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1.14 - Whisper of the Ax

"Did we just witness Mike B going into the Secretary's office?" She tries to keep her voice from sounding frantic.

Nadine knows he's been doing more and more consulting work in D.C. since she ran into him at the coffee shop seven years ago, but she hasn't seen him since then. They've made a point to avoid each other whenever he's in town, but it seems like even that is out the window, now. He is currently couch-sitting in her department, and he's going to get her fired.

Turnabout is fair play.

"...and his dog. Who is he, exactly?" Blake asks uncertainly.

"They call him the 'Hatchet Man' -"

"- and not for his wood chopping skills."

"Rhode Scholar; brilliant legal career, which led to a promising political career, derailed by his scandalous divorce six years ago," Daisy rattles off. Mike's reputation precedes him. Everyone in D.C. knows who he is.

"He makes a profitable living now as a 'couch-sitter' - he's a guy who moves into a Cabinet member's office and dispenses cool, calculated... advice." Nadine says distastefully.

"Unaffected by a need to advance his interests since he has none."

"And by cool, calculated advice you mean…" Blake trails off.

"Firing people," Matt bites out. He's appropriately concerned. As are all of them.

Blake pauses, then clears his throat. "Okay. What's a 'Black Eye' from Otis Beanery?"

"It's a coffee with a double-shot of espresso from an overpriced boutique on K Street." She hates that place. She stalks away from the group, closes herself off in her office.

It was, she supposes, only a matter of time before they'd have to see each other again. Washington was only so big. Although she might have hoped for the circumstances to be more favorable - her job not being on the line, for instance.

It's a long day. The Secretary spends most of it holed up in her office with Mike, and the floor is conspicuously quiet. The rest of them are too on edge to do anything bolder than tiptoe through their work; they try to put out the biggest fires as quietly as they can.

Jay pokes his head in her office at the end of the day, says they're getting drinks and commiserating, says she's joining them and that it isn't optional. She can do that.

In the bar, Nadine stares at her phone despondently, waiting to receive some signs of life or news or… anything. "She always texts me when she leaves," she mutters. "So… I guess she's still in there with Mike B." They're all going to be fired. She can feel it. If she were Mike, that's the advice she'd give the Secretary.

The waitress comes by with a platterful of shots and it feels strangely like a sentencing. At this point Nadine is making mental notes to update her resume come morning, and to figure out if any of her standing job offers will still have any life in them after this.

They all take a glass.

"See you at the back of the line, kids," she salutes, and tosses it back.

Once they clear the microloans hurdle, she takes herself out for a celebratory little nightcap, like an old tradition from her Senator's days. Just alone; one, and she'll go home.

But when Mike sidles up next to her, Gordon at his heel, she's not exactly surprised.

"Same bar," he comments.

"Same habits," she counters. She gives Gordon a scratch under the chin.

He waves the bartender over and orders something for himself. Same drink.

"I should have lost my job."

"Oh I agree," he says, a little too easily. "That was a big miss. You're better than that. Bess is more forgiving than I would have been." She wonders if that's because he's shrewd or because he still has a vendetta against her.

"But you're still sticking around the office…" She trails off. Ostensibly, that means their jobs are all still in jeopardy.

"Your head's not on the chopping block, don't worry. But she is keeping me on payroll for awhile. Best get used to seeing me around."

"Fantastic," she says under her breath.

1.16 - Tamerlane

It's late. She sent everyone else home hours ago. It's been some of the most stressful days they've faced, and they are all deprived of at least three days' worth of sleep what with trying to get the Secretary home from Iran in one piece. Home to her family.

Well, she is coming home. Whether or not she arrives in one piece remains to be seen.

Nadine is still in her office, unable to wind it down. She's exhausted, but she can't bring herself to go home just yet. She's crying silently, chair turned so that she's facing the window. If there's anyone still left on the floor, she doesn't need them to see her breaking down.

It's a little bit about McCord nearly dying; a little bit about Vincent, too. She's had a lot of time to grow to hate him, but barely a second to register this… this travesty. He used to be one of the best men she knew, and he had betrayed his country. If given a few more months, he would have taken her down with it, ruined her career - and after everything she's given and done for him - in the name of a run for Presidency. Just another casualty to his depraved, 'patriotic' ambition. Fuck that.

There's a soft tap on her door and she blinks back fresh tears. She wipes her eyes furtively and takes a breath before she swivels around.

It's not who she expects, although she's not sure who she'd expect at this hour. "What are you doing here?" she asks in a watery voice.

"Knew you'd probably still be around," Mike says, voice soft. He regards her warily, like he thinks she could break at any second. Maybe she will - she hadn't quite decided yet. He takes a seat in front of her desk. "Is Bess okay?"

"She's on a flight home right now." It doesn't answer his question, but then again she doesn't know if the Secretary is okay. How could she be okay?

"Are you okay?"

She doesn't want to start crying again, but everything is still so raw and she can't help it when her shoulders start to shake. She can't answer him. She presses her hand against her mouth and dips her head down so that at least he can't see her face.

He doesn't even hesitate when he rounds her desk and gathers her up in his arms. She melts right into him. His familiarity, even after all this time, is too difficult to refuse.

"I know you and Vincent were always close," he murmurs, and it surprises her that he can pinpoint exactly what it is that's hurting her and how. And his tenderness, in the face of everything, surprises her even more - if only because it is more characteristic of their old relationship than their new one. Perhaps he makes exceptions on hard days. "You loved him."

That last part makes her freeze. She sniffs delicately. "What?" She pulls away so that she can see his face.

He smiles sadly. "Come on, Nadine. You worked with him for so long... it was more than just loyalty. Of course you loved him."

Oh. She thought he meant…

"Right," she says uncomfortably. Her defenses are down, so it takes her a little too long to cover up the expression on her face.

He picks up on it right away. "Were you and Marsh…?"

She laughs, and the tears start falling again, hard and fast. She's tired of breaking her own heart over secret men. "I guess I just don't learn." Her voice is so bitter.

There's empathy in his eyes, but she can tell that he has no idea how to respond. "You should go home," he suggests finally. "Take the day tomorrow."

"Yeah," she says, even though she absolutely won't. She takes a shuddering breath.

"I'll be around whenever Bess comes back; help with cleanup. God knows you'll need it."

"Alright," she says dully. She gets up and gathers her things. She pulls the door open so that Mike can step out first, and they walk out to the elevators in silence and ride it down to the parking garage. He walks her to her car, and waits for her to get in.

"I really am sorry, Nadine," he says, and he looks sincere. Before she can respond, he closes her door and walks toward his own car.

1.17 - Face the Nation

"We still work well together," he comments. They're walking out of that meeting with Owen Walton, both riding the small high that comes with winning. If she blinks, it could be ten years ago.

"We do." Her phone buzzes, and she checks the message as they walk, smiling absentmindedly.

Mike watches her. "Is that NASA guy?"

She looks up at him in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"

"Hey, I hear things."

She quirks an eyebrow, then turns back to her phone. As she's tapping out a reply, she says, "Not that it's any of your business, but yes."

He scoffs lightly.


"Nothing. I mean, I'm sure he's a nice guy."

She narrows her eyes suspiciously. "He is."

"He seems boring," Mike says bluntly.

"Do you know him?"

"Don't have to. I can see it a mile away. I'm just saying. You could do so much better."

Now it's Nadine's turn to scoff. "Like who - you?" she retorts bitingly.

He grins. "I wasn't offering, but if that's what you want, I'm sure I can block off some time in my schedule to -"

"In your dreams, Barnow." She rolls her eyes. She'd forgotten his arrogance.

"I think you're forgetting about the part where it happened in real li-"

"Can you not shout?" she hisses sharply, even though he isn't necessarily shouting. But for god's sake, they're in public.

"Alright, alright. But if you ever change your mind…" he says, and he could be messing with her, but he could be serious. She can't tell.

"Goodbye, Mike," she says firmly. They part ways; she heads toward the break room, he veers toward the elevator bank.

Behind her, she hears him throw out, "You can do better!"

Nadine shakes her head as she enters the break room. She grabs the electric kettle and fills it with water.

She wants to brush off Mike's flip commentary, because she's content for once. Right where she is - she's content.

I have to tell you something.

She likes Glenn. He's sweet to her, and thoughtful, and he makes her feel light and reasonably happy. Maybe there isn't a whole lot of passion, but there's stability and safety and that's what she needs right now. Isn't it?

For the last six years, I was in a relationship with a married man.

Eight. Make that eight years, and two married men. She didn't tell Glenn that, though.

I am very, very ashamed of myself.

Glenn passes no judgment on the shape of her life. And perhaps more importantly, he doesn't know much about her life. He likes who she is now, independent of anything that's come before, and that is particularly important to her. I don't care, he'd said. We're both grown-ups.

And yet.

Here's the thing. After years of attaching herself to inherently unavailable men, she's a little out of practice when it comes to... conventional dating. If she's being honest, the whole thing makes her uncomfortable.

And here's the other thing - she doesn't know what she wants. She doesn't know what she wants, and she doesn't know how to get it. How is she supposed to 'do better' when she doesn't even know what's best for herself?

Nadine doubles up on teabags and steeps it until it's almost too bitter to drink. It's a new box; something Glenn had brought the last time he'd dropped by because it's his favorite kind. She hates it, but drinks it anyway. If she uses two at a time, they can be gone in a week.

A few months later, though she'll never admit this out loud, it's Mike's words echoing in her head when she finally takes Glenn to lunch to break things off.

It surprises her, a little, how easy it is to do.

She just isn't ready for another relationship - that's what she tells him. And it's true, of course, but it isn't everything.

He's silent.

"I'm... I'm going to miss this," she offers softly, unsure if she is being kind or cruel. She reaches out across the table tentatively and covers his hand with hers.

That's true, too. But it's not the same thing as saying I'm going to miss you, and he must know that.

Glenn pulls his hand away.

They split the check, and she goes home alone.

She doesn't know what she wants, perhaps, but she knows what she doesn't need.