A/N: I'm back! This story is not in the same veins as the rest that I have posted on this site, but I hope you enjoy it regardless!

Disclaimer: Anything you recognize isn't mine.

Summary: The three Burke women contemplate life, family, and the men they have chosen as partners. One-shot, complete.

Musing on Men

Monica Burke

Dysfunctional (adj): Not operating normally or properly.

Being a senator's wife is not always easy.

Monica doesn't remember if she ever planned on becoming a senator's wife: all she knows is that it happened. One day, she is meeting a nice young man by the name of Russell—a man with political ambitions and dreams that were far more suited to the nation's capitol than to the small college lecture hall where they first met—and the next, it is nearly forty years later, and she has spent most of her life being the proper wife of senator.

Sometimes (when the wine hasn't quite dulled her thoughts), she wonders what went wrong.

She has turned a blind eye to Russell's wandering one, and for a time she found some satisfaction and even a thrill in bedding younger men. There was an excitement when choosing some young aide or intern (and once, even one of the chauffers!) to join her for a week or two. Never any longer than that.

But now, now that she has aged (gracefully! She ages gracefully, thank you!), she finds that she just wants her husband beside her. No more chaste pecks on the cheek as he slides out of their bed to take his pleasure in whatever perky twenty-something that has caught his eye (usually a reporter), and no more of the indiscretions that have colored their marriage for the last fifteen years and that they have kept carefully hidden under the rug, lest it become a political scandal.

In the public eye, they are a devoted couple. Their private life is in shambles. Maybe that's why Monica finds herself contemplating divorce. Joe's words-oh, if it had been even three years ago, she wouldn't have thought twice about seducing him. She envies her daughter for the glimpses Mel is surely getting of that body!—have reminded her of the resolution she had made all those years ago, the first night Russell failed to come home and she realized with a sinking heart that he had found other companions. She is worth more, and she does deserve better.

However, nearly thirty years of devotion and familiarity are hard to shake. That's why she goes back to him, as she always does, whenever he sends a gorgeous (and usually expensive) present as an apology, and they fall back into their normal routines. There are times, in the still moments of the night when she finds herself staring at the ceiling, that Monica hates herself for it.

She can only hope that Meredith has been happy with Louis, and Melissa will be happy with whoever she chooses.

Meredith Scanlon (nee Burke)

Fracture(d) (n): A crack or break

Meredith doesn't mind being alone.

Immediately, as expected, the guilt rises to the surface. What woman prefers her own company over that of her husband, her children? What woman doesn't mind the blank walls of a prison cell, and doesn't watch the bars with haunted eyes, waiting to escape, yearning to go back to her family, her real life?

Clearly, she thinks sardonically, pushing the guilt away, she's broken in some way.

Meredith does miss Louis, she does. She misses the way his eyes light up whenever he gets an idea, and she misses the heat of his body next to hers. Going from sleeping next to someone for fifteen years to sleeping alone on a hard pallet is a difficult adjustment to make, bedding aside. She hopes that he's safe, wherever he has hidden himself now. He really made their family what it was, he and the kids.

So, what about her children?

Not for the first time, Meredith blesses whatever insight prompted her to dictate in her will that Mel would be the legal guardian to Lennox and Ryder. (Convicted felons do not get to dictate legal guardians while on trial; in that matter, the judge looked to her will.) Even now, she shudders to think what might have happened if she had left them to Mother and Daddy. Lennox would probably be pregnant, and Ryder would no doubt be terrorized by bullies, or into drugs. Given the family's penchant for drinking, alcoholism probably would be a plausible alternate as well.

Curling up on her side on her hard mattress, Meredith stares at the white wall opposite, the curve of the stainless steel toilet bowl just visible in her field of vision. This was not what she had in mind when Louis came to her with his idea for his scheme. Oh, there should be no doubt that she was a willing accomplice—Louis had not had to do much to persuade her. She did it because he made it sound so easy, fool-proof, and she had visions of living in a townhouse like the one where she had grown up, all luxuries afforded, her kids driven to school in town cars. Finally, they would be out of the suburbs, and she could spend her time shopping! Unlike her father and Mel, Meredith did not have a head for politics, and assisted Louis with his business from their home. The transition from party girl to stay-at-home mother was not an easy one, and sometimes she wonders if she made the right choice. However, once she found out she was pregnant with Lennox, what other choice did she have? Louis wanted the baby so badly, and while Meredith grew to love her daughter, she had originally agreed to have her to please Louis. Then along came Ryder, and then Louis had the idea for his scheme, and Meredith couldn't say no. The money was too easy, too good.

Her kids. What were they doing now?

She knew they were all right. Connie, one of the few girlfriends from college who was still speaking to her (albeit done these days through a phone bolted to the wall and a pane of bullet-proof glass every Friday), brought her word about her kids every week, smuggled to her through a copy of Us Weekly, tidbits Connie gleaned through Toledo interviews and news articles and a friend who was a teacher at the school Lennox and Ryder now attended. The weekly updates were what Meredith looked forward to now, puzzling over the letters circled on each page until she successfully rearranged them and the information was revealed.

It was how she discovered that Mel had taken on Lennox and Ryder without a fuss, and that a male nanny now worked for them (really?). Well, given Mel's non-existent cooking skills, Meredith was just happy that someone made sure the kids ate. They went to school, and they seemed to be adjusting. The notes that Connie left told her that the nanny was a guy called Joe Longo (why was that name familiar? Had he worked for them? Was he one of their brokers?), and he was rather good-looking. He could be Adonis, and Meredith didn't care. He was caring for her kids, and they seemed to be adjusting well. High school could be rough.

Once again, there was the odd stab of pain that she wasn't there, but life in a prison cell was not awful. She would be free eventually, and in the meantime, her husband was free, her kids were cared for, and she was fed every day. She didn't have to worry about clothes and social standing here, and she was afforded plenty of time to think, which gave her plenty of time to plan. She would play the good girl after she got out of here, to lull the parole officer into relaxing, and then she would get word to Louis. Once she located him, they would be together again. The kids would be fine with Mel, she was sure. Mel could take care of her kids while she traveled the world, the future Bonnie to her husband's Clyde.

After all, what else were sisters for?

Melissa Burke

Unexpected (adj): Not expected or regarded as likely to happen.

Joe is helping Ryder with his math homework, and Mel listens as her nephew all but begs Joe to do it for him.

"But you were an accountant or something like that! You know numbers!"

"I was-am-a broker, dude! Not the same thing!"

Mel snuggles deeper under the blanket she has thrown over herself and leans her head against the back of the couch, lulled into a doze by the familiar voices. There had been a rather long council meeting today, but she doesn't feel like unearthing the paperwork from her briefcase at the moment and doing any work. The glass of wine she has just finished a few minutes ago sits warmly in her stomach, sure to make its way through her bloodstream over the next hour or so. Lennox is out with friends, and so Mel dozes on the couch, listening as Joe explains to Ryder how exponents work.

Idly, she wonders what would happen if Joe wasn't there. Well, chances are I'd be the one in there helping Ryder with his homework, which means none of it would get done, because we'd both be confused…

The amusing thought sours quickly as the full implication hits her: Joe would be gone. There'd be no more delicious food, she'd have to constantly cut her meetings short to look after the kids, have to leave work early to pick them up, be late to work in order to drop them off, Joe wouldn't be there when she got home, she'd have to do the grocery shopping herself, and (horror!) all the cooking. Not to mention the cleaning. She'd never find anything in her closet again!

There would be no Joe.

Barely breathing, Mel is seized in a moment of blind panic, and she fights down the urge to go flying into the other room and demand that Joe stay, that he stay and live with them forever and make them delicious food and continue to take care of the kids and be there for her and organize her closet and be her friend and…

Life without him is too painful to think about, she realizes, even as her mind immediately shies away from that raw admission. Perhaps she should have put a clause in his contract that stated that his final paycheck would be withheld until she was satisfied with the number of hours he had worked, something to make him stick around until she was satisfied that he had done his job (she's thinking it'll take decades), but somehow, she didn't think that would be received well.

She really wants to keep him around. Her life would (figuratively) be in ruins without him, and the house would (literally) be a mess. But how can she keep him here, if he wants to leave? So far, he has made no sign of wanting to leave, aside from that brief venture all those months ago when he thought himself a rich man again.

Well, that wicked part of her mind insists, there is a way, you know. People have been doing it for centuries...

No. No, Mel shoves that out of her mind. She doubts Joe would be receptive to the idea of marriage. She knows that some people do it out of desperation—to get a green card, for instance—but she doesn't think she'll have a good excuse for proposing marriage to her nanny. "Because I don't want you to leave," doesn't seem like a sound reason to make a lifelong commitment.

And that's assuming Joe would even consider the idea of marrying her. He's made it clear that being married to her would be a chore.

Sighing, Mel forces her mind to wander away from that topic. Right now, she will be grateful that Joe is there to provide them with stability and routine, and she won't question it any further. If or when he decides to leave, she'll come up with a plan of action then.

She hopes she'll never have to.

A/N: Reviews of any sort are appreciated.