She and Mike are still friendly after their break-up—or at least, they have been. That's all up in the air now, Nadine supposes, given that he'd gone to the McCords' home last night to find her there barely dressed.
She pulls into the parking lot of the restaurant and feels a twisting dread in her stomach. She'd nearly called him to cancel dinner, which they'd pre-arranged before all of… well, everything that happened last night. But cancelling seemed worse, somehow. She isn't one to avoid a conflict. Eventually she'll have to go and find out where the pieces have landed; might as well get it out of the way now.
He's already seated when she gets there, so she makes her way to the table and settles in. "Hi," she says awkwardly.
"It's good to see you," Mike says neutrally.
The waiter saves them from further torment by coming by with the menu, the water, the long list of today's specials. But then he disappears all too soon.
Mike's attention is hyper-focused on the menu. "So," he says, without looking up. "You do seem to make a habit of sleeping up the chain of command."
"You don't waste any time, do you?"
"Although I'm not sure I see the benefit in this case, seeing as you no longer work for her."
"Mike," she warns.
"Which part attracts you?" he wonders out loud. "That she used to be your boss, or that she's married?"
"That's enough," she says quietly. "I know you were surprised—"
Mike scoffs. Nadine barrels on.
"—and that's... regrettable. But frankly, I don't owe you an explanation."
"I wasn't asking for an explanation—"
"And I don't need your judgment, either. What I do on my own time is my business."
He finally looks up, abandoning the pretense of the menu. He looks at her for a long time. "I know that. I get it, and I know I'm being an ass. I'm just… concerned. I don't want this thing between you guys to become a mess that needs to be cleaned up later."
"Look, sex is never as simple as we want it to be! All right? That's all I meant. I just don't want to see this become complicated, for you or for them. Because I'm the one who's going to have to clean it up when it all goes wrong."
She gets where he's coming from—he has a campaign to think about, after all. But it isn't what he thinks. She doesn't even live here anymore; how could it be anything but simple? "This wasn't like that," she mutters. "It isn't… it isn't a thing."
"And you're sure that's what Elizabeth and Henry think too?"
"Of course. Nothing's changed."
"Okay. Let's try to keep it that way."
But it doesn't stay that way; of course it doesn't. Because six months later Elizabeth wins the election, and she reels Nadine back into the fold. Nadine never could say no to her, after all. But this changes the whole game now, and Nadine is no longer sure that she knows any of the rules.
Elizabeth, after much needling and negotiating and everything short of begging (because outside of the bedroom, she doesn't do that), lures her former Chief of Staff back to Washington and into the White House, where Elizabeth feels the other woman belongs.
She swears it's not as proprietary as it sounds.
It wasn't the job that clinched her in the end. It was her lingering sense of duty, which Elizabeth is delighted to find still runs deep and true.
Nadine returns, and by doing so is placing herself right smack in the middle of any number of potentially awkward situations, and Elizabeth knows that. Elizabeth recognizes this gesture for what it is: a favor. Elizabeth is grateful and hopeful that this newfound proximity might lend itself to opportunity. To the chance for a repeat performance.
Because here's the thing: her and Henry's sex life has always great, but has never been like this. God, they can't get enough of each other. Ever since their little tryst with Nadine, Elizabeth and Henry have been riding a high that doesn't seem to dissipate. And they think about it all the time, crave it all the time.
"Do you think," Elizabeth pants one night, on all fours with her ass high in the air as Henry fucks her like he owns her, "it's the reality of—oh—someone else, someone outside of us—fuck, right there—finding us both so desirable that makes us—ungh—so crazy for each other?" Her arms nearly buckle from the force of him.
She and Henry have discussed it at length. They both want to invite her back into their bed, but it's not their desire that's the issue.
"She works for you now," Henry had said, "and we wouldn't… obviously we don't want to put her in a position where she'd feel obligated to accommodate us."
"No, of course not," she murmured, worrying her lip. "That's the last thing I'd want."
But she isn't always professional around Nadine, and Elizabeth knows it. Sometimes, when the others clear out and it's just her and Nadine with the room to themselves she makes more physical contact. Nothing so presumptuous — a lingering stare here, a brush of fingers there. And Nadine is not unaffected; Elizabeth can see the way her breathing hitches and her lips part. The fact that she can pull these tiny reactions out of her is what spurs Elizabeth into doing it.
They are in the Oval Office late this evening, reviewing a speech together, just the two of them — Nadine on the couch and Elizabeth standing behind it, leaning over Nadine's shoulder close enough to smell the faint traces of the perfume she'd applied to her neck that morning. Almost unconsciously Elizabeth turns her head, getting closer...
"You've been tormenting me," Nadine whispers.
Elizabeth pulls back in surprise. "I—"
"You know exactly what you've been doing." Nadine turns to face her, steely and vulnerable at the same time. "I don't appreciate being toyed with."
"It's not like that."
"You think I'll just sit here and take it, and I've tried but I can't keep entertaining this forever."
Slowly, Elizabeth reaches for her hand. Nadine doesn't pull away. "I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable," Elizabeth says softly. "That wasn't my intention. If I knew it bothered you this much…"
Nadine shakes her head. "It isn't that. I just..." She bites her lip, and all the fight seems to go right out of her. "You two have ruined me for other people," she finally says, and it's a rushed, strangulated whisper. "I can't… I can't have sex anymore without thinking about that night. I can't enjoy myself because it isn't… it's not—"
"It's not us," Elizabeth finishes.
Nadine's eyes slide shut in humiliation. "It's pathetic."
"And what am I supposed to do about it?"
For once, Elizabeth is at a loss. Because she doesn't know—how can any of them do anything without making a mess of it all? Without hurting each other?
Nadine sighs and pulls her hand from Elizabeth's grasp. She puts the speech to the side and stands up. "It's getting late," she says evenly.
"I think I should head home. And you should get some rest. Madam President."
The title hurts. The dismissal hurts. Elizabeth feels like something important is slipping out of her grasp, like she's going to lose this thing completely if she doesn't act now. She rounds the sofa until she is standing right in front of Nadine, who is assiduously avoiding eye contact. Elizabeth tucks a finger under her chin. "Come upstairs with me," Elizabeth says. Her heart is hammering. "Come upstairs with me and let us help you figure it out. I know Henry would be so pleased for us all to get reacquainted."
She can see the hesitation and longing play out over Nadine's face in equal measure. "It's not a good idea," Nadine rasps. "You know it isn't."
"We talk about that night all the time," Elizabeth confesses in a rush of lust. "Did you know that? We want you all the time and it's making us crazy. We would do anything to be able to have you again."
Nadine looks pained. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Elizabeth cradles her face with both hands. "Do you know how hard it's been for me to work side-by-side with you and feel like we could never have that again? For us to see you every day and not be allowed to touch you?"
"You brought me back. You did that."
"I know, I know—"
"Was this why?" Nadine's lip curls in faint disgust. "Because you wanted to be able to fuck me whenever you pleased."
Elizabeth stiffens and pulls away. "No, of course not. I would never exploit you like that. You know better than to think that." She takes Nadine's hand again, holds on tight. "You know this isn't like that."
"It was just supposed to be a one-time thing," Nadine mutters. "When I lived three thousand miles away and it could be easy."
"This can be easy."
Nadine shakes her head. "Of course it won't be."
"It can be whatever you want it to be," Elizabeth insists. "Whatever you need from us, you can have."
Nadine looks at her for a long time. And then, something shifts in her expression, enough to make Elizabeth hopeful. "Maybe we should go see what Henry thinks," Nadine says finally. She squeezes Elizabeth's hand.
Elizabeth smiles. "Come on."
She shut the lights off in the Oval Office and they walk out side by side. Down the hallway, up the stairs, through the sitting room. They don't run into anyone. When they reach the French doors leading to the master suite, Nadine hangs back a little as Elizabeth pokes her head in.
Henry is sitting on their bed with an open book in his hand and his reading glasses on.
"Babe?" Elizabeth says softly. He looks up. She smiles, unable to contain it. "I brought you something." She turns to look back at Nadine and extends her hand. There's a second of hesitation before Nadine takes it, allowing Elizabeth to pull her into the Presidential Bedroom. Elizabeth closes and locks the door behind them.
Henry is visibly surprised. Slowly, he closes the book and takes off his glasses, sets both aside on the nightstand. He looks at Nadine and then he looks at Elizabeth. He knows their intention, of course, without anyone having to say it.
"Are we sure?" he asks very seriously. He's asking both of them, but he's looking only at Nadine.
Elizabeth looks at her, too. Nadine nods once, firmly.
"This could be a bad idea," he says. And they know, they know. But—
"We're all consenting adults here," Elizabeth reasons.
He shakes his head. "You know it's not as simple as that."
"She can't get us out of her mind, Henry," she murmurs. "She told me that. We're all in the same boat here."
He keeps looking at Nadine, hasn't taken his eyes off her once since she stepped into their bedroom. He's studying her face carefully, looking for any sign that she might not want this after all. "Is that true?" he asks her.
"It's true," she says. Her hands turn out helplessly.
"There'd be no uncomplicating it this time," he insists.
Elizabeth pleads their case again. "Ignoring it at this point isn't gonna do much to uncomplicate this attraction, either. For any of us."
He considers this guardedly. Finally, he nods. "If you're sure," he says.
Nadine walks right up to him, so close she can feel the heat of his body radiating off of him. Looks up; looks him in the eyes. "Are you sure?" she asks. Her fingers twitch forward to brush against his hand, and Nadine deliberately links their fingers. He holds on.
"I'm sure," he says, and he barely gets the words out before Nadine is surging forward to capture his lips. Her kiss is hard and heated, and all of her desperation, which she had done an admirable job of hiding up until tonight, is evident in this embrace.
Behind them, Elizabeth is beaming. "That's what I wanted to hear," she says, and begins to unbutton her own blouse.
A whole week passes since that night that Nadine decided to follow Elizabeth up the stairs and into the Presidential Bedroom. Since then, she's had sex with Henry and Elizabeth on five more occasions. It's electrifying and heady and intoxicating—and quickly spinning out of her control. She can feel it spinning out of her control.
And somehow Mike knows. He can just tell; hell if Nadine knows how. They're having lunch together in her office when he brings it up.
"You have to look out for yourself," he says, and he sounds genuinely concerned about her. "There is no scenario in which this plays out and you don't get hurt. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I do," she admits. She's the other woman yet again. The problem is that nothing ever works out in the other woman's favor. This is a lesson she has already learned once before.
He continues. "And if it all goes fubar, you're the one who's gonna get thrown to the wolves. And I don't wanna have to do that to you."
"I know, Mike."
He looks like he wants to say more, but bites it back. The concern in his eyes he can't hide quite as easy. "Just protect yourself, alright? I really don't want to see you get hurt."
"I know." She reaches over to squeeze his arm. She's worried about that too, and doesn't want to be. "I appreciate it."
Nadine needs a new plan.