She hears it from another staffer when, sometime early in the year, the Barnows' divorce is officially finalized. Mike's ex-wife still works at the same law firm, but Mike does very little legal work in the metropolitan area anymore. He's moved down to Charlottesville - something about accepting a professorship within UVA's Political Science department. She's sure he'll make an excellent educator.
Her work still feels lonely, sometimes.
Vincent hires a new legal consultant, but it's not the same. This one's a 'dark horse' pick - which is to say, he's still very green and doesn't know how to do much of anything. She has little patience for him and no time to start all over, so she subtly tucks him under the wing of another staffer and hopes he'll catch on fast. She takes all her work directly to Vincent, instead, and they work through much of it together. He doesn't mind - he enjoys her company, he says. And she will admit that she relies on his, these days, as a distraction from her loneliness.
She had cultivated a relationship with Michael Barnow for nearly four years. It's going to take her more than a few months to get past that.
She's in Vincent's office tonight, beating another report half to death. He's at his desk, tie loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up; she's curled up on the couch, heels kicked off, feet tucked under her. It's late. It seems they're always here late.
He sighs and leans back in his chair. "Why aren't we giving these to the new legal guy, again?"
She glances at him over the rim of her glasses. "He still doesn't know what he's doing yet."
"He went to law school…"
"So did you," Nadine points out, amused. "So did I."
They both know exactly what they're looking for in these policy drafts, so the work isn't complicated, just time-consuming. Nadine just needs the extra help in order to get through them in a timely manner, and it's just faster to have the Senator himself go through it with her than it is to teach their legal guy exactly what they need. He can hop on later.
"I miss being able to go over the final thing without doing ten rounds of edits in between," he complains, but she knows it's mostly in jest. If he had a problem with this new arrangement, he'd easily re-delegate.
"Well, Mike and I always took good care of you," she muses. It's the truth - together, they always pushed Vincent Marsh to the top. In retrospect, she wonders if perhaps she was the only one doing the real heavy lifting.
What else is new.
She repositions herself on the couch so that she can stretch out lengthwise, extending bare legs and arching her back. The report slides off of her lap and onto the floor as she unfolds stiff muscles. She doesn't have to look to know that Vincent's eyes are on her.
Suddenly, he's in front of her, gathering the scattered pages from the floor and depositing them on the coffee table. He slides a gentle hand under her lower back, and it hovers in the empty space between her body and the cushions. He hesitates. "May I?"
She nods and leans up silently, adjusting herself so that he can sit behind her. Strong hands slide over her shoulders and press into her skin, working out the knots in her muscles. She sighs in relief.
"You're tight," he murmurs. He presses his thumbs harder into a spot between her shoulder blades and she stifles a groan. "Is this alright?"
"Yeah, that's good," she breathes.
He works his way up to the base of her neck, his fingers now on her bare skin, and she shivers. He brushes away a lock of her hair, and she can suddenly feel the slight pass of his breath over her neck. She turns into Vincent slightly. Her lips part of their own accord, tongue darting out to wet them, and his eyes drop to stare. She's not quite sure what she's doing here. If she wasn't hurting so much, maybe she wouldn't…
"Nadine…" he says softly. His hands slowly run down her shoulders, her arms. He encircles her wrists with his fingers.
It seems like the most natural thing in the world for her to lean back and kiss him.
He's responsive. There's no hesitation, no indecision in the way he kisses her back. He wraps an arm around her waist to pull her closer against him; she frees one hand from his loose grip and curls it around the back of his head, holding him in place as she deepens the kiss. The angle is all wrong, so she twists around and his hands automatically go to her legs, sliding up bare thighs and hitching up her skirt with it. He shifts their bodies so that he's sitting against the backrest and she's straddling his lap with a little moan.
Maybe this is as much as she can have. Being the 'other woman'... maybe that's all she deserves.
She can feel him getting hard against her. Boldly, she slides a hand down and cups him through his pants. He grunts, and then she tugs at his belt urgently.
Vincent pulls back. "Are you sure?"
She's not the one with anything to lose. "Are you?" She's got his belt undone and pants unzipped and then stops, waiting for him to respond.
"God, yes." He pulls her down again and kisses her hard. He tugs the hem of her shirt out of her skirt, and warm hands span her back and grip her waist.
"I think," she whispers against his lips, "that you should go lock the door."
She gets a little paranoid about what they're doing. This isn't just a fling between staffers anymore - he's a Senator and soon he could be the Secretary of State.
He insists that no one will suspect a thing. Everyone, he assures her, is too preoccupied with their own careers to pay attention to them.
She begs to differ. Michael Barnow's wife wasn't too preoccupied.
She doesn't say that, though.
A few months into their little affair, he takes her down to his family's ranch in Caracas for a weekend. Arabelle works so much that she won't even notice, he tells her.
He's good to her. He's kind and attentive and tender, and he makes her laugh. They spend the months wrapping themselves up in the excitement of stolen weekends, late work nights, furtive glances. She knows the routine. She settles back into it easily - like riding a bike.
November comes closer and closer, and the energy that surrounds Washington becomes tinged with the frantic urgency of overworked people. Everyone is just trying to make it through to the election.
On election night, she and Vincent settle in at the Brickmoore with the rest of the staff to watch the returns and drink themselves silly. They sit next to each other, but not too close.
The incumbent wins handily.
The Brickmoore has erupted into nonstop cheers. Nadine is beside herself. Under the table, she folds Vincent's hand into her own and gives it a squeeze.
"Congratulations, Mister Secretary," she purrs into his ear, and when she pulls away he's looking at her like he wants to fuck her right there on the table.
They each slip out of the bar separately, and in all the celebration, no one notices their absence.
But the current Secretary of State doesn't step down.
No one knows why. Nadine is furious when she discovers this, but Vincent has already begun cleaning up the detritus. He is moving right along.
"Next cycle," he keeps saying, grimly determined, but she isn't quite ready to let it go just like that. This was supposed to be his turn.
He refuses to discuss it at all, and it's not good enough for her. She storms out of his office in frustration, deciding to take her lunch break early at the new cafe on K Street.
Inside, she sits alone at a table, trying to calm herself down, and warms her hands around a 'black eye' coffee in a thick paper cup - something the overly-cheery barista had recommended. It is, she decides as she sips on it, grossly overpriced for what it is.
"Sorry to hear about State."
Her heart drops into her stomach at hearing the familiar voice. She looks up. Standing a few paces away is none other than Mike Barnow.
"The State Department," he clarifies. He takes the seat across from her without asking. It's been - what? A year? He looks the same. He looks good. "I hear the Secretary of State isn't stepping down after all. I'm sorry. I know that you and Marsh wanted it."
"Yeah." They lapse into an awkward silence.
He appraises her. "You look good, Nadine," he says finally.
She ducks her head. "Thank you. I... I thought you were teaching at UVA now."
"I am. I'm just in town for a quick staffing consult. Turns out there's still some work for me here," he says, and there's a distinct edge of accusation in his voice that she knows is meant for her. "I'm not quite as unpopular as I used to be."
She doesn't know how to respond to that. She feels a familiar twisting in her gut; a sensation that used plague her at every reminder of him, months ago, when their falling out had still been so raw... and now it's almost as if she never healed at all.
And here she was thinking she'd done such a good job moving on.
"...Well. It was lovely seeing you," she murmurs. She rises and tries to make as graceful an exit as she can, clutching her overpriced coffee in one hand and her heartache in the other.
But he steps in front of her before she can make her escape. "Maybe we can get dinner while I'm in town," he suggests. She can't tell from his tone whether it's a conciliatory offer or if he's just looking to rehash old wounds. She doesn't know if he's forgiven her.
"I… I doubt it," she says. It's the safest answer.
He seems to understand. He leans in to place a chaste kiss on her cheek, and she has to pretend it doesn't ache to feel him this close. "Take care, Nadine," he says, and mercifully steps aside so that she can walk away.
She probably won't come back here again.