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2007


That one-night tryst somehow turns into a full-blown affair when they're not looking.

There's a lot of sex - her condo, although he never spends the night; his car, maneuvering their bodies around the bulky booster seat in the back; a hotel room, when they're feeling indulgent; once, the supply closet near the elevator bank at the office - she'd had bruises on her tailbone for weeks after that.

They're careful, but not paranoid. No scandal from a Senator's office could ever be big enough to cause real blowback - especially when the involved parties were simple staffers - and office gossip is minimal.

It's fun. And Nadine's spent so many years of her life doing the right thing that she revels in the feeling of simply taking what she wants, no questions asked.

She avoids all self-analysis on whether sleeping with a married man is an irreversible trade on her integrity.


She wonders, with heart-pounding anxiety, if the reason that Vincent has called both her and Mike into his office this morning is for what she thinks it is. Vincent has never asked to see the two of them together before.

She walks down the hallway in brisk strides, trying to keep herself in check.

She raps her knuckles on the open door as she walks into his office. Mike is already seated in front of the Senator's desk. She lowers herself in the adjacent seat, and they both face Vincent.

She'd looked it up. Fraternization isn't technically a fireable offense - there are no real HR regulations that actually cover inter-office fucking. And if Vincent thinks that he has any right to scold her on her extracurricular hobbies, after everything she's done and given to this office, well then he could just take that reprimand and shove it up his -

"I called you both in here today because I wanted to discuss the Presidential election."

Nadine pauses. What?

"As in… next year?" Mike asks with a raised eyebrow. "You know, a little heads up might've been nice. I think it's a little late for you to pull a Presidential campaign out of thin air now. Primaries are in six months and you'd be running against the incumbent, so -"

"No, no - not the Presidency. The Cabinet," Vincent clarifies. "I want in on the Cabinet." He gives them a minute to let that sink in.

Nadine feels a swell of excitement growing within her. "You're serious?"

"The Secretary of State is retiring after this term. If the President wins the re-election, he'll be looking for a new one inside our party. His Chief of Staff has already approached me."

She's grinning openly now. Re-election of the incumbent should pose no issue, and the party knows it's Vincent's turn to move up. They can push that nomination through with ease.

Secretary of State. The possibility already feels so real that she can practically taste it.

"We'll… start paving a road in the Senate," Mike says, surprised and pleased himself.

"Good." Vincent's eyes gleam. "That'll be all."

Nadine and Mike both take that as their cue to leave. As they are walking back down the hallway, Mike says to her, "I called it, didn't I?" He sounds almost giddy, trying hard to tamp it down.

She's riding a high of anticipation and excitement. "Supply closet?"

"God, yes." He's riding the same high as her.

She couldn't care less about the bruises she'll wear tomorrow - she could be Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State next year.


They're lying in bed one night in a rare moment of calm. She knows he has to leave soon, but they aren't quite ready to return to reality just yet.

He traces the line of her clavicle with his fingers, his touch infinitely tender. She shivers. He moves down her arm, brushes over the fine bones of her hand, and then finally slots his fingers between hers, joining their hands. He's been different with her lately; gentler, slower, almost reverent.

"I could fall in love with you," he murmurs. It's a statement; matter-of-fact, casual, throwaway. His tone is soft and light, completely contradicting the weight of his words, and the comment almost slips right by her.

Almost.

She freezes up a little bit when she processes what he's said, and hopes he doesn't notice. "What are you talking about?" They're friends, and of course she loves him but she's certainly not in love with him. That was never part of the deal. They work together; they like each other; they respect each other; they like to blow off steam - but love? She didn't agree to that. She doesn't want that. He's married, for Christ's sake.

Not for the first time, she wonders what the hell she's doing.

He leans up on one arm, facing her. "I mean," he says earnestly, "that I think I'm falling in love with you."

Nadine is at a loss on how to respond. "Mike… this is just… we're just having... fun," she stutters, and wishes that she could be more eloquent and less caught off-guard.

"We can do both," he insists softly. He cups her cheek in his hand, stroking her skin, and pauses, as if he needs to gather himself for what he wants to say next. "I... I want to divorce her."

Nadine turns away so that his hand drops from her face. "You're not thinking with your head." Her voice is slightly strained. He can't divorce. He's looking for a career in politics - divorce is easily lethal to ambitions like his. They both know this. "We both know that you can't divorce her." To lessen the blow of her words, she brings his hand to her lips and kisses the back of it. "We're fine just like this."

To divert his attention, she rolls them over and kisses him hard on the mouth, and he lets her. Before he can say anything else, she slides her way down his body, kissing his skin everywhere she can reach on her way to her goal. She wonders errantly if this is too transparent of her, too much - if he will be offended by her obvious attempt to distract him. But he merely groans and winds his fingers through her hair.

He doesn't mention it again.


Their year is full of Senatorial glad-handing, and Vincent is making nice with every last damn politician he comes across. It comes easily to him. Everything comes easily to him. And he's a good man; charismatic and passionate and honest and good. Nadine is proud to work for Vincent Marsh and always has been.

It's sometime in the autumn that she gets the notice from an old friend of hers from law school - Karen is the Chief of Staff of a Senator in the other party.

Nadine is lying naked in bed, scrolling through some final emails for the night as Mike dresses in the dark. When she opens the email from Karen, her blood chills in a way that has nothing to do with the temperature or her post-sex bliss.

Mike brushes a hand along her bare shoulders affectionately and she quickly closes out of the email. She needs more time to consider its implications first.

She sets her phone aside as he rolls her onto her back and leans over her, fully dressed. He dips down to give her a long, deep kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says against her lips, and she murmurs an agreement. He kisses her a few more times, sweet little pecks, and then leaves. The faint scent of his cologne lingers in the air and on her sheets.

When she hears the front door open and close, she pulls up the email again.

Nadine,

Thought you should know about this.

-K

And attached are images of accounting documents from the other Senator's office - pay stubs and the like. There are several redactions, but she knows exactly what the important part of it is.

Michael Barnow.

She calls the other woman immediately. "Karen, I'm looking at your email. What the hell is going on?"