Elizabeth stood in front of her bathroom mirror, gazing at her own reflection. There was definitely something different about her now, she had decided. Two weeks after Henry's return, and just days before Christmas, things were starting to normalize a little bit. The dust was settling, and she was left to look around and see where her priorities were. She had a meeting with the President this morning; he'd invited her to the White House to speak with her, and she'd agreed to go. It would be her first time leaving Henry, and as she took her eyes off the reflective glass in front of her, she looked through the closet and into the bedroom. In her peripheral vision, Henry's clothes hung on their hangers, right where they belonged. One step forward found Henry himself, sleeping peacefully with his head on his pillow. He'd turned over since she had left the bed, as if his subconscious mind had led his body to follow hers. She smiled slightly at the sight of him there, and she took one last glance at herself in the mirror to ensure that she looked alright before she let her high heels carry her back into the bedroom. She sat lightly on the edge of the mattress and ran her fingers through Henry's hair. He stirred and her heart stumbled in her chest slightly; she was still getting used to having him home, being able to wake him so easily and have his long lashes flutter to reveal warm hazel eyes that lit up at the sight of her. He blinked sleepily at her and started to sit up, but she pushed him back down gently.
"No, babe, stay," she said. "I just wanted to say goodbye to you before I go to this meeting."
"Mmm," Henry hummed in understanding, looking her up and down.
"Eyes up here, McCord," she teased, and his lips were tugged into a smile that made the dimple in his cheek appear. He met her gaze.
"You look beautiful," he said sincerely.
"Don't I always?" she fired back at him and he groaned.
"I'm still half-asleep," he said. "Can't blame me for anything I say."
"I so can," Elizabeth laughed, leaning in to kiss him. "But I won't," she added. She started to pull away and stand, but he caught her by the hand and she looked back.
"You'll be home soon, right?" he asked, and she nodded.
"Yeah, babe. Just a couple of hours at most." She smiled her dazzling smile at him and leaned in again for another kiss. "I bet I'll be back in time to do breakfast with you," she said reassuringly. Henry didn't like being away from her; since coming home, the thought made him panicky. She could see it in his eyes; no matter how much they were slowly finding their footing again, this was hard for him. She sat back down and ran her hand through his hair.
"Close your eyes; I'll sit with you until you fall asleep again," she said. "I just didn't want you to wake up and find me gone with no warning."
"You don't have to-"
"I do," she said firmly, and Henry nodded; he was still very tired, and sleep did sound nice. With Elizabeth there at his hip, he closed his eyes.
"Love you," he mumbled, and she smiled even though he couldn't see her.
"Love you, too," she said softly, and twenty minutes later she tore herself away from him and out the front door.
At the White House, Elizabeth strode through the halls toward Russell Jackson's office with purpose. She didn't knock, but when Russell looked up and saw who it was, he bit back the snappy comment he'd had ready. She looked good; much better than she had the last time he'd seen her, and there was something about her that was different now than even before Henry's "death". She carried herself differently, as if she knew something that the rest of them didn't and she no longer needed any of them around her.
"Elizabeth," Russell said, and she smiled slightly at him.
"Hey, Russell," she replied. They looked at one another for a moment.
"How's Henry?" he asked, and Elizabeth nodded.
"He's doing well, all things considered," she said, and tilted her head slightly, studying him with razor sharp eyes.
"You knew," she said. It wasn't a question, but a statement, measured and even. Russell swallowed hard.
"Not at first," he said. "Not when I came to your house."
"Remind me to get that casserole dish back to you and Carol," she remarked, and then she was gone before he had a chance to say anything more. Elizabeth didn't need to hear his thoughts on the matter; she knew where she stood, and truthfully, she knew where Russell stood, too. She was finished listening. Russell's apology died in his throat as she stepped into the oval office.
Conrad Dalton looked up and stood as Elizabeth entered. He, too, noticed what Russell had seen in her. She had always been powerful; she could command a room with a single glance, but now there was something more there, and even Conrad was seized by the urge to back away from her. She looked eerily calm, and it unnerved him immediately.
"Bess," he said, already sounding apologetic. Elizabeth offered him a tight smile and nodded her head as she extended her hand to shake his.
"Mr. President," she said.
"Conrad, please," he implored, and Elizabeth shook her head as they both took their seats.
"I'd rather not," she said, never once taking her eyes off of him. "I like to be on a first name basis with people I consider friends." He seemed to shrink a little in his seat.
"Elizabeth, I had to-" he began, and she shook her head.
"You didn't," she said. "You sent Henry on that mission because you knew he wouldn't say no to you. You took advantage of him, of me, of a longstanding relationship between the two of us. Of the trust between us." She shook her head, leaned back, and crossed one leg over the other.
"You have every right to be angry," he said, and she nodded steadily.
"You're damn right, I do," she said. She still had not taken her eyes off of him. "You tore my family apart, and for what?"
"Lives were saved here," he began, and she nodded.
"Yes, thanks to Henry, lives were saved. But nothing comes without a price, and this price? Six months of one worst day of my life after the other. Six months of him tearing himself apart over duty to country versus duty to family. Six months of one of my daughters sleeping in my bed while the other one barely spoke and my son was so angry he could hardly think. So far, two weeks of nightmares." She shook her head again. "You know what I did before I came here this morning, Mr. President?" she asked. Silently, he shook his head 'no'.
"I woke my husband to let him know I was leaving and then I sat with him for a half-hour so he could get back to sleep because the idea of being apart from me is enough to send him into a panic right now. I'm sure you're familiar enough with Henry to know how out of character that is, so I'm going to trust that I don't need to go into any more detail to get across what you've done to him, and that's not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to me and to our children." He hung his head, but Elizabeth wasn't done.
"You stood in my house that night and looked me in the eye and you told me that my husband was dead," she continued. "You told me that he was never coming home, and you looked me in the eye again, every day after I came back to work. You saw me, sir, and you knew exactly what you'd done. You saw my daughter in that office-" she punctuated her words by pointing toward Russell's office "-every day. You looked at her, the girl that your son grew up with, the child that you watched grow up, and let her believe that her father was dead. You let us all suffer, and you can say it was for the greater good, and…" she trailed off and shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe it was," she said. "Maybe it was for the greater good. But I think the real question here is was it worth it?"
She met his eyes.
"Was it worth it to tear us all down?" she asked. "Was it worth it to break a nearly thirty-year friendship? Was it worth it to lose your Secretary of State?"
His head snapped up to look at her; without quite realizing it, Elizabeth had stood up. She no longer felt angry, per se; in fact, she felt strangely and completely calm. She knew what she had to do; she'd known it since holding Henry in her arms that night as he cried, with his letters to her by her side. She'd known it every moment since, that she could never go back to the woman she'd been before. That included this, all of this. Her relationship with Conrad, the trust there, the foundation on which she'd built this career that she hadn't wanted in the first place. It was no longer worth it- not to Elizabeth. Affecting change didn't matter anymore. She'd had a glimpse of the darkest possible version of her life, one without Henry, and she wasn't willing to waste another second.
"No," she said calmly. "I've made up my mind, Conrad. You made this decision. You chose to put Henry in that position, and you knew what you were doing. You get to be the one to face the consequence of this." She reached for her purse and looked down at him. "I'm going home to Henry," she told him, "and if you take anything from this, I hope it's that next time you think about tearing someone's family apart for the greater good, you think about Lydia and Harrison first, and consider for a minute what it might be like. Don't take a moment for granted, okay?"
"I quit," she said flatly, and with a steady turn of her heel, Elizabeth McCord walked out of the Oval Office, through Russell's past his calls to her, and into the hallway, headed back toward home and Henry, right where she belonged.