3.23 - Article 5
She wakes up before her alarm. Mike is spooned behind her, and she feels a firm pressure against her lower back. Her lips curl into a sleepy smile.
She stretches languidly, giving her body a few minutes to clear through the haze. And then she turns around slowly, taking care not to disturb him. Mike shifts onto his back, but doesn't wake up.
She watches him for a second before disappearing under the sheets.
She can tell the moment he wakes, because he takes in a sharp breath, his legs tense under her hands, and he pushes further into her mouth. She hums, lightly scratching her fingernails over his thighs.
There is a rush of cool air as he pulls the sheets away, uncovering her.
"Jesus," he groans, his voice still gravelly with sleep. He reaches down, caresses her cheek and pushes her hair away from her face.
She takes her time, working him over slowly, wanting them both to really enjoy this. And if the sounds he's making are any indication, he is.
She goes faster when she can sense that he's close, and then keeps him there until he's practically begging her. She pushes him over the edge only once she decides he's had enough.
Nadine wipes at her lips delicately before crawling up his body. She drops a gentle kiss on his chest. "Good morning," she murmurs, satisfied with her work, and drapes herself on top of him.
"Good morning," he breathes, still in a daze. "Hell of a way to wake up."
Nadine smirks, very pleased with herself.
Suddenly, he rolls her beneath him. "And what should I do with you now?"
He's looking at her like she's breakfast, but just then, her alarm goes off next to them.
She leans up to kiss him sweetly on the lips, one hand reaching over to shut off her phone. "You should let me get ready for work," she suggests in a sultry tone.
He grabs her thigh, hitching it high against his hip as he dips down to kiss her neck. "Maybe you can be a little late today," Mike says in between kisses.
She hums, tilting her head to give him better access. "Absolutely not."
"Are you sure?" He drags his fingertips up to her ribcage teasingly.
She wriggles away from his touch. "Very sure. As much as I love where this is going. Rain check?"
"I suppose," he says, and pulls away from her body with reluctance.
She swings her legs over the edge of the bed before she can change her mind. "I have to shower." She saunters to the bathroom.
"I can join you!"
"That will make me extremely late." Suddenly she feels hands on her backside, and she turns around to give him a lightly admonishing glare but he simply backs her against the far wall of the bathroom and gives her a hard kiss, then reaches around her to open the shower door and turn on the water for her.
"It won't be as much fun if you shower by yourself."
"I'm sure I'll live."
He squeezes a handful of her ass before stepping away. "Your loss, sweetheart." He grabs his toothbrush from the counter, and Nadine steps into the shower once the water warms up. He unhooks his bathrobe from the back of the door and wraps it around himself as he brushes his teeth. When he finishes, he says, "I'm gonna go make breakfast. Take your time, gorgeous," and leaves her alone to finish up.
Nadine heads down the stairs once she's fully dressed, scarf in one hand. She won't be late if she leaves now.
Mike is saying something from the kitchen, but she can't make out the words.
"Are you talking to me?" she asks loudly.
"Well, yeah! Who'd you think?"
She walks through the doorway, winding her scarf around her neck. "I don't know. It's been years since anyone's yelled at me from another room." He marvels the domesticity of it, she knows; that he is able to share that with her is something neither of them would have ever expected.
He beams as he walks toward her. "Welcome back, gorgeous." After her little performance this morning, he'll be in a good mood for the rest of the day. "You want breakfast?"
"I have to go to work."
"...I have to stay at work," she says, a little regretfully.
"Does Bess ever let you eat? Do I need to have a conversation with her?"
She's charmed by his feigned indignation. She smiles, adjusting her scarf a final time, and slings her arms around his neck in a tight hug. His arms automatically wrap around her waist and he buries his face against her neck. She pulls back, pressing a kiss to his lips before walking away. "I'll call you."
"Hey, what did the satellite say to Mission Control?"
"I don't know, Mike." She grabs her blazer where it's draped over the armchair and shrugs it on.
"'I feel like you're keeping me at a distance.'"
She gives him a look. "You can do better than that."
"I know, it was a Hail Mary; you were heading for the door," he says helplessly.
She sits down to slip into her shoes and reminds him gently, "We agreed this was an experiment."
"And it's going pretty well, don't you think? Even Gordon's happy - right, Gordon?"
"I'm keeping this quiet," she insists, and with slight alarm, adds, "Especially at work! I need you to respect that. Okay?"
"For how long?"
"Foreseeable future." She stands up, walking over to him.
"So that's how it's gonna be, huh?" He's not crazy about this arrangement, she knows. It makes it feel too familiar… too secretive, when it shouldn't have to be.
"Mhmm." She gives him another kiss, this one slightly lingering, in appeasement. His hands come up to hover at her waist, but she pulls away before he can try to deepen it. She can't be late.
She grabs her purse from the seat on her way to the front door.
"Okay, just, you know, go straighten out the world, will ya?" he calls after her, and she flashes him a bright smile as she scrabbles blindly for the door handle before closing it behind her.
She was maybe going for a smoother exit, but this will do.
It turns out that getting railed on a near-daily basis does wonders for Nadine's spirits.
She's got a dreamy little smile on her face the whole ride up to the seventh floor, and doesn't even notice it until Daisy does.
The younger woman turns her phone screen to show Nadine the news story she's evidently been talking about while Nadine has been daydreaming. Nadine snaps herself out of her daze. "I was just thinking about that," she says, trying to be smooth.
"Really?" Daisy doesn't sound like she believes her. They step out of the elevator together. "You seem to be in a pretty good mood today, considering everything," she notes a little suspiciously.
"I... guess I just got a good night's sleep."
It's a lie - on a list of all the things she got last night, sleep is definitely somewhere near the bottom.
But it's good enough for Daisy, even if an odd look passes over her face as they part ways in front of their offices.
Nadine's day is long and busy, but for different reasons than she'd anticipated. McCord calls her half an hour after the morning meeting ends to inform her that she and Jay will be accompanying her to Brussels tomorrow, and that they're leaving first thing in the morning. The United States is invoking Article 5.
Cold tendrils of apprehension curl inside Nadine's gut. She hadn't realized that things were at this point quite this soon.
She relays the information to Jay and sees the same worry pass over his face, followed by a grim determination. Ever the good soldier.
She takes the Secretary's noon appointment with Audrey Stewart alone, and then spends the rest of the day rearranging her own appointments of the following day and making preparations for their impromptu trip to Brussels. She works through dinner, then goes straight home to her condo to pack.
She calls Mike on her way home to tell him about the change in plans. He bids them good luck.
"I'll cash your 'rain check' as soon as you get back," he promises, with relish. She can practically see the wolfish grin on his face, and in the safety of her car she allows the blush to creep freely up her neck. He's incorrigible. "You and I have to have as much sex as possible before we all perish in nuclear conflict."
"Your faith in the Secretary's ability to avoid nuclear conflict is comforting," Nadine says drily.
"I have total faith in Bess's negotiating skills. I just want an excuse to have as much sex with you as possible."
She snorts with laughter, rolling her eyes even though he can't see it. "You don't need an excuse, Mike," she quips.
"Good. Fly safe tomorrow. And keep the trip short - I have plans for you when you get back." Mike's tone suggests that his plans consist of any number of wholly filthy and inappropriate activities.
She can get on board with that. "I can't wait," she says, chuckling, and says her goodbyes and hangs up.
There's a silly little smile on her face for the rest of the evening.
The emergency convention in Brussels falls apart in a hot minute.
Nadine observed from the sidelines as Elizabeth straightened her spine and stood her ground, refusing to give Foreign Minister Beauvais yet another inch. But things devolved rather quickly from there - Beauvais stood up and walked away.
She and Jay rose uncertainly as the rest of the room erupted into noise.
Elizabeth's glare was cold and steely, aimed at the back of the retreating French Foreign Minister, and from the way she held her body Nadine could tell that the Secretary was pissed. She stalked out of the room. Nadine and Jay followed on her heels.
Now, Nadine is only half-listening to the Secretary fume - she is more concerned with the cascade of alerts that she's receiving on her phone regarding the Bulgarian government. She tries several times to get the Secretary's attention, when the other woman finally rounds on her in a whirl of frustration.
"We're getting word that several key ministers from Bulgaria's government have fled Sofia."
Elizabeth deflates a little.
"Close to hanging by a thread," Jay notes grimly.
"We need to get France back on board while there's still time."
"If the threat of an insurgent Russia doesn't rattle them, what will?" Nadine wonders out loud.
They keep walking as they consider this point.
"Mike Barnow," Jay says suddenly.
"What about him?" Jay merely stares, and mercifully, she catches on fast. "Right, right! He worked for Perrin's opponent's campaign last year."
"Maybe he has oppo research that could move the needle."
Elizabeth's anger turns into resolve. "Call him. I'll break 'em before I let 'em break NATO."
"I'll call Mike B," she offers to Jay, later, when they're flying home. She hopes she sounds casual enough.
He doesn't say anything beyond, "Okay, sure," so she excuses herself to make the call.
It's on her work phone, and because Mike recognizes the difference (both in the number and what it means for the content of the call), he answers with only mild flirtation and mostly exceptional professionalism.
Nadine schedules him an appointment with the Secretary for tomorrow afternoon. And though she knows she doesn't have to, before she ends the call, she also adds, "Please be discrete about..." she trails off. She doesn't have to see him to know that he's rolling his eyes at her.
"Yes ma'am, Ms. Tolliver," he drawls, and it's not really her kink, but a little shiver runs down her spine all the same.
In keeping with her request, Mike breezes by her with nothing more than a half-second greeting on his way to McCord's office.
She's the one who is apparently not quite so slick. She stares at his ass full-on as Blake leads him to the inner office, certain that no one will notice her shameless ogling.
But Daisy does, apparently.
Nadine is just about to take her lunch when the younger woman slips into the elevator alongside her. And as the doors slide closed, she says casually, "I'm onto you."
Nadine freezes. "I beg your pardon?"
"I saw you, checking out his butt." Daisy is smirking like she's just figured out all of Nadine's secrets.
"To whose butt are we referring?!"
"Oh, Nadine, come on! I'm pregnant and alone. If you're having some awesome, torrid affair, you have to let me in!" she begs.
Nadine tries to convey with her eyes just how crazy she thinks the other woman is, but Daisy, practically giddy in her triumph, barely notices.
"Boom! How long?"
"Since election night - off and on." Well, she can do lunch and girl talk. Why not? "Lately mostly on," she adds with a sassy little grin.
"O-ho, damn! Mike B. Who knew?"
Daisy is extremely excited to talk about Nadine's love life - almost invasively so. She demands exhaustive details as they make the walk to the park, and Nadine manages to offer up answers that are detailed enough to appease the younger woman, but vague enough to keep Nadine from feeling too filthy for doing it. It's a testament to her regard for her colleague that she's willing to share anything at all - she'd never cooperate like this if she didn't love Daisy so much.
They find a free table and Daisy is asking her is he adept and is she happy and are they serious or is she just having fun and how many times does he make you c-
"Oh my god, Daisy," she mutters, and refuses to dignify the last one with an answer.
"That's a lot. That means a lot, right? Damn, Mike! Good for him. Good for you," she enthuses, entirely too eager.
If Nadine felt like being more forthcoming, she might tell Daisy that she and Mike already have quite a long history together, and that that's perhaps the only (or at least, the most important) reason he can do that to her. A lot.
She doesn't, though, because if no one ever finds out about that little era of their lives then she couldn't be happier.
"So do you want it to be serious?" Daisy prods.
"I mean I… I hardly know anything about him, really," she says, and despite everything they've been through, she doesn't think this is a lie. She used to know him, but they're both different people now. "Well okay," she relents, "he has some kind of troubled relationship with his son. His ex-wife seems to hate him. And he's too close to his dog." She wrinkles her brow at the last one. She's never seen anyone love an animal the way Mike loves Gordon.
"Okay, have you done a background check?"
The idea appalls her. "Of course not, no!"
"Have you at least, y'know, trolled him?"
Seems desperate. "Oh, that's… stalky."
"Yesterday's stalky is today's getting-to-know-you!" Daisy whips out her phone. "Take it from the girl who got knocked up by a guy with a false identity," she mutters. "We'll start small - image search."
Nadine presses a hand to her face apprehensively.
"Ah! Correspondent's Dinner photo op with Al Roker! Wow, Mike - the eighties called and they want their tux back."
She titters nervously. She actually remembers that tux - he'd worn it to some Senator's gala they'd both attended years ago. At the time, she'd secretly thought the same thing.
"Oh, look! He's on some charity softball team." Daisy continues to scroll through the search-generated photos when her face freezes for half a second. "Oh." She puts her phone down and clears her throat.
Nadine reaches for the phone. "What?"
"That could be from a while back," Daisy reasons hastily.
Her heart sinks when she sees the picture. "Oh... shoot." That eight year period of her life seems to unfurl again in this very moment.
Not everything has to change over time.
"Almost a while back."
"It's three months ago," Nadine points out regretfully. She looks at the photo again. She is very beautiful, this woman.
"I mean they don't necessarily look together together. Did you guys discussed exclusivity?"
She sighs. "Nope. So I guess that means… that's his business." She hands the phone back, disappointed. Whether she's disappointed more at herself or at him is hard to say. But considering her history - their history - it was perhaps foolish of her to expect him to be exclusive to her when they had not explicitly set such parameters in place. And perhaps even then.
She feels a horrid dull weight settle her stomach all the same. She can't stomach playing second fiddle again.
Daisy looks uncomfortable with this new turn of events, and certainly unwilling to let it lie. "Let's look into it," she says determinedly, and starts scrolling again.
"No, Daisy really, it's not -"
"It is," Daisy insists firmly. Her eyes are glued to the little screen, and she taps on it in a rapid flurry.
Nadine falls quiet. If she's being honest with herself, she does want to know. She picks at her orange distractedly, peeling off the rind in small pieces.
After a few minutes, Daisy says finally, "I think her name is Simone Le Clair." The name isn't familiar to either of them. Daisy turns her phone screen toward Nadine, displaying a professional headshot of the red-haired woman. It is indeed her. "She's French."
Nadine takes the phone, scrolling through the sparse information on the page. "He must have met her while he was doing campaign work over there. It says she works for the European Independence League?"
"They're big supporters of Perrin." Daisy wrinkles her brow. "But wasn't Mike B doing work on the other side of the election?"
"Well if he's in bed with her I suppose that sort of thing hardly matters," Nadine says flippantly. She wants to chalk it up to irrational jealousy (while fervently hoping her jealousy is indeed irrational), but something feels off about the whole thing.
"I… I guess not." Daisy agrees uncertainly.
The Secretary leverages Mike's intel against Perrin to no avail. This surprises Nadine - very rarely does Mike's blackmail material fail to deliver. It's not right - something isn't right.
When she pokes her head into Daisy's office later, it's already early in the evening. "Remember the… investigating we were doing earlier?" she asks. "Maybe we should dig a little deeper."
Daisy frowns, confused. "You know, maybe you should just ask him if -"
"No, no - it's not about that. The information he gave the Secretary turned out to be useless against Perrin. I just think we should maybe take a second look at this whole EIL thing. Something's missing."
Daisy nods. "Okay, sure."
They spend the rest of the evening sifting information. Around dinnertime, Nadine grabs her personal phone from the lockbox and runs down to the cafe across the street to pick up food for herself and Daisy. ("Do you think you can get me just a really big order of pickles?" Daisy had asked. "Just the pickles. Maybe like five. At least five," and Nadine won't try to argue her out of her cravings.)
Mike has texted her to ask if she can get away from work early enough to join him for dinner.
She taps out an answer in the negative, along with an apology. She considers asking about Simone Le Clair - it would only take another two seconds to compose that text - but just as quickly decides against it.
At best, the other woman is a girlfriend about whom Nadine has no right to ask. At worst… well, she doesn't know what 'at worst' could be, but in any case, she can find it out for herself first and then decide what's worth asking about. Now is not the time.
Mike sends a reply. Okay. Will I see you tonight?
She reads it, considers it, and then puts her phone away without responding.
She returns to Daisy's office with her arms full of dinner. A container of nothing but pickles (the cashier had given her a strange look when she'd requested it, and Nadine couldn't blame him), a sandwich for Daisy (she won't get away with a pickles-exclusive diet if Nadine has anything to say about it), and two salads - one for each of them.
"You don't have to eat everything," Nadine tells her crisply, "but there's absolutely no way I'm going to let you eat nothing but salty cucumbers for dinner."
"Thanks, Nadine," Daisy says distractedly. There's a little furrow in her brow; she's staring at two documents rather intently, eyes darting between them, and Nadine can practically see the gears turning in the other woman's brain.
She settles in the chair next to Daisy's desk and pops open a container of vinaigrette. "What is it?"
Hesitantly, Daisy sets the papers in front of her. "Look at this." She points at the highlighted lines, first on one document, then on the other. "That's from EIL; this one is ours."
Nadine looks at them, and then checks them over three times just to be sure. She blows out a breath. "Mike was on their payroll."
Her stomach sinks in a way that feels unfortunately familiar.