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in love and war and politics

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After a four hour drive to Palo Alto, the mecca of the tech industry where the next day’s meetings will be held, they get to the hotel late, shuffle to their individual rooms with little fanfare, order room service, and head off to sleep early in the evening.

Clarke’s night is by no means restful. She tosses and turns with thoughts of the meeting with the party leaders, still frustrated; when she manages to stop thinking about them, she turns instead to thoughts of the next day, her meeting with the tech industry and her speech on education. As much as she tries to resist, it sets doubts creeping in about both.

In the end, she’s up at her usual 5 AM, double-checking that the hotel has a fitness center.

“Fitness center” is a stretch, however, given that the room has one stationary bike and one treadmill and a single set of dumbbells crowded into about thirty square feet of rubber floor. But, blissfully, it’s empty, and the isolation is the important part.

Clarke doesn’t have to slaughter herself with an intense workout to clear her mind. She runs at a steady pace at a slight incline for sixty minutes on the treadmill, losing herself in the repetitiveness, the hypnotic thrum of the machine. She needs to get out of her own head sometimes. And in a lifestyle where appearance is as important as ability—if not moreso—exercise and keeping herself in agreeable shape is a part of the job description, however unfair. Ever efficient, Clarke turned that necessity into a form of therapy.

“Quite the overachiever,” comes a familiar voice, breaking through the haze of monotony.

“At some point, I would appreciate if you stopped sounding so surprised,” Clarke calls over her shoulder to Lexa. She has another fifteen minutes left for this run and she’s not stopping to talk now; courtesy isn’t required before 6 AM.

Besides, she thinks, remembering yesterday: Lexa has already seen her in far less affable states.

Lexa makes up for Clarke’s lapse in etiquette by appearing beside the treadmill, in Clarke’s field of vision. “We’re on a campaign trip; we didn’t even get in until eleven last night. And you’ve been here since…” she checks the treadmill timer. “4:50 AM. I am surprised. This is unusual for politicians.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Fair enough,” she acquiesces.

Lexa looks down and fiddles with a wristwatch heart rate monitor for a moment and Clarke hazards a glance at her. Lexa’s dressed to work out as well, in grey leggings and a green tank top and her hair braided back—all so different from her every day attire that Clarke stares for a second too long. She’s never seen the skin of Lexa’s shoulders and chest. But Clarke is dressed similarly, in shorts and a cut off t-shirt, so it’s not as if there is an uncomfortable difference.

“Well, at least I’m not the only overachiever here,” Clarke points out between breaths. “You’re up to work out before the day starts as well. I couldn’t sleep; what’s your excuse?”

“Force of habit.”

“Fair enough.” Clarke gives a slight grin. “Give me another ten minutes, and then I’ll be done and it’s all yours.”

Lexa waves a hand. “Take your time; I avoid running.” She starts toward the dumbbell set instead, but pulls back with her lip tugged between her teeth and gives Clarke an apologetic look. “Actually, if you prefer, I can just leave until you’re done. I’ll give you the space, I apologize.”

Is that what she took that as? “What? No, no, that’s not what I meant!” Clarke assures her quickly, feeling an odd flush creep up into her cheeks. “Please, go ahead. Stay. Don’t mind me.”

There is, perhaps, too much emphasis on please. Lexa studies her for a moment after she says it. But Clarke is nearing the end of the run and talking while jogging is difficult, so random stresses on words are to be expected, even for an overachiever like her.

The treadmill is against one wall of the tiny fitness center: there’s a television mounted on the wall in front of her but the position places most of the rest of the room in Clarke’s peripheral vision. Once Lexa steps away from the treadmill to start her workout, Clarke focuses on a news story about a riot in Greece over economic struggles, but she read the same story on her cell phone in the dark on the ride from Sacramento the night before, so she loses interest rather quickly.

Instead, since the monotony and isolation of her workout has been broken, her attention drifts naturally to the source of that break: Lexa. There’s no space for her besides on the floor next to Clarke, which explains why she was willing to leave to give Clarke space to finish her own workout.

Lexa has skipped both the treadmill and the stationary bike and opted instead to line up several sets of dumbbells beside a yoga mat in the center of the room. She has headphones in, removing the necessity of any awkward conversation between sweaty labored breaths, which somehow reassures Clarke that her quiet observation is acceptable—if they’re not communicating, they don’t have to make eye-contact, and Clarke can look over whenever she feels comfortable.

She steals a few glances while Lexa moves through a series of yoga positions, but Lexa doesn’t seem to run in the same vein as Clarke, where she can go for a long, slow workout to burn off stress gradually. Soon enough, Lexa has moved from graceful yoga to a much more intense combination of push-ups, sit-ups, weightlifting, and lunges. At this, Clarke’s eyes drift to her much more frequently.

Sweat shines on Lexa’s bare shoulders and arms within minutes, and her steady, quickened breathing as she works through set after set has replaced the thrum of the treadmill as Clarke’s hypnotic and relaxing rhythm.

She doesn’t know why she feels any sort of surprise at Lexa’s exercise: just like her, Lexa is a young woman in a professional environment. She’s incredibly driven. Concerned about her health and appearance. Plus, the effortless control Lexa wields over everything every day must naturally translate to her personal habits—of course her workouts have an almost militaristic precision.

Her muscles flex and roll beneath her tanned skin each time she drops into a push-up, sweat sparkling in the fluorescent light, face red, breathing coming in short gasps, the sound filling the room. She doesn’t slow down, doesn’t falter, and Clarke is only minutely aware of the way she is openly staring now…

The treadmill beeps and reduces speed without warning, almost sending Clarke stumbling at the sudden shift. The numbers on the screen flash 00:00—workout complete. As if Lexa would hear the signal over the sound of her music and look over to catch Clarke in the middle of her admiration, Clarke puts an inordinate amount of focus on her water bottle and slowing her breathing between sips. Her mouth has run dry anyway. She stretches her shaking legs for a moment, then wipes the sweat from her chest and face and hops off the treadmill.

She hazards one more glimpse at Lexa before she leaves the fitness center, just in time to see Lexa’s gaze dart away from her. Lexa goes for her music instead, pausing it and tugging her headphones from her ears as she sits up to speak.

“Before you leave, Miss Griffin.” Clarke turns quickly. “You’re going to do well in the tech meetings today. Just channel yesterday’s…fire.”

Clarke laughs, looking at her feet. “Hopefully I won’t have to, Miss Ward. Speaking of today, though, do you think I should wear the black suit or the gray one?”

Lexa’s brow furrows. “I was under the impression that you and Sterling had decided on the blue skirt with the white blouse.”

“We did,” Clarke says with a shrug, “But I think I might be taken more seriously in the suit.”

The look of concern deepens. “Don’t…don’t use passive voice and you’ll see what’s wrong with that. You believe that the people we’ll be meeting will take you more seriously in the suit rather than the skirt. It’s not the skirt that’s the issue. The skirt is an excuse—the issue is the system and the paradigm that reduces you to your appearance and gender. But you’re going to change that. Little by little.”

The odd compliment surprises her, and since she’s already been weakened by the early morning workout and the lack of sleep or coffee, it sends a strange wave of affection through her chest. Lexa shifts as well, as if the words were more than she intended to say.

She presses more firmly: “Just wear the skirt.”

“I don’t want it to appear as if I’m trying to…look more alluring—” An uncharacteristic worry, but a worry nonetheless after yesterday.

“What, with your shins? It’s a knee-length skirt, Miss Griffin.”

At this, Clarke grins and laughs again, this time to Lexa instead of her feet. My shins could seal the deal, she wants to say, but that’s a joke for Octavia or Raven or anyone else who is not working for her. Instead, she goes for neutral.

“All right, point taken.” And as she considers Lexa for another moment, sitting there on her floor with the strain of her workout shining on her face and wisps of hair escaping from her braid, Clarke has another idea, that she voices before she thinks about: “And, by the way, we may as well drop “Miss Griffin” now. You’ve seen me at my worst. Clarke. Use that instead.”

Lexa raises a brow. “Your worst? You mean yesterday in the office?”

Clarke nods.

“That was your worst?”

“Well…okay, maybe not. It’s a long campaign. But the over formality will get tiring if we’re going to be working this closely for the next nine months—and maybe more, if it all works out. So, just use Clarke.”

“Your other employees don’t use your first name,” Lexa points out—it’s more of a question than a challenge.

Clarke’s eyes twinkle. “You don’t seem to be as afraid of me as they are.”

“I could say the same to you.”

“So does that mean you’re comfortable dropping the surnames both ways, then?”

“If that’s what you prefer.”

“It is,” Clarke decides after a moment. She really should get to a shower to get her day started, but this conversation has a sort of magnetic draw that keeps her lingering in the doorway. “So I know you don’t like Alexandria…Lexa it is, then.”

Lexa blinks—for a moment, she just stares up at Clarke from the floor, expression unreadable and lips slightly parted, as if she hadn’t heard properly. Then she nods, still wordless.

“Lexa,” Clarke says again, rolling it on her tongue the way she had wanted to on the plane a few days before. “Yes, this is better.”

“Whatever you wish, Clarke,” Lexa replies. She doesn’t need to taste Clarke’s name for the first time, not after yesterday. The ‘k’ pops off the roof of her mouth sharply and Clarke feels another strange surge of affection. She usually avoids the friendliness or nonchalance suggested by first names, but in this case, it might not be such a bad thing.

 

*

 

Clarke wears the skirt.

From her first introduction to the technology non-profit leaders, Clarke knows that today will go better than yesterday. They’re grinning and jovial, and it’s genuine—not patronizing, like the day before. They take Clarke and her team on a tour of the Google campus, laughing and joking as they highlight their social outreach programs and pose for pictures at the most opportune spots for the accompanying photographer.

But they’re sharp. You don’t get to be the leader of a multi-billion dollar company without some shrewdness. Even though several of them are competitors in the tech industry, the collective goodwill of a united nonprofit for organization reflects well on them all—as well as whichever politician they choose to back in this race. Money makes kings. Their money.

Once the photographer has been dismissed, the hard questions start coming. What could Senator Clarke Griffin do for them? How has she supported their type of organizations in the past? Will it be laws, or just lip service and publicity?

She answers them breezily with rehearsed responses—introducing their technology to schools would raise their stock; introduction of STEM courses would lead to an expanding tech sector; blending their group with her education platform would raise their goodwill profile—all easy answers, all favorable to them. The group is nodding along and smiling with her, up until one cutting question:

“And what about your youth? Do you see it as a hindrance?”

This will not go down like it did yesterday, Clarke swears to herself in that moment. But as it turns out, she doesn’t have to whip up another impromptu Braveheart speech.

“You’re right,” Lexa interrupts. “She is young. And you all know youth. You know that youth means malleability, flexibility. You might see that as a liability, but we see it as an opportunity. For companies striving to be on the cutting edge of technology, I would expect you to recognize your opportunities

“Now,” she adds, straightening her shoulders, “If you’ll excuse us, Representative Griffin has a speech on education across town.”

The nonprofit leaders glance at each other, lighting up with ideas.

 

*

 

Clarke Griffin can be flexible. She stands at the podium and looks down at her speech cards, but the planned introduction has changed: they had ten minutes to rehearse it on the drive over.

“Good morning everyone!” she announces, to the assembly of educators and students and press. “I’m so happy to be here in the Bay Area, and I have to apologize for being a few minutes late to see everyone today. But, the apology comes with an announcement: I have officially received the backing of Silicon Valley for the Future, the premier non-profit organization for education in the country!”

In one fell swoop, she’s received their backing, their money, their influence, and the thunderous applause of the crowd.

Later that evening at dinner, Lexa nudges Clarke to get her attention, then hands over her cellphone. “Griffin Announces Tech-Education Endorsement” reads the title of the article, and the paragraphs below spell out a glowing review of Clarke’s speech and her commitment to education—it’s certainly enough for a bump in the polls. She beams at Lexa, thanking her with a nod.

“Good work,” Lexa says simply.

The rest of the weekend goes just as well: Clarke’s publicity has begun to precede her and all she has to do for her appearances on Saturday and Sunday is keep up the smile and do nothing to make them think differently of her. They move down the California coast, stopping in big cities. Finally, after posing for dozens pictures and shaking dozens of hands throughout Sunday afternoon, Clarke and the others finally, finally pile into the cars and start the long roadtrip back to Los Angeles.

It wasn’t until she started going on trips like this that she realized how much she loves home, loves having a place to anchor herself to. Clarke grew up traveling with her parents for her mother’s campaign, but now that she is spending long trips in a different hotel every night, with a million tasks to worry about, she’s come to appreciate the feeling of coming home, unwinding, and taking time for herself.

For this trip, though, she doesn't get that. They get in to Los Angeles after midnight on Sunday night and Clarke gives the team Monday off, a reward for their hard work.

She's sitting in her office the next morning when Lexa walks in, gives her a small nod through the window. The corners of her mouth turn up at Clarke's small glare of disapproval, and she heads to her own office to get to work.

The first trip of the season signals the true start of the campaign, and the end of the days where the campaign employees coast through the afternoon on desk chair basketball as they wait for the clock to hit 5PM. Now, eight hour days stretch to ten for them, and Clarke's twelve hour days stretch to fourteen, even with Lexa's assistance. They have new donor opportunities pour in, coming from lobbyists and special interest groups and politicians all looking to see how far Clarke Griffin is willing to bend for them. Lexa has the whole office working in teams on communication and reports on the new opportunities, and Clarke reads every single one. And against Lexa's advice, she talks to every single one. Hours on hours of communication and reading.

It's a good thing, without a doubt. But with all the work, she doesn't get a chance to relax at home and shake the road rust off after the trip--she only piles more pressure onto it. By the end of the week, laying in bed late into Saturday morning, she's exhausted and frayed at the seams and lacking the willpower to drag herself to the gym to grit the frustration out. But a session on the treadmill is not her only outlet.

[10:03 AM] Clarke Griffin: Are you busy tonight? I need a night in.

[10:05 AM] Raven Reyes: I'm all yours.

[10:06 AM] Clarke Griffin: Wine or beer?

 

 

“I still can’t believe you blew me off last week for a date with some guy,” Raven mutters, for the fourth time tonight.

“A fake date,” Clarke reminds her, even though she still feels guilty for having to skip the night with Raven for her first date with Roan.

“As if that’s supposed to make me feel better.”

“If the expensive wine I brought over doesn’t make you feel better, nothing will.”

On cue, Raven takes a sip from her glass, savors the taste, and nods appreciatively. “It does. But we’re only halfway through the bottle so I’m only halfway feeling better. You hurt my pride, Griffin. And then you went on a road trip for a week.” She places her hand over her heart and gives an exaggerated groan, which Clarke ignores. “Are you at least getting sex out of it?”

“What part of fake relationship didn’t make sense?”

“You haven’t been in a relationship since grad school, Griffin,” Raven points out, “So really, neither fake nor relationship made sense. It just seems especially stupid if it also limits you from having casual sex.”

“Not that it matters, but it doesn’t, really limit me; he has a girlfriend.”

“Your fake boyfriend is cheating on you?” Fake boyfriend—but real outrage.

“You really aren’t getting the fake part of this,” Clarke says.

Raven sets her wine glass on the coffee table and turns her whole body to face Clarke, preparing for a conversation that is heavier than what Clarke would prefer right now. Nights like these save her life sometimes; she doesn’t let herself indulge often, in order to preserve their sanctity. Clarke is in sweats and warm socks, curled under a blanket on Raven’s sinfully comfortable couch, a pleasant warm wine-drunk just barely clouding her head and letting her nod along agreeably all evening while Raven vents about work. After the road trip and the week in the office, Clarke really wants to take the evening and binge watch TV and ignore politics for a few hours.

Raven Reyes, however, has always been the most fiercely loyal person Clarke knows. At the slightest hint of anything endangering her friends, Raven goes to war. Clarke has relied on this support in the past, but right now, Raven senses—perhaps rightfully so—that she may have to go to war again, even if it means going against Clarke, to protect her. And that’s not something Clarke wants to fight right now.

“So tell me,” Raven begins. “What happens if someone finds out it’s a fake relationship?”

Clarke shrugs. “What proof will they have? We can just end it amicably and not have to talk about it again.”

“What if the girlfriend surfaces?”

“She won’t.”

“You shouldn’t give Wallace anything to hit you on. He’s the kind of guy who would go after your personal life.”

“Raven, it’ll be fine,” Clarke assures her, shifting in her seat and looking at the TV, for a subtle hint to get back to their Walking Dead marathon. “Cage Wallace has his own skeletons, I’m sure, too much digging in my closet and his might tumble out.”

Inspiration and curiosity and wonder flash over Raven’s face at that—she grins, somewhat roguishly. “You think he has some? Maybe we should do some digging. Hit him first. I have a guy—”

“Reign in that Reyes Revenge fantasy, remember how much trouble it got us into in college?” Clarke laughs. “Look, I love you for worrying about it, but I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. You know I’m way behind on The Walking Dead, let’s just get caught up.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Raven says, giving in and hitting play on the DVR. Clarke reaches over and shoves her playfully; a quiet thank you. “Nothing like splattered zombies and expensive wine to relax you after a bad week.”

“You are without a doubt a better date than Roan Azgeda, if that makes you feel any better.”

“It does. But tell me that when you’re not on your third glass of wine.”

“I will.”

At the commercial breaks, instead of fast-forwarding, Raven vents to her about her week at work: the way her boss favors the male engineers over “the people like me, who actually fix the designs and make them work in the real world” and the lack of funding she gets for her projects because they never seem to fit the “vision” for the company. She talks with her hands, frustration evident in the way her wine slops around in her glass and threatens to spill onto the couch, and Clarke nods along and agrees at every pause just to keep Raven from getting too fired up. They lived together for four years in college and somehow avoided killing each other for the duration; conversations like this are a cornerstone of their friendship.

“Anyways, that’s basically why I have no interest in Wick anymore,” Raven grumbles, as the final commercial fades out and the show returns, and she turns back to the TV. “But just wait until I tell you why Sinclair has me working with him.”

“Probably because he needs you to save Wick’s ass,” Clarke replies. Raven shushes her, eyes on the screen. Clarke turns back too, but the short vibration of her cellphone on the coffee table grabs her attention instead. Before it can disturb Raven and launch another tirade, she grabs it and flicks open the text message.

[10:02 PM] Lexa Ward: You near a TV?

[10:02 PM] Clarke Griffin: Yes. Why?

[10:04 PM] Lexa Ward: We have a problem. Channel 7 News.

Clarke nudges Raven to show her the texts, and as Raven reads, Clarke grabs the remote and changes the channel.  They’re greeted with Cage Wallace’s face, his immaculately pressed suit and gleaming smile—Clarke instantly sours, gritting her teeth together.

“Oh great,” she mumbles.

“Diiiiiiick,” Raven groans at the screen.

He’s mid-interview, something that was obviously prepped and filmed this afternoon for release tonight.

“Yes, I just have to reiterate how pleased I am to have the support of the education community on this level. I know there had been some news about some other opponents in the race, like Clarke Griffin, working with some smaller organizations or giving some short speeches, but when it comes down to it, the biggest education organization in the United States has backed me and my policies, and I think that’s a pretty fitting indicator to show my weight in this race. I have the experience. Clarke Griffin can work with her boyfriend and his mother, Congresswoman Nia Azgeda, and perhaps in a few years she’ll have the same experience and she can really open up the Democratic party for California. But not yet.”

Raven’s jaw hangs open.

Cage Wallace flashes a broad smile and gives a hearty laugh—clearly meant to show that that last line was just a joke, a light-hearted jab—but Clarke takes it for what it is, a blatant call-out. It’s the type of smarmy condescension she’s come to expect from the experienced politicians she faces off with, who see her as an empty-headed blonde with a nice pair of legs.

The only thing missing was a charming nickname for her: Cage looks the type to use “love” over “Princess.” She can hear it now, and it makes her blood boil.

The news ticker at the bottom of the screen confirms what he’s saying: US Association of Educators Publicly Backs Wallace in Senate Race. As Raven swears more at the screen, pausing the news report so that she can yell insults directly at his frozen face, Clarke returns her attention to her phone.

[10:10 PM] Clarke Griffin: Fantastic. I make a speech about education and a week later he undermines me. This was on purpose.

Instead of a text reply, the phone lights up a second later with an incoming call from Lexa. She doesn’t spare a greeting when Clarke answers, but jumps right into the conversation.

“This has the possibility to undo and overshadow everything you did last week,” Lexa says. “We have to address this now. And you know we need to hit Cage Wallace back.”

“I know, I know.” Clarke squeezes her eyes shut and tries to focus. “Just give me a second.”

“Let’s just meet at the office right now. We can go over things there. How quickly can you get there?”

She looks to Raven, who has concern written all over her face now that she’s exhausted her supply of obscenities on Cage. “I…I’ll have to call a cab, I can’t drive. Raven and I have been drinking. Depending on how quickly it can get to Raven’s place, I probably won’t be at the office for another 40 minutes to an hour. It’s a Saturday night…”

There’s a silence on the other end of the line, then a jingling of keys and the slamming of a door. Lexa’s breath picks up—she’s trotting down stairs. “Text me Raven’s address,” she says. “I’ll come by and pick you up.”

 

*

 

“Do I seem too buzzed for this?” Clarke asks, fidgeting in the elevator on their way down.

Raven raises an eyebrow at her. “I drank the other half of the bottle, Griffin. Blind leading the blind right now.”

“Thanks.”

“Always.”

Clarke could have done this on her own, but Raven was intent on escorting her down to the lobby and out onto the street. Outside, they immediately see a nice sedan idling by the curb: the moment Lexa looks over and spots them both, she switches off the engine and gets out of the car, coming around to extend a hand to Raven.

“Lexa Ward,” she says politely. “Pleasure to meet you.”

“Raven Reyes,” Raven replies, with a subtle imitation of Lexa’s formality. She grins to herself as they shake hands and Clarke rolls her eyes.

Lexa looks to Clarke, studying her face as if trying to discern how drunk Clarke actually is, and she seems relieved when there is no real sign of it. She glances down at Clarke’s sweats and sweater, but makes no comment there either—it was a cozy night in, after all. She wears her usual business attire herself, but the hasty braided up-do says that Lexa probably wasn’t dressed much differently less than an hour ago.

For a moment, Clarke loses herself in that image, on what Lexa could have possibly been wearing in her own apartment, or what she was doing, or what her apartment looks like. She wants to ask, but Raven speaks up first, thankfully.

“So you came up with the fake relationship with Roan Azgeda, huh?”

“I did.” Lexa nods.

“Well…” Raven shrugs, as if expecting a more evasive answer. “Clarke can do better than that. The next fake relationship should be believable, at least.”

“I’ll keep it in mind when she runs for president.”

That pulls a grudging smile out of Raven. “Good enough.”

Clarke clears her throat—her momentary curiosity had Lexa’s home life has passed, and now all she can think of is Cage Wallace’s grin as he announced his groundbreaking education plans. If Lexa just drove twenty minutes to pick her up and was waiting with the car idling, it’s clear that they need to save the pleasantries for another time. Both Raven and Lexa pick up the hint, with Raven pulling Clarke into a quick hug and Lexa jumping back into her car.

“Thank you for the ride,” Clarke says once she’s in and the car pulls away from the curb.

“Of course. Movie night?”

"The Walking Dead."

"I still have to catch up."

"So do I."

"I'm about two seasons behind," Lexa says.

"Four here."

Part of her rages about Cage Wallace, but a deeper part of Clarke smiles at the normalcy of that exchange and wishes that they could take the night off, that Lexa could join her in Raven's living room and have a glass of wine with them. But Lexa, her smile fading back to a look of grim determination, reminds her of why they're headed to the office tonight, and Clarke grows serious.

“So about Cage—”

Lexa shakes her head, with a deep inhale and a quick sideways glance at Clarke. “Let’s just wait until we’re in the office. Can’t do anything in my car. I need to think straight and I…can’t right now.”

 

*

 

“We need to take out Cage Wallace.”

Lexa had remained perfectly quiet as she parks her car in the garage. She hadn’t said a word in the elevator to the empty top floor of the building. She’d waited patiently for Clarke to unlock her office and switch on her computer. And the moment Clarke looks up at her, that is what flies out of her mouth like it’s something she’s been biting back for hours. She doesn’t shout it: she’s all cool rage and dangerous, flashing dark eyes.

“Take out Cage Wallace?” Clarke scoffs. “You don’t know anything about California politics if you think that’s possible.”

“I don’t care who his dad is, Clarke. You still have a fight with the other two candidates before you face him. If he’s attacking you this early, he’s going to make it impossible to get through the primary election, let alone face him in the general senate election.”

“I hate him, but I can’t attack him directly, Lexa, I don’t have the money or the political clout for that right now. He’d destroy me.”

“You can’t just lie down and take this, Clarke,” Lexa says, pursing her lips.

“I can’t stand up and fight him either!”

“If you don’t—”

“I know! I know, Lexa, I know. Just…hold on.”

Accordingly, Lexa shuts her mouth and lets Clarke work it out herself; she runs her fingers back through her messy blonde hair in frustration, sighing heavily at the desk. An hour ago the wine was a welcome haze, but now, Clarke struggles to think clearly through it, and the effect is only worsened by the feeling of Lexa’s eyes on her, waiting. She doesn’t want to deal with this right now.

And then, after worrying at her lips for so long they’ve turned a bright cherry rid, she looks up in surprise.

“I have an idea.”

Lexa has never seen this particular sparkle of inspiration in Clarke’s eyes before—she raises her chin, wary. “…what is it?”

Clarke has already pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number, ignoring her campaign manager.

“Wells? It’s Clarke...oh come on, it’s not like you’re asleep. You always work late. Listen. I need a favor… Yeah, sure. I have time. I’ll be here.”

She hangs up the phone and tosses it onto the desk, then walks across the room with an anxious, contained stride—all of which has Lexa’s face twisted even deeper in confusion. She waits for a moment for Clarke to explain but when the office stays silent, Lexa sets down her notebook next to Clarke’s phone and follows her to the window. Clarke looks down over the city, the streetlights from far below reflecting in her blue eyes, and seems far away; Lexa stares at her for a long moment before speaking.

“So are you going to explain that? Who’s Wells?”

Clarke smiles softly. “Sorry,” she says, turning to meet Lexa’s eyes. “Wells Jaha. He’s a journalist up in San Francisco, an old friend of mine. We went to college together and have always stayed in touch. He’s on his way home from the office right now, he said he’d call me when he’s out of the cab.”

“Call you for what…?” Lexa leads.

Before Clarke can answer, her phone rings from the desk. She and Lexa cross the room together and Lexa hovers close as Clarke picks it up and answers.

“Okay, good, you’re home,” Clarke says to Wells. “I presume you heard the news about Cage Wallace on the news today? I know, he’s awful. I hate the Wallaces almost as much as you do.”

Lexa’s curiosity is mounting, stress clearly evident in the tightness of her jaw; Clarke is maddeningly calm. It must be the wine. She won’t look at Lexa as she chats idly with Wells about Cage’s statement, her voice like they’re discussing the weather rather than the campaign opponent who has started an early, and petty, smear campaign.

“Clarke,” she whispers, tapping her foot impatiently. “Please explain to me what you’re doing before you do anything—”

“Anyway, Wells, I need you to set up a front-page level interview with Cage Wallace.”

Clarke—”

“And then, I want you to send it to me and let me write the article for you to publish. Sound good?”

“You’re going to what?” Lexa demands.

And she’s silenced once more when Clarke holds up a hand—on the other end of the line, she can’t hear Wells disagreeing, but Clarke argues her position anyway. She looks Lexa straight in the eye as she speaks, already knowing which objections Lexa will voice. She doesn’t have to hear them. Clarke Griffin’s father taught her to play chess, and she’s damn good at it.

“Listen. You’re going to do this; I’ll write the questions; you interview; you send them to me and I write the article. It’s going to be incredibly controversial and he’ll attack you for it and you’ll shoot to journalistic fame for asking the hard questions. And three months from now, you’re going to put me in the hot seat and get famous again for it, and I’m going to handle it perfectly and Cage comes out looking like a fool. Deal?”

Lexa falls into a stunned silence. She can hear the silence on the other end of the line, too, until a single word comes across: “Deal.”

A Cheshire cat grin cracks over Clarke’s face.

 

*

 

Wells promises to start calling that night to get the interview in place—he wants Clarke on standby so that he can update her immediately. So while he makes his way through his network of contacts, available to him even at 11 PM on a Saturday night, Clarke and Lexa pull the office chairs over to the floor-to-ceiling windows and curl up in them to wait. Clarke has dimmed the lights in the office; the lights of the city below fill the room now, bathing them in a blue and gold glow.

“I guess Los Angeles isn’t that bad,” Lexa says, after several minutes looking down on the city.

Clarke laughs quietly. “I’m pretty sure every city looks amazing when you’re thirty stories up and seeing it at night. But I’m glad you’re coming around to LA anyway.”

“It’s a process.” She hums in the silence. There’s a small smile on her lips when she glances at Clarke, and for Clarke, that smile is enough of a victory for her not to push it. This peace between them is comforting, and Clarke is content to leave it that way.

A while longer passes before Lexa speaks up again. “I have to say, even though I saw you with the party leaders in Sacramento… this sort of move was not something I expected from you, Clarke. Not after your adamancy about the first interview with Niylah.”

“You disapprove?” Clarke asks.

“Not at all,” Lexa says with a shake of her head. “There are good lawmakers, and then there are good politicians. I know you can be the former; I questioned the latter. Until tonight.”

“Care to explain that dichotomy, Miss Ward?”

The use of her last name is a little playful, a little threatening: Clarke, with the last tendrils of intoxication wrapping her mind, can’t help but bristle at even the suggestion Lexa ever questioned her competency. But Lexa understands, and remains unruffled by Clarke’s attempt to get a rise out of her.

“Governance and lawmaking are the honest, public benefit parts,” explains Lexa. “But to get to that point requires the ability to play the game. The sort of plan you came up with with Wells Jaha is an excellent example.”

“I enjoy it,” Clarke admits, surprising herself. She chews the inside of her cheek for a moment because she knows that she shouldn’t, she knows that she should keep her feet planted in the light, on the high road; but Lexa, looking ethereal with the city light illuminating her face from below, somehow draws out the truth in Clarke. Has her admitting things she shouldn’t or doesn’t think about. She opens her. “I focus on the governance part and I know it’s the most important but selfishly…I enjoy the other side.”

“You’re not a bad person for feeling that way,” Lexa says with a low laugh. “You’re a very good person. Your intentions are still pure. You will just take whichever road will get you there. The secrets, the lies, the darker side. There’s a draw to it. I don’t fault you at all, Clarke.”

Lexa looks out over the city again, leaving Clarke to study her profile; Lexa’s low, tired voice still rings in her ears: secrets, lies, the darker side. There’s a draw to it. Something stirs deep in her stomach and her breathe catches. Clarke has to swallow several times and force her gaze away from Lexa to calm whatever had suddenly risen in her chest. She wishes she had another glass of wine.

Wells calls again, not long after that. He has a vague promise of an interview with Cage Wallace, one that he is certain he can develop into something concrete by Monday, but he can’t do anything else tonight. Clarke thanks him, and for the next several hours, she and Lexa develop a plan of attack for the interview, writing out a series of questions to send to Wells by tomorrow evening. They take turns pacing, barefoot, across the room, while the other transcribes. Neither is satisfied with the end product but by 2 AM, they’ve begun to repeat discarded questions from earlier and they are forced to call it a night.

 

*

 

They talk little on the ride to Clarke’s apartment, besides the occasional directions Clarke offers. On one hand, it’s a good thing: any more talk of work, after a road trip and a full week in the office and six hours of her weekend evening centering around it so far, would quite possibly drive her insane. A few hours drinking wine with Raven was not enough to ease her tension and frustration.

On the other hand, the lack of conversation pulls Clarke’s mind right back to those quiet moments by the window, the sound of Lexa’s low voice as she talked about her Machiavellian philosophy to it all and made it sound appealing. Replaying the scene, over and over again, Clarke feels the same strange stirring in her stomach, something deep, heavy, warm, and not entirely unpleasant—just unusual. She tries to throttle it into submission again and this time, tired as she is, she fails. Clarke shifts in her seat as the feeling grows in her stomach, and she counts the minutes until she’s home.

“You made a good call tonight, Clarke,” Lexa says when she pulls along the curb in front of Clarke’s apartment building. “Sleep in tomorrow. Skip the workout.”

“You should too,” Clarke replies, with half a smile even as she unclips her seatbelt and opens the door, clambering out of the car. “Good night, Lexa.”

If Lexa is taken aback by Clarke’s quick exit, she shows no sign of it. She’s as cool as ever. “Goodnight, Clarke.”

 

*

 

She skips the shower; she can take a long, luxurious one in the morning. But once she climbs into bed and the minutes stretch long without the reprieve of sleep, she begins to regret that decision. The struggles of day still cling to her and she’s restless, her mind tired but her body prickling with an uncomfortable heat. She’s anxious. No position relaxes her.

Gritting her teeth, Clarke considers her options. Sleep seems impossible. She could just stay up for another few hours, finish some reading, and then head to the gym at dawn to grind out whatever frustration burns in her muscles.

Or, she could stay here in bed and…curious, Clarke trails her fingers along her inner thighs and feels her body react to the touch. She closes her eyes in relief. She’s not so anxious and strung out that she can’t still get herself off. Simply to help herself sleep.

Clarke settles into a more comfortable position and lets her hands explore. They glide up and down her body, with just enough contact to raise goosebumps and enhance the sensitivity of her skin, enough to make her body ache for more touch. Her thighs, her stomach, her chest, across her neck and collarbone. Nowhere too sensitive, just enough of a tease.

She wants to want it, first. Before she gives herself anything, she wants that low, curling feeling in her stomach, just like what she felt with—

The sudden vibration of her phone interrupts her thoughts.

[2:55 AM] Lexa Ward: Added one more question to the interview doc when I got home. Give it a look in the morning. I’m still impressed with you and this plan, Griffin.

She doesn’t bother texting back, but the message does put Lexa on her mind.

Vividly, she can imagine Lexa’s face as it was illuminated by the streetlights below, her cheekbones accentuated by the shadows. Her full lips forming a smile as she looked down at it. Her long fingers tracing the arm of the office chair impatiently, or twirling a pen, or reaching out for Clarke to calm her down…

She shouldn’t.

She really shouldn’t.

And the more she repeats that to herself, the worse it gets.

Images of Lexa in the dark slide into Clarke’s mind. Images of Lexa pressing close come next. It’s not just a visual fantasy: Clarke can see her green eyes, with every fleck of blue and grey; she can smell the perfume from the week before in the party leaders’ office; she can feel Lexa’s body heat and taste her breath mingling with Clarke’s own. Laying in bed, Clarke can feel Lexa close and the rush of that is as intoxicating as the wine from hours earlier.

“Oh god,” she whispers, the feeling of desire rising hot and fast from deep within her. She flips over, grinds her hips into the mattress, and wills herself to think of anyone else.

Lexa’s shoulders and back shining with sweat in the cramped hotel fitness center. Lexa, peeling her clothing away, just skin and skin and skin.

Clarke buries her face in her cool pillow and strains for rational thought. She’s exhausted, drained, weak. She’s been stressed all week and as Raven pointed out, it’s not like she’s been having sex, or any other outlet for her emotions lately. In her current state of mind, strung out as she is and probably still feeling the effects of the wine, it’s not like she’ll remember any of this in the morning anyway.

She lets go.

The next image, unbidden, is of Lexa kneeling in front of her, looking up through thick lashes with a darkness in her green eyes, tongue running over her lower lip as she asks Clarke for permission. Clarke nods. Then Lexa’s warm mouth on the inside her legs, the bite of her fingernails raking down Clarke’s lower back. Lexa whispering tender affirmations and dark promises against her skin.

Clarke lets out a shaky exhale, bites her lip, and lets her fingers slip between her legs. The moan jumps to her lips.

Lexa.”