one of the most straightforward decisions of his life – in a day when he has been so deeply upset at the idea he is failing his old friends and family, he simply cannot bear the thought of standing here and watching the woman he used to love shoot herself in the head over a damn sketchbook, of all things.

But forgetting this moment? Moving on from this conflict? Those are challenges he fears may take a lifetime to overcome.

He expects this scene to unravel in quite a simple way, now. Clarke will presumably take the book and sprint through the anomaly before it closes, and he might well never see her again. Certainly he won't see her soon, and he'll just be left here, alone, tortured by visions of her holding that gun to her temple. He wonders if they'll ever get chance to talk it out properly.

But that's not what happens at all. Clarke drops the gun, but she doesn't reach for the book right away.

No, she reaches for him. She steps forward, flings her arms around his neck, hugs him urgently, desperately. He remembers to hug her back this time, not like that first confusing hug on his arrival home from Etherea. This time he knows he wants to hug her back – needs to, even. He knows now that, whether he believes in the Shepherd or not, he will always care about Clarke. She just proved that beyond all doubt with that frightening gambit with the gun.

"You're OK. You're OK." He whispers, trying to convince himself as much as her. It's futile – she's definitely not OK. Nothing about this is OK.

She pulls away too quickly for his liking, and he realises that this is a situation more horrific and complicated than can be saved by one surrendered sketchbook and one frantic hug.

But it's a start. It's better than they were doing, only seconds ago. And when she picks up the sketchbook, turns to walk into the anomaly, and tells him to follow her, he is only too happy to comply.

…...

The hug does not suddenly fix everything. When they pass through the anomaly into a bristling circle of angry people – from both sides – Clarke's eyes are still cold and her hands are still shaking.

Bellamy wonders whether another hug would help.

He's probably not supposed to wonder things like that. He's not supposed to place any individual above the good of all mankind. But he and Clarke have always had a way of placing each other's safety far above the fate of their people, and it's a difficult habit to break now. And he's been feeling so conflicted, since he got back from Etherea, about the clash between his faith and his family. Hugging Clarke just now, seeing the relief in her eyes when he chose her life over his loyalty – it's got him a little confused, he doesn't mind admitting it.

"Where are we?" She asks the group at large, while he's still gathering his thoughts.

"Welcome back to Earth. Here we are in the old Second Dawn bunker." His Shepherd says, spreading his arms wide in welcome.

Bellamy is startled. He should have realised they'd be going back to Earth – he bets Clarke already figured it out. But he's been a bit preoccupied of late, trying to get his head round his new faith and his old loyalties and the clash between the two.

"Earth." He repeats, stunned.

"Yes. Come, Bellamy. Walk with me." His Shepherd invites him, voice soft.

Bellamy wants to agree to that. Of course he does. But he hesitates, just a fraction of a second. He cannot forget so quickly that he watched Clarke hold a gun to her own temple only moments ago, nor that the conflict between them over Madi's drawings has not actually been fully resolved. He knows that it will take more than a hug and a bullet not fired for Clarke to feel her daughter is safe.

As if she has read his mind, Clarke steps a little closer to his side.

"We should talk later." She hisses. "About what happened just now in Sanctum."

He nods in agreement and tries to smile at her.

He can't. It's as simple as that – he simply cannot convince his face to make the right shape. And that's a bit frightening, really, because Clarke has always made him smile. That's one of the foundation stones of their relationship.

So he nods again, and follows his Shepherd down a deserted hallway.

…...

The conversation Bellamy shares with his Shepherd is long and less than inspirational. In fact, now he comes to think about it, he's not sure they've ever had a particularly inspirational conversation – there is no doubt that his faith is founded on what he experienced on Etherea, rather than any personal input from Cadogan.

Sorry, his Shepherd. He really must get that right.

Anyway, it's long. Bellamy is no closer to having any meaningful support on the matter of balancing his new faith and old friends. And his Shepherd talks at some length about how their plans have been hampered by the destruction of the flame, and dwells in particular on the idea that Clarke and her people might still know something of use.

In short, it is clear that Bellamy is now supposed to inform on them. He is supposed to spy on them, and find out what he can, and hand over their secrets to his Shepherd for the good of all mankind. And that's what he's been doing ever since he came back from Etherea, of course, but it hits different now. It makes him think of Clarke holding a gun to her head. He wonders if she'll keep doing that, if he continues to inform on her. Doesn't she understand that he has no choice? That this goes beyond simply Madi or a sketchbook, and to the heart of everything they have ever fought for – the fate of the human race?

His heart is heavy by the time his Shepherd dismisses him and he goes to seek out Clarke. It lightens just a very little at the thought of seeing her – he remembers with slightly too much excitement some of those small moments, earlier, when it seemed like they were working together again. When she demanded he hold something, or asked him to get the door. It's been a long day and at least now, as it draws to a close, he knows he will get to see Clarke alive and well before he tries and fails to get to sleep.

The anomaly brought them out into the old Second Dawn bunker, of course, so that is where they're staying. Clarke and Madi have a room not far from the quarters Bellamy has been allocated. He knocks at the door, and waits until Clarke calls out for him to enter.

He walks in, takes a good look around.

"No Madi?" He asks, surprised and confused. All that drama over protecting her, and now she's not here?

"She's with Emori." Clarke says, tone rather too careful. "They're close now."

Before Etherea, he'd have hugged her for saying that. He'd have held her tight and reminded her that she's still Madi's mother, no matter what other caretaker figures may come along into her life. Because Clarke has always been his biggest supporter when it comes to his complicated relationship with Octavia, and he wants to return the favour now.

But the Bellamy who has come home from Etherea isn't supposed to do that, he's pretty sure. So he just walks further into the room and sits himself awkwardly on a spare bed.

"Welcome back to Earth, I guess." He offers weakly. He doesn't mean to parrot the earlier words from his Shepherd, but he realises he has done so when Clarke looks at him sharply.

"Does it ever feel to you like we're just wandering around the universe causing trouble?" She asks, bitter, voice weaker than he would like.

"Yeah. That's – I guess that's why my faith is so important to me. Why it makes sense to me."

"Bellamy, if you're here to try to convert me -"

"I'm not." He cuts her off, upset. "I'm... hoping you'll understand. Like I understood about you protecting Madi." He reminds her.

She shakes her head. "That wasn't it. You couldn't watch me die. I knew it, and I used it against you. Does that make me a terrible person?"

"No. Just a desperate one." He says sadly, looking hard at her face and wishing she would meet his eyes. "I wish you wouldn't value your life so little, Clarke."

She snorts, a cold, humourless sound. "I wonder if I have a life." She says bitterly. "I had a few moments of happiness with Madi on Earth, and some with you before Praimfaya. Mostly I was happy as a kid, but since then? This is no life. And I don't see it getting better in the future."

That scares him. It makes him think that pointing the gun at her own head was not a desperate stratagem or a passing bluff. It makes him think not just that she would have pulled the trigger, but that maybe she even wanted to. And it breaks something inside of him, cracks open a chestful of emotions he's been trying to keep hidden since his experience on Etherea.

"I always wanted a future with you." He admits. He's not sure whether he's saying that to keep her here with him, to convince her to keep breathing, or just because the shock of everything that's happened today has shattered his self control.

She looks up at him, eyes flooded with tears – but at least she's looking at him.

Emboldened, he continues. "That seems ridiculous now. Now I'm wearing these robes you hate so much and you pulled a gun on me earlier."

She shakes her head. He's not sure what she's denying – his suggestion that they could ever have had a future, that this is ridiculous, or maybe just trying to pretend this whole conversation isn't happening.

"You couldn't have told me that earlier?" She asks through her tears.

"I'm sorry." He says, because it's the truth. "Do you want another hug?"

She doesn't even consider it, and that stings. "No. It'll only hurt. What are we doing about the sketchbook?" She gets straight on with asking.

Damn it. He really wanted that hug. Scratch that – he really needed that hug.

He forces himself to concentrate on the matter at hand. "You've got it now. I can't tell Cadogan about it without sounding like I've gone mad." He says, carefully casual, trying to convince himself that this is the right way to play this as much as he's trying to convince her. "I'm pretty sure even among the Disciples telling tales about a sketchbook of magic memories sounds crazy."

To her surprise, she smiles at him. It's a sad smile, but it's there. "You almost sounded like yourself there." She tells him tearfully.

"I am myself." He tells her firmly. "I promise."

She doesn't look impressed.

He presses on. "I want to ask you to think about something. My Shepherd – Cadogan – he really wants you to cooperate. He's just spoken to me for the longest time about getting information from you. He – he wants me to inform on you." He forces the words out, his tangled loyalties threatening to choke him. "But I'm worried about what you might do, after this morning."

He leaves a pause for Clarke to assure him that her head is clear and she is no danger to herself. She does not choose to do so, and he knows what that silence means.

"Clarke, please. You're outnumbered and outgunned and I don't want to see you holding a gun to your own head ever again. I know you don't trust me any more but – please will you think about it? Didn't this morning show you I'm still myself? That your safety is still the most important thing to me? Please give us this chance to show you the Disciples can be good and you can work with us."

She winces when he describes the Disciples as an us. But apart from that, and a few more tears, she doesn't react much to his words. She doesn't rant and rave like she mostly has been doing at him, since his return.

He wonders if he's broken her.

That's a terrifying thought. Clarke is the strongest person he knows, and on top of that he's made it his life's purpose to protect her as best as he can. To try and shape the world so that she doesn't always have to be the strongest person he knows. So the fact that she's sitting here, weeping quietly, not really trying to fight back – it's the most frightening thing he's come across since he threw himself off that mountainside.

No, scratch that. It's even more frightening than that.

When she does respond, it isn't the response he's expecting.

"Tell me about Etherea." She demands.

He doesn't hesitate. He's desperate for her to understand. "I've already told you about my mum and the light. I guess what I didn't tell you was maybe the hardest thing to explain – but it was the thing that meant the most."

"So explain it now." She challenges him, somewhere between angry and sad.

"There was this... warmth." He begins, aware that he sounds foolish. He looks up at her, expecting judgement.

Sure enough, there's plenty of judgement in her eyes. But there's something else, too. Something new. Something that looks the teeniest bit like understanding.

He gathers his words and tries again. "Warmth and kind of... relaxation. Like the terrible things I'd done didn't matter any more. Like the load was lighter." The best way of explaining it, he thinks, would be to tell her it felt like hugging her, only a thousand times over. But he's pretty sure neither of them is ready for him to say that.

To his surprise, Clarke gives a small nod. "I'd give anything for that. But I still don't believe it can be real. I don't – I don't deserve that kind of absolution."

"Forgiveness isn't about what you deserve." He reminds her. She should know – she's the one who told him that. But he knows it's been a long couple of centuries, and he wouldn't be surprised if she'd lost sight of that crucial truth amongst the bloodshed.

She gives another small nod, wordless.

Bellamy sits and watches her for a few moments. He doesn't know what he's waiting for. It doesn't look much like she plans to continue speaking, and she's clearly not about to tell him anything else useful about her mental state or invite him to keep that gun away from her. All he knows is that he wouldn't be happy to leave her, not quite yet.

It's a confusing business. He supposes it's about time he admits to himself that he used to be thoroughly in love with this woman, before Etherea. He's already come to terms with the fact he loved her, but in this moment he finds himself realising that he will have to find a way to accept that Clarke was the love of his life. She was everything, and then he found his faith, and now he doesn't know what she is.

She's a friend. If nothing else, she's that. A little bit of sensible friendship is permitted by the Shepherd, as long as it doesn't get out of hand. Bellamy was allowed to hang out with Doucette, for example. And friends don't let friends point guns at their own heads without trying to be supportive.

"I'll think about it." She whispers, at length.

Bellamy starts in shock. What will she think about? Faith? Cooperation? Trusting him?

It doesn't matter, he decides. It's her business – he understands that he lost the right to know her innermost thoughts when he told the truth to his Shepherd for the sake of all mankind. But considering she was aiming a gun at him earlier, he thinks this is progress.

He just seriously hopes she will stop aiming it at herself.

Knowing he is dismissed, he gets to his feet. He walks to the door, turns back to look at her one last time.

"Take care." He says, soft. "Let me know if ever you want that hug."

It feels wrong to leave her there weeping. It's as if he had walked out on her, that night she couldn't write her name on the list of Praimfaya survivors, rather than sticking around to help her through it. But horrific though it is, he knows she wants him gone, in this moment.

He brushes aside his own tears and strides down the hallway.

…...

That evening, and the night that follows, are some of the longest hours of his life – longer even than the months he spent in that cave on Etherea. Everyone around him seems to be busy with various tasks related to the flame or just to their survival back on Earth, but his Shepherd has given him nothing to do besides informing on his old friends. Doucette is dead, and barely anyone else is talking to him.

He tries to mourn Doucette for a little while, attempts a sort of one-man funeral of stilted words and dry eyes. It doesn't work. He got on well with Doucette, and felt less alone when he was around. Their friendship had a peculiar depth because of the experience they shared on Etherea.

But Bellamy has lost people before. He's mourned less for people he loved more. And apart from anything else, part of him blames Doucette. Were it not for him, Bellamy would be dead in a frozen ditch. He wouldn't be conflicted over his torn loyalties, wouldn't be fretting about Clarke.

Not for the first time, Bellamy finds himself thinking that this would all have been a lot easier if he just died when he was supposed to. Clarke and Octavia and Echo would mourn him, and the world would go on turning. Simple.

In the end, he gives up on the memorial for his last remaining friend. Instead he finds a copy of Metamorphoses in one of the offices, old and dusty, with a cracked spine. He lies on his back on his lonely bed and reads it, finding comfort in the familiar tales.

He wonders briefly if this is too much like remembering the people he used to love. He recalls poisoning his sister to try to save Clarke, thinks back to a childhood of desperate warmth that came from human love, not mysterious light.

But he keeps reading, because he has absolutely nothing better to do.

…...

The following morning, Bellamy sees his Shepherd approaching with what can only be described as an exultant smile. He's simply never seen such an expression on his Shepherd's face, not even on his return from Etherea.

"What did you do?" His Shepherd asks, evidently well-pleased.

"What do you mean?" Bellamy asks, puzzled.

"How did you talk Clarke round? I've just had a long meeting with her – she wants to help us find the code."

To say Bellamy is surprised would be an understatement. After all this, Clarke really trusts him enough to change her mind at his word?

Then he realises his mistake. He ought to know Clarke better than that, by now. This isn't naive pure trust. This is a strategy – it must be, coming from Clarke.

"What exactly did she say, my Shepherd?"

"She told me she still dreams about the flame sometimes. She showed me some sketches she's done that she thought might be useful to us. There's nothing in most of them, but a couple could be of interest. She was very forthcoming, really. Of course as she's dreaming these things she can't give us information at will but it's a start." Bellamy doesn't correct any of this. He simply nods, and decides that it is one of Clarke's better plans.

"Yes. And – she's cooperating willingly?" Bellamy reiterates, still a little puzzled by that aspect of the situation.

"Yes. She only had one condition – an odd one, I thought, but I saw no reason to disagree. You're to be her daughter's bodyguard. She told me something about a power struggle the last time you were all on Earth – it sounded awfully petty, but she still worries about the girl."

"She wants me to protect Madi?" Bellamy cannot quite believe it.

"Those were the terms. I'm sorry if they don't suit you but it's for the best. For all mankind."

"Yes. Of course. For all mankind. I'll look after the girl as best as I can."

"You'll do better than that. You'll protect her perfectly. That was the deal."

"Yes, my Shepherd."

His Shepherd doesn't need to know that Bellamy's initial reaction was not displeasure but shock. His Shepherd doesn't need to know anything at all about the deception at work here, he resolves. As long as the code is found and humanity transcends, and Clarke stays alive in the process, Bellamy is willing to back pretty much any plan that achieves those ends.

And anyway, he can't tell his Shepherd about Clarke's deception, because he's now Madi's sworn bodyguard, and throwing the truth at Cadogan doesn't seem a very good place to start with that new role. Clarke's sewn this one up rather thoroughly, he thinks wryly. In fact, he's feeling pretty proud of his old friend's ingenuity – he doesn't mind admitting it.

He just wishes he found himself agreeing to this out of genuine cooperation, and not out of fear of Clarke holding that damn gun to her head.

…...

Bellamy continues to battle with his divided loyalties in the days to come. Except that, as time passes, he begins to wonder if it's true that he has too many bonds to opposing sides and starts to wonder whether he has any bonds left at all. His Shepherd is not warm with him, although he continues to require his devotion and talk about the flame a great deal. Clarke is less than friendly, and yet she continues to allow him to protect Madi, day in, day out, while she spends her time with Cadogan telling him what she can about the flame. Sometimes Octavia asks whether he is well, but that is where the conversation ends.

He still remembers the relief of finding his faith. He still remembers warmth and absolution and golden light. But the longer he stays here, the more he finds that he is sad. The weight of the past presses down upon him despite his faith. He thinks probably that would be better if he had meaningful adult company and the chance to talk things out. In fact, he's certain it would be better if he could speak to Clarke. But he doesn't want to burden her with his troubles when she has troubles aplenty of her own, and when they're only vaguely friends.

The one person he does spend a lot of time with, and speak with a great deal, is Madi.

But Madi often wants to talk about things Bellamy is not quite ready to discuss – or at least not ready to discuss with her.

"Did you ever really talk to her about the radio calls?" Madi asks this morning. It's not the first time she's tried to make him talk about his relationship with Clarke.

"There wasn't time." He tells her. It's a poor excuse, and he knows it. How long does it honestly take to say you called me a lot, does that mean you loved me? Maybe with a postscript of I loved you too?

"You could talk to her about it now." Madi suggests. It sounds more like an instruction than a suggestion, in fact.

"It's old news now." He says, eyes averted, heart sore.

It feels like old news to him. He thinks he might have lived a lifetime since then, what with losing Clarke more than once in so many different ways and taking a detour to Etherea along the way.

But it occurs to him, quite without his permission, that for her it's only been a little over a month since he fell from the sky and turned her world upside down.

…...

He approaches Clarke that night. Not to talk to her about radio calls, necessarily, but just to talk to her about anything. If nothing else, Madi's pestering has him convinced that he at least wants to try that.

They're all sitting round in one of the bunker's rec rooms, enjoying a short bit of evening free time. Madi and Jordan are playing some kind of board game – Jordan seems to have adopted her as something of a little sister, and Bellamy takes a moment to reflect that Harper and Monty would have loved to see this.

But then he gathers his courage, and presses on, and sits at Clarke's side.

"Let's hope Jordan is a better chess partner for her than I ever am." Bellamy says lightly.

Clarke curls her lips a little, but the smile does not reach her eyes. "Thanks for taking such good care of her while I'm with Cadogan."

He nods. He's doing it for all mankind of course, to ensure Clarke's ongoing cooperation. He's not doing it for Clarke and Madi themselves.

And yet it's kind of lovely to have Clarke thanking him and looking at him with something approaching warmth.

He shakes that thought aside. He sits there, tries to think of something to say. He could ask how it's going with his Shepherd, whether they are any nearer to finding the code. He could make stilted conversation about Octavia's health or Jordan's resemblance to his parents or Miller and Jackson's relationship.

But he's always had a habit of being ruled by his emotions, so he isn't even surprised when he hears the question tumble out of his own mouth.

"Why did you call me?"

She doesn't ask what he's talking about. She simply slants him a look and answers. "I told you. It helped me stay sane."

"No, I mean – why me? Why did you call me, every single day we were apart in Praimfaya?"

"Because I love you."

He's shocked, blinking stupidly. At the very least, he was expecting the past tense, there. He wasn't expecting her to just come out and say it as if it's still true.

She walks off before he can gather his wits to reply, leaping to her feet and striding across the room. Her shoulders are shaking and he thinks that she really looks like she needs a hug.

But then she gets one from Octavia instead, and that really hurts. She's hugging the wrong Blake. Faith or no faith, he knows that much.

…...

He never thought Clarke would say it first.

That's the thought that sticks with him, foremost in his mind, every moment of every day from that conversation onward. Whenever he used to dream of a relationship with her, he always presumed he would have to be the one to put his heart out there and try to talk her out of overthinking it. He simply cannot fathom the fact that Clarke has been the one to talk about love, now.

What has he done to her?

It's frightening, realising he has the power to break her like this. Realising that her love for him is deep enough to turn her entire personality inside out, to the point where she would wave a gun at him in heartbroken anger then confess her love to him only days later.

He's worried about her.

He wants to do something to help, but the most obvious solution would be to say it back, and he simply can't do that. He can't say he loves her, because he doesn't love her. Well, he loves her in as much as he loves everyone, but he doesn't love her individually.

At least, not much. Maybe a little.

He decides to tell her that he has loved her, in the end. He invites her to his room to talk, and sits her down, and prepares her for what he suspects will be the most painful conversation of his life. And that's saying something, considering the many painful conversations he has shared with Clarke before now.

"You're probably wondering why you're here." He begins, nervous. "I wanted to tell you something important but – but this might be hard to hear. But I want you to know the truth." He concludes, strong, sure of himself.

Then she pulls the rug out from under his feet.

"I know you're not allowed to love me." She tells him, almost dismissive.

He doesn't correct her that he can't, rather than it not being allowed. He's spent the whole day working up his courage for something else.

"I did love you. I want you to know that."

"I already knew that." She says, almost annoyed. As if she's affronted by the suggestion that she might not know him so well after all.

He can't resist grinning, just a little. It's the first time he's seen the fire he associates with Clarke in a good few days.

Then she speaks, and his tentative grin stretches out into a full-fledged smile.

"Can we at least try to be friends again?" She asks, determined, eyes on her knees. "Real friends? I – I miss you."

He agrees. He agrees quickly, fluently, almost naturally – as if all this time, he's only been waiting for her to ask.

But then he realises that might have been a mistake. He remembers that the close and deep friendship they shared was always the most dangerously essential thing about his love for Clarke, and wonders if trying to be real friends with her all over again is perhaps a recipe for disaster – or at the very least for heartache. And he doesn't need more heartache, because his chest has been sore ever since the day Clarke almost put a bullet in it.

He is dragged out of his thoughts by Clarke starting to speak again.

"Thanks. I just – I need you in my life. I thought you were dead, Bellamy, and it nearly broke me. But when you came back but it was like you weren't you? That was even worse. It felt like I lost you twice. And it all happened so quickly, I couldn't decide what to think."

"You didn't lose me. I'm still here. And I know we can't be... how we used to be. How we could have been. But you're not losing me." He bites out, tearful and determined.

He hugs her, then. He can't hold back any longer. He crosses the floor and wraps his arms around her, and it's a little awkward because she's still sitting down so he's kind of cuddling her head into his stomach but he doesn't even care. It's enough, just to be touching her and sharing warmth once again. He was right, he thinks, to compare this to the light in that cave. Hugging Clarke is warmth and light and absolution like nothing else he has ever known outside of Etherea.

It hurts, too. There's no denying it. The tears are damp on his cheeks and he suspects she's weeping into his robe. And the pain of knowing what could have been different cuts deepest of all, reminds him of his conflicted loyalties all over again.

But a Clarke hug will always be a Clarke hug, no matter what clothes he wears.

He's disappointed when she pulls away, but not surprised. This must be even harder for her than it is for him, as she still loves him. He mustn't push her to do anything she's uncomfortable with, however much he might feel like he needs to hug her for the rest of the day.

But then she stands up, and wraps her arms around his middle all over again.

"Sorry." She mutters. "Just got sick of hugging your legs."

He laughs, a true, genuine laugh for the first time since he left Sanctum all those months ago – those months that must be mere days for Clarke. It feels good, and before he knows it, Clarke is giggling in his arms, too.

"Could have hugged my butt instead." He jokes. It crosses the line, and he knows it. There must be nothing romantic between them. But damn it, he wants to tease Clarke about the opportunity to grab his butt.

She doesn't bristle, or cry. She responds like the Clarke he first met all those years ago would have responded. She scoffs, loudly, and squeezes him a little tighter. "I'll try that next time." She jokes, cynical rather than sad.

He remembers, now, why selfish love is so intoxicating.

…...

Bellamy stills spends his days with Madi. He feels out of the loop, here, babysitting a child too old to need a full time babysitter, rather than following his former leader and current leader into the thick of things.

He wonders if that's the point. Maybe Clarke's plan was even smarter than he first realised. Maybe she's trying to keep him out of the discussions about the flame and the last war, so that he has a bit of space to think and find himself and decide whether he really wants to side against his old friends after all.

Damn it, but it's working. Between the fact that he's tentatively trying for a real friendship with Clarke again, and Madi is constantly pouring cheerful anecdotes about his old friends into his ears, he's starting to feel those bonds pulling him ever more firmly away from Cadogan.

Away from his Shepherd, he corrects himself fiercely.

He wishes sometimes that his faith had nothing to do with his Shepherd. That he could believe in warmth and light and absolution without having to subscribe to a cult leader and a final war. But the only way he's ever known to feel warmth and light and absolution without his Shepherd is by loving Clarke. That's a frightening thought, and one he most certainly should not be thinking.

Madi calls him out of his thoughts, as she so often does.

"You told Clarke you don't love her any more." She informs him, tone accusatory. Bellamy is reminded that she was briefly the Commander of her people.

"I did." He agrees, as calmly as possible. He wonders at the fact that Madi knows this – does Clarke discuss everything with the girl? Or does she have so few real and close friends, since he came to his faith, that she has to rely on her daughter for emotional support?

No wonder she found herself holding that gun to her head.

"Why are you lying to her?" Madi asks, annoyed.

"I'm not lying. I don't love her – I can't."

Madi frowns, but keeps the conversation rolling. "So if the world was ending again, and you could pick one person to save, who would you pick? Clarke, right?"

"I'd pick you. That's what she'd want." Bellamy corrects her, pleased to have overturned her little argument.

"OK. And if you were upset and you wanted to talk about it or even just wanted a hug, who would you go to?"

"Clarke." He admits, but that's not such a big deal. Everyone knows that anyway.

"OK. And if we had to repopulate the Earth or something, who would you want to have kids with?"

"That's a silly question, Madi. We're not going to have to repopulate the Earth."

"But just say you were going to repopulate the Earth – you'd pick Clarke, right?"

"Madi -"

"You'd pick Clarke." She bites out, firm, sounding rather older than her twelve years.

"I'd pick Clarke, if I had to pick someone." He concedes, annoyed. He's not supposed to want to pick anyone, and his Shepherd would be angry with him.

But that's not really why he's annoyed. Mostly he's annoyed because Madi's question has provoked daydreams of a future he knows he's not allowed to have, images in his mind's eye of freckle-cheeked babies and a slightly older Madi chasing them around a well-worn living room.

Madi grins at him, oblivious to his annoyance. "Great. So you'd put her wishes above your own, you'd seek her out for emotional support and physical comfort, and you want to raise a family with her. Sounds to me like you still love her, Bellamy."

For a moment, the world stands still. It's a phrase he's heard before, but he's never really understood it, always thought it was kind of overdramatic and a bit foolish.

He knows better, now. The world really does stand still, while a twelve year old tells him what he was too frightened to see for himself. He can hear his heart roaring in his ears, reassurance that it is still beating, even after the love of his life threatened to tear a hole in it only days ago.

What the hell does he do now?

Somehow, he manages to finish his day babysitting Madi. Through a sort of stunned fog of emotions, he succeeds at putting on a movie and watching her watch it. He walks her back to the room she shares with Clarke, offers Clarke three or so neutral sentences about his day, and stumbles to his own quarters.

And then he collapses on his bed and weeps. He has absolutely no idea why he's weeping – shock or grief or shame or fear that perhaps, this time, he really has ruined it all. Perhaps this time there will be no reconciliation, no perfect forgiveness, no chance to reclaim his place in Clarke's family.

Or maybe they're tears of joy. Maybe they're tears of relief, that he can stop pretending this one-dimensional faith in his Shepherd is working for him. Maybe they're the kind of tears people used to cry at weddings, he wonders – a sort of chaotic mess of happiness tangled with apprehension.

Seriously, though – what the hell does he do now?

…...

He starts small. He sits with Madi and Clarke at breakfast the next day.

"How are you doing?" He asks Clarke.

She shrugs. Sadly, for Clarke, that counts as a pretty positive response, these days.

"Do you maybe want to hang out later?" He asks, feeling like a nervous teenager on the verge of his first date. "We've got a friendship to rebuild, right?"

She treats him to a nervous laugh. "Yeah. I guess so. I'd like that."

It turns out that breakfast tastes better with Clarke.

…...

The rebuilding of their friendship cannot always revolve around cheerful chats and shared breakfast, of course. They need to have the difficult conversations as well, Bellamy realises, if ever he is to be able to do anything about this love he has realised he is still feeling. He wants to be able to act on that love, one day – needs to, even – so he does not shy away from discussing what really matters. He makes a point of seeking Clarke out, alone, whenever he can.

Today, they're both sitting in her room. Madi is with Emori, and this time when Clarke explains that, Bellamy gives her a hug.

"You're still her mum." He murmurs, while he holds her. "She adores you, Clarke. She never shuts up about you."

Clarke huffs out what might be a fragment of laughter. "Thanks, Bellamy."

"Any time."

He pulls away from the hug and helps himself to a seat on her bed. She sits down next to him and looks at him expectantly. Clearly she knows why he's here.

He makes himself a promise, in that moment. When all these difficult discussions are through, and when they have done some healing, they are going to hang out doing happier things, too. Not just trivial conversations over breakfast, but hobbies, and real quality time together. They are going to find peace, and Clarke will teach him how to draw. He will be terrible at it, and they will laugh together. He swears that he will make it happen.

But for now, there is something else to attend to.

"Why didn't you trust me?" He asks her, voice quiet but steady. "If you really love me, why couldn't you believe in me when I came back from Etherea?"

She answers the question, although he can see from the tightening of her shoulders that it costs her a great deal of effort. "It was exactly because I love you. Or because I loved the Bellamy who left Sanctum that day. That's why I was so hurt when you came back changed and suddenly you were putting me and Madi in danger and I couldn't understand you."

"I felt like you didn't try to understand me." He doesn't want to hurt her, but it's the truth.

"I'm sorry. You're right – I wish I'd done better. But everything happened so quickly, suddenly you felt like a total stranger. It was scary, honestly. I felt like I'd lost the person I trusted the most and I didn't handle it well." She's tearful, but holding it together. He can't decide whether she's trying to repress her emotions or she's honestly doing better than she was when they first arrived on Earth.

Either way, he decides, a bit of hugging cannot hurt. He reaches an arm around her shoulders, and she leans into his side. It's lovely, and it makes even firmer his certainty that he is doing the right thing by accepting his love for Clarke. He still hasn't figured out how that fits in with his faith and his Shepherd, but he knows that it will have to fit in somehow. He simply refuses to consider the alternative.

With that in mind, he decides it's time to respond to Clarke's openness with a little honesty of his own. He's not ready to talk about love, and he knows it isn't fair on her to do so until he has it figured out. But he is ready to tell her something of what's going on with him.

"I don't know what I believe any more." He tells her, raw and honest.

She doesn't seem surprised. "No?" She asks mildly.

"I believe in that light I saw, in transcendence. I can't forget that experience on Etherea. But the more I think about it – I don't see why Cadogan has to have anything to do with it. Can't I believe in a bright future for us all without his personality cult?"

She nods, but doesn't interrupt his flow.

Feeling more confident still, he presses on. "And I'm trying to figure out about – about love. Love for my mother was one of the reasons that experience touched me. If there is something on the other side when we transcend, shouldn't I want that for the people I love? Is there anything wrong with seeking that for all mankind but motivated by Octavia and Echo and Murphy and Raven and – and you most of all?"

"If there is something better out there, I want that for you too." Clarke agrees quietly. She doesn't sound at all convinced that anything better exists, but she does at least sound more hopeful than she has sounded in quite some time.

So that's that. Forgiveness shared, friendship forged. And a step closer to understanding each other perfectly once more.

…...

It's Jordan who cracks the code. Bellamy thinks he should have known it would be that way – just as Monty cracked the Eligius mission files and found them a new home, so Jordan has cracked the code for the last war.

Only it's not a war at all. It's a test. Jordan was right about that, too.

It leaves Bellamy more sure than ever of his chosen path. He wants humanity to pass the test and transcend. But the fact that this is a test not a war convinces him once and for all that Cadogan has little to offer to any true Disciple of the light. He curses himself for not realising it sooner – how could a war have ever brought peace, anyway? He's lived long enough in this universe to realise that war only ever brings more war.

He's surprised to find Clarke showing up to his room, the night that the news breaks. Usually he seeks her out. That has been the way, since he committed wholeheartedly to embracing his love for her all over again. And apart from anything else it's late, and he'd have expected her and Madi to be long since asleep.

"You OK?" He asks. She looks nervous and rather drawn.

"No." She tells him.

That word is genuinely the best thing he's heard in days. Not because she's not OK – he wants her to feel better, of course he does. But because she's being truly honest with him about her state of mind at long last.

"Come on in." He invites her, and steps back.

She enters his room, and walks to the bed. He expects her to take a seat, perched on the edge of his mattress, because that's normally how they sit together.

She doesn't. She lies down, right in the middle of his bed, curled in on herself with her knees up to her stomach and her arms cradled in front of her chest.

He settles himself cautiously onto the bed behind her. Slowly, oh so slowly, he reaches out for her. He gives her plenty of time to object as he tentatively wraps an arm about her waist.

She doesn't object.

Feeling braver, he squeezes her tighter. He brings his legs nearer to her too, until he's curled close against her back and she's nestled in his arms.

"Tell me about it." He invites her.

"I feel lost." She tells him simply. "I didn't think any of this was real. I was trying to fix our friendship, but I still didn't believe you. And now it turns out I was wrong. I almost shot you over nothing."

"But you didn't. I'm OK. We're here, together."

She ignores his words of reassurance and races on. "And this final test – who's going to take it? I don't want Cadogan taking the test that decides our fate. Sorry, I know you used to believe in him. But these days I know even you don't think he's the right person to take that test."

He doesn't bristle at her tone. He calmly tells her his truth, instead. "I think you should take the test. I would want it to be you."

She snorts. "No. Absolutely not. I've got too used to making hard choices, and now I look for hard choices and necessary sacrifice even in situations where I ought to be able to see peace. I was ready to shoot you or myself to save Madi, when I should have looked harder to find another way."

"You're OK. You were overwhelmed. It's OK."

"It's not OK. I didn't used to get overwhelmed, the first time we were on Earth."

This is a difficult one, because he kind of agrees with her. She really frightened him that day she pointed the gun on each of them in turn. And however many times he tells himself she was overwhelmed and has had a traumatic few years, he still feels his heart pound in fear when he thinks back to it.

But he loves her, and that will always win through.

"You're OK. We're here now. We're safe." He whispers into her hair.

She calms down a little, softens slightly in his arms. She stops rushing out great bouts of self-loathing, and instead takes in shaky breaths.

"I think it should be Jordan." She says at long last.

"Yeah?" It's not a terrible idea, he has to admit.

"Yeah. I was wondering about Hope, but I think Bardo has hurt her too much. I think Jordan still has that hope to do better that Monty and Harper wanted for him."

"OK."

"That's it?" She sounds more surprised than annoyed.

"I trust you. And you're right – Jordan's a good choice."

She nods, settles more deeply into his embrace. "OK. How do we do this? How do we get around Cadogan and his men?"

Bellamy considers it for a moment. There are times in life when a good Clarke plan is needed, he thinks – a complicated bluff or thoroughly planned strategy, with many players and even more steps.

There are other times for simply blowing up an acid fog tank and running far, far away.

"We go to the stone room in the middle of the night tomorrow. Jordan keys in the code and takes the test."

"Sounds like a plan." Clarke agrees easily, rather more relaxed than she was when she arrived.

They lie like that for a few moments more. Bellamy sort of expects Clarke to get up and run back to Madi, now she's calmer and their plan has been made. But seconds lengthen into minutes and still she's here.

"Are you OK?" He whispers.

"I'm better than I was." She tells him honestly.

"That's good. Anything else you want to talk about?"

"No. Just – can I stay here?"

"What about Madi?" He asks carefully. He doesn't want to make Clarke feel unwelcome, but he's very confused at the idea she wants to stay here when she was ready to shoot him for Madi's safety not so very long ago.

"The door's locked. Our room's close enough that if she shouts for me I'll hear it. It's the middle of the night. I'm pretty sure she's safe."

He grins against Clarke's hair. Not just because she's going to stay put, here in his arms, but because of the logical list she's just outlined. That's his rational Clarke coming back to him once more. She's figured out that Madi's safe, and so she's able to reassure herself and stay here with him instead.

"I love you." He whispers. He simply can't hold it in any longer.

"I figured." She says, tone slightly teasing.

There's a pause. Is he supposed to say something else? Is he supposed to apologise, beg her forgiveness, assure her of his undying loyalty? Or does she think it's her turn to do that, tonight?

"I love you, too." She tells him in the end. "Let's get some sleep."

It's easily the most functional conversation they've had since he returned from Etherea, and he knows he'll dream sweet dreams tonight.

…...

It's almost too easy. That's what Bellamy finds himself thinking. Countless deaths and too many wars, and it all comes down to his good friends' son pressing a few symbols on a stone. Jordan seems to enter a sort of trance-like state when the test begins, and Bellamy finds himself wondering if that's how his experience on Etherea would have looked from the outside.

Within minutes Jordan is done. It's obvious from the way the air in the room glows gold, from the way that Jordan himself turns to them.

"I'll see you on the other side." He says, and walks into the light before they can stop him.

Bellamy turns to look at Clarke, awestruck. This is it – the moment his faith was built around. This is their chance to transcend.

"He's just gone." She says, audibly shocked.

Bellamy can see her point of view. He's not at all worried about Jordan's disappearance, because he knows that he has transcended. But he can see that for Clarke this is still new and frightening.

He can see, too, that he cannot step forward into the light like he wants to, not right this second. They need to fetch the others, apart from anything else. There is no way that Clarke will walk through without Madi, and there's no way he's walking through without Clarke.

OK, he's probably ready to admit he's got pretty attached to Madi, too, after all this time spent as her bodyguard. He knows that's another personal attachment that Cadogan wouldn't like, but that man isn't his Shepherd any more. Bellamy doesn't need a Shepherd to show him warmth and light and absolution. He has Clarke for that, and Jordan, and the whole team of friends and family that have somehow managed to get each other to this point.

"We should get the others." Bellamy suggests quietly.

Clarke blinks, turns her gaze back to him. "You're right."

He knows she's not just talking about his suggestion to fetch their friends. He knows she's talking about this whole situation – faith and transcendence, and a better place.

Maybe that's why he kisses her. Or maybe it's because she looks happier than he has seen her in quite literally years, or maybe it's just because kissing her is well past overdue.

Either way, he kisses her, soft and tender and for a long time. She holds him close, kisses him back, whispers words of love against his lips, bathed by the glow of the golden light.

And then they pull apart and set out to find the others, because saving their people has always had a habit of interrupting their love.

…...

Bellamy, Clarke and Madi are the last to go through. That's because a good leader often leads from the back, Bellamy thinks. But he knows it's also because Clarke is more nervous than she wants to let on.

"It'll be OK." He whispers to her softly. "It'll be good. I promise. Trust me."

"I do." She says, and at last it is true. "What do you think it's like on the other side?"

He looks around him, at the grey room, the dated décor. He looks at Clarke's tired eyes and Madi's determined smile. He looks down at himself, robed in the white robes of a cult he half-believes in, clutching the hand of a woman he trusts with all his heart.

"I hope it's like this, only peaceful." He tells her. "I need to learn how to draw."

Clarke laughs a little, squeezes his hand. And then the three of them walk onward, side by side, into the light.

a/n Thanks for reading!