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2.12 - The Middle Way

She spends most of the flight home from Myanmar helping the Secretary wrap up loose ends with the trade agreement. There are a lot of them. She prides herself on her ability to compartmentalize, but today, Roman keeps encroaching on her work headspace.

That's the first time she's seen him since dropping him off at Juilliard. The first time she's gotten to talk to him since he'd informed her, over the phone, about his plans to throw away her hard-earned gift to him.

She just wishes they'd had longer. They'd left things as good as they possibly could have in the time they were allotted - and she has to be grateful for that. But she can't say whether it will be enough of a foundation upon which to fix everything else. The hope almost seems too high.

Of course, he did meet her halfway today. So maybe there is something left to rebuild.

When they land on the tarmac, Nadine bids good night to the exhausted Secretary and makes a stop at the office to drop off some files, thinking she might grab a nightcap afterward before heading home. Something to tide her over before the jet lag can settle in.

She picks her way through the darkened outer office, but stops short at seeing Blake on the floor, files strewn around him.

"What in the world are...?" she exclaims, appalled. This poor boy.

She takes him with her. He could use some mothering, and she misses being a mother.

At the bar, Nadine sticks to one drink, because the last time she let herself get sloshed in this bar she tried to get in bed with the man taking her home. Nadine highly doubts that she'd ever do that again - and certainly never to Blake - but there is a man on the other end of the bar who's been giving her eyes ever since they sat down, and she doesn't want to tempt fate.

And she has no interest in scarring Blake for life.

She buys Blake two drinks though, and then another, because he looks like he could use it. She tells him all kinds of things, hoping that something will stick and maybe even lift his spirits a little. And then she all but pushes him up on stage - mostly because she loves to hear him sing. Maybe it'll lift her spirits.

He has good taste in music. He also has an uncanny sense of what will make her cry, maybe, because when he starts, that's all she wants to do. She presses a hand to her mouth, trying to suppress the tears. Damn it.

But the man at the other end of the bar looks as if he's about to try to come over and talk to her (because emotional women take even less convincing than drunk ones), so she takes a deep breath and then swallows down the sorrow with a healthy mouthful of scotch, sits up tall, and resolutely turns her back on his general direction. She hopes her message is clear.

And when he doesn't show up in her periphery, she thinks that it was.

She gets herself mostly under control by the time the song ends. Blake ambles back to his seat, applause floating behind him, and he's tipsy enough not to notice that anything is wrong with her.

"That was lovely," she tells him, and musters up a smile. He gives her a shy and slightly bleary one in return. She hopes that he, at least, feels a little better. She doesn't.

2.23 - Vartius

Someone pounds on her front door.

When she opens it, Mike is standing there. She lifts an eyebrow. "This feels familiar."

"Work talk." She steps aside to let him in, and he looks around with mild interest. "You rearranged your furniture."

"Yes. Mike, what do you need?"

He hands her a file. "Bess asked me to look into something for her with my pollster friends. Found this on the way."

She takes the file and gives him a questioning look before she flips it open and parses through the papers. "They're all foreign affairs officials," she says, and frowns. She recognizes these names - they were the same ones that were floated by her after Vincent's death. She looks up at Mike sharply. "The White House?" She knows exactly what this means.

"Dalton is having these guys polled. I'm going to Elizabeth about this tomorrow."

"That's a little hasty," she protests. "You can't know for sure that -"

"Don't be coy, Nadine. We both know."

"Give me a day to confirm it through other people," she tries. "McCord won't believe you unless you can bring her something more substantial than this."

But he refuses. "Nope. We don't have time. She needs to get ahead of this." He takes the file from Nadine's hands. "I'm just telling you so that you can get your resume in order, okay? I want you to land on your feet."

He shows himself out the door. "I'll see you tomorrow," he calls over his shoulder.

"Can we have the room?" Mike demands. "You and I have other problems to discuss."

Nadine resists the urge to roll her eyes, and while Jay clears out, she plants herself in the seat in front of the Secretary's desk. She's not going to let Elizabeth take this hit alone, no matter what Mike says.

He regards her incredulously. He turns to Elizabeth, expecting support. "Really?"

Nadine turns to her too, and stands her ground. "Really." Her tone brooks no argument, and the Secretary accepts it without question.

"Really." The little tilt of Elizabeth's head seems to say to Mike, what're you gonna do?

"Fine," he grumbles, looking directly at Nadine. He turns back to Elizabeth. "My friend also told me that his company was commissioned by an unnamed entity - read, the White House - to do a poll on three people: Albert Kopp, Lloyd Frost, and Calvin Hastings."


"They're all heavy hitters with foreign policy credentials," Nadine supplies. "In fact, they were on the short list after Secretary Marsh died -"

"The White House is looking to dump you," Mike interrupts bluntly.

Elizabeth pauses, incredulous. "Oh, come on!" She exclaims. She's chuckling, but he isn't, and neither is Nadine. Elizabeth sobers up quickly. "First of all, Conrad is a friend."


"...And secondly" - she glances at Nadine as if for tacit backup - "I've had a few successes -"

"Listen, you could be Thomas Jefferson, but I'm telling you, it looks like you're about to get canned."


"It's an election year - there could be a million reasons!"

Elizabeth sucks her teeth, considering it. "Well thank you for the heads up Mike, but I'm not worried." She is nonchalant, but Nadine can tell from the way that she holds herself that the Secretary is at least a little worried.

She cuts in hastily, picking up on the cues; Elizabeth wants the room to herself now. "...And now that that's settled, let's let the Secretary get back to work."

"Sure. Why not?" Mike's tone is dry; he is thoroughly unimpressed by Elizabeth's response. He turns and walks out.

Nadine glances at Elizabeth briefly before following Mike out the door.

He pauses for her at the entryway so that they can walk together.

"I told you she wouldn't bite," Nadine mutters.

"Alright, fine. You were right. So see what you can dig up."

"Uh-huh. Way ahead of you."

"We can go over it again tonight. Over dinner."

They stop in front of her office. She turns to him, half-tempted to make a teasing remark over his dinner invitation, but that's not their relationship anymore. And this is a serious matter. "Where do you want to meet?" she says instead.

"There's a new Japanese restaurant on I Street. I'll text you the address."

It's not quite the same as before, but still - she's kind of missed their working dinners.

Mike is already seated in a cozy little alcove at the back of the restaurant, awkwardly cross-legged, when she gets there. There are files in front of him, two glasses of water, and two filled shot glasses already on the table.

She slips out of her flats and lines them up on the steps next to Mike's shoes and pads over to the side of the table that he isn't occupying. She shakes the napkin into her lap.

He looks up briefly, and nudges the water and liquor toward her. "I know you prefer scotch, but I think sake goes better with sushi. Hope you don't mind."

"That's fine," she says, but she reaches for her water first.

He gets right down to business. "Okay. I've done my homework and here's where we are. First up - Albert Kopp. Deputy Secretary under Marsh, now works in the private sector consulting for an NGO."

"I knew him well." She lets out a breath. "The plagiarism scandal from years ago is probably behind him, but the 'everyone in bureaucracy hated him' scandal most likely is not." She'd know - she was one of the bureaucrats who hated him. Intensely.

He'll be the new Secretary of State over her cold, dead body.

She hands back the file.

"I doubt Dalton would hoist him on the rank and file," Mike agrees, and gives her the next one.

"Lloyd Frost. Former high-ranking military officer, two-term Congressman, and ex-Ambassador to Indonesia."

"Frost would never relocate to D.C. -"

"Because his mistress lives in San Diego. Yes, I know."

Mike gives her a lingering look - either impressed by the thoroughness of her knowledge, or simply attempting to gauge whether this is a sensitive topic for her. Probably both. "O-kay." He looks down at the dossier in his hands, moving right along. "Calvin Hastings: former ambassador to the UN, plenty of foreign policy experience, and he's from a purple state, so his constituency would be useful to Dalton." He hands it over.

"Uh-huh. His wife is a veteran. They have three beautiful children. And, he has a history of outside-the-box thinking." She flips up the picture, skimming through the information Mike has put together. "If anything, he's a Secretary McCord 2.0."

"And he's clean."

"Well. If you can't find dirt on him, nobody can."

He seems touched by the veiled compliment. "Thank you. Frankly, I think he'd make a more useful Secretary than Elizabeth."

Over the top of her glasses, Nadine gives him her most withering glare.

"Because he's from a swing state, relax!"

She shoves the file back at him, unamused.

He takes it, her ire rolling right off his back, and sighs forlornly as he turns to look over at his oxfords. "I miss my shoes."

She takes off her glasses and reaches for the liquor. "You're the one who wanted to go here," she points out. She takes a delicate sip.

"I didn't realize I had to be barefoot to enjoy my sushi."

"I'm sure you'll get over it." She slips her glasses on again to peruse the menu. "Now, should we share a chef's platter, or order individually?"

He ignores her question, choosing instead to observe her with probing eyes. He's been wanting to say something to her all evening - she could practically see it dancing on the tip of his tongue this whole time - and now Nadine gets the feeling that he's finally going to let her have it. "You're not the biggest fan of working with me these days," he notes, his tone conversational. "I get it."

She raises an eyebrow, but keeps her eyes firmly fixed on the sashimi selection. If she knows him, he's not done yet.

"But I just need you to understand that some days, I'm the one who really keeps the wheels turning around here." He twirls his finger in a circle, as if he's currently moving all those cogs as they speak. "I can make and break careers in this town -"

"As can I," she interrupts dryly. She's one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes players in Washington, and her influence goes a very long way here. Further, she'd dare say, than his.

"- and even if you wanted to get rid of me, you can't," he continues, "because like it or not, I do hold Elizabeth's ear."

His presumption is unwelcome. And his ego needs deflating - preferably before it pops and splatters her with his insufferable male arrogance.

Nadine sets down her menu and fixes her gaze on him. "Mike," she says in a silky voice, "You may have the Secretary's ear, but I hold her confidence and I run her office. I have dirt on everyone in this department worth having dirt on. Including you." Especially you, she doesn't say. "If I wanted you gone, you'd be gone." She smiles, not exactly reassuringly, and picks up her menu again.

Mike is silent for a moment. And then, wisely, he decides to cede the argument. "...Let's get the chef's platter," he says, and that's the end of that.