Author's Note: Hi everyone! After 115 one shots just since January, I finally broke down and started a multichapter. If you're following me on tumblr, you've heard about this one, and if you're not- well, welcome! This is an extension of the one-shot that I posted yesterday, of the same title, in Collections From the McCord Files, Volume II. This will delve much much deeper into the same concept, and it's extremely angsty. So good luck! Please let me know what you think in the reviews. x
On a quiet street in Georgetown, rain was pounding the McCord home. It lashed angrily against the windows in attempts to shatter the peaceful warmth that lie beyond the panes of glass that separated Elizabeth McCord and her three children from the harsh reality that existed outside. She had always liked that feeling, the amniotic tranquility of being shut inside her warmly lit home while the storm raged outside. That's what she was thinking about as she glanced out the front windows at the reflective wet pavement outside. It was just past dusk, and darkness had fallen over DC. Elizabeth was feeling especially calm; it had been a quiet day at the office, and she'd left early to be home with the kids since Henry was on an op overseas. She wasn't sure where exactly; it hadn't been of importance. The op itself was neither long nor complicated, Henry had assured her before he had left three mornings ago. The children, she supposed, were old enough to be home by themselves. But they all missed Henry when he wasn't around, and she certainly took no issue with taking advantage of his absence to get home a little earlier and spend time with Stevie, Alison, and Jason. She couldn't help but marvel a little bit as she listened to their familiar banter in the kitchen, at how grown-up they had all become. It felt as if she'd just blinked and suddenly her dependent, sweet infants were adults or nearly so. She shook her head and glanced behind her desk at the array of family photos that were placed amongst the extensive collection of books that she and Henry had amassed over the years. There were snapshots of their life together, from cheesy spring break smiles to wedding photos to the births of their children and beyond- photos of a beautiful, messy, incredible empire that they'd built together, she and Henry. She was proud of that, in so many ways that she didn't think she could count them all. Her eyes landed on a photo of Henry, her at his side, taken in the early 90's. Henry was wearing his uniform, but he was smiling brightly for the camera. He'd never been great at the stoic Marine face. Elizabeth, for her part, seemed as if she couldn't have cared less that the camera was there at all; she stood slightly on her tiptoes with Henry's arm slung casually around her, her body angled toward him as she gazed at him with eyes that sparkled through the intervening years to portray a deep and true love for the Marine in his dress blues. She couldn't remember the occasion, or who had taken the photo, but she could easily recall the feeling that accompanied it. She'd been enamored with Henry then, as she was now. That feeling emerged every time he rolled over to look at her early in the morning or when he watched her while he thought she wasn't paying attention. Fluttering, exciting, beautiful love that only seemed to deepen with every passing day. Elizabeth smiled slightly and leaned back in her chair. She had always hoped for this life; for a life in which she and Henry could love one another more with every moment spent together. It was, in reality, all Elizabeth had ever really wanted.
Suddenly, red and blue lights were flashing in Elizabeth's peripheral vision. She stood curiously to peer out the front window, and was greeted with the sight of a motorcade more impressive than her own, and one that she recognized easily. Elizabeth sighed; this couldn't be good. The President had made house calls to Elizabeth before, and each time it had ended with something life-altering. She wished this particular visit, whatever it was going to be about, could have waited until Monday, when Henry would be home. She wasn't a fan of approaching life-altering house calls from the President without Henry. Nevertheless, the President was outside her door and so she stepped out from behind her desk and headed into the hallway. She pulled the door open and smiled at her former boss. Then, she got a glimpse of his face, and her heart dropped.
Something was very, very wrong and Elizabeth knew it in an instant. She'd seen Conrad look devastated before, and that was what was in his eyes that night. Suddenly, her quiet tranquility was shattered and she was immediately tense.
"Bess," Conrad said, sounding vaguely hoarse in addition to grave.
"Mr. President," she replied. "Please, come in."
He stepped inside as if he were reluctant to do so, and Elizabeth leaned against her desk, elegant wrists turned outward as she used her palms to brace herself against the edge of the piece of furniture. Conrad stood before her, unaccompanied by Russell or Secret Service agents. Elizabeth watched him, and the more she took in, the more unsettled she became.
"What are you doing here, sir?" she asked. He met her eyes and she was struck by the notion that maybe she was better off not knowing whatever he was about to tell her.
"I'm here about Henry," he admitted, and Elizabeth's stomach was doing somersaults at his words.
"What about Henry?" she asked quickly, biting and harsh. Conrad hung his head.
"Bess, this op...it wasn't as simple as had been expected," he began. It looked as if he were forcing himself not to look away from Elizabeth's piercing blue eyes as she spoke softly, aware that her children were in the other room. Their idle chatter could still be heard across the living and dining rooms, drifting into Henry and Elizabeth's office.
"What does that mean?" she asked slowly. "Is he hurt?"
Conrad closed his eyes and Elizabeth felt her heart stumble in her chest.
"You're not saying what I think you're saying," she stated evenly, because he couldn't be saying that. Henry was fine. Henry was on a simple op, and he was coming home. Or maybe he was delayed. Or maybe he was injured, but he was still coming home. He had to.
"Elizabeth, I'm so sorry," Conrad said in that hushed voice that brought Elizabeth right back to her front porch in Virginia, faced with two police officers and her sobbing little brother. Her head spun.
No. This couldn't be happening. It just...couldn't be.
"What?" she heard herself ask, unable to form much more than that.
"There was a bombing," he was saying. "Everyone inside is presumed dead."
"Well, then he must not have been-"
"He's gone, Bess," Conrad said, cutting her off. "There were no bodies." She knew what that meant as much as he did. Utter destruction. Nothing left.
Their eyes met across the McCord home office, and it suddenly struck Elizabeth that her husband wasn't coming home. Henry was never going to walk through that door again, and Elizabeth could no longer stand the sight of the man in front of her.
"Please go," she said quietly. Conrad hesitated, but Elizabeth glared at him across the room.
"Go," she repeated, and he nodded.
"Please don't hesitate to call, Elizabeth," he said, and she knew he meant it, but she found that she didn't really care. She couldn't see past the next second, let alone see herself continuing to breathe long enough to call anyone. She watched as the President of the United States let himself out of her house, the door closing behind him with a soft click that rang with finality.
Elizabeth, still standing there with her palms pressed against the edge of her desk, couldn't breathe. For the past three decades, any time that Elizabeth couldn't breathe, she turned to Henry. Henry could calm her down like no one else had ever been able to. Except now, she couldn't turn to Henry. Henry was the reason that she couldn't breathe. No, that wasn't right.
Not having Henry was the reason that she couldn't breathe.
He was supposed to come home in two days. She'd just spoken with him yesterday, a quick check-in before she'd had to op had been nothing. It had been nothing. She hadn't even been worried when she'd said goodbye to him in their kitchen earlier that week. She had just kissed him like she always did, quickly and easily and like she was going to have a million more opportunities to do so- because she was. She was going to have a million more opportunities. Wasn't she?
The words "presumed dead" echoed in Elizabeth's head. She couldn't stop hearing them, spoken into her home office in the grave voice of the man who had been her mentor, and who was now her President. The man who had just become the bearer of the worst news that Elizabeth had ever received. She'd known that something was wrong when Conrad had arrived at the Georgetown home that she shared with Henry- oh god, Henry. Still too numb and shocked to cry, though she was sure that would come, Elizabeth looked over at his empty desk. She wondered if he had suffered. The thought made her feel sick. She couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. Her heart physically ached within her chest, and she felt as if it were being torn farther from her body with every second that passed. She felt as if it, too, had been destroyed by a bomb in a far-away country, and was now lying in unrecognizable pieces across the ocean with the pieces of Henry. What was she going to do? How could she ever even move from that spot in her office knowing that she would never hold Henry's hand again, would never feel the way he snuggled against her in his sleep or the tender brush of his fingers through her hair when he thought she was sleeping and didn't know he was there.
How could she even take a single breath knowing that he wasn't coming home?
Oh, Stevie. How could Elizabeth even look at their children? How was she going to tell them? Something in her, though she didn't know what, propelled her to glance over at her daughter, standing in the doorway of the office, behind Henry's desk. There was worry in her eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked cautiously. Memories flew through Elizabeth's head; she could see Henry with their oldest child from the day she was born until their quick half-hug in the kitchen the other morning before Henry had headed out. Their last hug.
"Stevie," Elizabeth heard herself say, though it didn't quite sound like her. "I need you to get your brother and sister."
There must have been something in her voice, because Stevie just nodded and turned on her heel and, moments later, all three of her children were there before her and Elizabeth didn't even have the heart or presence of mind to move the whole operation to the living room. She was certain that she couldn't have moved if she had tried, anyway.
"What's wrong?" Alison was asking, voice pitched high with anxiety. Elizabeth didn't look at her. Alison had Henry's smile. Jason had his eyes. Stevie had his mind; she thought just like her dad sometimes, so much so that it had always been very entertaining to Elizabeth. Not now, though.
Now, she couldn't even look at them.
"Is this about Dad?" Jason asked. He was so much more perceptive than they gave him credit for. Henry had said that, before, but Elizabeth couldn't remember when.
"Yes," Elizabeth admitted. She forced herself to look up at them, knowing that she was about to destroy their whole worlds, forever. The gravity of that was not lost on Elizabeth, even though she herself could barely form thoughts. She knew that she was about to alter the rest of their lives irreversibly, and she wondered fleetingly if they were going to hate her for it, later. She already hated herself for it, and she hadn't even done it yet.
"Guys," she breathed, shaking her head slightly. "Dad's not coming home."
There was shocked silence following her words, panic swelling in the room like the crescendo of a particularly tragic piece of music.
"What?" Stevie asked.
"He's dead?" Jason asked, voice hushed and sharp all at once.
"No-" Alison began, but then she looked at her mother and it hit her. He was. Her brother was right; that was exactly what Elizabeth was trying to tell them.
Elizabeth glanced around at all of them. Stevie was pale and still, while Alison had already begun to sob and Jason looked as if he was going to be sick. Tears slowly rose to Elizabeth's eyes as pure, utter despair enveloped the four remaining members of the family she and Henry had built together.
A lifetime of love and hope and tender, beautiful moments, gone. Shattered in an instant. Elizabeth sat there in the silence with her children, wishing that she could wake up and find Henry next to her.
Elizabeth wasn't sure how long she and her children sat there. It could have been minutes or hours, maybe. Time had ceased to exist within her, because how could it be that Henry was gone and the hands on the clock were still turning, one second, minute, and hour at a time, as if everything were normal? Somewhere along the line, she'd ended up on the floor. They all had. The children, Elizabeth realized suddenly, had all fallen asleep.
How had they done that? Alison had cried herself to sleep, Elizabeth was pretty sure. Jason, too, she thought. But Stevie...Stevie hadn't cried. Elizabeth glanced over at her eldest child, curled up on the floor. She was asleep, but she didn't look peaceful. Even in sleep, she looked troubled. Suddenly, as much as she'd wanted to be with them before, Elizabeth couldn't stand to be near them. The walls felt as if they were caving in on her and, in a way, she supposed that they were. The walls of her existence, brick after brick that she and Henry had laid, were crumbling around her. She stood slowly, on shaking legs that she was unsure were fit to carry her anywhere.
And yet, they did. Mindlessly, with no intention of where she was going, Elizabeth moved over her sleeping children and soon found herself upstairs. Later, she wouldn't recall how she had gotten there. She stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Her eyes landed on Henry's toothbrush, lying where it had been since the day he had left. Henry kept two toothbrushes: one for home, one for travel. He said that made it easier. Elizabeth thought it was funny.
Or she had, once, a day ago. A day which felt like a lifetime and a moment all at once.
And just like that, with the sight of her husband's toothbrush on the countertop, it had all coming crashing down on her.
Henry was gone. Elizabeth was alone. Her children had no father. She would never get her forever with the only man she'd ever loved. She had lost her husband, her solace, her partner in everything, and her best friend, all in one fell swoop. All in once blast that had torn everything apart. A choked sob tore air from Elizabeth's lungs. She didn't give it willingly; in fact, she had no idea how she was still breathing. She was quite sure that she shouldn't be, because Henry was gone and everything should have just spun to a stop right then and there. She leaned against the closed bathroom door, the weight of her body dragging her down to the floor. She heard herself gasping for air, felt it being pulled from her body and returned, an endless cycle that she wished she had the heart to break.
Tears streamed down her cheeks and her head throbbed, but Elizabeth didn't care. She wrapped her fingers around the necklace that hung delicately against her chest: the chain which contained two little charms, ones that Henry wore too. Charms that had meant something to them, charms she had always pictured she and Henry explaining to their grandchildren someday. Now, she wrapped the delicate chain in her fingers and yanked, the pressure stinging her neck. She sobbed as she threw it across the floor, listening to the charms hit the glass wall of the shower and bounce back to land on the floor before the bathroom was plunged back to silence.
Elizabeth took a shuddering breath; her chest was tight with panic and she squeezed her eyes shut, wishing that she could just make it all go away. She couldn't even get her head around the fact that Henry wasn't going to be coming home. Thinking of their kids asleep on the floor of what was now just her office, Elizabeth couldn't breathe. She lowered her head and cried, wondering if she would ever be able to breathe normally again.