Oh God. That was all she could think. Round and round in ever-tightening spirals in her mind. Oh God Oh God Oh GodOhgodohgodohgodohgodohohh.
She had hugged Malcolm. Was still, her brain updated her, hugging him.
She opened her eyes and found herself staring point-blank at grey Armani while her brain ran a recap of the last few minutes.
James. The bastard. The cunting cunting bastardcuntbastard- she forced herself to stop. James was over. Gone. That was why Malcolm had come into her office at midnight. Her office where she was sitting alone, staring into a cold mug of lemon zinger placed on her desk by Terri as she'd left for home. 6 hours ago. Malcolm had come to find her and tell her that James had left their - her - house and was now at his sister's. And to reassure her that James would definitely not be speaking to the press, at least until Malcolm had personally written him a speech of fucking self-flagellating contrition and remorse that would go down in history as the biggest mea fucking culpa ever.
She'd managed to sit through all of that dry-eyed. Voice barely shaking, she had asked him what they did next. He'd given her an unreadable look.
'Well, every paper in the country will cover this. I can't stop that. There will be an almighty torrent of the usual shite about working mothers and what pissy old tory cunts asking what this tells us about modern fucking society and the strain of parliamentary office and-'
Her stiff upper lip, never that firm, definitely had begun to wobble at that point.
'And I will personally make sure that anyone, anyone who comes to any other conclusion than that your fucking husband was a fucking waste of space who couldn't keep it in his fucking pants for ten seconds while his wife was helping to fucking run the country - I will make sure that they are promoted to be a war correspondent somewhere very unpleasant indeed.'
'And how will you do that, Malcolm? How can even you do that.'
'Because you know what's even better than even the best, most convincing on-message, box-ticking lie I can come up with? Eh? It's a line that's both fucking true and makes a fucking good story. You're distraught, wronged, standing by your kids, being a fantastic mum, while that wanker is having it off with some fucking tart with a face like a pug being raped by a horse because he's a selfish little cumwipe. Your personal life may well be fucking shot to hell, because that's not my job, but your political career is safe as fucking houses... and the public, in its infinite stupidity, fucking likes you-'
It was at some point during his last speech that she'd done it. Fuck.
She managed to get her body to obey the frantic hissed signals from her mind and stood back. She wiped her eyes and sniffed as quietly as possible.
It was only then that she realised that Malcolm hadn't moved since she'd done it. He'd stopped speaking the second she'd hit and just stood, still as marble, while she (oh christ) hugged him.
'Christ, Malcolm. Say something, will you.' No response. 'Malcolm! You fucking cold fish fucking vampire. I'm sorry, ok. I'm sorry my personal life has,' sniff, 'has exploded over your weekend. I'm sorry you're having to deal with my fucking domestic dramas and I'm fucking sorry-' she dissolved into sobs again, covering her face with both hands, driving her fingers into her eyes until she saw stars.
'Hey, Nic'la.' She snapped back to herself. There was a hand resting on her hair. It had been a long day, which was why it took her a full second to work out whose hand it must be. 'Nic'la?
'Oh God,' she breathed, and opened her eyes. Malcolm was inches away, one thin hand resting awkwardly on the frizzy bird's nest of her hair. 'Malcolm.'
'You,' he said, very quietly, eyes never leaving her face, '... you're going to be fine, ok?' It was part reassurance, part threat.
'I've got to get home... the kids'll need,' she wavered, then steadied. 'Christ. Fuck. Pity you can't write me something to read to the kids really. You'd probably do a better job.' She could feel herself beginning to cry again.
The hand in her hair pulled her gently forward until her forehead was resting back on his shoulder. She could feel the material against her skin and wondered if he could feel her shaking. His hand cradled the base of her skull and she thought, for a second, that she felt the ghost of a touch at the small of her back.
'You need to get home,' Malcolm said eventually. It was probably nothing than utter, bone-deep exhaustion, but she thought his voice was unsteady.
'Yeah.' A deep breath. 'Can you use your magic cab-getting skills?'
A nod. 'I'm coming with you, you daft bint.' He gestured at the small case he'd brought with him. 'What did you think I brought my little wheelie case? Because I'm fucking auditioning for the fucking Apprentice? No, I am coming home to babysit you, just in case you wake up to find paparrazzi at the gates like the fucking barbarian hordes.'
'And it won't be worse if they find you there?' She bit her lip as the words ricocheted round the emtpy office.
It was suddenly very, very quiet.
Fuck. He could kill me and no one would know. He could make it look like suicide. Or he could make Jamie hide the body. Oh God. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod.
Malcolm leant in until he was so close her eyes couldn't focus and he dissolved into faceless grey. 'I don't know what passes for thought in that fucking echo-chamber that we're polite enough to call your fucking brain, and I am going to fucking give you a break because you've had a very trying week, so we are just going to forget that you said that. Like the fucking bastard lovechildren of Alzheimer's and dementia, yeah? We are going to fucking forget, that you suggested that anyone would imagine, even for a fucking second, that I would be staying at your house for anything other than profesional fucking reasons, ok?'
Nicola nodded mutely.
'Becase I find that suggestion fucking offensive, ok? The very idea...' He shot out the words dismissively, trailing off as he lead the way out the office. Watching his retreating back, Nicola found she didn't believe him.
Neither spoke in the taxi to her house. Outside the door, she turned to him.
'You stay in the fucking background, Malcolm. You go through into the kitchen and make yourself coffee or whatever it is you do instead of sleeping and you leave me the fuck alone with my family.'
Malcolm wore the amused, faintly proud expression he always had when she tried to stand up to him. 'You're the boss, Minister.'
None of the children were still awake, which nearly provoking more crying from Nicola. They'd got so used to there being a fucking crisis that kept their mum at work...
The nanny was dozing on the sofa, 6-year-old Mark snuggled against her side.
'He wouldn't go to bed,' she said quietly. 'Said he'd wait for you...'
Nicola nodded and dragged a hand over her face. 'You go to bed, Consuela. I'll take him up.' The nanny left. Malcolm, who'd completed a circuit of the downstairs floor, stood in the doorway cradling a mug of coffee.
Which was when Nicola discovered that her youngest son was now too heavy for her to lift.
'Hold this.' A mug of coffee was shoved into her hand. She grabbed Malcolm's shoulder.
'Don't be stupid,' he whispered, neck craned round as he leant over the sofa. 'What are you going to do? Fucking wake him up?'
There was a precarious moment as Malcolm realised just how heavy a fully asleep six-year-old could be, but he steadied. 'Where?' he mouthed at Nicola. She lead the way.
Halfway up the stairs, Mark stirred. 'Hush, wee man.' Malcolm's voice was impossibly soft. Nicola concentrated very hard on the stairs in front of her. Maybe if she focused on the grain of the floorboards, she could forget she heard that.
Mark was deposited safely in the bottom bunk without waking his elder brother and Nicola and Malcolm retreated to the landing.
'You should get some sleep.'
Absent-mindedly, Nicola handed him back his mug of coffee. 'And what will you do?'
'Sleep, if you've got a spare room.'
Nicola glanced towards the door of the master bedroom. Would James have already taken all his clothes? Changed the sheets? Cleared his bedside table? 'You could sleep in my room.'
He looked at her, startled and wide eyed. 'That would be a really fucking stupid idea.'
She sighed, too exhausted to explain. It always came as shock when Malcolm didn't follow her, preempt her. 'I mean... I'm going to take the spare. Malcolm, I'm not sure I can... fuck.'
He took a sip of coffee. 'Ok.' She was shaking again. 'Nic'la? Ok. You take the spare and I'll kip on the sofa, eh? If it's good enough for your son, I'm sure I can cope.'
She took a shuddering breath and let her head fall back against the wall with a dull thud. 'You can't sleep on the sofa, Malcolm. Not when you've probably been fighting my battles for the last 24 hours straight and you're going to get up and do it all again.'
Malcolm eyeballed her, eyes red-rimmed with fatigue. 'Well I'm not fucking letting you go on the sofa. It's a double bed, right? And we're both fucking adults, not bloody extras in fucking Skins.'
She lay in her spare bed, hyper-aware of her own breathing. On the other side of the bed Malcolm lay still as a stone, his back towards her. In the silent house, it was only the very slight rise and fall of his back that reassured her he was even alive. His Blackberry sat within touching distance, the screen sending an eerie halflight scurrying over the walls until it switched abruptly to black.
Nicola could feel the tears at the back of her throat. She swallowed, holding herself carefully rigid against the mattress. She would not cry again. Not here, not now. She blinked ferociously.
It was meant to be a steadying breath but it turned into a gasp and then a sob. She sniffed and swallowed, hard.
'Nicky?' She gulped, screwed her eyes shut. 'Haud yer whisht, eh? We'll sort this out.' His voice was quiet in the darkness. She heard him shift his weight as he turned onto his back. He must be looking at her; she kept her eyes closed.
'I'll need to sort out...' she paused, cleared her throat. 'I need to call my lawyer...'
'Use mine. But fucking do it in the morning - lawyers charge a fucking arm and a leg for housecalls.'
She choked on a sob, propped herself up on an elbow and looked at him. 'Christ, I need to sleep.'
Malcolm shut his eyes tightly for a second. She could hear his rasping breathing.
She'd later diagnose it as sleep deprivation and emotional trauma. Whatever it was, it made her cautiously wriggle further down the bed and rest her head gently against Malcolm's chest. She shut her eyes and waited for the yelling to start.
After a second, an arm crept round her shoulders, holding her gently in place.
In the dark, he kissed her hair.