Zoe Barnes had been up all night, staring at her computer screen - she'd been trying to write something for the Herald for hours. The thing with the Washington Herald, though, was that they were very selective and traditional; she'd many times had the argument with Tom Hammerschmidt, her boss, on whether or not she could get a blog and go online. Unfortunately, every time she came out the loser, and she ended up with the stories nobody read about footpaths and weddings. These sloppy subjects, and therefore sloppy articles, landed her a bad reputation. Nobody would take her seriously. This was why she was jealous of Janine Skorsky.
Jealous, envious, no matter which word you wanted to use, Zoe Barnes hated Janine Skorsky. Hated her. Found her simply repulsive, because Janine's success reminded Zoe of her own failure, and Janine was quick to remind her of it. Everyone at the Herald basically made Zoe feel like shit, and she wanted to end that. All she wanted was success in her field, for people to know her. And being jeered at in the streets didn't count either; she needed positive recognition, so she could climb the rungs on the ladder, to her dream job. White House Correspondent. For a minute, she could see Tom, and he was saying how brilliant she was - but before he actually promoted her, the vision faded away, leaving her in darkness. She didn't even remember closing her eyes.
"Oh, fuck!" Zoe yelled suddenly, glancing at the clock - ten p.m. - and stood up, closing the computer with more ferocity than she probably should've. Luckily, it wasn't broken, but much more slamming and it just might. Changing herself into her dress, brushing her hair quickly, doing her make-up (of course, she couldn't rush on that one) slipped on her heels and rushed out the door. A second later, she remembered her bag, unlocked the door again and picked it up. The Correspondence Dinner. Who knows how many important people would be there? But how many would talk to her, if most doubted her integrity?
With a sigh, she raced down the stairs, onto the street. It wasn't raining, which was lucky, because she'd forgotten her umbrella. Since she was a generally unlucky person, she couldn't help but beam at this small piece of good luck. Lucas' car arrived a few minutes later, causing Zoe to rush in with a little too much enthusiasm. He probably thought she was like a child in a toy store now, and she scolded herself for it mentally. He didn't speak for a while, rather got out and shut the door - which she had forgotten to do - before getting back in and driving on. No words, still, and that was kind of making the very extroverted Zoe a little uncomfortable. More than a little - she was shifting in her seat.
"Nice to see you again, Lucas," she quipped, trying to start up a conversation; trying to do so with him was probably a dangerous sport, but she'd always been a reckless soul. Zoe had little care for monotony. Who knows why she didn't become a daredevil rather than a journalist - hell knows, right now, it would have been a better career for her.
"Nice to see you too, Zoe," Lucas answered, his voice dry. Zoe could tell it was mainly out of courtesy. Lucas had been brought up a gentleman, but if he wanted to be a gentleman he could at least sound like he meant the compliments he was giving to a girl. He didn't sound like it was nice to see her at all - more like a robot, and if not a robot, he had a certain Kill me now... tone to his voice, which she didn't appreciate.
"You know, Lucas," Zoe said slowly, trying to sound slightly more serious, "if you don't mean compliments, you shouldn't give them. Don't waste your time; if you hate me, just say 'Zoe Marie Barnes, I fucking hate your guts, and I wish you would get the fuck out of my car.' Can't promise I wouldn't take offence, though, Lucas, so I'd be careful what you say. I'd hate to tell Tom." She refrained from including that Tom also fucking hated her guts, mainly because there was no need.
"That wouldn't very gentlemanly of me," Lucas pointed out. Zoe rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Nor would it be a great example to you, as you are lower than me in our shared profession, as much as you want to think otherwise." That was a sore spot - you could see the anger coming off her in waves right then.
"Don't fucking lecture me on journalism," Zoe folded her arms, scowling. "I mean, what the fuck? I'm not a fucking child, Lucas, so you can stop playing Papa Claus and screw off." Her eyes flared as she glared hotly at him, even though he couldn't see her. "I hope that burns the back of your head."
Nothing else was said - Lucas knew he should have expected her reaction. She was very hotheaded, reckless and inconsiderate towards most other people. Her ambition blinded her to her unstable nature, and she often didn't think about what she was saying. Impulsive, overall, and Lucas felt much distaste for reckless people.
Zoe got out in silence, walking along the red carpet, trying to appear nonchalant. Her anxiety and excitement was showing, though, despite her efforts. And she knew it; feeling herself shake, and the uneasy nausea that racked her stomach. With a deep breath, she held her head up high and tried to straighten herself. Be professional, be professional, be professional... she thought, heart pounding as she stalked away from Lucas, and towards a great opportunity.
"Zoe, get back here!" She heard Lucas' protest, and debated ignoring it, but in the end whirled around in the spur of the moment, flushing with barely concealed anger. Boy, did Lucas Goodwin piss her off, the little shit. He just made her tick, and she still hadn't forgiven him for what he'd said earlier.
"I'm not a kid in the supermarket, Lucas! Fuck off!" She spat back. "I know you want me to bow down and kiss your fucking feet, but, newsflash bitch, it's not going to happen. Not a fucking chance in hell, damnit!" She relished his hurt expression, pushing the door wide open and walking into the building.
The party had been a success, but as she'd suspected, not many of the Congressmen/women even gave her half a glance. That was frustrating to say the least - she'd gotten a few, frail statements from people, but they were only to get her to shut up, and there was no real correlation between them. One thing had surprised her; the way Francis Underwood, a congressman, had been staring at her. Not just looking - definitely staring. Was it because she was young, slim, and dare she say it sexy? Probably, but if there was anyone who could discern a look from a stare, it was her, and that was not a look.
That, and Lucas had refused to give her a ride home because of her outburst. She wasn't surprised, but it had meant she had to pay out for a taxi, because it was too far to walk. And she was probably slightly intoxicated because of that - oh, screw it, she would know if she was fucking drunk, and she'd only had a little anyway. She could hold her liquor surprisingly well, could Zoe Barnes, but she couldn't hold criticism. Walking back through the door to her apartment, she sighed, kicking off her heels. Time to get accustomed to the fact she'd be living off tomato soup for the next week.
Kneeling at her computer, not even bothering to change out of her dress, the intrepid reporter - as Lucas called her - checked her emails. Not that there'd be anything there - except 'You suck at your job,' or something. There was one, but to be honest she didn't really have high hopes. Opening it, she was almost going to close it again - an email starting with Maybe they'd take you more seriously if... wasn't exactly one she wanted to read. Still, being curious, she clicked on the attachment and almost fell out of her chair. A picture of Congressman Underwood staring...at her butt, or at least it seemed to be where he was looking.
No, that couldn't be it. But maybe he was worth talking to. Get something out of him, because she knew if she didn't have a story in the next week Lucas would get her fired. And she really didn't want to get fired from the Herald. Especially when the only way is up...or getting fired. In which case, that's hitting rock bottom. She could get herself wages, get a good story...Okay, that idea was a wonderful idea. Disregarding the lateness, she changed into some less formal clothes before heading to the Congressman's house, her nerves much greater than they had been before.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket as she was walking - a text from Lucas, apologising. Feeling particularly grouchy, she typed a reply. Hahaha. Go to hell you fucking asshole. After a few seconds of silence, she began typing again. Sorry. I didn't mean that. Not entirely sure if that statement was true or not, and hesitant to decide either way, she turned off her phone and continued walking onward. She had to get there before it was far too late and he was asleep, so she sped up, with no more distractions from Lucas FuckingOverbearingAsshole Goodwin. In the space of about five minutes, she was outside the Congressman's home, and making her way up the stairs.
"Miss, I'm going to have to ask you to come back here." commanded a voice. Zoe was very startled - she knew she shouldn't have been, of course there was security, he was a Congressman for fuck's sake - but she was. Irritation overpowered her surprise - she detested being told what to do, especially by six foot two blonde guys who could probably crush her like a pea. Because, if she didn't want to get hurt, she'd probably have to do as they told her. But, in a sudden stroke of bravery, she folded her arms. This is where Lucas would tell me I'm an idiot, she thought, before reminding herself that what Lucas would say didn't matter anymore.
This man, behind this door, was a man who could give her everything. Tell her things, give her stories...because he must know things. She needed to gain his trust for her own gain, and perhaps for his, but as every human's was, her mind was transfixed on her own machinations. And she couldn't let a fucking security guard, of all people, stand in her way. Swallowing fear, she spoke boldly. "No. You don't understand;this is very important." Taking a deep breath, she waited for his response.
"Miss," the guard says in a warning tone. Seriously? He thought that was going to intimidate her? Stop her from wanting her big break, or even want it less? Suppressing a scoff, she just raised an eyebrow as he continued. He went on about hating having to forcibly remove her from the premises and all that shit...things she just let fly over her head. They weren't important - she really couldn't give a fuck about whatever he was saying.
"That wouldn't be very gentlemanly of you, it's no way to treat a lady." Zoe remarked smoothly, actually scoffing in indignation, examining her nails. Appearing nonchalant, something she couldn't do earlier. That was when the door swung open, and she jumped like a pogo stick, turning to face Francis J. Underwood, her stepladder to success.
"What the hell is going on out here?" He asked, his gaze falling on Zoe. It would have made a lesser person quail with fear, being stared at directly by a man of intimidating physical stature, especially with his guard right behind them. But Zoe couldn't afford to do that, so she tried at least to stand her ground and look a little less scared than she was.
"I was just -" the guard began, only to be cut off by Francis holding up a hand. This silent gesture was powerful, befitting of a powerful man, and she observed the firmness and clarity in it. How he, a much shorter man, could have such influence over the giant behind her was amazing, Congressman or no Congressman.
"I was talking to the girl," he said smoothly, watching her. She stiffened at being called a girl - she hadn't been a girl for eight years, and she was twenty-six. Not a minor, and not a girl, but her irritation went unvoiced - it was probably best not, if she didn't want to piss him off. That is, if her very presence in front of his house didn't do that already.
"I'm Zoe Barnes, reporter for the Washington Herald," she explained, it not really crossing her mind that she quite possibly didn't really care. After all, he was a Congressman of the United States, and she was, to him, a random stranger who turned up at his door late at night to quiz him. Although she'd never consciously admit it (she was too self centered for such confessions) that would annoy her, too.
"It is 10 o'clock, and this is my home," Francis' voice had a clearly bored tone to it, yet with the same cold, calm, calculated ferocity of before. He was turning away, and appeared to be about to shut the door; pressured for time, she acted impulsively...something she did often.
"We're part of a mutual admiration society," She got out, her breath caught in her throat now. She could miss her big break. Just because of Francis. Bless her impulse, it was finally doing her good. Fumbling for her phone she revealed the photo she'd received via email of them at the correspondence dinner. Watching as his expression morphed from irritated to thoughtful, she let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding; very thankful that she wasn't going to become Zoe Barnes smoothie just then.
"Come on in, Miss Barnes," Francis, with a wide, sweeping hand gesture, motioned for her to enter. Zoe could only just suppress her beam of happiness, or, indeed, her smirk of satisfaction. None of her colleagues, not even Janine, had ever been inside a Congressman's home. Part of her wished she could rub it in her face, but giving her source was synonymous with giving her integrity.
"Anything for you? A drink, perhaps?" the Congressman offered, but through her euphoria, she barely heard him. She took her a moment to process what he said, her head in the clouds. Dreaming about having her own online blog, like she'd always wanted. Jerking herself back into reality, she remembered that a) Francis had just asked her a question, and b) The Washington Herald was far too traditional for blogs. Right then, she couldn't do anything about point b, and that didn't dampen her mood, so she addressed point a instead.
"Have you got any champagne?" she asked, drumming her nails on her forearm subconsciously. "I'll just have water, if you don't, though, it doesn't matter." Zoe walked along the hallway, pausing when she heard footsteps upstairs. That had to be Francis' wife - Clara? Charline? Claire? Yes, Claire, that was it. Probably best to stay quiet then; maybe she wouldn't take well to another woman in the house. Wait, what the actual fuck? Why was she even thinking about caring about what anyone else thought? She knew she didn't give a shit really.
"Luckily for you, Miss Barnes, I do have champagne." He is a man of business, but not right down to the core - she could tell. She couldn't tell you how she knew, it was just an insight. It didn't work with girls, but guys just seemed to be an open book. So maybe, if she thought her words through, this might just work for her. She would nod, and smile in thanks, but not respond; she was deep in her own thoughts, and the nodding and smiling was mostly automatic. Standard principle...manners, right?
"Lucky for me," Zoe agreed with a grin, watching the congressman looking at her. She paused, smiling at him - he was looking at her rather provocatively, or at least that was how she observed it. "You know, there's no harm in looking," she murmured, feeling like a response was in order. After all, he was looking at her like she was on the front cover of Elle - or some other fashion magazines that puts hot women on their covers. That seemed like something needed to be said, whether equally provocative, as she had assumed, or not.
"That's a cheap ploy," he answered, handing her her glass of champagne and walking back over to his seat. She had to suppress an eyeroll - if he was going to be a flirt, she was going to be a flirt back. She'd thought that was a rule, period. But then again, he was a congressman, maybe he was more honorable than extramarital flirting. He hadn't given her that impression - however, she knew that first impressions can be misleading.
"Cheap, but effective," she replied, taking a sip from her champagne. "By the way, the stronger the better - every man asks me if I like it weak, so I'm just taking a precaution is all." She puts the glass back on the coaster, placing her hands in her lap and looking at him, resisting the urge to look back at her hands. This was her chance, this was the day, this was when she was going to get her big break, even if that did mean answering a few awkward questions.
"So, why exactly are you here, Miss Barnes?" Francis Underwood radiated superiority as he leant back in his armchair opposite her, and Zoe could feel it - it just intensified the feeling that she couldn't screw this up, and that in turn intensified the nerves. Privately, she hoped she wasn't visibly shaking, and that he couldn't read that supposedly private thought on her face just then. It wouldn't surprise her if he could - if part of his job was instilling fear into people, then he was the master of his trade.
"I need someone I can talk to," She scolded herself as the words tumbled out; they sounded clumsy, like a teenager talking about the school counselor to their face. Keep your cool, keep your cool, she thought continually, the rhythm flowing. To her surprise, when she made eye contact with him again (after what she thought was an excellent display of acting, pretending to be looking for something in her bag) he was nodding. Barely, but he was, and she had to struggle to hide her rush of relief. How was he so efficient in the art of masking his feelings?"We're talking," His reply was simple, and that was irritating - so simple, but yet it teased her to no end. She resisted gritting her teeth; he knew so much, and he was taking advantage of his being on top of the situation to make her jump for the carrot. So irritating, and yet so clever of him - would she withhold all the information she knew from a journalist who turned up late at night? Definitely.