You’re seriously going to spend New Years Eve in a library.
Though Bellamy’s phone was on silent, the vibrating alert of a new text seem to echo around the room. It was his favorite spot on campus, the Antiquities Library. The other libraries were bigger, brighter, had more study rooms and computers, but this one felt like history. The shelves were wooden and not metal, and there were books all the way to the ceiling; ladders on wheels lined the shelves to make those top shelves accessible. Something unspoken lowered all visitors' voices to a whisper, made them step carefully on the creaking wood floors, tilt their heads back to marvel and run fingers along the jewel-colored spines of the books. It was easy to forget the time and century, to get lost in stories and history.
He was sitting on the floor at the end of one of the aisles, his back pressed up against the shelf, feeling the outline of a dozen century-old copies of Antigone and Seven Against Thebes, and he felt his phone vibrate again. When he finished the paragraph he was on, he reached for his phone, seeing his sister’s name on the screen.
This thesis isn’t going to write itself, O.
Immediately, three little dots popped up on the screen, before they went away and reappeared a couple of times, a clear sign that Octavia was trying and failing to be diplomatic.
You have the rest of the semester to worry about that. It’s one night, Bell, you can take one night off.
She was probably right.
But, then again, in a week the campus would be flooded with undergrads, and nothing would be quiet until summer. And between now and then, there would be papers to grade and lectures to give and office hours to sit through…he typed his response.
What, and third wheel with you and Lincoln?
Again, the dots appeared and slipped away, and Bellamy smiled a bit, before Octavia hit send again.
Who says you’re invited???
You could totally come along with us.
Besides, we’re meeting up with Monty and Miller and the others, so you wouldn’t be third-wheeling.
Anyways, it beats unicycling.
Bellamy smiled, once the barrage of texts stopped.
Thanks for the invite (I think there was one in there somewhere?), but I’m good. Really.
She didn’t text back right away and something told him that she was resigning herself.
Stupid doctorate degree, keeping my brother busy at school. Remind me why one of those wasn’t enough?
Bellamy shook his head. One doctorate was enough to let the university let him teach; this second one was for him. Octavia had never really been about school past a means to an end, and he’d stopped trying to explain himself a long time ago.
Love you too.
He could practically see her rolling her eyes.
Yeah, yeah, love you. Try to have some fun tonight. I don’t know, read a Roman scroll from the seventh century or something.
He tucked the phone back into his pocket, smiling, knowing better than to correct any of the inaccuracies in her text. He tipped his head back, resting it on the shelf behind him, closing his eyes. Biblichor was a word he’d heard tossed around a couple of times, a combination of the Greek words for books, and the life in divine blood. In other words, the distinct, musty, heady smell of books, the scent the library was steeped in.
“Are you sleeping?”
But he blinked, then blinked again, and there was a girl standing at the end of the aisle. Her hair was hidden under a beanie, and her hands were tucked into the pockets of a denim jacket, but even that couldn’t disguise the fact that she was definitely too young to be a student at the university.
“Uh, no,” Bellamy said, and then coughed to clear his throat, realizing he’d been in the library for a long time, hadn’t spoken in even longer. “Not asleep.”
She didn’t look convinced. “Okay. Are you the librarian?”
“Not that either.” He thought about standing up, but the girl didn’t seem very tall, and he didn’t want to frighten her. “But if you’re looking for something, I know my way around here pretty well?”
The girl cocked her head to the side. “Byron?” she said carefully, and he got the feeling she didn’t believe him.
“Two rows down, halfway down the aisle.”
“That way,” he crooked his thumb to the left, “next to the fire extinguisher.”
He waved vaguely towards her. “Eye level, on your right.”
“As in The Book of Martyrs?” he whistled. “That’s not a light read. But it’s in the section across the hall.”
The girl’s bright eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. “You’re sure you’re not the librarian?”
Bellamy laughed. “Just spend a lot of time in here. What kind of project is this?”
“What?” she asked, confused.
“What do you need them for,” he clarified, “That’s quite the mix: an English poet, a Jewish historian, a Greek tragedian, and an English clergymen.”
She smiled hesitantly. “That sounds like a bad joke.”
He couldn’t think of a punchline, so he shrugged amicably. “It’s not my best work.”
Her smile spread, and she uncrossed her arms. “It’s not for a project.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Then I want to talk to the teacher who assigned those as Christmas break reads.”
The girl snorted. “My teacher didn’t. I just wanted to see if you actually knew your stuff.”
So he’d been right in thinking she didn’t believe him. “Well, did I pass?”
“I mean, I’d have to go check those aisles to see if they’re actually there…” she trailed off. “I’m kidding. I’m actually looking for mythology.”
“Norse, Egyptian, Arabian, what?”
“Well, luckily for you, they’ve got a whole section. Up the stairs, on the right.”
“I didn’t know there were stairs in here?” she hesitated.
“Yeah. Up the stairs and then you’ll pass psychology, ancient religions, and then at the end there’s…” her eyes had somewhat glazed over, so he stopped. He glanced down, noting the page he was on in his book, and closing the volume, standing in a fluid motion. “You know what, it’ll be easier to show you.”
Her face flooded with relief. “Thank you.”
“Sure,” he tucked the book and his notepad under his arm. She stepped to the side to let him out of the aisle, then fell into step beside him. He felt her eyes on him, but didn’t want to push her. She was probably in her early teens, but that kind of curious inquisition in any girl always reminded him of his sister.
“Are you in college?” she asked.
“Uh, yes and no?” he replied. “I’m a professor here, but I’m also getting another degree.”
“History. Ancient Texts, specifically.”
She made a humming sound. “So that’s why you have this place’s blueprint memorized.”
They reached the base of the stairs, and he pointed to the railing. “They’re not very even, so you should hold onto that.”
She grasped the railing exaggeratedly, but obediently held onto it. “Well that’s a relief.”
“That you’re here because you have to study and teach. You’re not a loser who only spends their time indoors.”
If she took the negative out of the sentence, then she’d really sound like Octavia. He found himself smiling. “Gee, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she was behind him on the stairs, and her voice sounded perfectly genuine, “I was worried there for a minute.”
“What won you over, the Keats location?”
“I don’t think I asked for Keats.”
He thought about it, and she hadn’t. “I guess not. Have you read all those guys?”
She sniffed. “I tried, but they weren’t that great.”
“What do you mean?” They were at the top of the stairs, and he turned to see her shrug.
“Do you think people ever talked like that? With the biggest words they could think of and always in perfect rhyme?”
“I don’t think many people talk in rhyme,” he acquiesced.
“Right. So I’d rather read something real.”
He glanced down at the top of her head. “Like Greek Mythology?”
“You know what I mean.”
He really didn’t, but he appreciated the unshaking conviction with which she spoke. “Sure. So what sparked this um, journey for discovery?”
Again, she snorted. “You mean why am I hanging out in a library?”
“You asked me first.”
“True. I’m reading this series, and the main character is kind of involved with Greek gods, and my mom said I should read the actual stories instead of,” she raised her hands to make air quotes, lowering her voice in an imitation, “the diluted and regurgitated young-adult version, which is an insult to my intelligence and comprehensive abilities.”
Bellamy hid a smile, suddenly knowing exactly where the girl got her decisiveness. “And what do you think?”
The girl shrugged. “I think it’s another six months before the next book comes out, so I might as well.”
“Fair enough. Here we are.”
They rounded a corner and Bellamy stepped aside to let the girl go before him. Her step faltered as she stared up at the wall, brimming with old volumes.
“All of this?” she said slowly.
“Uh, yeah,” he looked up at it. “You’ve got publications from the 1700s, anthologies from all over, accompanying interpretations…what’s your fancy?”
“How about something that won’t fall apart if I touch it?”
He heard the humor in her voice, but he got the feeling she wasn’t kidding. “Okay, how about we go a bit meta…” he scanned the titles of the books, finding the one he was looking for. It was a bit higher than he’d planned, and he rolled a ladder over on its tracks. “Hold these?”
She obediently stepped forward and took his books. She tilted her head to read the title. “Oedipus at Colonus…sounds riveting,” she said sarcastically.
“Says the girl who’s about to read ‘The Library of Greek Mythology’,” he shot back, and she smiled.
“Oh, I get it. ‘Library’ in an actual library. That is meta.”
“Thanks,” he said drily, reaching for the book, “Thought of it myself.”
She opened his book and her eyes widened. “This isn’t English.”
“Uh, no,” he ran his hand over the spines of the books now at eye level, “It’s the original text.”
“You speak Greek??”
“Not really. I just like translating it.”
“God, you’re a nerd.”
He found the book he was looking for and shot her an amused look as he started down the ladder. “I think the words you’re looking for are ‘that’s cool; I’ve never met anyone who reads an ancient language before’.”
She tilted her head. “Hmmm no, I think I meant nerd.”
Bellamy stepped off the ladder, shaking his head at her. “Alright, kid, here it is: your introduction to Greek mythology.”
“In English, right?”
“In English,” he confirmed.
She accepted the book with a flourish, holding his books out in her other arm. “Cool. Thanks.”
He nodded, taking his books back. “No problem.”
“So how do I check this out?”
“That’s the catch with this place; books don’t leave the antiquities library.”
Her face fell. “So I can’t take this home?”
“Uh, no. But there’s a reading room downstairs? With a bunch of comfy chairs?”
She pursed her lips. “I guess.”
Without a moment’s pause, she headed back to the stairs. At the top of them, she stopped suddenly, and Bellamy had to swerve to not run her over. “So why were you on the floor?”
She continued down the stairs. “Earlier, when you were not-sleeping, you were sitting on the floor.”
“Oh. Well, yeah, I needed the books in that aisle.”
“You couldn’t have taken the books and walked them over to a chair?”
“I mean, I could’ve. But,” he shrugged, “I don’t know, I like to be right next to the books.”
She paused at the landing, making a face when she looked up at him. “Remember when I said you weren’t a loser?”
“Yeah, but then you called me a nerd. Twice.”
She laughed. “You earned it. Where am I going?”
“Straight and to the left. The reading room is just west of the main door.”
She found it, and she whistled when they walked into the room. “Dang. This is like, exactly what a parlor is supposed to look like.”
He looked around the room, appreciating what she was seeing. Overstuffed chairs, stained glass lamps, heavy drapes covering the windows. “It’s pretty cool.”
“Am I allowed to put my feet up?” she asked hesitantly, patting a plush red chair.
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
She beamed at him, and sunk into the chair. She settled a bit, wiggling her way back into the stuffing, and looked up at him. “You’re not a very professor-like professor.”
Bellamy checked a smile and perched on an ottoman nearby. “Thanks, I think.”
“Welcome,” she tipped her head as she opened the book. “I’m Madi, by the way.”
“Bellamy,” he said in response, opening his own book.
“Like the pirate?” she asked in awe.
“I-is there a pirate named Bellamy?”
“Two, actually,” Madi said. “But I was thinking Black Sam.”
Bellamy supposed that meant something to someone. “Are you a fan of pirates?”
“It was another series/learning experience thing. I read a book and my mom wanted me to learn about actual people. Sam Bellamy was like Robin Hood.”
“What, he held ships up with a bow and arrow?”
“No,” she paused, “Although if he could’ve made that work, it would’ve been awesome. But no, he was just a decent guy to everyone he captured. He wore a weird wig, and he’s one of the wealthiest pirates history.”
“I guess there’s worse people out there to be compared to?”
“Are you 28?” she asked abruptly.
“That’s how old he was when he died,” Madi continued, unperturbed. “Boat capsized in a storm; something like a hundred people died.”
Madi giggled. “I bet that’s more interesting than your Greek.”
“Hey, don’t knock Oedipus until you’ve tried it.”
She pointedly went back to her mythology, and Bellamy watched her, trying to decide how intrusive it was to ask ‘hey kid, why are you in a library alone on new years eve?’. But she settled in with her book, so he decided not to interrupt. Besides, he hadn’t been lying to Octavia; he really did need to get some work done. So he opened the book up to the page he was on earlier, and flipped the notepad open. The room was quiet, save for the scratching of his pencil over the notepad and Madi’s occasional chortle over the book (who knew the Trojan war had elements of hilarity?). Before he knew it, an hour had gone by; he was in the middle of Oedipus cursing his sons—Die by your own blood brother’s hands! Die! Happy stuff, really—when Madi sighed dramatically.
“They’re so extra.”
He looked up. “Who is?”
Madi drummed her fingers on the page she was reading. “Literally everyone. Heroes, gods, the mortals they mess with…nobody knows how to do anything other than overreact.”
He hesitated. “You’re not wrong.”
Madi rolled her eyes. “I feel like you’re trying really hard to stay out of Professor-mode.”
So, maybe he was.
He shrugged. “Force of habit.”
“No, I want to hear it.”
“Okay, so what if—”
He was interrupted by the sound of the door banging open and a woman’s voice calling through the library.
“And, that would be my mom,” Madi said apologetically. Rather than yell back, Madi stuck both her legs and her arms outside the chair, flailing, presumably to catch her attention. There was a light footfall, and then Madi’s mom was in the parlor doorway.
Bellamy felt the exact moment he saw her, because his heart stopped.
There were pretty women, there were beautiful women, and then there were stunning women, women who just absorbed all the light in the room and pulled energy towards them. Madi's mom was definitely the latter. Her blonde hair was swept up into a loose braid, and her blue eyes never left Madi; she crossed the room in quick strides, towards the chair where her daughter was reading, and Bellamy remembered he needed to breathe.
There was no way this woman was old enough to be Madi’s mom. Yet she touched the side of the girl’s face carefully, crouching by the chair. “Mads,” she said quietly, and at the sound of her voice Bellamy was right back at forgetting how to breathe, “I’m so sorry that took so long.”
Madi reached up to pull her mother’s hand from her face. “S’okay. I’ve been learning all about Paris versus Mele—” The girl broke off and looked down at her book again, trying to find the name.
“Menelaus?” the woman supplied, and Bellamy was pretty sure he’d somehow exited the plane of existence.
She. Knew. Greek. Mythology. Forget everything Madi was reading; Helen of Troy had nothing on this woman.
The woman looked at the book in Madi’s hands, flipped it over to check the cover, and raised an eyebrow. “Apollodorus, huh? You decided to dive right into it, didn’t you?”
“Bellamy picked it out for me,” Madi said cheerfully, and the woman seemed to realize for the first time that she and her daughter weren’t alone in the room.
She turned to him, and he steeled himself for the full attention of her blue eyes.
It did nothing; he wasn’t ready.
She, on the other hand, did a double take of epic proportions. “Dr. Blake?”
There was no way she knew who he was. If they’d met, he’d absolutely remember her. “Uh—”
He was saved from any further ineloquent responses by Madi breaking in. “Wait, you know each other?”
She flushed, and Bellamy knew he was done. The certainty with which she’d carried herself faltered just a bit, and her small hand came up to brush some hair that had escaped from her braid back behind her ear. She looked down at her daughter and Bellamy could practically see her mind racing. “Um, not officially.” She crossed the room to stand in front of him, holding her hand out. “I’m Clarke.”
Bellamy practically shot out of his chair to stand in front of her, shaking her hand automatically, smiling easily even as his mind was screaming how perfectly her hand fit in his. “Bellamy Blake. I don’t really use the doctor part.”
“Mom does,” chirped Madi, and Clarke dropped his hand.
“Not yet,” she said reluctantly. “I have a couple of months left in my residency.”
Of course. She had the face of an angel, she knew her way around ancient history and she literally saved people’s lives. Bellamy didn’t have to fake an impressed expression. “What kind of doctor?”
“Trauma Physician,” she said, and Bellamy could just imagine her in the ER, calmly diffusing crises and whirling between patients. “I dropped by the hospital to fill out some paperwork and they were so short staffed…” she shrugged, trailing off.
So that explained why Madi was wandering around campus; her mother was finishing up her education at the University’s hospital.
“Wait, Mom, how do you know Bellamy?”
There it was again, the hint of a blush. Bellamy tried not to stare as a flush of red spread up Clarke’s neck. “He covered for one of my ethics professors, once,” she said turning to face Madi, “Gave a lecture on the Hippocratic oath.”
Bellamy racked his brain, before it dawned on him. “For Marcus? You were in that lecture?”
Clarke turned back to him, the corners of her mouth turning up. “Professor Kane’s class, yeah.”
“That must’ve been two years ago,” he said, doing his level best to keep his voice casual. She remembered a lecture from a guest professor? From two. Years. Ago.
Clarke nodded, unaffected. “Probably.”
Madi shut her book with a snap. “Dang, Mom,” she said quietly, amusement lacing her voice. “Must’ve been some lecture.”
Clarke turned quickly to her daughter, but Madi was already brushing past her, turning in the doorway. “So, do I have to run this back upstairs?”
It took Bellamy a minute to realize she was asking him.
“Uh, no,” he answered, grateful that some part of his brain remembered how to function, “You can leave it on the desk on your way out. The librarians would rather they replace everything, than have books pop up in random places.”
Madi made a face. “I remember where you got it.”
“I’m sure you do,” Clarke broke in, “but it’s always good to keep librarians on your side.”
Madi seemed to mull that over, and she walked out of the room, in search of the desk. Once she left, silence settled over the room. Bellamy sank back to the chair, writing the page and line that he’d stopped translating on, then closing the book and notebook. For everything he was thinking, for the way his mind was running wild and the way his heart couldn’t find a normal rhythm, he couldn’t think of a thing to say.
It was Clarke who broke the silence. “Thanks for helping her pick out a book,” she said, at length.
He waved his hand. “No problem. Probably wasn’t as interesting as she was expecting—”
“She’s a smart kid,” Clarke interrupted, “no matter how cut and dry the material is, I’m sure her mind was creating stories with it.”
Bellamy thought absently that he could relate.
“So,” he coughed, “Trauma physician. That’s not a light decision.”
“It runs in the family,” she said it carefully, and Bellamy wondered if that line was as rehearsed as it sounded.
“Your parents are doctors?”
“Just my mom.”
He definitely wasn’t imagining it; she was being cryptic. Bellamy didn’t know why he wanted to press the issue, but he couldn’t deny that he wanted to know why. Actually, he just wanted to know, everything and anything about Clarke.
But she had crossed her arms in front of her and, short of a neon sign above her head, she couldn’t have made it more clear that she didn’t want to go down that path.
“Okay, I won’t ask,” he said good naturedly, and her shoulders lost some of their rigidity.
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
Madi reappeared in the doorway. “Are we still doing fireworks tonight?”
Clarke frowned. “You said you didn’t want to this year.”
“What? When did I say that?” her voice was slightly higher pitched than normal, and Bellamy recognized an empty bluff.
Clarke apparently did as well, lifting her chin at her daughter. “On Christmas, when I asked if you wanted to do fireworks this year. And you said no, why would you possibly—”
“Okay, okay, so I made a hasty decision,” Madi jumped back in. “So is that a no?”
“That’s a no.”
Madi sighed. “That’s a bummer. I was thinking if we were going to, then maybe Bellamy could come with us.”
“That’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think, Madi?” Clarke asked after a beat, but Madi didn’t back down.
“Maybe. But you’re all done working, and he’s just going to be here reading—”
“Madi Griffin!” Clarke exclaimed, and Madi stopped suddenly.
Abby Griffin’s daughter.
The vague family references and medical history allusions all made sense now. ‘Runs in the family’ was definitely the polite way of phrasing things. The easier way would’ve been ‘my mother’s name is on the side of the hospital’. Turns out, the Helen of Troy metaphor really wasn’t off; this beauty was a bonafide princess.
Madi looked unrepentant, but Clarke looked like she couldn’t decide if she felt bad for snapping, justified for it, or if she should just grab her daughter by the arm and leave the room.
Which Bellamy definitely didn’t want to happen.
“I think they’re having some fireworks over at Arkadia?” he offered. Immediately, Madi’s expression lit up, and Clarke’s eased some, when she realized he was neither offended by her daughter inferring he had nothing to do (truthfully, he didn’t), nor thrown by her family name. “Not quite the same as setting ‘em off yourself, but they have decent hot chocolate.”
“And our hair wouldn’t smell like burnt paper,” Madi added hopefully.
And now he was wondering what Clarke’s hair smelled like.
“Madi, could you take Bellamy’s book out to the librarian’s table too?” Clarke’s tone was gentle, and her daughter didn’t fight it, just came forward to take the book from Bellamy. She gave him a nervous smile, her eyes darting between him and her mother, before darting out of the room.
“You don’t have to do that,” Clarke had turned to him and was speaking almost before Madi was around the corner. “Seriously, we’ve already stolen enough of your New Year’s Eve, and you don’t have to spend the rest of it with—”
“Books?” he interrupted, and she stuttered to a stop.
“Books,” he continued easily, settling his hands into his pockets, “That was my plan for the rest of the night.”
She looked skeptical. “Really. You were just going to sit here all night?”
He nodded, looking around. “Yep. Oedipus needed translating and I needed,” he laughed shortly, “for my sister to get out of my hair.”
He wasn’t sure if she noticed that her eyes darted to his hair when he mentioned it, but he definitely did. She looked genuinely conflicted, so he tried another angle.
“Besides, you owe me.”
Her gaze flew to his. “I what now?”
“You owe me,” he shrugged like it was obvious. “I helped your daughter find a book.”
Clarke drew herself up slightly. “I think she could have managed on her own.”
“We may never know,” he sighed dramatically, rewarded by a slight crinkling at the corners of Clarke’s eyes.
“You’re sure you’re not doing this because you feel guilt-tripped,” she said carefully, taking a step closer to him and locking her eyes on his.
Oh, if she could only meet Octavia. Madi’s line with the fireworks had been tidy, but the girl had nothing on his sister. “I’m as guilt-free as can be.”
“Or because you feel bad that we don’t have plans for tonight,” she pushed, and Bellamy laughed a bit inside, thinking of the number of times Madi had called him a nerd/loser.
“No pity, either.”
Clarke’s eyes narrowed. She opened her mouth again and Bellamy sighed internally.
He didn’t know why he needed this. Didn’t know why he was left breathless by a woman whose name he barely knew, why he needed to keep her from leaving. Didn’t know anything, other than the fact that there was nothing he wanted more than to start the New Year with this woman and her daughter.
“Just say yes, princess.”
She blinked. She was still staring at him, her eyes the clearest blue and the brightest color he’d ever seen. He didn’t know what she saw reflected in his own eyes, but after what felt like an eternity, Clarke’s chin dipped almost imperceptibly. “Okay.”
She said yes.
Bellamy felt a grin stretch across his face. “Okay,” he parroted.
Clarke finally looked away, almost sheepish, a hand coming up to fiddle with her hair again. “Princess?”
It had slipped out, but it fit her well. Like, really well. There was nothing he could say that was less sappy than the truth, so Bellamy just resigned himself. “Madi and I were talking about Helen of Troy,” he admitted, “I was just keeping with the theme.”
Clarke hummed a bit, and Bellamy chanced a glance down at her again. She didn’t seem to mind at all.
Madi reappeared in the doorway, her timing a little too perfect for Bellamy to be anything other than suspicious. But he walked the two of them to a baby blue hatchback, chatting easily and making plans to follow them to the fireworks, and where they’d meet up. After he shut the door for Clarke, he felt her eyes on him as he jogged over to his range rover.
He thought about texting O, just for bragging rights, and because it would honestly make her night. But instead, he shifted the car into gear, following the hatchback out of the university parking lot, a smile on his face and blue eyes on his mind.