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Mike hasn't stepped foot in the State Department since his last catastrophic conversation with Nadine. He doesn't know how to apologize. There probably aren't words to encompass the extent of his remorse, nor ones that will make her forgive him for what he'd said. They're done, and she had made that abundantly clear. He wouldn't have expected anything else from her.

Bess returns from Brussels having rehung the precarious balance of powers in the world with, he's heard, barely more than an old postcard, and not three days later she wants to see him. She's an old friend but she's also the Secretary of State, so he knows that when she requests something, she isn't asking. She's telling.

Blake has penciled him in for an early-early meeting, and when Mike steps off the elevator on the seventh floor, he makes sure to walk through the atrium and not past the block of staff offices on his way to Elizabeth's office. He doesn't run away from things necessarily, but he'd like to hold off on Nadine for as long as he can.

Blake shoves a paper cup into his hands as he brushes by his desk, and Mike takes a sip as he knocks once on Bess's office door and lets himself in. Black eye coffee. Blake is nothing if not thorough.

Bess is sitting at her desk with a thick report and a carrot muffin, and she dives right into his debriefing as soon as he settles himself in front of her. She catches him up on everything he needs to know; about the NATO situation with Russia, with the Bulgarians, with the French. He gives her a run down on all of the candidates who are trying to seize on Perrin's empty seat and become the new president of France. It takes the better part of an hour, and though he's still bitter about the accusations that had been thrown in his face the last time he'd been here, he tries to keep that out of his voice. Evidently, he isn't trying hard enough.

At the end of it, Elizabeth is watching him carefully. "You're still mad at me for what I said to you," she says.

He doesn't want to talk about it. "Water under the bridge," he dismisses, but she isn't buying it.

She rolls her eyes — actually rolls her eyes — and says, "Cut it out, Mike. You know we've known each other too long to play this game, so just come out and say whatever it is you've been wanting to say to me."

"You're right," he says, "We have known each other too long. So you'll forgive me for thinking that it was long enough for you to realize that I could never have done what you thought I did."

"I wouldn't have been doing my job if I didn't ask," she says.

Mike knows that the only reason she's deigning to address this with him right now is because of their history together; their friendship, their mutual respect; their years of rapport. Not just anyone gets justification from a McCord.

She continues. "Nadine handed me compelling evidence and I—"

"Nadine doesn't always know what she's talking about," he says shortly. And then blinks, surprised that he couldn't keep that in, mad at himself for putting it out there. It gives away much, much too much. He knows that for sure when Elizabeth's eyes widen.

She's silent for a moment and then, as if working herself up to it, says slowly, "Oo-kay. Okay, Mike. Look." She pulls off her glasses, peers at him. "I've been ignoring whatever's been going on between you two out of respect for your privacy, and hers. Don't think I didn't know," she adds, when he opens his mouth to cut her off again. "I wasn't going to say anything, but now I feel like I have to, before it starts affecting more of your work."

"Bess—"

"No. Stop. Here it is, okay? I don't care what you two do in your free time, I really don't. You both deserve…" she trails off, starts again. "You both deserve to be happy. I want you both to be happy. But if you're just… I don't know, just fucking with her—"

"Elizabeth."

"—then you need to back off. And I mean that." She's dead serious, and for a second Mike doesn't know what to say. He finds her protectiveness just a little bit ridiculous. He opens and closes his mouth a few times before settling on a response.

"She's a big girl," he says flatly. "She can handle herself."

"I'm not defending her because I think she needs my help. She always has my back, and now I'm going to have hers. Whether she needs it or not."

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I'm the one in this situation who could use a bit of support?"

"I know you said something nasty to her while I was in Brussels. I don't know what what it was, but I do know that she probably didn't deserve it. Yeah," she adds, off of his look, "I heard about that."

The set of his jaw goes hard. "She..."

Elizabeth waves him off. "No; she'd never tell me something like that. And from the way she's operating no one would even think that there's anything wrong. That doesn't matter to me. You need to fix whatever you broke, Mike. And then you need to keep your personal relationship with her out of my department."

"You gonna give her this same dressing down, too?"

"Nope. Don't need to."

Mike mutters, "You play favorites."

"Actually Blake is my favorite," she quips. But then she softens. "I value your expertise Mike, I do. But I don't need you in order for me to do my job. I do need her, and you and I both know that."

"You're saying that if it comes down to it..."

"...That I will absolutely leave you out in the cold. Yes. I can get by without you."

A decade of friendship, he thinks, and to Elizabeth McCord it's barely worth the ink on Nadine's resume. "Good to know," he says. He stands up a little too swiftly and snaps up the closures on his briefcase. Irritably, he asks, "Do you ever stop to think that maybe she's too loyal to you?"

"That's what's really bothering you, isn't it? That she chose me over you."

He doesn't respond, but they both know what his answer is. He walks toward the door in silence.

"You know, you probably don't deserve her," she calls after him.

His hand on the doorknob, Mike freezes. That… that was a low blow. "You don't know her as well as you think you do," he says stiffly.

"I know her well enough. And I know you even better."

He sighs. Without turning around, he says, "It doesn't matter; it's all irrelevant. Me and her, we're done."

Elizabeth hesitates. "But," she says, and it's a complete sentence all on its own. She wasn't expecting to hear that, he thinks; wasn't expecting that he'd give up so easily, after all those months of hard chasing and phone calls and questions. That they'd give up so easily.

She doesn't know anything about them.

He jerks the door open. "It didn't mean anything to her anyway."