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in love and war and politics

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The only way to survive in Clarke's life is through organization and planning. She categorizes, plans, keeps track of endless to-do lists, and when it's time to act, she acts with brutal, swift efficiency. During her years as a lawyer, she had to learn how to kill her racing thoughts of alternative strategies and different routes of attack, or else they would keep her up through the night. Now she can effortlessly ignore her lack of romantic relationships (even when Raven points it out rather often) and focus instead on drafting policy. She can prioritize positive strategy over the emotional response to attacks from her opponents. She can rationalize Saturday night as a moment of weakness that happened to include Lexa, rather than being crippled by the guilt of abandoning her professional stature and getting herself off to the thought Lexa between her legs.

Clarke does a damn fine job of forgetting about all of it. Until Monday morning, when Lexa does a damn good job of reminding her. All it takes is an easy "Good morning, Clarke. How was your weekend?" to crumble the walls Clarke had built up to keep out the guilt. She manages to mutter out a clipped, polite response and then retreat to her office, closing the blinds to indicate she's not to be disturbed.

At her desk in the silence, the thick feeling guilt rises fast into her throat.

Your employee. You’re better than that. Pull it together.

Her employee with fantastic—“Damn it, Griffin,” she tells herself again, and throws herself into her unread email box with uncommon fervor. She has 384 waiting and she’s not even sure which ones require a response. For most of the morning, she’s left alone to tackle them, making a sizable dent, until her intercom inevitably buzzes.

“Miss Griffin?”

Thankfully, it’s only Sarah. Clarke will welcome any distraction not named Lexa Ward right now. “Come on in.”

The door cracks open a second later and Sarah slips in. “I have the agenda for the general department meeting later,” she says brightly, handing it over. “And did you want me to make a coffee run for you? It’s already 11 AM.”

Exultations of gratitude jump to Clarke’s lips, but instead, she furrows her brow. “Wait, is Miss Ward not going for coffee today?”

“She didn’t mention anything to me about it. She only goes sometimes. I can ask?”

“Oh…uh, no, don’t ask. That’s fine. Coffee would be great, thank you, Sarah.”

"Miss Griffin?" And Clarke looks up again, to see that now Sarah is the one with a face twisted in confusion. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine!" Clarke answers, a little too quickly, but a fast answer is better than choking on the sudden churn of guilt in her stomach. Sarah, as always, knows not to ask questions, and bows out with a promise of coffee.

 

 

Fifteen minutes into the noontime fundraising meeting, Clarke takes a long sip of that latte, pulls it away from her lips, and stares wistfully at it, because she knows that as good as it is, it will not be anywhere near enough to keep her from going insane today. Sometimes you just know that you’re going to need more than one.

It starts with her opening line. “Three months out from the primary elections,” Clarke declares, taking a seat. “Where are we with our funds?”

And it just goes downhill from there.

They’ve always been the underdog. Clarke is by no means poor. She’s well-publicized as the offspring of a surgeon-turned-politician and a high-level aeronautics engineer, but she has neither the old family money of the Wallace lineage nor the years of loyal donors that Vincent Vie and Diana Sydney. In a battleground state, the campaign is certain to run far north of twenty million for the successful candidate.

“Until the party gets fully behind us, the big money will come from the special interest groups,” says John Mbege, one of her strategists. “We just need to decide who to work with.”

“I’m working on it,” Clarke sighs. Lately, the entire campaign team regardless of department has been stretched thin because every intern has been assigned to research and reports on the special interest groups interested in working with—and donating to—Clarke’s campaign. She’s spent hours combing through these reports and they still pile up every day.

“We can’t do much until—”

“I’m aware,” she says, voice tight. “I’m trying to balance the money offered by the groups with how much they would help our campaign in areas where we’re lagging in the polls. I have a few dozen more to sort through. What else do we have?”

The tone of her voice reflects in the tension of the room, and John, unwilling to slice through it, shifts the responsibility to Monty with a glance, who passes it to Jasper, and so on down the line, with no one speaking. At last, it’s Lexa who clears her throat: “I have a series of media interviews I’m working on securing,” she says, “They’ll raise your profile, and your donations from individuals.”

“Great.” Clarke notes that without looking up.

She can feel the tension in the room get thicker, but it’s the lesser of two evils: when Lexa had entered the room and taken the seat across the table from Clarke, giving her a small smile and nod of greeting, she had set Clarke’s head spinning. Her presence alone makes Clarke feel as if she’s wearing a corset, unable to pull in air. It’s damn near impossible to look at her and not see the glimpses of fantasy she had used Saturday night. Her fingers twirling a pen, her teeth worrying her lip as she scans a report, the tight cut of her shirt and the way it ripples when she shifts positions in her seat—the majority of Clarke’s focus while other people speak goes into ignoring these glaring aspects of Lexa, which of course means she zeroes in on them, which just requires more effort to ignore and leaves little energy for the actual political matters at hand.

Sterling is the next one to speak up, and, mercifully, he sits at the far end of the table, well away from Lexa. “I think…” he begins pensively, before he shuts his mouth again. He only continues at Clarke’s urging: “I think we should set up an event for media and donors. A thank you dinner or event, for those groups who have already contributed and the special interests who will soon, and gain the campaign some attention. Fancy, high-brow, at a museum or historical Los Angeles site somewhere.”

Clarke’s answer is immediate: “No. We don’t need some flashy event right now, and we don’t need our resources going to it—”

“I agree with Sterling,” Lexa interrupts simply. “People would love it. It’s something we should start planning immediately.”

“It’s entirely unnecessary,” Clarke argues. “I have a general debate coming up in in a month. Next week, I go on a two week road trip. When are we going to squeeze in a gala? We’re here to talk about how to raise funds, not spend them.”

“This would raise funds, Clarke. It raises your profile in the eyes of your donors and the media, it makes you look good, which draws in more money.”

“It’s a distraction we don’t need right now.”

“It’s a short-term sacrifice you’re going to need to make for long-term benefit,” Lexa says, in a clipped voice that shocks through Clarke: she thinks back to her appraisal of Lexa as a military leader in a former life, and adds this new experience to it. “If you find it distasteful, you only need to make a brief appearance, I’ll handle the rest.”

A dozen pairs of eyes flick back and forth between Clarke and Lexa, sensing the heat in the air between them but entirely unaware of the clenching muscles in Clarke’s stomach as she tries to avoid thinking about what happened the past week. She can’t look away from Lexa, from the way the girl’s jaw works tightly back and forth, but she can feel the gazes of her employees that tell her to finish this battle.

“Fine, have the damn thing,” she sighs. “You’re in charge, Miss Ward. But keep it small—I won’t let it become a distraction at this point. We have way bigger fish to fry.”

Lexa assigns Sterling to the planning commission and they agree to assemble a larger group later. They discuss the style and scope for several minutes: Jasper suggests black-tie; Monroe pushes for semi-formal; Monty makes the head-scratching proposal of hosting it on a yacht out of Long Beach. Clarke stays out of the discussions, knowing that nothing will be solidified right now anyway, until at last Lexa raises a hand to silence the group.

“We’re getting off topic,” she declares. “The only other thing we have left on the agenda is making sure we have the funds for a personnel expansion, because we need to start hiring again for the final push before primaries. Do we?”

Monroe flips through a few pages of her binder. “We should. For a small enough group. I can work with Miller to make sure we do, once we have a list of positions that need to be filled.”

Lexa, satisfied, turns her green eyes on Clarke. “A job for the State Representative. Miss Griffin, can you put together a list of the staffing requirements so that Miller can look over it and start hiring again?”

What’s one more agenda item to be completed in the next five days? “Yes,” Clarke agrees, forcing herself to relax again—and not entire sure she’s succeeding.

With that, and a few more words of direction, Lexa ends the meeting and the room almost instantly brightens again as the rest of her employees stand and start migrating toward the door. Clarke looks down at her notepad: it is a mess of lists and stats and numbers, scribbled in every direction thanks to the intensity of the meeting and the conversations and arguments within, but most glaring on the sheet is the list of tasks she has to take care of in the next week. It makes her email inbox look like heaven. She drops her pen with a quiet sigh and looks across the table at Lexa.

“So, we got quite a bit settled.” She studies Clarke for a moment, searching for the source of her earlier frustration, but Clarke doesn’t give things away so easily. “How’s your agenda looking?”

“Settled,” Clarke agrees with a humorless laugh, and begins to recite her list of tasks: “I have a week until I leave on the next trip. I need to put together those staffing requirements for Miller, sift through all the potential special interest partners and make play calls on them, approve additional donation strategies, and work with you on those interview requests. And hope that at least one of those things gives me an edge on Vincent Vie and Diana Sydney.”

“They will,” Lexa says confidently.

“And will the gala? Playing dress-up?” As the daughter of Abby Griffin, former congresswoman, she’s no stranger to all manner of events and dinners and galas. She excels at them. But at this point, when she’s behind in the polls against two seasoned veterans, a glamourous night out with the cameras flashing does not sound like a good use of her time—or money.

“That will too,” Lexa says, and she’s almost infuriating in her smooth nonchalance. No, scratch that—she is infuriating, the way she dips her head ever so slightly and focuses on Clarke, clearly searching for the source of this unusual bitterness. With a glance to the door, she leans in close and drops her voice.

“And…did Wells Jaha get back to you about the interview?” She reaches out, her fingers brushing across the back of Clarke’s wrist.

Clarke didn’t hear a single word. She heard the sound of them—the low, rasping, breathy sound of Lexa’s voice whispered across the inches between them—but the English language failed to register. Lexa’s fingers are too near the pulse point on her wrist; she’s going to know. She’s going to feel the jump in her heart rate. Suddenly desperate, Clarke is on her feet in a half a second, as if with the vain hope that she could outrun the sudden jolt of heat that shot down her spine.

“He hasn’t yet,” she says quickly, “but I’ll let you know when he does. In the meantime, I better get started if I want to get out of here before midnight.”

She swears for a moment when she looks back that Lexa’s face is red, but she doesn’t stop to look closer—anything having to do with Lexa’s face is not something she wants to spend any more time on.

 

 

News of Clarke’s mood must spread fast through the office. On the occasion she has to emerge from her personal office to grab a set of poll results from Harper and her two interns, she’s met with averted eyes and the type of reserved responses that are entirely uncharacteristic for her whole campaign office. She feels a fresh pang of guilt at that, but when she knows she has so much to take care of, she can’t spare time for small-talk to ease the mood. She’ll deal with it later. Beyond that, she’s left alone for most of the afternoon, which would be nearly a record, if not for the intercom buzz at 3PM.

“Miss Griffin, Roan Azgeda is here to see you.”

So there is a god, and he’s working against her.

At Clarke’s reluctant consent, Roan sweeps into her office with a bouquet of roses, strutting across the tile floor and offering them to her with a Shakespearean flourish—his broad grin flips to a frown when her raised brow doesn’t come down and her arms don’t uncross.

“Okay, love of my life, at least pull your weight and take the roses,” he grumbles, rolling his eyes.

Since she can see a few curious looks through the office window, Clarke snatches the flowers from his hand. “You—fake roses?”

Roan shrugs, getting to his feet. “Fake relationship.”

“Funny.”

“It’s one of the many services I offer, your campaign manager paid extra for it. Anyway, I figured we’ve gone too long without a public appearance, so I have reservations at one of the bigger celebrity places downtown. Seven good?”

As if she really has any choice. After pointedly not laughing at his offer to grab some water for the roses, she agrees to meet him for dinner at seven downtown, which necessitates an early exit from work despite the fact that her to-do list is longer than her fake boyfriend’s hair. Clarke has never been one for dressing up outside of work, preferring staying in for dinners and nights with friends, or at least drinks at somewhere that would allow her to wear jeans. But this arrangement is all about appearance, so Clarke spends over an hour putting together an outfit, styling her hair, and applying make-up.

With her last glance in the mirror, she thinks about Lexa and if her campaign manager would approve. Classy, elegant, a black skirt and white shirt that shows just enough skin for a night out—it should be right up Lexa’s alley, Clarke reasons. For the image they’re trying to present of a cool, put-together woman of the people, that is.

When Roan said a popular downtown place, he meant it. He texts her that he’s waiting inside so when Clarke’s Uber drops her off at the curb, she makes the long walk to the restaurant doors on her own, blinded by the lightning storm of camera flashes from the photographers and tourists lined up for celebrity sightings.

“Nicely done,” he says in her ear, once she gets through the doors—she only recognizes him by his voice because purple spots swim in her vision after the barrage of camera flashes. “I’ll make sure to walk you out of here when we leave, there will be even more an hour from now.”

At least the steak is worth it. Clarke is able to forget the photographers outside, and is almost able to ignore Roan’s questions about the campaign—almost—as she works through her filet mignon and roast vegetables, coming from his wallet instead of her campaign’s tonight. An offer to go with the fake roses.

“I’ve been reading the papers,” Roan says. “You’re polling about average with women, ahead with young voters, and behind in everything else, especially moderate voters. Way behind in male voters. Overall, Vincent Vie has a five point lead on Sydney and an eight point lead on you.”

Clarke knows. She gets alerts when they change—on her phone, and from about six different people in her office. She sees the numbers in her sleep.

“We’re working on it,” she replies. “Those numbers are malleable, it’s early. I haven’t even faced them in a debate yet.”

“The fact that you’re behind in pretty much everything means you’re going to have to go into the upcoming debate ready to argue it all.” Clarke knows this too, but she can sense the point of his explanations coming soon, so she sets down her fork to wait. “Or, you can get ahead of the game now and roll into the debate with a lead.”

Clarke folds her hands into her lap. “And your suggestion for that is…?”

“Use more than my family name: work with my mother and her political allies now, work with their special interest groups. She has connections, and she appeals to all the demographics you’re behind in.”

“There are reasons I’m behind in those demographics,” Clarke says, with a dispassionate shrug. “I don’t agree with many of your mother’s policies, even though we’re in the same party. She has a Vincent Vie style of voting, too many compromises for my taste. I’ll take her endorsement and support her against opposing parties but I don’t need her allies.”

Roan sits back. “There’s a reason my mother and Vincent Vie have been in office for so long. You’re new to this.”

“As I’ve been reminded,” Clarke snaps. “Now, your turn: as an example, remind me what your mother’s policy on LGBT rights is?”

“It’s…more conservative than my own.”

“Or mine,” she says. “Your mother isn’t Cage or Dante Wallace, I agree, but right now I have three LGBT groups who want to pledge money and support to my campaign, sitting on my desk waiting for my approval. I’d take them over your mother’s more conservative allies, even if she would help me in the polls.”

“I’m just trying to make this easier on you, Clarke. Yes, she swings toward the middle ground in order to gain support for re-elections, but you could have a ready-made political army on your side if you use hers, rather than trying to build your own three months before primaries.”

“Your mother has said she’ll support me, and I appreciate her political clout in that, but I’ll forge my own alliances, Roan.”

He shrugs and sits back in his chair, jack and coke in hand. “Suit yourself.”

He manages, at least, to swing the conversation to lighter topics to pass the time until the check comes, and Clarke engages politely while her mind sifts through the pile of donor groups she has sitting on her desk back at her office. Her political army, ready to be built, just as soon as she can make a decision on them. She had planned to leave it for the morning, get an early start, but after she smiles her way through the photographer’s gauntlet outside the restaurant and climbs into the car with Roan, she gives the address of her office, rather than her apartment.

“It’s almost nine,” Roan points out, brow furrowing.

“Great. Still early, then.”

 

*

 

As the elevator rises to the 50th floor, she plans out her attack: three dozen reports and a work rate of one every twenty minutes means she can knock out a quarter of them by midnight. She’s considering the possibility and time requirements of turning on the break room coffee machine, weighing the taste of the coffee against the ask ahead of her, when the elevator doors slide open to her top floor campaign headquarters. As it has been so many late nights, the office is dark and still. As expected, the office is dark and still, but the solitude is oddly comforting: it’s just something she’s used to.

That is, at least, until she notices a light on in a single room across the office. Lexa’s office.

A sudden, insatiable curiosity tugs at her, probably because she had spent almost the entire day sequestered away from the rest of her employees, and most of her human interaction came on her date with Roan. Clarke built that wall up on purpose, so she could focus on her work and keep the intrusive thoughts of the morning out, but the light in Lexa’s office demolishes that wall in half a second.

The sound of her heels on the tile precede her. Lexa is looking toward the door when Clarke leans in, but the papers scattered over her desk imply that she’s has just as much work as Clarke does. Unlike her boss, however, Lexa’s face is calm and smooth.

“Hi, Clarke. Can I help you with something?”

Clarke stammers for an answer to that question, which shouldn’t be asked in such a neutral tone this late at night. “I just, uh—What are you still doing here, Miss—Lexa?”

“Miss Lexa?” she says, raising an eyebrow while the corner of her mouth twitches.

It’s the kind of smile that she should draw away from, that could send her spiraling into more unnecessary stress like the kind she carried throughout this morning, but Clarke ignores it: she allows the fact that there is someone to enjoy the loneliness with her warm her chest instead. She leans against the doorway.

“It’s late. I’m tired.”

“That’s the first time I think I’ve heard you ever admit any weakness, Clarke.”

“You think that’s weakness?” Clarke scoffs. “To be honest with you, on the way up here I was considering drinking the break room coffee. I’m that far gone.”

Her eyes darken and her frown grows deeper. “Jesus.”

She looks so legitimately worried that Clarke feels the need to give her a small smile of reassurance. She nods to the papers on Lexa’s desk. “Desperate times,” she says casually. “Anyway, Lexa, why are you still here? Seven is the latest anyone stays these days.”

“Anyone who isn’t you, I’ve heard.” Lexa grabs a stack of papers from her desk and strides across the room to hand it to Clarke. “I took care of the personnel requirements for you; just approve that list of vacancies we need filled and I’ll send it to Miller in the morning so he can start searching.”

“You--you did?” Clarke breathes, relief flooding her—the report had loomed ominously over her all afternoon. She flicks through the stack to see page after page of what she is sure are well-written analyses of the departments and their needs. “I mean, thank you. God, I knew we’d made the right call when we hired you, Lexa.”

When she looks up from the file, she catches the last heartbeat of a cocky smirk and glowing green eyes, fixed on her face, not on the file in her hands. Lexa resolves her features immediately into her regular cool impassiveness, but not before the image burns into Clarke’s memory and knocks the wind out of her chest. Warmth shoots down her spine and she has to clamp her mouth shut and force a matching smoothness over her face to prevent her more visceral reaction from showing.

Lexa studies her, and for a moment Clarke thinks she may be able to read the swirling emotions behind her eyes, but if she does, she gives no sign of it.

 “Now, why are you back?” she asks instead. “I heard that you went to dinner with Mr. Azgeda, I wasn’t expecting you to come back tonight.” Her eyes flick down from Clarke’s face, running over her black skirt, all the way down her bare legs to the strappy heels she wears. Lexa examines her world constantly, taking her time to study it before she reacts, and Clarke shifts under the weight of her attention. A small part of her wonders, as she had earlier in the evening, if Lexa likes the outfit; that part is overpowered by her sudden self-consciousness. To make up for it, she does her best to adopt a matter-of-fact tone for her response.

“I’m about sixty percent of the way through the special interest groups. I wanted to get through a few more.”

“Devoted.”

“Pissed off. Roan was talking politics at dinner.”

“Whatever works. Well, if you want, I was looking at some earlier,” Lexa offers, “and I have some thoughts. Would you mind if I came and checked over what you’ve worked through so far?”

Having a casual conversation with Lexa is one thing, but when it comes to the idea of spending a few hours working together in her office again, Clarke can only think of a few things she would like less—being forced to drink lite beer, reading Latin, and losing to Cage Wallace, for a few examples.

But scattered as her mind is right now, she can’t form a valid excuse to send Lexa home.

“It probably won’t be long. I’m just going to be a few more minutes in my office,” she tries anyway, knowing it’s weak. Lexa nods earnestly.

“Great. I work fast.”

“Clearly.”

Lexa’s brow furrows ever so slightly.

“The report you put together for Miller,” Clarke says quickly. “I didn’t think I would have it for him until Wednesday if I had done it myself.”

“Oh.” Lexa swallows. “Yeah, of course. These special interest reports will be much faster than that.”

Her proximity has Clarke’s body temperature up, whether it be from guilt or frustration or...something else. She steps aside in the doorway to give Lexa as wide a berth as possible and still, as Lexa passes her, it’s too close, it’s too easy to reach out and touch her, wrap an arm around her waist.

That thought is the final straw.

Lexa leaves Clarke standing in the doorway, gritting her teeth so hard her blood pounds in her temples. This is ridiculous. The pathetic avoidance tactic she’s been employing all day is ridiculous. The fact that she would pay any attention to some fleeting impulse that could have a hundred different motivations behind it is ridiculous. Lexa is her campaign manager, she’s a pretty girl, but more importantly, she’s fucking great at her job. Hiding away from ten (twenty) minutes of a mistake she committed at three AM while not in her right mind is not the way to deal with this. Clarke is a professional. She’s going to be a goddamn Senator. This is nothing.

That charming propriety she has cultivated over her admittedly few years in politics is in full swing by the time she sits down at her desk. She gives Lexa a few of the completed write-ups to check over and returns to the half-finished one on her laptop, searching for a good end point to wrap up and leave for the night.

After a few minutes of this, the silence becomes distracting. Clarke clears her throat; Lexa’s attention snaps up.

"Thank you, for staying tonight,” she says quietly. “It's entirely unnecessary but not unappreciated."

Lexa inclines her head with the type of deference that Clarke's curt tone demands. Entirely professional. Two colleagues. That's all.

"It is necessary, though," Lexa adds, a few minutes later. She looks up again to meet Clarke’s curious gaze. "My job is to run your campaign, yes, but more importantly I’m here to smooth out your rough edges so that people want to elect you to represent them. If you're constantly on edge, it makes my job infinitely more difficult."

It's part admonishment, part politeness, part teasing joke, leaving Clarke with heat rising in her cheeks when she doesn't know quite how to respond. But after letting her hang for a few seconds, Lexa glances up from the paperwork with a small smirk on her face. Seeing her green eyes spark with amusement, all of Clarke's confusion rushes out of her at once, leaving only a warm, pleasant ache in her chest; she lingers on Lexa even when the girl looks back down to the paperwork.

After a moment, Clarke forces herself to do the same.

 

*

 

What she had intended as an anxious few minutes with Lexa never becomes anxious, and stretches long past a few minutes once they begin to move through the reports with efficiency. The gratitude Clarke feels with having a partner in crime is more than enough to overpower any lingering guilt for the time being—she wants to shout her appreciation to the roof.

Clarke tends to pace while she works; Lexa, on the other hand, sit enthroned in one of the guest chairs, her only movement coming from the drumming of her fingers on the chair’s arm as she reads. Neither seems to bother the other. In fact, they barely interact as they go through report after report; they are reassured more by the presence of each other, rather than a stream of constant communication as they work.

The occasions Lexa speaks, however, Clarke finds herself looking forward to. The conversations come when she disagrees with one of Clarke’s decisions, her opposition allowing for Clarke to work debate and argument muscles she hasn’t stretched since her days of working as a lawyer. Mid-way through a discussion about the merits of a Southern California agriculture company versus a Northern California one, Clarke realizes that Lexa is actually smiling, and, with a shock, so is Clarke herself. She wins that argument with a new burst of enthusiasm and Lexa just shakes her head, smiling ruefully and tucking a strand of loose hair behind her ear after it slips free of her neatly styled up-do.

It’s such a simple movement—it shouldn’t draw forth such a strong ripple of affection. But it does. She stares at Lexa, riding high on the intellectual debates and the fact that they’ve nearly completed their goal, and makes a snap decision to try to reconcile the sudden lightness of it all.

“We’re enjoying this too much,” she jokes, with a laugh. “We need to call it a night and get out of here. I can finish the last of these tomorrow during work hours.”

Lexa replies quickly: “You can leave. I’ll finish it for you.”

“Lexa, it’s past midnight, I’m not letting you stay to finish my work for me. You already did the hiring report. Tell me you’re not tired.”

The slow blink of her eyes betrays her and Clarke grins triumphantly. “Come on. Let’s go.”

 

They take the long elevator ride down in silence, the exhaustion setting in quickly now that they’re not focused on the work anymore. With the muffled feeling of fatigue, Clarke doesn’t care that they’re nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaning together against the back rail. She’s a professional. When the doors slide open on the expansive slate and silver lobby, they nod to the night shift guard, Murphy.

“Evening, ladies. Just a heads up, you got a handful of guys with cameras out there,” Murphy points out before they get to the front door. “Want me to run them off for you? Farthest I can threaten them to is across the street, legally.”

Clarke manages to bite back a curse when she sees a small cadre of photographers waiting outside the building’s entrance. “Ugh, they must have followed me from dinner tonight.”

“They were at dinner?” Lexa says sharply.

“Yeah. My romance with Roan is really taking off.” A shadow of guilt crosses Lexa’s face, and Clarke continues to reassure her, “It’s fine. I’ll stay in here with Murphy until my cab gets here, and hurry past them.”

Lexa had begun shaking her head at my cab. “I can give you a ride home,” she says, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

She wants to argue, she does. But a cab ride will put an extra thirty minutes between her and her 800 count sheets, and with the way Lexa is looking at her, pitying her with equally tired eyes, she can’t resist.

 

*

 

The last time she was in Lexa’s car, her mind had been swimming with wine and Cage Wallace’s first open declaration of war, and she hadn’t fully been able to appreciate the leather and lines and faint pine smell of Lexa’s BMW. She takes her time to appreciate the car now: they’re driving in silence, and while Clarke has found deep comfort in Lexa’s presence without the need to talk, she hasn’t quite reached the same level with Lexa’s presence without a desk between them. It’s hard to focus on work when they’re not at work, so to keep her mind from going places she’s held it back from all day, she directs it elsewhere.

“So, how was dinner with Mr. Azgeda?” Lexa asks, finally breaking the silence.

“Fine. Steak and a great salad.”

“What pissed you off enough to drive back to the office and go to work when most sane people are curled up at home, watching TV before bed?”

“I could ask the same question, Lexa,” Clarke replies.

Lexa chuckles softly. “I stayed because I need to get ahead of your workload, because I want to win this thing. So I’m willing to forgo my curled up in front of the TV time. You, on the other hand, had a date and still came back to work…was it a bad date? Is Raven right, should I have picked someone better for you?”

The tightness of her voice implies that it’s actually weighing on her; Clarke hums in reassurance. “No, no, Roan is great, on a personal level. But tonight he offered his mother’s allies and special interest connections as if I can’t do it without her help.”

The pause before Lexa answers gives it away. “He’s right, Clarke.”

“He’s not. I’m glad for her endorsement but I don’t need a political partnership that goes against some of my values, just so I can have an easier election.”

“Doing what he said would have eliminated the need for all the work we were doing in your office. It would probably put us ahead in the overall polls without any effort from us.”

“She’s powerful and she swings left but so many of her moves are made to gain the support of the many, not for real change. Look up her old voting records,” Clarke says firmly. “Values.”

She gives a short huff. “You’re infuriating, you know that?”

It’s soft, though, and that softness prevents Clarke from showing just how infuriating she can be and doing something like opening the car door at this red light and walking the rest of the way home. “You’re pretty infuriating sometimes yourself,” she replies instead. “Speaking of, how’s that gala planning coming?”

“Fine,” Lexa answers coolly.

“Good.”

Another huff, this time of amusement. “You know, my ex-girlfriend would have liked you.”

 “Your—” And Clarke immediately clamps her mouth shut because the rest of her sentence could go at least three different directions and she can’t pick. Lexa saves her with a small smile.

“Yes, ex-girlfriend. I’m a lesbian.” There’s no sign of anxiousness on her face, practiced and stoic as she always is, but Clarke picks up more than that: the way her fingers massage the leather of the steering wheel, the slow but steady bounce of her knee. “Costia…she had the same bullheaded passion for things that you do. You’d get along well. God help the rest of us, though.”

It might be the most personal thing Lexa has ever offered, flooring Clarke for a good several seconds as she considers her options: she could match Lexa’s confession with the equal one of her own; she could ask more about Costia; she could ask more about the fact that Lexa had just come out to her, a thought that clashes like soldiers on a battlefield with the thoughts locked away in the deepest recesses of Clarke’s mind. She swallows a few times to steel herself against those. And then--

“2117, right?” Lexa asks--they’re outside Clarke’s apartment building. The smile playing at her lips says that they might have been in front of her apartment for a while. To prevent herself saying anything else, Clarke bids Lexa a hasty goodbye, thanking her for the ride and for staying to help her lessen the work load, and scrambles out of the car.

My ex-girlfriend.

The rest of the night, Clarke suffers the familiar itch in the back of her mind, the subtle edges of frustration with it all, and the looming threat of a sleepless night. The kind of stress not easily solved with productivity and a relaxing day with friends. If she had a steady romantic partner instead of a campaign and a fake boyfriend, the solution would be an easy few hours in bed with them. Sans partner, she could always repeat Saturday night and eliminate this frustration with her fingers and a few vague fantasies.

And she can’t do that again. Once, she can maybe survive seeing Lexa’s face every day, but twice would kill her.

Instead, she steams the day away with another scalding shower, and finally falls asleep to a never ending mantra: Professional. Professional. Professional. Nothing more than that.

 

*

 

It feels like such a monumental shift between them, leaving Clarke on untrodden ground and a new world before her, and yet nothing really changes.

She passes the next day the same way she spent the day before, buried up to her ass in paperwork and eschewing all forms of human contact. At the end of the day Sarah leaves her with a greek salad and a latte, which saves Clarke from another night of contemplating the merits of breakroom coffee, and when Clarke next looks up from her emails, the office outside has emptied, and Lexa stands in the doorway.

“Prospective interviews,” Lexa says, raising a file in greeting. “I wanted to rehearse some of them so you can do them next week.”

It’s another late night. Another few hours of strange comfort in the dark, lonely office. They rehearse through interviews, working out the best way to phrase each idea, Clarke pacing, Lexa sitting and watching. Hours that used to drag by, suddenly disappear in a few minutes.

And again the next night; Clarke isn’t even surprised when Lexa walks into her office and settles in a chair as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. They have work to do.

Lexa doesn’t bring up Costia or anything else about her personal life but she does seem to grow as comfortable as Clarke feels: instead of sitting primly before Clarke’s desk, most of the time Lexa will lean back in one chair and kick her feet up on the other, pen between her teeth and green eyes occasionally following Clarke as she paces around her. She never lets her hair down. She never takes off her shoes. But she smiles more and she slouches languidly, stretched out and content, and that is more than enough to soften her in Clarke’s eyes.

After a week that had begun with Clarke locking herself in her office in an attempt to avoid her masturbation fantasy, by now her interactions with Lexa have become strikingly…normal. This could happen every evening for the next eight months—hell, eight years, if she wins—and neither of them would bat an eye.

She loves this new normal.

 

*

 

She gets to the office at 7:39 the next morning. This new calmness, this new normalness, persists for another eight minutes, long enough for her to read the top report on her desk: Lexa’s add-on to the hiring opportunities file she wrote up earlier in the week.

"Are you serious?" Clarke demands the second she strides through Lexa's open door at 7:49 AM.

Lexa looks up from her computer with brows raised. "Generally. Why?"

"I do not need a whole security team, Lexa."

"Ah." As if she hadn't been the one to add the security team, Lexa picks up the file Clarke throws on the desk and skims the report. "In my opinion, you absolutely do," she concludes with a haughty shrug after icing Clarke for a moment. "I added the security team once I realized we have photographers camped outside the building for shots of you.”

“I can handle photographers!” Clarke fires back. “That was the whole point of this relationship with Roan.”

“The point was to build a media presence and make your name public, not for you to be followed around and harassed outside your work.” Lexa takes a deep breath and re-settles herself. “This moment was bound to happen at some point, I’m just surprised it’s happening so soon. The security team was inevitable.”

“It’s a momentary fascination because I’m new on the scene, Lexa, it won’t last,” Clarke groans.

"Your optimism is misplaced here, Clarke.”

“Don’t get condescending.”

Lexa presses forward, into Clarke’s space. “The fascination isn’t momentary and it absolutely will last; it will last for the rest of the race and beyond and only get worse later. You're young and smart and beautiful and they're going to be clamoring to know more about you—” She shuts her mouth suddenly.

Truth be told, Clarke would have accepted the compliments without paying special attention to them, too distracted by the matter of the security—had they come from anyone else. But the way Lexa has to pause to take a breath and swallow hard, raising her chin ever so slightly, gives Clarke a stomach-flipping moment to replay the words in her head. They pull the wind from her lungs and the continent beneath her feet shifts yet again.

Lexa continues before Clarke can spiral any further, her campaign manager’s perfect enunciation and refined tone bringing her back down. "So, when you win the primary and become the democratic nominee for Senator, the attention is going go through the roof. You're going to appreciate that security team if you ever want to go anywhere during normal hours."

She finishes with her words somewhat weaker than when she began and her attention seems more focused on searching Clarke's face for a reaction, uncharacteristically nervous. But Clarke won't think about it.

"It's an unnecessary expense, and pretentious as hell," she says, but relents. "But at the very least, don't hire a whole team. I'll accept three, at the most."

The shadow of relief on her face, and her attempt to conceal it, tells the story. “Noted. So besides you wanting to take on the entire tabloid media yourself, which is not surprising, what else is on the agenda for the rest of the day?”

It’s only 8 AM. Talked down from her angry defiance, Clarke fades back into her early-morning fog. With a sigh, she says, “Coffee’s up first. But I don’t even think Sarah’s here yet to make a run for me.”

Lexa’s nose wrinkles. “Did you ever test out the break room coffee the other night?”

Necessary evil. “Let’s go.”

The new normal. Clarke and Lexa fall into step together as they stride across the office, heels clicking at the same time. And no matter how many politicians decide to endorse her, no matter the campaign’s bank account, no matter her poll results, nothing makes her more confident of a win than striding side-by-side with Lexa in that moment: Clarke walks tall enough as it is, but Lexa radiates power beside her, moving with her easy, cool confidence that infects every inch of Clarke when they’re this close.

She’s so wrapped up in this feeling that she almost doesn’t catch the strains of the conversation in the break room ahead of them, but the sound of Lexa’s name makes her pause. Instinctively, she grabs Lexa’s wrist and pulls her to a stop to listen.

"Listen, man.” It’s Jasper. “All I know is that if Ward catches us playing desk chair basketball one more time, she's going to skip firing us and go right to executing us."

Monty gives a bark of laughter. "Stop using that as an excuse, you just suck at your fadeaway and I've been kicking your ass. Besides, I don't think she can fire us."

In a sudden flash of impishness, Clarke presses close to Lexa, grinning as she hisses out “Shhhh, hold on, hold on.” Lexa returns the grin, arches her eyebrows, listening in on the conversation floating through the doorway ahead of them.

"Doesn't matter, she still scares the hell out of me," Jasper says.

"Clarke does too sometimes."

"And the two of them together? God." They clink coffee mugs. “Sometimes when they get into it they look like they’re going to fight each other; and five minutes later, they’re smiling and laughing. I’d hate to be on the receiving end of whoever they team up against, that’s brutal.”

Neither Clarke nor Lexa draw attention to the fact that as Monty speaks, Lexa is leaning into Clarke’s body and Clarke’s hand is still tight on Lexa’s wrist, and their heads are lowered together in conspiratorial amusement as Jasper and Monty keep talking. The warmth of the contact seeps into Clarke’s bones and she’s vaguely aware of it, but she doesn’t draw away, nor does she particularly care to—she’s too focused elsewhere.

"Right?” Jasper says with a laugh. “Shit, just lock Clarke and Lexa in a conference room with Cage Wallace and if he's not conceding the race to Griffin within an hour, I'll photocopy my ass and post it all over the office."

They howl with laughter and the slap of a hi-five echoes out of the break room. Clarke smirks at Lexa; Lexa nods in response to the unspoken question, her eyes sparkling; in one swift motion, they stride into the break room still pressed shoulder-to-shoulder.

"Coffee fresh, Jasper?" Clarke asks brightly.

"It will be, as long as Mr. Green made it," Lexa answers her.

If Clarke hadn't honed the perfect poker face during her four years as an attorney, she would have broken into loud laughter at the way Jasper and Monty go sheet-white and leap back against the counters as if someone had just loosed a lion into the campaign office break room, rather than their bosses. Judging by the way Jasper gapes, he’d probably rather face the lion.

"Yeah," he spits out as Clarke looks at him curiously, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's, uh, it's great."

With their mugs in hand, Monty and Jasper shift aside, shooting warning glances at each other when they think Clarke isn’t looking, as Lexa takes her sweet time at the coffee maker pouring two cups.

When Lexa at last sits down and hands a cup over to Clarke, they’re still standing there, locked in place by Clarke’s innocent smile on them, and the pressure is already showing as they agonize over whether or not Lexa and Clarke overheard, and the question of how accordingly contrite they are supposed to look. Clarke lets them simmer, enjoying it, and lets Lexa take the lead.

“Oh, Mr. Green, did you get those donation trends to my office?” Lexa asks.

Monty nods emphatically. “They’re in your inbox right now, I did it first thing this morning.”

“Great. And Mr. Jordan,” she adds, turning on him. “It’d be a good idea if we could get a look at your proposals. I’ll admit I hadn’t thought of the strategy of locking Cage Wallace in a room with Miss Griffin and myself. You might be on to something there.”

Monty looks down into his cup as if he’s considering the possibility of drowning himself in 4 ounces of coffee, and Jasper immediately stumbles over a series of apologies and explanations as Lexa sits back with a serious, civil nod to him; Clarke knows Lexa is sparkling with satisfaction just below that mask, however.

Unwilling to let Lexa take the reins on her own, Clarke leans into Monty and stage whispers to him: "Don't worry," she says, wrinkling her nose. "Miss Ward scares me too."

More stammering. Clarke and Lexa allow themselves to enjoy it only for a moment before Lexa nods to the door and grants Jasper and Monty an escape route, which they damn near run through. Once the two women are alone, Clarke lets her respectful mask fall away to show the amusement in her eyes; Lexa gives her a small smile in response.

“Do I really scare you?” Lexa asks, voice light.

Yes. “No.”

Not as long as she keeps the focus on the paperwork and the reports and the campaign. Everything else about Lexa scares the hell out of her, Clarke realizes, including the way they had pressed together in silence outside the breakroom and the way she feels under Lexa’s gaze now.

Lexa takes a sip of her coffee. “Good.”

“Do I scare you?”

“…no.”

“You hesitated.”

“I did not.”

“Yes you did. Don’t lie, Lexa.”

“I never lie.”

“That’s a lie right there.”

A sarcastic reply on the tip of her tongue, Lexa narrows her eyes and works her jaw back and forth, holding back a smile but desire to fire back a response evident in every line of her face. Her gaze darts over Clarke’s face, back and forth between her lips and her eyes, she swallows—and then she jumps up.

“As much as I would love to continue this juvenile game, Clarke…” She takes another sip of coffee and straightens out her shoulders, casting a haughty look Clarke’s way; it’s meant to make Clarke roll her eyes and smile, and she does. “Some of us have actual work to do.”

“If that’s the case, I want a write-up of everything you do today on my desk before you leave.”

“As you wish, Miss Griffin.”

 

And 8 PM rolls around and Lexa appears in Clarke’s doorway, as always, with a packet of paper in hand.

“I was kidding,” Clarke groans, mostly at herself because she should have known Lexa would have ignored the humor and taken the assignment seriously, if only to mock Clarke. And, to prove that point, Lexa doesn’t reply as she crosses the room and hands her report of activities over. Clarke snatches it away, flipping through quickly before tossing it on her desk. “Funny.”

“It was a productive day,” Lexa sums up. “I set up a lot of the planning for the upcoming gala—”

"You mean between instances of scaring the hell out of my employees?"

Lexa’s lips twitch. "Rare indulgences,” she says in a low voice.

“Well…” The thought of Lexa’s quiet smirk in the break room had kept Clarke going all day. She hesitates and then goes for it: “Indulge more.”

She’s starting to learn that Lexa’s story is told in her face, not her words or her body. The girl may shrug it off and take a seat in front of Clarke—but her lips part enough to show her teeth and the way her tongue glides back and forth over her incisors, her eyes fall away from Clarke’s face to her desk, and the muscles over the cut of her jaw clench. Clarke loves the way she reacts sometimes, so much contained behind such simple, minute expressions—it’s just that the ambiguity of it all is maddening.

In any case…more for her to study.

“I try not to,” Lexa says finally, her poise returning. “It’s distracting.”

Clarke’s turn to clench her jaw and look down at the desk. The irony of Lexa talking about distractions after Clarke had to lock herself away for so much of this week to avoid her…

“Anyway,” Lexa continues with a deep breath, “I’ve finished most of my work for today. What are we working on tonight?”

Clarke runs a hand back through her hair and tries to coalesce her workload, before she realizes, with a shock: “I…don’t have anything either. I just have to take the weekend to prepare for the next campaign trip.”

“So we’re leaving before 9 PM tonight?” Lexa’s brows raise slightly, her version of complete astonishment.

“I can’t believe it either. Let’s get out of here before you think of something necessary or decide to rope me into the gala planning, which I refuse to do. I have half a cold pizza at home calling my name.”

“In that case, you’re not waiting for a cab. I’ll drive.”

 

*

 

“Thank you, for the third time this week, for the ride,” Clarke says, watching the dark streets of Los Angeles slide past the passenger window. The interior of Lexa’s car is another aspect of this new normal, this surge in power and productivity that they’ve entered into together.

"It’s not a problem. But, you know, maybe we should just hire you a car service with the round of new hires," Lexa says as she pulls off the freeway and toward Clarke’s neighborhood. “In addition to your security team. Or maybe a bodyguard who can drive you. I’ll put the request in to Miller in the morning; we can have them in time for the gala.”

"What, you don't like being my chauffeur?"

She can just barely see the flush of Lexa’s cheeks beneath the blue glow of the dashboard. Lexa raises her chin as if in defiance of whatever feeling that causes that redness. "I did not graduate summa cum laude from Yale to be a chauffeur," she says, enunciating every syllable.

"Really?” Clarke shrugs and in that moment, in the darkness and in the casual comfort of Lexa’s presence, she can’t hold back. “Because the Yale grad driving the Harvard grad around sounds about right in my book."

By the way she reacts, Lexa Ward has never experienced a greater betrayal: her jaw drops and she looses a scoff of pure incredulity. "Don’t you dare even try that,” she commands, voice deep and powerful. “You went to Harvard Law, you weren't even a real part of the Harvard-Yale rivalry. Three years as a postgrad is not enough time to understand how much better Yale is. You have no idea."

"Rivalry? Rivalry?” She turns in her seat to square her shoulders to Lexa, laughing now, but just as incredulous as the driver. “Don’t two entities have to be somewhat equal in order for a rivalry to exist? Is there even a Yale Law?"

“There is. Maybe you would know that if you weren’t such a typical egotistical Harvard grad.” She keeps her gaze steady on the road even as she pulls to a stop in front of Clarke’s building, but lifts an eyebrow and the corner of her lips in quiet challenge, watching Clarke in her periphery.

Clarke takes that challenge immediately. "Well, you’ve got that Yale superiority complex down to a science.”

"It's not a complex, it's just well-earned superiority."

"Yeah?” Dangerous territory, but she doesn’t hesitate. “Prove it."

“I—what?”

She slams on the brake a little harder than necessary and stops well short of Clarke’s apartment building. The hint of the cocky smirk vanishes and Lexa turns to Clarke with nothing but a shaky incomprehension, her throat bobbing as she swallows, her eyes darting over Clarke’s face for a sign on how to proceed. Her hands twist at the leather of her steering wheel. Those two words can be the most innocuous or the most dangerous of the English language, when used by the right person—and Clarke might be the right one.

“What do you mean, prove it?” Lexa asks, voice quieter and less goading. “Prove what? And how?”

“I’ll show you,” Clarke answers smoothly. “Pull into my building’s visitor parking, at the driveway up there.”

Lexa swallows again and shifts in her seat. “Clarke, I—”

“Just trust me, Miss Ward.”

 

*

 

Whatever Lexa had been expecting when Clarke takes her up to her apartment, a marble chess set wasn’t it—she stares at the box Clarke pulls from her closet and sets on the table, then looks up to Clarke, entirely nonplussed. Clarke on the other hand, slows down as she counts out the pieces because she’s so in awe of the picture of Lexa standing in her living room, arms crossed over her chest, top button of her blouse undone because it’s technically time to relax. Clarke imagines her in comfortable clothes, imagines her on different furniture around Clarke’s loft-style apartment. Her dark hair would look exceptionally good against the white couch—

Fuck. The chess pieces, waiting to be lined up; and Lexa’s face, twisted and confused. She looks up from her spot at the kitchen table and smiles at Lexa, knowing full well it won’t change anything.

“Are you serious?” Lexa asks, looking from the chessboard to Clarke’s face as if this is all a joke.

“Generally,” Clarke says, smiling. “Come on, let’s decide Yale versus Harvard right now.”

Harvard Law,” Lexa grumbles. “You were technically UCLA.” But she takes a seat anyway and watches as Clarke sets up the chessboard, stone pieces clinking against the heavy black and white board. “This is…really nice.”

“It was my dad’s,” Clarke says. “He gave it to me when I got into UCLA.”

“He passed your freshman year, didn’t he?”

Lexa has done her reading. It’s necessary, as she says, because she needs to know Clarke’s past as well as Clarke herself knows it, in order to get her through the public scrutiny of a political campaign, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a surprise to hear from someone who isn’t in her family or her miniscule circle of friends. Clarke’s hand stops on the black bishop. For a moment, her fingers shake against the top of the piece, and when she looks into Lexa’s green eyes, she can see the apology already forming, so she cuts her off before it gets any worse.

“Yeah, he did,” Clarke says quickly. “Just after Christmas. Heart attack.” She finishes putting out the pieces, movements smooth and steady. “So, to honor his memory, there’s no way I’m letting you win this. Ready?”

“I’m—yes. Let’s play.”

“For Harvard.”

“Harvard Law.

 

*

 

Turns out, Lexa is good at chess even when she’s not in a plane shuddering up into the air at 500 miles per hour.

Clarke, who has never known anyone more competitive than herself, is struck dumb by the fact that she doesn’t mind losing right now—if only for the fact that winning looks good on Lexa. The girl throws her head back and laughs, face shining, when she makes the final move to trap Clarke’s King. It’s pure and not in any way mocking of her loss, and Clarke hates the way she starts to laugh along with Lexa.

“I gave you that one.” She tries to look serious and intimidating around the laughter that’s still spilling forth. “Come on, let’s play one more.”

Lexa cocks an eyebrow and settles into her seat like it’s a throne she just won in a war, rather than part of Clarke’s dining furniture. “As you wish, Miss Griffin,” she says, maddeningly conciliatory as ever.

This time, she takes the responsibility of setting up the pieces and takes the white set, leaving the black for Clarke. This time, somewhere between their light conversation of the checklist items for tomorrow, Clarke pushes her queen in one final move and wins the game.

“Well, well, well, Yale,” she teases. Lexa’s dark eyes flash in warning but there’s something else there too, something just below the surface, and it has been flitting there just out of sight for the entirety of the game, appearing when Lexa looks up to meet her eyes. Clarke wants it, whatever it is, and so she reaches for it: “Let’s go for best of three.”

Lexa’s laugh fills the apartment for a brief moment, lifting Clarke’s heart in her chest, and then immediately dropping it when Lexa stands up, straightening out her blouse and grabbing her bag.

"If I go for best of three, it'll go to best of five and best of seven and best of nine, and eventually we'll be here all night. You know that."

The thought washes over her before she can stop it.

That wouldn't be a bad thing.

Self-loathing rising fast in her chest, Clarke walks Lexa to the front door and waits for the girl to shrug on her blazer. Lexa looks around the loft-style place one more time in admiration.

“This is a really nice apartment,” she notes. “Hopefully you’ll be able to spend more time in the daylight here soon, not just at night after work.”

Clarke nods. “The sunsets are nice, from the bedroom windows. But at the very least, I’ll have you to suffer alongside me every night at the office.”

“That’s what I was hired for,” Lexa agrees.

“And you do great work.”

They fall into a silence that turns awkward almost immediately: Clarke is dying to say more, and Lexa is clearly waiting for it by the questioning look in her green eyes, but all Clarke can do is look at her and forget where they are as she examines the bow curve of Lexa’s lips.

“Well.” Lexa’s voice brings her back to this world. “I’ll—see you tomorrow morning, Clarke?”

And she offers out a hand, which strikes Clarke as absurd for some reason; and maybe it’s absurd for Lexa too because she exhales in relief when Clarke shakes her hand in goodbye. “See you tomorrow, Lexa.”

When she’s finally alone in her apartment, she leans back against the door and closes her eyes.

Fuck.