Actions

Work Header

in love and war and politics

Chapter Text

Only the elderly and the perennially busy and uptight ever exercise before the sun comes up. As such, when Clarke and Lexa arrive at the hotel gym, a handful of senior citizens already occupy various machines. Clarke, however, welcomes their presence: as soon as she walks in, a group of three women huddle together for a moment before approaching her with eager smiles.

“Hi, Representative Griffin!” The first woman, a lady in a full pink sweat-suit, beams in greeting. “My name is Joanne Wharton, and I have voted in every election for the last 38 years, ever since I moved to California. I want you to know that I’ll be voting for you instead of that Wallace fellow.”

Clarke smiles graciously. “Thank you!” she replies, turning on the charm as easily as turning a tap, even so early in the morning. “I—”

“And I’m Gertrude White!” another of them interrupts. “I liked what you said about immigration! You have my vote!”

The third elderly woman steps in. “Anita Taylor, Representative Griffin. I think having another woman senator will be a very good thing for California.”

Clarke entertains them all, thanking them for their support and trying her best to hasten their stories and memories of past political candidates so that she can get to work. She has never loved being approached, preferring to keep her head down unless the situation requires it for publicity, but today she appreciates it, and not just because of the glowing commendations from the women: if these three women know her, it means she can't spend the duration of her run on the treadmill staring at Lexa as she works out. Lexa had slipped away from Clarke when they entered and begun her exercise as Clarke fielded the praise from the women, so she is intently focused on her own work by the time Clarke gets onto the treadmill.

And despite everything in Clarke’s life that tells her not to, it’s dangerously tempting to stare at Lexa. Now that she and her campaign manager have fully acknowledged their attraction to one another and slept together in both senses of the term, it's nearly impossible to use professional etiquette as a barrier to separate them. They've long since torn that wall down, and now the excuse is laughable. No, now they have to rely on the danger of being found out, caught, exposed—this fear is the only thing that prevents an accidental reveal of the scandal of the year. All it would take is one of the elderly women on a step machine to notice Clarke checking out Lexa's ass as Lexa works through an impressive circuit, and... poof . Two careers, in their prime, gone up in smoke.

Therefore, Clarke is particularly careful to keep her glances at Lexa limited to when she knows no one else is paying attention to her.

It's a risk, one that pays off handsomely. A stolen glance at Lexa gives her several minutes worth of mental footage to replay as she runs: carved body, sweaty shoulders, exposed skin, muscles taut and coiling...the risk is worth it. It recalls shadowy memories of the times she’s peeled Lexa’s shirt off to reveal that body, impossibly toned and taut and usually hidden beneath deceptively demure clothing. Seeing Lexa in this environment feels like a rare sight, and she feels just as privileged now as she does when she has Lexa in bed with her; so she watches as much as she possibly can.

And then comes the moment that Clarke looks over and catches sight of Lexa looking back at her through the mirror on the wall. She’s smirking, as if she's known all along that Clarke's eyes wander, and she enjoys it. The thought almost sends Clarke stumbling along the belt of the treadmill. The old man beside Clarke asks if she's okay; she assures him that she's more than fine; and she keeps her eyes firmly on the treadmill display as she continues to run, as much to keep herself from looking over again as to hide her burning cheeks.

“Miss Griffin?” A smooth question on a smooth tone accompanied by Lexa’s smooth appearance at the side of the treadmill; Clarke had been focusing so much on the last ten minutes ticking away that she hadn’t realized Lexa was there until she spoke. She manages to keep her feet beneath her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t stumble over her words when she sees Lexa’s face.

“Yes, L—Miss Ward?”

“May I speak to you outside?”

It’s a performance for the other gym-goers, who openly observe the two women with marked interest; but with her show of professionalism, Lexa sets the tone and keeps Clarke from glancing down at the sharp, glistening angles of Lexa’s body—she can see it only in her peripheral vision and it’s pure torture not to look down. Clarke gives a small murmur of acquiescence and follows Lexa, bidding goodbye to her well-wishers as anticipation starts to build in her veins. Lexa reaches the door first, pulling it open and standing aside for Clarke to walk through, but her gallantry serves an ulterior motive: Clarke watches Lexa’s green eyes travel up and down her body hungrily, under the guise of watching her go through the door. Clarke grants herself the same luxury of checking out Lexa’s body. She makes sure Lexa knows, too. Then they slip into the hallway, with Clarke’s heart in her throat and her fingers itching to fist into Lexa’s shirt.

“We have a problem.”

The wind rushes from her lungs as her chest caves with the disappointment. “What is it?”

Lexa pulls her phone from her pocket and her sudden pivot around to straightforward business eliminates any chances of a hallway rendezvous. Clarke tries not to let it sting; she rushes instead to adopt the same stoic, tired professionalism that Lexa now wears. The work day has begun.

“Raven just sent me the links to Cage Wallace’s first two campaign commercials,” Lexa tells her, handing her the phone. “I thought you should see them.”

“Two?” Clarke asks, dismayed. “Shit, Lexa, we really need to catch up to him.”

“We’ll work on it,” Lexa assures her.

Clarke presses play on the first video, a twenty second spot. Cage Wallace, with his slicked back hair and expensive suit, struts across an assembly floor to shake hands with a group of politicians; then it cuts to Cage, his hair the same but this time wearing dirty jeans and a construction vest as he surveys a site alongside other blue collar workers. Blue and gold lettering flashes across the screen: Cage Wallace. He has the experience to build a better California.

“Simple enough,” Clarke says. “Effective. Slimy.” Lexa hums agreement and switches to the next video. This one is longer—it shows a series of women and children in schools, at home, and playing at the park, and these sweet images are overlaid by vague allusions to Clarke’s statements and policies that deal most closely with women and education. Naturally, Cage twists them to highlight the worst aspects, without referring specifically to Clarke, before reciting his own plans. This one ends with a photo of Cage at a round table with a group of women, and it leaves Clarke with a bad taste in her mouth.

“Definitely slimy,” Clarke says when the video is finished. “What I’ve come up with specifically for schools is objectively better; his is a rehash of what his father did in the 70s.”

“It’s still effective, though,” Lexa replies as she slips her phone away. “He doesn’t perform well with women, and you nearly overperform with them, so you can bet he’ll attack heavily on that front. We’ll have to prepare for that when we start putting out our own commercials.”

“We can’t match his funding.” Clarke says, with an angry sigh. “Those two spots probably cost more than a few million to run consistently and the production value says that they were expensive to make too.”

“We’ll call Raven today,” Lexa says, “And set-up a budgeting call with your accountants. In the meantime, we can start getting bids. I’ll come up with a list of ad agencies to contact, but we have a full day, it’s something we’ll have to squeeze in.”

Clarke nods. “I need to keep my focus on two radio interviews this morning, then there’s the press conference and the town hall and we still have to make the drive to San Francisco tonight—

“The LA and San Diego conference calls.”

“Fuck, the LA and San Diego conference calls. I had forgotten—” She sighs. “Okay. It’s fine. We can handle it. Hopefully we can save the calls for the drive to San Francisco. It would just be nice to actually shorten the list of things that need to be focused on.”

Lexa agrees. “Every time we finish one, it’s like two more get added, I know.”

Something about seeing the commercials has altered the course of Clarke’s morning; maybe it was Cage’s smarmy grin. Maybe it was the mention of their low campaign funds—which Raven should have already reported an increase in, but hasn’t yet. Maybe it was the sheer fact that Clarke would not only need to start planning new commercials, but set aside time in the upcoming weeks to film or record parts of them. Maybe it’s all three. Either way, she grinds her teeth for a moment, closing her eyes to get it all straight and steady herself. She’ll be forever thankful for Lexa’s ability to read her: the other girl knows when Clarke has had too much and that she needs the time to smooth herself out, so she waits patiently without forcing more advice on her.

Finally, Clarke does smooth herself out. She can handle it. This is what she signed up for. And her trust in Lexa will take off some of the burden as well. But just as she opens her mouth to confirm this, her cell phone vibrates in her pocket and she pulls it out immediately.

Clarke’s expression darkens as she reads the message. When she lets loose a sardonic laugh, Lexa grows concerned.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

Clarke hands her the phone, shaking her head.

“I told my mother we’ll be heading to San Francisco tonight,” Clarke explains. “She’s flying in to meet us for tomorrow because she’s ready to start her work on the campaign.”

Lexa closes her eyes. Shit. She knows what that means. Abby Griffin was always too valuable to an asset to leave out of the campaign, so it was inevitable that she would get involved sooner or later. But now? Now the stress of having her mother on the campaign trail will only wind Clarke impossibly tighter, sending her stress levels through the roof. She doesn’t know Abby personally, but she knows Clarke, and she can only imagine what it will be like having two Griffin women in one conference room when they’re debating budget.

Clarke gives her a knowing look when Lexa opens her eyes again. Together, they take steadying breaths and nod.

“We can do this,” Clarke whispers. And if they weren’t in danger of being caught by some early morning hotel employee, she would push her back against the wall and kiss her right there. Lexa wants her to—her lips are parted, eyes half-lidded, enough want on her face to make Clarke groan. “I have to finish my run. I’ll be done in ten minutes.”

Lexa gives her a rueful half smile, borne of their shared knowledge that if they didn’t have so many responsibilities, they’d head back up to Clarke’s room and spend the entire day there. Instead, she pulls away, checking her watch.

“The car leaves in an hour,” Lexa tells her. “Sterling and Harper will be finicky about your appearance today because of all the press. You have eight minutes; run fast.”

They part, Lexa heading down the hallway and Clarke back into the gym, knowing that it will be only another hour until they’re back together and they spend the next twelve hours hard at work. But Lexa’s presence in Clarke’s plans for the day does little to brighten it.  She increases the incline and speed far past what she had done before—eight minutes of mind-numbing running will be her only stress free time today, and she’s going to use every second.

 

*

 

The morning does not go well.

As predicted, Harper and Sterling get into a debate about what Clarke should wear for her day of press interviews. That debate escalates to a yelling match, which echoes down the hallway of open doors, every word distinct over the sound of aides going from room to room as they prepare for the day, because Harper believes that they should go casual and summery with a blue blouse and white skirt and Sterling believes that Clarke should look composed and professional with a full suit and the only thing Lexa can’t hear from her hotel room is the sound of Clarke’s input. At last, she pulls on her blazer and strides into Clarke’s hotel room, clocking her frustration with the situation immediately and picking the blue blouse and white skirt to end the argument. Clarke gives her a grateful smile just before she’s whisked away to have her makeup done.

And that’s just how the day starts.

They’re running late by the time they pile into the unofficial motorcade they use for traveling, and worse still, Clarke and Lexa don’t get their usual car to themselves: the SUV is packed with aides who each have their own need of Clarke, forcing Lexa into the front seat with Gustus and pushing Clarke to the seat behind her, where she’s surrounded and bombarded with questions.

“Miss Griffin, we need to schedule a dinner with your donors.”

“Uh, I’m free tomorrow night—”

“Representative Griffin, your financial advisor is on the line. We’re having serious issues with—”

“I’ll return his call after the first round of interviews, we’re already late.”

“Raven asked us to call her by noon.”

“Then she can get on the line after the financial advisor.”

“I have the numbers of the l atest donor results in our two least popular counties, we need to make a decision.”

Clarke is trying her best. She keeps checking the road, as if hoping they’ve magically arrived at their destination on time instead of thirty minutes late. The strain is evident in her voice. She’s supposed to be reviewing comments for an upcoming string of interviews--Lexa has to prompt her twice, despite her reservations--but the bombardment and the way the aides ask the question with such urgency make it impossible for Clarke to stay focused when she feels like there are fires to put out everywhere. When she gets drawn into the conversation about the two republican counties and their lack of donations, Lexa almost reaches back to try to reassure Clarke and bring her focus back, but she can’t, not in a car full of people. She laces her fingers together and places them in her lap, her nails digging into her palms.

“Representative Griffin, I have to give answers to two different journalists about your stance on immigration.”

“Tell them--” Clarke begins.

“They want to know how it relates to your mother’s policies from the 90s.”

“Then just… tell them to do their own research,” she snaps. “I’m a politician, not an analyst, we’re not doing their fucking job for them.”

Lexa bites the inside of her cheek and the aides are cowed into a silence that lasts the rest of the ride. They seem a far cry from last night’s movie and this morning’s sleepy hand holding.

Once the group arrives at the downtown city hall where the interviews are being held, many in Clarke’s car disperse, only to be replaced by those from other cars who weren’t privy to her outburst. She handles it graciously, but evades them soon enough to seek out Lexa. There’s enough going on around them with checking in the journalists and preparing the room for Clarke to be able to steal a quiet word with her.

“I’m sorry for snapping in the car,” she says quietly. “Have you started getting bids for the commercials?”

Lexa has been calling agencies and getting bids all morning; they don’t look good, and she doesn’t want to lay that on Clarke right now. “I’ve given my number to several agencies, they’ll be calling back soon. But don’t worry about that,” she adds, when she sees Clarke’s forehead wrinkle. “You need to focus on the interviews. Great commercials and ads are useless if you’re giving out bad quotes and reflecting poorly in the papers.”

She had hoped the force behind her tone would jar Clarke out of her worry, but she grits her teeth when Clarke steps back with a frustrated sigh, visibly shutting down her emotions one by one. That’s never a good sign.

But before she can say anything, Clarke nods, stone-faced. “You’re right. One task at a time. Are you sitting in on the interviews, Miss Ward?”

“I’ll be there to support you,” Lexa promises, even if the use of her surname is a reflection of Clarke’s frustration with her. Lexa deserved that.

“Good.”

The first few go okay: local journalists from small papers who recognize the opportunity they’ve been given and have no desire to risk it. Lexa set the schedule up that way, almost like a dress rehearsal for Clarke. The questions are simple, the interactions blasé. The next interviews come in a roundtable format, with a group of journalists conversing with Clarke. For Lexa, watching from the side, this group is far more entertaining merely for the inclusion of a young woman from a local college who is interviewing Clarke for her school’s LGBT+ club. While Lexa’s call to put Clarke in the blue dress was a good choice for Clarke’s image, it’s certainly making things difficult for the poor student journalist, who seems to be putting so much effort into not glancing down at Clarke’s cleavage that she has to struggle to read questions off of her notepad. Clarke is blissfully oblivious to the girl’s attraction to her, nodding along encouragingly as the girl pauses and rereads questions.

“And so you--you advocate for LGBT+ youth,” she reads off, “Do you have any stories of, uh, personal interaction or anything that helped motivate you to be so supportive?”

There’s an odd hopeful lilt at the end of the question; Lexa hides a smirk.

“Of course, growing up in California, you develop a mindset of acceptance and openness,” Clarke says. Her silky smooth voice makes the girl gulp. “I have known plenty of individuals throughout my life who do benefit or have benefitted from programs like those that I advocate for, so they have helped me develop the desire to take these programs to the national stage.”

Another reporter chimes in. “So you yourself have had plenty of interaction with the LGBT+ community on a personal level then, correct?”

Clarke can’t see that the poor college girl is hopelessly in love with her but she can easily identify the motivation there. “I keep my personal life and my professional life as separate as possible. Unlike some, my campaign is not built on personal connections.”

“Except for your mother,” another points out.

“Excuse me?”

“Reports are circulating that your mother Abigail Griffin will be stumping for you on the campaign trail soon.”

Clarke gives that man a steely glare, but it gets worse when another adds: “Roan and Nia Azgeda are rumored to be joining you too.”

“Nia Azgeda will not be joining me on my campaign, she has her own business to attend to; as for Mr. Azgeda, I’m in a personal relationship with him.” The warm, suave tone with which she had addressed the young woman is gone now, because it’s hard to be warm through gritted teeth. “This is the very reason I endeavor to keep my personal and professional lives separate. I don’t want assumptions being made.”

“You’re in the wrong industry then,” the first man chuckles. “What about the assumptions that Cage Wallace is making, those that are true at least? Your inexperience, your past? Sexual history, drinking--”

Lexa is on her feet so quickly she nearly knocks her chair back. “All right, you’re done,” she tells him, gesturing toward the door. “Out.”

“You’re going to kick the press out?” he retorts.

“You knew what the tone of these interviews was supposed to be,” she fires back. “If you’re here simply to rile the candidate up to create a story, you’re not the press. Now, out .”

“Lexa,” Clarke presses, catching Lexa before she forcibly escorts the man out of the room--this morning’s workout certainly suggests she can. “It’s fine, I’m fine. Take a breath outside.”

She’s not anywhere near fine; she’s been close to snapping all day and this is just the added pressure that will push her to a breaking point. But right now, in the eyes of others, Lexa is a subordinate. It goes against everything she knows to excuse herself and slip out of the room as the journalist grins at her, but Clarke is, at least publicly, in charge here, and if she lies and says she’s fine with the line of questions, then Lexa has to submit. Pacing in the hallway outside under the confused watch of a few aides and waiting journalists, Lexa considers the mental picture of calling Gustus and Ryder in to carry the man out if he continues, but she decides that she’d enjoy it much more to do it herself.

She has no idea when she got this protective. It’s an unwelcome feeling of unsteadiness, one she has little experience with.

Sometimes it surprises her, how far beyond political strategy and management she’s gone. She’s transformed to confidante and support system and…something else. She doesn’t want to name it, acknowledge it, for fear she’ll never be able to recover from it when it inevitably ends. But in any case, even without the sex and her growing feelings for Clarke, she knows that this is unlike any other campaign she has worked on or will ever work on.

Then again, Clarke is unlike any other politician. And that’s what makes the two of them so perfect.

After a moment, Lexa regains her infamous composure and re-enters the room, taking her seat without a word. The conversation has continued in her absence, and although Lexa can easily tell how uncomfortable Clarke is, the handful of journalists are entirely unaware.

“So back to your mother,” one says, with a sly glance at Lexa. “In addition to her assisting with your campaign, will you be attending events with your mother as well?”

“I will not,” Clarke says shortly. “My mother and I keep our political activities separate.”

“It’s mostly benefit events,” the young college student chirps up. “What about the upcoming fundraising gala for the LGBT+ Center of San Francisco?”

Clarke blinks. “I--I haven’t spoken to my mother about that, nor was I aware of it, so it will be something I consider, for sure.”

“It aligns with your trip to San Francisco so people assumed--”

“I have no plans as of now but that could change.”

“Even though you say you advocate for LGBT+ youth?” That comes from the man who Lexa nearly threw out. They’re fucking relentless, but Lexa stays in her seat and openly loathes the way Clarke looks ready to snap.

Nonetheless, Clarke handles the interviews, but just barely--she forces her way through them, her tone growing clipped and short, her face barely concealing contempt as she tries to navigate a storm of questions about Cage Wallace and her mother and the way she’s polling five points behind. She’s giving monotone answers by the time one of the staffers finally comes in and tells the journalists that their allotted 45 minutes are up and they have to get the next group in. As they file out, Clarke closes her eyes, breathing like a weight has been lifted from her chest but left her exhausted. Lexa winces, wanting nothing more to go to her and pull her into a hug. She wonders briefly if they would have time before the next group comes in, but before she can even consider the thought, Clarke starts shaking her head.

“Cancel the rest of the interviews,” she says with a shrug. “I can’t do it.”

“Clarke—”

“Lexa, I can’t do it,” she pleads. Her blue eyes alone are enough to gain Lexa’s acceptance, but she persuades her anyway, spilling it all out with a tired, defeated tone: “We have a three hour drive to San Francisco tonight, with the addition of traffic; my mom is joining us tomorrow; we’re thin on funds and thin on time…I can’t take any more of those questions. Cancel the rest, let’s get on the road to San Francisco early, and take one night where we don’t have anything to do and can get to sleep early.”

Lexa just nods, stoic, so that she may act as Clarke’s anchor right now. Anything she needs.

“I’m just exhausted, Lex.”

Lexa’s heart fills. “Because you’re working harder than I’ve ever seen anyone work. I’ll let them know now. Stay in the room.”

Unsurprisingly, the journalists do not take the news well, reacting with scorn and disdain after waiting an hour only for Clarke to be late to the first interviews and then cancel the rest. Lexa knows this won’t go over well, but she was about five seconds from physically kicking a man out of the door earlier, so canceling the interviews for Clarke and taking the heat—both now and later—is well within her comfort zone. The staffers are confused too: heads turn and whispers ripple through them as they pack up what they had set out for the journalists and pile into the SUVs.

Clarke and Lexa again find themselves in a car packed with campaign staffers, though the cancelled interviews mean that the mood is somber and Clarke feels no particular need to see to every issue and complication that the staffers raise. It’s a three hour drive to San Francisco, and a quiet one, save for the buzzing of phones as the alerts start to pour in:

Griffin Storms Out of Interviews

Questions about Abigail Griffin Force Confrontation Between Campaign Aide and Journalist

Griffin Starting to Crack Under Pressure

The headlines are cringeworthy. Lexa rolls her eyes, but it still stings to see them start to spread on social media, because everyone loves a dent in an otherwise perfect façade. Only once does one of the staffers start to mention the articles as they crop up—he’s silenced by a sharp look from Lexa, and they go the rest of the ride pretending it’s not happening even as their phones continue to vibrate. Lexa just watches the map and prays for the traffic to move faster, because there’s nothing they need more than to get out of this car.

Finally, they round a bend and the city comes into sight, shimmering against the sunset. It’s then that Clarke speaks for the first time: “I love San Francisco,” she says absently, gazing out at the city.

“I’ve never been,” Lexa replies, relieved that Clarke seems to be breathing easier. “I’ve always wanted to.”

“I’ll show you the sights one day.”

For the rest of the ride, Clarke stares out the window, quiet as they make their way through stand-still rush hour traffic to get to their San Francisco hotel.

At long last, Lexa makes it into the isolation of her room and flops back onto her pristinely-made bed, glad to have the opportunity and quiet to think for a few moments. They’ll take the night to recover. Hopefully Clarke can sleep--Lexa will stay out of her bed this time. They’ll recover, and tomorrow they’ll start fresh with Clarke’s scheduled one-on-one interview with Wells, in his position as a San Francisco Times writer. He gave her the questions ahead of time, so it’s mostly just a coffee date penciled in as an interview so that no one questions it. Lexa has to call another ad agency, and then--

Her phone vibrates. One short message from Clarke, which has Lexa jumping off her feet and heading for Clarke’s room as soon as she reads it.

Clarke Griffin [5:54 PM]: Cage just put out two new ads.

 

*

 

Clarke has left her door open; she gestures for Lexa to close it as soon as Lexa swings into the room, concern all over her face. She doesn’t have time to discern the look on Clarke’s face as she approaches where the girl sits on the edge of the bed, because Clarke wordlessly hands over her cell phone with the videos waiting. Lexa taps play, heart sinking.

She’s met with a picture of Clarke striding past a group of photographers outside a restaurant, an image that greys out to be replaced with the old leaked pictures from college—these things will haunt them to their grave apparently.

“Do you really want a Hollywood politician with no experience helping to run our country?”

The pictures resolve into an image of Cage Wallace, in a smart suit, with his hair slicked back and a wide smile on his face—the consummate professional. He’s shaking hands with reporters, laughing with a farmer over a tractor, making a speech in the middle of San Francisco. Words flash across the screen, accompanied by the smooth female voice: “Vote for experience. Vote for qualifications. Vote for a better California and a better country. Cage Wallace.”

Lexa releases an angry exhale, shaking her head. “That’s so low,” she says, “And it’s such an easy target. Of course he’d start a smear campaign with something like—”

Then she notices that Clarke’s blank face is just barely hiding true fury. “Watch the next one,” Clarke prompts. Lexa swallows and presses play on the next one.

California history is unlike any other . Our history shapes our future. “My father helped bring California through some of it’s darkest times,” comes Cage Wallace’s gravelly, unctuous voice. God, Lexa hates that voice. She watches as a series of pictures of Dante Wallace, former Governor, play out across the screen. “My father, Senator Dante Wallace, instilled in me a love of this state and this country and I seek to carry on his legacy of greatness.”

“My opponent can’t say the same. ” The photos of Dante switch to far less flattering pictures of Abby Griffin, and Lexa nearly snaps the phone in half. “Abigail Griffin was responsible for some of the strictest tax codes and agricultural restrictions in California’s history. She ignored our rural farmers who provide lifeblood to this state and neglected to push for vital infrastructure improvements, opting instead for favoring special interest groups. Does anyone truly believe that her daughter will be any better?”

“Vote for me, Cage Wallace, and vote to bring the best of California’s history to the future.”

It ends there, the black screen reflecting Lexa’s look of outrage and disbelief back to her.

“He went after your mom?” Lexa demands.

“I’m going…to slaughter him.”

“Clarke—”

She’s on the edge. She’s let her emotions consume her and she’s not talking sense, she’s not talking like Clarke. Each small protest or attempt to reach her from Lexa goes ignored as Clarke passes in front of her again and again, disappearing into her own world, finally having snapped after the pressures of the day. Lexa’s heart breaks as she sees tears welling in Clarke’s eyes, her cheeks red, her knuckles white. This girl is crumbling, and Lexa can’t find a way to stop it.

“Clarke, breathe.”

Clarke’s struggling with that—it looks more as if she wants to pull in more air and scream to the heavens, but she forces a shaky breath out through gritted teeth, trying to remain under control.

“We’re going to kick his ass, I swear to god,” Clarke vows, pacing the room and ignoring all of Lexa’s attempts to placate her. “I’m going to Wells with it tomorrow. I want articles about him, I want the commercials to focus on him, I want to expose him for everything that he is. The debate next month is too far away—if he’s going to make this dirty, so am I.”

" Clarke! " Lexa at last lunges out and grabs her by the shoulders, trying to physically pull her from the downward spiral she’s stuck in. "You need to calm down."

"Calm me down then!" Clarke demands through gritted teeth. She says it like it's a ludicrous demand, meant to highlight the audacity of such a suggestion in the face of the million different tasks and pressures that even Lexa, with all of her strength and brilliance, can’t hold off for her.

To Lexa, it's just a challenge.

The roughness with which Lexa grabs Clarke and kisses her sends an electric shock through her body. It numbs every muscle and her racing heart, instantly--the sweetest, most potent drug available, relaxing her at last, as long as Lexa stays pressed against her lips.

The sigh Clarke releases announces all of this, and Lexa knows. It’s preternatural, the way she understands all of Clarke’s needs and desires at once, and what’s more, the way she caters to them with one effortless swoop. When Clarke sighs, Lexa’s hands go to either side of her head, fingers twisting into her hair just enough to lock Clarke in place, while her lips part to pull Clarke in deeper, in every sense of the word.

Lexa is steadfast. She’ll stand her ground and Clarke can drift into hazy nothingness, anchored only to Lexa. Lexa will give that to her.

Clarke pulls and Lexa pushes until they’ve walked back and Clarke is up against the wall. An hour ago, every issue felt like an arrow, razor sharp and piercing through her until she felt tattered and broken. Now, those razor sharp complications have dulled and lost their focus, disappeared into the fog, replaced instead with the sharp pressure of Lexa’s body holding her against the wall and the snap of her lips along Clarke’s jawline, the deft caress of Lexa’s hands at her breasts. Those are the things that are real.

The way Lexa begins to sink to her knees, that’s fucking surreal.

Clarke watches her, mouth suddenly dry.

They’ve been here before, moving quickly down this road: it was the first night together, in Clarke’s hotel room after the debate when Lexa again had her up against the wall. Even devoid of the capacity for clear thought, Clarke had stopped her then, because she didn’t want their first time to be so unequal, so she had pulled Lexa back up and walked them to the bed.

She doesn’t do that now.

Lexa hits her knees and tugs Clarke’s shirt out of the waistband of her skirt, before unbuttoning it from the bottom as Clarke scrambles to open it from the top. Lexa’s lips find a home on the skin of her stomach as soon as the shirt hits the floor. Clarke’s hands fly to the sides of Lexa’s head and the girl looks up at her, green eyes half-lidded.

It’s the strangest flash of familiarity; the sense of déjà vu strong enough to pull Clarke out of the trance she had dropped into when Lexa kneeled in front of her. She looks down at Lexa, and marvels at the way the woman kisses up her stomach, hands massaging the sides, nails scraping and drawing a shiver whenever Clarke seems too content. And all of it is exactly the same as the way she envisioned it that night so long ago when she had returned to her apartment, frustrated and tense in her own crawling skin, and slipped a hand between her legs at the thought of Lexa in this very position. The thought of it now, laid over the very real Lexa kneeling before her, pushes heat deep into her stomach.

Clarke can’t help the way she babbles.

“God, this is just like how I imagined—”

Lexa’s focus on making Clarke’s legs shake doesn’t preclude her from hearing whatever pleasure-laced words tumble from her boss’s lips; it takes Clarke a second to realize what she said, and that’s only when Lexa pauses, looking up at her, curiosity in her face.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Clarke says quickly, but she can’t exactly muster up her finest acting skills with Lexa between her legs and the other woman sees through it.

Lexa pulls back to sit on her heels, now completely absorbed with trying to read Clarke’s face. “Tell me,” she presses, with the shadow of a smirk growing on her face as she tries to wrest the secret from Clarke; it becomes all the more amusing to her as she watches Clarke’s neck and chest flush red.

“Clarke.”

“Lexa,” Clarke pleads, weakly. She tries to urge Lexa back to her previous focus, but to no avail. Lexa’s patient, placid face betrays no faltering of her willpower—it never does—and for a second Clarke envisions how that face will change when their roles are reversed, but for right now, she knows she won’t be able to outlast Lexa.

“I…” There’s a thunk as Clarke lets her head loll back and hit the wall; she squeezes her eyes shut. “It was one night, I couldn’t sleep,” she says, panting. “My body ached, I was frustrated…lonely. I…”

Lexa knows by now; she’s that smart. But when Clarke pauses to let her speak, Lexa remains silent—a wordless plea for Clarke to continue.

“I really, really needed to get off and my thoughts went to you.” The words come out in a rush. “You were kneeling, it was dark, stripped down to nothing…I just...”

“You fucked yourself and thought of me.”

The brusqueness against Lexa’s usual eloquence, the rasp in her voice where it’s usually soft and warm, the way she clips fucked with the same sharpness she says Clarke’s name makes Clarke’s legs shake. Lexa’s tone is full of wonder, and when Clarke moans and nods a confirmation to her words, Lexa can only drop her forehead against Clarke’s thigh and release a steadying breath. “ Jesus, Clarke …”

“Lexa, please…”

There’s no reservation or pretense about Lexa’s actions after that: she pushes Clarke’s skirt up to her stomach and kisses up her thighs until her lips hit lace and she brings her fingers up to tug Clarke’s panties down, desperate to free up more unclaimed skin for her to taste. She stares up at Clarke as the black lace slides down Clarke’s tan legs. Clarke doesn’t look away as they hit the floor and she kicks them off; she holds Lexa’s gaze the entire time, even as Lexa bends in and slides her tongue through Clarke.

The response is immediate: Clarke’s eyes fly shut and her mouth drops open, releasing a deep, low moan that heightens into a shaky gasp as Lexa licks into her again.

“Fuck, Lexa, oh my god.”

Lexa’s only response is to moan back against Clarke’s skin, because she’s lost herself too. She’s wanted this for so long, to sink into Clarke like this, that her mind has gone blank, filled instead with the sound of Clarke’s babbling and the taste of her. A buzzing sound fills her ears and muffles everything else as she starts to speed up, flicking her tongue faster, coaxing Clarke towards the edge…

Until she realizes it’s an actual buzzing. Clarke blinks several times in surprise like she’s being ripped out of a trance, but the Pavlovian response to her cell phone is too much to ignore even now. She shakes her head and tries to slip back into that lightheaded nothingness that Lexa’s mouth brings, but the phone continues to rattle on the nearby desk. It goes silent for a moment—Lexa breathes a sigh of relief into Clarke and makes her shudder—but then the ringing begins again.

“Hold on,” Clarke mumbles, reaching for it. She starts to turn the phone off, until: “Shit. It’s my mother. She won’t stop calling until I pick up.”

“Your mom?” Lexa asks. “Are you—”

“She won’t stop calling. Two seconds.”

As if Lexa is in any position to disagree—this is something she, too, has thought of for weeks during late nights…and maybe in the middle of conference room meetings. Nodding through her haze, she slows her hands and sits back on her heels, keeping her lips against Clarke’s leg but without the desperate, fever pitch pace. She just can’t give up the contact. Clarke answers the phone and lets her mother know, with an immediate huff of displeasure, that now is not a good time.

“Mom, I’ll call you right back, I—”

“Clarke, wait. I took an earlier flight and the press reported you’re in San Francisco. I made dinner reservations for 6:30.”

Clarke sputters in disbelief. “I—I—Mom, this is not a good time—” She checks the hotel clock. “It’s 6:04!”

“These were the only reservations of the evening, Clarke!” Abby exclaims. “Let me know when you’re on your way and I’ll inform the host.”

“I’m…not dressed for dinner right now, Mom,” Clarke says, swallowing hard as she looks down at her body to see her skirt up around her stomach and her bra straps hanging from her shoulders. She’s telling the truth there, mostly.

She also makes the mistake of locking gazes with Lexa: the girl still stares up at her reverently, eyes half lidded, mouth open as she inhales Clarke, and at that, Clarke’s legs nearly give out and leave her sliding down the wall. Instead, she slides her hand into Lexa’s loose dark hair, giving her the permission she silently begs for.

“Also, I’m working late, I’m with my campaign manager, we have to go over some things—”

Lexa leans forward and kisses the top of Clarke’s thigh…

"The one Kane recommended, right? Ward, something?"

Clarke nearly laughs at the absurdity. "Yes, her. Lexa Ward."

She has to rip the phone away from her head in the next moment, in fear that she won’t be able to silence the sudden gasp that comes when Lexa moves her lips inward and slides her tongue into Clarke’s wetness—she takes Clarke’s hand in her hair as permission and neither of them are able to resist anymore, even with Abby rattling off the evening’s plans from the phone Clarke holds in the air. They aren’t listening. Lexa works her tongue against Clarke with heavy, fast, unbridled desire, reveling in the way Clarke rocks her hips and tightens the hand knotted in Lexa’s hair each time Lexa pushes her closer. She nearly bites through her lip to keep from moaning.

“Clarke? Clarke are you listening? What’s going on?”

She tries valiantly but she can’t correctly operate her fingers to turn off the phone—she’s damn near about to throw it across the room and fist both hands in Lexa’s hair when suddenly Abby’s voice comes across, loud and clear and firm.

"Clarke, listen to me, I haven't seen you in months. We're finally in the same city. Bring Miss Ward, wear your work clothes, it's fine. Dinner twenty minutes. I've already sent a car to pick you up, it should be there any minute. And if you don’t come to dinner, I’m coming to get you. No objections."

Click.

“Lexa…fuck.”

Lexa pulls away slowly, giving them both a chance to breathe.

"I can’t get out of this. We're going to dinner with my mom."

The way her lips and chin glisten with Clarke's arousal as she looks up in complete, utter disbelief is almost comical, if Clarke’s weren’t so close to crying with frustration.

“You’re kidding me.”

Five minutes later, they’re sitting in the back seat of the town car Abby sent, neither of them satisfied, both of them in shock, trying to hide all signs of the fact that Lexa had Abby’s daughter up against a wall when Abby called them just minutes before. They’d gone from smeared makeup and rumpled clothes and sex hair to smooth blazers and casually professional hairstyles, but the change was so hasty, they’re not sure they managed to fully cover their tracks.

Lexa’s heart pounds the entire ride.