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in love and war and politics

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Clarke’s not really sure whether she’s ever believed in God; her most vocal proclamations of faith have come under the ministrations of Lexa’s tongue.

But if there is a god, she has a sick sense of humor.

She opens her laptop and looks at her most recent email; it’s been read by the Democrat party leaders in the State Capital.

She re-reads the subject line:

Official Resignation from the Senate Race

Clarke Griffin resigned from the Senate Race.

She can only imagine the responses she’s going to get after the news of her illicit affair. They’ll be furious, with all of it; they would have called for her resignation anyway. At least this way resigning before the news broke, she avoids the fight and maybe placates them enough that they’ll allow her some low-level job in a rural district.

Back to her phone, and that burning, damning message from Lexa on the screen, Clarke presses “call” under Lexa’s contact information. She thinks better of it on the first ring and hangs up. She tries again a minute later--and hangs up a second time. Her temperature has hit feverish levels, heart pumping adrenaline-laced blood to prepare her for fight or flight in a situation in which she can do neither.

When she hangs up on a call for the third time, Lexa fires a quick text:

Lexa: I’ll come over.

And that spurs Clarke to let the phone ring at last. Lexa picks up immediately.

“Hear me out--”

“Lexa.” Her throat is so tight she can barely speak. “I tendered my official resignation from the race fifteen minutes before the news broke.”

Lexa is silent for so long Clarke thinks she might have hung up. When she speaks, voice comes over the line empty and disbelieving:

“You...what?”

“I informed the party leaders that I’d be withdrawing from the race and offering my full support to any replacement nominees.”

The more she says it out loud, the more real it is, and the more confidence fills her voice.

“I’m coming over,” Lexa says weakly, a clattering in the background indicating she’s already moving, heading for the door.

Clarke sighs. “Lexa, don’t--”

No, Clarke,” Lexa snaps, with a force and ferocity that shocks Clarke into silence. “I’m not doing this over the phone, we need to talk face to face. My statement is going to come out, and--”

“Your statement?”

Unbelievably, even more than the release of Cage Wallace’s financials and subsequently the photos, the suggestion of a statement from Lexa strikes Clarke as true betrayal. How long has this been in the works? How cynical can she be, how calculating?

Lexa says something else, but Clare’s phone is already out of her hand, flung across the room.

 

*

 

In the time it takes Lexa to drive to Clarke’s apartment, Clarke has spun through a kaleidoscope of emotions and settled on anger--she stews on those questions and more, turning over everything in her mind until it’s all just a blank, hot fury. Lexa’s footsteps sound like gunshots in the hallway and Clarke throws open the door before she can knock, inhaling a deep breath to yell.

“Are you serious?” Lexa cuts her off. “You resigned? Call them. Now. Tell them you made a mistake.”

Clarke seethes, barely contained. “How dare you.”

“How dare I?”

“You--” she sputters in disbelief. “You betrayed me! You lied to me! I told you that if you did it again, we were done!”

“You resigned!” Lexa fires back, getting in her face. “You turned your back on everyone!”

Clarke turns on her heel and stomps back across the room, getting out of range of Lexa--in tight jeans and a rumpled, untucked button down, Lexa’s body is unholy and Clarke will not even allow the physical reaction to it right now.

Everyone was not running for Senator,” she shouts, turning back at a safe distance. “Everyone was not losing sight of why they’re doing this. That was me--everyone else was believing in someone who didn’t exist anymore. I’m not Clarke Griffin, I’m Representative Griffin. Senator Griffin. Cage was right: I have no integrity.”

“Come on, Clarke,” Lexa scoffs. “You think you’re the only one sacrificing something?”

With that, she seizes the remote from Clarke’s couch an unmutes the TV, still playing the news reports of this morning’s events. Lexa cranks up the volume as Clarke spins--her face falls when she sees what’s on screen.

“...bring you this exclusive statement from Lexa Ward, Campaign Manager for the Griffin Campaign,” reads the news anchor. Lexa’s statement comes up. Clarke reads along with the reporter.

“I would like to apologize and take full responsibility for the current perception of Representative Clarke Griffin and her campaign,” the statement reads. Clarke blanches. “The images now circulating, taken by an intern working for Mr. Wallace, depict a moment of personal weakness in an advance on Representative Griffin, which was rebuffed. I can state with absolute certainty that what happened was one-sided and unrequited. My behavior is wholly my own and should not reflect poorly on the Griffin campaign and in particular, Representative Griffin’s immaculate personal integrity. I have removed myself from the campaign, and I am deeply sorry for my actions.”

The news anchors reappear and continue with their assessment of the situation, but Clarke, staring blankly, doesn’t hear them. Bitterness spreads over her tongue and down her throat, sharp and biting. Part of her can’t deny that this is an impressive, powerful political stroke against Cage Wallace--but a much larger part of her is far too focused on the woman in front of her to care about anything outside of this apartment.

“So you think that a statement is going to make this all okay?” Clarke asks, voice icy cold.

“No,” Lexa replies. “It’s just crisis management. Cage gets arrested. I take the blame for the photos. We’re both removed, and you win the election.”

She threw away her own career. Being known as a lecherous campaign manager who makes unrequited advances on her female bosses would ruin Lexa--and clear Clarke for an easy win, a victim. And that kills Clarke. They were supposed to be together in this.

“But why, Lexa? Why go this far? Why not talk to me about it?”

“I tried, Clarke.” Now her voice is cold. “But I know you. I knew the minute you broke in that debate that you were going to bow out of this race to protect this relationship.”

“I--”

“You can’t argue that, you’ve already resigned! I was right! My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.” Seeing the way Clarke shuts down, the way she shakes her head and turns, Lexa storms forward, voice changing to a plea. “Clarke--you could be an amazing Senator. You’re already a great leader. You are an amazing woman. And I love you too much to be in the way of that future.”

Tears welling in her eyes, Clarke tries to pull back, but the sight of desperation in Lexa’s face is too much and it roots her to the spot. “We should have done this together--”

“In an ideal world, yes,” Lexa sighs. “I would be by your side through anything. But we’ve been forced into a position of choosing between us and your career and I--rightfully--didn’t trust you to choose your career.”

That’s damning. The words crash over her, and something inside Clarke seals up, freezing Lexa out and her emotions in.

“It’s not worth it without you.”

Lexa’s face breaks. “Clarke--”

The apartment is too small. Before, she was a safe distance away, but she could have her back against the wall and still not be far enough to resist the temptation of Lexa’s soft, despairing eyes--she has no right to look so beautiful and so devastated as she breaks Clarke’s heart like this. She cannot stay here, taking up all of the air, or things will get far worse for them both.

“Get out,” Clarke rasps past the lump in her throat. “We’ll speak to the office tomorrow. Until then, don’t contact me.”

“There is more to this than politics--”

“There was. Not anymore.”

Lexa stiffens. “I’m not leaving you before we talk through it.”

“You don’t get to dictate that anymore.” Clarke blows past Lexa and opens the door. “Out.”

“I’ll wait outside in your hallway if I have to. I’m not going anywhere.” All resolute, stubborn defiance. As always.

“Fine,” Clarke says with a shrug. “My mom should be here any minute. When she arrives, you’re free to tell her how you were fucking her daughter and then announced it to the world to win a race.”

“Clarke.”

She doesn’t have any right to look that good, and she doesn’t have any right to say Clarke’s name with so much adoration and grief. It’s Lexa’s one last attempt to appeal to the part of Clarke that she is trying desperately to lock away, and fuck, it almost works.

“Lexa, please,” Clarke breathes, barely more than a whisper. She doesn’t want to break and the look she gives Lexa says that--Lexa understands, closing her eyes. It’s over. “Just go.”

“I’m sorry, Clarke,” she murmurs, looking down and stepping out into the hallway.

Clarke slams the door on her.

As the click of Lexa’s heels fade down the long hallway to the elevator, Clarke presses her pounding forehead against the cool wood of the door as the tears well up yet again. Before the sound of her footsteps grows too distant, Clarke almost reaches for the doorknob--a moment of weakness. But she holds back. She won’t be that person.

 

 

As expected, Abby arrives just moments after Lexa leaves. Clarke opens the door at her knock expecting frantic bewilderment, but instead, she is greeted by her mother’s soft, uncomprehending eyes. Abby opens her arms and Clarke folds into them, trying not to cry.

“Sweetheart...are you okay?”

And Clarke, previously nothing more than a ball of fury and hurt, gives in and releases a single choked sob.

Abby doesn’t ask questions: the basic facts are laid out. Clarke had a pseudo-affair with her campaign manager and now it has derailed the race. The minute that Clarke allows herself to break down in her mother’s arms, she sufficiently conveys the depth of her pain, and Abby sets to work mitigating that. Clarke’s phone--now cracked from hitting the wall during her call with Lexa--vibrates incessantly and her computer is dinging repeatedly as the emails flood in.

“A bit of crisis management,” Abby says, grabbing her computer. Clarke winces at the phrase. “But first, you need to clear your head. I’ll handle these.”

She handles them by deleting every journalist request that pops up in her inbox; nearly one per minute. Old personal friends asking for details get deleted too. Abby sits wordlessly beside her red-eyed daughter on the couch, clutching her hand and deleting the emails almost as quickly as they come in.

Suddenly, Clarke stays her hand on a new one, titled “RE: Official Resignation from Senate Race”

With Abby reading over her shoulder, Clarke opens it.

“Miss Griffin,

Though this is not the most orthodox of channels in which to submit your resignation, given the circumstances, we recognize your withdrawal from the race. Over the coming hours and days, we will take the requisite steps to end your candidacy and identify a suitable replacement, at which time you will be requested to issue certain public statements of support.

Within two weeks, we will also request an in person meeting in Sacramento so that we may discuss the campaign and your future in depth.”

And it’s signed by the party leaders. Short, terse, and brimming with a subtle fury beneath the polite tone. With a sudden resignation, Clarke has screwed over the party leader just as badly as Lexa has her--and she knows she is in for one hell of a reprimand when she goes to meet them.

It can’t, however, be any worse than the blank, stunned look on her mother’s face.

“You resigned?” Abby asks, brutal disappointment creeping in. First question.

Clarke nods.

Second question. There are clearly hundreds. But Abby settles on, “So...this was planned? The resignation, the financial information, the photos? To give you an out?”

Clarke shakes her head. “No.” Just one painful coincidence. “I drafted the letter before any of this came out. I didn’t put it out. I just wanted to resign. I…” she can’t find the words. “It wasn’t right for me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know who I am or where I want to go, and I can’t lead people if I don’t know where I’m going.”

Tears threaten again and she blunts them with anger. This is Lexa’s fault, not hers.

“Clarke…” Abby says hoarsely. Clarke grimaces in expectation of admonishment. “I’m so sorry.” But Abby is a mother right now, and only a mother. She pulls Clarke in for another hug. “We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“There’s nothing to figure out. It’s over.”

“Just do whatever you need to do to feel better, honey.”

She doesn’t even know what that is anymore. Even her mother’s sympathy and embrace provides only the smallest modicum of comfort. Clarke had believed, whole-heartedly, that tendering her resignation would have freed her, and for a time, it did. But her dreams of traveling with Lexa and then starting a political career clean and with Lexa at her side, in a relationship, ended the moment that news report hit the air. Over Abby’s shoulder, Clarke opens her eyes and glances at the TV to see that they’re still replaying it: Lexa’s statement is onscreen yet again. The words are burned into her mind now, Lexa’s self-sacrifice of her own career prospects, her attempt to save the campaign and Clarke’s career at the expense of her own. All to make herself feel better about the betrayal, Clarke reminds herself.

And again, for better or for worse, an idea starts to form...something that would make her feel better.

Before it takes shape, a new hurried stomping down the hallway outside reaches Clarke and Abby and suddenly, Raven bursts into Clarke’s apartment, waving a cellphone. If Abby matched and comforted Clarke’s sadness, Raven storms into the apartment to rival and personify her rage.

“I’ve been calling you and Lexa for the last hours and nothing,” she exclaims. “What. The. Fuck. Have you seen the news?”

“Raven,” Abby warns, but Clarke rises instantly to Raven’s level, grateful for someone who can empathize with her anger.

“I had no idea this was going to happen,” she tells Raven. “Guess who pulled this on her own.”

Raven stops dead. “You’re kidding. She didn’t.

“She did.”

“I never thought she would release anything. That traitorous b--”

“Raven knew?” Abby asks incredulously.

Realizing how much she has spilled with her outrage, Raven goes full deer in headlights, looking to Clarke for help. “Uh…”

“Raven knew,” Clarke says with a nod. “When...those photos--Lexa and I had been..” She falters. For all the thought that has gone into the situation since the photos were taken, explaining it to her mother while trying not to cry in front of both her and Raven proves nearly impossible. Clarke sucks in a deep breath and lets it all spill out: “Lexa and I had been together for a while. It’s exactly what it looks like. No one knew. One night...we got caught. By a Wallace intern, like Lexa’s statement said. We put together a team to figure out how to handle it. Raven, Anya, Wells, and Roan knew. Know. I don’t know.”

Abby’s face alternates between surprise and offense and sympathy and disappointment: Clarke doesn’t have the mental energy to discern her mother’s moods and appeal to any specific one. She wants to fall asleep and wake up from this nightmare, while also wanting to stay up for the next three days and work.

“How long?” Abby asks. One of a hundred questions.

“Seven months,” Clarke answers blankly.

That tells Abby enough. This wasn’t just sex. “So what will you do now?”

She shrugs. “I don’t have any idea. Raven?”

Raven’s anger has ebbed in watching Clarke struggle to explain the last several months to her mother. She pulls Clarke into a hug. “Nothing legal,” she mutters, with a wry laugh. “I’m here for you.”

Clarke shares a humorless laugh too. “We have to figure out what to tell the office. And then...let’s call Wells. I just thought of one thing that’ll make me feel better.”

Two hours later, Clarke texts Lexa.

[11:33 AM] Clarke: My statement comes out at 7am tomorrow. We’ll address the staff tomorrow at 8.

[11:33 AM] Lexa: Your statement? What does that mean?

Clarke doesn’t reply, satisfaction spreading within her.

[11:39 AM] Lexa: Clarke, what did you do?


*

 

“I would like to set the record straight about the photos that have surfaced over the weekend. Contrary to any previous claims, suggestions, or rumors, Lexa Ward and I did engage in a relationship for much of the campaign, as evidenced by the photos released by Mr. Wallace’s campaign. I sincerely apologize for my behavior and to anyone and everyone that I have hurt, and will be taking steps to address the public in the coming days to account for my actions. Additionally, irrespective of the information about this relationship, I have decided to withdraw from the Senate race. I will be putting my full energy and support behind a new democratic candidate. Thank you.”



*

 

“We can’t wait any longer,” Clarke mutters, heart sinking. She checks her office clock again, and compares it to the time on her cellphone, but she has never allowed her clock to fall behind. Lexa is late--another thing that has never happened before.

“Should’ve guessed she wouldn’t show up,” Raven snarls.

“It doesn’t matter.” It does. She pushes open her office door. “I won’t keep them waiting.”

Raven collected the staffers in the office as they arrived this morning, calming fears and quieting concerns until everyone was assembled in front of Clarke’s office. They’ve been waiting there, restless, for a half hour, and when Clarke steps out, she makes sure to connect with every face: the wide eyes, parted lips, the angry faces, the palpable disappointment. She owes it to them.

She starts her speech in a breaking voice. “Obviously, everyone has seen the news reports, and the…” the word is bitter in her mouth “...the statements. A lot has happened over the weekend and I want to ensure that you hear the truth from me, and have time to ask questions. I will always be here for you and any and all concerns.”

Her eyes flicker to movement at the side of the room as a woman with a profile Clarke would recognize from a mile away steps in and locks eyes with her, gray-green on bright blue.

“And Miss Ward, as well,” she says, tongue dry but a strange relief flooding through her. She nods at the side of the room and heads turn as Lexa steps forward.

Freshly arrived, Lexa Ward walks to the front of the room to join Clarke like she’s walking to a guillotine--unafraid. Her slow steps give Clarke and everyone else the time to examine every inch of her. Perhaps intentionally. Be it for modesty or mourning, she’s in all black, with a high collared shirt that clasps at the base of her neck with gold buttons; her hair is smooth, immaculately coiled; her eyes down. Lexa is gorgeous when she’s undone—sleeves rolled to her elbows, hair down, top few buttons of her shirt open to reveal a hint of lace. She is none of that now, and yet somehow even more beautiful: untouchable, austere, cold. Clarke thinks of sweeping arctic landscapes, glittering ice visible only from sea and untouched by human hands; she thinks of a widow at a funeral, beautiful and withdrawn, avoiding every eye that looks to her with both pity and awe.

Lexa is timeless and ethereal, and Clarke wishes, just for a moment, that she could still reach out and touch her. Comfort her. Seek comfort. But they can’t do that now.

And the terrifying thing is—even more terrifying than this moment of public confession—that she doesn’t think they will ever be able to again.

Lexa finally reaches Clarke’s side, taking up a position slightly behind her, indicative of her decision not to speak, just take the public flogging alongside Clarke in a show of support and penance.

Returning her attention to the office, clears her throat, and fights the desire to swallow the words back down.

Clarke apologizes. Again and again. To everyone. She informs both her staffers and then the press of her relationship with Lexa and tries to downplay it, tries to highlight instead how lost she has felt, how adrift from her ideals and how unmoored she has become in her own self-identity; how they all deserve better than that. Her staffers look back at her with the same variety of emotions that she has found herself cycling through over the past twenty-four hours since everything fell apart: surprise, disappointment, frustration, numbness, anger, and maybe even a little hope.

The press, on the other hand, looks up at her like starving predators discovering a fresh carcass. Even in liberal California, the prospect of a grand old sex scandal--a secret relationship--will have traction in the media in a race as big as this, and a relationship between two women? An employer and employee? A bright young candidate who swore she was different from all the rest? It’s a feast, and they eat her alive. Lexa hasn’t joined her for this one; she’s forced to lay herself bare for them alone.

And yet...she comes out of the press conference feeling like she has shed her skin--she has endured the worst of it, and survived. She expected this. It doesn’t lessen the guilt of disappointing her staffers, but it does give her a strange sense of freedom. How much worse could it get?

“This will cycle through the media for a while,” Abby tells her on the elevator ride back up to her office, where Clarke is to meet with Human Resources and then Finance to establish processes for shutting the campaign down. “It’s a good scandal in a race otherwise devoid of them; that’s a testament to your character, Clarke. Just keep your head down.”

That’s the plan. Head down, no waves. Clarke has been flogged raw and left vulnerable and wants nothing more than to avoid any more pain, which naturally means it’s the only thing she can expect, and therefore, when she returns to her office, she is sickeningly unsurprised to find Lexa standing at the door, hands behind her back.

“Clarke,” she announces herself. As always.

After all of this, Clarke has no emotion to spare. She nods as she steps into her office. “Lexa.”

It’s not an invitation to follow, but it’s not a denial of an audience either, so Lexa follows her in anyway. Abby and Raven stop just outside the door, leaving them alone--but the door stays open. Clarke retreats behind her desk and leaves Lexa in the center of the room, like she’s appealing to a queen. To her credit, Lexa stands straight and tall and she regards Clarke boldly, but the muscle pulsing in her clenched jaw reveals her struggle to keep control of her emotions.

“You really had to undermine my statement with yours, didn’t you?” Lexa asks, raising an eyebrow. Something between amusement and exasperation. “I was trying to save your campaign and career.”

“I told you...integrity.” Clarke shrugs. “I’m trying to regain it.”

“You never lost it,” Lexa replies simply.

That dangerously unsteadies Clarke, who grips the edge of her desk to maintain control. “The press I just faced would disagree.”

“They don’t matter.”

Clarke can’t do this. The sneaking feeling of Lexa’s existence being wildly unfair begins to creep in. Clarke has to be furious at her--Lexa is not allowed to slip the noose with her characteristic fierce kindness, devotion, adoration. But Clarke’s resolve is starting to waver and she clings tight to the razor sharp shards of their relationship, letting them slice her palms so that she can feel the pain and anger again. She grabs her binder for the HR meeting and tries to storm out of the office.

“You always have had and always will have integrity,” Lexa tells her in a low voice, stopping her. “And I have always admired it. And despite all appearances, I have integrity as well--I promised you that you would win this race. And I committed to what I did to accomplish that. I accept that cost--even though it cost me you. I won’t put anything else on you. You can make your own choices on how to deal with this. But the same offer you have extended to your staff applies to me: I promise I will always be here for you.”

To promise she wouldn’t put anything on Clarke is asinine, as the moment she swears to always be there for her, Clarke wants nothing more in the world than to lean in and kiss her--right in front of the open door, right in front of their entire office, watching breathlessly.

And she hates herself for that. She wants to hate Lexa, but Lexa is determined to make this even harder, stepping forward and lowering her voice:

“Clarke, I still lo--”

“Please don’t,” Clarke breathes, cutting her off. Lexa falls back instantly. “I have to go to meet with HR, I need to be thinking straight.”

She pushes past her, the words Lexa nearly said and the words she should have replied with ringing in her head. She fights the tears in her eyes.

It’s the last time she sees Lexa Ward in California.

 

*

 

Clarke doesn’t stay in the office until 9pm that night, as she had been doing for what feels like every day since the very start of the race. She works with HR on how to end the services of her staffers, and then meets with finance on what to do with donations and campaign funds. Both meetings are fruitful--many staffers have plans in place and Raven has set up an intricate donor system that will allow donations to easily be returned or sent on to a new candidate, per the donor’s choice--but by the end of the day, the emotional toll has Clarke feeling like it’s nearly midnight. It’s only 5pm when she gets down to her car.

Gustus and Ryder both wait for her there, both on duty to ensure there are no extra risks with the increase in media around Clarke. She sinks low in the backseat to avoid being recognized on the surface streets, and then stays low with her eyes closed as they wait out rush hour commute traffic on the freeway.

“Miss Griffin?” comes the low, gruff murmur of Gustus from the front seat after several minutes.

Clarke looks up, blinking away tears and adopting a calm face, to meet his eyes in the rear view mirror. Sympathy shines out of them; somehow, that makes it worse. She would give almost anything to suffer in private, away from the sympathetic eyes of the world.

Still, she tries to put on a professional face anyway. “Yes, Gustus?”

“For what it’s worth...Miss Ward loved you. A lot.”

“She told you that?”

Ryder, in the passenger seat, shakes his head. “No, but we spent enough time in the car with both of you to know.”

“It was obvious,” Gustus adds softly. “Sometimes we do stupid things for the people we love. I understood that she loved you more than the I understood politics that you talked about, but I think I know enough to say that she didn’t do a stupid thing. Maybe a weird thing.”

“It was a stupid thing,” Clarke assures him, a hard edge to her voice.

“Politically?”

Yes, politically.”

Gustus nods. “Well, like I said. I don’t understand much about politics. I hope it wasn’t a stupid thing personally. Driving the two of you...it has been a really good assignment. And I hope everything will be okay.”

“I don’t know that it will, Gustus,” Clarke sighs, while some small part of her desperately hopes the same. She tries to silence that part.

 

*

 

Two weeks pass, and Clarke focuses on healing. In the same way a shark has to swim forward relentlessly to survive, Clarke immerses herself in work of any kind to keep her broken heart going. She spends the hours in her apartment, writing emails and making calls and searching old contacts: she secures jobs for every single one of her staffers and aides and even paid opportunities for some of her volunteers. She even gets Raven offers from three different engineering firms. She gives phone interviews, works with Wells on his stories, contacts donors personally to speak with them about concerns and hopes and to promote the new Democratic candidate. Thankfully, the hours pass quickly--it’s often dark outside before she realizes that she hasn’t had breakfast or lunch, but her mother and Raven show themselves to be perfect angels by constantly bringing over dinner and trying to engage Clarke with anything other than work.

Raven knocks on Clarke’s door on a Tuesday, earlier than normal; when she answers the door, Clarke is still in sweats with her hair piled on top of her head, but Raven has seen her in worse states.

“I brought wine; get some glasses,” Raven says, holding up a bottle in Clarke’s doorway.

“Do we have to?”

“You’re going to watch the election results sober?”

She blinks several times as the realization hits her: it’s Election Day. The first Tuesday in November. A day she has looked forward to for almost two years at this point, has now mostly passed her by without her recognizing it. How things change.

As Raven pours two glasses of wine, she tries to surreptitiously check Clarke’s face--she’s studying her for her mood, Clarke realizes, and so she watches her right back. There’s a fine line above Raven’s brow that usually never shows there, and her lips are pursed.

She’s hiding something.

“What’s going on?” Clarke asks her suspiciously.

Raven knows when she’s caught. “I...talked to Lexa today. You still haven’t seen her?”

Clarke sours, sudden fresh pain knifing through her chest, but tries to play it off airily. “Too busy.” Swimming forward, trying to survive. She wants to ask what they talked about, in a scathing voice meant to pick at Raven’s perceived betrayal, but she stays quiet.

Raven can tell anyway. “She...moved back home today. She left California.”

That drives the knife deeper. Clarke’s breath catches like she’s been hit in the stomach.

It’s harder to play that off, but she tries. “Good for her. I don’t want to see her.”

Nodding, Raven steers them to Clarke’s couch. When she hands a glass to Clarke, Clarke takes a huge swig to dry to dull the ache. “I understand,” Raven says slowly. “I just….you love each other. I don’t want you to lose that.”

Clarke stares at Raven, trying to reply, and decides to take another deep drink.

“I don’t love her,” she rasps as it slides down her throat.

Raven’s face turns to pity, which hurts even more. “Clarke…”

“I don’t.”

“I think everyone knew you did when your way of getting back at Lexa for releasing her statement was releasing your own...in which your best revenge was sacrificing your own reputation so that she couldn’t sacrifice her career for you. It’s almost poetic.”

“It was just revenge,” Clarke replies sharply, and now she gives Raven a look: that’s far enough. It was revenge. She has told herself that a million times. She undermined Lexa’s attempt to save her, her attempt to be noble. Just revenge. No guilt. No love. It was easy.

Raven reads all of this, then gets up to grab the bottle. “Whatever you say,” she says. “Let’s just have another glass.”

This, Clarke can agree with.

Her mother arrives not long after; against Clarke’s better judgement, they turn on the live election results.

There’s not much point, though: Cage Wallace was indicted for fraud two days before the election, following the fastest and easiest campaign finance violation investigation ever. He’s facing decades in prison, which is some consolation. His poll ratings had taken a nosedive anyway, but in light of the indictment, there was only ever going to be one outcome in this race.

After Clarke’s resignation, the California party leaders had put forth Vincent Vie for candidacy, Clarke’s opponent in the primaries, whom she had defeated following the release of questionable quotations from interviews he had done years before.

Her campaign had released those quotes, which had torpedoed his chances of beating her to the primary nomination. It’s fitting, now that Clarke and Cage Wallace have both been removed from the race, that he would have his chance.

Clarke, Raven, and Abby drink wine and watch in silence as Vincent Vie wins the California Senate race in a landslide victory over the challenger, a backwoods redneck conservative named Jason something. A democratic president is elected. The US House of Representatives has a democratic majority, and with the election of Democrat Vincent Vie, so does the Senate.

All is well.

Except Clarke, mind hazy with red wine, watches the results with tears welling her in eyes. She leans onto her mother’s shoulder--and breaks down, sobbing for the first time. Abby shushes and soothes her, whispers into her hair as she hugs her, but Clarke can’t bear it anymore.

The weight of missing Lexa is too much.

“I loved her, Mom,” she cries.

“I know, Clarke.”

 

*

 

Clarke has never been a patient person. She understands, logically, that the concept of healing takes time. One must let go of anger, make a conscious choice to move forward, and let the passing days close the wound and build up scar tissue to protect it, because nothing else can. But some days, it feels like she’s just idling--she can distract herself with walks through the parks and trips up the coast and healthy dinners and nights with her friends, but the smallest slip will undo the sutures and the pain will rush out again, along with all of the emotions.

But Clarke tries. Two months pass. Her mother, formerly a doctor before her career in politics, hovers and nurses Clarke like a long-term sick patient, going on walks with her in the morning, nudging her to finish her eggs and drink more water. Clarke visits Octavia and Lincoln, in their post-baby bliss, and falls asleep with their gorgeous baby girl in her arms. She catches up on The Walking Dead with Raven and laments how terrible it has become, but they still click to the next episode, because at least it fills the time as Clarke begins to feel more and more human.

They stay away from the wine, though, because of the night early on when Clarke had half a glass too much and before she realized it, Lexa’s name was on her phone screen and her finger was hovering over the call button and only Raven’s quick hands saved her from embarrassment and a re-opening of the wound.

Over the course of those two months, the ache in Clarke’s chest doesn’t subside; she simply builds up a life around it, as if she’s walling off a garden that she can no longer enter for fear of losing herself within its vines and flowers again. The pain becomes less about Lexa’s betrayal and more about the vacant crater she has left behind in Clarke’s life, a crater she is constantly looking to fill. She thinks of Lexa in idle moments, and even though she knows Lexa has left California and moved back to Washington, DC, when she’s wandering the city or headed out to some small cafe, part of her always hopes she’ll catch a glimpse of Lexa Ward through a restaurant window or ducking into a car.

She’s lovelorn, broken-hearted, and lost. But she keeps moving, because maybe one day she’ll figure out a new destination.

And then one day, the wound opens again, because she taps a notification on her email and sees Lexa’s name in the address bar.

Breathless, she opens it.

 

Clarke,

I won’t contact you again after this, but I am breaking my own rule to let you know that I’ve written a small piece to be published soon. It’s more catharsis than anything. It is my first and last version of a press release concerning everything that happened. I don’t want you to feel blindsided and I will cancel its publication if you feel even the slightest notion of discomfort with the idea. I hold true to my promise to accept all consequences for what I’ve done.

Forever yours,

Lexa

 

Her first reaction is that of denial. She wants to reply--in fact, she begins to, before realizing that her words aren’t making any sense--and demand the cancellation of the peace, but enough time has passed since last she saw Lexa that she can recognize the instinctual anger that is driving that feeling. She instead indulgers in a quiet curiosity. She deletes the email, she breathes a word of this to no one, and she waits, for three days, until one morning a sudden barrage of notifications tells her that the piece has been posted.

She steels herself, and clicks on the first link she finds.

 

“From which they never recovered,”

by Lexa Ward

 

There is no strong reason for me to write this. I haven’t sold rights to a story; I’m seeking neither a job nor redemption; I’m not profiting from this piece. The consequences have been faced, the outcome cemented, the interview requests have slowed to a stop--thankfully-- and the zeitgeist has moved on to the next media frenzy.

I am, by all measures, simply a young woman living in Washington DC, trying to pick up the pieces.

And yet, each day I find the preponderance of my thoughts centered on, in some way, the eight months I shared with Clarke Griffin, serving as her campaign manager. I have decided to organize these thoughts by putting pen to paper, and in the process, clearing any lingering doubts about those eight months or Clarke Griffin herself--and perhaps find healing among these lines.

Clarke Griffin is a wonderful woman. I did not know her at first; I was connected to her campaign via a colleague and joined it with a reserved, professional respect for the marked achievements of an impressive young woman. But I quickly found that Clarke Griffin is more than her resume and record.

We butted heads almost immediately. We found ourselves in a constant adversarial relationship the likes of which I had never experienced in my profession, and it persisted throughout the campaign. Clarke is extraordinarily, infuriatingly loyal to her ideals. She would forgo advantages that required a bending of ethics. She would take the harder, higher road, without fail, much to my dismay--and soon, inspiration. I wanted to win the campaign not because it was my job, but because I came to firmly believe that Clarke Griffin has the potential to inspire the American people to be better than what we are. She can--and she will--bring out the light in all of us. She brought it out in me.

Clarke’s relentless light and commitment to her values awoke something in me that I had believed long lost. By reflecting upon me the light that shined out of her, she made me better, stronger, kinder, and truer. Though, as I said, we found ourselves constantly in stubborn, infuriating opposition, in the time we spent together, we rose, and grew, and thrived.

To be so bold and yet prosaic as to quote Fitzgerald...we slipped briskly into an intimacy from which we never recovered. My soul relaxed with the familiarity it found in Clarke Griffin. I found peace in a place that seemed devoid of it. The rest of the world seemed darker, duller, when she was not with me, in sharp contrast to the brightness and richness of life alongside her. She is brilliant, and bold, and beautiful. And we resisted with everything in us, but what drew us together was stronger. Our love developed amid exhausting road trips, and endless nights writing and rewriting speeches, and arguments over finances, and the thrill of meeting starry-eyed constituents and voters and believers. I found my happiness had become centered on Clarke Griffin’s happiness; my smile only ever reflected hers; and at last I understood the great notions of faith and love and beauty as the poets wrote about them. They wrote about her.

And despite the circumstances that have driven us apart, it persists. That is the essence of love, persistence. Against all odds.

As I’m sure many are aware, especially at this point in this piece, my initial released statement concerning the nature of my relations with Clarke was not altogether accurate. To correct the inaccuracy: I do not regret my relationship with Clarke Griffin. I do not apologize for loving her. Love is not fault; love is not weakness. I only regret that my selfishness in loving Clarke and simultaneously wanting to see her elected so that the American people to understand her worth resulted in the downfall of her campaign. My selfishness in loving Clarke has marred her promising political career and tarnished her image in the eyes of the public, and that is wrong. The public deserves to experience Clarke’s leadership, her light; Clarke deserves the opportunity to share it with the world. No political tricks, overzealous paparazzi, morality-deficient politicians, or homophobic detractors should have a right to limit that.

I hope those willing to read these words can also find grace enough within themselves to forgive a young Senate hopeful for the error of loving when she shouldn’t have, and exercise the compassion to understand how love can obscure reason. I hope that those people can not only forgive Clarke Griffin, but continue to support her with the ardency deserved by someone so amazing.

Because I always will.

Sincerely,

Lexa Ward

 

Clarke’s phone rings beside her--Abby’s calling. She ignores it. She couldn’t pick it up if she wanted to. Instead, she sits motionless, reading Lexa’s words over and over again, hearing them in Lexa’s voice, trying and failing to stem the flood of emotions that cascades down upon her.

She’s never been written a love letter before. She wouldn’t want anything other than this: raw, pure, full of Lexa’s quiet adoration and honesty and heart.

Lexa deserves to have love letters written to her. That much Clarke knows.

Suddenly, she finds herself able to move again; heart racing, she blocks her mother’s call and searches her contact list. As if she doesn’t know Lexa’s number. Her fingers are moving faster than her mind but scrolling through the list is deliberate, intentioned, a subconscious attempt to give herself more time and let reason catch up with emotion.

Her finger finds Lexa’s name at last, and she pauses. She could hear her voice in seconds.

And then she clicks off the phone and tosses it away.

That thought--of hearing Lexa at long last--is paralyzing, and she can’t do it. She presses her hands over her face and hates the tears that leak out of her eyes.

If she thought her yearning for Lexa was strong before, it’s omnipresent and overpowering in the days following the small essay. Lexa has become a ghost that haunts her. Abby can tell, Clarke thinks, and does her best to distract her daughter, but Clarke finds herself aching for Lexa’s smile, searching for her, finding her name so often in her phone that it becomes second nature: she will attempt to do something and surprise herself when she discovers that she has pulled up Lexa’s contact information yet again.

Making matters worse is the mild media ripple that Lexa’s letter has caused. Public opinion has shifted in support of Clarke; growing voices online and in print triumph her cause and drown out the occasional brutal commentary from her detractors. Let people love who they love, they echo, simple and pedestrian but effective. And now, the starving press, sensing an audience for that, is hungry for Clarke’s scrambled thoughts on Lexa’s poetic expression of her feelings.

Feelings that Clarke can’t decipher, except for the single, sinking notion that she has made a mistake.

But...as Lexa said, she’s nothing if not stubborn. There is a part of her that holds onto grudges like a lifeline in the ocean. That part of her kept her going when nothing else could have, and it’s that part of her that says if she can’t escape the memory of Lexa in Los Angeles...perhaps she can’t be here anymore.

Which is how she finds herself on an airline website, dates picked and flights on the screen.

 

*

 

A one-way ticket to Australia. No return date selected.

Clarke hovers over the button. A click wouldn’t be a whim: it would be a conscious first step to healing. First, you must cut away the infection—in her case, you must escape it, heal in isolation, and return to heal everyone else. Two weeks in Australia could turn into another week in New Zealand, a visit to Thailand, a stopover in Mumbai, a tour of Europe...an experience of the world, free from everything that has been orbiting her in the past few months, creating opposite gravitational pulls on her heart. She could be self-reliant again, self-sustaining, needing to trust no one but herself.

She would be free.

She hesitates.

As Clarke considers the “Confirm Reservation” button and all of the implications of a single click, an email notification pops up in the bottom corner. “Miss Griffin, I am writing to you personally to...” reads the preview. Clarke nearly ignores it—the constant repetition of her last name is one of the reasons she’s considering running. If it weren’t for the name on the sender line and the recollection it spurs, she would have just deleted it.

Sender: Sen. Indra Harlow

Indra Harlow, the Senator from Virginia, sent her a letter back when she came out on the road trip; Clarke only remembers Anya’s offhand comment about Indra’s ability. Cautiously, she slides from the Reservation Confirmation button on the airline website and to the email, opening it.

 

Miss Griffin,

I am writing to you personally to extend my condolences for the outcome of a well-run race. I do not pre-suppose to know what happened, but at this stage I do stand by earlier comments concerning your character and honesty.

In light of this, I would like to speak with you personally in Washington DC, at your earliest convenience. Should you be interested in and available for a meeting, please reply to my secretary, included on this email, with the dates you would be willing to visit our nation’s capital so that we can arrange flights, accommodations, and meeting dates. Please allot 2-3 days for the visit.

If you are not interested, I wish you luck on your next endeavor.

Thank you.

 

She reads the contents of the email six times—not because she doesn’t believe it, but because she gets lost in the idea of DC, for so long a dream destination. But her first reaction is an instinctive revulsion. Washington DC is too close to a lot of things now.

But before she can delete the email, Abby pushes open the door to her bedroom.

“Clarke?” Abby asks. “It’s good to see you’re up. I thought we could go for a walk, maybe stop by a nonprofit downtown, ask for an application—“

Then again, it’s far away from some other things.

Clarke closes the flight booking screen and begins a new search.

 

 

When she lands at Ronald Reagan International, her first need is for coffee. Over the course of just three emails, she had opted for the soonest possible date Senator Harlow could meet, and even found an optimal flight: cheap, convenient, and landing in at 10am. Of course, the price and convenience also came with the inconvenience of it being a red-eye with a three-hour layover in Dallas-Fort Worth, but Clarke doesn’t mind: the activity makes her feel alive again, gives her a direction. An opportunity.

She’ll be meeting Indra Harlow for dinner that night, sharply at 6pm. Given that she just flew a red-eye, she should probably get into her hotel and sleep, and she does try; but her mind is far too active running through aspects of Indra Harlow’s campaign and career, so that they can have something to discuss at this dinner meeting.

She runs out of facts before she runs out of caffeine, so she stands from her bed and paces the room, planning outfits and examining the map of the area the restaurant is in. Not far from Capitol Hill, likely because Indra is working late and doesn’t want to commute. Maybe Clarke can take in some sights before she goes to the restaurant...she begins searching the internet for suggestions.

It’s all survival, really. At long last, Clarke is in the same city as Lexa Ward, and if she allows herself to dwell on that fact for too long...she doesn’t know what she’ll do.

She keeps pacing.

 

*

 

Washington DC feels...strange. It has for the past three months.

Lexa has lived here for much of her adult life. And for much of her childhood, she was so close that weekend visits were her favorite activity. She became accustomed to the parades, the weather, the traffic, the backstreets--she knows this city like she knows the veins that lead to her beating heart.

Except, she doesn’t know her heart so well anymore. The beats are out of sync, and the most mundane of sights and smells will make it ache in unexpected ways when she least expects it. And maybe that’s the reason why she wishes Washington DC were more like Los Angeles.

Her family has helped, somewhat. Not her parents, with their appearances to maintain and their stern, upright moral consciences. They looked down upon Lexa in disappointment and pity and they have done little to make her feel like she has returned home; likewise, she has done little to win back their respect or affections. She doesn’t care. But she does care about Aden, and Anya. Aden, a little golden ball of love and affection for his big sister, who could never be tarnished in his eyes no matter what happens; and Anya, her protector and mentor who has been with her through almost all of it. They have made constant trips to Lexa’s new apartment, taking her out to dinner, helping her shop for furniture, making her smile on the days she felt least like it.

And now, Aden sits on the edge of Lexa’s brand new bed, kicking his feet and watching her twist her hair into a simple up do, the kind she hasn’t worn for several weeks.

“Are you still coming to see me at the matinee this weekend?” he asks her.

“Of course,” she promises. “I’m sorry I’m missing opening night for this meeting, but Anya and I have tickets for every single showing. I promise to embarrass you as much as I can.”

“No!” he cries, laughing.

She smiles a genuine smile--they’re few and far between these days, but it’s as if she’s relearning how to move her muscles that way, and it feels good.

Anya appears in her doorway. “You’re going to be late,” she chides.

“I’m fine,” Lexa replies, shaking her head. She adjusts a silver necklace in the mirror. It feels strange to be wearing business casual again after so long: heels, black pants, a loose red silk button down, and a blazer. She’s existed in jeans and sweats for so long that she feels like an entirely different person. “Do I look okay?”

“Fine,” Anya says. “Now hurry. This is a big chance. Do you need a ride?”

“I’ll take my car, get Aden to his show. Good luck, buddy,” she says, ruffling her younger brother’s hair after he meticulously styled it for his show tonight. Aden groans and throws himself back on the mattress.

“Go get ‘em,” Anya tells her sister as Lexa strides past her, and adds, “Good luck, buddy!” as she reaches for Lexa’s hair as she did for Aden’s. Lexa just barely manages to dodge her, laughing.

She doesn’t know where she would be without them--like the night Anya took her phone to prevent her calling Clarke; and the Aden’s quiet doe eyes when he asked Lexa what happened and she had to explain, in a halting voice, how she had fallen in love with someone who couldn’t love her back. As painful as it had all been, it helped her form the scar she needed to get through each day.

It’s not a far drive to her destination, but she still needs to use her GPS to travel roads she used to know like the back of her hand. Everything looks different in the dark than how she remembered it, and DC feels different--even the monuments, the White House, the tourists. It’s not her home anymore. But neither is Los Angeles…

Her home is a person who doesn’t want her back. And that is the hardest truth she has ever had to face.

With luck, however, her dinner tonight will go well. She pulls up to the restaurant and hands her car off to the valet, then pulls out her phone and reviews the email once again, a final nervous tic before a very important meeting.

 

Miss Ward,

I am writing to you personally to extend my condolences for the outcome of a well-run race. I do not pre-suppose to know what happened, but at this stage I can recognize the mark of a brilliant strategist and a strong character.

In light of this, I would like to speak with you personally. I understand you have recently returned to Washington DC. At your earliest convenience, should you be interested in and available for a meeting, please reply to my secretary, included on this email, with your availability for a meeting next week so that we may speak in more depth about your experiences and future.

If you are not interested, I wish you luck on your next endeavor.

Thank you,

Sen. Indra Harlow

 

Lexa had voted for Indra in every election since she was old enough to vote, and campaigned for her even before that, but she never expected to interact with her--and she definitely did not expect that her immediate reaction to a meeting would be to decline the offer. She’s not in the head space for it right now, she had decided. Only Anya’s poking and prodding and half-serious promise to embarrass Lexa with an unflattering profile in the paper had cajoled Lexa into accepting the invitation, and she had eventually agreed upon a 6:15 dinner with Senator Indra Harlow, not far from Capitol Hill.

She heads into the restaurant with a confident stride that hides her uncertainty about all of this. After coming out of Clarke’s campaign, a long vacation from politics would have served her heart well, but now she’s diving headlong back into her career, now in the nation’s capital. She empathizes with Clarke’s reasons for resigning, even if it undid all of her hard working and planning: her life has changed so drastically since meeting Clarke, it had reached a point where the future she had once imagined for herself no longer seemed complete without Clarke in it. Suddenly, they were both thrust into positions where they had to choose between their old worlds and their new world...and they made different choices.

But Lexa had panicked when confronted with the choice. Panicked, and sacrificed, and tried to give the girl she loved what she thought she wanted most, and she had misjudged Clarke for the final time.

Which is why, when she follows the maître d' to the table, she stops short at the sight of Clarke Griffin sitting across from Senator Indra Harlow.

Her new word, colliding with her old.

Lexa’s heart fills and bursts; she forgets how to breathe.

The frequency with which this happens when she looks at Clarke has always alarmed her--there is no way to describe the way her chest contract at the sight of the most beautiful woman in the world walking towards her in a black ball gown, or falling asleep on Lexa’s chest with her blonde hair a mess--but this time is different. The kaleidoscope explosion of hope and fear and sadness and love threatens to level her, leaving her dizzy and swaying in her high heels.

She never thought she’d see Clarke again.

The maître d', only now realizing Lexa has stalled out behind him, turns to her with a look of confusion; this is enough to spur Lexa to drift forward on unsteady feet, disbelieving as she reaches the table.

“Clarke?”

 

*

 

Small talk with Indra is pleasant, though shallow. Clarke goes into the dinner not entirely sure why Indra has called her all the way out to DC, and as they chat about the city and her trip and Indra’s first few days in office while they order drinks, Indra provides her no real answers.

But when Clarke hears her own name fall from the lips she knows so well, none of that matters.

Heart in throat and jaw on the floor, Clarke turns to see the spirit that has possessed her senses for months now, standing before her, real and alive and healthy and beautiful--and just as shocked as Clarke is.

She can’t speak but for her name: “Lexa.”

“Lexa Ward,” Indra repeats, far more briskly as she rises to shake Lexa’s hand. Lexa moves as if controlled by puppets, still staring at Clarke. “Right on time, thank you for joining us. Please, sit.”

Lexa doesn’t move; Clarke doesn’t blame her. “What is this?” she asks weakly.

“Sit,” Indra presses.

A waiter arrives with their drinks and pours a glass of wine for Lexa at Indra’s request, finally prompting Lexa to sink into the chair so that she can drink it.

Clarke, meanwhile, drains half her glass. She’s still in disbelief, and she doesn’t trust her self-control in light of the crush of emotions that spring forth. To combat them, she fixes her gaze on Indra, focusing intently on avoiding Lexa’s eyes at all costs.

Now that Lexa has arrived, Indra’s warm and casual demeanor turns all business, with the narrowed eyes and strength of voice befitting such a respected career Senator.

“I don’t actually like small talk, and I don’t have time for it,” she declares, cutting to the point. “In fact, it’s unlikely I’ll even be able to stay for the duration of this dinner. I wanted to meet with you tonight, together, to get the measure of you. The Griffin campaign in California was something to marvel at--extremely impressive.”

Clarke disagrees, but she still hasn’t found her voice and she doesn’t trust herself to talk, so she nods with Indra in passive silence, watching Lexa out of the corner of her eye.

“Clarke, as you said in many of your speeches,” Indra continues, “the government needs change, needs fresh blood, needs new ideas. And Lexa wrote a very compelling case for your political career and what you can do for the American people.”

She sees Lexa sink slightly in her chair, and Clarke feels her own face redden at the thought of Indra reading Lexa’s open love letter to her.

“It was flattering,” Clarke says stiffly, refusing to look anywhere but at Indra.

“It was. I suspect it was also true,” Indra says. “I have a nose for these things, and your success speaks for itself. Which is why I’d like to offer you a job: come and work for me, on my staff. Lead my staffers, help plan my political moves, strategize with my team here in DC.”

Clarke stares blankly, not understanding such simple words. “What? You want me to come and work for you?”

It’s the last thing she expected--advice, endorsements, donation requests, or even flying across the country to receive criticism for her actions would have been more likely.

“No,” Indra says simply, then glances at Lexa. “I want you both to come and work for me.”

In her surprise, Clarke forgets her resolve to avoid looking at Lexa and turns to her, eyes widening. Lexa stares right back, lips parted--she gives a small nod but Clarke turns back to Indra with a furrowed brow.

“I don’t understand.”

“What are you finding difficult to understand?”

“Why do you want us?” Lexa asks.

“I think I’ve made my position very clear,” Indra says plainly. “You put together an excellent campaign. You showed great character and strength of will. If you had simply lost the race, Clarke, both of you would be top commodities for politicians looking to round out their staff. All things considered--”

“What happened...is a big thing to consider,” Clarke points out.

“Which is why you’ll be starting simply in policy strategy for me--if you want the job. Keep you away from the limelight. But let me make myself clear: you both need to accept the position. I won’t take one without the other.”

Numb to the tips of her fingers, Clarke abandons her perfect posture and sinks in her chair, trying to comprehend. In light of Lexa’s sudden re-emergence into her life at this dinner, and in light of the impossibly slim possibility of working with her again...the idea of accepting a job with Indra Harlow seems relatively mundane. It’s everything else she’s going to have to consider

“Why?” Lexa asks her again.

Indra frowns. “I told you--”

“No, I understand your reasoning; I mean, why think to ask us? This is too out of the blue.”

For a moment, it looks as if Indra might snap at Lexa and the whole opportunity will be ripped off the table--until she breaks into a smile. “Honestly? I spoke to your sister Anya. She interviewed me a few years back, and we keep in touch. She convinced me to look into your case.”

Lexa’s eyes shut and she releases a deep breath, hint of a smile on her lips. When she opens her eyes, it’s too look to Clarke, and suddenly Clarke can read her face as if nothing has changed between them.

It’s your choice. I’m here for you. Forever yours.

Clarke swallows. Three days ago, she nearly bought a plane ticket to the other side of the world just to avoid the memory of Lexa in Los Angeles, and now, she has less than the space of a single dinner to decide if she wants to work with her again--all while Lexa is sitting across the table from her, looking unfairly beautiful in dark red and black. She hesitates; Indra catches it.

“I understand your trepidation,” Indra says, checking her cell phone. “This is a very big decision. Take the evening to think about it. However, I was correct when I said I would not be able to enjoy an entire dinner with you.” She stands from the table, much to Clarke’s surprise. “There’s a small emergency back at my office, so I’m afraid I have to leave. Order what you’d like for dinner, it’s on my bill.”

“Thank you for the opportunity,” Clarke professes, before Indra can leave. “I really appreciate you even being willing to take a chance on me--and Lexa. It means a lot.”

Indra sours slightly at Clarke’s emotion. “I admire the work you’ve done, but recognize that Lexa was right. You’re political poison right now. And if you have any involvement in my staff, campaign, or business...remember, you will be on very thin ice. Both of you.”

Clarke nods. “I appreciate the risk you’re taking.”

“Don’t. You’re not worth the risk, and at her first sign of trouble, you’re both gone. Careers over.”

“Why take the risk then?” Lexa asks curiously. At this, Indra pauses--and then smirks, eyes sparkling.

“I’m a black woman in a traditional red state,” she drawls. “I’m not exactly averse to or unfamiliar with risk.”

Understanding, Lexa presses her lips shut, sitting back in a show of deference to such an impressive woman. She glances to Clarke, and the two women suddenly realize that with Indra leaving, they’ll be left to face each other without distractions and without pretenses--over a quiet, expensive dinner and wine. It suddenly turns personal, tense, close, with Lexa inhaling a shallow breath and Clarke trying to swallow against her dry throat.

Indra runs an eye over both of them, noting the exchange, and turns to leave with a small smile. Then she thinks better of it and turns back.

“And in addition...my daughter is a lesbian,” Indra says, with a far greater softness than her previous gruff demeanor. “She greatly admires you both, and I think we could use a few more voices that represent her and her girlfriend. So please...consider the opportunity. Please get back to me or my assistant by Monday.”

She leaves them with that sobering, weighty admission, throwing the importance of Clarke and Lexa’s work into sharp relief and pulling them out of their heads and outside of this single moment together.

In light of everything that has happened in the months since Lexa and Clarke’s picture was taken that night...it has often been difficult for Clarke to remember the profound effect her position has on others. The possibility of losing Lexa--and actually losing her--coupled with the crumbling of her worldview and self-image as an honest, morally upright young woman, had distorted Clarke’s perception until all she could focus on was herself and her personal life.

She stands by resigning from the race. She stands by stepping back in order to recenter herself, because Clarke refuses to lose herself or give up on who she is in pursuit of some external goal. And if she’s trying to recenter herself...the prospect of working alongside Lexa seems dangerous if Lexa is so easily unbalancing Clarke right now, just by sitting across from her. But there is a grander picture, one that Clarke has a responsibility and commitment to, and Indra has offered her a path back.

Lexa, watching her with gentle eyes, reads her indecision.

“Do you...want to get another drink?” she offers unsteadily. “Talk it over?”

She would not mind something strong right now. Champagne's for celebrating, Bloody Marys for hangovers, but is there a particular type of drink for the moment when you’re standing on the precipice of something new, head and heart pounding, deciding whether or not to jump? Clarke considers the menu but before she can make a selection, she glances around her: heads are turned her way, more faces every moment. They’ve recognized her and Lexa; whispers begin to float through the air. Clarke shakes her head, takes a deep breath.

“Can we take a walk, instead?”

 

 

“I was that child on field trips who always loved to come to the museums here, even though we did it every year,” Lexa tells her quietly.

Clarke pushes her hands deeper into her pocket and ducks her chin into her coat, shivering against the cold evening air. It’s only natural, she thinks, that Lexa has guided them to the National Mall, the long strip of gardens and museums and memorials stretching between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial. Even though the sun has long since set, groups of tourists migrate between the monuments, but they are few enough that Clarke and Lexa are able to speak and move freely without worrying about someone listening in.

“I used to visit with my mom on her trips,” Clarke replies. “But I never spent enough time here to appreciate it.”

It’s beautiful here, especially at night, with bright light reflecting off the white marble memorials and architecture, casting a dim blue glow over the perfectly manicured park. “I’d like to see more of it,” Clarke lets slip.

“More of DC?” Lexa asks, cautiously.

Clarke nods, equally cautious. The precipice she is worried about is not the possibility of a new life, a new job, a new direction--it’s Lexa. It always is. They’re walking too close in the heart of Washington DC and Clarke’s regrets and remorse for their distance before this is beginning to pull on her heart. Rushing into--or away from--anything too quickly could prove disastrous, and permanent. Step by step.

“Indra’s offer is a good one,” Lexa says. “You should take it.”

“Just me?” Clarke asks, raising a quietly amused eyebrow.

Lexa gives a small smile. “If you wanted the position, I would, of course, agree to take a job as well. I do think it’s perfect for you though.”

Always so kind, so stoic. Clarke’s heart fills and spills over, and she rushes just a bit. “It’s perfect for you too,” she blurts out. “You’ve always been the strategist, the pragmatist. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without you. I wouldn’t be here today without you.”

“You would have. But I think it’s perfect for you in more than one way... there’s always the element of Indra’s extreme popularity on the national stage.”

Clarke frowns. “Meaning?”

She pauses as they reach the edge of Reflecting Pool, dark glittering water alight with the reflections of the monuments. Lexa chooses her words carefully, speaking slowly and watching for Clarke’s reaction. “She’s a strong frontrunner for the Vice President nod in a few years--if she doesn’t run herself. Whatever the case is, someone will need to fill her vacant seat when that time comes.”

It takes a moment for Clarke to catch her meaning. “You’re suggesting another Senate run in a few years?”

“Just considering the possibility. You were made for this, Clarke.”

It’s the first Lexa has said her name since they saw each other in the restaurant, and god damn, it sounds so good on Lexa’s tongue. Clarke closes her eyes and basks in the sound for just a moment, replaying it. Not Griffin, not Senator, not Representative, just…Clarke. Lexa understands her in a way that no one else has, providing safe harbor from the storm when Clarke needs it, and walking hand in hand with her, unfaltering, when safe harbor is impossible. They know each other deeply, intimately, in a way that feels beyond time.

She loves Lexa. She always will. Over the past few months, amid all of the hurt and pain and fear, beneath the media fervor and the firestorm of her career and the three thousand miles that separated them...she always has. Her love has persisted, and that is the essence of love.

She throws caution to the wind, and her lips curl upward.

“I’d need a campaign manager.”

Lexa stares at her blankly for a moment, before it clicks and she smiles too.

“Don’t look at me. I failed rather spectacularly in my most recent attempt.”

“At least you didn’t resign,” Clarke says dryly.

“I tried,” Lexa points out. “You didn’t let me.”

It seems impossible, the way they’ve so easily slipped back into this rapport, this harmony. Being in Lexa’s presence is suddenly easy again, no longer unfair or difficult or clashing with Clarke’s emotions. All feels right in the world, she realizes. Maybe Lexa was right: they had slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they had never recovered--and never would.

Her decision made, Clarke draws to a stop in front of the Washington Monument. Lexa pauses alongside her, giving her a questioning look.

“After I resigned, that morning in my apartment...I said that I wanted to do this together,” Clarke begins, quietly. “You said that we could have, in an ideal world.”

Lexa swallows and nods.

“I still think we can make it an ideal world,” she finishes.

Lexa studies her, inscrutable stormy gray-green eyes drinking in Clarke’s face like she’s seeing her for the first time. Then, to her surprise, Lexa looks out to the distance.

Clarke follows her gaze to the White House.

“I think we can make it an ideal world too,” Lexa says softly. “And I promise to be with you through it all.”

Clarke remembers the moment they confessed it to her staff, remembers her desperation for Lexa’s touch, her comfort. Her whole-hearted belief that she would never be able to seek it out again, or provide Lexa any in return. Now here they stand, side by side at the base of the Washington Monument, looking towards the White House far in the distance.

She does something brave.

She reaches across the space between them, and slips her hand into Lexa’s. Squeezes.

Lexa’s fingers are frozen.

Then, just as Clarke starts to withdraw, Lexa tightens them, ever so slightly, keeping her there.

A flash of warmth sparks between their hands, spreads up Clarke’s arm and through her body like fast-moving flames over paper. It shines out of Lexa’s face despite her attempts to hide a small smile. She hasn’t felt this heat for a long time--and she doesn’t want to let it go.

Clarke smiles. They’ll be okay.