kiss drabble prompts
I'm running late.
Nadine quickly fires off the text as she's pulling out of the parking garage. She and Mike have dinner reservations, but she'd gotten tied up in a never-ending chain of phone calls with the Italian embassy and couldn't speed it along for anything.
And traffic downtown is still murder at this time in the evening and it's going to take her at least another half hour to get to the restaurant, and Mike is already there waiting for her.
Her phone buzzes, and she checks it at the next stoplight.
No worries. Find me at the bar when you get here.
When she finally gets to the restaurant, she gives the hostess a friendly smile as she walks past her to the bar. Her steps slow, and she stops short.
At the far end, Mike sits with a gin and tonic and a young, perky, blonde thing draped all over him.
Well, not literally draped over him—but certainly doing her best to chat him up. Nadine watches as the woman throws her head back and laughs. The sound grates Nadine's ears even from all the way over here. The woman places a hand on Mike's shoulder.
Mike subtly shrugs it off, but the woman is unperturbed. She leans against the bar slowly, angling herself to give him the best possible view of her breasts.
Nadine straightens her spine, forcing down feelings of irritation and unreasonable jealousy. She's better than that. She glides over to them, setting her purse on the bar on the other side of Mike, and brushes her hand over his back. He turns and, when he sees her, his smile is affectionate and genuine and relieved.
Before he can say anything, she slides a hand around the back of his neck and pulls him in for a deep kiss. A little more demonstrative than she would usually allow for in a public space. Not that she has anything to prove.
It takes Mike a second to process what's going on, and he barely has time to wind an arm around her waist when she pulls away, smirking just a little. She uses her thumb to wipe traces of her lipstick off his mouth. "I'm sorry I'm late," she murmurs.
When she glances up, the other woman is gone.
[Kiss on the back]
Nadine is lying on her stomach in bed with a pen in her hand, trying to edit the latest printout of the budget memo. Mike is brushing his teeth in the adjoining bathroom, and she hears the hiss of the faucet as he turns it on then off, and then a click as flips off the bathroom lights and comes back out to the room.
He reaches out and runs his hand over her ankle as he passes her, moving to the other side of the bed where he changes into pajamas. Nadine glances over at him, peering over the tops of her glasses, only a couple of times as he strips down. She tries not to let him distract her, but she's not entirely successful.
He crawls into bed next to her. He kisses her shoulder. "Missed you all day," he murmurs, even though he says that every day. He lifts her free hand to his lips and kisses the back of it.
"Missed you, too."
He kisses all the way up her arm and she laughs softly. He shifts so he's behind her, rubbing his hands up and down her back through her shirt, moving up to her shoulders to massage them. She groans as he works out the knots between her shoulder blades.
"You're tight," he murmurs, pressing harder. "I think you need to relax."
She knows that what he really means is, let me relax you.
"I have to finish this by morning," she protests. She crosses out a few lines of the text and scribbles a note in the margin. She flips the page.
"You work too hard." He lifts the hem of her shirt, shifting backward and bending down to kiss the small of her back. He kisses it again, a little higher. Nadine draws a wobbly underline under an item on the bulleted list and makes a haphazard correction next to it. Mike grazes his teeth over her skin and she shivers. He pulls her shirt up higher, and follows the path of newly-exposed skin with his lips.
"C'mon Mike I just need a minute," she tries weakly. "I'm almost - um - almost done."
He kisses over each vertebra, and across the whole plane of her back. "You do that. I'll do this." Mike slides a hand underneath her, flat on her bare stomach, and continues to move his lips over her skin.
But it takes very little of him to get her hot and bothered.
She tosses the file and pen aside and turns over. "Okay, you win. I'll finish it later."
"How dare you," Nadine hisses. She practically leaps off the couch, and there's a flurry of motion as she grabs her purse and her coat and hunts down her shoes.
"Wait, Nadine -" He gets up too, following her into the hallway. "You know that's not what I meant." He grabs her wrist, but she shakes him off. She steps into her shoes and walks over to the door, but he refuses to just let her leave like this. Not before he has a chance to fix it.
As she reaches for the handle, he grabs her by both forearms and spins her around, pushing her back against the door roughly. A little harder than he meant to. Her belongings fall to the floor.
Her eyes widen, but she doesn't look frightened - just more pissed off. "Get your hands off of me," she says, her voice dangerous and low.
He lets go of her and backs off a half-step, opening just millimeters of space between them. He raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. He shouldn't have touched her like that. "I'm sorry." He looks down at her bare arms with guilt. The skin reddens where he'd grabbed her, though he hadn't held her hard enough to bruise. He'd never be able to forgive himself if he had; he's not that kind of man. "Just talk to me."
"Talk to you? I can't even look at you right now!" Nadine says with a laugh of disbelief. She stares at a point just past his shoulder and her anger is still cold. It keeps her stiff. "I mean, Jesus—" she scoffs. "Mike, if that's what you really think of me—"
"If your opinion of me is that low—"
"Of course it isn't. You know it isn't."
"I honestly—" She blows out a long breath, running one hand through her curls in frustration. "I don't know what we're doing here."
His blood runs cold, and then hot with his own anger. She has no right to hold their entire relationship hostage like that. He tells her so. And then—
"And you have no right to dictate it the way you see fit!" she nearly screeches. And that's just… that's just wholly inaccurate.
"You're fucking impossible," he snaps, and her eyes flash. She looks dangerous, sharp. Icy. He wants to kiss her just to see if their lips will stick.
So he does.
She responds instantly, and they both must be more turned on by the situation than they care to admit. Her lips practically bruise his with the intensity of her kiss, and their teeth clash. He presses her against the door, and she runs her nails over his scalp and pulls him closer with a hard grip on the back of his neck.
Mike lifts her easily.
They have all night to work this out.
["I almost lost you" kiss—takes place during the hospital scene from 'Taking Hits', where Mike is sitting with Nadine right after she gets shot.]
Nadine is impossibly small and pale on the stark white hospital sheets.
Mike is counting all of his blessings that she has somehow escaped this nightmare alive.
He pulls up a chair on the left side of her bed—her good side—and takes her hand in his. He brings it to his lips and is suddenly overwhelmed. He was so close to losing her. And he wouldn't have even known until it was too late.
He bows his head over her body, resting his forehead against her hand as tears begin to fall. So close.
It's some time later—he wasn't asleep, but maybe just dozing off a little—that he feels the twitch of soft fingers against his face. He lifts his head.
Nadine's eyes have opened a little. He folds his hands around hers and she squeezes his fingers weakly.
"Rise and shine, gorgeous," he says softly, and the corner of her mouth twitches. He'd said that to her yesterday morning. And then they'd both gotten ready for work, and then he'd come home in the evening but she hadn't. She almost really hadn't. He kisses the back of her hand again. He can't even express how grateful he feels in this moment.
"Hi there." Her voice is a hoarse whisper. She blinks slowly a few times, gradually clearing the fog.
"How do you feel?"
"Like death warmed over."
He clenches his fingers over hers and closes his eyes.
"Too soon?" she asks, and he can't even fathom how she could be cracking jokes at a moment like this.
"A little, yeah." He lets out a shaky breath. "God, Nadine, I just… I can't believe…"
"You and me both." She lifts her hand to his cheek, strokes over the stubble. "I'm sorry for scaring you," she murmurs. He turns his head to kiss her palm.
"Doesn't matter now. You're here." He reaches over and tenderly smoothes limping curls away from her face. "Are you in pain?"
She tries to breathe deeply, but winces halfway through. "Yeah. A little. Can't really tell yet."
"When the morphine wears off…"
"Yeah," she agrees, and then groans. "God, I must look like hell."
"You look beautiful."
He's never meant it more.
["We can never be together" kiss — take 1.]
"I'll think about it," she'd said to him.
But now she's had some time to think about it—a couple of days, during which she's pulled up his number on her phone several times and stared at it, waffling—and she's having second thoughts. Sleeping with him on election night was a mistake. Dating him? That would be an even bigger mistake.
She ends up not calling him at all; she shows up at his house instead. This is probably its own mistake.
But she thinks they should have this conversation in person so that she can enumerate for him all of the reasons why "going out" with each other (to use his teenager-vocabulary) would be an emphatically bad idea - without room for misinterpretation.
She can hear Gordon barking inside, alerting Mike to her arrival before she even gets all the way up the driveway. The door opens before she can ring the doorbell.
She's come straight from work, so under her coat she's still wearing the sheath dress she'd slipped into that morning, but Mike is in jeans and a soft cotton shirt, and she can't remember if she's ever seen him dressed so casually. She tries not to stare.
"Hey," he says, and his eyes are light. He steps aside. "Come in." Doesn't even ask her why she's here. He probably knows what it's about, although her answer will disappoint him.
He's standing close enough behind her that she can smell the faint traces of his cologne and feel his breath light on her skin; it makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "Let me take your coat," he says, and lifts it off her shoulders.
"Oh, thank you." She's trying not to feel very awkward about this. She hovers uncertainly in the entryway while he pads over to the coat closet. Gordon regards her with placid eyes from the far corner of the living room.
Nadine looks around. She vaguely remembers the details of Mike's home from the last time she was here, but at the time she'd been more preoccupied with… other things.
"Would you care for a drink?" he calls from around the corner.
She clears her throat. "No, thank you. I don't mean to stay long; I just… I just thought we should… talk."
"Will you join me for dinner, at least?"
That would be a date, and she can't let him trick her into one of those. Not when she's here specifically to shut them down. "Oh, I don't—"
He reappears, and he's smiling and saying, "Nadine, I insist," and guiding her over to the sofa with a warm hand at the small of her back. He sits so close to her that there's barely an inch of space between their knees, and she's already feeling so off-kilter that she nearly forgets what she came here to say.
"I can't date you," she blurts out. That's one way to get it out there. His eyebrows go up, but he gives her space to collect her thoughts and say her piece. "I can't—Mike, it would just be a supremely bad—we work together —we couldn't… we couldn't be together." She wills herself not to blush. Who's the teenager now?
"Okay," he says simply, but he's staring at her mouth now, and she involuntarily draws her bottom lip between her teeth. "If that's your decision, then I can respect that." His eyes dart back up. "I'm guessing that means it's a 'no' for dinner."
"…Right." She wonders why it is that he can destabilize her so easily.
He nods, and stands up. She does too. "Well, I wouldn't want to keep you. I appreciate you stopping by, Nadine. Let me walk you out." He goes to retrieve her coat again, and when he comes back he helps her into it. Then they step out and before she can even really catch up to everything that's just transpired between them, they're standing next to her car. She fumbles with the key fob before she manages to unlock her door, and when she looks up again Mike is suddenly very close to her.
Gently, he brings one hand up beneath her chin. Her heart begins to beat faster. "One last kiss for the road, then?" he wants to know. He searches her face carefully; gives her time to turn him down if she wants to.
She doesn't want to.
He leans in slowly and brushes his lips against hers; once, twice, three times. Then deeper. Nadine slides her hands up his chest as he presses his tongue against her lips, asking permission, and she bunches the fabric of his shirt in her hands as she opens her mouth to him. He groans and pins her against the side of her car.
She almost gasps out loud when he pulls away. She tries to get her focus back.
Mike cups her cheek with one hand, runs his thumb over her swollen lips. With the other, he reaches past her and opens the car door. "Get home safe," he murmurs. He kisses her again, softer.
He stands in the driveway until she's pulling out and driving away, hands in his pockets, and Nadine still has no idea what's just happened.
But maybe one dinner together wouldn't be such a bad idea.
'Kiss' prompt drabbles, continued.
["We can never be together" kiss— take 2. Post-4.03.]
There's a thunderous knocking on her door.
Nadine picks her way over in bare feet, stepping over all the mess on the floor. When she opens it, Mike Barnow is staring back at her.
His eyes slide to the side, over her shoulder. Looking at all the boxes; some packed, some waiting to be.
"Mike," she says, surprised.
"So it's true." His eyes find hers again. "You're really leaving."
She shifts her weight from one foot to the other. "I am. Um—do you want to come in?" She steps to the side, and he takes her up on the invitation. "Sorry for the mess," she adds. She closes the door behind him.
He turns to face her. "I had to hear it from Elizabeth."
"I didn't realize you'd—"
"You didn't think that I'd want to know?"
"Mike, we're no longer together," she points out, feeling severely off-balance, "what was I supposed to say?"
He doesn't answer her. He doesn't know.
"Roman and Shindy are moving to the Bay area," she offers, by way of explanation. "They're having a baby." Her chest blooms with warmth. Every time she says it, she feels like she could burst with happiness.
"Congratulations," he says, and he sounds like he truly means it.
He pauses, and then says, "I'll miss you." He sounds like he means that, too.
"Mike… you broke it off with me," she reminds him gently. She holds no ill-will toward him; she thinks he made the right call. He deserved more than she was willing to give.
"Maybe it was a mistake."
Nadine's mouth opens, but nothing comes out. She wishes he wouldn't do this now. "Don't say that," she murmurs. "We both agreed it wasn't what we wanted it to be."
"What I wanted was you."
"Mike, we -" she begins, but he's already talking over her.
"Stay here. Stay with me."
She blinks. He couldn't possibly be this bold, this selfish. "My family isn't here," she bites out. He knows how much her estrangement from Roman has hurt her; he knows she can't pass up a chance at reparations.
He backs off. "I'm sorry, I overstepped." He rubs the back of his neck and sighs. "It was never going to work out between us, was it?"
She softens. "No, I don't think it was." Maybe, if the timing had been different…
She thinks that they could have been good together; that she could have made him happy. She knows that he could have made her happy.
"Well. I should go," he says, a little regretfully. She walks him to the door and opens it, and he turns to face her. "I really hope you'll be happy out there, Nadine. Take care of yourself."
She lifts a hand to his face. "Thank you. You're a good man, Mike." She only hesitates for a second before she lifts up on her toes and presses her lips to his. One last kiss, for old times' sake.
They pull apart. "Can I see you the next time I'm out your way?"
Nadine smiles. "Anytime you like."
[Seductive kiss. Tag for 3.08 Breakout Capacity.]
They call Ohio for Conrad Dalton and the Brickmoore erupts into cheers. Elated, Nadine slings her arms around Mike's neck in a tight hug. It takes him by surprise, but he hugs her back, and he lingers. When she pulls away he's smirking like he finds her antics amusing.
Maybe it's the scotch, but she wants to kiss that smirk right off his face.
There are too many people here for that. With a slow smile, she asks him, "Are you going home?"
"Yes," he says, brisk and all business. "Need to beat the crowd for the taxis."
"Are you going to take me with you?"
He pauses, eyes widening slightly. And then his answering smile is almost dangerous. "Oh—absolutely," he murmurs, and it makes her heart do backflips inside her chest. For a man who hadn't realized two seconds ago that that option was on the table, he's certainly caught up quick. He slides a hand around her waist and holds her close to him as they walk out.
They walk down toward the next block, where a line of empty taxis will be waiting on the curb. Once they are far enough away from the Brickmoore and other people, though, Nadine pulls him off to the side by the lapels of his jacket, leans up, and gives him a steamy kiss. A promise for later. She may be a little out of practice, but she still knows a thing or two about seducing men.
"Mmph," Mike says, but catches on fast. And then his hands are all over her; in her hair and on her hips and over her ass, and a thrill of excitement courses through Nadine's veins. She is going to have a very good time tonight.
He breaks the kiss, though his hands are still roaming her body like it now belongs to him. "We need to leave right now," he says raggedly, "before I fuck you right here on the street."
Nadine smirks. A very good night, indeed.
Nadine is three scotches deep and working on a fourth when Mike appears in her office doorway. Everyone else has long since left; she just wasn't ready to face her empty apartment yet.
She looks up at him briefly. "Hard day," she mutters. Though she hadn't meant to get this good and properly drunk at her place of work. Inappropriate; unacceptable.
She's not sure why exactly he's here, but doesn't have the wherewithal to ask. She opens the bottom drawer of her desk and reaches in, fumbling with the drawer's contents before producing a second glass. She prepares to pour one out for Mike, but he takes the glass and bottle out of her hands.
"I know. Let's get you home." He helps her stand. She stumbles a little, but he wraps an arm around her waist to steady her and Nadine presses herself against the wall of his chest for support.
"You didn't have to get me."
"I went to your condo and you weren't there."
Distantly, Nadine remembers that they'd had dinner plans for tonight. "Damn it. S-sorry. I'm sorry. Forgot." She wobbles in her heels. Slowly, Mike walks her out to the elevator bank, supporting most of her weight.
When they get inside the elevator, Nadine raises up on her toes and presses her lips to his clumsily. She might be using too much tongue; she can't really tell. Mike is a gentleman though, and if he thinks it's a bad kiss he doesn't say so.
She pulls away, leaning her head against his shoulder heavily. "You're a good man," she sighs. "I like you."
Mike presses a kiss into her hair. "I like you too. Even when you're sloppy."
"Never sloppy," she mutters. Mike lets it go.
Nadine is sitting down at a table at an incredibly expensive restaurant with Gail, with whom she's finally found a free second to reschedule their cancelled outing to the Kennedy Center. This time though, tickets to the NSO, not the theatre. It had been an all-Russian program; the themes from the Prokofiev piano concerto still resound in her head.
She's swirling a full-bodied cabernet as Gail chatters away in French about her latest collection. She's a curator for an art gallery near Logan Circle, and Nadine has been meaning to go by to see the newest exhibit.
Suddenly, she hears her name.
Nadine turns around, then straightens up in surprise. Walking straight for her is Mike B.
"Mike," she says, as he invites himself into the booth. The entire side of his body presses against the entire side of hers, and forces her to slide in more.
"Hello." He turns to Gail, holds out his hand. "Hello. I'm Michael Barnow. It's nice to meet you."
Gail shakes his hand. "Pleasure to meet you," she replies, the words dripping in her accent.
Mike switches to French. "You must be a friend of Nadine's," he says.
"I am," Gail says warmly, more comfortable in her own language. "And you?"
"I'm her boyfriend."
Nadine nearly chokes on her wine. Her what?
They have gone on exactly two dates together and she is still contemplating whether a third one would even be a good idea. He is not her anything.
Mike turns to her with a charming smile. As if to cement his statement, he leans in and presses his lips to hers in a tender kiss that she is too confused to return.
Gail is raising one eyebrow, her expression clearly stating that she expects an explanation.
Nadine raises her eyebrow too, but at Mike. She would also like an explanation. "I was not informed of this," she says dryly.
"Let's discuss it over dinner tomorrow."
She doesn't even know what to say to that. He takes her stunned silence as acquiescence and well, there's her third date. He kisses her again, and she is still too bewildered to kiss him back.
Mike turns to Gail. "It was very nice to meet you. I'll let you two get back to your meal." And he departs from the table as quickly as he'd arrived.
Gail takes a sip of wine. "He's a strange one," she comments.
Nadine is forced to agree.
The "first line of fic" prompts—I'm given the first sentence, and write the next five.
"Just… tell me what I can do to make it right."
"It's too fucking late," Nadine snaps, and swipes at her eyes angrily. "Don't you get it? I have to resign now."
Compromising work for love - again.
She glares at him, eyes bright and furious. "You weren't worth it."
"Let's see how you like it then; having someone steal your chance at happiness."
Nadine stares at him, stunned, and unsure of what he means. "I wasn't your…"
"You could have been." Mike looks away, as if he's ashamed of the admission.
"So, what – this is your way of getting back at me for breaking up with you? Is that it?"
"Would you believe me if I said no?"
She falters. "No, I suppose I wouldn't."
Nadine stopped herself short, fully aware that it was already too late to correct for that little slip.
Elizabeth lifted one eyebrow. "He's your…?" she prompted.
Nadine blinked, her mind grasping for a way to walk this back that her boss might actually accept.
"Friend?" she tried weakly. The word lifted at the end, like it needed Elizabeth's permission to exist.
The Secretary regarded her for a long moment, then a small smile tugged at her lips. "Okay… if you say so."
"Babe, please, listen to me –"
She cut him off sharply. "Babe?"
No one's actually called her that since the Reagan administration.
He paused. "…Yeah. Babe. That okay?"
She frowned and thought about it. "That's bold."
She thought about it some more. "Try something else."
Drabble challenge prompts
["You fell asleep in the tub?!"]
Mike unlocked his door and stepped inside. Gordon greeted him on the landing as he set down his keys and briefcase and stepped out of his shoes. He could see Nadine's flats neatly tucked away in the corner; she was already home. It was rare that she got back from work before he did. This week especially, she'd been clocking late hours nearly every day, coming home for little more than a change of clothes and a shower before heading right back to State.
Mike saw no sign of her on the main floor besides her trench coat slung over the back of the easy chair. He climbed the stairs to his bedroom. It was curiously silent.
Inside, no sign of her. Although—
Mike listened carefully. If he strained, he could hear Chopin playing out of the master bathroom. The door was cracked just an inch, so he tapped on the wood and pushed it open.
He stepped back to take in the sight.
Nadine, reclined in his claw-foot tub, arm resting on the side, glass of white wine dangling from her fingers. Her phone rested on the closed lid of the toilet and played soft music. Her head was tilted back against the lip of the tub and she was most definitely asleep. Nearly all the bubbles had melted away, which told him she'd been like this for quite some time.
Mike was amused. He approached her, kneeling next to the tub. Gently, he removed the wine glass from her hand and then brought her fingers to his lips, kissing them. He brought a hand up to her face. "Nadine," he said softly. When she didn't respond, he tried again, louder.
She startled awake. "Jesus."
Water sloshed over the edge of the tub and onto his shirt. He slid the wine further away. "I think you got bathwater in the Riesling."
"You scared me."
"You fell asleep in the tub. You're going to catch your death just sitting here like this, you know."
"I was relax— It's been a long week," she defended.
Mike stood up, and held out his hand to help her to her feet.
"Come on; let's get you dried off. I can think of some better ways to relax you."
["I may be an idiot, but I'm not stupid."]
"So. You and Marsh."
Nadine freezes in her seat. "I beg your pardon?"
Mike looks up at her. He's sitting on the other end of the couch, his legs tangling in the middle with hers. His statement has come out of nowhere. "You," he repeats. "And Marsh. You were screwing him."
She tucks her legs under her and holds her spine stiff. She can't tell where he's going with this, but she doesn't like it. "What are you talking about?" she asks tightly.
"Nadine. Come on. I may be an idiot, but I'm not stupid."
Her eyes flash. "Okay. Yes. Fine. I was screwing my boss. My married—the married Secretary of State. Yes. What about it?"
"It's not a judgment," he says, almost gently.
"So then what?"
He shrugs, rubs the back of his neck. "I don't know. Just. I think it makes sense now."
"What makes sense?" She dares him to say it out loud. Anything.
"Why you're so hard to get to know."
"Mike," she sighs, wishing she wasn't having this conversation right now, "what's your point?"
"You keep me at arms' length. I wish you wouldn't. But maybe… I guess I get it now."
"Who… How did you even find out?"
"It's Washington, Nadine. Although I have to hand it to you two; it's one of the best-kept secrets this town has ever had. Even I didn't know this until just recently."
"You weren't working in Washington at that time," she mutters. "Who told you?"
"Marsh's old family lawyer is working with a Senator I couch-sat for last week."
Damn him. She curses under her breath.
"How long?" Mike queries.
"Why do you care so much?" she asks softly. As much as she despises Vincent, a part of her heart still aches at the thought of him. A part of her still loves him, despite herself.
Mike is silent. Nadine bites her lip and looks down, suddenly deeply interested in stitching patterns on the seams of the sofa. "Six years," she finally says, her voice soft. "I'm not proud of it."
Mike reaches over and takes her hand, but she can't look at him. "Were you… were you in love with him?"
She can't answer him, but she thinks he knows the answer anyway.
"I'm sorry, Nadine," he says, sincere. He tightens his grip on her hand. "That's hard. I can't even imagine."
"It's my own fault. Stupid," she mutters.
"You deserved better than him."
"You don't know what I do and don't deserve."
"You deserved better than him," he repeats, firm. It causes her to look up at him sharply.
"Like what - like you?" she challenges.
He holds her gaze; doesn't shy away from her acidity. "I want to try."
She sighs. "Mike…"
"I want to deserve you."
["Well that's the second biggest news I've heard all day." Post 4.03.]
It's late by the time she comes home from her very last day at State.
She kicks off her shoes, hangs up her coat, puts her bag down, and goes to pour herself a glass of single-malt.
She's breathing in the smoky-sweetness, barely taking a sip before she hears the knocking on her door.
Nadine pauses. It's late, and she's not expecting anyone.
She sets down her glass, goes to the door and peers through the peephole. Frowning, she unlatches it and swings it open.
"Mike." To say that she's surprised would be an understatement. She hasn't seen him since he'd broken things off with her, back in the spring.
"Nadine. Hi." He looks like he has several things to say to her; like he's come all this way with a purpose; like he's trying very hard not to overwhelm her with it all at once.
Maybe that's a good thing, that he looks like he has something to say, because she has no idea what she could possibly say to him. "Do you… do you want to come in?" she asks uncertainly.
He nods. "Yes. Please."
She steps aside, and he walks past her.
"I just poured myself a scotch. Would you care for one?"
She busies herself with fixing him a drink, hoping the motions will stave off the inevitable awkwardness. When she walks over to hand it to him, she finally says, "Mike, is there something I can do for you?"
"I'm moving," he blurts.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Next month. I'm moving to Palo Alto. I wanted you to hear it from me."
She simply stares at him, not understanding.
He continues. "I'm taking a campaign analyst position in the 14th district. And an associate professorship at Stanford in the PoliSci department. I just… I wanted to tell you. I'm moving next month."
"Well that's… Congratulations," she says, unsure what else to say. She doesn't know why he's telling her. He doesn't owe her explanations—not anymore.
He seems to read her mind. "I know that we aren't… that I ended what we… But I didn't like the way we left things, and I'd hoped that maybe one day we could try… But I'm moving," he finishes, and she doesn't think she's ever heard him fumble like this.
But she understands it. She'd felt that way too, at their end. Hopeful.
But what she doesn't understand… "Mike, you're a political animal. Washington is your stomping ground."
He shrugs. "Washington will always be here."
She concedes that. She's a political animal too, but Washington isn't keeping hold of her either.
Nadine raises her glass to his. "So then, to you." They drink, and then after a moment she says, "That's actually… well, that's the second biggest news I've heard this week." Off his look, she elaborates. "I just found out that Roman and his girlfriend are having a baby."
His face lights up for her. "That's fantastic. You… you're going to be a grandma."
She laughs. She can hardly believe it, either. "They're settling in Berkeley. I'm actually in the middle of making plans to go out to stay with them for a while. Settle closer."
Mike pauses. Cautiously, he probes, "You're moving to the Bay Area?"
"Maybe? I… I don't know yet." There's a lot that's still up in the air for her.
"I resigned today," she says softly.
He rocks back on his heels and lets out a low whistle. "Wow. Okay. I wasn't expecting that. And Elizabeth…"
"…will be just fine without me."
"We'll see about that." He's silent for a moment. "But there's… there's nothing keeping you in D.C., then," he says carefully. "You could… you might…"
"I might," she agrees. She might move to California. She might stay there.
"Do you think," he begins, like he daren't even hope, "that maybe we could…"
"Start over?" she murmurs, and he nods. She considers it; considers him. She'd like to. "Maybe we could try again," she says. And when he smiles, she can feel it warming her from the inside out.
Maybe they might.
Drabble challenge prompts that are NOT Nadine/Mike:
["And that's how you ruin a life. Congratulations." Post-3.18 Good Bones, the State Department Ensemble]
She's the last one in the conference room, even though there's nothing left to see. She can stare at the empty video feed all she wants; the girls will still be dead.
She gathers her things and moves to her office, biting down on her lip to keep it from quivering. She has a rule about crying at work—she doesn't do it. It's sloppy, it's unprofessional, it makes people uncomfortable. But there's a hard pressure in her chest that she's fighting so hard and she wonders if she can make an exception on a brutally hard day.
The FBI will have notified Diane Cramer already. Nadine will call her tomorrow with her own condolences, as if it means anything. Even the thought makes her sick to her stomach.
She's about to lock herself in her office and draw the blinds when she hears the shouting.
She turns sharply to see, through the shared glass wall, that everyone else is huddled in Jay's office, and that Jay is yelling at someone, though she can't tell who.
She'd assumed they'd all gone home; or out, at least, to drown themselves in booze and their despondency. She hadn't expected the anger, though she understands it. She swallows down the tears and steels herself to intervene. She has to; she can't ignore this.
She pushes her way into his crowded office without knocking, and Jay stops mid-sentence, his eyes still bright and furious.
"What the hell is going on?" she asks sharply.
"It's fine, Nadine," Daisy says.
"Just blowing off steam," Matt says. No one can seem to meet her eyes. In the corner, Blake is quiet. He fiddles with the end of his tie.
"It's fucking ridiculous. That's what's going on," Jay dares to snarl. He's never spoken to her—or at her—like that. "It shouldn't have been this damn hard."
"This is how we ruin lives, Nadine! Congratu-fucking-lations to us." His voice is so, so bitter. He knocks his pen holder to the ground, and it spills at Nadine's feet. In her periphery, she sees Daisy flinch a little. Jay seems to lose all his steam. He collapses into his desk chair. "We should have won this one," he mutters.
Nadine can't help but agree.
["Frost the damn cupcakes." Stevie/Jareth]
Stevie gets home from work and the apartment smells like a bakery.
In the kitchen, there are two dozen chocolate cupcakes cooling on the stovetop. And Jareth is wearing her silly, frilly little apron and spooning pink frosting into a piping bag—or attempting to—and it doesn't even matter that she got yelled at by an old Army Captain today, or forgot the sugar in Russell's coffee (even though she swears that he's supposed to be drinking it black and only twice a day at most), or nearly snapped a heel on the sidewalk this morning. Because she gets to come home to this.
"Who are these for?" she says, already cheered up, and he turns to look at her.
"Easy. They're for your mum. You can't have one."
"Yeah. Her birthday's coming up, isn't it?"
Stevie hasn't forgotten; she just hadn't expected Jareth to remember. She smiles, and her heart swells at his sweetness. "Yeah. On Sunday."
"Well, I have attempted… She likes chocolate, I hope. And… pink frosting." He's still struggling with the piping bag.
"Are you kidding? She'll bequeath you the horse farm after this." She reaches over and steals a swipe of icing off the side of the bowl, tasting it. "It's good."
"Yeah?" He smears more over the top of the bag. "Good, because that's all you're getting. That's it."
"Here, let me help you." She takes the piping bag from him, and transfers the rest of the icing from the bowl to the bag with minimal mess. As she's licking bits of stray icing off her fingers and the palm of her hand, Jareth stares.
"You are so attractive," he starts, and her lips quirk.
"Just frost your damn cupcakes."
["You didn't just wake me up at 2am because you were 'in the mood'" Elizabeth/Henry]
Henry wakes up to his wife straddling him.
It's still dark out. Disoriented, he turns his head to look over at the time.
On top of him, Elizabeth dips down to kiss his bare chest. Her hair tickles his skin.
"Babe," he mumbles, his hands coming up automatically to brush over her thighs. She pushes her hips against his and he groans. "Babe," he tries again.
"Come on, play with me," she coaxes.
"Elizabeth, you did not just wake me up at 2am because you were 'in the mood'," he says, voice still thick with sleep, even as he moves his hands over her bare torso with greater purpose.
"I just miss you." She scrapes her teeth over his collarbone.
"I'm right here."
"I'm still horny," she whispers in his ear.
She is going to be the death of him.
Henry tightens his grip on her waist and flips them swiftly, making Elizabeth gasp. She wraps her legs around his waist and giggles.
"Well we can't have that, can we?" he murmurs. He kisses her until she moans into his mouth. "Try to be quiet this time," he tells her. "We wouldn't want to wake anyone up."
["Looks like we're gonna be stuck here for a while." Elizabeth/Henry]
"Shh shh shh." Henry put his hand over her mouth.
He had her pressed against the door of her in-office bathroom and half the buttons on her shirt had already somehow come undone.
He was fast.
With some things.
"Someone just walked in," he whispered, lips close to her ear, and the feel of his breath warming her skin made Elizabeth shiver. Teasingly, she licked the palm of his hand. "Stop that," he said.
Henry had come by to surprise her for lunch today, even though she was supposed to go to him. It had been a slow day, and she'd wanted to take advantage of that. She'd just had Blake call the motorcade round to take her when Henry slipped inside her office. And then, somehow, they'd ended up tangled up in each other in the bathroom instead.
Through the door, they both listened hard. There was an unmistakable rustling of papers, interspersed with the sound of footsteps that Elizabeth knew belonged to Blake. She wondered if he thought she'd actually left.
She turned her head, freeing her mouth from beneath Henry's hand. "Did Blake see you come in?" she breathed.
Henry shook his head. "He wasn't at his desk when I got here."
They listened some more. It didn't sound like Blake had any intention of going anywhere.
She sighed. "Damn it. I think he thinks I'm out at lunch with you. He's probably doing up all the reports I asked him for."
"So that means…"
"Looks like we're stuck here for awhile."
He leaned his forehead on her shoulder heavily.
Suddenly, she smiled. "Henry," she murmured softly. She turned them so that he was the one pressed against the door, and slid her hand over the front of his pants. His breathing hitched. "Can you be quiet?"
"Elizabeth…" he warned, but she ignored it. She sank down on her knees in front of him.
"Don't make a sound."
["They didn't just find out. They already knew!" Elizabeth/Henry]
Elizabeth straightens her clothes and pats down her hair. She turns to Henry, who is still flat on his back on their bed, and still naked. "Presentable?"
"Your lipstick's a little smudged." He gestures to the corner of his mouth. "Right here."
She wipes at the edge of her lip with her thumb. "Now how do I look?"
"Not like you just had a morning quickie before work."
She rolls her eyes but grins, leaning over to kiss him lightly. "Not doing it for only the fourth time this week."
"And it's only Wednesday."
They'd woken up early enough yesterday to go twice—and she was only a few minutes late to boot.
Elizabeth grabs her blazer off the floor, giving it a shake. "Okay, now I really have to go. Blake's waiting with the motorcade."
"Turns out it's a more efficient way to start my morning."
"Even when you're late getting out of the house half the time?"
"Only a few minutes late, though—ten… fifteen minutes max." She pauses, considering something. She turns to Henry. "You don't think Blake thinks…"
"That his boss is incapable of being punctual because she's getting it on with her husband every morning?" He shrugs. "Maybe. Or he might just think you're a girl, and girls take a long time to get ready."
She'll go with that one.
Elizabeth smiles again. "Great. Okay. I'll see you tonight. I love you," she says, and blows him a kiss as she breezes out the door and down the stairs.
Elizabeth re-buttons her blouse and tucks it into her skirt. She's running about ten minutes behind.
She checks her phone as she's stepping into her shoes. "Damn it. Nadine's in the motorcade with Blake today." She turns to Henry. "You don't think she thinks…"
"That you're late because you're horny every morning?"
She tosses his shirt at his face.
"Honestly babe," he says, pulling it on, "yeah, she probably thinks."
Elizabeth wrinkles her brow. She'd rather not be that obvious. "I should stop being late. The last thing I need is for my staff to find out that I… you know."
He raises an eyebrow. "Have sex? Like they probably do?"
"Well yeah, but on their time! We'll just… we'll be better at sticking to a schedule from now on."
"I know." She kisses his cheek. "Love you. Gotta go."
"So that whole sticking to a schedule thing…"
Elizabeth's suit is hopelessly creased, so she disappears into the closet for an entirely new outfit. "Yeah," she calls out from its depths. "Totally did not work out."
Blake has been sitting outside in the SUV for nearly twenty-five minutes. He's already called twice.
"I'll just tell Blake that I overslept," she says. "Think he'll buy that?"
"You might be busted this time, babe."
She emerges a moment later fully dressed and ready to go. "Let's hope not." She walks over and gives Henry a kiss. "I love you. I'll see you later."
Elizabeth hustles down the stairs and out the door, and when she slides into the back seat of the SUV, her stomach sinks when she sees that it is occupied by both Blake and Nadine.
Oh, she is so busted.
"Good morning." She tries for brightness.
"Good morning, ma'am," they both say. Nadine's tone is neutral. Blake's is a little agitated.
"Sorry I'm late. I overslept."
"Of course, ma'am," Nadine says. She glances up as she hands Elizabeth a brief. "Permission to speak freely, Madam Secretary?"
Oh, no. Maybe she shouldn't have said anything at all. "Of— of course."
"Your blouse is mis-buttoned, ma'am."
Shit. Elizabeth fumbles to correct her shirt.
"And you, um," Nadine hesitates.
"You should maybe… fix your hair?" She gestures with her hand. "It's just a little mussed."
Elizabeth wonders if floor of the SUV could just open up and swallow her whole. She reaches up and smoothes down her hair like Nadine suggested.
Nadine nods decisively. "Better."
"Overslept," Nadine fills in smoothly. "Mhm. We know." And Elizabeth can tell immediately that the other woman sees right through her. "So your first meeting of the day is with the Italian ambassador, but will not take place until after lunch…"
Elizabeth furtively takes out her phone and fires off a text to Henry, half-listening to Nadine's run-down.
Nadine and Blake definitely already knew. Didn't just find out. This is mortifying.
She thinks about every instance she has ever been late to work; every time that she'd been confident that no one thought twice. Her phone vibrates when Henry texts back.
Did you fix your hair?
Elizabeth rolls her eyes. Another text pops up.
We'll stick to a schedule from now on.
Yeah. Damn right, they will.
More Nadine/Mike prompts:
["The skirt is supposed to be this short."]
"Mike," she calls out from the depths of the closet.
"I'm sorry but I can't… I can't wear this."
"Why? What's wrong with it?"
She emerges, wearing nothing but her bra and the skirt he'd bought for her. "I mean I… I appreciate that you got this for me, and I think it's beautiful but I don't think I can wear it in public." She turns in a circle so that he can see.
"It looks fine to me."
She gestures to all the bare leg that's showing. Which is nearly all of it. "It's much too…"
"The skirt is supposed to be that short. I think," he says.
"That's my point."
"You have great legs, Nadine. You should show them off." He's certainly not hiding his own interest in them. His gaze is practically undressing the rest of her right there.
"Mike, we're not going clubbing. This is a professional event. With professional people. And besides," she says, unzipping the back of the skirt and disappearing back into the closet to exchange it for something more…conservative, "it's certainly not age-appropriate."
"But if we go clubbing, you'll wear it then?" he calls.
"We're not going clubbing!"
"Over my dead body." She emerges in an outfit that makes her feel decidedly more like herself. She does up the last few buttons on her shirt and is in the process of tucking it into her (much longer) skirt when Mike rolls off the bed and walks over to her.
He spins her around and hooks the clasp at the waist of her skirt, and zips it closed. He pats her on the bottom affectionately. "It's okay," he says easily. "I'm sure we can find their activities where you can model that skirt for me."
Nadine rolls her eyes.
["I don't do hugs."]
"You're not much of a cuddler, are you?"
"I can see that you are."
Mike has spooned himself around her, one leg thrown over both of hers and an arm anchored across her waist. He kisses her bare shoulder.
Nadine wriggles against him, trying to get comfortable. "It's just… you're really warm—"
"You too. Your feet are cold, though."
"—and I'm used to sleeping alone—"
"It's like a slumber party, Nadine." He adjusts his arm so that he can hold her breast instead. "It's fun."
"Look, just let me—" she lifts his arm and rolls away from him before repositioning herself so that she's nestled against his chest instead, tucked under his arm. She snakes her thigh between both of his and sighs. "That's better."
He pulls her closer to him. "This is nice too," he says happily, but Nadine is already halfway to sleep.
The next morning, she rises early and dressed for work in the dark.
Just before she's about to leave, he calls out groggily, "Not sneaking out on me, are you?"
She turns back, startled. "I didn't want to wake you," she says. "I have to go to work." She goes back to the bed, leans down to kiss him. "I'll call you later."
Mike wraps his arms around her and pulls her down on top of him, holding her tightly. "Umph," she says.
"Just stay a few more minutes," he murmurs.
"Let me up, Mike," she protests. "I don't, um, I don't really do hugs."
"Not a hug. We're horizontal."
She rolls her eyes. "So it's a horizontal hug."
"It's a cuddle."
"I don't do those, either," she reminds him.
"Don't worry," Mike mumbles, already falling asleep again. He kisses the top of her head. "It'll grow on you."
["You haven't even touched your food. What's going on?"]
They're sitting at a small table at a very expensive French restaurant, and though Mike knows that she's been looking forward to these reservations all week, Nadine is decidedly less effusive now. She's hardly had any wine, let alone dinner.
He reaches across the table and places his hand on top of hers to get her attention. "Hey," he says gently, "you haven't even touched your food."
She smiles at him - it's the one she uses when she doesn't want him to worry about her. Mike doesn't think she realizes that she does it, but he can always tell. "No big appetite, I guess," she says.
"You didn't eat breakfast, either."
"I had a big lunch," she offers, but Mike only raises an eyebrow. Her definition of a 'big lunch' doesn't really match up with his. For him, a big lunch would be something like a full entree at Smokin' Al's. For Nadine, it might mean half of a Greek salad.
"What's going on?"
She purses her lips, and he knows that she's steeling herself to speak up, and that this must be something hard.
"Roman called today," she says softly.
He sets down his fork. "Yeah?" He knows better than to push. But if he waits her out, he often won't have to.
"Yeah. We just… we fought again." Her voice breaks a little and so does he. He knows how much it hurts her.
"I'm sorry, Nadine."
"I just don't know what it'll take for him to forgive me." She presses her fingers against her temple. "It's been such a long time. I would do anything…" she trails off, and bites down on her lip.
A part of Mike resents Roman fiercely for the power he holds over his own mother - and for how carelessly he wields it. For how easily and deeply he can hurt her; for how he chooses to.
Mike hasn't yet met him, and he wonders if he ever will. He plans on staying in Nadine's life for as long as she'll let him. He wonders how long it will take for Roman to let Nadine back into his.
["He thinks he's a mind reader." Nadine and Elizabeth, sometime a bit after the 'He asks about you, you know.' 'Does he.' 'Constantly.' scene.]
"He tells me you don't take his calls."
Nadine looks up. "Ma'am?"
"Mike B. He says he calls you. But you don't answer."
Nadine scoffs. She closes the folder on the transfer request she's just signed off on, and places it on top of the growing pile on the Secretary's desk. "We've been a little busy—"
"You're avoiding him," Elizabeth guesses.
Nadine raises an eyebrow. Her boss is feeling bold today. "I haven't decided yet," she says finally.
"Mike thinks that the reason you won't give him a chance is because you work together."
She rolls her eyes. "Mike thinks he's a mind reader." She knows the Secretary knows damn well that them working together isn't a reason that would stop her.
The corner of Elizabeth's mouth lifts in a lopsided grin. She takes the folder off the top of the pile and pulls it toward her, opening it and signing the page with a flourish. "You should give it a go," she says casually. Overstepping again. Or, this time, perhaps just over-tiptoeing.
Nadine shakes her head once. "He isn't really my type."
"Powerful, political, into you? Kinda seems to me like he could be your type."
Elizabeth puts her hands up. "I'm just saying."
She closes her mouth. She opens the next folder on her stack and signs the form with a little more pressure than it requires. She drops it on top of the pile on Elizabeth's desk. She has no idea what to say. She has no idea why she's having this conversation with her boss.
"He's a gentleman, you know," Elizabeth continues. And off of Nadine's dubious look, she adds, "I know. It totally doesn't seem like it, but he is. Or he can be. He definitely would be to you."
Nadine can concede that Mike B definitely was a… gentleman… on election night, when she was flat on her back in his bed.
"It just doesn't seem like a good idea," she mutters, though she can't exactly remember all the reasons why. There were several. She remembers she had several.
"I've never seen him this hung up on anybody before. I don't know what you did to him, but he's determined."
(Nadine knows what she did. She did it twice.)
"I don't know," Nadine says warily.
Elizabeth shrugs. "If you ignore him too long he'll come find you," she warns.
Well. Nadine will just have to cross that bridge when she gets to it.
["You're not as quiet as you think you are."]
"Sweetheart. We can't have sex in your office."
"Well not with that attitude."
They're in his kitchen preparing dinner; Mike at the stove and Nadine chopping vegetables by the sink. He stops what he's doing and turns to look at her, raising an eyebrow. "Even if it wasn't encased in glass—you're not as quiet as you think you are."
"Mike, Vincent and I had been having sex at work for six years. I think I know how to be quiet." She swipes some of the veggie scraps into the wastebin by the counter.
"You're not quiet."
"I can be—"
"Then he must not have been doing it right."
Her lip quirks. "Vincent was doing it just fine, thank you very much."
Mike is unoffended. "I'm just saying." He turns the stovetop heat down to a simmer, closes a lid over the pot, and the steps in behind her. He glides his hands up her waist. "Every time I put my hands on you…"
She allows him to press close, the front of his body against the back of hers. She shrugs easily, unselfconsciously. "What can I say. I like to enjoy myself."
"Doesn't mean I can't be quiet if I wanted to."
"You wanna bet?" Mike slides his hand up under her skirt, over her bare thigh, and she bites her lip and turns to face him.
He takes the knife out of her hands and sets it down, then spins her around by the waist, making her gasp when he lifts her up easily and sets her down again on top of the island. "We'll do a test run right here," he says, rucking up her skirt around her waist and pushing her knees apart so that he can stand between them. "And you can't make a sound. Not one."
She's grinning openly. "And if I win?"
"If you win, I will let you take me to your Pilates class this weekend. And I will gladly fuck you wherever your heart desires," he promises. The glint in his eyes sends a thrill through her veins, and her grin widens. He has flat-out refused to go to Pilates with her every Sunday thus far—this is a real concession on his part. And fooling around in the office is just a bonus.
"If you lose," Mike continues, "I get to tell all of your dear colleagues that we're dating."
Her grin vanishes. Carefully, Nadine weighs the pros and cons in her head. She's pretty sure that she… but there's a possibility that… but on the other hand if she…
Nadine winds her legs around his waist to pull him closer, and slings her arms around his neck. "You're on," she murmurs, and kisses him hard.
["You have a cute butt." Maybe this should have happened in 3.23 instead.]
"What happened to keeping things quiet at work?"
Nadine looks up from the scheduling book she's marking up for tomorrow. "Pardon?"
"I totally saw you looking at my butt in the office today," he says smugly. He flops down on the couch next to her and places a hand on her knee. "You weren't subtle at all."
Nadine wriggles and refolds her legs underneath her so that his hand slides off, under the pretense of making space for him. Still, she can't help but grin in response. Sometimes he's endearing. "You have a cute butt," she teases.
His smile is big. "Oh, so do you." He winds one arm around her waist and tugs her into him, and she tries not to stiffen up in his embrace. Normally she'd love this, but ever since her conversation with Daisy, she can't get that redhead woman out of her head. She keeps picturing her sitting with Mike just like this; his hands sliding all over her body…
Nadine pushes the image away. That isn't… it's not the important part. What Mike does on his own time isn't any of her business. What is her business is that that redhead woman is a radical French nationalist, and she put food on Mike's table with radical French nationalist money.
Nadine knows she has to ask him about it. She can't be with him all night and just not bring it up.
But he's dropping affectionate kisses along her bare arm, soft and unassuming, and it's distracting her. He just likes being close to her; he's a touchy-feely person. Nadine often isn't, but she can admit that it's growing on her. That he's growing on her.
And she wants to melt into his touch but that damn picture keeps creeping up in her thoughts and she can't enjoy anything, can't think about anything else except Mike with that woman. About how it makes her gut twist. About how it makes her confidence stutter. About how much she wants to demand an explanation out of him, even though she knows that he doesn't owe her one. He doesn't owe her anything, except perhaps a straight answer as to whether or not he's screwing with the Secretary.
Stay focused, Tolliver.
"Mike," she says.
"Hm?" His lips are still on her skin, and so she rolls her shoulder away from him so that they can both focus, and that gets his attention. "What is it?"
She steels herself. "You worked with EIL last year."
"And they're… they're radically anti-European project. They're for everything that you… that the Secretary… stands against. And you did their work. For a year." She lets the accusation linger there unsaid.
He pauses, like he's trying to determine exactly how this conversation is going to devolve.
"Mike. If you're fucking with us, I need to know right now." She's never been one to mince words, and there's no reason to start now. "Don't lie to me," she warns quietly.
His eyes shoot up to meet hers. There's surprise in them. But he knows, or he should, exactly what she means. "You're serious."
"Na-dine." He separates her name into hard, disjointed syllables. "I quit EIL. You already know that."
"After you served them for a year."
"I thought they were a center-right think tank, just like you did."
She shakes her head. He has to know that isn't good enough. "You have to do better than that."
He sits back. "Okay, yeah. Maybe I should have figured it out sooner. But once I did find out, I quit. Okay? I swear." When she doesn't look convinced, he adds, "I draw the line at dismantling democracy."
Her lips are pressed together in a hard line. "And why should I believe you?"
She doesn't mean for it to come out as a challenge, but that's what it sounds like. And naturally, Mike bristles.
"Why shouldn't you believe me? I wouldn't lie to you."
She doesn't know that for sure. She doesn't know anything about him, really. She waits him out in silence. She needs him to give her something she can actually work with.
He sighs. "Do you want to see my pay stubs? Will that appease your paranoia?"
That's better. "It would, actually." She objects to her reservations being labeled as 'paranoia', but she'll pick her battles judiciously.
"Yeah. Fine. I'll have them sent to your office tomorrow." His jaw is set in a hard line, but he admits, "I'd want to see pay stubs if I were you, too." And she can relax a little bit, because this is how she knows he understands. "Tell Elizabeth she has nothing to worry about."
Well, not nothing. NATO is still an ongoing disaster, but Mike being the man she thought he was certainly makes one less thing to worry about, something for which Nadine is very relieved. She isn't keen to make an enemy of the Dark Prince of K Street anytime soon. Her career likely wouldn't survive him. Lord knows she has plenty of skeletons in her closet for him to unearth, should he choose to.
She has clout in Washington, but not like him. He could bury her if he wanted.
But for now, she can be relieved. "Okay," she says.
And tentatively, his hand finds its way back onto her knee. "Okay," he agrees.
She still can't look him in the eye. She fidgets, tracing her fingers along the hem of her dress, smoothing it down. "Are you dating her?" she finally asks. And the verb tense isn't a mistake. Not were you. Are you.
She forces herself to turn and look him in the face. "Simone LeClair," she says plainly. "Your boss at EIL. Are you… are you dating her?"
His face is nothing but disbelief, but that's not a denial.
Heart clenching, Nadine backs down. "Never mind, I shouldn't have… it's none of my business," she murmurs. Stupid to ask. She should leave.
But when she makes to gets off the couch, Mike grabs her wrist and she turns. He's looking at her with an expression of bewilderment. "I'm dating you," he says, like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
Her brow lifts. She knows better than anyone that it's not always that simple. "And?"
"And only you. You're all I want. Nadine, how could you think… what made you believe that I'm…" he sputters, and slowly, the pressure in her chest dissipates.
"I just thought I saw…" But she trails off, and then shakes her head with a soft smile. "Never mind. It doesn't matter anymore." She allows him to tug her back down on the couch, closer.
"You're all I want," he says again. And his clear, uncomplicated interest in her still takes her by surprise, sometimes. As does his willingness to let her know it.
"Okay," she murmurs. And she leans in and kisses him sweetly.
["If I die, I'm gonna haunt your ass."]
"What the hell are you doing?"
Nadine turned slightly, glancing down over her shoulder at Mike. Then she turned back to the task at hand. "I need the other attachment for the food processor. I know you keep it up here somewhere." She raised up on her toes again, reaching her arm deep into the top shelf of the cabinet and feeling for the item she couldn't see and could barely reach.
"And you decided that climbing my countertops was the best way to achieve this because…"
"Mike, I'm a petite woman. I can't reach most things." And as a single mother, and then a single woman living alone for the past twenty years of her life, she'd learned how to compensate for this. Litheness was a survival skill.
"You realize I have a step ladder right in the—"
"Yeah, that's not tall enough. And it's much faster for me to just do this." She huffed in frustration, unable to find the blade.
"What if you fall?" He'd already moved closer, standing right under her now like he was expecting exactly that outcome at any moment.
"I'm not going to fall." She raised up on her toes again, lifting one foot completely into the air as she stretched for an extra half-inch. Nervously, Mike muttered something beneath her that she couldn't quite make out. "What?"
"Can you just get down? I'll get it for you."
"You're not that much taller than me," she pointed out, but turned around and allowed Mike to wrap his arms around her legs and lower her down to the floor.
He walked toward the pantry, where Nadine knew he kept the folding stepladder. She stopped him. "That's not going to be tall enough. You need to get on the countertop."
His eyebrows almost rose into his hairline. "Sweetheart, if you think I'm going to break my neck for a blade attachment…"
He was so dramatic sometimes. "I'll catch you if you fall," she deadpanned. She grabbed his arm and pulled him over to the counter. "Come on. You'll be fine."
"You're crazy," he muttered, even as he hoisted himself onto the counter. Carefully, he got his feet under him and stood up slowly. He looked down at Nadine and pointed accusingly. "If I fall and crack my head open and die," he warned, "I'm going to haunt your ass for all eternity."
Mike peered into the top cabinet. "What was it you needed?"
"The whipping cream one. With the combs."
He grabbed something and slowly turned around to show it to her.
"Yeah, that's it." She held out her hands and he dropped it into them. "Thank you." She set it to the side and offered up a hand to help him down.
"I've got it." He landed on the floor gracelessly, but in one piece, which was the important part. "What do you need that for anyway?"
"Whipped cream frosting." She nodded toward the cake pans cooling on the stovetop and said, rather unnecessarily, "I'm making a cake."
"Cake. Do you… do you even eat cake?"
"It's Blake's birthday tomorrow. He special-requested this." At Mike's raised eyebrow, she added, "And yes. Sometimes I eat cake." When Mike simply continued to stare at her, she amended, "Sometimes I have a bite of cake."
He grabbed the attachment from the counter and set about fitting it into the food processor for her. "You could eat an entire slice of cake, you know. It's one of the joys of life."
"I have plenty of that already," she said, and bumped her hip against his.
Note: The ones in this chapter are all M-rated.
["Use your words"]
"What is it you want, Mike?" she murmurs right next to his ear. She's rocking on top of him torturously slowly, and he doesn't know how the hell she expects him to respond in coherent, complete sentences.
She squeezes her muscles around him.
"Fuck," he gasps.
"I can't give you what you want unless you tell me." She reaches down to touch herself and sighs, tilting her head back.
He wraps his hands around her hips and thrusts up into her roughly and she moans low in her throat, but then takes his hands and pins them to the mattress.
"Use your words, Mike."
"Just—wow—okay just give me a sec—fuck," he fumbles. Clearly, his week-long business trip was a week too long away from her. He can barely focus.
He groans. He's trying to gather his thoughts and she is absolutely not helping.
"I missed you," she murmurs.
"Missed you too."
"You gonna show me how much?"
"All night," he promises. "Just—nghh—Nadine—"
"Use your words," she reminds him again, circling her hips in a lazy figure-eight.
"Harder," he finally gets out. "Ride me harder. Like you mean it." He smacks her ass for good measure.
Her grin is wide. "Yes, sir."
["You can scream if you want." Probably Election Night.]
"We're alone now," he says. He speaks the words against the base of her throat, even as he's moving his fingers gently between her legs.
Nadine exhales shakily, trying not to moan. It's been… it's been a long time. Longer than she'd care to admit.
She'd never tell him that. And she can't give the game away this early; she can't look too eager. She has to make him work a little harder than that.
He drags a finger up over her clit and her legs tremble. She bites her lip, hard. He kisses down her collarbone, over the tops of her breasts, and catches a nipple between his teeth. Her back arches into him.
"We're alone now," he repeats, this time against her nipple. He sucks it into his mouth until her breathing changes into something harsher, then he moves over to the other one, giving it the same treatment.
Nadine swallows. "A-and?"
He kisses down her ribcage slowly, then over her torso, his destination clear. Her stomach quivers as he grazes his teeth over her skin. It's been much too long.
He settles between her legs, slinging one over his shoulder and pressing the other one open wide. "And," he says. He continues to drag his fingers lazily through her wetness. Suddenly, he pushes two of them into her, to the knuckle.
Nadine can't help the moan that rips from her throat.
"And so you can scream, if you want," he murmurs. He pumps his fingers slowly, and drops a hard kiss on her hip.
"You'll have to make me," she gasps, though she doesn't think it'll take much. Not tonight.
He grins, and there's a dangerous glint in his eye that makes her fear for her sanity, even as it heightens her excitement.
"Oh sweetheart," he says, twisting his fingers inside her and making her hips rise off the mattress. "I've never met a challenge I couldn't win."
["Quit moving, I'm trying to sleep. Wait… are you… what?!"]
Mike has half-drifted to sleep, but the excessive movement on the other half of his mattress is keeping him decisively anchored to the here-and-now.
There's a constant, whispery slide of skin against sheets as Nadine wriggles and fidgets in excess, and it's driving him crazy. "Can you quit moving so much?" he says finally. "I'm trying to sleep."
"Sorry," she replies breathlessly. And it's something in the quality of her tone and pitch that makes him take pause.
He rolls over. "Wait a minute. Are you…?"
"Just give me a sec," she says, almost desperately. "I just need to—"
He pulls the covers down, off of them both. "Jesus Christ."
Nadine bites down on a moan, but continues what she's doing.
"I could have taken care of this, you know," he says. He's almost affronted.
"I didn't wanna bother you," she gasps.
"You had a long—ah—long day and I just needed—"
"—to get off quick so that I can sleep and you seemed tired so I didn't want to—"
"Nadine," he says, and captures her wrist and pulls it away from her body, making her cry out in protest. He kisses the back of her hand. "Seriously. This is not an imposition." He replaces her hand with his own, and she tilts her head back and moans. "I am more than happy to do this for you."
She's already close, so Mike doesn't waste any time teasing her when it's clear what she needs.
When he's finished with her, Nadine practically melts into the mattress.
"Mhmm," she purrs. "Exactly what I needed."
"Good. Next time, just ask."
[Not a drabble prompt, but gonna throw this on the end. Post-3.21 "The Seventh Floor", because this is, like, second-date smut, ya know what I mean?]
"Nadine," he says through gritted teeth. "Just fucking… Please."
She drops to her knees so fast, it looks like she's going to hurt herself.
"You were waiting for me to beg?" he asks incredulously.
"I was waiting for your permission," she says.
"Nadine," he says slowly and clearly, like he wants to make sure she doesn't miss his clear and explicit grant. "I want you to suck my dick."
The corner of her mouth quirks up in a crooked smile, and she pushes his boxers down past his hips and he kicks them off and away as she grasps his cock surely with one smooth hand. "That's what I wanted to hear."
She leans forward to lick up the moisture gathering at the tip of his cock.
And then she braces her hands on his ass and pulls him forward, into her mouth, and wraps her lips and tongue around him like she's sucking on a popsicle.
But before he can begin to really enjoy it, there's suddenly cool air caressing his dick as she releases him and starts pushing him backward with her hands. "Lie down," she murmurs. He does as she says, flopping down on the mattress and sliding backward to make room for her. She crawls up after him and settles herself between his legs. She wraps a small hand around him, pumps him a few times before putting her head in his lap again. She lays the flat of her tongue on the underside of his dick and licks him from root to tip before sealing her lips around the head and applying firm, glorious suction. He watches as she begins to move up and down slowly, groaning at the sight and sensation.
It's been quite some time since he's received a blowjob that was even half-decent, and it seems like Nadine is settling in to fuck him up. She intends to either suck him off or torture him, and he can't say he's opposed to either option. Maybe he'll get the chance to return the favor later.
It's just a few minutes that pass and he's already tilting his head back and squeezing his eyes shut, trying to think about… about baseball stats. The weather. Anything but this, because it feels fucking fantastic and he wants it to last as long as he can bear it but he has a feeling that if he even so much as looks at her, with her lips wrapped around his dick, going to town like she can't get enough of him, he's going to lose it. She's doing things with her tongue that make him tense up hard.
He moans something that sounds vaguely like her name.
His vain attempts at distracting himself are not what she wants, apparently. She curls her nails into his thigh, just sharply enough to hurt. His eyes fly open. She releases him from her mouth with a soft pop and says, "Pay attention."
"Okay," he breathes.
She holds his gaze as she slides her mouth down the length of him again and he groans. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She finds the sweet spot just under the head of his dick and he inhales sharply and bucks his hips, though he tries not to. It doesn't faze her; she just runs her tongue over it again and then tucks the tip against it, licking softly at first, and then with more pressure until he's squirming. Merciless. She's paying attention.
And then suddenly she slides her lips all the way down the the base of his cock in one smooth motion. His dick hits the back of her throat and then slides further. He feels her swallow around the head of his cock. It surprises the hell out of him and he gasps and clenches his fists in the sheets so that he doesn't grab the back of her head; it's taking everything in him not to pound her pretty face.
She draws back slowly and then takes him in again. He can see (and feel, somewhat) that she's breathing carefully, strategically, while she does this for him, and he doesn't want to mess with that. Christ. Her lips slide down his shaft until her nose is pressed firmly to his pelvis.
"God damn," he hisses. His toes curl. She stays there for an agonizingly long second, and when she pulls back her eyes are dancing. She twirls her tongue around him, sucking hard until he's squirming and surging into her mouth helplessly. His hand comes down to grip her shoulder hard, unsure whether he's trying to push her away or hold her in place. He thinks distantly that he has no idea whether or not he has permission to come in her mouth, but that's what's going to happen — and very soon — if she continues like this.
He shouldn't think about that, or it's going to happen right fucking now.
He grits his teeth and breathes through his nose.
Her hand comes up to follow her mouth, sliding firm along his wet shaft. Her tongue flicks out against the tip of him before she pulls away completely, and she makes sure he can't even find a second to miss the slick heat of her mouth because she's twisting her wrist as she pumps him in a very distracting rhythm.
"You gonna come?" she says, and her voice is just a rasp, barely audible over his harsh breathing.
"Wasn't that your plan?" He clenches his jaw.
"You wanna come in my mouth?" she asks breathily, in a way that makes it sound like she wants that too. Mike likes her mouth; it's very pretty.
So is the rest of her.
"Or do you wanna come fucking me?"
She brings up a very good point.
And then her eyes twinkle mischievously as she challenges, "Can you do both?"
Mike Barnow never backs down from a challenge. "Yes." He slides a hand into her hair. "Yes I can." He pulls her in and her mouth opens willingly, once again engulfing him in hot, wet heat.
She doesn't tease, doesn't try to build back up; it's all noisy slurping and hard pressure and sloppy wetness from the get-go. She bobs up and down and her focus is… there's no other word for it, intense. And when she moans with her mouth full, the vibrations travel up through the shaft of his cock and make his eyes roll back in his head. One of her hands snakes between his legs to cradle his balls. She works them gently as she pulls into her mouth again; all of him.
"Fuck, gonna come, gonna come," he announces with hoarse urgency. His grip tightens in her hair and she whimpers softly but doesn't stop. "Good god—"
His orgasm rushes through him with all the force of a freight train; his head slams back against the pillow and every muscle in his body clenches; his hands fly into the sheets and he twists the fabric into his fists so that he doesn't accidentally use them to suffocate her while his brain is whiting out.
It lasts a long time. She rides him through it.
Once he's calmed down some, she releases him gently and laps at his dick with a soft, considerate tongue. She's mindful of his hypersensitivity. She rubs his thighs and waits to feel the muscle under her hands relax before placing a final kiss on the underside of his shaft and sitting up with more grace than she ought to have in this situation.
She uses her thumb to wipe delicately at the corner of her mouth. "My dance troupe days," she begins conversationally, "included a thoroughly European education on sucking cock."
"A-plus," he manages, still in a daze. He hadn't anticipated just how hard he was going to come. Damn it; it's going to take him ages now to get hard enough to fuck her. And he is going to fuck her tonight; she wants it, he wants it, this is non-negotiable. Neither of them are getting to sleep tonight until he gets to.
She pouts a little — if Nadine Tolliver could pout. "Is that the best comeback you've got?"
"If you're expecting better conversation, you're gonna have to give me a minute, my dear."
She licks her lips and smiles.
[smut request. toys.]
She's shaking, actually shaking. It hits her right on her—
"Do you like it?" Mike asks. He fiddles with the controls on his phone, sliding it up to full power.
"Fuck," she swears, and her back arches involuntarily. The bullet vibe pulses right on her G spot. "Mike please, I- I- I-"
He frowns and slides the dial down again. The strength of the vibrations inside her dissipate to a gentler, more tolerable hum and she sighs. She flexes her wrists and ankles against their restraints. She blinks against the darkness of the soft blindfold.
He's been toying with her like this for what seems like hours. He's barely touched her all night beyond tying her down and slipping this new toy inside her though, and now when he slides a warm hand up the inside of her leg, she moans at the contact.
"Do you like it?" he asks again.
"Yes," she breathes, "but you're driving me insane."
Mike grins, though he knows she can't see it. "Good. Maybe I should get another one for your clit, too." He taps her clit gently with the pad of his finger and her hips twitch. "What do you think?"
Faintly, he can hear the vibe buzzing inside her. More than that, he can see what it's doing to her body. Her breaths are growing shallow, and her skin gleams in the dim light. Mike watches as she spreads her thighs open as wide as they can go, undulating her hips against the open air and—
He presses a hand firmly against her pelvis, pinning her hips to the mattress and she gasps. "Don't do it, Nadine," he says softly, "You'll come when I say you can."
But then, wickedly, he slides the control up halfway to increase the vibrations back to where he had them a minute ago; she was liking it there. Sure enough, as soon as he brings them back Nadine moans and pulls her legs up against their bonds.
"Come on, Mike," she moans. Her hands curl into fists as she presses her nails into her palms, doing her best to stave off her inevitable orgasm. "I can't hold on forever." Her entire body is shaking, and he knows she's telling the truth. The poor woman; he's been torturing her.
He slides it up to its highest setting again and she cries out. A few unintelligible swears fall from her lips as her toes curl and her hips buck. "Please, please," she gasps.
Mike slides a finger through her wetness — she's soaking — then presses it against her clit and strokes her in firm circles. "Okay. Go ahead, sweetheart."
["Are you scared? Then why won't you look at the screen?"]
"I can't." She bit down on her lip to keep it from trembling and fixed a hard stare on the ground so that she wouldn't have to look at anything else.
"Are you scared?" He was gentle; like he thought she could shatter from the force of his voice alone.
She wasn't scared, she was just…
Nadine shook her head. She already knew how the video would end, she just…
"Then why won't you look at the screen?"
"I just can't watch it happen twice," she whispered, and brushed away an errant tear before he could notice.
He folded her smaller hand in both of his. "He's alive, sweetheart," he murmured.
She knew she shouldn't be making this personal. They've received ransom videos before. It was just…
"The boy is coming home because of you guys. He's alive," Mike emphasized again.
She knew that. She did. But the footage made her stomach twist up into hard knots, and she nearly cried the first time. She couldn't guarantee she wouldn't vomit if she had to watch it again. Not that she had a choice.
"The FBI can wait," Mike suggested, switching tactics. He could probably sense her reticence, could sense that she couldn't be made to feel better. "Your report can wait. Let's go home."
"Then I'd just have it waiting for me in the morning," she said. That prospect didn't seem any more appealing.
"Okay," he said. "Okay." He grabbed the laptop with one hand, and pulled her out of her office chair with the other, leading her over to the couch. "I'll just sit with you then. We can hang out here until you feel ready. All night if you need to." He set the laptop down on the coffee table, lid closed.
A wave of embarrassment overtook her, and Nadine blew out a breath. "I'm being ridiculous."
"You're not." He squeezed her hand. "You're allowed to have a second to feel bad. You're human."
She needed to be in work-mode, but he was giving her a moment to breathe instead, and the offer was too alluring to pass up. "Alright," she murmured, and allowed herself to lean back against him. Mike automatically wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I guess I can do that."
["You can't eat solids, only liquids until Thursday." Taking Hits 'verse.]
"Dr. Cole said the rods have come about halfway out of the bone on their own - isn't that creepy?" With the lightest touch, Nadine brushed her fingertips against the tender and still-bruised skin of her collarbone, as if she expected to feel them protruding from underneath. She carefully tilted her head to the side so that she might get a better view in the bathroom mirror.
Mike grimaced. "That's gross. Let's not talk about it."
"What are you gonna do when you have to take me for surgery," she said, turning to look at him, "and there's nothing holding me together afterward except fishing line?"
"I was thinking I'd hire a wet nurse for you until you're human again."
Nadine lowered her chin to fix him with a hard stare, but he merely flashed her a thousand-watt smile and swooped in to kiss her cheek.
"Kidding. Of course. But stop trying to see your screws; it's creeping me out."
"Can't wait for them to yank these out," she muttered. They'd been causing her nothing but pain for the past couple weeks, worse than the initial recovery period, and she'd finally made the time to go back to her surgeon for a follow-up. He'd taken x-rays of her injury and had informed her that the screws he'd fixed into her clavicle had in fact begun to come out—explaining why she was always in pain.
"The bone itself is mending well enough though," he'd said, "and so I can go back in and take out the rods entirely. It should resolve the issue." And while Nadine wasn't ecstatic about the prospect of a second surgery, she was looking forward to not being in pain—eventually. There was no way she could tolerate this kind of debilitation long-term.
Her surgery was tomorrow. The past week had been a flurry of insanity at work as she rushed to redistribute all her responsibilities for the next few weeks. Mike would be putting in more time at State to give Elizabeth a hand while Nadine was out of commission.
At that moment, her stomach growled so uncharacteristically loudly that it surprised them both. Her eyes widened, and she pressed a hand against her midriff.
"For once you're actually hungry," Mike said, almost in disbelief.
"I haven't had anything to eat but broth and water today," she defended. "You would be hungry too."
"'No solids; only liquids until Thursday,'" he parroted in Dr. Cole's midwestern accent. He wrapped his arm around her from behind, rubbing soothing circles over her growling stomach. "It's just another twelve hours. And then I'll take you to a buffet once you recover." Nadine made a face. "And then I'll take you wherever you want once you recover," Mike immediately amended.
She smiled. "That's better."
["Is that blood?"]
The Secretary is untouchable.
All the big party donors and political donors know this, and so when they have complaints about how Elizabeth McCord is running things, it's not unheard of for them to come after her staff instead. It's all just intimidation tactics. Nadine has long since learned not to be intimidated.
She's leaving the office late tonight and, since everyone else has already gone, she's brave enough to do it with Mike by her side. No one she knows is there to see it. They ride the elevator down to the garage, his fingers linked with hers. The day ran longer than anticipated and they've missed their dinner reservations, but still, she's looking forward to the rest of the evening.
Except he's walking her to her car and when they reach it, someone is waiting for her there.
Scott Crews. She only knows of him; she knows he writes big checks for important people in her niche, but she's never had reason to meet him in person before. Right now, he's leaning against the hood of her car.
She and Mike both slow to a stop. She pulls her hand away from his, but the stranger hardly blinks either way.
He nods at Mike in a silent greeting. To Nadine, he says shortly, "Ms. Tolliver."
She readjusts her grip on her handbag. "Can I help you?"
"Tell McCord to back off the Kreiger Initiative," he says shortly. "This is not her wheelhouse. She's going to make a lot of powerful people very angry."
She kind of just wants to shrug—it's all in a day's work, pissing off small men—but that wouldn't be a very diplomatic move. And Nadine is nothing if not diplomatic. "You'll have to take that up with the Secretary," she says blandly.
"You know damn well her assistant's been ordered to stonewall me."
"Mr. Crews," she says, and tries not to sigh. She's tired and she wants to go home. "If you think this is the right way to gain yourself face time with the Secretary, you are grievously mistaken. Call the office tomorrow during regular business hours." She makes to walk around him, but he steps toward her and his hand closes around her upper arm and she freezes.
"Don't give me that," he snaps.
"Hey!" Mike grabs him roughly and yanks him backward. "Get your hands off of her."
Crews shakes free, ignoring him, and gets back in Nadine's face. He towers over her, and she forces herself not to back up. "Don't fuck with me, bitch. McCord may be inaccessible, but you—"
Mike throws a right hook through his jaw. The other man stumbles backward violently, and Mike uses this momentum to shove him against the side of the car and pin him there. "You ever come near her again and I'll have you killed," he says quietly. "Do you understand me?"
Nadine can feel her heart pounding in her chest. The chilling thing is, she absolutely believes him.
And so does Crews. He nods once—stiffly, because his shirt collar is bunched up high in Mike's fist.
"If you think you still have something to discuss with Secretary McCord, you don't. Stay away from her staff." Mike releases him. "And get out of my sight."
The other man works his jaw back and forth carefully. He straightens his jacket and walks away tall, trying to preserve whatever remains of his dignity. He doesn't look at Nadine once.
That's fine with her; she doesn't care about him at the moment. She takes Mike's hand gently in hers and inhales sharply. "Is that blood? Did you split your hand open?" She runs her fingers lightly over his knuckles in careful inspection.
He looks at her surprised, then down at his own hand. "What? No, that's—that's his blood. Hey," he says, and cradles her jaw with his other hand. "Are you okay?"
"Of course," she says. But truthfully, the whole situation set her teeth on edge. And it makes her queasy to think what might have happened if she had been alone. "Are you?"
"Of course. I just… I got freaked out when he grabbed you."
"You don't say," she replies dryly. "You'll 'have him killed'? Isn't that a little Al Capone of us?" Her tone is light, but he isn't seeing the same humor in it that she is.
"No," he says flatly.
Her face softens. She runs her fingers over his knuckles again and murmurs, "Come on. Let's go home."
Random prompt fics:
[Nadine and Mike caught in an intimate or warm moment.]
"Nadine, I have your—holy shit." Blake turned his back sharply on the scene confronting him at Nadine's desk. On Nadine's desk.
"Knock next time!" she hissed from her seat atop her desk blotter. Hastily, she worked on re-buttoning the two halves of her shirt.
"Or how about you don't go to second base in your glass-walled office—during work hours?!" Blake sputtered.
"We thought everyone was gone," Nadine said.
"That is not… that is a terrible reason. Hello, Mike."
Mike tucked his shirt back into his pants and tightened his belt. "Nice to see you Blake."
"I can't say the same." And then, because he couldn't resist, "Nice boxers."
"Thanks. She likes them." The sound of a slap. "Ouch!"
"Nadine," Blake said loudly, "I'm just going to leave this right here by the door and try to forget everything I just saw. It just needs your signature."
"Thanks Blake," she began, but he was already out the door on a brisk stride. "Damn it."
"So your morning briefing will be fun," Mike said.
Nadine tossed his tie in his face.
Blake refused to make eye contact.
He strolled into her office at 7:30 am on the dot bearing his coffee and her tea, and the Secretary's scheduling notes tucked under his arm. He set down her tea in front of her; his coffee on the corner of her desk in front of him; the scheduling book in his lap with pen poised in hand. All without looking at her.
Inwardly, Nadine sighed. To call the situation awkward would be an understatement.
At the bottom of their run-through, Nadine said, "Blake…" and he visibly cringed.
"We really don't have to talk about it," he said pleadingly. "I mean really; what you do behind closed doors is your business. Even when the doors are transparent. And unlocked. And federal property."
Not her shining hour, Nadine will admit. "Never trying that again," she said under her breath, and Blake cringed a second time.
"Seriously, it's worse when you talk about it. It's like walking in on your parents—"
She raised an eyebrow.
"Let's just pretend it never happened. Please?"
"Not a word to anyone," Nadine agreed, and he nodded along vigorously.
But he did owe Jay fifty bucks.
[Using the song line, "Break down these walls, and come on in", even though it didn't end up anywhere in the actual fic.]
Mike is in the kitchen spreading cream cheese on bagels, when it comes up on the morning news. Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Vincent Marsh.
By the coffee pot, her back to him, Nadine is silent. But when she pushes her fingers through her hair, he can see that her hand is shaking.
He doesn't know if he should ask.
He knows about it, of course, but not because she's told him. She isn't forthcoming about herself, and he wonders if it's because she thinks he'll think less of her for it. Respect her less. He wouldn't, and doesn't.
He decides to stay quiet. He'll wait for her to either address it or pointedly ignore it.
It seems she will choose the latter. Nadine holds herself stiffly throughout the entire news report, and when it finally ends she lifts the carafe out of the coffee maker and fills his thermos for him. She screws on the lid and walks it over, setting it down by his plate.
"I have to go to work," she says dully. She slides her hand across his back as she walks away.
"Have a good day," he calls after her, and immediately wishes he could have said anything else. He can't make out her parting response.
When she comes home in the evening, there is still something about her that's off. Briefly, Mike wonders if everyone else at State had as hard a time of it today as she clearly has. He doubts it.
Late that night, they're sitting on the couch in the den with the television on softly in the background. At eleven, it switches to the news, and (of course) the fifth piece on the run down is again about Vincent Marsh. The anchor promises an in-depth revisitation of the Iran conspiracy and an exclusive piece on the man's personal life after the commercial break.
He glances over at Nadine. She's biting her lip. She's still studying the report in her hands, but doesn't look like she's actually reading it anymore. Bravely, Mike reaches over to touch her knee. "Hey," he says softly. "You okay?"
She nearly jumps. But in the next second she clears her throat and straightens up. "Fine," she says, off-color. He wonders if she actually thinks that will fool him. She clears her throat again and adds, "I'm glad that he's dead. But it's still hard to hear." She glances at him. "You must think I'm crazy."
"I was. I… I was in love with him," she says in a hushed voice. It breaks over the words, but then her jaw sets in a hard line like she's trying hard to stay angry so that she won't get sad. "He was going to throw me away, but I was in love with him."
He takes her hand, squeezes it. "He should have been better for you." His conviction on this point is absolute. Though he's never met the man, he knows that Vincent Marsh must have been an idiot. "You deserved—" he starts, but she scoffs at that and turns away. "You did," he says.
"You didn't know me back then. I didn't deserve anything."
"Nadine, you…" Mike blows out a breath. "You'd drive any man crazy. Marsh was an idiot for thinking he could give you up." She looks up at him then, and there's something different in her eyes. Longing, maybe. Desperation. Drowning.
And suddenly she's climbing on top of him, straddling his lap, and he barely has a second to be surprised before her lips are on his and she's kissing him with a desperate intensity, like he's the only thing anchoring her to the present. Like if she doesn't hold on tight enough, he'll let her drift away.
He almost lets her take him with her. But–
"Wait," he says against her mouth. He breaks the kiss and sits back. He has to make one thing clear. "Wait. I didn't… I wasn't saying that just to make an excuse to— to touch you." The last thing he wants her to think is that he's just in this for the sex.
But wordlessly, she crosses her hands over the hem of her shirt and pulls it over her head in one fluid motion, and then lets the silky fabric drop from her fingertips in a slippery puddle. She leans in close to capture his mouth again. This time, she kisses him sweetly.
He clamps his hands down on her waist, unsure whether to pull her closer or push her away. "Nadine, what are you doing?" he murmurs. He doesn't want this to be… She's hurting, and he doesn't want to take advantage.
Her smaller hands grasp his, and she slowly lifts them to her breasts instead. "You don't need an excuse to touch me, Mike," she says softly. She slides her hands up his chest, fiddles with the buttons of his shirt, working them open all the way down to his pants. Her fingertips dance over the buckle of his belt. "Do I need an excuse to touch you?"
He gives into her. He always will.
"No," he whispers, and pulls her down to kiss her hard.
Tomorrow, he promises himself. He'll make her talk to him tomorrow.
a "Little Things" series—Nadine/Mike domestic scenes
One. About her ex.
Nadine's personal phone chimes with an incoming text.
She's sitting on one end of the couch, back against the armrest, legs outstretched and tangled in the middle with Mike's. It's a quiet evening; they've been working through their respective briefs in companionable silence.
She reaches over to grab her phone from the coffee table. Mike glances up—Nadine furrows her brow as she hesitantly taps out a reply. She sets the phone on her thigh and returns her attention to her work, halfway. Her eyes keep flitting back to the phone, waiting for a reply.
The screen lights up again, but this time it's a call, and she snatches it up, disentangles her legs from his as she gets off the couch wordlessly. She pads over to the next room before, faintly, Mike hears her answer it.
The exchange is brief—no more than a few minutes—and she laughs a couple times. Not that he's eavesdropping. She returns with the traces of a smile on her face. She retakes her seat, legs curled under her, and picks up her briefing book again. It doesn't seem like she feels inclined to share, but Mike's curiosity gets the better of him and so—
"Who was that?" he asks, casual. At least he hopes it comes across as casual.
Nadine glances at him and smiles before looking down to jot a short note in the margins of the document. "My ex-husband. He's in town for a conference; wanted to see if I had time to catch up over lunch."
Mike straightens up. "I didn't realize you were amicable with your ex-husband."
She simply shrugs. "We're not… close. We almost never speak to each other. But I shared parts of my life with him, so…" she trails off.
He can't say he understands. He's shared plenty with his ex-wife, yet would never dream of even being in the same room as her unless under threat of extreme bodily harm. And from what he's learned of Nadine's relationship with her ex—from the little that she's shared (she doesn't mention him often)—he really is confused.
And she had just come back into the room smiling. What's that about, anyway? But, "I see," is all he says. Even though he doesn't.
Over the tops of her glasses, she examines him. "We always try to make time to see each other whenever we're in the same city," she supplies. "I don't know why. It's just become habit."
"So you are friends." He tries not to sound resentful about it—firstly because he doesn't know yet if he actually is, and secondly because he does know that he has no right to be.
"We… understand each other," she says simply.
What does that even mean? He makes a small, disparaging little noise in the back of his throat by accident and hopes she doesn't notice. No such luck. She raises an eyebrow at him.
He says, "So when are you meeting him?"
Nadine puts her pen down. "Mike," she says carefully, "Are you jealous?"
"Course not," he says, although he's quite certain that he is, and quite certain that she sees right through him. "I just don't really understand the motivation to ever speak to your—" He doesn't complete that sentence because Nadine is tossing aside her work files and crawling into his lap. She winds her arms around his neck, and though there's a little smirk teasing her lips, her gaze is tender.
"Don't be jealous," she murmurs. "We haven't loved each other in that way for years."
"You can speak for yourself," he says a little sullenly, "but with men, you might think that they—"
"He definitely doesn't."
"But how can you be sure—"
"Mike. He's happily married. To someone who isn't me. He has been for... quite some time now."
Oh. Mike relaxes. He guesses that's okay. She's still straddling his lap, and regarding him with bemusement.
She tilts her head to catch his eyes. "Okay?"
He winds an arm around her waist and pulls her closer into him. "Yeah, okay."
"Nothing to worry about." She runs her fingertips through his hair with simple affection.
"Good." He holds her chin with his thumb and forefinger. "Because you're mine now."
She kisses him in agreement.
Two. The abyss.
Nadine stands in the shower and cries.
Thankfully the showerhead muffles the noise well enough; she doesn't want Mike to hear, if he's home by now. If he knows she's hurting, he'll drop everything just to try and make it better and that's not what she needs right now. She just needs to be alone.
Dead children today. In Libya. And no Congressional budget; no support from Defense; no help at all; nothing, nothing they could do. They all fought hard this week, tooth and nail; she called in every favor and pulled every dirty play in the book to push for aid to evacuate the camp. But nothing.
One of the worst weeks since they let those girls in Kyrgyzstan suffocate to death in the truck. They were all hurting like hell.
The Secretary had sealed herself in her office for the rest of the evening. Nadine could swear she saw tears—and Elizabeth McCord never cried. Daisy had dashed half the glassware to the break room floor, shattering them to pieces and practically vibrating with the intensity of her frustration and anger. Jay had left early to be with his daughter. Blake had pulled a bottle of whiskey from the bottom drawer of his desk and taken it to Matt's office. They were still in there when Nadine had finally left, bottle nearly finished.
And mercifully, when she'd gotten home, it was empty. Mike wasn't home yet, and she wasn't ready to talk about it. She'd stripped out of her clothes, leaving them in a careless heap on the floor, and gotten into the shower, heating the water as hot as she could stand it.
She stands under the spray now, and heaves deep sobs, from the chest. She's tired of fighting this same kind of fight. Tired of losing it.
There's a brief knock on the bathroom door and then it opens in the next second. "Nadine, I was looking for my shoe polish and I can't seem to—hey. Hey, what's wrong?"
Apparently, he doesn't even have to see her face to know that something isn't right. And now the jig is up, so Nadine doesn't even bother to hide the fact that she's crying so hard that it makes her entire body convulse. She presses one hand against her mouth desperately, using the other to brace herself against the tiled wall.
Mike approaches with an expression of grave concern and what is possibly low-grade panic; he's never seen her cry before, let alone like this. She can't even form words. Without hesitation, he opens the glass door and steps in behind her, fully-clothed and all. He wraps strong arms around her waist and pulls her back against him and she cries even harder.
"It's okay," he says in her ear, even though he couldn't possibly know what's wrong. He presses comforting kisses across her shoulder, the back of her neck. "It'll be okay." And he holds onto her so, so tight; as if his heart is breaking with hers.
Three. Meeting his son.
Nadine is elbow-deep in sudsy dishwater when Mike comes up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist. She startles a little, but allows him to kiss her cheek.
"You don't have to do this you know," he says, reaching down to roll up her left shirtsleeve, which is in danger of unraveling right into the water. "You don't even eat breakfast. These aren't even your dishes." He kisses the back of her neck.
"I don't mind." She'd gotten back from work at a reasonable hour for once, and had the time. She hasn't even changed yet—she's still in her work clothes, although she'd yanked out her shirttails and pushed up her sleeves.
Mike begins to rummage around the kitchen, pulling out various food items for dinner and setting up a cutting board on the island. He's still in his work clothes too, with tie and jacket discarded, and rolls his sleeves up his forearms. He pulled out a bottle of Chardonnay from the wine refrigerator too, and removes the cork and pours out two generous glasses.
Nadine finishes stacking the clean dishes on the drying rack and towels her hands dry as he hands her a glass. "Go relax. I'll get dinner started."
Just as she's about to head upstairs, there is a light but insistent knocking on the door. She hesitates, and looks back toward the kitchen. Mike is making a racket; she doubts he even heard. "There's—" she begins, but changes her mind; it's most probably a solicitor. She pads over to the front door herself and opens it.
There's a sullen looking teenager standing on the porch, but he doesn't look like he's selling anything. He looks at Nadine and furrows his brow. "Uh… hi," he says uncertainly. "Is my dad here?"
Oh. Oh, Nadine was not prepared for this. She wasn't prepped for this, either. Automatically, she steps aside to let him in, saying, "Of course; he's in the—"
"Nadine, who's at the door?" Mike calls from the kitchen.
She doesn't take her eyes off of the boy, who is still rooted to the porch and hasn't budged. "I believe it's your son," she calls back. Mike's son is still staring at her baldly, like he has no idea who she is or what she's doing there, and she can't blame him. Muffled, she hears Mike curse to himself. He rushes out and skids to a halt beside her in the foyer on socked feet.
"I forgot to tell you Theo is joining us for dinner," he says with a weak smile. "I'm sorry."
And also forgot to tell him I was? Nadine wants to ask, but she can already discern the answer to this question from Theodore Barnow's clueless face.
The boy steps inside, and gives Gordon a pat when the canine comes up to greet him. "Who's she?" he mutters to his father, even though Nadine is quite within earshot. He jerks a thumb over his shoulder in her direction.
Nadine cuts in. "Nadine Tolliver, how do you do." She extends her hand, and Theo reluctantly shakes it with a weak grip. "I'm his colleague." She gives Mike a raised eyebrow. They'll discuss this later.
Sorry, he mouths.
"Guess he didn't mention he had a kid, huh?"
"Oh, he did—"
"So then, just not that I was showing up tonight."
He's got her there. "Well…"
"My mistake," Mike supplies. "I got the dates flipped."
Suspiciously, Theo's eyes narrow and dart between them. "Did I ruin date night or something?"
"Of course not," Mike says, rolling his eyes. "Don't be difficult, Theo. Come on—come help me in the kitchen."
They all head back to the kitchen, where there is an explosion of vegetables on the counter and an open pot on the stove. Theo makes a beeline for the back cabinet—where the wine glasses are kept—and grabs the open bottle of Chardonnay off the island before either Mike or Nadine can blink. But Mike smoothly pulls it out of his hands before he can self-pour, like he's had to do this several times before.
Mike tops off his own glass and Nadine's, before giving his son a pointed look and re-corking the wine and placing it in the fridge. When the water on the stove begins to boil, Mike pours in a box of pasta, and Nadine sets her glass down and grabs up the produce. She takes them to the sink so that she can rinse them off.
Theo leans against the island and scrutinizes them both. He drums his fingers on the granite countertop. "So dad," he begins. "Do you invite all of your colleagues home for dinner, or just the ones you plan to f—"
"Don't be crass." Mike says sharply. His tone brooks no argument. Nadine sighs inwardly—it's going to be a very long evening.
Theo shrugs easily, with the temperament of a teenager trying to determine which buttons are best to push and when. And while Nadine is a little out of practice with teenagers, she remembers this well. Roman hadn't exactly been the easiest person to raise, either.
Theo turns to Nadine. "Does my mom know about you?"
She raises an eyebrow. "I doubt it."
Mike pulls the zucchini out of her hands and places them on a cutting board in front of his son. "Chop." Theo rolls his eyes, but begins to cut. As Mike passes by her again, he slides his hand over her waist briefly, as if in reassurance, and she flashes him a smile because he's probably the one who needs the reassurance more. She swears can feel Theo's eyes boring into the back of their heads.
It's going to be a very long evening, indeed.
Four. Running late.
"Damn it. Mike, have you seen my shirt?"
Nadine runs around his bedroom in a panicked flurry, hooking earrings into her ears as she tries to locate her missing blouse. She's sure Mike would help, except that she's wearing nothing more than a pencil skirt and bra and he's probably enjoying the view too much to move.
"Where's the last place you saw it?" he suggests from the bed, rather uselessly. Nadine wonders if anyone has ever been less helpful.
"I should be asking you that," she says, rolling her eyes, "seeing as you're the one who practically ripped it off of me last night and flung it god-knows-where." Nadine crouches down, getting on her knees so that she can look under the bed. Not there.
"You know, maybe you should start keeping some things here," Mike says casually, and she nearly hits her head on the bed frame with the rapidity that she pops up to look at him.
"I mean—you spend so much time here anyway. And then, you know, you wouldn't have to panic the next time you're running late." His tone is reasonable.
Gordon comes bounding into the bedroom, a length of black chiffon trailing from his mouth. He drops it by Nadine's feet and paws at the ground excitedly. "There it is!" Nadine exclaims, and picks it up and gives it a shake. She turns and glares at Mike. "Your dog is more helpful than you are."
"Gordon's a good boy," he agrees, dangling his hand off the edge of the bed. Gordon pads over to him and Mike scratches him behind the ears.
Nadine swipes a bit of dog saliva from the cuff of the sleeve with distaste before pulling it on. She walks in front of the mirror as she buttons up and tucks in her shirt, checking to make sure it's still presentable. She thinks it'll do.
She pauses for a second. "Damn it—shoes," she mutters.
"In the foyer," Mike supplies. "Did you want your jewelry?"
He leans over and scoops them up from the bedside table.
"Oh, yes. Thank you." Nadine fastens her necklaces and her watch. She regards Mike with some hesitation. "I really have to go, but we can talk about the…"
"You leaving your things here."
"Yes, that. We'll discuss it later, okay?"
"Okay," Mike says easily.
She walks over, leans down to kiss him. "I'll call you tonight." She walks out of the bedroom.
She turns around.
"Your skirt is still unzipped in the back."
She curses, yanking the zipper up as she makes her way down the stairs.
From his room, she can hear Mike shout, "Have a good day!"
More from the "Little Things" series—Nadine/Mike domestic scenes
Five. A different version of her ex.
Mike is on his way to the restaurant to meet Nadine. Half a block away, he can see her through the window, sitting at the table, and he stops short.
She isn't alone.
There's a man sitting across from her—in Mike's seat—and he looks to be having a heated conversation with her. Though Mike can't see her face from here, he can tell from her body language that she's irritated—or at the very least, uncomfortable. And he has no idea who this guy is.
Mike stands impatiently at the corner, waiting for the pedestrian light to let him cross the street, and doesn't take his eyes off of the pair in the window.
The light changes, and he's crossing the street when he sees the man place his hand on top of Nadine's, and Nadine pull her hand away. But then he snatches her wrist back, and holds on tight.
The hair on the back of Mike's neck stands up. He runs the rest of the way to the restaurant, brushing right past the hostess on his way over to their table. Neither Nadine nor her unwelcome companion notice him until Mike is standing there.
He brings a hand down heavily on the guy's shoulder as he stands behind him. Nadine looks up, and so does the man. "Let go of her," Mike says quietly.
The guy looks up at Mike, and then over at Nadine. "Is this your new toy?" he asks her incredulously. Mike tightens his grip. "Okay, okay, man. Geez." The guy lets go, and Nadine pulls her arm back hastily.
Mike searches her face and she gives him a slight nod, silently reassuring him that she's all right.
"You can go," Mike says to him. When he looks like he's going to protest, Nadine's eyes slide past the both of them. The man turns to follow her gaze. There are two waiters standing in the back, watching the three of them. Prepared to intervene.
Nadine's guest thinks better of arguing. He gets up and prepares to leave, but not before he turns back to her and points in her face. He mutters darkly, "This conversation isn't over." He walks himself to the door, and Mike stands and watches until he has exited the restaurant.
Mike turns his attention to her. "Are you okay?" he asks seriously. He reaches out a hand across the table, silently asking for her own, and Nadine gives it to him. He kisses the back of her hand, then turns her wrist over to examine it. He brushes his fingertips softly over her forearm. Faint bruises in the shape of a hard handprint have already begun to form on her pale skin. He hisses under his breath. "That guy's an asshole."
"I know. That's why I divorced him."
Mike looks up sharply. "That was your ex-husband?"
She murmurs a confirmation.
"I thought you said he lived in Seattle."
"Apparently he's in town on business," she says tightly. "He's staying at the hotel across the street. He came and saw me sitting here and decided it was a good opportunity to… say hello."
"Does he know where you live?"
"Mike, he isn't going to—"
A beat. And then, "Yes," she admits.
"Come home with me tonight. Please," he says, dead serious.
She presses her lips together.
"Please," he says again. "For my own peace of mind. It will make me feel better."
"Of course I am. I care about you."
She considers it for a moment, then nods once. "Okay."
She shakes her head. "I won't mean it."
"Lie to me then."
"Mike," she pleads.
He sighs and runs a hand over his head in frustration. "I could make you happy, Nadine. You know I could."
She bites her lip and falls silent, and he almost wants to kick himself because her eyes now grow bright with tears. She stumbles through her defense. "It— it's not about—"
"You keep running away from… Maybe you don't want to be happy," he accuses.
"Of course I want to be happy! What kind of—"
"No, you don't. You want happiness in small doses. Like orgasms or shots of whiskey. You want something you can take and then feel guilty about later because that's what's easy for you."
Her eyes widen, and for a second Mike wonders if she'll slap him.
"You don't know a damn thing about what I want," she hisses.
"That's the fucking problem! You don't tell me anything! I don't know anything about you—don't you think there's something wrong with that?!"
She doesn't answer. She walks away from him with jerky steps, snatching up her purse and coat on the way.
"And now you're going to leave," he jeers, following after her, "because that's easier than putting up a fight. Of course. Tell me, Nadine, is there anything in your life that you care enough to fight for?"
She spins around. Her eyes are bright and furious. "Yes. But you're not one of them."
The door closes behind her with a resounding slam.
Seven. Meeting his ex.
It takes Nadine by surprise to see the former-Mrs. Barnow at a State function, but given the other woman's work and the nature of the benefit tonight, it makes perfect sense.
Maybe Nadine should have just reviewed the guest list more thoroughly.
She can tell the moment Mike notices his ex-wife because he tenses up next to her, and his grip tightens on her waist. "Damn," he mutters, "this will be fun."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize…"
"Not your fault. I just didn't think…"
They haven't necessarily been advertising their relationship, but they haven't been hiding it either. And showing up together here—no one will have to speculate about them after tonight, as Nadine knows her colleagues and boss have been.
Across the room, the ex-Mrs. Barnow's eyes find them. She does a double take. There's a flash of icy recognition in her eyes as she begins to weave her way through the throng of well-dressed politicians, donors, and federal staffers, seeming very much like a panther going in for the kill.
"I apologize in advance for whatever she says to you," he mutters quickly, just before his ex-wife reaches them. Nadine takes a step to the side, putting a more respectable distance between herself and Mike, who is on the same page, drops his hand from her waist. "Julia," he says tightly.
"Michael." Her smile is wide and beautiful. Her teeth are perfectly white.
Mike turns to Nadine as he gestures toward the other woman. "This is Julia Carver. My ex-wife."
He turns to Julia as he gestures toward Nadine. "Julia, this is Nadine Tolliver, m—"
Nadine cuts him off and extends her hand before he can finish that sentence. "Nadine Tolliver; Secretary McCord's Chief of Staff. It's a pleasure to meet you." She doesn't know what Mike intended to say (my date? my colleague? my girlfriend?) but she wasn't going to risk it.
Julia Carver shakes her hand, and a flicker of surprise passes over her features. "You're Nadine Tolliver," she says, and her eyes slide from her to Mike and back again. She clears her throat, recovering herself. "Your reputation precedes you."
"Oh?" Nadine says mildly. She gets that a lot; has long ago decided not to read into the ever-changing subtext of it.
"I'm so glad I finally get to meet you in person. My firm works closely with DRL," she says.
"And we are grateful for all the work that you do," Nadine replies graciously. Carver is a brilliant human rights attorney; her name pops up on their seventh floor radar every now and again, but Nadine just didn't realize she'd ever have to actually meet her in person. She would have preferred more professional circumstances—such as one where she was not attending her own department's function with the woman's ex-husband on her arm.
Still. She seems nice enough.
"I was just about to track down the cash bar. I'd love it if you would join me," Carver says. Her eyes flick to her ex-husband, and then back to Nadine. She smiles brilliantly. "I don't suppose he'd let me steal you away for a moment?"
"Julia," Mike warns, reflexively placing a possessive hand back on the small of Nadine's back. There's a grinding edge in his voice that she's never heard before—he's certainly never used that tone with her.
"Oh relax, Michael. You can hardly keep her on your arm all night. I promise to return her in one piece."
Nadine extricates herself from his hold and shoots him a look that says I can speak for myself, thank you very much. He has the decency to look at least a little sheepish. Turning to his ex-wife, Nadine says, "I'd be delighted."
Carver ends up with a gin and tonic in her hands, but Nadine sticks to a slim flute of champagne because she's still on the clock. She's been making polite, human rights-related chatter with the other woman, and there's nothing about her that makes Nadine think that Mike's trepidation would stem from anything more than perfunctory ex-spousal hostility.
But then Julia sidles in closer to her, right into Nadine's personal space, and asks slyly and out of nowhere, "Does Michael still do that thing with his tongue? I bet you love that."
"I beg your pardon?"
"When he goes down on you."
Nadine nearly chokes on her champagne. She can feel an uncharacteristic blush riding its way up her neck as she swipes a little liquid from the corner of her mouth. She tries to recover her poise. "Um," she says.
Julia's smile stretches even wider. "Oh come on, Nadine—can I call you Nadine?—we're just talking amongst women here." She giggles, and links their arms and steers them over toward the hors d'oeuvres, and Nadine has no choice but to follow. "I can't stand the bastard, but even I can admit that he knows how to show a girl a good time."
Nadine decides that Mike's ex-wife is absolutely fucking crazy.
She takes a deep sip of her champagne, and wishes it was something stronger.
"Can I give you some tips about what he likes?"
Nadine silently thinks to herself that she has that one down pretty well. Not that she's going to tell his ex that.
Julia backtracks, giving Nadine a shameless once-over. "Although I'm sure you do just fine. I mean look at you."
Nadine doesn't know how one's appearance would be at all indicative of sexual skill.
Julia continues to talk, and the conversation has completely veered away from even the guise of professional.
Nadine decides that she will allow this woman to monopolize her time for another thirty seconds before she gracefully extricates herself to work the rest of the room. She's still on the clock, after all.
Nadine doesn't find herself by Mike's side for even a minute for the rest of the evening, and she is swept from conversations with one delegate to conversations with another, and she turns on the charm full up.
The one silver lining is that she doesn't run into Julia Carver again the whole night.
"You're alive," Mike says when she meets him by the coat check. He winds his arm around her waist again, and Nadine tries not to lean into him. She's exhausted.
"Julia didn't give you too much trouble, did she?"
Nadine makes a funny noise in the back of her throat.
Mike leans back to look at her. "What did you think of her?"
"She's… bold." Her cheeks tinge pink just thinking about it. There's no way she's going to tell Mike about their conversation.
"Insane," he corrects, and she doesn't have the heart or the will or the inclination to dispute him. "I warned you."
Nadine hums her agreement. But she can also acknowledge that the ex-Mrs. Barnow is sharp, and exuberant, and beautiful, and brilliant—and if Nadine looks beyond Carver's outrageousness, she can see very clearly why Mike might have fallen for her in the first place. If Nadine were a man, she might have made the same mistake.
And from now on, Nadine promises herself that she'll give the guest list a thorough vetting before she decides to bring Mike with her again (or decides to show up herself, to the extent that that's possible). For self-preservation's sake. She can certainly handle Julia Carver—she'd just… rather not.
"Mike, what are you doing?"
Mike freezes like a deer in the headlights. A pair of her lace underwear dangles from his fingers.
Nadine's eyes slide from him, to said undergarment, to the pile of clothing in the basket.
"Laundry," Mike says.
Nadine steps around him to peer inside the drum of the open washing machine, and nearly has a coronary. "Mike! You can't—" She leans in and begins to pull some of the pieces out of the washer—all of her delicates, for starters. She drops them on top of the dryer. "You can't just throw them in with everything else; they'll be torn apart!"
"Sorry, sorry," he says immediately, a little sheepish. He joins her in sorting through the rest of the items inside, helping her pull out the rest of her underwear. "I guess it's been awhile since I've done someone else's laundry."
"You would have had to buy me an entirely new lingerie wardrobe to replace all this," she says. She raises an eyebrow to instill some sense of shame in him.
His eyes light up wickedly. "I could do that anyway if you want." He moves behind her, pressing his hips against her ass and sliding his hands up her waist.
She tries not to smile as she backs up against him, forcing Mike to do so as well. He holds onto her hips as she backs him all the way into the wall and then spins around to face him. "Maybe I'll take you up on that," she says sweetly, and kisses him hard on the mouth.
Nine. About the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement dinner.
"Hey, Nadine." Mike is staring hard at something on his tablet, one earbud in.
"Hm?" She barely looks up from her book.
"You… you never told me you could sing."
He unplugs the headphones from his tablet and taps on the screen. From the tiny speakers, Nadine hears a very familiar voice. Hers.
If you say goodbye to me tonight…
Her head jerks up so fast she nearly gives herself a crick in the neck. She rips off her glasses as she stares in horror at the screen that he's holding up for her from the other end of the couch. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," she says.
For his part, Mike looks as if he's torn between bursting into laughter at her reaction and exploding from excitement at having discovered such a gem of a video.
"Where the hell did you find this?!" She didn't realize there was evidence from that dinner. Press, yes—but footage? Whose brilliant idea was that?
"Just. On the internet."
"From the deepest corners of the internet?" She can only hope.
Nadine reminds herself that she hasn't actually blushed once this entire decade, and wills herself not to start now.
He shrugs. "Who knows? But this is great. A fine remix—Mahoney's work, no doubt? I can't believe you actually did this."
"I was saving the Secretary's ass," Nadine says through gritted teeth. Her singing continues to filter through the room. "Can we turn that off?"
He obliges, plugging his headphones back in. "You have a lovely voice," he insists. "Why didn't I know this?"
"You act like you've never— I sing sometimes!"
"You hum to yourself when you're doing housework," he says, rolling his eyes. "Not quite the same as putting up a performance in front of all of the heads of state of the TPP." He pauses, and then begins to snicker.
He gestures at the screen, on which Blake is currently crooning with soundless flair. "This is what Bess was supposed to do? And you guys actually thought she would go through with it?"
"Daisy was optimistic. I had my doubts."
"And your backup plan was to put your own head on the chopping block in her place."
"I serve at the pleasure." All her nerves had hit her after the fact—there had been no time to be nervous beforehand when she had her hands full trying to get the Secretary to stop hyperventilating—and she'd liquored up at the open bar and thought about how she truly did not get paid enough to be doing these kinds of things. "I embarrass myself at the pleasure."
Mike scrutinizes the video, where she's singing and smiling like she's actually enjoying herself. Even though she knows for a fact she wasn't. "I mean," he says, "it's cheesy, sure, but hardly an embarrassment."
"I don't believe you, but thanks for trying."
"Why don't you ever sing for me?"
"Why would I?"
"Why not? Come on; sing me something!"
She rolls her eyes. "I don't really sing, Mike. I can carry a tune. It's not quite the same."
"Lies." He tosses the tablet aside and gets up. He holds out his hand for her, but she merely looks at it, then up at him.
"Come on, get up." He grabs her hand and drags her off of the couch, leading them both off to the other room.
There's a small upright piano against the wall of the family room. She's noticed it before, but didn't realize he actually played it.
Mike pulls out the bench, pushes back the lid, and settles himself at the piano. He runs through a few chords—the instrument is still in tune, which surprises her. "Come on. Humor me," he coaxes. Gently, he begins to pick out the bluesy melody of a little song she recognizes and knows well.
With a little smile, she does.
"Stars shining bright above you…"
A small four-parter wherein Nadine's apartment floods
It's one of the coldest, bitterest winters she's weathered in awhile; record temperatures for Washington. But it's not the temperature she has a problem with—she'd spent four winters in Ithaca, then one in eastern Europe after all—or it isn't, until the cold snap becomes colder and then the pipes in her building crack and burst.
This she most definitely has a problem with.
"What?" she squawks, on the phone with her super. She'd been in the middle of a staff meeting when he'd called her the first time, and she's just now getting around to calling him back. She slams her folio down on her desk in indignation. Through the glass wall, Matt glances up curiously, so she takes a deep breath and repeats, calmer, "What?"
"It's all this strange weather," he says pleadingly, like he thinks he has to make her understand that he didn't personally cut open the pipes and flood their building. "All the constant cold and warm and cold and warm, the pipes have been contracting and expanding and they're quite old…"
Nadine sighs, presses her fingers to her forehead. "I get it. But you're sure my unit wasn't affected?"
"Correct. No damage. But I have to shut off the water for the whole building while they do repairs. You'll want to make arrangements to stay elsewhere. As soon as possible," he adds. "The parking garage is flooded. If you wait until tonight to come back, it'll all have frozen over."
"And how long will repairs take?"
"At least a week. Maybe two."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Tolliver, I know this is inconvenient—"
He's afraid of her. She's gotten that impression before, but it's quite evident now. "No, no," she says, backing off. "Thank you for calling. I'll try to come back around lunch to get my things."
Still, when she hangs up she mutters a few choice words for him that she knows he doesn't deserve. Because she still has three massive reports on her docket today, her afternoon is all booked up with meetings, and now her lunch plans are shot and she's out of a home.
First thing's first.
She calls Mike to cancel lunch. And in the next breath, she asks him if she can stay with him for the rest of the week. Not like she hasn't been sleeping there most days, anyway.
When she asks, she can practically hear the grin on his face when he replies, "Can't get enough of me, can you?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Barnow. The pipes in my building busted."
"Oh. Oh, that's terrible. Did you flood?"
"No, thank god. But I have no running water for the next week, at least."
"Well, maybe you should stay at a hotel instead. You've been using up all my hot water lately and I don't know if I want—"
She cuts him off with a scoff. "I've been using it up? You're the one who insists on getting in with me every time I shower, and—"
"Let's not start assigning blame," he interrupts hastily. "Who knows whose fault it is, really?"
But then, with sincerity, Mike adds, "Of course you can stay, Nadine. You know I love to have you here."
"Well thank you. I'm going to go home over lunch to grab some things."
"If you get to my place tonight before I do, there's a spare key under the rock."
"Thank you," she says again.
"You're welcome. I'll see you tonight, gorgeous."
She takes a slightly extended lunch in order to go home and pack a suitcase. She has some issues getting into her condo while avoiding the new moat in development around her building, but it isn't a crisis. She takes toiletries and a week's worth of casual clothes, thinking that she can do laundry at Mike's place (and wondering skeptically just how often she'll need them anyway). As an afterthought, she pulls a few of her favorite lingerie pieces and throw them in, too. And then she zips about a month's worth of work clothes into massive garment bags (just in case), and hauls everything down to her car. She leaves them sitting in the trunk when she returns to the office.
"Where'd you go?" Blake asks curiously when she reappears on the seventh floor. He's astute; of course he noticed her absence. She tells him her situation but keeps it brief, and he doesn't care enough to ask further questions which is half the reason she likes him so much anyway. He merely grimaces in sympathy before unloading a stack of files into her arms. "MSec wants your opinion on these when you've got a second. Sorry about your condo."
"Yes, all right. Thanks."
And then she's barely sat down for a second when Matt pokes his head in. "Hey, where'd you go?" he asks. She sighs inwardly, and wonders why she thought no one would notice her absence when she barely ever even takes a long bathroom break, let alone a long lunch.
"A pipe burst in my building," she says curtly, and he scrunches his nose.
"Is that code for you don't want me to ask?" he says.
He shrugs. "It just sounds like an excuse I've used when I lie."
"Why would I lie to you?"
"I don't know, why wouldn't you lie to me?" When she simply looks at him, he frowns and says, "Wait, so you actually had utility issues?"
"Matt, is there something you needed?"
He shakes his head. "Nope. I was just wondering. I'd looked up for a second and you were gone. For like, a long time. Longer than an episode of The Office. Not that I was watching The Office in the office," he adds quickly. "I just mean that it was unusual."
"And now I'm hopelessly behind on work for today which is why I never take a lunch break that lasts longer than a sitcom."
"Hey, if you need anything…"
"I'm fine, Matt, but thank you."
"No, I mean…your building flooded? So if you need a place to stay, I'm saying you could crash at my apartment until you can go back. It won't be as bad as it sounds, I promise. "
"Oh," she says in surprise. Her eyebrows rise toward her hairline. "Well that's very kind of you to offer, but—"
"I mean you let me stay with you that one time, so really I should return the favor," he reasons. "It's overdue."
"That's really not necessary. I already—"
"You can even take the bed," he offers generously, "And I'll crash on the couch."
She tries not to cringe outwardly at the thought of sleeping in Matt's bed, even if it isn't like that. "I've already made arrangements for myself, but thank you."
He blinks. "Oh. That was fast. Okay well, the offer stands if you ever need it," he says.
"That's very kind of you." She smiles tightly. It's a dismissal.
He goes easily, but Nadine doubts that that's the end of all the questions.
She actually does get to Mike's house that evening before Mike himself gets there, and uses the hidden spare key to let herself in, and Gordon out. Gordon sniffs her hands with interest before bounding into the front yard.
It takes her three trips to transfer all of her things from her car to the inside of Mike's foyer, and she takes all three of them with his damned dog marching circles around her and weaving between her legs as she walks. She's lucky she doesn't trip over him and break herself. But once inside, Gordon retreats to his little bed in the corner of the living room and leaves her to carry her things upstairs in peace.
In the master bedroom, Mike has left the closet doors open and there's a gap on the rod where he's clearly made space for her to hang up her clothing. He would have had to come back in the middle of the day to do it, and the consideration it reflects warms her inside.
She unzips her work clothes out of their bags and hangs them up, but leaves the rest of her clothes in the duffel, which she places in the corner of the room out of the way, to be dealt with later. She takes her makeup bag and toiletries into the adjoining bathroom, and there's empty counter space for her here, too. When she opens the medicine cabinet, the bottom two shelves are clear. She shakes her head. She'll be here just one week. Two at most.
She hears keys jangling in the front door, though she'd left it unlocked, and then hears it swing open. Muffled, Mike's voice greeting Gordon, and then louder as he calls out, "Nadine!"
She makes her way down the stairs, and when she emerges in the living room he smiles at her brightly, walking toward her. "All moved in, then?" He reels her in for a light peck.
"You didn't have to go through so much trouble."
"No trouble. I was happy to do it." He turns to go shut and lock the door, and says to her, "You shouldn't leave this unlocked; someone might come in and steal Gordon." As an afterthought he adds, "Or you."
"Don't worry; I'll fight them off if they try to take Gordon," she deadpans.
He pulls her into his arms again, wrapping them around her waist until she's pressed against him. "Not Gordon I'm worried about."
She links her arms around his neck and lifts her head expectantly, and he closes in for a proper kiss.
The kiss ends up, somehow, with her draped on top of him on the couch, suckling on his bottom lip with her hand deftly unbuckling his belt and undoing the button and zip on his pants. When she works her hand inside, moving over the thin fabric of his boxers, he groans into her mouth.
"Hey," she murmurs against his lips.
"Thanks for letting me bunk with you." She flexes her hand, and he forgets how to respond.
Nadine arrives at the office the next morning wearing bruises on her hips in the shape of Mike's hands and a slight limp in her gait that she hopes no one will notice. Luckily, she's already sitting down by the time Blake arrives at her door with his portfolio tucked under his elbow, and a black coffee and hot tea in his hands.
"Good morning," he says as he sets the tea in front of her. "How's the condo situation?"
"I'm staying with a friend right now," she offers reservedly. "Hopefully I'll be able to go back home next week."
He nods and doesn't have any more questions for her. She suspects it's because he doesn't care; he only asked at all because it's a courtesy.
They run through the daily agenda on autopilot, and when they finish Blake unfolds his long legs and rises smoothly from his seat. "Let me know if you need anything," he calls as he leaves, but that's also a courtesy. She has her own assistant for things she needs.
A couple hours later, she leaves her office for the morning staff briefing, walking gingerly. She nearly has a heart attack when Matt sidles up beside her on silent feet and says, "Rough night, huh?"
She nearly jumps out of her skin. "Don't sneak up on people like that," she admonishes.
"Sorry," he says. "Anyway. Bad mattress?"
She registers that her hope of no one noticing that she's having trouble walking was a slim one. (Although she's sure that the 'rough night' she did have is not what Matt thinks it was.)
"Something like that."
"Hey, who are you staying with anyway?"
She furrows her brow. "I don't think that's any of your—" She's saved from having to finish that thought when her assistant intercepts them halfway down the hall.
"Ms. Tolliver, it's Mike Barnow on the phone for you; he says it's about the spare keys in the—"
"Thank you, Maggie," she says abruptly, but it's too late; Matt's eyebrows have climbed his forehead. She glares icily at her assistant and hopes the poor girl gets the hint. "Tell him I'll call back later."
Maggie's cheeks color faintly, and she bows her head and all but rushes back to her desk.
Nadine presses her lips together.
"I didn't realize you and Mike B were friends," Matt says finally.
"Yep." She is not forthcoming.
"Well, I'm glad he's housing you." They continue toward the conference room. "I'm sure his house is really big, so I'm sure he had plenty of room to take you in, no big deal. There are rumors about his houses."
Nadine sets her things down on the oak table. Not everyone has made it in yet; though Jay is in his seat, leaned back and deeply immersed in the document on his tablet, Blake is still out at his desk, Daisy is finishing up a Q&A session in the press briefing room, and the Secretary is still in her office.
Matt is still talking. "Everyone says he owns some seriously expensive art. Like, pretty rare pieces?" He turns to her like he expects her to confirm or deny this, but she simply gives him a bland look.
Jay looks up. "Who are we talking about?" Oh great.
"Mike B," Matt supplies. He hikes his thumb in her direction. "Her condo flooded yesterday."
"Yeah I heard about that. Sucks," Jay says to her sympathetically. "So what does that have to do with Mike?"
"He's housing her while her place gets fixed up."
"Thank you, Matt," she says in a hard voice.
"Really." Jay looks just as startled as he had. "I didn't realize you and Mike B were friends." He glances at Matt, then Nadine again. "So… he actually collects rare art, or…?"
Matt cuts him off. "Also you know, the other rumor I heard was that—and hey, I mean I'm sure Mike has a great guest room or whatever, but I heard that like—isn't that actually Gordon's room?"
"I heard he gives Gordon an entire room to himself. But I feel like that's kinda rude though, to make you crash in the same room as his dog."
She lowers herself carefully into her seat and then turns toward him. "I'm not staying in his guest room," she says bluntly.
It takes Matt and Jay a second to process what she's saying, what she really means, and their eyes collectively widen. And they shut right up.
Mike B couch-sits for Vincent Marsh. Pre-series.
"You have a problem, Vince," Mike says blandly.
"And you're going to fix it." Marsh leans back in his seat, calm. Measured. Like a man who is accustomed to getting what he wants.
"You're going to have to make some cuts if you plan to survive this. If you let it bleed itself out, you'll be dead in the water before POTUS himself can pull the trigger."
"That's why you're here."
"And I can clean this up in two seconds. You have to make an example out of someone and fire one of your staffers today. I suggest you take it off the top and begin with your Chief of Staff."
Vincent considers that, silent. Then, firmly, he says, "No."
Mike stares at him. "That is my best professional opinion. It's the easiest, least painful solution—"
"Come up with another one."
"You think solutions grow on trees?"
"Aren't I paying you to be resourceful?"
"You're paying me for my best advice, and I'm giving it to you."
"And now I'm paying you to give me different advice."
"Okay look," Mike says, slowly, because Vincent might need the extra help, "I don't think you get it. This is bad. The quickest way to curb the damage is to put your Chief of Staff in front of the firing squad and let her take the hits for you."
"She wasn't the leak."
"Look, if you don't fire her—"
"It wasn't her," Marsh repeats sternly.
His tone affects Mike not at all. Mike squints at him like he's daft. "Do you really think that's the point of this exercise? You are on a sinking ship, and you must cut the anchor loose if you wish to stay alive. And to be clear, the anchor is not the imbecile who engineered this clusterfuck, whoever that may be; it's the imbecile who throws around the most weight. Read: your Chief of Staff has to go."
"Nadine stays," Vincent says, and his voice brooks no argument. "Come up with something else."
Mike knows better than to push any further. "Fine. We'll do it the hard way."
"Thank you." There's a pause. When Mike doesn't move, Vincent inclines his head toward the door. "Dismissed."
It's a relatively innocuous interaction that causes Mike to notice it.
Tolliver comes into the office to update the Secretary on the Libyan relief operations and Mike can practically see the heat.
It's not that they're obvious about it. Mike just knows the signs—the brief moments of 'accidental' contact, standing just a little too close for a professional conversation, the lingering eye contact.
"You're fucking her," he says in amazement the second Tolliver breezes out of the room. How the hell did it take him so long to see it?
Vincent doesn't so much as flinch. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says, which tells Mike all he needs to know.
"You're screwing your Chief of Staff and that's why you won't get rid of her," Mike says. He's feeling frustrated, huffy, and a little petulant. This was why he's just spent the last three days trying to choreograph crisis gymnastics? So that Marsh could continue to get his rocks off at work? "Unbelievable. Can't you just—can't you make do with your assistant, like every other godforsaken politician in this town?" His assistant was a pretty little thing. High tits, tight little ass, full mouth. Blowjobs were practically written into her job description. "She's got Lewinski written all over her."
"I'd mind your tone," Vincent says mildly.
"You are battering your own career for no good reason." He flings an arm out toward the general direction of Tolliver's office. "I promise you, she is not worth it. Stop thinking with your dick for one goddamn minute."
"Mike, you either give me a fix that makes me happy, or I will find someone who will. It's that simple."
Mike lets out a long-suffering sigh. "Okay. Fine. Your second-best option is to drop your press aide. She's the most visible; it makes a nice enough splash if you cut her; especially if you replace her with someone sharper and hungrier."
Vincent nods slowly. "I can live with that."
"I even know a perfectly competent media girl you can onboard in her place." Mike rummages around in his briefcase for a moment before pulling out a resume and placing on top of the report on Vincent's desk. "Her name is Daisy Grant. She graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt with degrees in Communications and Political Science."
Vincent skims Daisy Grant's neatly printed credentials. "She's young," he says finally.
"She's a little rough around the edges," Mike agrees, "but she's savvy and she'll pick it up quick. And you tend to like a dark horse pick, don't you?" He knows he's got him there.
Vincent considers it a moment longer, then sets down the paper. "Okay then. Make it happen."
Mike will consider this a win, though by no means will he consider it a success. He still stands by his original opinion that Nadine Tolliver should have been axed.
But, he got to fire the press secretary over his morning coffee and secure a new one over his mid-morning bagel, so he can't be too dissatisfied. What's more, Vincent's approval rating hasn't taken the dive off a cliff that Mike had originally projected. So. A win.
It's his last day here. He's standing by the elevator bank after an afternoon of tying up loose ends when someone walks up beside him and simply stands there.
"Mr. Barnow. I can't say I'm sorry to see you go."
"No, Ms. Tolliver, I'm sure you can't." He glances over at her. "But I fully expect I'll return at some point in the future, so don't miss me too much. "
She makes a disparaging noise in the back of her throat. "I am extremely good at my job, Mr. Barnow."
"I do not doubt that."
"You were going to have me fired."
"I was. It had nothing to do with your competency." He knows that she understands how this game is played. In Washington, no one is exempt from slaughter.
"I don't go anywhere I don't want to go, Mr. Barnow," she says, and though her delivery is neutral, her words are a warning.
Nadine Tolliver has no intention of letting the game play her.
"Well congratulations, then. You get to stay exactly where you are." She gets to continue to screw around exactly as she is. Why that appeals to her, Mike can't even begin to guess, but he does know one thing. She has the Secretary of State wrapped around her finger, and that makes her an exceptionally dangerous woman.
The elevator chimes when it reaches their floor, and the doors slide open. Mike steps in alone and turns to fully face Nadine.
"You can do better than him, you know."
For once, she looks visibly startled. Just for a split-second, but it's enough for Mike. "I beg your pardon?" she asks evenly.
He shrugs. "Just saying."
The doors slide closed between them before she can respond.
It's dark and late when Nadine finally comes home.
Mike is drifting in and out of sleep, but he hears her light footsteps climbing the stairs, the bedroom door whispering open softly, her tired sigh. He'd left the closet door cracked for her, the light on inside it.
He rolls over so he can see her. "Hey there," he says drowsily, and she jumps a little. "Working late today."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to wake you," she whispers. She tiptoes toward the closet. She's backlit against the soft glow of the closet light, and he watches her silhouette as she shrugs out of her blazer. She gasps as she does it, just a little inhale through her nose, soft enough that he might have missed it, or imagined it.
Underneath, she's wearing the sleeveless cream shell she'd left the house in that morning. When she turns, the light catches on the pale skin of her bared arms, and he sees dark splotches on her bicep. They're shaped like fingers.
Mike is out of bed in an instant. "Jesus."
"No, it's okay," she says. "I'm fine."
"Clearly it isn't. Let me see." Gently, he grasps her elbow to turn her toward him and nudges the closet door open more with his foot to get the light. There are matching bruises on her other arm, too. "Who did this to you?" Nadine extricates herself from his hold and slips into the closet. He can see now that she wasn't tiptoeing; she was limping. He follows her into the closet. "Nadine?" he prompts when she doesn't answer.
"One of our guests got a little aggressive. Shook me up a bit." She reaches up behind her to unfasten the small pearl button of her blouse, sitting at the base of her neck. The back of her shirt gaps open. Mike can see the edges of another darkening bruise. When he brushes it with a fingertip, she winces. "I hit the wall," she explains. She crosses her arms on the hem of her top and gingerly pulls it over her head. The mark blooms stark over the pale skin of her shoulder blade.
When she curls an arm behind her back to get her bra clasp, Mike stops her. She drops her arm with a tired sigh, and he undoes it for her. He guides the straps down and off her arms. "That looks like it hurts," he says softly. He kisses her gently at the base of her neck, inches above the tender bruise. "Who was it?"
She sighs. "One of Andrada's aides," she mutters. "Apparently, they all have entitlement issues." She turns to gauge his reaction. Probably because his gaze has darkened, she adds, "He's been taken care of."
"Yeah, we'll see about that," he says darkly, a touch petulantly.
Her tone is sharper this time when she repeats, "He's been taken care of, Mike." She unfastens her slacks and pushes them off of her hips, letting them crumple to the ground. She's too tired to pick them up and put them away properly, so she just leaves them there. They'll wrinkle, but she'll take them to the dry cleaner and have them steamed and pressed. "There are more important things to worry about, so let's just… let's just move on," she mutters.
"More important than the fact that you got knocked around today?"
"It was unfortunate," she says tonelessly, like she's barely even feeling the words as she says them, "but it helped to push our agenda, actually."
"Nadine, I'm all for silver linings but come on." He keeps his tone gentle, removing the frustration he feels from his voice, if not his words. He doesn't want to start a fight with her. She's exhausted by the day she's had, and he doesn't want to be responsible for making it worse. He gestures toward her arms, brushing along the mottled flesh. "This is not part of your job description."
"My job description is flexible," she says. But adds hastily, "Not that I'm condoning this. I don't expect it to happen again." She reaches for the nightgown she keeps here; it hangs on a hook just behind his head, and she takes it down and pulls it over her head. When he still looks unconvinced, she softens. "Hey. Look at me. I'm fine." She clasps his cheek in a gently hand. "I'll be a little sore tomorrow — and the rest of the week — but it's nothing I can't handle."
"You shouldn't have to handle it," he murmurs. "You don't deserve this." Carefully, he wraps his arms around her waist from behind and rests his chin over her shoulder. "God, you must be exhausted."
"You have no idea," she sighs. She leans into him, tilting her head back against his shoulder.
"Let's get you into bed." He links his fingers with hers and tugs her backward with him, out of the closet and toward the bed. He pulls back the covers on her side of the bed and waits for her to climb in. Nadine does so gingerly, settling so that she's laying on her front. He pulls the duvet over her and she moans, seemingly melting even further into the buttery-soft sheets. He rounds to the other side and crawls in beside her. "Go in late tomorrow," he says softly. A suggestion, a plea. He lifts her hand to his lips and kisses her knuckles.
"Secretary's orders," she agrees.
"Good. I didn't want to have to go over there just to yell at her for working you half to death. Literally."
"If you interfere in my work affairs, you'll be the one half-dead" she says drowsily. She sounds like she's already half-asleep.
Mike can't help but smirk. "I know that, darling."
In the morning, Nadine wakes up and she's alone. Behind the curtain, the sun is fully up. She can't remember the last time she slept in this long, and has to force down the initial wave of frantic panic in order to enjoy it. She's determined to enjoy it. It feels shamelessly decadent.
That is, until she tries to roll over. Every muscle in her body protests the movement, stiff and aching and sore.
Nadine groans. "Fuck."
She turns her head and cracks one eye open. Slowly, the room comes into focus. There's a glass of water sitting on the nightstand, anchoring a small slip of paper. Next to it, two little pink tablets. She pulls the note free.
She has to hold it at arms' length to make out Mike's sturdy, blocked lettering. Where are her glasses?
At WH. Make sure you take the ibuprofen when you wake up.
P.S. Stay in bed as long as you want. Bess will live.
She snorts and tosses aside the note. She swipes the pills off the table and tilts them to her mouth, chasing it with a healthy gulp of water. Maybe she can lie here just a little while longer.
Drabble: Nadine returns to run Elizabeth's presidential campaign.
"You know, I pulled you out of retirement to manage my campaign, not my makeup," Elizabeth huffs. She scrunches her nose a little bit as Nadine sweeps over it with a fluffy brush.
"My job description is extremely wide-ranging." Nadine swirls the brush in the compact again and taps off the excess against the lid. "And that makeup girl has no idea what she's doing. I don't know what setting powder she used, but it put a horrible grey cast over the last guest. You'd look like a ghost on camera, and that's the last thing we need. Tilt your head up."
Elizabeth obeys, and Nadine sweeps her own powder over the other woman's chin and jawline.
"The 'spook' jokes would practically write themselves," Elizabeth mutters.
"So Jeanine Meyers is a bit of a bulldog. Don't let her drag the conversation any which way she feels like, because she will try. You can back clean jobs and climate change, but don't dig into immigration so much, if you can help it. Kat says it wasn't polling all too high over here." She snaps the compact closed and sets it on the vanity along with the brush.
"Avoid immigration. Got it."
"Not 'avoid'," she corrects carefully, "You're not avoiding; you're just… holding back. Hit the other stuff harder."
"Make sure to talk about agriculture. They love their farmers."
"And don't go rogue on me," Nadine warns. "That might've worked for us in diplomacy, but it will not work on the campaign trail."
"Which you know from all of your previous campaign experience," Elizabeth teases.
"Which is none," Nadine fires back crisply and easily. It was no secret that she was new to this part of politics. Still, when Elizabeth suggested her to manage this Presidential campaign, none of her staff questioned the pick, nor Nadine's capacity to rise to the occasion.
"Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have just taken Russell up on his offer to drive this train," Elizabeth says, but it's a joke. The stress of the thing would almost certainly kill the man and she knew it.
Nadine merely rolls her eyes. "Carol would have murdered you first, and then there wouldn't be a campaign."
"You're right. So I guess you'll do," she says wryly.
"I guess I'll have to," Nadine agrees. "And don't worry," she adds, even though Elizabeth hadn't been worrying in the first place, "I may not have done this before, but I know exactly how this game is played. And you're going to win it if it's the last thing I do."
Elizabeth grins. It was the right decision.
One of the APs knocks on the open door and then pokes his head in. "Madam Secretary, we're ready for you."
She gets to her feet and meets Nadine's eyes. "Alright. First appearance for the books."
"Knock 'em dead, Elizabeth."
Here is a darker AU piece. Elizabeth is single and Nadine is manipulative; the same office with grittier and more unflinching politics. Warnings for a touch of smut (and not the nice kind, either).
From the angsty dialogue prompt list #73, "You should have ruined me when you had the chance."
Elizabeth Adams decides to keep most of the seventh floor furnishings once she is confirmed — including the seventh floor staff, and including, particularly, the seventh floor chief of staff. Nadine Tolliver is understood to be something of an office perk, and one that Elizabeth's predecessor had utilized thoroughly. Vincent Marsh had made no secret of his extramarital affairs; everyone else had simply pretended to look the other way, had pretended not to hear all the sounds that came out of his office when the door was shut and locked.
Elizabeth wouldn't mind indulging, herself. It's been ages since she's gotten laid, because being single and career-minded is hard. Built-in office stress relief is what keeps Washington running like a well-oiled (well-lubricated) machine; something implicitly understood by everyone who works here.
The thing is, Nadine Tolliver doesn't seem to like her all that much. It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of it all, but it would be nice.
The problem (and Elizabeth could see right away) is that the woman had accidentally fallen in love with her last boss and the abrupt regime change is now giving her whiplash. It's a rookie mistake that Elizabeth thinks less of her for making, because the first rule in politics, of course, is not to fall in love.
But even so Nadine understands her role in all its forms, all of the unwritten expectations of her position, all of the duties that were decidedly left out of her job description. She's a well-known, well-respected name in all the professional circles in Washington, and she plays all its games accordingly. It's the most powerful way to get things done; the most efficient. And Nadine is nothing if not efficient.
There's a knock on Elizabeth's door, three sharp raps.
"Come in," she calls, already shifting in her seat.
Nadine slips inside. "Madam Secretary. You wanted to see me?"
"Yes. Close the door, please."
Nadine closes the door and flips the lock. She sees no point in acting like she doesn't know what this is about; she simply walks around the desk as Elizabeth swivels her chair to face her and kneels. Her hands are surprisingly gentle as she helps Elizabeth push her skirt up to her waist.
Elizabeth leans back and closes her eyes, breathing through her nose as—
"Mmh," she hums softly, almost as if just to herself, and her hips buck forward just the tiniest bit.
Christ, she's good with her tongue.
When Elizabeth comes, it's with just a sharp inhale and her hands clenching the armrests. No theatrics. No noise. No mess. She's still at work after all, and this is nothing more than the equivalent of a coffee break.
To her credit, Nadine stays in place until Elizabeth has stopped tensing under her tongue, until she has melted into her chair. Because she's a woman too; she knows to maximize those last, lingering moments. Only then does she get up, wiping her mouth demurely with the side of her thumb.
"Is there anything else, ma'am?"
"No, thank you, that'll be all," Elizabeth says.
"You have a SVTC call with Minister Chen in thirty minutes."
"Okay, thank you." She smooths her skirt back down. Nadine unlocks the door and slips out just as quietly as she'd come in.
It's six months of this before Elizabeth learns that Vincent's plane with its missing screw was, in fact, a premeditated event that was choreographed by a man Elizabeth had often entrusted with her life, in her Langley days.
Andrew Munsey had a partner in his schemes, of course. And though maybe it shouldn't shock Elizabeth to discover who it is… Well. It does. Perhaps because Elizabeth really did feel like she and Nadine were becoming something akin to friends.
But Nadine, as it turns out, is a dangerous woman who was afforded too many opportunities by her proximity to power. It would be foolish for Elizabeth to feel safe (let alone friendly) with Nadine at her side.
And Elizabeth wonders — how many times has she altered policies, reversed positions, signed off on initiatives at Nadine's behest? How many times has she let that woman into her head without realizing what she was doing? She's smarter than this; better than this. She never makes herself vulnerable like this. She has to question everything, now. Nadine will always be in her head, no matter how she proceeds.
When she calls Nadine into her office this time, Elizabeth is feeling a whole host of things. Anger. Disappointment. Maybe a little fear. She had underestimated the bloodlust in her second-in-command, the level of manipulation of which she is capable.
Three raps on the door and then Nadine is slipping inside without bothering to wait for Elizabeth to grant her permission.
Elizabeth is already standing up. "Close the door behind you," she says. As Nadine flips the lock and turns around, Elizabeth has already stalked over to her and pins her back against the wood. There's a bright spark of arousal in Nadine's eyes before Elizabeth leans in and presses her mouth to hers.
Elizabeth kisses her hard, with tongue and teeth and no sense of gentility or restraint. When she finally relents, Nadine's lips are swollen and her breathing is ragged. There's only a few inches of space between their mouths; they're still sharing the same air but this doesn't make Elizabeth dizzy like it normally would.
"When you killed Vincent Marsh," she murmurs against Nadine's lips, "was it because of politics, or because of love?"
Nadine freezes. Elizabeth can practically see her mind whirling. "Elizabeth—"
"Politics. Or love?"
"It's more complicated than—"
"Which one was it?"
Nadine stares at her. "A little bit of both," she says flatly, "I suppose."
Elizabeth might feel better about it if Nadine said it had just been about love, because love was specific to her relationship with Vincent. Love has nothing to do with Elizabeth.
But politics—politics has everything to do with Nadine's relationship with Elizabeth.
"Was I next?" she asks, feeling that she has to.
Nadine considers her answer with care. "Two consecutive deaths in office," she says thoughtfully, "would no longer look like an accident."
Elizabeth thinks about what that means for her career, her future. It would be stupid to think that just because Nadine had no plan to assassinate her, she had no plan at all. Elizabeth will have to go back through everything with a fine-tooth comb. She'll have to investigate her own department from the top down, triage the wreckage. Resign?
She can't think about all that right now. She's probably caught it early enough to salvage her career at least, if not the department as a whole. The second rule of politics, Russell Jackson had offered, put on your own oxygen mask first. "Fred is waiting on the other side of this door to take you away," she says coolly. "The AG is expecting you."
Nadine dips her head. "Of course," she says.
Elizabeth unpins her from the door, reaching around her to unlock and open it. She tries to ignore the way Nadine's breath passes over her skin. As promised, Fred stands in the entryway expectantly. He motions Nadine to walk in front of him and she does, holding her head high.
When the two of them are about to exit the outer office, Elizabeth calls out to her. "You should have ruined me when you had the chance," she says.
Nadine turns around, looks at her with something akin to surprise. "I already have."
For the non-smut writer's prompt challenge, using the line: "Always so fucking tight for me."
When Stevie received the text from her sister, she groaned, actually groaned, out loud.
Ali: Done with the piece. We'll do a fitting tn.
Followed immediately by a second text (because Ali knows her sister):
Ali: Don't even THINK ab bailing! My grade depends on this and u.
And another text, which was just:
So there went her Thursday evening.
She had only just let herself into the house when she heard Ali yell her name from upstairs.
"I'm coming," she called back with none of the same fervor, and trudged up the stairs.
Thing was. Stevie liked supporting her sister and loved all her designs. But the last time she agreed to do a fitting for her, she had ended up with three pinpricks in her ribs, hair snagged in the back zip of a dress (Ali ended up having to cut it free), and her favorite bra snagged and ruined.
The time before that, she'd ended up in a fashion show she never agreed to be part of.
At the top of the stairs, Ali grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her into her room, clearly of the opinion that she wasn't moving fast enough by herself. She shut the door behind them and gestured dramatically to the outfit, draped over a mannequin in the center of the room.
"Voila," she announced, clapping her hands together.
"Skirt and corset combo. I'm re-envisioning the modern wedding ensemble."
"It's nice." Stevie reached out and ran her fingers over the layers of frothy ivory tulle. "The top looks a little too small for me, though."
"You always say that."
"It's always true," Stevie shot back.
"Stop. My stuff always looks good on you. Hurry up and strip; let's get this on you."
Stevie stripped down to her underwear without pursuing the argument. She stepped into the skirt and eased it over her hips. She reached for the corseted top. "Seems uncomfortable," she commented, flexing it in her hands. The boning that ran through it was stiff and unyielding.
"Beauty is pain," Ali sniped. She pulled apart the endless criss-crossing of laces and lifted the whole thing over Stevie's head. She settled it into place and began to tighten the laces, hard.
"Shit," Stevie gasped as Ali yanked them closed. Her hands scrabbled over the fabric in a useless attempt to create more space for herself inside of it. "Too tight, too small. I told you it would be. Your pieces are always so fucking tight for me."
"It's a corset — it's supposed to be tight." Alison said. She reached the hem and began to tie off the laces. "Now stop whining because I think this is actually gonna look amazing on you."
"Seriously, are you sure you got my measurements right? This feels—"
"Of course I did."
"Seriously, I can't breathe."
"Don't be dramatic. You probably gained weight, that's all."
"You shut your mouth."
"Beer isn't calorie-free, you know. And you've been letting Blake buy you an awful lot of them—"
"Oh fuck off, Ali!"
Ali let go of the laces and placed her hands on her hips indignantly. "Look, are you dating him or not?" she demanded. "I'm not blind, you know."
"We're just friends—"
"I thought he was gay, but I feel like you two—"
"Okay then, so I'll ask again: Are you dating him?"
"We. Are. Just. Friends."
"With benefits," Ali suggested.
Stevie paused. "...With benefits," she admitted grudgingly.
Ali whooped triumphantly. "I think it's cool. Blake is a nice guy, and he dresses better than any man I know. And he's cute. And Mom likes him." She paused. "Does Mom know?"
"No," Stevie snapped, "and if you tell her, I will kill you personally. I will put you in this corset and tighten it until you've suffocated."
Ali rolled her eyes, unimpressed. And then she smiled. "I'll just tell Mom that this piece is for your wedding. She'll figure out the who and the why soon enough."
She ducked as Stevie threw a pillow at her head.
The cancelled room reservation he can't explain.
Nadine thinks it's his fault, of course, and doesn't seem to believe his insistence to the contrary. As if he wanted this.
The problem is that they have a whole block of perfectly legitimate room reservations at the Des Moines Marriott, with a place for every single person on Elizabeth's campaign team to lay their head tonight except for, it seems, Nadine Tolliver.
Mike really isn't sure how that happened.
Nor is he sure how his room got offered up to share, but here they are. Sharing his hotel room.
Mike honestly didn't think she'd stand for it, but then she doesn't have a ton of other options. Practically every hotel room in the city is booked for all the presidential campaign teams slogging the trail. The Iowa caucuses are critical. And Nadine knows that — she has to stay close at hand, she can't go home or go elsewhere just because she has no place to stay. Not before Iowa. She's going to suck it up, and so will he.
Mike makes a note to his future self to find the intern responsible for this fuck up and fire them summarily. This is the last thing either of them needed in their lives.
It's been almost three years since their break up, but Mike doesn't have any practice interacting with her as his ex-whatever-she-is. And of course he couldn't just ease into it with coffee or maybe a working lunch — no, he has to share a hotel room with her for two whole days without any practice or preparation to speak of. It's like tossing a toddler into the deep end of a pool.
Mike unlocks the door with his key card and lets her in ahead of him. The door swings shut behind them both as they take stock of what they're working with.
Only one bed, of course. Because why should anything be easy?
They're both silent for a long time. Then, in a peculiar voice, Mike says, "We can be adults about this, right?"
"You're not gonna make me sleep on the floor are you?"
She doesn't answer for a long time, thinks it over hard. "No," she says finally.
Henry broke up with her for five days but then he came back to her on one knee, with a question, and a ring, and a skywriter. As far as grand gestures went, this was as grand as he could manage. For Elizabeth, it wasn't enough. It wasn't the point.
"I can't be with someone who can't be there for the hard things," she said, crying as she said it. "If I can't rely on you to stick it out with me, then…"
"Elizabeth–" he said, looking terrified as she barreled on.
"–there's no point." It hurt to say. She wondered if anything had ever hurt her so badly since the loss of her parents, and didn't think so. But if that tragedy had taught her anything, it was how to protect herself.
And now two decades have passed and they're staring at each other from opposite sides of the Sit Room and he looks just as handsome as the day they met, all those years ago in Monroe Hall. She still feels the same butterflies, and can't help but wonder if she'd made the right choice.
After, everyone in the room begins to disperse and she takes her time putting her files back into her bag. She gives herself time to decide how she wants to proceed. Henry takes the choice out of her hands when he falls into step with her as she makes her exit.
"It's been a long time," he says. "You look good."
"You too, Henry."
"Can I buy you a coffee?"
She smiles. "I'd like that."
Nadine moves to California, takes a new job as an adjunct professor at Berkeley. She put three thousand miles and a few years' distance between herself and her old life, but then who should show up in her lecture hall one day but... Jason McCord?
She runs through the syllabus and then (to the bewilderment of several students) launches right into the first lecture of the course. As she talks, she notices a student seated in the upper rows, toward the back; recognizes him, but can't quite put a name to the face. The son of one of her friends, perhaps? She hasn't studied her roster beyond the time it took to see that there were one hundred and sixty-two students signed up for her class (the majority of whom seem to be present today, which is a good start), because she had assumed there was no reason for there to be anyone on it she'd recognize.
She can't put a name to this young man's face, that is, until he comes down to the lectern after her class.
"Jason McCord," she says. In her last job she hadn't much interaction with her boss's children, though she'd have known their faces anywhere. At that time, Jason still had traces of a child's cherub cheeks and a defiant teenager-y attitude that opposed it. Now, he looks more like the young man she imagines Henry once was. The resemblance is unmistakable. "No one told me you were studying international politics."
He shrugs. "I am my mother's son, as it turns out. Although she would have liked it better if I had gone to UVA."
"Is this your first year?"
She shakes her head. "God, you kids grow up so fast." She squints at him a little. "You know, I seem to remember you to be more of an anarchist back in the day."
"I was," he admits, "but after I voted my mom for President, it seemed a little hypocritical to continue to be one."
The corner of her mouth twitches. "You know, I think President McCord would agree."
"The President won't let me live it down," he complains good-naturedly. "Anyway. I just wanted to come down and say hi. I didn't realize you were teaching this course — I mean I did; I just didn't connect the dots. But anyway. I've heard good things."
It's polite of him to say. Nadine is well aware that amongst the poli-sci students, her class has developed something of a reputation. When her evals come back each semester, they are generally positive but always read as slightly traumatized. "I'm sure you'll do great. I'm looking forward to reading your papers."
"Don't set your expectations too high," he says, and grins as he re-shoulders his backpack. "Anyway. I have to get to my next class. I'll see you around, Nadine. Professor."
"Give your parents my best, okay?"
She refuses to show favoritism toward Jason McCord, and when she tears apart the first paper he writes for her class, she hopes her old boss won't find fault with her for it. She doesn't think they will. Actually she thinks Elizabeth (and Henry, for that matter) would agree with her assessment, because they were both teachers too, after all. The fact is, Jason's paper is just not that good and that's all there is to it.
When Jason comes to her office indignant and seething just a little, she's practically expecting him. She's ready to debate his entitlement.
"I'd heard you were a tough grader, but geez," he says. He holds up a printed copy of his paper. "Don't you think this is a little harsh?"
She lifts an eyebrow. "Don't you think your essay was a little lacking?"
"I think my views are perhaps at odds with your own and you marked me down for the audacity of having them. And I think that is totally unfair."
Nadine chuckles, but it's not unkind. "Show it to your mother and see if she thinks I was unfair."
"I think you're holding my work to a higher standard because of my mother; because of who she is," he accuses, boldly.
"I think your mother would disagree," Nadine says tartly, "because I disagree." She leans forward in her seat. "Jason, I don't play favorites. You can ask any of my past students or colleagues. The fact is, this is not good. Your arguments are disorganized and underdeveloped and honestly, it reads like a paper that was written the night before it was due." She raises an eyebrow.
"I-" he begins, but stops himself short. "Yeah, maybe," he allows begrudgingly.
Nadine softens. "I know you're better than this. So show me that. Impress me."
He considers her words, nods slowly. "Okay. Okay, fine." He readjusts his backpack over his shoulder. "Thanks Nadine. I'll work it out," he says, and heads for the door.
"And Jason?" she calls after him, and he turns.
"Just so you know, I couldn't care less who your parents are or aren't." There's a little twinkle in her eye. "For the record."
He grins then. "Understood, Professor."
Her mid-term paper is 'Influences of Third World Actors on the Progression of the Cold War'. Nadine has no doubt that Jason can write the hell out of it if he tries, and it's his mother's area of expertise. She smiles to herself. She hopes it's the best damn paper she's ever seen.
Henry props himself up on one arm as he watches Elizabeth clip her bra into place and lean down to search for her blouse.
"You can stay, you know," he says, but he already knows what her answer will be. They've had this exchange before.
"I have early office hours," she demurs. Her back is to him, and she focuses on lining up the two halves of her shirt so that she can button it properly.
"Lunch tomorrow?" he suggests.
"I have a department meeting." She turns finally, leans across the bed to kiss him sweetly. "I'll call you," she murmurs. "Good night, Dr. McCord."
"Good night, Dr. Adams."
He doesn't hear from her for three days.
They've danced this dance before. Elizabeth often runs hot and cold, and Henry can't pretend that this doesn't give him whiplash. He tries not to push her but also it's hard for him to keep up.
She does want him. He just never gets to choose when.
Later, he's walking across the green when he hears the jog of footsteps behind him — suddenly, Elizabeth is at his side.
"Hi," she says breathlessly.
"Hi." He keeps his tone neutral.
"Should I come over to your place tonight? We could order Chinese food. I've been craving dumplings all day."
Henry is silent.
"Hey, what's up?"
He stops walking, turns to face her. "Look, I like you, Elizabeth. I really like you. But I'm not interested in this no-strings-attached relationship that you seem to be looking for. That's not what I want."
"Henry," she says, sounding a little wounded, a little panicked. "That's not— I never meant to make you feel like I was just using you for... I'm sorry that I've been bad about calling, I've never been good at... Look, I really like you too," she finishes fumblingly.
"What is it that you want, Elizabeth? Out of us?"
"I... I don't know."
He sets his jaw hard, unimpressed but unsurprised. "You should figure it out." He walks away, and leaves her standing there looking as hurt as he feels.
For the lilacmermaid prompt: "President & FGOTUS put on a good act in front of others, but in private, they haven't shared a bed since before moving into the White House."
Their smiles are frozen stiff on their faces as a dozen cameras flash in front of them. Elizabeth's hand is clenched tight inside Henry's and from the outside, no one can tell.
He expels a huff of irritation and she squeezes his hand harder. They're good at the optics, but the cost is high. "Don't," she warns quietly, so that only he can hear. Her smile doesn't budge an inch.
"You told me thirty minutes," he hisses through his teeth. "It's been well over an hour."
"I can't control everything."
"I didn't agree to this."
"Til death do us part, babe."
"Don't tempt me," he growls.
Daisy finally steps in, mercifully steering them out through the side door. Elizabeth and Henry drop their hands the second the door swings shut, sealing them away from the eyes of the press corps. Henry is already striding toward the exit on the other side of the room.
"I know—you'll be in your office if I need to inconvenience you again," Elizabeth says scathingly.
"Don't be a bitch," Henry fires back without even looking at her. The door slams behind him.
Elizabeth kicks off her shoes in frustration, sending them flying halfway across the floor.
"Ma'am," Daisy tries carefully, but Elizabeth holds up a hand.
"Don't," she mutters.
Daisy backs off. "You have that interview with Jane Cooke in a few hours," she reminds Elizabeth instead.
The other woman excuses herself, and then it's just Elizabeth standing there, barefoot and alone.
Well. Greater women than her have done more with less.
Elizabeth collects her shoes, puts them back on even though her feet protest it, straightens her blazer, and holds her head high. She can build this presidency with or without her husband's help.
For the lilacmermaid prompt: "Elizabeth is obsessed with being marked by Henry, and never likes to get to the point when all the bruises and bite marks have faded."
Elizabeth stands in front of the mirror, bra and pencil skirt in place, and examines her bare torso intently. She twists to get a better view of her back.
Henry walks up behind her and stops short. "Jesus." He reaches out and brushes his fingers over the smattering of bruises that decorate her hips and waist and back. "Did I do that to you?" he asks, hesitant and just a little bit horrified.
"We got a little carried away last night," she says, sounding amused.
"Oh my God. Babe, I... I don't know what to say."
"I do." She turns around. "I like it," she announces, and kisses him firmly on the mouth. When he still looks remorseful, she adds, "You didn't do anything wrong, Henry. If I didn't want it, I would tell you."
Unconvinced, he eyes the bruises on her body in the mirror's reflection. "Does it hurt?"
"Not in a bad way."
"You wore me out, so I'm a little sore," she reassures him, "but I'm not in pain like that." She steps around him and heads into the closet to finish getting dressed. From inside, she calls out, "Maybe tonight we can have a repeat performance."
"Maybe," he replies. He sounds a little quiet and she isn't sure if it's because of the walls or his guilt.
She emerges fully dressed, smoothing down her skirt, and goes over to give him another peck on the lips. His hands go to her waist automatically but only hovers there, not making contact with her body at all. "I'll see you later," she says.
"Have a good day babe."
A week passes and Elizabeth is disappointed to see that nearly all of the marks have faded from her body. They've been having sex nearly every night, but Henry has taken to being so gentle with her that she almost wants to scream. She isn't some delicate flower than can't withstand a little handling. She isn't sure how to bring that up with Henry, though.
When they retire to their room for the night, she has them both naked in about eight seconds flat and Henry isn't complaining, but he's definitely holding back. She'll have to pull out the big guns this time.
"I've been thinking about this all day," she says as she pushes him back toward the bed with purpose. She gets him flat on his back and straddles him. "I've been wet all day, thinking about how hard I want you to fuck me tonight."
"Yeah?" he grunts. His pupils are dilated and he looks like a man starved, the way he's drinking her in, but his hands still caress her like she's made of fine china.
She decides to try a more direct approach. "Henry," she says, catching one of his hands in hers. She guides it up to her throat and, in case he's still not getting it, squeezes firmly for good measure. "I need it hard."
"I wanna be bruised and sore by the time you're finished with me. I wanna feel you so deep that I won't be able to walk tomorrow." She leans in. "I wanna see your fingerprints around my neck and know that you own my body."
That's what does it.
Henry flips her over and tightens his grip around her neck. Just enough to make her pant. "Be careful what you wish for," he murmurs dangerously. He uses his other hand to pin her arms above her head. "We'll see what your little body can handle."
A/N: I originally wrote this before I finished watching s6 in its entirety, and it got hella jossed. So the ending is now tweaked to feel (hopefully) more canon-compliant.
Set during 6.01.
"Good morning. Please let me go," he says. Every morning, like clockwork.
"Not today, Mike." The President is quick on the brush-off, and quicker every day.
Today, he decides. It's gone on long enough. He'll make the call today.
He's mindful of the time difference, so he waits until lunchtime to pull out his phone and dial the number. He's getting desperate—truly, honestly desperate—and that's the only reason he's brave enough to try this.
The line rings a couple of times before—
"Hi. Hi, it's Mike Barnow." His heart is hammering.
There's a faint crackle of static. "Well this is a surprise," Nadine says. "And on your work phone, too."
"It's a work-related call. Listen," he says, "You know I wouldn't do this if it wasn't important. Life-or-death important."
"Yeah," he says, "because I'm going to die in this job if I don't find Elizabeth a replacement Chief of Staff she'll accept."
"And you wanted… my advice?"
"Because if you called to try and drag me back to DC, you're going to be very disappointed with my answer. Just tell me you called for advice."
Though he knew it was a long shot at the outset, Mike's heart sinks all the same. "You… you don't even wanna sleep on it?" he tries. "Because you could."
"So generous," she snips lightly, without any real ire.
"Nadine, if there was even the suggestion that you were interested—"
"—she'd take you in a heartbeat."
"Elizabeth knows better than to ask," she says curtly. "You should know better, too."
"Look, I'm desperate here," he pleads. "She rejected thirty vetted resumes this week alone."
"Her standards are high."
"I vetted them!"
"She doesn't like working with people she doesn't know."
"I know that. Tell me something useful," he snaps. He sighs then, a little ashamed of his own petulance. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I don't mean to take it out on you; it's just been a long hundred days. And this wasn't how I envisioned spending them." He scrubs a hand over his face.
"It'll work out, Mike," she says reassuringly. "Things always do for you."
"Not everything," he mutters, but backpedals immediately. "Sorry. Sorry. Let's just forget I said that."
There's a long, protracted pause. Mike feels himself being cooked ever-so-slowly into the hot seat of the White House Chief of Staff, the highest-ranking member of the Executive Office, the gig he never even wanted, senior aide to the President of the United—
"Well you know," Nadine says finally, and he shakes himself out of his spiral of misery. "I hear that Russell Jackson spends a lot of time watering his lawn these days."
He perks up, just a little. "Russell Jackson, huh?"
"That's who she really wants, isn't it?"
"And you think he'll go for it?"
"The last thing that man wants to do is spend the rest of his days gardening. I bet he's already going stir-crazy."
Mike leans back in his chair. He chuckles a little. "I didn't realize you kept up with DC gossip."
"I have a lot of friends in DC. They don't know how to talk about anything else," she says. There's a teasing lilt to her voice that he remembers. It's gone in the next breath. "Get Jackson. If Elizabeth were to appeal to him in person…" she says meaningfully.
Mike exhales. "Okay. I can—she can do that."
"She'll think of it on her own if you give her enough time."
"It'll work out," she tells him again.
His face twists. "Is that your new life motto? Because it's not a good one."
She chuckles. "It's serving me just fine in academia."
"Uh-huh, well it doesn't work at all in Washington."
Through the line, he hears the faint sound of muffled voices.
"Mike," she says, "I've gotta let you go. Good luck with everything, alright?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Nadine. Seriously."
Nadine ends the call and eyes the clock. She has the time. She pulls up the contact on her phone and makes the call.
It rings three times before the other woman answers. "This is Dr. Jackson."
Nadine puts on her warmest voice. Sell it. "Hi, Carol. It's Nadine Tolliver. I wanted to talk to you about something."
Nadine gets a text a couple weeks later; it comes through while she's lecturing and she sees it once she's finished. It's from Russell Jackson.
I'd say I owe you one, but she's going to leave me for this.
Nadine frowns. Well that doesn't bode well.
I'm sorry if I overstepped, she types back. I thought I could warm her up to it.
He responds almost right away. You warmed her up alright. She's been stewing angry for a week and I didn't know.
"Shit," Nadine mutters to herself.
Then turn down the job. The President will understand. She follows it up quickly with another text. You owe Carol that much.
If she had known that the price of her suggestion would be Russell's marriage, she would have given Mike very different advice.
It takes a minute for him to text back. Three dots appear, disappear, and reappear again, pulsing.
I'll figure it out, his message says finally.
And Nadine, who has certainly spent too many years of her own life prioritizing career over family, is in no position to judge.
Okay, she responds easily. Don't fuck it up.
Thanks for the vote of confidence.
She rolls her eyes, and puts away her phone.
"Vincent Marsh is dead. The NTSB report states that his plane crashed over the Atlantic, and all souls perished on board."
"The NTSB report was fabricated," Isabelle pointed out.
"Not that part."
"We don't know what part."
"No survivors were recovered," Elizabeth argued.
"No survivors that we know of."
"There was a funeral—"
"Without a body."
"—and his wife is now a widow."
"Isabelle," Elizabeth said, exasperated now, "he's dead."
Isabelle slapped a folder on the table. "Then why do we have surveillance footage of him walking around Tehran?"
post Nadine & Mike break-up.
"Besides," she tells Daisy, "he'll be back."
"How do you know?"
Nadine shrugs a little, half her mouth quirking in a tiny smile. "I know." Daisy brandishes the champagne bottle in front of her again, and Nadine gives in. "Yeah, hell. That champagne's not gonna drink itself."
She drinks a little too much; certainly more than she usually allows herself to have at work. No one else can tell but she can feel it, all the bubbles swimming around in her head. She hiccups a little as she's gathering all her things to go home for the night.
He doesn't call her.
The thing is, she isn't used to this. She isn't accustomed to being the one who's dumped; isn't sure what to make of a situation where she's the one left behind. She misses him. She doesn't know what to do with that, either.
The bigger problem, of course, is that they still work together. Mike may have broken up with her, but they still have to figure out how to maintain that part of their relationship. He won't even speak to her at the moment, so hell if she knows how they're going to accomplish this.
Mike is standing at the elevator bank waiting for the doors when he hears the clack of heels behind him. He tenses for a moment — he really was just hoping to get in and out without running into her today — before he realizes that it isn't Nadine's footsteps. Nadine's gait is different and her heels sound different, too.
Daisy stops a few feet away from him, nose buried in a memo. He relaxes.
"You should call her," Daisy says without looking up. There's no one else around, so he knows she's talking to him.
"She won't admit it, but I think she misses you. And I think you miss her, too."
Mike glances at her, but she has a good poker face and he doesn't know her all that well to begin with. "It's not that simple."
"That's what she said, too."
"She did, huh." He wants to ask what else she said, if she seemed sad or upset or if she mentioned him or if she cares at all.
The elevator dings, and then the doors slide open. Daisy snaps her folder shut. "I mean, do what you want," she says, shrugging. "But the ball is in your court, now. And you shouldn't let your pride make your decisions for you."
As he gets into the elevator, she spins on her heel and walks back in the direction she came. Figures she wouldn't have anything better to do than to seek him out for nothing more than a dressing down. He sighs, and the doors slide shut and elevator begins to descend.
Mike shows up in her office unannounced. Nadine is busy, triaging her inbox with one hand, and in the small pockets of time it takes for the emails to load, marking up a five-hundred twenty-six page report with the other. Her eyes dart between the two. Occasionally she puts down the pen to pick up her fork and take bites of the salad in front of her. That's her dinner. It's been a hectic day.
She barely looks up when he enters. "Not really a good time, Mike," she says.
"I want to make you breakfast."
She pauses. Lifts her head, raises an eyebrow. She doesn't really have time for theatrics, but she makes a big show of checking her wristwatch anyway. "It's seven-thirty. In the evening," she says slowly, in case he needs the extra help.
"I want to make you dinner, and then breakfast," he clarifies. In case she didn't get the hint, he adds, "With all the exciting extracurricular activities in between."
"Thanks for the offer, but this isn't a good time," she says flatly.
"I didn't mean here and now. You exhibitionist. All these glass walls don't really do it for me."
"Don't be inappropriate."
"Come on," he needles, determined not to be put off. "Let me make you dinner. Or buy you dinner. That rabbit food in front of you definitely doesn't count as a meal."
A forkful of lettuce hovers in the air in front of her open mouth as she looks up at him.
"And then breakfast," he adds again, sounding hopeful.
"Mike, it's been a long day and I really—"
"All the more reason to let me relax you." His grin is wide.
She puts her fork down. "You don't give up, do you?"
"My tenacity is a redeeming quality."
"That's debatable," she mutters. Nadine gives up on her salad, pushing it away so that she can re-focus on the brief in front of her. "I really don't have the time, Mike. I've got to get through this whole report tonight—"
"Don't you have interns for things like that?"
"It's above their clearance level."
"Do you want me to help?"
She smirks. "It's above your clearance level."
"And yet." She shrugs, eyes dancing, and returns her focus to the report.
He sighs dramatically. "You're killing me, Nadine."
"You just caught me at a bad time," she says, not unkindly. "It's been hectic around here."
He nods. "No, I get it," he says, and doesn't sound cut up about it. He raps his knuckles against the doorframe, turning to go. "I'll leave you to it."
He stops. "Yeah?"
"Come back tomorrow and ask me again."
"I'll have time tomorrow. For dinner." The corner of her mouth lifts in a half-smile. "And breakfast."
Set mid-season 1, though not canon-compliant.
Nadine looks up and nearly drops her pen. She forces herself not to react. "Arabelle. I didn't know you were planning to come in today. I would have met you downstairs—"
"Your assistant let me up. I know I don't have an appointment…"
Nadine shakes her head. "Don't be silly. Of course you don't need one. Please, sit." Nadine extends her hand to offer the sofa as she stands, but Arabelle shakes her head and chooses instead to stand in front of Nadine's desk.
"I'm going to be quick." She studies Nadine. "It's been some time since I've had to set foot in this building," Arabelle remarks finally. "Even longer since I've seen you."
"It has." It has crossed Nadine's mind before that she might call Arabelle, check on her. But she wouldn't have known what to say.
"I must confess," Arabelle continues, "Back when Vincent... I was a little hurt that I didn't hear it from you, when he died. You had Jay Whitman call me."
"It was chaotic at the office," Nadine says, which is true. "Everything was time-sensitive and happening all at once. I was tied up trying to get more information. And I didn't think you should have had to find it out from the news just because I made you wait on me to tell you."
"And then when Secretary McCord rescheduled his portrait unveiling," Arabelle says, "you had Daisy Grant call me."
She blinks. "I—"
"Are you avoiding me, Nadine?"
"Am I— no," she says, feeling unsure of her footing. "What reason would I have to avoid you?"
"I wondered that, too." Arabelle peers into her purse. She reaches in to rifle through it. "I thought I was just being… irrational. Emotional. But this week I finally mustered up the courage to go through Vincent's things, and as I was cleaning out his clothes, I found this in his dresser." From the depths of her purse, she pulls out a lacy scrap of fabric and drops it right on top of Nadine's desk. Right where anyone could walk by and see it through the glass walls.
Nadine's heart leaps into her throat. She wants to whip it away, wants to make it disappear. She wants it off her desk. But to touch it would be a sign of guilt, so she doesn't move a muscle.
When Arabelle speaks again, her voice is tight and cold. "Are these yours?" she asks through clenched teeth. "Because they're certainly not mine."
"I'll know if you're lying to me," she says softly.
And Nadine is a fair liar, when she has to be. But even she knows she isn't good enough to fool Arabelle.
"Are you avoiding me because you were sleeping with my husband, Nadine?"
Nadine doesn't answer; she can't. She's frozen in place, and it all feels like a very bad fever dream.
Arabelle takes her silence as her answer. She nods and doesn't look surprised in the least. She looks resigned. She looks exhausted. "I see," she murmurs. She passes a hand over her brow. "You know, you never did strike me as that kind of woman. Sometimes I thought that we could have even been friends." She laughs bitterly. "How wrong I was." It takes everything Nadine has not to flinch.
"I'm sorry," Nadine says. Her voice is smaller than she has ever been. "I am so, so sorry."
"It's a little late for that, don't you think?" Arabelle shifts her purse back onto her shoulder and turns to leave.
Nadine is still standing there, immobilized. Her chest feels tight and her heart actually physically hurts. She isn't sure whether she needs to cry or take an aspirin.
At the door, Arabelle turns to look at her again, and her face is full of contempt. She says, "You know? It's a shame you weren't on that plane with him." She walks away without looking back.
Prompt: "Nadine realizes that she is basically living with Mike and doesn't know how to deal with it."
He never asked her to move in. The topic just never came up and that was probably a good thing, because she would have had a very pointed answer for him.
Nadine values her independence. She has been single in all the ways that matter for a very long time—she likes her space, and likes spending time by herself. Mike respects that, and she appreciates him for it. He's never pushy or smothering or overbearing, but she can't pretend she doesn't notice the way his face lights up when she agrees to spend the night, or the way he holds her close to him even in his sleep.
The real twist is, she likes it too.
When she comes down for breakfast in the morning in his oxford shirt, there's already a steaming mug of tea waiting for her next to his coffee, and waffles cooking in the iron. The whole kitchen smells like warm batter and maple syrup.
She leans into his side, and he wraps an arm around her and presses his lips to her temple. "Hi there," he says. He presses the tea into her hands and moves behind her so that he can wrap his arms around her from the back. "Do you have to go in today?" It's Saturday, but in their line of work that doesn't mean much.
"In the afternoon," Nadine says. "Just for a few hours. I should probably go home soon so I can get ready."
"Okay," he says easily. He kisses the base of her neck before releasing her, moving away so that he can check on the waffles. Opening the waffle iron, he makes a noise of dissatisfaction. He slides the waffle onto a plate and shoots Nadine an accusatory look. "You are distracting," he informs her. "I almost burnt that one."
"I'll eat it," she offers with a charming smile.
"Uh-huh. And what kind of gentleman would I be if I let you?" He ladles more batter onto the iron before closing the lid and flipping it over. "This one will be a good one. You can have this one."
In her apartment, Nadine stands in front of the bathroom sink and stares dumbly at her half-empty medicine cabinet. And then she drifts back out to her bedroom and opens the doors to her closet, where half of the rack is cleared.
Nothing she needs is here.
It strikes her very suddenly what the problem is, and she doesn't understand how she didn't see it coming.
"Damn it," she says.
She ends up back on his doorstep not an hour after she'd left. He opens the door to her, and he looks surprised but pleased. "Miss me already?" he says teasingly.
"I'm living here," she blurts out, which is not at all what she intended to say. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"...I live here," Mike corrects, sounding about as confused as any other sane person would. Nadine rocks on her feet, still standing in his doorway, and shifts her weight back and forth. "Do... do you wanna come in?"
"Yeah," she says finally. He steps aside and she strides in, kicking off her shoes with anxious energy. Gordon winds himself between her legs but she barely pays him any mind. "I have to get ready for work."
He shuts the door. "I thought that's why you went home."
"Yes, well, I can't get ready for work there because it turns out that none of my things are there. Everything is here."
"Mike!" she says, exasperated. She isn't sure what she wants him to say or how she wants him to react, but his calm and cool demeanor isn't at all what she's looking for.
"Sweetheart, I'm not sure I see what the problem is."
"The problem," she stresses, "is that I'm basically living in your space and we didn't... we didn't agree to that."
"Do you see me complaining?" Off her look, he adds hastily, "But I can see that it's bothering you."
She sighs then, all of her frustration leaking right out of her. "I don't mean to take it out on you. It's not your fault."
"I don't see why it's anyone's fault."
"I guess I just didn't realize I was spending so much time here."
Mike shrugs. "I like having you here. I like coming home to you, or with you." He walks over to where she's standing, and when he wraps his arms around her she doesn't fight it. "I like that you're the last thing I see most nights before I fall asleep, and that you're the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Unless Gordon is barking in my face."
That finally elicits a chuckle out of her, and she melts into his embrace.
Mike continues, and his tone is more serious this time. "I never asked you to move in with me because I knew you'd turn me down. You like having your own space, and I respect that. But if you ever changed your mind..."
She leans back a bit so that she can get a good look at him, surprised. "Really."
"Yup. So now you know."
"I don't know if I'm ready for that. It seems too... official," she says uncertainly. It's a lame reason, because they are official, more or less.
He kisses her sweetly. "I know, sweetheart. Just know that the offer stands, if you ever change your mind. You wouldn't even have to ask."
Nadine opens her front door, and stares blankly at her visitor.
“How do you know where I live?” she demands finally.
“I checked your file.”
“You checked my—” She stops short. “That’s really creepy.”
“I know. But you stood me up.”
“I didn’t stand you up, Mike; I cancelled. I had to work,” she says. “I told you that.” Wordlessly, she stands aside to let him in.
“I know. Bess confirmed."
“You checked with my boss?”
“My ego needed reassurance.”
“That’s the problem with having such a big one,” she mutters. She closes the door behind him. “All the maintenance.”
“I heard that.”
She ignores him. “So,” she says, spreading her hands out, “just to summarize — you accessed my information from the personnel database. You checked up on my whereabouts with my employer. You showed up uninvited to my home. Just so you know, Mike, these things seem like warning signs against dating you.”
“Will you let me make my case as to why you should?”
“We’re both members of the bar,” he challenges. “Let’s litigate it.”
Well. It’s not really in her nature to back down from a challenge.
“So the thing is, I really like you. I’m a little crazy about you, actually. And I think we could make something work, but here's the thing.”
“Uh-huh,” she says. She tries to focus on his words. She has to know what he’s saying if she wants to be able to counter.
“I don’t like games.”
“I’m not playing games,” she says. She arcs under his hands. “You are.”
“That... may be true. But I would like to stop.” His fingers speed up, making tight little circles.
“So then stop!”
“Stop?” His fingers still.
“No. No, don’t—don’t stop that ,” she gasps. “You know what I meant.”
“I’d like to see you again,” he’s saying now. “For real. A date.”
“I still don’t think—”
But he starts to kiss his way down to her navel before she can finish that sentence. “Just… just hold that thought,” he says. He pushes her knees apart.
“This isn’t fair,” she mutters, but it’s weak.
“Like I was saying,” he continues, stroking one hand up and down her thigh, “I’d like to see you again. And I want you to say yes.” He runs his thumb over her hip bone. She squirms, but he isn’t even looking at what he’s doing; he’s staring up at her face, waiting for an answer.
She lifts herself onto her elbows. “Is this your strategy?” she asks. “This would never hold up in a court of law.” Her hips shift involuntarily against the sheets.
“That’s why you try it in arbitration first,” he murmurs. His tongue traces aimless patterns across her skin. “Anything goes. Say yes or I’ll stop.”
“Is that a threat?” She bumps his chin on accident and he kisses her again, this time with a hint of tongue. She bites her lip.
“I think you tend to prefer the term — what is it? — Oh. Yeah. ‘Inducement’,” he says. He swipes his tongue over her just once, applying enough pressure to make her breath hitch. When he lifts his head to look at her again, his eyes gleam. “This is an inducement.”
“I can’t believe this,” she mutters. “You’re gonna use oral sex to induce me to go out with you?”
(It’s... kind of working.)
“Yep.” He steals another taste and her hips twitch. “If you say yes, I’ll keep going.” Another lick. “If you say no, well, I’ll probably still keep going, because if this is the last opportunity I get, I’d like to make the most of it. But,” he says, and he’s grinning now, “if you say yes, I’ll get to do it again the next time, and it’ll be better because I’ll have learned a thing or two about how to get you off—”
“Yes!” Nadine says finally, cutting him off. It drives her crazy, how much he talks. She buries her fingers in his hair. “Just keep going.”
“I won’t delude myself. I‘m too old to continue to romanticize my relationship with Vincent. I got him to love me, more or less, and that’s all that mattered to me. I engineered that.”
“You didn’t care that he was married?” Mike said. This was the thing that almost surprised him about her. As cynical as he was, there were some lines he could never cross, and it surprised him that Nadine, with her unshakeable moral compass, would dissolve those lines completely.
It hadn’t occurred to him that he might not know her at all.
She shook her head. “I saw it as a surmountable hurdle, and I’m ashamed of that. I should have cared, but I didn’t.”
“Because you loved him back,” he said softly.
“An oversight on my part,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t like that in the beginning.”
Perhaps she had lost herself, the heady excitement and tumultuousness of it all slowly weathering away at the boundaries she’d originally created for herself. Mike is sure that she no longer made that mistake in life.
“You were just seducing him,” he guessed, “in the beginning.”
“Yes. And that’s all it was. It wasn’t hard.” Her voice held no arrogance, no self-congratulatory pride. No apology, either. “I’m excellent at my job. I’m easy to talk to. I’m reasonably attractive—“
Mike made a noise low in his throat, but Nadine ignored it, talking over him.
“—and all of the late nights in the office, the work trips away, the congressional functions and galas—that took care of the rest.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Becoming Vincent’s confidante was practically inevitable. And then I turned his screws as needed.”
“To what end?”
She smiled ruefully. “I was molding him into a man whom I would be proud to serve. Someone I could believe in.” She paused, and then admitted, “He kind of shit all over that, in the end.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. For the first time since the microloans shitstorm, he was unimpressed. Disappointed? “You chose to mold him with sex.”
Nadine barely reacted to his tone. He didn’t think he’d be surprised to discover how little she regarded his opinion of her in any matter; and in that of her reputation least of all. “He was the most suggestible when I manipulated him with sex.” She smiled then, and it held no warmth. “Most men are.”
“You’re very cavalier about this,” he muttered.
She shook her head. “No,” she said, “I’m not. But neither do I have any delusions about what I wanted, or what we were. What we became.”
“And the Iran debacle, you didn’t...” he trailed off.
She shook her head vehemently. “No. I didn’t know about any of that. If I had, I would have—“
“You would have reported him,” Mike finished. He knew her. Whatever else, Nadine was an unwavering patriot. “You would have turned him in.”
“I would have ruined him,” she hissed. He could see her working to control the memory of her anger and grief, of Marsh’s betrayal. Her eyes met his, fiercely clear. “My loyalty has always belonged to my country first."
“I know that,” he said. He did. What she would have done to Marsh had she discovered his treason, Mike can scarcely imagine.
She took a sip of her drink, quietly contemplative. “I didn’t know him quite as well as I thought I did, and I wasn’t manipulating him quite as well as I thought I was. Obviously.”
“He‘d been playing you, too.”
“And he was better at the game than I ever could be. My ignorance costed me.”
She would never make that mistake again, Mike knew. “You could have gone about it another way—“ he began tentatively.
She cut him off. “I chose this way.”
“In politics, you—“
“Oh, Mike. Sex is politics.”
He opened his mouth as if to say something else, but then closed it again. She was right.
When he stretched the silence, she continued. “I did what was easy. It was easy to teach him to consider me. Easy to make him want me.”
He resolved, then and there, to exercise greater professional caution around her from now on. And personal restraint. Since it seemed she liked to blur those lines. He did too, but not to this degree.
There was a glint in her eye. She leaned into him, so close that he could feel the heat of her breath against his skin, and a tingle ran all the way down to his toes.
In his ear, she whispered, “Now think just how easily I could teach you to want me.”
Oh , Mike thought but didn’t say. I think I already do.
Elizabeth hesitates only a moment before she picks up the pen and signs her name.
McCord, still. She hasn’t been Elizabeth Adams for over half her life.
Her lawyer flips to the next flag, and she signs her initials. When she signs everywhere she’s supposed to, he hands it across the table. Henry doesn’t even look at her as he signs his name. Signing for his freedom back. She’d never dreamed they’d get to a place where they’d be talking to separate lawyers, where she’d have to start building a life that didn’t include Henry right beside her. She can’t pretend it doesn’t break her heart.
They walk out together, but they don’t hold hands; they don’t touch at all.
“Hey,” he says softly. “Just because it didn’t last forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t good while it lasted.”
“I know that,” she murmurs. “You gave me three incredible children and we had…” She has to swallow down the lump in her throat before it turns into something that embarrasses her. “We had some great times, too.” She thinks about every picnic on the quad, every no-rules Saturday, every game night.
Every knock-down, drag-out fight. Every time he walked out on her. Every cutting thing she ever said. Every silence that stretched out between them, filling up with all the things they no longer told each other and creating a chasm that grew wider and wider until one day they looked and discovered they could no longer bridge the gap.
But it had been good, once.
Henry smiles. “Greatest love story of my life.”