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in love and war and politics

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“‘Representative Clarke Griffin, I would like to commend you on your recent public acts and invite you to an evening with other like-minded dignitaries...’ This one is from the Governor of Oregon,” Abby says. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m so proud of you.”

Clarke takes an incredible interest at the cheap wood paneling of the hotel conference room where she has gathered with Abby, Lexa, Anya, and the pile of letters from admirers that the former two have printed out. Lexa leans forward and plucks one from the pile.

“Representative Griffin, you are an inspiration to all...” Then she grabs another. “Representative Clarke Griffin, you are a remarkable young woman, and I take heart in the fact that our country has leaders as eloquent, courageous, and honest as you.”

“Oh, wow,” Anya chimes in, reading the letter over Lexa’s shoulder. “That’s from Indra Harlow, our Virginia Senator, Lexa. I interviewed her last year, a huge spread. She’s a hard woman to impress, Clarke.” She gives Clarke an approving nod.

“She’s up for re-election too, I believe,” Lexa muses. “We should thank her, publicly.”

“Already handling it,” Clarke mutters, tapping away at her phone. She looks up at Lexa reaches for another letter. “I--come on, can we focus on what we need to be thinking about?”

Clarke has never felt particularly comfortable with effusive praise from colleagues, especially ones as decorated as these and especially not when they’re praising her integrity when she falls asleep with her campaign manager in her thoughts or in her bed. But in the week since she has come out, messages of support have been rolling in--private and public, from citizens and officials alike--all similar in their admiration and commendation. And when they pile up in the campaign inbox or headquarters, Lexa has Raven fax them over and Lexa and Abby force Clarke to sit through ear-burning read-alouds. She tries to get out of it every time, but their combined pride--not to mention Anya’s voyeuristic amusement at their group dynamics--outweighs all of Clarke’s protests.

“Most of these are invitations to speak at events and campuses,” Clarke says, sifting through the pile with a careless shrug. “We don’t need to read every letter. Can we schedule whatever we can and move on?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Lexa hide an amused smirk--it’s almost identical to Anya’s--but Abby takes some pity on her, checking her watch.

“If we didn’t already have lunch plans with Roan, we’d go through all of these, but I suppose you should probably get ready.”

It sounds as if she’s fifteen again, being dismissed from the dinner table, but an escape is an escape and she won’t question this one. Lexa quietly promises to schedule the speaking events as Clarke and Abby exit the room, heading for the elevator.

“Roan should be here in about ten minutes,” Abby says. “Go up and change, we’ll meet you in the lobby in exactly ten minutes.”

After so many years of her mother’s political career, Clarke is nothing if not accustomed to Abby’s choke hold on her schedule. But she’s punctual herself, so she plans to get changed in five minutes and be back down before Roan even arrives. Once she gets to her room, she slips out of her clothes in just a few smooth motions, going over water-cooler topics to talk about at lunch and dressing so quickly and efficiently that she doesn’t recognize the blouse she’s wearing until she checks her reflection in the mirror one last time before leaving.

It’s the same blouse that Lexa pulled off of her the first night they slept together.

And the moment that memory replays in her head, she resigns herself to the inexorable necessity of seeing Lexa right that instant, before she leaves for lunch.

She hurries down the empty hallway, heels in hand. For this last leg of the road trip, they’ve been in a different hotel every three days, so it’s never quite the same path to Lexa’s door. But these excursions, whether undertaken late at night or early in the morning, have become so normal, so ingrained, that she feels as if she’s walked the steps along this hallway a hundred times. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

She only needs to knock once--the door swings open, like she was waiting, like she felt it too. As soon as Clarke sees the flash of Lexa’s eyes, she puts a hand on her chest, pushing her out of view of the hallway and following in with a kiss. It’s hard, pressing, urgent, as she intends to milk pleasure from every second before she has to leave again for lunch, but Lexa knows her. Lexa is forever pliant and giving, and the way she absorbs all the rush of Clarke’s kiss without breaking her usual calm, flowing rhythm slows Clarke as well. They know each other so well now: Lexa’s hand comes up to stroke the wispy hair at the nape of Clarke’s neck, her most sensitive spot, the one that always sends her into a hazy, shivery sort of trance. Clarke releases a breathy sigh into Lexa’s mouth, relaxing under her touch. Feeling the tension leave her body, Lexa pulls away just enough for Clarke to see green eyes and the glint of white teeth behind her swollen lips.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Lexa whispers.

“Just because.” Clarke leans in again, eager to silence her.

“I can accept that.”

They lose themselves in each other again. Lexa makes her heart flutter in all the cliché, love poetry ways. Everything about her--the way she arches her brow, her sly smiles, the way she kisses back--it has all sent Clarke spiraling towards cardiac arrest on an almost daily basis.

But none of that compares to the way her heart stops and drops out of her chest when they hear a knock at the door--and then Roan’s clear voice.

“Anyone home?”

And she realizes, with horror, that she never closed the door completely behind her.

Her whole body swings around to face the door and her vision narrows to the crack of light between the door and the door frame, narrow now but growing wider as Roan pushes in. Behind her, Lexa silently falls away from Clarke, but it’s over, it’s all over and Clarke’s body turns to ice as Roan announces himself one more time and pokes his head into the room.

“Lexa, is Clarke--oh.”

They stare at each other, Clarke unable to force words past her bone-dry throat. Roan almost always looks as if he’s trying to solve a difficult math equation, and Clarke has never paid enough attention to learn to read that face--so she has no idea where this is going to go, what he’s going to do.

“There you are,” he says brightly--of all things, she didn’t anticipate that tone. “You weren’t in your room, Anya said you’d probably be here. Your mom is on my nerves about reservations, can we go?”

Her words feel automatic: “Uh, yeah, of course.” But it still feels like a trap, somehow.

Roan frowns. “Are you okay?”

Is it really possible he didn’t discover them? That he couldn’t tell? Nodding, Clarke looks back to Lexa, who has somehow crossed to the far side of the room and engrossed herself in a file. She feels Clarke’s eyes on her and glances up.

“No need to wait for me,” Lexa says smoothly. “I can handle this while you’re at lunch. I’ll call Raven about the donations and let you know how it goes.”

“Ugh, please don’t do it while we’re at lunch,” Roan groans. “I’ve been on the campaign trail two weeks and I already never want to get into politics, you’re all exhausting.”

“Of course,” Lexa says, poison-sweet. She looks to Clarke. “And yes, those shoes are fine,” she adds, with a nod to the heels Clarke’s still holding, long since forgotten. And there it is, a perfect cover.

Turning back to Roan, who seems to have solved his math problem and now simply looks bored, Clarke starts to recover. “We shouldn’t keep my mom waiting, let’s go.”

She doesn’t look back at Lexa as she leaves. Maybe Roan’s an idiot or maybe the sudden ice in Clarke’s veins had erased her flushed skin, but they haven’t been caught, by some miracle. It doesn’t erase the fact that this is the closest they’ve ever come to it.

The thought haunts her through lunch--she engages in her practiced water-cooler talk only out of habit, so automatic that even Roan notices that something is off, but she dismisses his and her mother’s questions. The feeling of shock, the residual fear from coming so close to being caught, turns her thoughts inward, leaving her to consider what a risk they’ve really been running. It’s as if her relationship has been another world, a separate plane of existence from the real, grueling world; only now, the curtain has been pulled back and she’s discovered that her two worlds were separated by nothing more than one door left ajar. Lexa was right when she said one false move in a lust-blind or exhausted moment could ruin it all for them. It makes Clarke suddenly cautious, something she never expected.

And that feeling persists long after that lunch. For the rest of the trip, by unspoken agreement, Clarke and Lexa resist the pull toward each other at every turn. They sit on opposite sides of the table at meetings, angled so that they’re never looking each other in the eye. They take different cars to and from events and between stops on the trip. When they’re both idle, waiting between meetings or interviews, they discover calls that need to be made or lunches that need to be scheduled. Anything to keep their gazes from connecting and the heat from burning them both.

But they are not infallible. They love the fire too much to extinguish it.

It takes just one difficult day, and then it starts again with a single text: Open your door at 2:30 tonight.

And then it happens only in the dead of night. Two in the morning, three in the morning, no knocking, not a sound, just texts to silenced cell phones and doors that crack open at a predetermined time. It’s furtive, breathless touching in the pitch blackness, it’s moving by intuition and muscle memory, it’s shaking orgasms with hands clasped over mouths to keep their secrets between them. It’s separations long before the sun rises and it’s double shots of espresso once it does.

It’s exhausting and it’s not enough, but it’s theirs. There is pressure all around her, within her, and between them, and if she doesn’t release it in small gasps and bursts, she doesn’t know what will happen.

But she’s doing something right. Somewhere amid the blinding mix of pleasure and torturous self-deprivation that has become her road trip with Lexa, she soars during the final ten days of speaking engagements and appearances and luncheons, and she returns to the Los Angeles Campaign Headquarters to a hero’s welcome. The first morning back--after they had gotten into the city at 11pm the night before--begins at 6:30am sharp, when Clarke strides through the lobby of the office building and Murphy, the night shift guard, rises to meet her.

“Glad to see you in person again, Representative Griffin,” he says. “It was getting boring around here without having to hustle the paparazzi away at 2am because you’re working late.”

His drawling voice makes it sound like an insult, but Clarke has worked with him long enough. “I’ll be sure to keep plenty of them around for you, then. Good to see you too, Murphy.”

When the doors of the elevator slide open on her office, the staffers who had stayed behind rise in applause as Clarke steps out. The evidence of her success is everywhere: TV’s on the wall play news reports covering her trip and appearances; her face beams out from the front pages of newspapers scattered across every desk; campaign signs and banners, the same ones along the roadways and up on billboards, hang from the walls. What once was a respectable, wood-paneled office with modern artwork has been taken over by the fervor of the campaign. Her name is everywhere, looming over her from all angles--Griffin, Griffin, Griffin--and it fills the air in their voices as well.

“Great to have you back, Miss Griffin.”

“We’ve missed you, Representative Griffin!”

“Miss Griffin, we’ve been getting phone calls constantly about your coming out...”

“Miss Griffin, we have some local journalists who’d like to set up interviews...”

“That was so fantastic, Representative Griffin, I can’t wait for the next road trip!”

It takes an hour to greet everyone and catch up on the business--and fun--that she missed while she was away, but she can’t help but feel invincible when gifted their enthusiasm for the last leg of the campaign, the last battle for the election. Their shining faces, full of praise, have so much faith in Representative Clarke Griffin. This praise, she can accept. The support of her team will never fail to lift her and there is no better balm for the leftover tension from the road trip. When she at last makes her way over to her personal office, she finds Lexa and Raven waiting, watching the proceedings with amusement. The three of them have plenty to cover, but Clarke can’t help but grin broadly.

“What did you do to them while I was gone?” she asks Raven, uncharacteristically playful. “Why are they so happy I’m back?”

Raven puts on a mock scowl. “I have no idea. I am the perfect boss. I feel betrayed.”

“She made us work sixteen-hour days,” Monty calls from his cubicle.

“It was one twelve-hour day! And it included an hour lunch!”

“They should get used to twelve hour days,” Lexa points out. “We all should. The last two months of the campaign will require endless amounts of work.”

They hear Monty’s sigh of resignation. “We know.”

“And on that note, we should get to work too,” Clarke says, looking to Raven. “Ready?”

“Eight in the morning on your first day after the road trip, and you’re back to work already, huh?”

“You heard Miss Ward. Two months to go. We can’t waste any time.”

Their jests die quickly once the three of them settle into the conference room beside Clarke’s office. Raven has prepped a summary of everything that happened while they were gone, and the current state of affairs. It’s time to plan their next moves.

“I don’t know what drove you to do it, but coming out was one of the best things you could have done for your campaign,” Raven says, as she pulls up the slideshow she created. “Did you two come up with it together?”

“Actually, I was requested to sit down and have a drink,” Lexa replies dryly. “I had no more say than you did.”

“Predictably. Representative Griffin here obeys no one.”

Clarke shoots Lexa a small smirk, which widens when Lexa responds with an arched brow. Raven isn’t exactly right. Clarke is more than amenable when Lexa whispers commands in her ear late at night; she’ll do pretty much anything that low voice tells her to, in the right state of pleasure. Raven, focused on her PowerPoint, doesn’t notice their exchange and the two women compose themselves before she turns back, a chart on the screen behind her.

“In any case, regardless of why, the donations are up,” Raven begins. “Way up. Between our intentionally pathetic campaign commercials and your coming out, they’re rolling in from across the country. Everyone knows Clarke Griffin, the poor bisexual underdog fighting a rich, entrenched political dynasty. The wealthy progressives are salivating over your story. And that means we’re on track to bring in over five million in these next two months before election day.”

She clicks the button in her hand, and the green bar surges upward across the timeline. The sight forces Clarke’s breath out of her chest in a single sharp rush.

“That’s...more than we’ve managed to raise in the entire campaign so far.”

“A lot more,” Raven agrees. “And these are just preliminary projections. Every day you get more and more celebrities and officials endorsing you--they’ll raise your profile and your donation base.”

Clarke still stares at the number, disbelieving. They’re still miles behind Cage Wallace’s spending--he’s on track to spend twenty-five million, while they’re projecting to raise around ten--but it’s more than she ever expected. If she’d known that the results would boom like this, she would have come out ages ago...and almost as soon as that thought forms in her mind, she sours at the notion of selling her private life for political gain. The end result is a reluctant, simmering approval of the money raised, which Lexa can read from the look on her face.

“You did the right thing,” she reminds Clarke. “All the letters we got proved that.”

Raven scoffs. “If you think the emails you printed out prove that, wait until you see the actual mail we got. We’re starting to stack the boxes against the walls of our mail room. It’s ridiculous.”

“We don’t...have a mail room,” Clarke says, frowning.

“We didn’t, before you left. We do now, and Miller is pissed that he had to give up his private office, but the amount of support and hate mail you’ve gotten demanded it.”

“Why not just throw out the bad?”

“Someone suggested it, but they don’t know you like I do. You thrive on that adversity.”

Can’t argue there. “The bad mail is a good sign,” Lexa muses, “and it explains the surge in donations. You cut a polarizing figure, Miss Griffin. The more who gather to tear you down, the more ardently your supporters will defend you.”

“Any press is good press,” Clarke asks, sarcastic.

“More or less.”

Caught in the smug way Lexa turns back to the screen, Clarke stares at her for a second too long--Raven has to clear her throat to regain Clarke’s attention. “Which brings us to the polls...”

These results, Clarke already has an idea about, but watching her name rise above Cage Wallace’s is still a beautiful sight, affirming all of the celebrations from out in the main office, and Raven’s next words sound like music: “They’ll update again tomorrow, but right now, you’ve finally taken the lead by five points. It’s significant, but still unusually tight for California--which gives Cage a fighting chance.”

“And an impetus to come in harder,” Lexa says. “He will be much more brutal--”

“And he’ll spend more.”

“And he’ll spend more to make up that gap. It’s going to get ugly.”

Clarke certainly didn’t expect the final months to be easy, but she reigns in the sarcasm this time. “What do the polling demographics look like?”

“My next point.” Raven clicks the button and new rows of numbers light up the screen. “You’re ridiculously far ahead with all young women,” she announces, with pride. “You have the sorority and activist sets locked in, Cage can’t come close to even threatening that. You’re ahead with older women of color as well, but even on older white women. Younger men tend toward Cage, and you have a slight lead with older white men--I can’t explain that, because I’m an engineer, not a wizard--but you’re even again when it comes to men of color.”

“He’ll work to appeal to the older white men first, in that case,” Lexa surmises. “Initially. He’ll have to silence the current conversation around Clarke first, then he’ll take aim at the demographics in which she only has a slight lead, in hopes that the split demographics will come with them.”

“So he’ll go for economic issues first,” Clarke says, picking up the thread.

“Probably go after your mom as well, pull up issues from when they were young voters,” Raven adds. Clarke grits her teeth.

“Should we beat him to it, then?” Clarke asks. “We have the momentum and money in the bank. We can start putting out more expensive ads.”

Lexa studies her notepad, deep in thought; only when Clarke notices her eyes aren’t reading the lines does she realize Lexa is envisioning future moves, not re-reading her shorthand notes. The chess moves play out behind her eyes and eventually, having picked through each of the scenarios, she shakes her head.

“We have the momentum and the upper hand, but that arises from the execution of our own plan, rather than adjusting our plan to beat Cage Wallace to his planned attacks. It’s easier to counter his moves than trying to predict what he will do and stumbling in our attempt to do it first. We’ll continue as we are and play defense, shore up our resources and our leads, until the debate a few weeks before the election. Following the debate, we’ll push onto the offensive and increase our power and momentum through Election Day.”

As she watches Lexa speak, the strangest sense of nostalgia overwhelms Clarke, as if they’ve had this conversation hundreds of times before, before the campaign and before they ever knew each other. It feels at once familiar and ancient, a thread stretching far beyond this life; Clarke can see it happening over and over again. Candle-lit tables covered in hand drawn maps; on the balconies at the tops of towers; in smoky back rooms; places she’s never seen before, but never has she felt more whole and connected to Lexa than in that moment. They’ve done this before and they’ll do it again and she can’t figure out quite why she’s so confident in that, but it’s comforting nonetheless.

They don’t get much more planning done before Sarah, Clarke’s sorely-missed secretary, appears in the doorway. “Representative Griffin, Miss Ward, Anya Ward has arrived.”

With a glance at Clarke for her permission, Lexa tells Sarah, “Send her in, please.”

“This is the sister?” Raven mutters to Clarke, who doesn’t reply. Raven gets her answer a moment later when Anya strides into the room. With her hair tied back neatly, her sleeves rolled to her elbows, and her powerful high-heeled walk, she needs no introduction, but she locks eyes with Raven and provides it anyway:

“I’m Anya Ward, freelance journalist. And Lexa’s older sister.”

Raven nods as they shake hands, looking a little shell-shocked. “Yes, you definitely are.” Miracle genetics, Jesus Christ, she mouths to Clarke as soon as the other two aren’t looking.

“So, what have I missed?” Anya asks. “I recognize how unprofessional it is to show up late and ask that question, but even after traveling with Clarke both for two weeks and knowing Lexa for more than two decades, I still didn’t expect an 8am start.”

“We just wrapped up,” Lexa replies coolly. “We didn’t feel it necessary to wait on you given that you’re covering the campaign, not assisting in its facilitation.”

Clarke snorts. “We thought the same about my mother, and yet she’ll be here in an hour.”

Her tone draws a wince from Raven. “Yikes. On a scale of one to ten...?”

“You know her. There is no scale. There’s only ten.”

Raven knows Abby all too well after having Clarke from a roommate. “I’m not letting her take my job running this office.”

“We’ll find you another one.”

“It took me so long to win their respect.”

“Through fear, no doubt,” Clarke says, countering her with a smile.

Raven smirks. “Still counts.”

Anya ignores all of them, turning around to lean against the conference table and review the last slide of Raven’s presentation, the polling demographics. “Not bad,” she muses. “About what you’d expect given the media coverage and the moves you’d make, but rather pedestrian, Lexa. I expect you’re saving your best for last?”

“You’ve played me in chess enough times to know that answer,” Lexa shoots back, leaning back in her chair with a cool arrogance that spikes heat through Clarke.

“I have. I can help, though. I have contacts in press all over the country. A few articles here and there--”

“Anya,” Lexa says, to no avail.

“--a little bit of pressure in different markets and all of the outlets will fall in line with the same message. I could conduct these numbers like--”

“Anya.”

“--a symphony orchestra,” she finishes, then finally meets Lexa’s eye and gives a rueful smile. “Perhaps not in keeping with journalistic ethics, though.”

Lexa works her jaw, better composed than any classic symphony Anya could dream up. “Are you done?”

“Definitely sisters,” Raven mutters.

“Anya, the best thing for you right now would to be to get a grasp on the office and speak to different members of the campaign,” Lexa says, organizing her papers as a signal to wrap up the meeting. “You can talk to them about what’s going on, how they feel about Miss Griffin, how they feel about the polls--it’s endless fluff to include in what you send to the journalists who will actually be writing the pieces, and it’ll give you a foundation for more interviews later. Raven, would you mind taking Anya around the office and introducing her?”

“Of course,” Raven says, getting to her feet with a sly smile. “They’re going to love it when I introduce your sister.”

When Lexa walks through the office, her lean figure inspires a mix of fear, adoration, and respect--Clarke would know, given that she’s just another victim alongside all of her staffers--so the prospect of watching her staffers be introduced to yet another Ward woman they have to contend with would be an appealing one, if Clarke already didn’t have a full schedule. Raven leads Anya from the room and when the door at last closes behind them, Clarke closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose to relieve the sudden headache.

She hears Lexa’s long sigh. Opening her eyes, she sees the girl has tipped her head back in her chair, fingers massaging her temples with the same uselessness attempt to palliate a headache as Clarke had tried. The sight draws a tiny chuckle out of Clarke, and Lexa looks at her with weary amusement.

“Well, that will keep them busy and give us a few moments of relaxation,” she says.

“Just in time to recoup before my mother arrives.” But Clarke smiles, because it has become so tiresome to repeat that they’ve turned it into a joke.

“She’ll be helpful,” Lexa reminds her. “It’s only two more months; we need all hands on deck for the last of this.”

Because though the road trip ended, the campaign is still a race and the pace only quickens as they head into the final turns. On the road trip, their focus had been wrangling interns and getting from one event to another as quickly as possible, and deadening their senses to the taste of hotel coffee so that they could work past midnight on the next day’s speeches. It had been hurried in the sense that they constantly had somewhere to be; being back in Los Angeles is hurried in the sense that they constantly have something to be doing. A day at the office becomes a Herculean myth: push aside one paper and an intern slaps down three more files in its place.

It all becomes background noise when the proxy war with Cage Wallace begins, as predicted, about a week later. The early press of the paper circulates around the office like a wicked virus, staffers hurrying from desk to desk in outrage to flash the latest headline at each other:

Wallace: Small businesses are our spine; Griffin wants to snap our necks.

“I heard, I heard,” Lexa declares, waving away an aide who rushes her with a paper when she next steps out of her office. She doesn’t have to call for attention; the sound of her voice is Pavlovian, snapping the office to focus on her as soon as they hear it. The orders come thick and fast: “Monty, I want Nia Azgeda on the phone. Have her rally several of her old moderate colleagues to Clarke’s side--no, believe me, she’ll do whatever I tell her to. Harper, collect the past statements of endorsement from small business groups, spread them to various outlets. Sterling, get me the contact info of the journalist who ran this story.”

Clarke, watching silently with her arms across her chest, raises a brow as Lexa draws closer. “You’re going to threaten her?”

“That would be immoral,” Lexa mutters, already composing a message on her phone. “I’m going to remind her that she’s contributing to a losing side and ask her if she thinks parroting a candidate’s mudslinging passes for real journalism.”

“So, you’re going to threaten her,” Clarke concludes. Because only a fool would take all of that, said with Lexa’s particular brand of force and word choice, as anything less than a threat. Lexa doesn’t argue the point.

Their response runs the next day: Griffin Beloved by Business Big and Small. One paper Lexa had contacted refuses to run what she asks; they’re blacklisted throughout the office before noon.

Cage returns fire the next week. Clarke had long since struggled with him over Silicon Valley and the lucrative tech sector, both revenue-rich and popular with key demographics. She thought she had won that battle, until one afternoon when she receives a call informing her that the tech companies had withdrawn a planned donation, putting it towards Wallace instead. When she hangs up the phone, her teeth are clenched so hard she feels the pain in her temples.

“He snaked my donation,” she tells Lexa, trying to keep her voice even.

Lexa nods slowly. “We’ll use the commercial this time.”

The following weekend, Clarke, Abby, and Raven crack open a bottle of wine and toast to Clarke’s newest commercial, brutally maligning Cage Wallace for his elitism, wealth, and consequential disconnect from the public--how can anyone cater to Silicon Valley’s megarich and still understand the plight of the common wage worker?

The result is a one-two punch of a poll jump and a donation increase from around the country, thanks to Clarke alienating Wallace’s base from him.

On top of that, she earns his wrath. Sarah barges into a meeting with the accountants the next morning.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but Cage Wallace just released a statement saying that Representative Griffin is just “an air-headed party girl who would besmirch the Senate seat.” He’s running the college pictures from a few months ago.”

Clarke rolls her eyes. “Besmirch? Really?” She wants to sit back in her seat and groan, but fears it would be unbecoming in front of the people who handle her money.

Ready for war, Sarah looks eagerly between Clarke and Lexa. “I already called up the best newspapers, Miss Ward,” she says. “What should we tell them?”

Lexa shrugs. “Nothing. We’re comfortable allowing him to smile for cameras and shake the hands of millionaires and spout slander; we don’t need to dignify it with a response.”

“So, I should just tell them no comment?” Sarah asks, face falling.

“No,” Lexa says smoothly. “I want you to tell them exactly what I just said, verbatim.”

Clarke looks at Lexa like she puts the stars in the sky.

The quote circulates modestly in the paper media--and raucously on social media, where irreverent, sharp-tongued bloggers and self-styled political analysts take a sudden liking to the smart-ass, gorgeous campaign manager in charge of openly bisexual Clarke Griffin’s senate run. It does little in the way of poll points, but Clarke’s Google alert notifications ring so constantly that she has to mute the feature. Dozens of new articles and blogs pop up in celebration of “two badass women challenging and changing the game.”

The group of photographers camped out in front of the office building grows. They work themselves into a frenzy every morning, afternoon, and evening when Clarke or Lexa leave or arrive at the building. Murphy, the evening security guard, takes particular delight in joining forces with Gustus and Ryder to chase them away at the end of the night, clearing a path for Clarke to make it to her car.

“You’re a lifesaver, Murphy,” she tells him one night.

“Just doing what they pay me fore,” he replies. “Is Miss Ward still inside or am I done for the night?”

“She left early. You’re done. Thanks again.”

He inclines his head seriously, but there’s a little smile on his face as he heads back into the lobby. Clarke has always liked Murphy, though she’s never quite known why.

As Gustus drives her home, Clarke’s thoughts turn instead toward the fact that Lexa had left early that Thursday afternoon--a rare occurrence, but understandable given the circumstances. Between dealing with her sister, the photographers, the newfound focus on her, fielding interviews for Clarke, and marshaling the media in her war with Cage Wallace, Lexa had often stayed at campaign headquarters until 8pm, 9pm, or even 10pm.

And they haven’t had sex since the road trip. Had Clarke known that the last time she would taste Lexa would have been in a hotel room somewhere outside of Santa Barbara, she would have hesitated before coming back to Los Angeles. They exist now in a state of awkward nonchalance, both acknowledging what they’re missing whenever they can spare a glance the other’s way, but since they don’t know what to do about the situation, they must pretend it doesn’t exist and focus on the task at hand.

To be fair, being exhausted at the end of every day helps lessen some of the sexual frustration building in Clarke, but not by much. Lexa seems to be even worse off than Clarke, pushing herself to the limit of exhaustion with all the work she’s been taking on, so Clarke decides not to bring up sex--or anything else. When Lexa leaves early on that Thursday, at Clarke’s suggestion, Clarke just gives her the necessary space for the evening.

The next day, thankfully, is slow. They have separate duties for most of the morning, but when she sees Lexa pass her office on the way back from lunch, Clarke makes her move, hurrying out of her office and following Lexa into hers. Lexa, who has just sat down at her desk and is scribbling a note on a legal pad, looks up in surprise.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Clarke leans against the door frame, crossing her arms. “Is everything all right?” she asks.

“How do you mean?” Lexa replies.

“I know things have been hard lately,” Clarke says. “We haven’t even had the opportunity to have a real conversation for a while. You’re always checking on me; I want to do the same for you.”

Lexa pauses, chewing her lip as she considers the question; and then she drops her pencil, leans back in her chair, and tucks her hands behind her head as she releases a heavy sigh. The transition from wound-tight campaign manager to languid, exhausted young woman is almost instantaneous.

“It hasn’t been ideal, no,” Lexa says. She closes her eyes. “There’s just been so much going on.”

“I know. We don’t even get weekends anymore, I’ll be busy both days. We need a break. After the campaign is over...”

Lexa opens her eyes. “I’ve missed you.”

That catches her off guard; all of her worries melt away, reduced to a need to be in Lexa’s arms again. “I’ve missed you too,” Clarke says quietly.

“We have a month until the end of the campaign, until that break you’re talking about, and it still feels like a lifetime.”

Lexa rarely talks like this. She’s the steadfast one, the steely gaze and unbreakable willpower. But hearing her speak so softly, Clarke feels her armor fall away as she imagines the blissful time off...and after a moment, under the weight of Lexa’s gaze, she starts to feel like something else is falling away--or being pulled off. Lexa feels it too: her voice is low when she next speaks.

“Can you come over tonight? I need you, Clarke.”

It’s a quite plea, full of want. And it’s hard for Clarke not to come over and straddle Lexa right now--the mental image of Lexa leaning back in her chair, with Clarke on her lap and unbuttoning her shirt, is almost too much to bear. She develops a full fantasy of office chair sex in that instant. This is the result of all the stress. This is the result of going weeks without sex--the result of not even having the energy to get herself off at night. All of that flashes through her mind far before logic kicks in, but when it does, it’s brutal.

“I can’t,” Clarke murmurs back, squeezing her eyes because she knows that Lexa’s green ones can get her to do anything, even if Lexa isn’t trying. “I’d love to...but my mom is staying with me. I can’t just disappear for a booty call.”

“Booty call?” Lexa asks, teasing. “Is that what this is?”

“That’s what it feels like, when we’re talking about sneaking around my mother.”

Lexa smiles softly. “We’ve been sneaking around everyone, for months.”

“And if it were anyone else, I’d just stay late and lay you back on your desk,” Clarke says, raising an eyebrow. Lexa’s lips part in surprise and Clarke can practically see her throat run dry at the thought. “But once I start making up lies and excuses to my mother...”

“I know, I know,” she groans. She sits up in her chair again, regaining her professional posture and keeping the arousal at bay. “You’re right. I’ll see if I can come up with something.”

“Come up with something?”

Lexa’s eyes dance. “I believe you have work to do, Miss Griffin. As do I?”

“So you’re not going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

Clarke glares despite the smirk tugging at her lips as she leaves the room. “I’ll remember this.”

 

*

 

The email comes across later that evening, while Clarke sits in her living room reviewing the campaign finances and Abby reads the newspaper at the kitchen table. Both of their phones vibrate at once; they open them to reveal an email addressed to them both, from one Lexa Ward.

 

“Mrs. Griffin,

The poll numbers are showing a slight downward trend in San Diego and the surrounding counties. You have a remarkable following and rapport with the citizens of San Diego, who remember your policies fondly; we have a number of talented interns, but none of them have your eloquence or ability to connect with people on an individual basis, something this campaign sorely needs. Would you be willing to take a ten-day campaign trip to San Diego to attend a series of meetings and events and speak on Clarke’s behalf? It could provide the boost that Clarke needs to get us across the line.

Please let me know of your decision as soon as possible so that travel arrangements can be made. We aspire to schedule you for events beginning as early as Monday.

-LW”

 

Clarke, hiding a smile, finishes reading the email and immediately ticks her phone to silent in advance of the smug text she knows Lexa will soon send. Abby takes a second longer to read the email, then looks up at Clarke with her brow furrowed.

“San Diego?” she asks. “Did you know about this?”

“We talked about it,” Clarke lies, easily. “Lexa was really struggling. Our polls are starting to dip, and as much as she didn’t want to inconvenience you, the more she read about all of your past events and town halls there, she more she knew you’d be the best option. There’s just no one as effective we can send.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees her phone screen light up, but she doesn’t check it, not yet; she has to be sincere with her mother. In response, Abby sighs and re-reads the email. She says nothing, but Clarke can tell from the softening on her face that the flattery from both sides has won her over.

“Fine,” she says with a sigh, “I guess if the campaign needs me, I can go. Are you sure you’ll be all right here without me, Clarke?”

Clarke fights her smile. “I’m sure, Mom.”

As Abby formulates her reply to Lexa, Clarke slyly checks her phone to see the message waiting on the screen.

 

Lexa [9:57 PM]: Did it work?

Clarke [9:59 PM]: Beautifully.

Lexa [10:00 PM]: I’ll see you Monday morning, then.

 

Clarke is the first one to the office. Not intentionally; she had spent most of the night tossing and turning, never able to fall into a deep sleep for more than fifteen minutes before she’d wake up again, and finally at 4am, she got up for good and headed to the gym. After her workout, she skipped her usual coffee shop and headed straight to campaign HQ. She walks along the rows of empty desks and cubicles and smiles slightly, remembering the old days: back before she had a campaign manager to help her, back before she had donations or endorsements, back when it was just her and staffers from her previous campaign working for as little as she could legally afford to pay them. She would show up at dawn, make terrible coffee in the cramped office kitchen, and refill her cup throughout the day until she would at last force herself to leave long after the sun had set.

Her hand is on the handle of her office door when she decides, just for the hell of it, to go make another pot of terrible coffee. It’s a good idea, until she swings into the small kitchen: her eyes alight on Lexa, bent over as she peers into the fridge. Clarke comprehends the high heels, black pencil skirt, and sleeveless white blouse, and nothing else. That’s when this becomes a great idea.

At the sound of her arrival, Lexa jumps and straightens up, smoothing her face into an amicable mask of greeting; when she sees that it’s only Clarke standing in the doorway, that falls away, revealing a true smile of relief.

“Good morning, Miss Griffin,” Lexa says, lilting amusement in her voice.

Clarke’s still just staring--which prompts Lexa to let her eyes drift down too, drinking Clarke in. She’s wearing high heels like Lexa, and a navy blue dress that clings tight to her chest and hips. They catch in that moment of mutual admiration and attraction, and they revel in it.

Breaking the silence and eye contact, Lexa glances past her into the office beyond.

“...Is anyone else here?”

“Just me.”

Good. The small smiles disappear as they close the space between them with the force they’ve held back for the past month, chest to chest and waist to waist and hands reaching desperately for something solid to hang onto. Lexa’s mouth tastes like heaven--mint and sweetness that Clarke licks into hungrily, all of her restraint forgotten. Lexa pivots them and pushes Clarke up onto the counter, giving her a better angle to kiss down her neck. Needing her closer, Clarke spreads her legs and pulls Lexa in, pressing their bodies together in search of the pressure and friction that’s been missing.

“Fuck, you feel good,” she whispers into Lexa’s hair.

Lexa runs her hands up Clarke’s thighs and laughs softly. “I haven’t even done anything yet.”

“I don’t care, you feel good.” She can’t articulate it any better than that. Lexa hands could stay on Clarke’s thighs and her lips against Clarke’s collarbone and she’d still think it’s the best sensation in the world, because Lexa is back in her arms.

“I can make you feel better,” Lexa says against her skin. Her hands push farther up Clarke’s thighs, pushing her dress up to her waist.

Of course, Clarke won’t turn down that sensation either.

The low rumble of a moan, in anticipation of pleasure, escapes Clarke’s throat and Lexa responds by dropping her forehead against Clarke’s shoulder, losing control for just a moment.

Her heartbeat pounds in her ears, and the sound of her breathing seems to fill the room, which has narrowed to just the two of them. It’s all so loud that it’s a small wonder Clarke hears it: the swish of the door of the office and the sound of footsteps as a staffer strides in for work.

“Lexa, Lex, hold on--” Clarke gasps, freezing. Lexa wrenches back in fear, her eyes widening when she hears the sound as well. Clarke tilts her head to listen; she has been working in this office for so long that she’s attuned to the sound of the door opening and she can map footsteps through the cubicles. They hurry to straighten their clothes and put some separation between them, praying that those footsteps don’t tread their way.

Clarke picks up a voice after a moment. “Yeah, I’m the first one here...on my computer, just one moment...turning it on now.”

“We’re okay,” she murmurs to Lexa. “They’re at their desk.”

So not heading directly to the kitchen first thing in the morning. Lexa closes her eyes in relief and says a silent prayer of thanks, and turns to step away.

Clarke reaches out and catches the edge of her shirt. “Wait.” She tugs.

Lexa resists, but only so that Clarke can have the pleasure of reeling her in: her eyes soften and twinkle, red-kissed lips twitching in amusement as Clarke pulls her close and kisses her. She won’t have the pleasure of feeling Lexa inside her and biting back moans as she’s fucked on the kitchen counter, but somehow, this tiny stolen kiss warms her with more pleasure than that ever could. Lexa feels good. She always will.

“I’m going to go get coffee from a real coffee shop,” Clarke tells her when they pull apart. She doesn’t need the caffeine, not after this, but she could use some air. “Do you want anything?”

“I’m fine,” Lexa says. “It’s a smart move though, we can act like we never saw each other this morning.”

“You’re not the only strategist here,” she teases.

“Just go get your coffee.” Lexa kisses her one more time before she lets her go.

 

*

 

Clarke takes her time in the coffee shop, relishing the long Monday morning lines and enjoying a newspaper as she sits in an armchair and drinks her first cup, because the longer she takes in the coffee shop, the better she hides what happened in the kitchen. She knows it’s an irrational fear--no one is going to see Clarke and Lexa together early in the morning and assume they nearly had sex in the kitchen--but it’s a fear nonetheless so she takes great care to hide everything. But once she has her second latte and the clock ticks toward 8am, she knows she can’t delay anymore.

A group of middle-aged men in suits carrying clipboards are standing around Sarah’s desk when Clarke gets off the elevator. She groans internally--at this stage, anything out of the ordinary is a bad sign, let alone men with clipboards. Something official is happening and it’s going to result in a headache.

Sarah spots her coming and skirts around her desk, hurrying over. “Miss Griffin, representatives from the capital are here, they want to inspect the office and give a presentation on campaign regulations and proper behavior.”

The guilty chord the last five words strike within Clarke almost makes her lose her grip on her coffee. “Are we in trouble?” she asks, lightly, like it’s a joke.

Sarah shrugs. “Apparently it’s standard. Cage Wallace has to undergo one as well, I asked.”

“Forward notice would have been nice,” Clarke mutters, glaring at the huddle of aging white men going over notes and checklists near the front of the office. “What do I have scheduled today?”

“A meeting with Nia Az-“

“Thank god, cancel that. Cancel everything, I have a feeling they’ll need my attention.” Scanning the office and not finding a familiar figure, she adds, “Where’s Miss Ward?”

Already tapping away at her phone, Sarah doesn’t look up to notice Clarke’s concern. “I believe she’s with her sister, they’re interviewing Raven currently.”

“Conference room?”

“Yes.”

As Sarah cancels Clarke’s plans for the day, Clarke strides quickly away from her and the clutch of officials from the state capital, hoping to grab Lexa for backup before she has to meet them. Without knocking, she cracks the conference room door open and peers inside: Anya and Raven sit across from each other, Raven leaning back as she talks and Anya scribbling notes. Lexa sits slightly behind her sister; she’s entirely unnecessary for the interview, but after this morning, Clarke understands the need to get away and distract oneself with something meaningless.

“Good morning, Anya, Raven, Miss Ward,” Clarke says, announcing her presence.

“Good morning Miss Ward?” Raven says with a laugh, turning to see Clarke. You mean you two weren’t here together before everyone else for once?”

Lexa’s eyes widen and flick towards the back of Anya’s head, but she stays bent over the notepad, finishing a sentence.

“Coffee shop line was long this morning,” Clarke mumbles. Then, more officially: “Lexa, I wanted to let you know, some officials from the capital just arrived, they’re going to be in the office all day and they have some sort of presentation later. What’s your schedule like?”

“Clear, now,” Lexa says. “I’ll entertain them—“

“I can handle it,” Clarke assures her, giving Lexa a nod that makes her sink back into her seat. “But I would like you to attend the meeting later. How’s the interview going?”

“My most interesting one yet,” Anya says brightly, but with a sarcastic tinge that worries Clarke.

“Raven...”

“I haven’t said anything bad!” Raven says, indignant.

“She’s been fine,” Anya says with a small laugh. “I mean, the opportunity to interview a close friend who has also been overseeing the campaign has provided me with plenty of material. I would also like to get some professional pictures done for features about the different people in your life, but I don’t have any equipment with me.”

“Octavia and Lincoln do,” Raven says after a moment. “Old friends. They’re professional wildlife photographers but they’re in town for a while because Octavia is pregnant and about to blow. They’ll interview shots for free, they’d like to help.”

Another intersection of personal and professional makes Clarke purse her lips, but Anya accepts immediately and this one seems so benign that there’s not much she can say. “Just ensure that any interview shoots don’t get in the way of any campaign duties for anyone who is working.”

They agree simply to placate her, as even Anya now knows that her obstinacy is just a product of her irritation at the arrival of the inspectors. With nothing else keeping her in the conference room, Clarke puts on a smile and goes out to greet the new arrivals.

The men from the state capital are just as dull as their ill-fitting suits promise. “We won’t impose, Representative Griffin,” one says, except they do. She spends most of the morning tending to them, following them around, introducing them to staffers, showing them books and reports and records. It’s a job that, logically, anyone in the office can do, but when Clarke tries to pass the job off to a volunteer, she gets less than five minutes of peace before the inspectors are asking for her again. Granted, showing them around the office is better than spending lunchtime meetings with Roan and Nia Azgeda, but such a tedious, time-consuming task after her electrifying start to the morning with Lexa is a bit of an unwelcome tone shift.

At least Lexa isn’t there to distract her--for most of the day. She stays at Anya’s side and out of the way, until the early afternoon, when the men return from lunch and declare that it’s time for the presentation on campaign finance ethics and regulations. Clarke, following them into the conference room, sees Lexa waiting by the door and stops to create some distance between herself and the inspectors. Lexa moves closer as the rest file into the room.

“How has the day been?” she asks, in quiet greeting. Clarke wants to pull her in for a hug, but goes with attitude, instead.

“Besides this morning...” She jerks her head at the men. “Take a guess.”

Lexa averts her eyes, trying to remain serious. The beat gives Clarke a chance to look down at Lexa’s body in this private stolen moment, and the memory of the morning comes rushing back. Her senses recall all of it: the scent of perfume, the mint taste of her mouth, the silk blouse under her hands. Clarke swallows and teases, “At least I’ve been able to focus on my own.”

Eyebrow quirking up, Lexa catches her meaning. “Should I not sit in on this presentation then? They’re expecting both of us.”

“I’ll be fine,” Clarke snaps.

That pride doesn’t stop her from selecting a seat on the opposite side of the room, as far away as possible from Lexa. She sets her laptop up and readies herself, like a college freshman, to give the presenter her upmost attention.

He does her no favors, however. With a voice that drones like a bee stuck in a jar and a subject matter that could help put young children to sleep, he quickly loses Clarke’s interest. She tries her best, following the discussion and nodding along with the examples he gives of historical missteps from candidates. She convinces herself that it’s all far more interesting than the girl on the other side of the room, who, when Clarke looks closely, may still have a few wisps of hair loose from her bun, as a result of Clarke’s fingers earlier.

Clarke shakes her head. Focus on something else, come on.

With the presentation no longer an option and Lexa a dangerous one, she shifts her attention to her laptop, instead. She pulls it closer so that no one around her can see the screen and pulls up her email; with half a dozen outreach messages to type and two nagging journalists, she might as well make use of this time.

She’s halfway through a reply to the first journalist when a small box appears in the bottom corner of her screen.

New message from L Ward.

Patting herself on the back for remembering to mute the computer before this meeting, Clarke surreptitiously scans the room: all eyes are on the presentation, even Lexa's. There’s no indication she sent anything. Frowning, Clarke opens it.

LW: You could at least try to look interested. Don't make my job even more difficult.

Clarke hides a smile.

CG: Meanwhile, you're trying a bit too hard.

She presses send and watches Lexa receive the message: the other woman casually glances at her screen, then back to the presentation as she types, her face never changing--like she’s simply taking notes. She’s good. But as she presses send, her gaze flicks toward Clarke for a half-second, a furtive glance that makes Clarke’s mouth run dry.

LW: Are you telling me Clarke Griffin, future US Senator, isn't interested in campaign finance regulations and ethics?

CG: And Alexandria Ward, brilliant political science graduate, isn't either?

LW: I'm a behind the scenes girl, you're the one running for office.

CG: Everyone knows you’re in charge.

Clarke fights back a smile. They go back and forth, maintaining perfect composure and consummate professionalism, perhaps a skill honed by the months of sneaking around. Lexa even manages to look bored, for anyone who doesn’t know her--but Clarke can see the light dancing in her eyes as they message back and forth. There’s an illicit thrill to it, the same feeling she got when they snuck out of the hotel for fast food on the road trip weeks ago.

LW: Wait until the press gets wind of your lack of interest in these things. They’ll go crazy.

CG: You could give far more damaging things to the press, I trust you with this little secret.

There’s a pause before the next message.

LW: What's my silence worth to you?

CG: I don't know, but I'll definitely give you a bonus if you can figure out a way to get us out of here.

LW: A bonus what?

The slip into dangerous territory is so enticing and yet imperceptible; the illicit thrill is no longer about the fear of getting caught not paying attention, but the dark, suggestive feel of Lexa’s message. With heat curling low in her stomach, Clarke responds without hesitating.

CG: I was thinking of the monetary type, but if you want something else...

LW: I do.

CG: Tell me.

The three blinking dots pulsate, tantalizing.

It seems like ages. The wait is torture itself; Clarke tries to steady her heartbeat--she’s certain the person next to her will be able to hear it if it gets much louder--as she shifts between watching the dots and watching Lexa. Lexa, on the other hand, is perfectly relaxed as she takes in the presentation and jots down the occasional note. By the time the notification comes, Clarke’s so tense she jolts.

LW: Tell me what your lingerie looks like.

It takes everything in her not to swear. She grasps for the humor instead.

CG: Oh please, you can do better than a slightly fancier "so what are you wearing" line

LW: I'm just trying to imagine what you’re going to look like in twenty minutes.

CG: Twenty minutes? It’s two in the afternoon.

LW: You have a private office. I’m locking the door and closing the blinds.

CG: To do what?

God this would be so much better if they could be whispering in each other's ears in a dimly lit hotel room in a nameless city, with the whole night ahead of them, but something in the nature of doing it in a room full of people while trying to maintain a straight face already has Clarke's thighs quivering. Lexa hasn't looked her way once but she can see the way her face has changed: her eyes watch the presentation without seeing it; her fingers, normally drumming on the table, are motionless. She’s holding herself perfectly still, forcing herself not to move.

LW: I want you in your office

LW: biting down on your hand to stay quiet

LW: while I hold you down on the desk

Each message, a minute apart. Intentionally. Clarke nearly loses her composure in the wait between and she swears she can see Lexa smirk.

LW: and sink my fingers into you.

CG: It’s been too fucking long. You know how much I need you. I’m already wet.

CG: You also know that I’m not using my hand to stay quiet. I’ll stay quiet with my lips on your neck.

For the first time, Lexa reacts: she reads the message and closes her eyes in an effort to keep control.

LW: when this is over, you’re mine.

A promise Clarke will demand Lexa keep, regardless of everything around them.

L Ward has logged out.

Twenty minutes pass. Then thirty. They go over the use of PACs and tax brackets and donation limits like it’s a high school civics class, and Clarke hears none of it for the buzzing in her ears and the ache between her thighs.

Watching Lexa shift uncomfortably should give her some sort of satisfaction, but knowing that she’s just as turned on only makes the ache worse, to the point where she’s shocked she hasn’t given the game away yet. But it seems, in her favor, that everyone including the presenter has lost interest by the time they’re finished with the presentation; no one notices the pink flush that has risen through her chest and face. She thanks God for that.

When they're finally done, Clarke stands at the door and bids every man an individual goodbye as they file out. She accepts their praise with a bright smile and nod-- “Excellent environment, Representative Griffin!” “Good luck in the election!”--but she hears none of it. Lexa has stepped away and ensured that Clarke was watching when she slipped unnoticed through the door into Clarke’s office, and that’s where all of Clarke’s attention is now.

Once they’re gone, she walks to her office as quickly as possible without arousing more suspicion.

“I have a conference call with my mother and some of her colleagues,” she tells Sarah, heart pounding. “Please don’t let anyone disturb me for about...a half hour.”

Sarah frowns. “Miss Ward said you had a Skype meeting with Nia Azgeda after the canceled lunch meeting.”

That sends her into a fake coughing fit to cover her sudden embarrassment. “Of course,” Clarke says once she recovers. “I completely forgot about that. Miss Ward will be thrilled I’m double booked.”

“Good luck!” Sarah says brightly.

 

*

 

Lexa stands waiting, leaning back against Clarke’s desk, her arms crossed over her chest. Clarke slows as she enters, waiting for some sort of sign, some movement; Lexa just fixes her with a hungry stare that travels up and down Clarke’s body, intention written all over her face. Her lips curl upward in a sly smile. She doesn’t move. She waits.

Clarke locks the door behind her.

Lexa’s lips curl higher, but she still doesn’t move, languid and relaxed in her tight skirt and high heels--she’s going to make Clarke come to her. On any other day, Clarke would battle with her pride, try to play Lexa’s game, try to assert her own power, but not on a day when she’s been desperate for this since dawn. She rushes across the room and meets Lexa in a hard kiss, thanking God for the seal of their lips because she lets loose a moan that would rouse the whole office if they could hear it.

They don’t have time for foreplay--that was during the meeting. As promised, Lexa turns Clarke around with a surprising strength, clearing a space on the desk and laying her back. Clarke’s legs spread for her; she runs her hands up them anyway, relearning the skin she hasn’t been able to touch for weeks, making it a part of her again. Clarke focuses on her face, watches the way that her eyes close and her lips part with the force of her need as she explores the soft skin of Clarke’s inner thighs. That face is everything; her pleasure comes not from Lexa’s touch, but from the way Lexa looks at her, the way Lexa looks when she touches her. Clarke knows, deep down, that she was undone far before they ever were ever able to meet skin to skin.

With this thought, she surges up from the desk and loops an arm around Lexa’s shoulders, capturing her lips in another kiss. They need to be close to each other, forget the aesthetic of being laid back on a desk.

Lexa pushes Clarke’s dress up around her waist, allowing her legs to spread wider and circle her waist. She thumbs the edge of the lace underwear just once, her eyes dark and heavy as she looks down between their bodies, and then she pushes the underwear aside, sinking two fingers into Clarke.

Clarke has to bite her lip to silence the cry that comes with the sudden wave of pleasure. “F-fuck,” she forces out, breath shaking under the pressure of staying quiet. “You’re so perfect.”

But at the same time Lexa’s fingers begin to move in a slow grind, they realize it: there’s no way Lexa can get Clarke off in the office. There’s no way they can have sex so quietly that no one around them hears it. Hotel walls were made to silence noise from neighbors; office walls aren’t quite the same, and besides--neither woman is satisfied with quiet, furtive sex anymore.

“This isn’t enough,” Clarke whispers, rolling her hips against Lexa. “We’ll have to wait until later, if I come...they’ll know.”

“I know.” Lexa kisses down her neck. “Come over tonight. I’ll make you dinner. A real date.”

“You’re asking me on a date when you have your fingers inside me?” Clarke asks, breathless and incredulous.

“Is there a better time?”

Can’t argue that, even if she weren’t mindless with pleasure. “What about Anya?”

“Set her up in a Venice hotel for a few days.”

“A few days, huh?”

Goosebumps rise on her skin when Lexa laughs softly in her ear. They squeeze every second out of the short time they have, kissing and grabbing and Clarke riding Lexa’s fingers as if she’ll somehow get the release she needs, knowing the entire time that it won’t be enough, not right now. They know it’s an inevitability that someone knocks on the door--when it happens, Lexa groans against her shoulder and pulls away, reluctance emanating from every inch of her body.

Clarke should be more disappointed--turned up and let down--but seeing Lexa’s dismay, she feels the need to reassure her first: “We’ll have all night at your apartment later.” She re-adjusts her dress for the second time today, then heads around her desk and falls into her chair, her legs weak. “Can you let in whoever is out there?”

Lexa nods, steeling herself. “Leave early...around seven. I’ll text you the address.”

“I’ll be there by eight,” Clarke promises. “Wine?”

“On a Monday night?”

They share a small smile.

 

*

 

She checks the address Lexa sent her, even as she stands in the elevator on the way up to her floor. All this time, and she’s never been to Lexa’s apartment. One finger taps at the neck of the wine bottle she’s holding; when she notices what she’s doing, she grimaces.

She’s a politician. Clarke Griffin. Leading the race for US Senator. She makes speeches and argues with people well above her station and shakes hands for a living. And she’s known Lexa for months now. They’ve started to learn the deepest parts of one another, and neither has flinched. She shouldn’t be nervous.

But she is.

As she walks down the hallway, she has a fleeting thought that her nerves might not stem from meeting Lexa...but the depth of her feelings for her.

Then Lexa answers the door, and Clarke knows it’s true. The way her heart leaps at the sight of Lexa—hair down, in a soft, breezy t-shirt and jeans—has only one true meaning.

“You wore jeans,” Lexa says, smiling at the sight.

“Didn’t we decide on jeans for a date?” Clarke replies.

“I wasn’t sure if you remembered.”

“Of course.” As if I could forget any of that conversation, she thinks, as Lexa steps aside to invite her in.
Her apartment is smaller than Clarke’s, but made more spacious by smart lighting choices and wide windows, their shades thrown open to the dim glow of downtown Los Angeles in the nighttime. The arrangement is simple, modern: a dark couch and a comfortable looking arm-chair; a wall-mounted TV that looks like it’s never been turned on, and knowing Lexa, it probably hasn’t been; no dining table but a long counter with bar stools separating the living room from the kitchen, out of which wafts the intoxicating scent of dinner.

“You’re cooking?” Clarke asks, grinning at her as she follows the scent.

“I have talents outside of politics, Clarke.” Lexa trails behind her with a small smile.

“I’m well aware, just not that cooking was one of them. Cook often?”

“Naturally.”

“Oh really?” She skips ahead of her, stepping to the fridge before Lexa can call her back and swinging it open to reveal rows of takeout containers, a mirror image of Clarke’s fridge on her best day. “Didn’t know you had a second job at a restaurant, Miss Ward.”

But Lexa has seen the completely unused state of Clarke’s kitchen, and that’s her downfall. “Look who’s talking, Miss Griffin.” In one swift motion, Lexa glides forward and shuts the door, stepping into its place in front of Clarke, close enough to steal a kiss.

“What’s for dinner?” Clarke asks her, done teasing.

“Just salad, pasta, and salmon. I had grander plans...but not enough time.” She smiles ruefully. “Maybe after the election. But it won’t be done for a while, so we can sit down. Bring the wine,” she adds over her shoulder as she strides back out to the living room.
As Clarke sinks onto the couch, letting herself relax for the first time today, Lexa opens the wine and pours it into two waiting glasses on the coffee. It’s then that Clarke notices the unlit candles on different surfaces around the room--waiting. She hides a soft smile. She’s known Lexa is amazing; she didn’t know she was such a romantic. But as she accepts a full glass from Lexa, she notices the worried lines in the girl’s forehead.

“Is everything okay?”

“I’m...sorry about this afternoon,” Lexa says slowly.

“This afternoon?”

“The messages, in the meeting. It was unprofessional. We have been so focused on work, that I didn’t realize how much I missed you—talking to you, being around you, being close to you—until this morning. And when I did...I lost some of my restraint.”

Clarke can’t help quirking her eyebrow in amusement. “Some?”

“Most,” Lexa admits.”

“Not all?”

She picks up Clarke’s teasing tone and realizes she never needed to apologize in the first place. The lines disappear, replaced by a raised eyebrow. “If I’d lost all of it, I would have excused us and pulled you into your office during the meeting.”

“Well you didn’t seem to have much restraint left in the kitchen this morning...”

“Me?” she asks, outraged. “You jumped me, if I recall correctly.”

“Did I? Like this?”

Smoothly and so quickly that Lexa can’t react, Clarke swings a leg over her, sliding into Lexa’s lap and straddling her; they don’t spill a drop of wine. Lexa leans back and tilts her chin up to accept Clarke’s soft kiss, then hums happily when she deepens it, her free hand coming up to rest on Clarke’s hip. They kiss like that until they lose track of time, all velvet and warmth, moving like the slow ebbing and rolling of a gentle tide on the sand. When they pull apart, they rest their foreheads together.

“I’m so weak for you, Clarke.”

“Just be mine. That’s all I want.”

“I am yours. I don’t want to be anything else.”
The words are on the tip of her tongue; she wills herself to say them, despite the hammering in her chest. Instead, she says, “I’m yours too,” and cuts herself off by kissing Lexa again.

Soon.

 

*

 

Dinner is ready far before they start reaching for hemlines and bare skin; in that moment, simply kissing is worth everything, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t reluctant to pull apart when timers start buzzing. Once Clarke tastes Lexa’s dinner, she regrets teasing her about the take-out, making up for it with such effusive praise that Lexa’s cheeks turns pink and she begs Clarke to stop, but they’ve finished the bottle of wine between them and Lexa doesn’t quite exude the same level of control she did in Clarke’s office this afternoon.

“So...” Clarke leads, once they’ve finished dinner. “I noticed the candles you’ve set up.”

The blush rises in Lexa’s cheeks again. “I have my moments.”

Clarke cocks her head onto her shoulder. Her mind buzzes pleasantly, foggy from the wine. “Do you have any in the bedroom?”

Lexa’s eyes darken.

They strip away their clothes as they go--a slow march down the hallway to Lexa’s bedroom, savoring every moment, open and languid in a way they haven’t been able to be in months, if ever. This feels different, somehow. The way Lexa lays Clarke back on the bed like she’s a precious thing, cradling her in Egyptian cotton sheets and soothing her hot skin with the trailing touch of her fingertips. They lose track of time as they kiss, bodies rolling against each other; they lose track of all thought as Lexa works her way down Clarke’s body, tasting every inch of skin with sloppy, open-mouthed kisses. Clarke’s fingers tangle in Lexa’s hair as Lexa settles between her legs and looks up.

All thought, except one.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

It plays on repeat in Clarke’s head; she resigns herself to gasps and sighs and moans to prevent the words from slipping out before she knows they’re both ready. It’s easy to hold them back as Lexa works her up with her tongue; it’s harder when they’re tangled together, face to face and chest to chest and breathing in each other’s sighs. No matter how sleepy she becomes, how desperate, how mindless, she never breathes the words...but they reverberate in her soul.

She would give up the entire world for this. She’d give up the entire world for this girl. She wants Lexa, and nothing else.

 

*

 

“Clarke.”

“Hmm.”

“Clarke, we overslept.”

Clarke opens one eye. The room is still dark; she could half believe that it’s still the middle of the night, that she’d just dozed off after yet another orgasm. “No we didn’t.” Blindly, she reaches out for Lexa’s hand, catching the fingers and tangling hers in them, trying to reassure her.

“Yes, we did. I have blackout curtains; the sun is already up.”

Then she remembers where she is and jolts up, looking with horror to the girl lying beside her. “God, I’m used to the lighting in my apartment,” she says. “How much time do we have?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Lexa says. She puts a hand on Clarke’s back to calm her. “We have time. Not a lot, but enough. You’ll have to shower here though, okay?”

“Will you have time?” Clarke asks, scrambling out of bed and heading for the bathroom.

Lexa gets caught staring at Clarke’s nude body--there’s something even more beautiful about seeing her here, in her bedroom, that doesn’t compare to the past--before she realizes that was a question. “I should have time. Anya is coming over soon but she can wait if I’m still in the shower.”

“Just join me,” Clarke says, poking her head back out of the bathroom with a smirk.

That’s too good of an opportunity to turn down.

By the time she finishes laying out her clothes and grabs towels for both of them, Clarke is already in the shower, under the water. Lexa watches her through the rippled glass, marveling at the abstract display of her body distorted by the water and somehow even more beautiful. She wants mornings like this: oversleeping and showering together, sometimes with breakfast and sometimes with a mad rush for coffee before running out the door. It amazes her how everything becomes so much brighter with the prospect of Clarke in her life, coloring every facet--it also alarms her.

But before she pontificates too much and freezes herself into a philosophical statue, she strips down and steps into the shower, and the sight of Clarke’s bare skin and smile wipes all thought from her mind.

Silently, Clarke steps back and invites her under the water. Lexa doesn’t hesitate--and then then moment she steps under the stream, she wrenches back.

“Christ, Clarke, what circle of hell do you pipe your water in from?”

Completely unbothered, as if the scalding water is merely lukewarm, Clarke considers. “If I remember Dante right, either the second, sixth, or eighth.” In response to Lexa’s raised brow, she adds: “The eighth is for treachery and hypocrisy, and corrupt politicians--”

“None of which you’re guilty of.”

Clarke’s turn to look skeptical. She gives the space between their naked bodies a pointed glance.

Lexa rolls her eyes. “Sleeping with me doesn’t make you corrupt.”

“It toes the line,” she replies, with a small smile. “The sixth is for heresy, which needs no explanation.”

“And the second?”

“Lust.”

Lexa’s eyes go dark; she looks Clarke up and down. When faced with the picture of Clarke Griffin, rivulets of hot water streaming down over her bare body, beckoning her closer with the parting of her lips as she talks about 13th century Italian poetry...lust seems like too soft a word for the amount of attraction Lexa feels. She steps forward into the stream of hot water and presses her lips against Clarke’s. She runs her hands over the slick skin, delighting in this new sensation.

“Mmmm...have you ever had shower sex?” Clarke breathes.

Lexa laughs, because that’s all she can do to prevent the buildup of frustration. “God, don’t tell me that. We don’t have time...”

“But we do have tonight.”

She opens her eyes. “That, we do. Another date?”

“My place this time,” Clarke says. “My shower is bigger...and the shower head is removable.”

This sets Lexa laughing again, a genuine laugh this time, made worse by Clarke’s devilish grin.

After a bit more teasing, Clarke takes pity on her and finishes her shower without slowing them down anymore, allowing Lexa to turn down the water and quickly finish up as well. When she gets out, Clarke is wearing a borrowed hoodie and sweats, last night’s clothes bundled up in her arms. “I just checked the traffic,” she explains, “I have to get home if I’m going to make it to work on time.”

Lexa nods, crossing the room for a kiss. “I’ll see you soon, then; drive safe.”

Once she’s gone, the entire apartment feels bigger, emptier. Since moving to Los Angeles, she had done little with the apartment beyond filling it with a basic package of furniture. Having Clarke here, on the couch and in the kitchen and in her bed, has made the space feel more human and full of life than it has in months. Her heart aches too, similarly empty, reminding Lexa again of just how alarming the intensity of this attachment has become. But it’s a fear she’s more than willing to deal with, because the warmth Clarke brings to her life is worth every risk.

She’s nearly finished getting ready when Anya arrives, coffee in hand.

“Venice is full of hipsters and tourists,” is her dry summation.

“It’s free, don’t complain,” Lexa shoots back, accepting the coffee.

“I’m not; it’s fascinating. Once I’m done being a journalistic lapdog for the campaign, I’m going to go a full report on the place.”

“Sounds great,” Lexa says, sipping her coffee as she hurries to collect the rest of her supplies for the day. Anya follows her into the bedroom, talking about the people-watching she did and the restaurants she plans to attend in the next two days. Lexa tunes her out quickly; after a few minutes, Anya has to say her name twice to get her attention.

“Lexa. Lexa! Where did this come from?”

She has no time to play twenty questions about her apartment and possessions; indignant, she turns to tell Anya as much and her breath turns to lead in her throat when she sees the jewel blue bra Anya is holding up--not Lexa’s color and a cup size too large. Clarke’s.

“Is this yours?” she asks curiously.

“Ah...not that I recall,” Lexa says slowly, pretending to examine it, her brow furrowed in confusion. “Must have been from a one night stand I had.”

“Last night?” Anya demands.

“Months ago,” Lexa says, with a shake of her head. “I remember her but didn’t realize she’d left her bra; it must have been in an endless laundry cycle.”

As far as she knows, Anya is too straight to pick up on Clarke’s cup size and make the connection from a single piece of lingerie, but the lack of commitment in Lexa’s answers puzzles her for a moment. In that breath of silence, Lexa holds her breath and sends prayers to every god she doesn’t believe in, and finds herself thinking of Dante’s Inferno again.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Anya says, shaking her head.

“I do.” Lexa promises herself as much as Anya. “Now hurry, please. I should have left ten minutes ago.”

“Okay, okay, fine.” Anya grabs her bag and slings it over her shoulder, then strides out of the apartment ahead of Lexa. “I have a full day too, you know. Those photoshoots for people I’m interviewing should take all day.”

“Sounds busy,” Lexa muses idly as she locks her door.

“It is. Raven, Roan, some staffers...it should take a while. When should I schedule yours?”

Lexa stops short. “What?”

“The photoshoot for your interview,” Anya says, furrowing her brow.

“I’m not being interviewed.”

“Of course you are.”

“Why would I be interviewed?” she demands.

“Because,” Anya says. She raises her chin. “The interview series is about people close to Clarke, the people who know her best. The people most important to her.”

“And?”

“I figured the woman who is sleeping with her is included in that list. First question: how long?”