She takes this discovery to Vincent first thing in the morning. Vincent knows it's serious when she enters his office without knocking, and shuts the door behind her.
"Nadine?" he prompts, putting down the pen in his hand.
"I have something to show you." She slaps the printouts on his desk.
He looks at her for a long moment before he picks them up, flipping through them. "What is this?"
"Barnow has been on Senator Reynolds's payroll for the past six months. As a campaign consultant." It can only mean one thing, and they both know what.
Vincent looks up at her. "Reynolds plans to run for President."
She nods. "He's the party's shoe-in candidate." Reynolds is well-liked and from a swing state. He's going to sweep the primaries next year. It'll be more difficult for him to win the actual election against the incumbent, but in politics it would be foolish to take such a thing for granted. And it's not the point, anyway.
Regardless of whether this Senator can actually upset the election, this is nothing less than a betrayal by Mike. If he is playing a part in trying to help get Reynolds elected, then he is also playing a part in denying Vincent a place in the Cabinet, and her a place in the State Department.
Mike is first and foremost an ambitious man. He's hungry for his own opportunities, and he will throw his support behind someone who can advance his own career. Recently, she'd forgotten that about him.
He's playing both sides of the field - in bed and out of it, she thinks ruefully - but she'd expected professional loyalty. Marsh had expected professional loyalty.
Vincent's expression has hardened. "Get Mike B in here. I'm going to take care of this today."
Nadine is working in her office alone when Mike bursts in later that afternoon. She looks up; he's livid. He doesn't have to say anything for her to know that he's just lost his job here. If she were Vincent, she would have fired him, too.
"You blindsided me."
"You blindsided us," she counters.
"If you thought there was something to be concerned about, you should have just asked!"
"Mike, did you really think the Senator wouldn't see this as an issue?"
"That you're double-crossing -"
"This isn't a spy movie, Nadine! It's not that fucking dramatic. I'm trying to make a living in this town -"
"Oh, spare me," she snaps. "Don't try to make this seem like I've taken away your livelihood. You own two homes; your wife is a brilliant lawyer; you have your pick of the work in Washington. Obviously." She takes a deep breath and smoothes out the papers on her desk to give her hands something to do. In a calmer tone, she says, "There is an implicit expectation of allegiance to the office that you serve. And when there is a conflict of interest, there is an expectation that you will decide whom you're backing and will drop the other. It's that simple."
"There's no conflict of interest!" he explodes. "I do consult work for two Senators - find me a lawyer in this town that doesn't."
"Don't patronize me; you and I both know that you were undercutting Vincent's intent to secure a Cabinet nomination. We expected loyalty." She refers to herself and the Senator in the plural personal, because she is Vincent's right hand. "But I guess you wouldn't know anything about that." It's a low blow, she knows.
"Oh - 'loyalty'. That's rich, coming from the fucking mistress," he spits.
She ignores the barb. "You were never going to be happy tailing Vincent to the State Department, were you?" Ridiculously, Nadine feels tears building behind her eyes and in her chest, and she fights them back. "You wanted something more; you always want something more."
"Is this still about the job?" he asks quietly.
She knows exactly what he's implying, and she doesn't know how to answer him. She's silent for a moment. "My first obligation is to the job," she finally says. She is clear; there is no equivocation, no uncertainty in her tone.
She studies his face - he's disappointed by her.
Mike stalks out the door without another word.
Nadine lets out a long, shuddering breath.
It is partly about their relationship, maybe. And it's partly about the loyalty thing, too. And if she's being honest with herself, it's also partly about the State Department thing.
She's never wanted to hold a political office of her own, but she loves being in the work - and to be one of the highest-ranking officials in the State Department? That's a lot; that's everything; and it's never seemed so attainable before now. And to discover that her colleague, her friend, could be responsible for her possibly losing that? Mike knew how much it was worth to her. She thought he wanted it for her, too.
So it's a little personal. It stings.
Nadine sighs. It's going to be a lonely week.
A couple days go by and she's running through the latest draft of a policy report when there is a gentle knock on her door.
"Come in," she calls distractedly.
"Nadine," Vincent greets.
She drops her pen, looking up in surprise. "Vincent! What do you need?"
Instead of sitting in front of her, he rounds the desk so that he can lean against the edge of it, closer. "I just came in to check on you," he says kindly, his eyes reflecting concern. "I know you were close with Mike B. I know this hurts."
She gives him a sad smile. "We were good friends." And lovers, she doesn't say - though that relationship no longer exists, not to mention their friendship is broken. Whether either is repairable is hard to say.
Vincent gives her shoulder a squeeze. "I know it was hard for you to come to me…"
"It was the right thing," she insists. She'd do it again. She knows exactly where her loyalties lie, and so does Vincent.
So does Mike.
"That doesn't make it easy," Vincent says gently. "I know how hard you work for me, Nadine. I see everything you do. I just want to make sure you know that it doesn't go unnoticed."
She ducks her head, a little embarrassed by the outright praise, but he places a finger under her chin and lifts her gaze.
"I'm here if you ever need anything, Nadine. Anything. Okay?"
She smiles, touched by his concern for her. "Okay."
There's a thunderous pounding on the door and it wakes her up in the middle of the night.
She pulls on her robe and swears, practically running to her door so that she might get it to stop before her neighbors call the police. She glances through the peephole and has a strange feeling of deja vu as she unlocks the door and yanks it open.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hisses. She hasn't seen him in weeks. He has no right to be showing up like this anymore.
"Did you tell her?" Mike demands. He pushes his way inside, forcing her to back up. "Is this your way of punishing me from your confused moral high ground? Teach me a lesson, is that it?" He's seriously pissed off, but she has no idea why.
"What on earth are you talking about?" She's bewildered, and can feel the anger swelling up inside of her. Who is he to talk to her like this?
"My wife," he snarls, getting up in her face, "is filing for divorce. Someone fucking tipped her off that I'm having an affair - which is ironic, considering that I'm not, anymore." He's emotional and a little crazed with panic - this could be ruinous to his career prospects, and they both know it.
"I didn't tell her anything!" she exclaims defensively. "Jesus, I've never even met her!" They both fall into a tense silence for a moment, and then Nadine's own sense of self-preservation kicks in, tentatively. "Does… does she know it's me?"
"She doesn't know who; she just knows it happened," he says tersely. "So I'd advise that you lay low for a bit while my entire personal and professional life blows up in my face. Fuck," he swears, and he looks so livid that she unconsciously takes another step back. She wonders for a second if he'll hit her.
He doesn't. And if he notices her trepidation, he doesn't acknowledge it.
It might be easier on both of them, she thinks, if they just burn this bridge down clean. They're halfway there already.
She says, "This is Washington. Adapt or die; kill or be killed." It's the advice she'd been given years ago, right out of law school. The chilly tone in which she delivers it surprises them both. "It's that simple."
He laughs, a short, harsh burst of sound, and there's no humor in it. He's impressed by her, and for all the worst reasons. "I never thought you'd have it in you," he mutters. He can't believe her. "Go screw yourself, Nadine."
The door slams behind him.
Over the coming weeks, the story becomes splashy news in Washington. The Barnows' divorce proceedings are not a quiet affair. It's messy, nasty, scandalous - especially because no one can quite figure out the secret identity of Michael Barnow's Other Woman. The mystery adds fuel to the fire.
Out in the bullpen, the interns speculate while they work. It's exceptionally exciting for them because We knew him, they all say. Or often a hyperbolic variation of it.
"Back to work," she prompts, every time she passes their desks. Her orders are always followed with a flurry of activity and hushed whispers.
Truthfully she hates that he's going through this, hates that she plays a part in it, even if no one else knows. More than anything, she hates that they no longer speak. He was her friend, and despite everything her heart is breaking for him, and she can't even show it. Can't have anything to do with him lest the real secret gets out. And she certainly can't tell anyone.
The guilt feels like it's festering inside of her.
He probably won't find much work in Washington for a while - at least not until after all this blows over. She's already heard from Senator Reynolds's office that Mike has been removed from their campaign - it's not the kind of press they need going into an election this big.
And so, without work and without grandeur, Michael Barnow disappears from Washington altogether.