3.08 - Breakout Capacity
She realizes, with mild interest, that this will be her first election in D.C. without Vincent at her side.
That realization evokes barely any emotion from her. She barely feels the ache anymore when she thinks of him. And anyway, it isn't even half as notable or exciting as the election itself.
And by exciting, she means terrifying. Because there is a very real chance that she'll be unemployed by tomorrow morning.
She goes to the polls early in the day, saying a silent prayer for her livelihood as she fills out her ballot and sends it off into the ether.
When she gets to the office, she runs into Daisy at the parking garage and they ride the elevator up together. The younger woman is glum; understandably so. Alcohol, Nadine suggests compassionately, because a breakup and a Presidential election? That's cause to get absolutely hammered.
"Traditionally, we veterans typically gather at the Brickmoore to cope with the agony and ecstasy of watching the returns come in. Why don't you come with me?" she offers. And then, as they join up with Matt and Blake in the lobby, she extends the invitation to them as well. It'll nearly be a full set tonight.
The rest of the day goes by slowly. She tries to stay busy, but there isn't much to be done at State today besides holding down the fort. Foreign policy will remain in limbo until the election results move the needle in one direction or the other. And perhaps even then.
Jay and the Secretary run around with an understated urgency all day long, busy entertaining Walter Nowack's apocalyptic whims. She knows it must be something grave, but they don't read anyone else in on it so she lets them be for now. Part of her job - and everyone else's - is knowing how to accept being left out of the loop.
She gathers up the others at the end of the day (excluding Jay, who is M.I.A. and most probably still huddled away in some bleak conference room with Nowack) and herds them to the Brickmoore, where Daisy is intent on taking her advice to heart. They've been here all of ten minutes and their lovely, heartbroken press secretary is somehow already stumblingly drunk.
Nadine makes a note to keep an eye on her tonight, but then Blake drags the younger woman toward the Steinway, and Nadine has somehow ended up alone with an increasingly melancholic speechwriter instead. Pile on the alcohol, and he begins to speak like he writes.
And he's intent on pining. Nadine doesn't want to be rude so she lets him. She wonders if she ought to be getting as drunk as Daisy so that she can soldier through this conversation.
"Was it the best sex ever?" Matt is saying, rhetorically. (She hopes it's rhetorical.) "Yes."
She drains half her glass. This must be karma for lying to Vincent's widow the other week.
She's only partly listening to the words coming out of his mouth. He begins to wax poetic - literally - and she has to swallow a smirk before finally retorting, "I don't think anyone ever got laid quoting Prufrock."
He frowns - she thinks he might be offended - but before he can respond, they are interrupted by another voice.
"What up, nerds?"
God. This must be karma for something else.
Nadine drains the rest of her drink before turning around. She should have known Mike would be here tonight. This place is home base for D.C. veterans, and (disregarding his brief absence post-divorce) that class includes Mike just as much as it does her.
"Can I buy you guys a drink?" Mike asks, after they all exchange pleasantries, and suddenly it's the best offer she's heard all evening.
"I don't think so," Matt starts, but she has other ideas.
"Actually, I'd be delighted," she says tartly, and strides toward the bar with a purpose. If she has to listen to Matt mourn his sex life for the rest of the night she'll kill him. What about her sex life? Other people have problems, too.
Mike is right on her heels when Nadine asks the bartender for two scotches, and when their drinks are slid across the counter, she puts one into Mike's hands and clinks her own to it before taking a long sip.
"Someone's a little on edge," Mike comments. He pays for them and then steers her away from the crowd with a hand on her back.
"If I had to listen to Matt for another second I might've socked him in the mouth." She groans. "He needs to get laid."
"Good thing I saved you."
The bar is packed, and getting more and more crowded by the hour. He pushes her halfway up the staircase with a hand at the small of her back so that they might actually be able to stand in one place without getting pushed around by everyone else. "Cheers," he says, and taps his glass against hers.
She takes a sip and then leans back against the railing, scrutinizing him. He's sharply dressed, but something is missing. "Did you vote today?" she asks suspiciously.
"Should I be offended by that?"
"You're not wearing a sticker." Who doesn't wear their voting sticker on Election Day?
"Didn't go with my outfit," he deadpans. "I work in politics, Nadine. Of course I voted."
"Who did you vote for?"
He rolls his eyes.
They slip into conversation easily. It floats from her work, to his, to Citizens United (she should not have gotten him started on that), to Dalton's campaign, to the old Senatorial campaigns that they used to run for Vincent. When she accidentally makes a snarky remark about his 'secret' work with Senator Reynolds, he doesn't even blink.
They're all learning how to move on, it seems. It feels like old times again.
She drinks a little more than she usually would, but the company is nice and the atmosphere is infectious and the scotch is so smooth. He's buying for her, and it's very expensive liquor. She won't complain. The buzz goes right to her head, and she feels warm and giddy.
And when they call Ohio for Conrad Dalton, half of the Brickmoore explodes in jubilation.
Nadine sinks against the railing in slack relief, and smiles so widely that her face could crack in half. Next to her, Mike is flushed and pleased. Historic - this is historic.
She scans the room, looking for the faces of the ones she came with. Blake is still at the piano, and she sees the back of Matt's curly head as he weaves through the crowd; at the door, she thinks she spots Daisy slipping away with her ex-fiance. They're all doing their own thing - they don't need her.
And because she's a little drunk, and because she's feeling elated and reckless, and because she's having such a good time, she turns back to Mike and boldly links her fingers with his. She knows where she wants this night to go. And when Mike looks her in the eye, a small smile playing at his lips, she thinks that he wants it to go the same way.
When a waiter passes, they both set their glasses on his tray and then Mike leads her out of the bar by hand. He is absolutely on the same page as her.
They take an Uber to his house uptown, and when they get inside, he slams the front door shut by pushing her body against it roughly as he kisses the life out of her. She can't help but moan - he tastes just like she remembers. She loosens his tie and begins to unbutton his shirt as his own hands pull free the hem of her blouse and go under, frantically running over her bare torso and bra-clad breasts like he's re-familiarizing himself with her skin. She squeaks when he pulls her forward hard and grinds himself against her; he's not interested in playing games tonight.
Mike works the row of tiny buttons on her shirt with speedy dexterity, and then suddenly her blouse is open and he's undoing her slacks as he kisses his way down her neck and over her chest. He touches his lips to all the sensitive spots on her skin exactly how she likes and her knees get weak. God, he remembers her. She runs her fingers through his hair and tilts her head back, moaning pruriently.
He's nosing his way back up her throat, inhaling the faint scent of her perfume, kissing, a hint of teeth. "You smell good," he murmurs when he reaches her ear. He captures it between his lips as he shoves her slacks to the floor. Nadine steps out of them and slips out of her shirt, presses her half-naked body against him and makes him groan.
"You feel good," she whispers in reply, and circles her hips. It's been way too long for her. She is ridiculously turned on (and by the feel of him against her, so is he) and trembling a little, and if he doesn't do something about it soon she fears she might implode.
Suddenly he picks her up, and Nadine automatically wraps her legs around his waist as he grinds her against him. She kisses him fiercely as he stumbles them through the halls and up the stairs to his bedroom, finally tossing her onto smooth, cool sheets. He crawls on top of her.
She makes short work of the rest of his clothing and finally closes her hands around him like it's her prize. He moans, and she smiles; she's missed that sound. But then he's pushing her hands away from him and she doesn't have time to protest it, because he's kissing his way down her body and sliding her panties down and off.
Mike settles comfortably between her legs and Nadine bites her lip in anticipation. He kisses her hips, her pelvis, her thighs. Her breath hitches. He looks up at her, and when he speaks his voice is dark with arousal. "I've missed you," he rasps. And then he lowers his head and begins to drive her slowly insane.
She can admit to herself that she's missed him, too.
In the morning, her work phone vibrates on the nightstand. She reaches out from under the covers, feeling around for it, and then peeks at the display before she answers the call. Her throat is dry, and there is a mild ache behind her eyes.
"Good morning, Madam Secretary," she answers in a low voice. Her mouth feels like it's full of cotton. She pulls the covers tighter around herself.
"Nadine, can you please get me Walter Nowack in my office ASAP?" the Secretary asks. She's saying something more, but Nadine is still working on pulling herself out of sleep and doesn't quite catch it all.
"Yes ma'am, I'll get right on it."
"...Did you get a dog?"
That rouses Nadine fully. Suddenly, the incessant barking breaks through her haze of obliviousness.
She takes a glance at Gordon, propped against the bed, and her stomach drops. She didn't.
Damn it, damn it, damn it -
"Uh, no ma'am - I'm pet sitting. Okay, bye now." She hangs up and collapses against the pillows with a disbelieving sigh. "Oh my god," she mouths to herself. Shit.
And just to confirm this nightmare of a situation, Mike emerges from under the covers. "So," he says, "waffles?"
She doesn't answer right away, still caught up on the part where she'd been besotted enough to allow him to take her home. To offer. Fuck. She can't even believe herself. Everytime she gets drunk in that bar...
"You're thinking very loudly," he mumbles as he smoothes down his rumpled hair. Then he throws the covers back, completely unselfconscious about being naked around her.
Not like you haven't seen it all before, she reminds herself. Several times.
Mike swings his legs over, getting up. He shuffles around the room and picks up clothing that had been tossed to the floor in their frantic passion the night before - mostly his own. She thinks that hers are still out in the entryway downstairs, but it's all kind of a blur.
He walks over to her, dangling a scrap of black lace from his finger. "Love these, by the way."
She swipes them from his hand and gives him her best death glare.
He's unfazed. "You're not as intimidating when you're naked," he quips, and goes over to his dresser and takes out casual clothes for himself - sweatpants, a hoodie - and pulls them on. "I've gotta take Gordon out. I'll be back soon. There are fresh towels in the bathroom if you wanna shower." He whistles, and Gordon follows him out the door.
She doesn't know how he can be so calm about this. She's freaking out. This was a mistake; they work together. She can't be doing this… this thing with him. It was inappropriate then, and it's inappropriate now.
He isn't married anymore, a sly voice in her head points out. If anything, it's never been more appropriate.
She shuts down that traitorous thought before it can fester. They still work together. It's still a bad idea, and she damn well knows it. She sighs in frustration, and slides out of bed.
Nadine pads over to the adjoining bathroom, body stiff and sore all over. She's not afraid to admit that the sex had been great. Earth-shattering. She'd been screamingly impressed to discover just how well he still remembered her body, and by how eager, how serious he'd been about pleasing it. He'd taken her over the edge with his tongue and fingers twice, and then had proceeded to fuck her within an inch of her life, and had gotten her off again. She can't remember the last time she'd had that many orgasms in one night.
Nadine has to stop thinking about it before she gets herself all hot and bothered again. She has to stay focused. Good sex or not, she can't get back on this ride.
She turns on the shower and steps in before it has a chance to heat up, gasping, hoping that the cold will shock her body awake. She stands directly under the spray as the water grows hot, and examines the masculine shower products on the shelf with distaste. She'll have to make do.
There's a tap on the door, and Mike pokes his head in. "I've left your clothes on the bed, Nadine. I'm starting the waffles. Do you want anything special on yours?"
She looks at him through the glass door of the shower, startled. "I'm not really -"
"- a breakfast person. I know. But I still want you to eat something. Just a little," he says, his eyes trailing shamelessly over her body. "It'll make you feel better."
"Just one then," she relents, and adds, "I like fruit."
"Got it." He leaves her to it, closing the door behind him.
When she finishes, she wraps a towel around her body and goes out into the bedroom and slips back into the clothes from last night, folding her panties into the pocket of her slacks, and heads downstairs.
There are piping hot waffles already on plates - one for her, two for him - and Mike is slicing up fresh strawberries to top them. She pulls out a stool at the counter and sits down gingerly. She'll feel him every time she sits down today.
Gordon approaches her, leaning his front paws against the stool and resting his head on her lap docilely. She scratches him behind the ears. Mike slides the plate toward her, along with a fresh cup of tea.
"Thank you," she says.
"You're very welcome. How are you doing?"
"Slight headache. Nothing nasty."
"Well, this will make you feel better."
"You really didn't have to go through all this trouble." She cuts into her waffle, spearing a piece with a slice of strawberry and taking a bite. She sighs lightly. It's really good.
"No trouble." And with a complete non sequitur, adds, "You were great last night, by the way."
Her lips quirk into a smile. Of course she was good - she remembers his body, too. "You weren't so bad yourself," she murmurs, although she doesn't think she really has to say it. She'd screamed his name enough times last night for him to know that already.
A blush creeps up her neck at the thought.
Mike simply watches her, smirking, and she could take a wild guess as to what he's thinking about. "Can I give you a ride to the office?" he asks.
"I need to go home first. I'm a mess."
"You're beautiful." He says it almost dismissively, as if it's so obvious that it's hardly even worth the mention.
"I need to change my clothes," she points out.
"I can take you to your condo, then. And then to the office, or…?"
"I don't think so. I can get there myself. I appreciate it, though."
"Your car is still at the Brickmoore," he points out.
"I can manage."
"Okay." He lets it go easily. They eat in silence; Nadine makes short work of the waffle, and as she is finishing the last of her tea, Mike clears his plate off too. "Give me ten minutes to get dressed and then I'll drive you home," he tells her. He stacks heir plates and utensils in the sink and disappears upstairs.
She will definitely be late today, but if she goes home and dresses fast and has an Uber waiting outside her door, she might just be able to make it in time for the morning meeting. Nadine calls Walter Nowack to request his presence in the Secretary's office, and then scrolls through the avalanche of work emails in her inbox while she waits.
Mike re-enters in a full suit, briefcase in hand. "Ready?"
Outside, he opens the passenger side door of his car for her, throws his briefcase in the back, and they make the drive to her condo in silence. He knows exactly where he's going, of course.
Nadine decides that this will be a singular transgression. There are a multitude of reasons why she should stay away from him - and why she has. All of them still apply. Last night she had been drunk, and euphoric, and maybe even a little lonely, and she made a mistake, but it doesn't change anything. And she has to cut this off at the knees.
When Mike pulls into the visitor's lot of her building, she steels her resolve.
He puts the car in park and turns to her. "So this was…"
"Probably a mistake," she finishes for him.
There's a split second of surprise on his face, like that wasn't what he was about to say, but he covers it up well. "Probably," he agrees. "Nice mistake, though. I enjoyed it."
"We were just excited, and drunk, and it was a - a lack of judgment, that's all."
Mike considers it. "Lack of judgment or not, you have to admit - we're good together." He reaches out to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. "Always have been. We should go out sometime."
His words cause a sudden, undefinable pang in her chest. All her resistance seems to go right out of her. Softly, she asks, "Mike... haven't we hurt each other enough?"
She refuses to go down this road with him again; it would only end the same way. They are both too difficult, too willful, too…
He nods, but she can tell that he's unmoved. Gently, he tucks a finger under her chin and turns her to face him. "Just think about it," he murmurs. He leans in close and kisses her sweetly on the lips, and she lets him.
It's a goodbye kiss, she decides. Even if he doesn't think so.
He strokes her cheek as she pulls back.
"I have," she says. She looks away, and his hand drops.
Nadine manages to get through the rest of the day without incident. Her colleagues are definitely suffering the physical effects of the previous night harder than she is, sort of. She isn't as hungover as they are, but she's sore everywhere and it's hard to sit down.
She spends more of her working hours than she'd like dissecting the events of the evening, and then most of her non-working hours, too, because she takes a few minutes that night to review the briefing books for the following day and notices that the Secretary has a scheduled meeting with Mike. Right - like he'd said.
And then she lays in bed most of the night thinking about everything, because why should she have a moment of peace?
If she runs into him tomorrow, she hopes he'll be wise enough to pretend nothing happened. Or maybe if she's lucky, she won't run into him at all.
She knows better than to count on luck.
When she dresses for work the next morning, she chooses something sleeveless and form-fitting, slips into the dress like it's armor; and then she fixes her tea exceptionally strong for fortitude. She looks good and she feels good, and she's ready to be cool and professional today no matter what.
It's good preparation, it turns out, because she doesn't even make it to lunch before she strides into McCord's office with Blake and Daisy and sees Mike lounging on the sofa next to his dog. She very deliberately does not look at him; keeps her eyes straight ahead and focused on the Secretary as she gives her the pertinent information.
But Gordon leaps right off the couch and comes over to her, trying to sniff her hands and settle down by her feet, and almost gives the whole thing away. She tries to ignore him, but the Secretary gives her a strange look anyway. The other woman doesn't miss much.
"Sorry; gotta run," McCord says. "Speaking engagement." She exits the office, Blake and Daisy behind her. And then somehow Nadine is alone in the room with Mike and his little sidekick.
He walks over to her slowly, stopping only when he's inches in front of her. She regards him blandly as he searches her face, trying to read her when she's trying very hard not to be readable. "So," he says, "dinner?"
"No, I doubt it." But she can't help the tiny smirk that plays at her lips, because his interest in her is as vibrant as it once used to be, and she is more than a little flattered. Not that she'd ever tell him that. She wonders if he still has a tendency to fuck and fall in love.
Maybe she'll find out.
She is making herself walk away when Mike tries again. "Can I at least call you?"
She stops and turns partway to look him up and down. "You're welcome to try," she quips.
His eyes are still on her as she turns around, so she puts a little extra sway in her hips as she walks out.
If he calls, she won't return it.