A Handful of Moments
"Hi," she says, and her voice is like honey.
"They blocked it," he snaps, throwing the pen on his desk. He runs a hand through his hair. "I can't believe they blocked it."
"Partisan congressional stone-walling," she murmurs sympathetically.
"Why do Democrats have a reputation for being tolerant and cooperative?"
"That's not exactly fair, Fitz. Your healthcare initiative didn't provide for birth control and that's a hot button issue right now. Give them time to hash it out some more."
"Yeah," Fitz mutters. "Meanwhile, there are people out there not buying medication they need to survive because they can't afford it."
"You're trying to do something unprecedented with an opposing party in the majority in the House. It's going to take time." She pauses. "For the record, I'm proud of you."
In the dim light the setting sun casts on the Oval Office, Fitz smiles for the first time that day. "I hope to God you had a better day than I did."
"It was actually sort of dull. We finished with our last client a few days ago and we've just been doing the wrap-up ever since."
"Paperwork. Riveting stuff."
"How would you know? You have dozens of cronies to do that kind of grunt work for you now."
"Is that a tone of jealousy I detect, Miss Pope? If it's any consolation," he continues, lowering himself into his chair, "I think I would've rather spent the day in your office doing paperwork for you than on the phone with hard-headed representatives."
"If you had spent the day in my office, Mr. President, the last thing you'd have been doing was paperwork."
That surprises a laugh out of him, along with a telltale thrill low in his belly at the thought. "I miss you, Liv. What are you doing?"
"Making dinner. Chicken Parmesan, nothing fancy."
Now that he's seen her kitchen, Fitz can paint a picture in his mind. The scent of food wafting through the space and her right there, in jeans and a sweater (his, the one she had slipped into the morning after their third night together, it was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen), hair pulled away from her face, stirring marinara over the stove. He lets himself imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like to come home to that sight, kiss her, pour himself a glass of wine, set the table.
"You still there?" Her voice brings him back to awareness.
"Mmhmm. Just imagining. Cyrus tells me tales of your cooking. It's absolutely criminal that I haven't tasted it yet."
"Maybe, if you're nice, I'll bake you something and have it sent over as a surprise one afternoon."
"I'd rather you bring it yourself." He sighs. "I miss you."
"I know," she says quietly. "One of these days, I'd like to set the table for two."
Two rings, an hour and eleven minutes. They say goodbye.
"You're doing it again," Cyrus says.
"What am I doing?" Fitz looks up from the report to find Cyrus's judgmental gaze pinning him to his chair.
"What was the average rainfall for Texas last year, Mr. President?" His eyes return to the report. In front of him, Cyrus scoffs. "Five minutes reading that damn thing and you haven't picked up a single word, have you?"
Fitz closes the folder and sets it aside, planting his elbows on the desk to rub at his temples. Even if Cyrus was wrong, Fitz has no strength to fight him.
Cyrus has taken up his trademark, agitated pacing, running a hand through his thinning hair. "There's a drought in the southwest, protesters sleeping on Wall Street, stonewalling in Congress, strikes in Detroit, Memphis and St. Louis—and that's just today. Yesterday pirates struck cargo vessels off the coast of Somalia, the police force in Kuwait City beat down peaceful Bedoun marchers and sixteen civilians were killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem—oh there's more," Cyrus adds when Fitz leans back in his chair, "I can continue."
"Every problem the world has will come through this office, Mr. President," Cyrus continues after he collects himself. He braces his hands on the desk. "There's poverty, starvation, unemployment, hate crimes, millions of uninsured Americans and tens of thousands of our service men and women getting heatstroke in the middle of a goddamn desert. And you can't even focus on a rainfall report." Fitz looks up. The line of Cyrus's jaw is clenched tightly. "I have the utmost respect for you and for this office, sir."
Fitz snorts derisively. He could argue that point.
"So know that I say this with all due respect, Mr. President," Cyrus continues. "Stop sulking."
Cyrus doesn't quite slam the door on his way out. There are days when Fitz hates him, but today isn't one of those days.
Three rings tonight.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?"
"Are you really asking me that? Have you been drinking?"
"Not nearly enough. Do you?" he presses, swirling his glass of scotch. "Because I didn't. I never did. Not until I met you."
She makes an incredulous sound. "That is the cheesiest thing I've ever heard in my life."
"I'm serious," he insists, leaning back into his chair and kicking his feet up. "Real love, in my opinion is practiced. Cultivated, if you will. It needs nurturing and care to blossom properly."
"Cyrus would hate you for that metaphor. I hate you for that metaphor, come to think of it."
"But with you…God, it was just effortless. Like sliding into a hot bath."
"So in addition to running the free world, you also write Hallmark cards." But she's laughing, just like Fitz knew she would. She's one of the most sensual people he knows, but she's not one for sentimentalizing and never has been.
"That's really terrible, Liv. Here I am pouring out my heart to you and you're laughing at me."
"I'm not laughing at you. I'm…laughing near you."
"Uh-huh." Fitz considers his glass. "Karen went on her first date tonight."
"I knew I heard something on the news about the military mobilizing."
"Tease a man in pain, g'head."
"Who's the lucky boy?"
"Trevor Townsend. He's some member of the soccer team she thinks is dreamy."
"Fitz," she says calmly, "no one born after the Iron Curtain came down says 'dreamy'."
"His mother works for an accounting firm and his father is a surgeon. She says she's in love."
"She's fifteen; of course she is. How are you handling the press?"
"I'm not handling it. Cyrus is handling it. If I were handling it, I'd have set fire to the press briefing room and told Karen that she wouldn't be allowed to be in the same room with a boy again until she turned thirty-five."
"And so many Americans thought they were electing a reasonable man," she observes sadly.
"I'll have you know that that course of action would've gotten me the vote of every man who has a daughter in this country."
"So what did the couple choose to do for their first night out on the town?"
"The great American classic—dinner and a movie. A new horror film, probably about campers and a murderer on the loose or something."
She laughs and Fitz lets the sound fill him up. "Well, it sounds romantic to me."
Fitz observes his glass again. His knuckles are white. "You know what's really crazy? I'm jealous. I'm actually jealous of my teenage daughter and her boyfriend."
She doesn't say anything, but Fitz can imagine her expression—eyebrows knitted together, pretty mouth drawn into the sad frown that cut him like a knife every time he saw it. "Well," she says slowly, taking a deep breath, "for future reference: I need popcorn and Twizzlers whenever I go to a theater. I hope that's not too rich for your blood."
Fitz smiles in spite of himself and lets his head fall back against his chair. "I think I can manage that."
Three rings, an hour and forty-seven minutes. They say goodbye.
The nights are the worst. During the day, Fitz can forget, can get lost in his work and in the bigger issues of the country and every day, that part of it gets just a little easier and Cyrus looks less tense and actually cracks a joke or two when he's been especially good. Fitz does his job without taking much joy in it. Still, the days are endurable.
But the nights are torture.
Four rings. He doesn't even wait for her to speak.
"I want you so badly I can't stand it," he says all in one breath, not caring where she is or what she's doing.
He can hear her gasp and he wants to bottle it and listen to it in those heavy moments when just hearing her voice is enough. "Fitz."
On some level, he registers that she isn't angry, only surprised. "I lay awake at night and ache, Livvie. Sometimes it's hard to even breathe." And that's exactly what it is: suffocation. He is suffocating inside the circle of another woman's wedding band and she has to know it. She has to.
"Fitz," she says again, her voice barely a breath.
"And I keep thinking that I know what loneliness is, I've felt it before. I've been lonely for years but…I've never felt anything like this, ever. It's just—there aren't words to…" The back of his throat burns. He buries his face in his hand.
She remains silent. Listening. Waiting.
Words bubble up in him, all the things he can't say during the day and everything he isn't supposed to feel and he can't stop it. He tells her he loves her, that he can't be without her, that he misses the way she feels, smells, talks, tastes—god, he misses the way she tastes and he feels like his mouth knows the way she tastes better than the way food tastes because he's mapped her entire body with it, kissed papery eyelids and velvety cheeks and sweet lips and dipped the line of her elegant collarbones and cataloged the ridges of her ribcage and snaked inside her navel just to hear her laugh and found perfection between her thighs. He misses the way her legs feel around his waist, how her hips cradled his perfectly, misses the way it feels when she drags her fingernails over his back and pushed against him and arched up into him and held him in her arms after, when he was exhausted and trembling and certain that he'd died and gone to Heaven but not sated, never sated because he would never, ever have enough of her to ever be sated.
But more than that, he misses her, just looking at her and watching her smile or wrinkling her nose or tilting her head when she laughs, he misses the privilege of being able to walk into a room and see her there waiting for him, smiling at him with big brown eyes that make him fall in love a little more every time he looks into them.
"Liv," he says—croaks—after it's all come out, nonsensical strings of thought. He says her name because it's all he can say, it's everything in this world that matters to him in a single word.
Her breathing is uneven. He hates himself for making her cry because Olivia Pope doesn't cry, ever.
"Every night I go to sleep, I always pretend my head's on your shoulder." She tries to muffle her sob but it doesn't work, he can hear. "Every night, Fitz."
Four rings, thirteen minutes. She hangs up.
He waits a long time before going to the Residence so he doesn't face Mellie with red eyes.
Fitz doesn't call again the next day, nor the next week, nor the next month. He can't. She doesn't try to call him.
"Hmm, what about Hunter? That's a nice, strong name and I think it's got some interesting 2nd Amendment connotations. Sure to please the far right. Or something traditional, something Biblical, something Sally Langston would approve of? John, maybe, or Peter?"
Mellie shifts on the couch. One month left now and Cyrus is already preparing for the media storm that will happen the moment Mellie's first contraction strikes. Mellie herself is past the stage where a woman glows; she looks tired and agitated. Fitz truly feels sorry for her.
"I would think you would take more of an interest in naming your baby, Fitz," says Mellie.
Fitz arches an eyebrow. "Not my baby," he says with a pause, just to watch Mellie's face go utterly blank. "America's baby," he continues with a pointed look.
Mellie blinks and licks her lips. "Is our son going to receive the same loathing you have for me?"
"I don't loathe you; don't be theatrical."
"Theatrical," Mellie repeats softly. There is a twist to her expression now, one Fitz recognizes all too well. "You know what's a good name? James. I've always liked that name. I think there are at least ten Jameses working in the West Wing alone, the number of times a day I hear that name," she says with a little laugh, maneuvering forward on the couch to pour herself a cup of tea. "There's a new James here, though, Commander James Beresford. Have you met him yet? The new deputy national security adviser. He's got an impressive background—attended Princeton, did some fine work for the CIA. And handsome!" Mellie leans back again, teacup in hand. "Blond, blue-eyed, tall, all American-type. My secretary's positively smitten with him. Too bad he's taken."
Fitz doesn't say anything. Mellie sips her tea and nods as though he had. "Oh yes. I know I have a reputation for being something of a matchmaker but I'm nothing compared to Cyrus, sometimes. Goodness knows how he got the two of them in the same room; the man's a magician. But James seems quite enthralled with our Miss Pope. Gossip around the office is that he's had dinner with her twice this week alone." Mellie smiles. "They're quite a match, don't you think?"
"Stop it," Fitz says quietly.
"Olivia's at that age where settling down would do her good," Mellie goes on, setting her teacup aside to pick up the baby names book again. "And oh, just imagine their children! They would be the smartest, most adorable little things in all of New England. Except for our new baby, of course." Mellie meets his eyes, smile widening into a grin. "James is just perfect, don't you think?"
There is a long, long silence. "Good evening, Mr. President."
Fitz paces aimlessly around his desk, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tie loosened at his throat. "I assume you heard."
"Eight pounds, four ounces, twenty-two inches long with his father's eyes and his mother's smile." Her voice is carefully toneless. "Did you decide on a name?"
"Jerry, Karen and Jacob. It works. And Mellie, is she—?"
"Fine. Tired, over the moon. Fine."
When did their silences become so uncomfortable? Fitz clears his throat. "It took you a minute to answer. Were you sleeping?"
The pause this time is even longer. "Ask me what you really want to ask me, Fitz."
Tilting the receiver away from his mouth, he sighs. "I didn't…you're alone?"
"I'm alone. Who told you?"
"The mother of the year."
She hums contemplatively. "What'd you do to piss her off this time?"
"What don't I do is the better question." There it is, that uncomfortable, unfamiliar silence again. Fitz paces. "Liv—"
"Do you remember the night you came to my apartment and apologized about Amanda Tanner?" she interrupts.
"Yes. Of course."
"You assumed that I had a right to it. The right to be angry."
Fitz's heart stills. "You...Liv, you did. You do." She is silent and oh, Fitz hates when she does this. When she trivializes what they have. "Just because," he continues, trying to keep his tone level, "we can't be together properly doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to—"
"I'm not," she interrupts firmly. "I'm not entitled to a damn thing."
The sentence hangs unspoken between them in the silence.
And neither are you.
"I know it was wrong of me," he says softly, "to call that night and say all those things and then not call for a month. I shouldn't have said all that, I shouldn't have dumped all that on you."
"No you shouldn't have. But that's not what this is about. This is—it's all too—I can't keep doing this with you." Her voice is a whisper.
"I know. God, Livvie, I know." His footfalls become agitated; her distress is suffocating and there isn't anything he can do about it. "Just…one thing. I have to know one thing."
"I guarantee no answers."
"Fair enough," he says before taking a deep breath. "Does he make you happy?" The words taste like ash.
She laughs. It's watery. "No, Fitz. But he helps me forget how unhappy I am."
He collapses into his chair and runs a hand over his face. "I'm having trouble focusing, I…zone out. I'm not at my best. I haven't been for months."
"Cyrus told me."
"I should've resigned. I should never have let you and Mellie do this." He sits up. "Why, Liv? You wanted it as much as I did; I saw you. I watched your face after I said it."
Hope, relief, barely letting yourself believe that it could happen, that we could have a chance.
"And in the Residence with Mellie. It was killing you—I saw that it was killing you, but you did it anyway. Why?"
"The country needs you," she says.
"More than you need me?"
She is silent for so long that Fitz thinks he's lost her. Then, she makes a small sound that breaks his heart.
"No one," she says softly, "will ever need you more than I do, Fitz."
The discordant sound of a dial tone follows before he can ever reply.
Five rings, eight minutes and nine seconds. She hangs up.
"Good morning, good morning." Cyrus comes striding into the Oval at a pace only slightly slower than the one Fitz took on his usual morning run. He's got a thick bundle of portfolios tucked under his arm and he sets them on Fitz's desk. He takes note of the mug and nods. "Haven't finished breakfast yet? Shame. You should've had breakfast with me this morning, Mr. President."
Fitz raises the mug to his lips, eyebrows climbing towards his hair. "Cyrus?"
"Do you know who I had breakfast with this morning? An ex-government-trained assassin."
Fitz digests this and lowers his coffee. "Am I supposed to be shocked at the company you keep, Cy?"
"We," the chief of staff intones, seating himself across from the President. "We both know this person."
"I don't know any assassins."
"You don't know the people you work with very well," Cyrus mutters. "This is one of the nameless who got you elected. Helped," he corrects gingerly at Fitz's expression.
"And why are you having breakfast with this person?"
"Wasn't by choice. He found me in my diner. He's apparently one of Olivia's castaways. Ah," Cyrus says, watching as Fitz involuntarily straightens. "Yeah, I thought that would get your attention. He tells me our girl hasn't been doing too well. Know anything about that?"
Fitz lets the our girl slide. "Why would I know anything about that?"
"Please don't play this game with me, Mr. President. I play it a hell of a lot better than you do. This employee says that she's been listless. Preoccupied. Not making mistakes, but not being herself either."
Fitz nods. "And this concerned employee thought I had something to do with it and…what? Threatened me?"
Cyrus gives him an unspeakably flat look. "Yes, Mr. President. Yes, that's exactly what he did."
"Cyrus, why don't you get to the point, here? What's going on?"
"You didn't come up in the conversation at all. He wanted to ask me, as an old friend of hers, if there was anything they could do. They, being her employees."
"And what did you tell him?"
"That Liv's a big girl and can handle herself, and that if she needs help she'll ask for it."
Fitz's eyes find an intangible point on the surface of his desk. "Sounds about right."
Cyrus grunts. "Two cases I know of, same symptoms. What the hell am I going to do with you two?"
"Give us a lollipop and a kiss on the head and we'll be fine," Fitz advises, watching Cyrus slump back, clearly annoyed. "I can't see her, talking on the phone a few times a month doesn't cut it. We're both miserable. What did you expect would happen Cyrus?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe what miserable adults everywhere do? Work, live life, push through."
Fitz slams his hand on the desk. "I can't be with the woman I love, Cyrus!"
Cyrus just looks at him, long and hard. "Take a good look at the person you're talking to, Mr. President. It was only very recently that I was able to be with the person I loved." Fitz feels himself deflate. Cyrus stands, shaking his head. "The two of you. Figure it out and endure. Go see her, for Christ's sake, if that's what it takes. Just be smart about it this time."
Fitz laughs bitterly. "Do you really think that it's been you, or Mellie, or the risk of people finding out that's kept me from her?" Fitz finishes his coffee. "She has to want to see me, Cyrus."
Nine rings. Fitz gives up and dials a different number.
"I don't recall giving you this number," she says, irritated.
"Yeah, well, I've got a couple of people around who help me with stuff like that. How'd you know it was me?"
"Nearly one o'clock in the morning and the call is private; who else would it be?" She sounds out of breath. Walking. "And for the record, having a couple of people procure you my cell phone number when I didn't pick up at home is more than a little creepy."
The word raises gooseflesh on his arms. "You didn't answer. I was concerned."
"Contrary to popular belief, I do have a life outside of this—whatever this is between us."
Fitz clenches his jaw. "You're right. I'm sorry. This is obviously a bad time, we can do this later."
"No, just…damn it." She's stopped walking now and Fitz can imagine her—hair down, pristine white coat, standing in the middle of the sidewalk under a streetlamp, rubbing her forehead like she always does when she tries to calm herself down. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap."
"Something big?" Fitz turns his gaze to the window.
"Isn't it always? I'm—missing something." She would be biting her lip now, eyes dancing at the world around her. "I've got my client and I've got the puzzle solved, but something doesn't feel right. So I'm out trying to dig up my missing piece."
"You'll figure it out."
"This is ridiculous and it's twenty degrees out here. Mystery's over, but…"
"If you feel like something isn't right, then it isn't. You've never mistrusted your instincts." He looks down. "Except once."
She doesn't respond right away. Then, "I should go."
Fitz licks his lips. "Stay warm. Goodnight, Liv."
One missed call, three rings, four minutes and thirty seven seconds.
Fitz looks out the window.
America loves Jacob. He is chubby and blue-eyed and has his father's curly hair. The people are clamoring for pictures, interviews, video of their son. Everyone at the White House dotes on the infant whenever Mellie brings him around. The business of the free world stops at that baby's laugh so the movers and shakers can ooh and aah over his pudgy cheeks and his dimples.
Fitz loves Jacob. He's curious and intelligent and he's one of the few things these days that can bring a smile to Fitz's face.
His son is perfect. But some nights, Fitz looks at Jacob and sees darker skin and pouty lips and big, doe-brown eyes and it is a different kind of perfection. He imagines her in Mellie's thousand dollar dresses glowing only in the way a new mother can, holding Jacob out for the world to see, cooing at him and calling him sweet baby, kissing the crown of his head and meeting Fitz's eyes across the room in silent acknowledgement of the miracle that their love was able to create.
Fitz hates himself.
"Hello?" It is a man's voice, thick from sleep.
Fitz hangs up.
"It's coming," says Cyrus.
"Not for another eighteen months," Fitz returns, not looking up from his memo.
"The chair would like an answer before October, Mr. President. And the Vice President's staff are beginning to poke me."
"That's not why you're here, Cyrus. You want an answer for yourself," he says, setting the paper aside and looking at his chief of staff. "Trouble is, I don't have one for you yet. But I promise you'll know before any of Sally's people."
When Cyrus turns to go, Fitz calls him back.
"If I chose to, would you stay here?"
Cyrus takes a few steps closer to the desk. "Mr. President, I'd go to war for you in a heartbeat if you asked me to."
Fitz nods and dismisses him.
Fitz hears the other end pick up but he waits, remembering.
"Hi," comes the greeting, and it is blessedly her voice.
"Hi. I know it's been a while. I've been busy."
"So have I."
"Liv…I need to see you. No," he says quickly, to stop her from cutting him off. "You aren't going to tell me anything I don't already know, but I need to see you. There's…something's come up and it's a discussion I don't want to have over the phone."
She must recognize something in his tone because for once, she doesn't argue. "I can come tomorrow after two."
"Good. But not the Oval." He wants somewhere neutral. His mind briefly flits to the Residence but he brushes the thought away. "Our place? Six o'clock."
"Six," she says.
For the first time, Fitz hesitates before saying it. "I love you, Liv."
She lets out a breath. It isn't a sigh.
Six rings, two minutes and fifty one seconds. He hangs up.
The sun is slipping below the horizon when Fitz catches sight of her walking to the garden. She steals the breath from him and he has to fight every cell in his body to stay rooted to the spot.
She nods at him, polite and distant and the air around them is rife with tension that never used to be there. He motions towards the iron bench and bids her to sit and as she does, Fitz tries not to remember how many times he kissed her here, in their secret place.
"How have you been?" Fitz asks.
"Fine." She tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, exposing the column of her throat and Fitz finds himself looking at it for any sign that another man's lips have been there but there is none. "Busy. Six clients in the last two months."
"The city works you hard," he acknowledges with a nod.
"How are the kids? Jacob?"
"The kids are great. Jacob will be a full year soon. Mellie wants to throw a party. You know her."
She nods and glances at him. "Stop looking at me."
"Fitz, I'm serious." He sighs and looks away, leaning against the back of the bench. The space between them almost physically hurts. "Thank you. Now, why am I here?"
Fitz gazes out into the garden, and to the White House beyond. "They want me to run again."
She is silent beside him. He looks over at her to find her gaze level and distant. "Of course they do. The deficit's down, the war's drawing to a close, GDP is up and that new healthcare bill is going into effect in a couple of months."
"Cyrus seems to think I'm a shoe-in, that the left will save all their really promising candidates for four years from now and let me have it next November."
He's watching her again. She licks her lips. "Do you need help with the campaign again?"
"No," he says, and he can't help that he says it so sharply. "For God's sake, Olivia, I—that's not why I'm having this conversation with you."
"Then why are you having this conversation with me?"
"You know damn well why. Three years ago I sat here with you and I made you a promise."
"A promise I didn't ask you to make and one that doesn't—"
"Don't you say it doesn't mean anything," he bites out. "Olivia, don't you dare."
She looks at him fully for the first time since she arrived here. "Do you want to run again, Fitz?"
"Not if it means that we have to do this all over again," he responds quietly.
She shakes her head. "Don't do this, Fitz. Don't hinge the future of your political career on us."
Fitz looks at her long and hard. "Is this about James?"
Her eyes widen. "Excuse me?"
"Do you love him?"
She shoots to her feet and he follows. "Do you think you get to ask me that?" she demands, expression twisting. "After five months of nothing, and of a year of sporadic calls before that, you think you can bring me here and—"
"Do you love him?"
She stops and looks him in the eye and Fitz's heart breaks before she even opens her mouth.
"Yes." Fitz stares at her. Sound and thought recedes to nothing and all he knows in that moment is her, her defiant look. "Yes, I love him."
He swallows. "More than you love me?"
Her expression wavers; her defenses crack. Fitz seizes on the moment like a shark that smells blood. "Olivia...these past three years were brutally unfair. You had every right to—"
She surges forward and suddenly it is two years ago and he is standing in the Oval in a black tie while she, with a broken expression and watery eyes mutters sweet baby at him like a litany, like a damnation.
"Stop it!" She doesn't hit him, but Fitz can see that she's fighting not to. "Just stop. You don't give me that right, Fitzgerald Grant. It wasn't a magnanimous gift from my keeper. That right was mine. It was always mine, because you have no rights to me just like I have no rights to you."
"So nothing we ever said to each other matters at all?"
"Yes, Fitz, it matters. I meant every word I ever said to you just like you meant what you said to me." Her eyes fall closed and she shakes her head. "But it's been months since we've spoken and longer since we've really talked."
"I know," he says, taking a step forward. "I know, and it's my fault and I'm sorry, Livvie. God, I am so sorry—" She steps back, avoiding his hand. Brown eyes bore into his and she shakes her head and Fitz's heart stops. "Liv…" he hedges, dread coloring his tone.
"I asked you…once…to let me go," she says softly. "I don't even know why I asked. But it was killing me, Fitz. And when I asked, you said no. So I moved on anyway because you don't give me the right, do you understand?"
He nods. He swallows again; his throat is as dry as sandpaper. "I made you a promise, Olivia. I told you that I would be a one-term President, that after these four years were up, I would step down."
"I don't want you to step down for me, Fitz. Don't you understand that?" She curses, something she never does, and puts her hands on her hips, twisting her body away from him. "I never wanted you to make any decision about your career because of me. I didn't then and I don't now. I am done," she snaps, whipping around to face him again. "I am done telling you what you should and shouldn't do. I'm done advising you. If you are happy with what you've done in the White House and think your legacy is over, then don't run again. If you think there's still work to do and you want to continue shaping the world, then run. But do it because it's what you want to do. Leave me out of it."
The sun has set fully now and the lamps in the garden are popping on like fairy lights, casting the space around them in shadows. Fitz feels numb.
"James," and god, it kills him to say the name. "James makes you happy."
She nods. "Yes, Fitz. And he loves me. He can love me, in daylight. We can walk around outside without cameras, we can hold hands, we can go shopping and jog together and plan vacations. He can love me with his whole heart and that's what I need right now."
Fitz nods. The movements are jerky, and his throat works even though words are slow to come. He can't look at her anymore because if he does, he'll fall apart. "You deserve that. If I could've given that to you…" He lets the words trail because they are empty and meaningless now.
"I know, Fitz. And maybe we could have had that next year. But I can't do this with you anymore. I can't."
"I would've resigned," he says under his breath. "I would've resigned if you had asked me to."
"You didn't need me to ask you," she responds. "If you wanted to resign, you would have. Regardless of anything I or Mellie or Cyrus would have said. You fought us, but you stayed. Some part of you wanted to stay, so you did. I'm not angry," she says gently. "And I don't regret anything. If I had it to do all over again, I would. In an instant."
When he doesn't speak, he can feel her edge closer. "Fitz…"
He shakes his head, holding up a hand. Then, he nods towards the path. "Go on. It's all right."
"Fitz, look at me."
He takes a breath, eyes still closed. "No. Don't ask me to watch you leave, Olivia."
So he stands there and listens to her pad across the grass and gather her bag from the bench. She lingers and Fitz doesn't know how much more of this he can take.
"Goodbye, Olivia," he says.
For one horrible moment, he thinks that she might reach out and touch him. But she doesn't. She moves just past him and murmurs, "Goodbye, Mr. President."
Then, Fitz is alone.
He makes a point to seek out Mellie a few evenings later. She is sitting in her usual chair, Jacob cradled in her arms. Decoration ideas are spread out on the table in front of her.
"I need to talk to you," he says, waiting for Mellie to look up. Her expression is expectant. "Campaign season is coming. I'm sure you've heard by now that I've been tapped to run again."
"I may have heard something about it, yes."
"I've made my decision, and I wanted to tell you before I tell Cyrus and get the wheels moving on this."
"I'm honored," she returns dryly, and Fitz ignores it.
"In October, I'll be making an announcement to the American people that I will not be seeking reelection," says Fitz. "Following that, I will be giving my deep-throated support to Sally Langston and throughout the next year, we'll be back on the trail to endorse her. I imagine at the RNC I'll be giving the keynote address in her honor and after the election, we'll be preparing to transition to the new administration, whoever wins."
Mellie's eyes are huge, but Fitz takes no pleasure in it. She adjusts Jacob in her arms and glares at him. "You waited until he was asleep before you told me so I couldn't argue with you properly."
"Got it in one. You're married to the best politician in the world. Speaking of which," he continues, dropping himself into the chair opposite her, "spend as much money as you want on your inauguration dress. As soon as the new President is sworn in, we're flying back to Santa Barbara and at nine AM the next day, I'll be filing for divorce. Irreconcilable differences. Our prenuptial agreement should make the process go smoothly and quietly like I imagine you'd want it to, especially if you're going to enter politics yourself within the next decade or so. We have a little over a year to decide how we're going to tell the kids. And I will be getting joint custody of them," he adds levelly, "so don't go down that road with me, Mellie."
He gives Mellie a minute to take this in and occupies himself with the birthday decorations. Fitz is comparing and contrasting the merits of blue and yellow color schemes when Mellie finds her voice again.
"If you think that she's going to come running into your arms the minute you're not the President anymore," she begins, but Fitz cuts her off.
"I'm not doing this for Olivia. I don't want to be President anymore. I want to retire, write a book, purchase a vineyard. I want to be able to sleep in and not have to worry that while I'm in bed, someone somewhere is going to start a war. We did good things in office, damn good things and I'm proud of them. I hope to hell the prosperity continues and that history will remember me kindly, but I'm done." He stands. "I'm sorry that we fell out of love, that I was your glass ceiling for so long. I honestly wish you well."
He is almost out of the room before his wife calls his name. He turns.
"Thank you," she says simply, before going back to her plans.
His phone is ringing.
It manages a solid four and a half before Fitz can reach over and pick up the receiver. "Hello?"
He is instantly awake. A glance at his digital clock tells him that it is precisely 12:01. The 'AM' part is flashing and Fitz feels slightly homicidal.
"Do you know what time it is?"
"Three in the morning in DC," she says before pausing. "Consider it payback for all those late night phone calls you gave me. Did I wake you?"
"I've been asleep since nine."
"There's that age talking. Fifty years old—"
"Close enough. So I had a thought," she continues, as if nothing has happened.
"How did you even get my number?"
"I've got a couple of people," she says lightly. "So, back to my thought. You never did taste my cooking and I think I promised to make you something, sometime. And since you're fifty—"
"Forty-seven. You do realize you missed a year?"
"I was in Kuala Lumpur for a client and stop interrupting me. Since you're over the hill, I thought I'd bake you a big cake, red velvet maybe? Fifty candles. I'll even send along a fire extinguisher for you."
"Olivia," he says, "what are you doing?"
"Currently? Walking through LAX."
Fitz sits up in bed. "You're in California? You didn't come for—"
"No I didn't, you egomaniac. Believe it or not, I'm out here doing a favor for President Langston. It seems that that's going to be a thing now, sitting Presidents summoning me and making me fix their messes."
"I think Lindsay Lohan just passed me."
"Olivia," he repeats. "What are you doing?"
Silence rings for a minute. "I'm going to be in California for at least a week."
Fitz reclines against the headboard. "And, what? What did you think?"
"That I had an old friend who lived out here who I hadn't seen who owed me a dinner."
"I owe you?" he responds incredulously. It terrifies him, for a moment, just how easy to is to slip back into things and it's a dangerous thought. "Olivia—I haven't seen you in more than two years. We've barely spoken since…"
"Emails and Christmas cards don't count?"
"Are you angry?"
Fitz answers honestly. "No. But I do want to know what this is all about." Because I can't go through this again.
"I'm here. And I'd like to see you. If you'd like that."
Fitz's eyes close. He can't stop himself from asking. "How's James?"
The question doesn't even throw her. "Just fine. Married, as far as I know, to a woman who owns a boutique in Georgetown. I haven't seen him since before the election. How's Mellie?"
"Fine. She's thinking of starting her own law firm. She has the kids this week." He pauses. "Olivia, I don't know if I'm ready for this."
"Me neither," she admits. "But I couldn't be in California and not tell you. Not ask."
"And you couldn't have waited for a more decent hour?"
"You are such a senior citizen," she tosses back, and Fitz smiles the smile he only ever had around her. "There aren't any expectations. I'm not asking for anything and I don't expect anything from you. Just old friends having a meal, that's all it has to be."
Fitz waits a full minute before responding, although his mind was made up in the first fifteen seconds. "Do you remember the beach house?"
"Can you be here tomorrow around four?"
"Yes." And the happiness in her voice warms Fitz to his bones.
"Bring wine. And that cake," he adds. "The fire extinguisher, not so much. Any issues and we'll just toss it in the ocean."
"Ten-four." A pause. "Thank you, Fitz."
"See you soon, Liv."
He hangs up and glances over at the clock 12:11. Ten minutes.
Fitz settles back down, turns on his side and faces the empty space on the bed next to him. And for the first time since leaving Washington, Fitz lets himself imagine.