Actions

Work Header

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like

Work Text:

“So, do you want to help me blackmail the network?”

Bellamy doesn’t know Clarke Griffin very well, even though he feels like he should. Like him, she’s one of the stars of the Arcadia Network’s Christmas films, a cottage industry Bellamy barely understands but still kind of likes. They are, admittedly, far from perfect—his rise to leading man status brought their count of men of color in major roles from zero to one, and he's still the only regular one—but the stories are at least largely harmless and not quite as regressive as some of the other holiday fare he's seen.

Clarke’s a large part of that, he knows. Her mother is a Hollywood legend, the rare female executive who’s actually made it, and everyone expected Clarke to capitalize on that when she went into acting. Instead, she went to the struggling Arcadia Network and told them she’d headline as many Christmas movies as they wanted as long as she got to approve the scripts first. It wasn’t a lot of star power, but it was more than they'd ever had before, and she’s been instrumental in shaping the path the films take.

The two of them meet about once a year, at the season wrap party, and the first time they spoke, she took him aside and apologized because she’d spent two months trying and failing to convince the network that he and Raven Reyes could co-lead a movie without a white person.

“I’m not actually here to alleviate your white guilt,” he told her, mild, and she snorted.

“I know. I’m sorry because you didn’t get to make out with Raven Reyes.”

He thought it over and then said, “Not on screen, anyway.”

She grinned. “Awesome, high five.”

So, yeah. He doesn’t see Clarke often, but he likes her, and she sometimes complains about the network’s conservative leanings to him.

Which is probably why she called him up and asked him to get coffee so they could talk about blackmail.

“How do you blackmail a network?” he asks.

“They really want us in a movie together. Everyone really wants us in a movie together,” she corrects. “I think people signed up for Twitter just to spam the network with requests.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen some of those.” Bellamy has a Twitter in the sense that it exists and his agent updates it for him periodically, and every month or so he'll log in himself, see how many notifications there are, become overwhelmed, and log out again. "What are our demands?"

Clarke stirs her coffee like it's the most important thing in the world. "My ex-girlfriend wrote a script. After we dated," she adds. "The only reason our relationship has anything to do with it is that it's why she came to me with it. It's pretty standard holiday fluff, but--the protagonist is bisexual, and her lesbian best friend is basically a co-lead, and the best friend and her new love interest are the beta couple."

"And the network doesn't want to risk alienating our base with a same-sex couple in a leading role."

"I haven't asked them yet, but I'm not that optimistic. We still get hate-mail about the background couples I've convinced them to put it. I keep pointing out that it hasn't really hurt our numbers, and we also got good press for it, but--"

"But they know their brand."

"And straight is a big part of their brand."

"So you think if we agree to headline as the alpha couple, you'll have leverage to convince them to keep the beta couple."

"I think if I tell them we won't star in a movie together until they make either this one or another with as prominent a role for a same-sex couple, they'll really have to think hard about whether or not they're willing to do this, instead of just dismissing it out of hand. But I don't want to do that if it's a stand you want--"

"Clarke."

Her voice is firm. "I won't ask you to do anything you won't or can't do. I can afford to walk away from this network. I know it's different for you."

"I can afford to walk away," he says, but he's smiling. "They don't pay you that much more."

"So maybe you're just greedier and less progressive than I am," she teases, and he laughs. It would probably be fun, working with Clarke. He'd like to get to know her better, and working with her would be a good excuse. And then maybe they could actually develop a real friendship.

"That's definitely it. It's a good script?"

"Yeah. I gave her some angry bisexual feedback, so that's in there, and it's--you know what we do. It's the usual, but we're acknowledging that sexualities other than heterosexuality exist and that we still deserve to be in holiday romances."

"As the beta couple."

"My character would still be bi," she says, with just enough of an edge.

"I know." He sighs. "They're right about the blowback we'll get."

"I don't mind dealing with it. And you're out too, right? Bi?"

"Yeah, although I don't know how many people paid attention or cared. I assume once I'm not making out with a guy in public, it takes about five minutes for me to slide back into passing for straight."

"Probably fifteen, and some people think you're just gay."

"Yeah, that sounds about right." He shrugs. "I'm down for blackmail, obviously. I'll let my agent know, and if the network asks directly, I'll say I'm with you. It's a good idea."

"Good, I thought you would be. I hope they agree."

"Obviously."

She flushes, just a little. "No, I mean--I've been wanting to work with you. So I'm hoping they cave fast. And if they don't, I'll tell them we'll start shopping the offer around."

"To all those non-conservative TV networks that produce a ton of holiday movies?"

Her mouth tugs up. "To all of them, yeah."

"Here's hoping we don't have to," he says, raising his mug.

Clarke clinks hers against it. "Here's hoping."

*

"You did what now?" asks Monty.

Monty stumbled into being an agent and still doesn't think of himself as particularly good at it, but the nice thing is that he doesn't really need to be good. Bellamy's goal is to be a working actor, and that's working for him. Monty manages his social media and investments, and set up an algorithm to find him roles. If he ever got big, he might need someone better, but he's not really planning to ever get big. This is his ideal level of fame.

"I don't see the problem. I'm not saying I won't work with them, just that I won't work with Clarke. They can cast me in as much other shit as they want."

"And what if they don't want?"

"Then I'm pretty sure Hallmark would be happy to have me."

Monty scowls. "If you stop getting regular work, I'm going to have to do more."

"Wow, I can't believe I expect my agent to do things."

"You made me be your agent!"

"By offering you a salary to do the work you were already doing instead of making you do it for free. Yeah, I'm a monster. Don't tell me you don't want more queer characters on the network," he adds.

"No, the two token ones they had in the background were perfect. That's all I need." He sighs. "I just don't want to fight with them."

"I assume Clarke's doing most of the fighting. But if they try to talk you around, you can send them to me. I don't mind fighting for this one."

"If you get fired, I might quit."

"Cool. We can both get real jobs. You can go pro in Hearthstone."

"That's the dream." He smiles. "It is cool, and you know I support you. Even if I'm the one who has to deal with the homophobic vitriol on your Twitter account."

"Whatever, you love blocking people," he says. "Keep me posted."

*

As it turns out, the network folds pretty quickly. Bellamy assumes the lure of him and Clarke together is too much to resist, or maybe Clarke just had a really good argument about LGBT representation all lined up, and she won them over more quickly than expected. She seems like that kid who went really overboard on class presentations and the teacher gave her A's just so she'd shut up.

But it's probably really a combination of the two, given money is their biggest concern. They can pitch the long-anticipated pairing of himself and Clarke to their loyal audience and downplay the progressive elements while still getting a lot of publicity for having a major same-sex couple in a traditionally conservative genre. It must make financial sense;the network wouldn't be doing it if it didn't. But there's something thrilling about that, too; it would be nice if corporations just did these things because telling diverse stories is right and good, but the fact that public opinion has shifted enough that it worth the financial risk is heartening. It's easy for him to remember when that was almost unthinkable.

So he's excited, unreservedly so, and even more when Clarke calls him a day after he faxes his paperwork back and says, "Want to come talk about the movie?"

They meet at the same coffee shop as they did the first time, and Bellamy realizes he has no idea why, except that Clarke wants to and that's apparently sufficient for him.

"You know you agreed to the movie sight unseen, right?" she asks, once they're through pleasantries. "With no information about the plot or anything."

"I know you're the bisexual lead and you've got a lesbian best friend. Any exes for either of you?"

"Nope."

"Does anyone have a kid?"

"We convinced them it was okay to just have a dog."

He snorts. "Thank god."

"What, you don't love dealing with child-labor laws and over-invested stage parents?"

"I wouldn't want to deprive anyone else. There are only so many kid movies in a season, I want someone else to get that privilege." He clucks his tongue. "So, there's you--"

"Noelle."

"Thematic. And your best friend?"

"Melody."

"Has she been cast yet?"

"I'm hoping we get Raven, but that would be a lot of diversity."

He snorts. "Yeah, we don't want to overwhelm the execs with our demands."

"They were actually surprisingly receptive. I didn't even have to drop the ultimatum."

"Really?"

"Nope. Just said you were excited about the project and agreed to be in it."

"Which is why you want to tell me the plot, so if anyone asks I have some background to be excited aside from just the sexuality angle."

"Not that you need any more, but I figured you might want to know something about your character, yeah."

"Maybe like one thing." He taps his jaw. "Okay, let me see how much I can figure out."

She grins. "Go for it."

"So, obviously it takes place in a small town."

"Obviously."

"Since Noelle and her best friend are both main characters, I'm thinking they have to live in the town."

"Yup."

"And my character is this guy from the big city coming in to do--something."

"Vague, but not wrong."

"And we need some regressive gender roles in there, so Melody's love interest is my frazzled, over-worked assistant who isn't getting a real Christmas because of this trip."

Clarke actually pauses. "Wow. That's actually kind of eerie. Are you sure you haven't seen the script?"

"I've been doing this for a while. Besides, law of economy of characters. I need someone else to interact with, Melody needs a love interest. It's neater to have them be the same person."

"Dork," she teases. "The assistant is Christine, by the way."

"What about me?"

"Peter."

"And I'm trying to--buy something you don't want to sell me?"

"Something my best friend doesn't want to sell you."

"I'm giving myself partial credit for that." He takes a sip of coffee. "So you guys decide to teach me about how great whatever is in the small town, which means I end up spending time with you and my assistant is running around working with your best friend, sparks fly, I learn about how great Christmas is and love is and we end up compromising and getting married."

"They aren't actually showing the marriage."

"Oh, cool. Do I have a girlfriend I have to break up with?"

"Weirdly no. But Peter and Christine think that Noelle and Melody are dating, so that takes some time to clear up."

"Do I think you're a lesbian and assume you'd never be interested in me?"

"Thankfully no. I just tell you I'm bisexual."

"Wow, using the word and everything?"

"Niylah knew I would have murdered her if she didn't use the word."

"So Niylah is your ex, right? Tell me about that. Is this going to be a life imitates art situation? Are you hoping you guys reconnect making the movie and get back together, and then you can sell the rights for that back to the network?"

She laughs. "No, definitely not. She's cool, I like her, but I also really like her serious girlfriend, who is in no way an asshole she needs to dump. We dated in college," she adds. "Broke up on good terms after a few months when we realized that we made better friends. Very non-dramatic. No lingering feelings for anyone."

"If you start developing any, I'm available for the sympathetic best friend role."

"Stepping out of your leading man comfort zone?"

"I wasn't born a leading man, Clarke. You never forget your roots."

"Of course you don't. I'll keep you in mind," she adds. "If I'm looking for a friend."

He smiles back at her. "Yeah. I hope you do."

*

Being in cliched Christmas movies isn't exactly the most prestigious thing an actor can do, but Bellamy's really a big fan. He's on his fifth film for them, third in a leading role, with three more left on his current contract. It's a month or two of work, easy to fit in around TV guest spots and auditions, with a decent salary. He's popular with a demographic he's not particularly comfortable with, but that's not the worst thing in the world. At best, he hopes he's expanding their horizons and making them a little less racist. And, honestly, if they're not watching because of him, he's happy to be depriving some bigots of something they enjoy. As long as he doesn't lose his job, he's good. He's making good money, he's having fun, and he gets to be mildly ridiculous and occasionally pretend that Santa is a real person.

And now he gets to be in an actual, trailblazing film that's doing something completely new for the network. He might not actually be making a difference, but he's certainly helping make waves.

"How long before I convince them to give me a male love interest, do you think?" he asks Clarke. They're wandering through the town set on their way to the table read, and everything is, as always, too bright and cheerful, and the fake snow is making his nose itch.

Still, first day of on set. It's exciting.

"Depends on if we actually bring in new viewers, or just lose old ones. There's a lot of buzz, mostly good, but it's hard to tell if hashtags will actually turn into Nielsen ratings."

"So I shouldn't get my hopes up?"

She looks at him, serious. "If you want to work on that kind of stuff, you should get more involved in the network. Producing, joining the board--you could have more influence than you do."

"That's why you joined, right?" He's always assumed, but it was hard to tell if that was her actual motivation, or just a fringe benefit.

"Honestly? Yeah. I love these stupid movies, they're like--comfort food. But I wasn't in them, you know?" She smiles. "Of course you know. But lots of people aren't. And I think they'd like to be."

"And you think I can help?"

"The more people who agree with me the better," she says, and he snorts.

"Obviously. You know," he adds, looking at her sidelong. "I'm looking forward to working with you. I don't remember if I told you that."

"Yeah?"

He shrugs. "You seem cool. It is kind of stupid it took this long for us to be in a movie together, right?"

"Or we could have tried to make friends without working together."

"Who's got time for that?"

"When you put it like that, yeah. I've been wanting to work with you too, like I said. And Raven. It's a good cast. I don't really know Monroe, but--"

"But we should have plenty of time to get to know each other."

She tucks her hair back, smiling. "That's the plan, yeah."

They're not quite the last to arrive to the table read, but Raven and Monroe are already there, so Bellamy makes a beeline for them. He and Monroe should probably be getting to know each other. This is her first major role for the network, and for the first few days, most of his scenes will be with her, until they move to the town set and start interacting with Clarke and Raven.

His seat is next to hers, so he greets Raven and then takes his own chair, giving Monroe a friendly smile and offering his hand. She looks to be a few years younger than the rest of them, cute and actually kind of butch, and he can't help asking, "Is that your haircut or theirs?"

She laughs. "Mine. I figured I might as well try it, right? I was never going to get to use my real haircut for anything else on this channel."

“Never say never,” says Clarke. She’s on Bellamy’s other side, not with Raven, which is how he would have set up the seats if he had his way, so that's nice. “If this goes well, I’m going to make them do more. Bellamy wants to make out with a guy.”

“On screen,” he clarifies. “I already make out with guys in my free time.”

“Bellamy wants to get paid to make out with a guy,” she says. “I’m hoping we can make that dream come true.”

“Thanks for having my back.”

Her smile is bright. “Always.”

There’s no good reason for it to twist his heart up, except that he actually believes it.

The script is solid, if not exceptional. Like Clarke said, these movies are comfort food. People don’t watch them to be shocked, they watch them because they know what they’re getting. The industry has been getting a little more liberal, but it’s a slow shift, getting their viewers used to it slowly.

This one is going to be a big step.

“Okay,” says the Miller, once the read is done. He's one of the channel’s regular directors, and, as far as Bellamy knows, their only queer one. Monty has a thing for him, so he's anticipating a lot of set visits. “Any questions?” When there aren’t any, he shrugs. “Okay, cool, we can wrap now. Makeup bright and early tomorrow, so everyone get some beauty sleep tonight. Looking forward to working with everyone. Except Bellamy,” he adds, because they’re that kid of friends.

Bellamy flips him off, everyone laughs, and the table dissolves into chatter as the meeting breaks.

“Do you want to get dinner? Talk about the script?” he adds, at Clarke's tilt of the head, and then doesn’t know why he did. It wouldn’t have been the worst thing, if she just thought he was asking her out. But he really does have script questions, so honesty is probably the best policy.

It's not like he can't ask her out later.

“You already want to start changing the script?” she teases.

“I assume they changed the script. If I’m going to get involved in the network, I want to know what I’m up against.”

“So you want me to get drunk and yelling about the network?”

“That sounds awesome, yeah.”

“Cool, I’d love to.”

They head to his favorite Thai place and get seated in a fairly private table in the back. It isn’t a date, but he could see it evolving that way. He’d be okay with it if it did.

“So, what did they do to your friend’s script?” he asks, once they’ve ordered.

“Noelle and Melody used to be exes, but they’re weird about exes. Niylah wanted them to have been married and the network completely nixed that.”

“Yeah, they don’t like divorce much.”

“Just dead spouses, yeah. Or exes who reconcile.”

“And the kid? Whose idea was that?”

“The network wanted Noelle to be straight and widowed. I fought them on that.”

“When did Melody switch over to bisexual? I thought she was a lesbian when you pitched it to me.”

She worries her lip. "I asked her to change it pretty soon after that, yeah. I was reading a lot of online commentary on bisexual characters when I was researching my presentation to the board and I started freaking out."

"That's what you get for looking at the internet," he teases. "What do they say?"

"I was worried about the optics of--lesbians end up together, bisexual character ends up with a guy. Because apparently bisexual women always end up with guys on TV, so--" She shrugs. "Any bisexual character in a romance is going to end up with someone so it's hard to get away from that criticism with just one bisexual character. This way we have a bisexual woman who ends up with a woman and one who ends up with a man."

"How much of your personal reputation is on the line here?" he asks, curious.

"I don't think I'll get fired if it doesn't do well. But--this going over well with younger, more liberal audiences is really important. We need to get good buzz, and I don't want people to get caught up in--" She waves her hand. "The lesbians were good but the bisexual character ended up with a guy like always, so disappointing, won't watch this channel again. Especially since then the network would probably decide they were right and my character should have been straight."

"How did you decide to do this?" he asks, regarding her. "I know who your mom is, I know you could have done anything. I get the comfort food thing, but you could have tried to change a lot of things. Mainstream romantic comedies. Procedural cop shows. There are problems everywhere."

"I could have probably made it as a serious actress," she says, with a shrug. "I know I could have leveraged my connections to get bigger, better paying parts. But it would have taken longer to get into a position of power, at least behind the camera. I was too young. Getting me was a huge coup for Arcadia to begin with, and when I wanted to be more involved in the network, they were thrilled."

"Are they still? Or do they regret it?"

She laughs. "Marcus is. He agrees with me about the direction he wants the network to take. It's just slow going, convincing everyone."

"Who knew formulaic Christmas movies were so popular with conservative white people?" he teases.

She smiles, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Yeah, it was news to all of us." She lets out a sigh. "You're right, sometimes it feels like such a small, stupid fight to be having. Most people think these movies are silly and pointless, and our overall viewership isn't high. But then I think about how many white women voted for Trump, and plenty of them are in our demographic. So--" She shrugs. "I don't know. Honestly, I was on Netflix one time and all of the LGBT stuff was either documentaries or serious dramas and I just wanted--fun. Lighthearted, simple romance. It seemed like it shouldn't be that hard."

"And if you want something done right, do it yourself. It's cool," he adds. "I'm not criticizing. Like I said, I want to get more involved."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

"Does everything you do have like fifteen separate motivations?"

"It's more efficient. Kill fifteen birds with one stone. And I'm a white girl, I've got blind spots." She ducks her head, actually looking a little shy, for the first time he can remember witnessing. "Besides, we've got a lot in common. It seemed stupid that we didn't hang out more."

He should have just asked her if she wanted to get dinner, without the qualification. But they're filming for a month and a half; he'll have time for that.

"Well, we're going to," he says.

"One of the fifteen benefits of this plan," she agrees. "So, any script changes you want me to try to push through?"

They talk shop until they're done, but he likes talking shop, and Clarke's good at it. And at the end of the night, Clarke says she'll see him tomorrow, and that's a good thing to remember too.

This is just the beginning.

*

For the first few days of filming, it's him and Monroe doing their scenes in the "city," which is just a soundstage made up to look like an office. Bellamy's character, Peter Mitchell, works for a real estate development company which is trying to buy Melody's farm to make a shopping mall. If he gets her to sign before the new year, it's a big promotion, and of course he wants that because climbing the corporate ladder is all that matters to him. Clarke is playing the local shop owner who's trying to convince him to invest in the town's struggling downtown instead of running everyone out of business, and it all proceeds as expected. Peter and his assistant find love and happiness, end up relocating and living happily ever after.

"The town's still struggling economically," Bellamy points out to Monroe. "And now we're living in the middle of nowhere. I think these relationships aren't going to last."

"What's wrong with small towns?"

"There's nothing to do. Also lots of them skew conservative. My sister lives out in the country, it's nice to visit, but it's definitely not for me long term."

"Are you telling me Away for Christmas isn't actually realistic? Because it's basically my life."

"Which part?"

"I'm the dog," she says, grave, and he laughs.

"That would be my first choice too."

After they finish up the introductory scenes, filming settles into what will be their standard routine. Bellamy's scenes are mostly with Clarke now, and it's just as fun as he thought it would be. The characters in these movies are always a little thinly sketched, but he doesn't mind putting his own spin on them. As Noelle, Clarke is bright and determined, with an undercurrent of calculation in her interactions with him that will come to a head when he accuses her of using their friendship for her own benefit. Neither of their characters is entirely in the right--Noelle had been hoping to charm Peter, but Peter had been letting her make a pitch he never intended to agree to in order to spend more time together--and they both have things to atone for.

It's going to be really interesting, and he thinks they'll knock it out of the park, but for now, he's enjoying acting the early stages of the relationship, the flirty, getting to know each other vibe. Especially because he can't help feeling like the vibe is carrying over to their off-screen interactions. Their characters will have a conversation about families or hobbies, and once they camera stops, he and Clarke will have the same conversation, getting to know each other with questions supplied from the script.

And after filming, they'll grab drinks or dinner, with other members of the cast and crew or without them, and it's nothing special, nothing he doesn't do on most of his sets, but it feels different, more exciting. It really feels like it could be the start of something good.

So of course, Monty notices.

"Are you actually falling for your costar? Like, is that a real thing? I sort of thought when that happened it was all a media stunt designed to sell movie tickets."

"We don't have tickets."

"Yeah, that's why I'm confused. What's the upside here?"

"I'm flirting with a cute girl I like," he says. It's kind of nice to admit it. "That's its own reward. You're the one coming up with excuses to show up on set and ask Miller about camera lenses."

"I'm learning more about the industry. It's professional development."

"Uh huh. And I'm just getting to know my coworker."

"Cool, so we're all just chill, laid back people who aren't hitting on anyone at work."

"Definitely."

"Yeah, good talk." Monty smiles. "I think she's looking for you."

Bellamy turns to see Clarke, and she brightens instantly at the sight of him, waving him over to her sit with her.

It's a nice thing to see.

"Yeah," he says. "I guess she is."

*

A few days before the end of filming, the inevitable happens: his and Clarke's relationship progresses to kissing. Or, rather, Peter and Noelle's relationship progresses to kissing, and Bellamy finds himself fretting about it. Even as an old pro, he still gets nervous about the kissing scenes.

“Really?” Clarke asks, but she sounds charmed by the admission. “You?”

“Why not me?”

“I don’t know. It’s kissing. You don’t think you’re good at kissing?”

“I think I’m fine at kissing. But—this is the payoff, right? This is the fantasy. I am,” he adds, feeling a little awkward. But he knows how it is. The films are made with straight women in mind; Clarke is the audience insert, and he's the love interest. He’s the one the audience wants. “It’s got to get boring, right?”

Clarke straightens up, regarding him gravely. “Which part?”

“The stories are different, but the end is always the same. It just feels like me kissing someone. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“The story makes it different. The dynamics are new. Besides, I’m pretty sure no one ever sees you in a movie and thinks, damn, I’m so tired of seeing Bellamy Blake on my screen. You’re a plus."

"I just feel like it must get--repetitive, I guess."

"Nah. Who wouldn't want to endlessly fantasize about you falling in love with them?"

She says it so casually he doesn't want to make a big deal, and Miller calls them to set right after, so he doesn't have to think of any other response.

It's both a curse and a blessing, honestly. She's been saying more and more things like that, easy, flirty comments that could be jokes or could not be, and it always takes him just a second too long to figure out what to say, caught between hope that she means it and anxiety about taking it too seriously.

He really should just ask her out.

"Okay, you need motivation?" Miller asks, looking between them. "I'm not great at kissing girls, so Bellamy's on his own, but Clarke, I've got it if you need a pep talk."

"Wait, I want to hear you try to tell me how great kissing girls is," says Bellamy.

"They're squishy and you're into that," says Miller. "You love all the soft parts and--how they identify as women."

"Wow. It's like you're reading my mind."

"Yeah, I'm really good. Seriously, you guys are into each other, you want to make sure you're both on the same page. Keep the sexual tension at, like, level four, though. We're still on Arcadia here."

"How many sexual tension levels are there?" asks Clarke. "Is this like, four out of five, or four out of ten, or--"

"Four out of ten, you're both assholes, and I hate you. Let's roll."

The scene is pretty straightforward; Peter was supposed to have gone back to the city, leaving Noelle alone and brokenhearted, but he and Christine had a conversation about their feelings and realized this was where they really needed to be.

And now Peter is on Noelle's doorstep, asking her to give him another chance.

Clarke's wardrobe for Noelle looks basically nothing like what she wears left to her own devices, which he appreciates. It's easy to not think of the woman in the bright holiday sweater as Clarke, the person he's developing feelings for, but Noelle, the fictional character his fictional persona is in love with.

It's maybe not a coherent distinction to anyone else. But it makes sense to him.

"Peter," she says, surprised and just a little distrustful. "You--I thought you were leaving."

"I was," he says. "I tried. But--it turns out I couldn't leave."

"You couldn't?"

"Not when you're here. I'm--I've fallen in love with you, Noelle," he says, and he must be a good actor, because he doesn't cringe. Not that there's anything wrong with saying that, but he always finds it weird when people confess their love after knowing someone for about three weeks. And he wouldn't say it like that. "I love you, I love this town, and I can't remember the last time I was happy like this. I don't want to leave. And I'm hoping you're going to tell me--"

"I love you too," says Clarke, cutting him off, and it's weird how these things work, how his smile isn't his smile, not really. Her smile isn't her smile either.

It's not how it would be with them at all.

"I didn't mess it all up?" he asks, pouring relief into the question.

"No. I messed up too," she says. "I should have--"

He cups her face in his hands and kisses her, putting his focus on the logistics instead of the sensation. As always for Arcadia, the kiss is fairly chaste, angled toward the camera, and this one is quick, with him pulling back almost immediately to say, "I should have done that sooner."

"You should have," she agrees, and it's her turn to pull him back in. This kiss is a little longer, but still just as chaste. Clarke's hand tangles in his hair, which he'll admit feels nice, and he lets his hands settle on her waist. It's not how it would really be, to kiss her, but it's still nice.

"You know, I don't have anywhere to go for Christmas," he murmurs, and she smiles.

"You do, though."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

Miller calls, "Cut!" right as Bellamy is leaning in again, and he and Clarke both snap out of character. "That was good. I want to try it again, but this time, you're a little more nervous, Peter. Just to see what works better. Back to the top."

They run it a couple more times, until Bellamy is basically used to the feel of Clarke's body and the taste of her lips, and then it's over, and suddenly he doesn't get either of those anymore.

Not that he ever had them, really. But it was close.

He catches up with Clarke as she heads to her trailer to get changed, and she smiles as he falls into step with her. "That seemed pretty good to me. The kissing."

"It did?"

"You certainly swept me off my feet."

She's not looking at him, but he doesn't need her to be. He can feel himself starting to smile, his own smile, this time. Not a trace of any fictional characters to be found. "So, do you number your motivations?"

"Hm?"

"When you come up with a plan, do you have, like, a list of motivating factors? Number one, network becomes more progressive, number two, get to give some work to my ex-girlfriend, etc.?"

"Essentially."

"So, uh, where on the list was hooking up with me?"

"It wasn't. If I just wanted to hook up with you, I would have asked. I don't need an elaborate plan for that."

It takes a second for the meaning of the words to sink in, and then he grins. "Okay, so where on the list was seducing me? Is that what you want to call it?"

"Getting to know you," she says.

"With the goal of seducing me."

"That was an acceptable outcome, yeah. Did it work?"

He glances around, but no one's paying them any real attention. He tugs her in by the wrist, and she's smiling when he ducks his head to kiss her this time, just him and just her, a real kiss, just as quick and chaste as the one they did over and over on screen, but infinitely, impossibly better.

She smiles when he pulls back. "I really hope that's a yes."

"I'm hoping we can sell our story back to the network for next year, so--"

Laughing, she tugs him toward her trailer. "So, let's make sure we've got a really good story."

"I like it so far."

Once they're inside, she tugs him in. "Yeah. I like it too."

*

He proposes next year, around the same time, because he has learned a few things about romance, in his time as a romantic lead. Clarke makes sure she says yes, kisses him, and puts on the ring before she says, “You know, we could use this.”

“Use what?” he asks. He’s too happy she’s going to marry him to even manage a little wariness.

“Do you know how excited Arcadia Network viewers are going to be that we’re engaged?”

He laughs, burying his face against her neck. “Jesus, are you already figuring out how to leverage our marriage for social justice?”

“It’s not even going to be hard!”

He kisses her again, because he adores her and she’s marrying him. And because she’s ridiculous. “So, what, we won’t get married unless they make a movie that focuses on Hanukkah instead of Christmas?”

“I was thinking we shoot promo for a special engagement marathon event if they let you have a male love interest in your next movie. You’re marrying a woman in real life, so the base will still see you as an option for them. It's about as safe as it's ever going to be, from a business perspective."

“Can I also be Jewish? I was serious about the Hanukkah thing.”

“So, we let them do whatever they want to do with our engagement and marriage in exchange for you being a bisexual Jewish guy in your next project?”

“If they get the marriage too, you should get a female love interest.”

“Maybe not my next project, though. We’re easing them into it.”

“A female love interest soon, then.” He has to laugh, kissing her again. “Fuck. Can you believe this actually happened? We're getting married."

“No,” she says, smile like the sun. “I didn’t think it could possibly go this well.”

“Getting everything you wanted out of this network blackmail thing, huh?”

She rubs her finger against the engagement ring on her finger. “Yeah. This was best possible outcome.”