A/N: Yeah…I don't even know. Because every fandom needs a post-apocalyptic AU scenario and hey, it's not like Olivia and Fitz haven't suffered enough already. We'll go with that. Spoilers for all episodes up to and including "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot".
A Minute Past Midnight
She is out on the ground when the call comes in. The intercom inside her mask is buggy and has been for the past few days. She makes a mental note to put in a requisition order before responding to the call.
"What is it?"
Static crackles on the other end. The words come in garbled and she taps the side of the helmet to try and clean it up. "Can you hear me?"
"—base—transmission—hear me, Liv?"
"Hello? Quinn!" she calls before moving a few feet downwind. This section of the city hasn't yet been cleared and the ground beneath her feet is unstable; she slips twice before sliding as evenly as possible down to flatter ground. Her boots catch the jagged slab of concrete and hold, thankfully. "Quinn, can you hear me?"
"—ing to switch channels—sec…" The radio pops in her ear and Olivia flinches, biting out a curse. Several yards away, other recovery workers turn curiously in her direction, expressions hidden behind identical masks. She gives them a thumbs up. "—Okay, is this any better, Liv?"
"Much. What's up?"
There is more static, but Quinn's voice breaks through. "Where are you right now?"
"Southern edge of zone five. Routine scouting run," Olivia replies, wondering just when the hell these runs became routine.
"Are you near anything stable?"
Olivia glances around. The visor of her helmet is beginning to fog. "A couple of broken columns and what I think used to be the rim of the fountain. Why?"
"I'm advising you to sit down."
Olivia stills. "What have you found, Quinn?"
"Nothing has been confirmed," comes the hesitant, tinny response. "But Harrison thought it was a good idea to go ahead and tell you, even though we don't really know—"
"Quinn. What have you found?"
"The left wing," she says, and Olivia really wishes she had taken Quinn's advice and found somewhere to sit. Her knees buckle and the concrete beneath her shifts dangerously as she fights to regain her balance.
"A few kilometers west of the green zone, in unreclaimed territory. But it isn't a confirmed report," she adds quickly. Olivia is already scaling the pile of rubble to get back to the drop point.
"Signal the chopper back to my location. Tell Harrison I'll meet him there."
Seven minutes later, the sounds of helicopter blades slicing through the thick smog reach Olivia's ears. The roar is nothing compared to how loud her heart is beating.
The board of directors of the Bulletin of Atomic Science at the University of Chicago have kept a close eye on the state of the world after the introduction of atomic weaponry. In 1947, they created something they called the "Doomsday Clock" to measure, at any given time, how close the world was to disaster. The idea was that the closer the time on the clock was to midnight, the closer the world was to global catastrophe.
The original setting of the clock-face was at seven minutes to midnight. Since its inception, the Doomsday Clock has been altered many times, sometimes with additions to minutes and other times with subtractions—the most significant of which occurred in 1953, in the midst of the Cold War. The United States and the USSR experimented with thermonuclear devices within only nine months of each other. The time then was 11:58, the closest to midnight the clock had ever read since it was created.
Until the third year of the Grant Administration, when the time was shifted to 11:59.
It takes Sal a minute to land the chopper. Olivia forces herself to look outside the window through the noxious clouds of dust to the leveled land below. She's lost count of how many fly-overs she's done, how many times her boots were on the grounds sifting through the remains, desperately hoping to find something moving beneath. It gets no easier.
The earth rises to greet them as the chopper makes its descent through the layer of fallout. Olivia's stomach roils and her gaze grows keener now, sharper as she scans the landscape for any sign. She catches sight of another chopper on the ground and Sal swings the craft around, searching for a place to set her down as cleanly as possible.
"See anything?" Olivia shouts into the microphone.
"Looks no different than anything else beyond the perimeter!" Sal returns, bringing the helicopter down.
Olivia has to disagree with him there. Scenes of destruction aren't all the same, especially if you remember what was here before.
She does her suit check and makes sure Sal's helmet is fastened before she pushes the door open and jumps out. The ground, as always, shifts beneath her feet—bits of rubble and larger chunks of pavement, bisected by iron rods of foundation. Olivia looks around and heads to the other chopper where Harrison's team is waiting. She can pick him out easily, despite the fact that they are all wearing suits and masks.
Harrison steps forward, holding up a thickly gloved hand. "I checked back with Quinn. She says you have less than an hour."
"Where is it?" she sidesteps.
But Harrison won't be ignored. "Forty-seven minutes, Liv."
"Then stop wasting my time and tell me where it is."
"Eighty yards that way," he says, jutting a thumb out behind him. "Delta team saw it yesterday afternoon. Came out early this morning to do a confirmation sweep and they think it's the real thing."
"It wasn't on aerial," Olivia continues, starting off in the direction Harrison indicated. "Recovery divisions normally aren't the first to spot OOIs."
Harrison is going for the tool at his belt, what he jokingly refers to as the 'fallout crucifix'. The Geiger counter comes to life with a series of clicks which Olivia can now catalog without even looking at the measurements. "Levels here are consistent with other places we've looked at this far from ground zero. Forty-six minutes."
"That is going to get annoying really fast." Olivia kicks aside a wrought iron bar. "Beta radiation isn't that bad here."
"No, but you were in zone five today and even these low levels are gonna compound your exposure. This could've waited until tomorrow."
"No, it really couldn't have."
Harrison catches her elbow. He's so close now that Olivia thinks she can see the shape of his eyes behind his visor. "Liv."
"The chances of finding—"
"I know." Olivia pulls away from him, gently but firmly.
"Let me call it in to HQ," presses Harrison.
Olivia shakes her head. "We're on the ground already. Let's confirm it first."
"On the ground," Olivia repeats. "And we don't want them coming all this way if it's nothing. Now come on."
The trek is laborious, as first walks across unreclaimed land usually are. Olivia's instinct is to run, to dash over the unnatural slopes and plateaus and basins of debris towards Harrison's coordinates in spite of safety regs and training. As it is, she keeps a breakneck pace for a first walk, not checking to see if land is secure and Christ, not stopping to do a recovery sweep. But if she lets herself stop and think about just what she could be walking over daily, Olivia wouldn't be able to get out of bed and do it all over again the next morning.
The coordinates lead them to a stretch of scorched earth no different than the space they've been walking through, but something changes for Olivia. Beneath her helmet, the hairs on her neck rise and prompt a wave of gooseflesh through her whole body, though the suit is uncomfortably warm. She tromps over a knoll of shattered plaster and metal and mounts it gingerly, Harrison and the others behind her.
Olivia's breath catches in her throat when she sees it. The world beyond her line of sight fades away.
"Is that…what I think it is?" one of Harrison's teammates asks.
Olivia turns her head in his direction, eyes never leaving the long swath of metal ahead of her. "Call HQ and tell them we've found Air Force One."
Cyrus Beene had sat behind his desk in his office adjoining the Oval, whiskey in one hand and remote in another. He watched the sob story unfold on television, shaking his head.
"This is going to be trouble," he'd warned, though it hadn't sounded like a warning back then. A mild reproach, a throwaway line from a man who turned curmudgeoning into a fashion statement and had chuckled when Olivia told him so.
"You have to ruin everything," she'd responded with a long-suffering sigh. "They just overthrew a dictator, Cy. They deserve to celebrate a little."
And he'd smiled wanly, the smile that preceded black ops folders and quiet kill orders. "I give it six months before they start whining, begging the other guy to come back."
"I give it six days before the other guy ends up dead," she had replied, raising her wine glass towards the TV. "It's Gaddafi all over again. Vox populi, vox Dei. "
"No no, my darling. The voice of the people is and has always been nonsensical, unremarkable, unintelligent fucking noise. See, look at that." He motioned to the TV. "That sign says 'peace and revolution'. Do these idiots honestly think that the two are possible together? If every beret-wearing, iPod-toting mouth-breather sporting a Che Guevara T-shirt only understood what revolution really meant…" He downed another swig of his whiskey and heaved a sigh. "These are children playing war. They have no idea what they've just done."
"Do you want a hug?" she had asked.
"Make fun of me all you want," Cyrus had said. "But remember that amidst the celebrations and support and media coverage and the world getting on its feet to greet these people, I was here in the dark, scoffing. When everything goes to shit, remember that I saw it coming."
"Grouch," Olivia replied, clinking her glass to his.
"HQ to Recovery, please confirm—object of interest is debris from Air Force One?"
The transmission comes through crystal clear. Olivia clicks her mic on. "Confirmed," she barks. "We've relayed the coordinates to you. Visual confirmation to follow. Stand by."
"Roger that, Recovery. Standing by." The disembodied voice on the other end sounds disbelieving. Olivia can't blame her.
"You have less than twenty minutes now," says Harrison. Olivia is staggering towards the wing, hands reaching out for the strong metal, as much to steady herself as for tangible proof that this is it, this is here.
"Turbines are intact," she mutters, running a gloved hand over the faded blue streaked over the top of it. "There could still be fuel inside we could salvage," she says to Harrison's team. Olivia moves over to the other end of the wing, the piece that should be attached to the fuselage. The rest of it can't be far behind. She turns to Harrison. "I want this area cordoned off for recovery immediately. Two square miles. This is our priority now."
Olivia can see in the way Harrison's posture changes that he wants to argue, but he knows better. She turns to scope out her new focus area and a bit of her old life seeps into her; a meticulous mind searching for a million ways to put together a puzzle.
"North, northeast," she murmurs, turning her face up to the clouded sky. "It would have been flying towards Canada. The rest of the plane should have been scattered somewhere over this area."
"Provided it hasn't disintegrated." Harrison's team is really beginning to annoy Olivia.
"Logistics at HQ can make the projections and give us a more accurate idea of the debris field," Harrison says to her, but he's still distracted by that damned crucifix of his. "Eighteen—"
"Stop talking." Olivia finds her footing and hoists herself onto the wing; it is the highest vantage point in the area. Land extends out in front of her, a sea of destruction and mess, nearly indistinguishable.
Olivia closes her eyes and imagines the turbulence, the emergency siren, the plane being buffeted by the shock waves. It wouldn't have reached a high enough altitude to be spared from the blasts entirely, but Olivia doesn't think that is what tore the wing off. Maybe brought the plane down…
Trajectory, her mind offers (in Huck's voice; it hurts). Olivia opens her eyes and twists a bit.
"There," she says, pointing. "There's where the fuselage would be."
"I don't see anything," another team member says.
"It'll take a bit of digging," she says, making to climb off the wing. Harrison catches her when she stumbles.
"Okay, enough, Olivia. Seriously. You're going to back to base. You've been exposed enough for one day."
And even as she trudges back to the helicopter, her mind is working faster than it has in weeks, mapping out a lay of the land as it had been before, and thinking about all the little nooks and crannies that could be used for shelters.
(Hold on. I'm coming.)
1. Patriotism. Noun.
-Devoted love, support and defense of one's country; national loyalty.
2. Nationalism. Noun.
- (a) National spirit or aspirations
- (b) Devotion and loyalty to one's own nation; patriotism
- (c) Excessive patriotism; chauvinism
- (d) The desire for national advancement or independence
- (e) The policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one's own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
As always, survivors are a priority but there is less emphasis on this than there had been those first few frantic days. Excavation teams arrive from beyond the green zone, some in land rovers and others by helicopter. They create a site around the wing and begin the painstaking recovery process while others look for the fuselage.
The network of surviving cities is loosely connected through satellite and radio and Morse Code. All of their eyes are on Olivia's recovery division, waiting with bated breath.
Olivia wanders along the edge of the perimeter, shining her flashlight into the structures that remain standing in the immediate vicinity, venturing inside and looking for any positive signs. Her gut instinct has dust on it after all that's happened, but she places her trust in it.
The first body is recovered mere hours after the excavation starts—a Secret Service agent. His skin is melted into a chair of the plane, but thankfully the crash killed him before the flash burns had a chance.
Efforts are redoubled to reclaim the fuselage. A survivor is found day three, a middle-aged woman who had taken refuge in the basement of a pharmacy at the eastern edge of the perimeter. She is choppered back to base and treated for malnourishment, dehydration and a severe respiratory infection. Her name is Jane, and Jane becomes the hope that Olivia clings to when she sets out before dawn on day four.
Jane doesn't live through day five. Olivia ignores it and (doesn't give up, refuses to give up) keeps looking, Harrison faithfully at her heel, watching her with sad eyes.
Olivia ignores that, too.
The first time WMD programs were mentioned, Olivia was summoned to the White House. It wasn't the first time she'd been there or seen him since Verna's funeral, but it was still new enough to knot Olivia's stomach with anxiety.
The tone coming out of Washington until that point had been one of comfortable neutrality and a distant, Rooseveltian shoulder to lean on, the kind that didn't include lend-lease armaments but put no price on moral support. It wouldn't have looked good for the White House to condemn a new country just throwing off the yoke of a dictator, no matter how much noise they made or how wary their neighboring countries became.
But that was then.
Olivia spent hours in the Oval that day among the best and the brightest making phone calls, trying to determine the proper narrative. The Joint Chiefs held court in the Situation Room making sure that all satellites were still active and that all counter attack measures were tested. It was well-organized chaos, the kind that Olivia thrived in, but everything as usual came down to Fitz.
"Diplomacy," he'd said with finality. It was not the answer anyone in the room had wanted to hear. Cyrus had once complained to Olivia that it just figured that he'd have to work for the only Republican in the world who refused to play whack-a-mole with the red button. He met her eyes across the room and despite the tense situation, Olivia had wanted to laugh.
Objections and various contingencies were tossed around the room but she knew Fitz well enough to know what he looked like when his mind had been made up. So when it became clear to the rest of them that he wasn't going to budge, Olivia had already thought up a game-plan.
"Envoy," she suggested. "A diplomatic envoy to the area to help diffuse the situation. Establish a clear American presence, let them know that we are very interested in the goings on in the region all while keeping the tone cordial but firm. Serious, but not threatening. Informal."
Fitz mulled it over for a minute before nodding and looking at his secretary. "Get me the Vice President's chief of staff."
Two more days pass. Four more bodies are recovered. Olivia has searched seven buildings and found nothing but rubble. If Quinn and Harrison notice that she is unusually silent and irritable when pressed, they kindly don't say anything.
The only other building left in the vicinity is a bank. It's smaller than the others and the chances are slim, but Olivia heads towards it at dawn on the seventh day, heart hammering in her chest.
Inside, it is eerily silent and grey with ashy debris. Her every footfall echoes in the small lobby as she makes her way past the teller booths, all covered with a thick layer of grime. She explores it as thoroughly as possible, shining the beam of her torch across every inch of the space, praying to a god she isn't sure exists anymore for any sign of human life.
She finds none.
After, Harrison finds her at the edge of the recovery zone she had created around the wreckage.
"No," he says without preamble.
"No, it's in the opposite direction of the debris field and it's too far away from where the plane went down for anyone to have walked in the middle of an attack."
"Anyone without military training," Olivia responds. President or no President, he was a fighter pilot before he was ever an elected official. He had once told her that even in civilian life, that instinct for combat readiness was never really turned off. He would have been alert, prepared. He would know what to do in situations like this. He would have (fucking had to have) known what to do.
"If he survived." Olivia whips around to Harrison.
"What did you just say?"
"I said, what happens to the Council if he survived?" he repeats, tilting his head in slight confusion. "Provided he's able to take over again. Provided we find him."
"I don't know," Olivia says honestly. The one saving grace in all of this is that there hasn't been a power struggle (who wanted to be king of a smoldering ash pile?); everyone seems relatively willing to work together. She isn't sure what would happen if they found him—or anyone—that fit into the line of succession.
At the moment, she doesn't really give a damn. And neither did anyone else, really. The Council heads could decide to host the fucking Hunger Games for the big chair if they wanted to. People would still be starving, sick, dying, clinging to life buried beneath what was left of the world. That (he) was the priority.
"You aren't going out there," Harrison says, examining that fucking crucifix of his.
Olivia watches him and thinks of the flash burns, the scars, the deformities they were just starting to discover in animals and in babies, the tumors that were probably in all their futures. Of Jane.
And she thinks that none of it matters (without him).
She moves past Harrison and past the perimeter marker, eyes fixed to the line of dilapidated buildings looming a few hundred meters ahead.
Pope and Associates had been embroiled in an embezzlement case when the news broke. The five of them had stopped dead and gathered around the TV, all of them uncommonly silent as the newscaster reported on the situation.
"—in less an attack and more of a coldly calculated execution, which the country's leader is calling a 'necessary show of dominance'. Once again, we can confirm that despite not being the targets, three of our five visiting diplomats, including Ambassador Lance Zimmerman and Vice President Sally Langston, were killed in the explosion."
"This is the reality of living in post 9/11 America," Cyrus had said later, after the initial shock had worn off when she and Cyrus were elbow deep in foreign policy clean-up and when all the Joint Chiefs were finished discussing the merits of 'proportional responses'.
"It's not the same. Fighting terrorist cells is different than having a whole country rattling their sabers at us," Olivia responded.
"These are terrorists. Terrorists who deposed a leader—"
"—and took over the nation without knowing quite how to run it and think they can come onto the world stage and play with the most powerful country on earth. King George was a dictator too," Cyrus added.
Olivia was beginning to wonder if that would have been different if Washington, Adams, Franklin and Jefferson had had access to SLBMs. Or if the Native Americans had had them, she added to herself, thinking of the recent invasion.
"So are you suggesting a light hand?" It was the first time Fitz had spoken since the gaggle of senior advisers and military experts had vacated the Oval, leaving it to them, to the administration's golden trio.
"I'm suggesting that we not let wounded pride dictate our dealing with a country who is known to be enriching uranium and whose ex-dictator had chummy relations with countries who spit on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mr. President."
Olivia will never forget the look on Fitz's face in that moment, the trace of unfamiliar black humor lifting one eyebrow as he surveyed Cyrus with burning eyes. Eyes that frightened her. "Is this Cyrus Beene, stepping back from a chance to make war? You seemed trigger happy a few weeks ago. I'd think that after this and the country's propensity to invade its neighbors and slaughter civilians in droves, you'd be all ready to saddle up and go to war."
Cyrus ducked his eyes. "Mr. President—"
"Sixty-seven people were killed today!" Fitz brought his fist down on the desk, rattling everything that sat atop of it in his rage. "Sixty-seven men and women on a mission of peace. Twenty-nine of them were Americans, including the Vice President. And you have the nerve to call what this country is feeling wounded pride?"
"So you would take a page out of Truman's book and…what, exactly? This isn't a pre-arms-race world we're talking about here, sir. We go to war in this day and age with this particular country and I guarantee you there's going to be a hell of a lot more than your approval numbers on the line."
"Ten weeks ago, you were ready to bring the hammer down! You and Blackburn and Isaiah—"
"Ten weeks ago, their military force and resources were laughable and they were happy inside their own borders. They have allies now, money and three successful tests of nuclear weapons under their belt. If we had struck then—"
"So it's my fault Sally and Lance are dead," Fitz had said in a soft, loaded tone. "Because I wanted try and foster civil discussion instead of blowing them off the map."
Cyrus raised his chin. "You said it, Mr. President. I didn't."
Olivia had actually thought Fitz would hit Cyrus. She'd stood then, holding up her hands. "Congress is in session. The War Powers Resolution—"
"Fuck the War Powers Resolution," Fitz spat out, like every President before him.
"Public opinion is eighty percent in favor of war," she had continued. "They're not going to ignore that. If it's war you want, then do it with the full backing of Congress. Going to war means no more division."
Fitz had looked at her then (really looked at her, for the first time since Defiance had come out) and Olivia had barely been able to stand it.
"No more division," he repeated, and it had felt like a lifeline.
The buildings, when she reaches them, are in better condition than she had thought after viewing them at a distance. She thinks the one closest to her is a school or a library. It remains standing, but only just; the majority of its windows are blown in, brick has been shaved off its sides and it leans dangerously to the left. Olivia sincerely hopes that the evacuees got out in time.
Harrison is there when she ducks under the crumbling entranceway inside, Geiger counter clicking away. Olivia turns on her flashlight and a dark hallway is illuminated. Dust particles rain down through the beam of light. It feels like no one has been in this building for years. The corridor becomes brighter as they move down; sunlight peeks through cracks and broken windows, casting the interior in fog.
"School," Harrison says needlessly when they pass the first classroom. Desks are overturned and pushed against a wall. Supplies litter the floor, boxes and markers. A scorched butterfly drawing hangs from the wall, smudged with dust. It reminds Olivia greatly of photos she had seen of Pripyat years ago.
They begin to call for survivors, their voices echoing in the empty space. Radio chatter breaks the silence every now and again, but Olivia only half listens as the other recovery workers continue to excavate the plane back inside the perimeter.
Olivia has moved into another classroom and is fingering a notebook when Harrison silences her.
"Did you hear that?"
She goes still, ears straining. "What?"
For a long few moments, they both hold their breath. Olivia thinks that she imagines it, a conjuring of an all-too-hopeful mind, but Harrison raises his hand. "That. It's…"
Thump. She can feel it in her boots.
"Basement," Harrison says and instantly Olivia is running back into the hallway and down, yelling at the top of her lungs.
"Can you hear me? Make a noise again, tell me where you are!" She skids to a halt when she doesn't hear anything. Her fingers itch to rip off the damn helmet because it is muffling the sound of her voice. She clears her throat and yells again. "Make another sound!"
For a long ten seconds, Olivia doesn't even breathe. And then…
In less than a second she's off again, racing towards the noise. "Again!"
Thump. Thump thump. The sound grows louder as Olivia reaches the end of the hallway where the corridor splits into right and left. Just as she is about to yell again, another sound rings through the building and Olivia is jackknifing to the left, heartbeat roaring in her ears and glass and debris crunching underneath her heavy boots.
She and Harrison come to a heavy metal door that reads 'Staircase B' and she shoves it open with a tremendous kick, taking the stairs two by two as the case winds down one, two, three floors into a basement.
The thumping is louder now, so loud that she can feel the sound in her chest. They race down a utility corridor until they reach the source of the thumping—a door to a records room.
Olivia beats it with her palm. "We're here! Are you in there?"
She hears one last thump before she and Harrison are bathed in silence. Her heart nearly stops.
Olivia goes for the door handle which blessedly turns under her grip, but the door doesn't give. She shoves her shoulder against it, pushing with all her body weight and then Harrison is there, shoving and ramming himself against the door with force until finally, it gives an inch. And then another.
Behind the door, something falls. The door becomes a little easier to push.
It feels like hours between her and Harrison as they shove themselves against the door before it bursts open. Chairs and filing cabinets spill out before them and Olivia almost falls inside.
The beam of her flashlight darts frantically from wall to wall and there are bodies, three of them and one close to the door. One in a familiar suit.
"Son of a bitch," Harrison chokes out somewhere to her right.
And before she can even leap over the makeshift door barricades to reach for the body, Olivia knows in her heart of hearts that she's found him.
Atlanta was first.
No one had seen it coming; everyone had eyes on New York and Los Angeles and D.C. Even if their eyes would've been focused it wouldn't have mattered because they weren't looking for the right things. NATO monitoring systems were on and humming, anti-aircraft weapons were primed. All the while, boots were being surreptitiously dropped on the ground near the enemy border.
None of that would've stopped what happened.
Olivia was in Atlanta at the time. Because fate (karma) had a fucked up sense of humor.
Her phone had rung just after midnight. She'll never forget the way he sounded.
"There's going to be two Navy SEALS at your door in five minutes," came the urgent voice, "pack your bags and go with them."
"What? Are you out of your mind?"
"Olivia. Do not argue with me."
Olivia's heart had stopped. "What? What's happening?"
The silence that followed felt like years. "The NSA has unconfirmed intel that an attack took place in the city earlier today."
"That's impossible. Nothing happened today, no explosions or gunfire, nothing was reported—"
"Seven people were admitted into Grady Memorial this evening sharing the same symptoms," said Fitz. "The first tests just came back ten minutes ago."
Olivia swallowed. "Anthrax?"
"No. The Variola virus."
Olivia was dressed and packed within three minutes.
By the following week, there were over two thousand cases of smallpox. Three hundred people were dead.
Atlanta was first. Then Houston. Then San Francisco. Boston. Las Vegas. Cincinnati. St. Louis.
Congress declared war. Fitz's speech was rousing.
The first thing they check him for is the virus. Olivia doesn't pretend to understand the science required to live in this new world, but she'd like to think that any traces of airborne smallpox would have been obliterated during the bombings.
But it is standard decontamination procedure for all who enter the clean zone of their base. He comes up green, and it is the only good news about his condition she receives.
He has two seizures before the night's out. It is the most terrifying thing Olivia has ever seen in her life, even after rashes and the explosions and the great cloud that had covered the sky like God's own fury. He jolts on the bed, rocking it so hard that it bangs against the wall and echoes throughout the room, movements short and jerky, like something is squeezing him from the inside out, freezing his breath (she can't lose him now, not now, she only just got him back). The sound of the monitor is nothing like the shrill howling of the airstrike alarms, but it might as well be for the sense of fear it engenders in Olivia.
There are four medics—only two are doctors, the other two are military field medics—surrounding his bed when he (finally) wakes up. It is less calm than she remembers Cyrus telling her his return to consciousness had been after his birthday shooting. He is struggling on the bed and the four attendees are trying to calm him without actually trying to restrain him.
"Can you tell us your name, sir?" one of them—one of the doctors—asks.
"Fitzgerald Thomas Grant." His voice is like a blunt knife scrubbed over a raw slab of meat but it is his voice and Olivia breathes a little easier.
"Do you know who you are?"
"Fitzgerald…President. President of the United States." And even though it has been a relatively short amount of time, the title sounds as archaic as 'Lord' or 'King'. "Where…was I shot again? Where the hell am I?" he demands and he sounds panicked. Olivia hadn't thought of that, of what anyone would think waking up to the dark, Spartan section of the base that is used as an infirmary. Its concrete walls are gray and unforgiving and like no proper medical facility.
The doctors try to calm him down as they take his vitals. They introduce themselves and tell him to take slow, deep breaths and remain still while Fitz struggles to sit up, asking for people and speaking names of the dead: Hal and Tom and Sally Langston and Secretary Fillmore and Speaker Isaiah and General Blackburn and what is going on and the sheer terror that begins to creep into his voice propels Olivia forward into the room.
"Fitz." Her voice doesn't carry far over the din; it's too choked to have any real weight to it. But it is just enough as a doctor moves aside and reveals him, pale and gaunt and with burns running up his arm and his chest and Olivia isn't sure she can do this.
His eyes, though, his eyes are unchanged. They fall on her and she can feel the realization strike him, those final frenzied hours coming back in a rush. She sees the shudder roll through his body as he remembers.
"Teddy," he rasps. "Gerry, Karen, Mellie, are they—?"
"All alive," Olivia rushes to reply, taking a step closer to the bed. "Safe, still in California, in one of the compounds outside a quarantine zone." It is one of the few west coast-based posts that HQ is in contact with.
Fitz lets out a small puff of air, but remains tense. "How long?"
"Not long enough," one of the doctors says, looking over his vitals. "Mr. President, you need to rest. You've been through severe trauma and your body is still recovering."
Olivia watches as something is injected into the IV running into Fitz's left elbow, the one unmarred by burns. He mutters a few protests, but his eyelids slip. "Liv," he breathes out.
"You're safe. Rest." She wants to touch him, to take his hand or reach out to stroke his forehead, but she thinks that if she touches him now, she just might die.
Fitz's eyes close and the beeping on the monitor steadies. Olivia can't get out of the room quick enough.
She doesn't eat, but she does manage to sleep. She is there when he wakes up again, this time with more color in his face and she greets him with a smile, one that he doesn't (can't, she knows, not yet) return.
He is full of questions, as Olivia knew he would be, questions about what had happened and how bad it is and who is giving the orders.
"It's complicated," is Olivia's initial response as she watches their medic take his blood pressure. Fitz just looks at her. Olivia tilts her head. "I'm getting tired of seeing you on hospital beds."
"I'm tired of being on them." His eyes wander up to hers, hooded and beautiful and heartrendingly uncertain. "Liv…tell me."
She considers her response. "Do you remember how bad they warned us it could be?"
He stiffens. "That bad?"
"Worse," Olivia responds. Then she answers his questions as best as she can, tells him how fucked the line of succession is (the Constitution only allowed for so many what-if scenarios) and about the Council and what their priority is, the state of their allies and the state of their enemies. She has reports and maps and communiqués from their other areas of operation brought to him, military stats and civilian casualties and fatalities (the sound Fitz makes when he reads the death toll and the number is only an estimation). Fitz has more questions than Olivia has answers, but he continues to ask them throughout the day and well into the evening.
"So what is it that you're in charge of?" he asks as they're getting him ready for sleep. "What have you been doing this whole time?"
"Recovery—search and rescue. I was looking for survivors." (Looking for you.) "Any more questions before bed?"
"Just one," he says, face twisting into a frown. "Where's Cyrus?"
Olivia stares at him.
"Liv?" His eyes are (beautiful) cautious.
With great care, she eases herself back onto the bed.
It had happened on a Friday night, just after sunset. The first time Olivia heard the alarm, she had to stop herself from throwing up. It began low, a long, faint whine and then grew in strength until there were layers of that shrill howl overlapping, discordant and unnatural and wrong. The layers bled together in one unending wail and all Olivia could process for a few seconds was that awful sound.
It didn't last long in reality, no more than fifteen minutes even though it had felt like forever. The all-clear siren sounded, just as unsettling as the alert had been.
The White House just after was like nothing she'd ever seen—more people, frantic and hurried and jogging through the hallways, yelling at each other and into phones. Television reports flashed in the background and words she'd never thought she'd hear in America (air raid, blast radius, no-fly zone, casualties) poured into her ears. Olivia hadn't realized she was shaking until Cyrus wrapped his arms around her.
"Fast pace," he had whispered in her ear, and it had choked off her breath. She shouldn't have been surprised. It had taken all of Fitz's advisory board, the Joint Chiefs, her and Cyrus to talk him off of raising the DEFCON level and using the full force of the military after the virus. An attack on American soil went far beyond being the straw that broke the camel.
The Oval office had been a blizzard of secretaries and cabinet members and codeword-only personnel, so much worse than anything Olivia had ever seen and this had stopped being a thriving work environment a long time ago. In the eye of the storm was Fitz, jacket abandoned and shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow, yelling—yelling—into a phone.
"—a full military response as Article 5 dictates!" Yelling into a phone at the Secretary General of NATO, Olivia had guessed. The well-trained people in the Oval had taken no notice as Fitz continued his tirade. Olivia had been unable to take her eyes off him.
"And it's not a very long stretch of the thumb to cock a pistol," Cyrus murmured into her ear as they watched him. Olivia's blood turned to ice.
"Don't even joke about that, Cyrus." (Not now, not when it could be a legitimate possibility.)
"Humans are innately selfish," Cyrus returned levelly, eying Fitz up and down as he stalked the space in front of his desk like a caged lion, roaring into the phone. "The whole mutually-assured-destruction-thing—"
"Fitz isn't selfish."
"No," Cyrus had said quietly. "No, he's not. God help us all."
The moment Fitz put down the phone, his eyes had found hers. He crossed the room in three great strides and then his arms were around her and his well-trained staff took no notice of that, either.
"Where were you?" he asked, searching her face. "Were you close to the—?"
"No," she had replied, shaking her head. "The only thing I heard was the siren." And that had been enough.
They informed Olivia of all that they knew so far: the greater Washington DC area was struck. The attack lasted seventeen and a half minutes.
"Did we get any of them?" Olivia inquired.
"Anti-aircraft weapons cause significant collateral damage. We might have done as much harm as good." Fitz nodded then. "But there were two bombers that survived. The Pentagon has them."
An image of Huck's face, bruised and beaten overtook Olivia. She had been disgusted with the pure, animal satisfaction she felt at the thought.
Military experts and strategists and intelligence officers turned the Oval entrance into a revolving door, each of them bringing new pieces of information before Fitz. Olivia threw herself into the fray as best she could, trying to ignore the trembling in her fingers as she reached for phones.
Less than an hour had passed when the first firm casualty numbers came in. Everything in the room had ground to a halt as the report was read, and all eyes turned to Fitz.
Fitz, who was staring down at the floor with his arms folded. "Do you remember where you were on 9/11? Everyone does. I was in the governor's mansion, in California. The thing that sticks out more than anything is when the news broke that the Pentagon had been attacked. It just…blew my mind. I kept asking myself how that could have happened." He raised his eyes. "That's what this feels like. How could this happen? Raid sirens filling American airspace while we scurry underground in fear."
"Mr. President," Cyrus began.
"Americans poisoned by a virus that's been eliminated for more than thirty years." Fitz's jaw was clenched. "American homes and business destroyed. Lives destroyed—civilian lives."
"We aren't untouchable," Cyrus had said much later, when it was just him and Olivia in the sanctity of his office, watching on TV as Fitz addressed the public. "That's his biggest failing, our idealistic little flyboy. He thinks that nothing could ever hurt us by virtue of who we are as a country. You and I know better," he said with a snort, throwing an arm in Olivia's direction. "We know that freedom has a cost. It was going to happen sooner or later and it was always going to be a bitter pill to swallow, but for a man like Fitz…well. He says 'Americans' and means 'my people'."
Olivia had never seen Cyrus like that, looking so worn out. She thought about he and Fitz staring each other down the day Sally Langston had been killed (assassinated, she is sure of it now). "Cyrus?"
Olivia took a breath. "We waited too long, didn't we?" Cyrus looked away. "We waited too long to strike."
Cyrus's expression had said it all (defeat, foreign and hideous on his face). "There's never a good time to strike, sweet pea. But we've given them too much time, and now…" Cyrus flopped into his chair, covering his eyes with his hand. "Bomb shelters are en vogue again."
Fitz cries. For everything. Olivia encircles him with her arms and lets him. She isn't sure how much time passes (it doesn't matter) before he stops.
Olivia tells him about after Cyrus, the last day, the race out of the capital and things she doesn't want to remember but can't forget. She tells him about getting separated from Huck and Abby in those last few moments and although she doesn't cry (can't, she's cried too much already) and even though his arm isn't healed, Fitz manages to pull her close to him in turn and stroke bruised fingers through her hair. When she is done, she pulls away from him because she needs the distance. The distance is safe.
"You ever think we brought this on ourselves? That we did something…must've done something to deserve this." His eyes wander up to her. "Do you ever think this is karma?"
(Everyday). "There was more at work in ending the world than anything we did," she says instead.
Fitz makes a small noise in his throat. "You think so? Verna," he says with strange difficulty, and the investigator in Olivia takes notice. "Verna seemed to think the universe needed to be righted."
"Verna was very sick."
"Olivia," Fitz says, voice as dry as a desert, "I was shot in the head. Then, I was nuked."
Olivia leans forward. "Fitz. You are the President of the United States."
His eyes don't leave her lips. "It should be insulting to hear you say that, but it isn't. Don't," he adds in the split-second after she opens her mouth.
"Don't what?" she inquires, even though she's fairly certain she knows.
"Apologize. God, please don't apologize. We…we are so far beyond that point."
Olivia purses her lips and surveys him. She doesn't want to do what she's about to do, but she knows she has to. "Fitz."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Tough." His eyes flash to hers and there is fire in them, but Olivia has seen too much in the last few months to be even remotely frightened. "We spent enough time not talking about it."
"Mellie already told me what happened."
Olivia narrows her eyes. "And you believe her?" Fitz doesn't look away, but he doesn't say anything either. "You were the right man for the job. I knew it from the very beginning, when Cyrus sent me some video of you on the road before Iowa. I wanted you to be President. But as it drew closer to November, I made a mistake. I stopped wanting you to be President for my own reasons. I wanted you to be President because you wanted it so badly."
"So it's my fault that you rigged an election."
"Yes," Olivia replies flatly, and the look Fitz gives her could melt steel. "Stop being so goddamn obstinate and listen to me. I knew it was wrong—every cell in my body knew it was wrong, and I let myself be talked into it anyway." Betraying America had seemed like nothing compared to betraying him. "I couldn't…I couldn't sit there knowing you were going to lose after everything your father said to you. After seeing how much you wanted it."
"So you did it out of love." Fitz's voice is bitter.
That is true on a level Fitz may not even realize, because everyone did what they did out of love—some out of love for him, and others out of love for themselves. It didn't really matter anymore.
"And you think that justifies it?"
"No. No, it doesn't."
Fitz looks away, pale and gaunt and tired. "Do you have a point?"
"You stayed," Olivia says quietly. "You knew that you hadn't been elected; you could've resigned after finding out what we did, but you didn't. You stayed."
"What was I supposed to do? Tell them that I had been put in office illegally, send all of you to prison?"
"Yes," Olivia responds honestly, remembering how ready she had been to go be locked away. "Or say that the assassination attempt was too much. Or say that you wanted to spend more time with Teddy. I hope that after working with me so long, you'd have at least the barest idea of how to spin a story."
"Do not snap at me, Olivia," he says, voice low in warning.
Olivia reigns her impatience in. "You could've resigned, you could've found a way, but you stayed. You stayed and you tried to lead the country."
"I did lead the country."
"No, you headed the country. You didn't lead it. You didn't command it. Not until the threat of war came, and then the President in you clicked right back on. And then, it didn't matter that you weren't elected; you were the leader we needed. But until that point, your heart wasn't in it." Olivia folds her arms over her chest. "That's my point. You didn't remain the President because you wanted to. You remained the President because you didn't know what else to do."
His eyes turn up to her then, glinting with something Olivia has seen only when Fitz is talking about his father. "You don't get to do this."
"You walked around in a fog for months—Cyrus told me," she presses, and he flinches when she says his name. "You were tired and short-tempered and drinking more, doing things off the cuff and ignoring your advisers—"
"After everything you've done, do you think you can just come in here and say these things to me like we're still on the campaign trail—"
"Because that's what you do when you can't handle things," Olivia continues ruthlessly, ignoring the spark of fear inside her as Fitz's voice rises. "You shut down, you bow out, you turn on the autopilot and you give up, because that's easier than fighting."
"That's enough, Olivia!"
Olivia stares at him. His face is no longer pale but crimson red.
"You are the President of the United States," she says after a long moment. "There are millions of people out there, people who are lucky enough to still be breathing, looking for their leader. They don't care whether or not you were truly elected—you are their leader, and they need you. And if you think you're going to go back to the status quo and half-step your way through a fucking apocalypse, then you tell me right now," she says, her voice cracking despite all her efforts to control it, "and I'll drag you back to that school basement and leave you to rot."
And then she is standing and moving away from him because she can't stand the sight of him anymore, broken and beaten and feeling so sorry for himself. And she can't stand herself for pushing him even lower in the hope that he might come back stronger.
She has her hand on the door when he calls her name. She doesn't (can't) turn around, but she waits.
"What you did to the election. Would you have done it if you didn't love me?" he asks.
"No," she intones, just before pushing the door open.
(And it would've been the biggest mistake I ever made.)
Fitz had been adamant that life go on in the midst of war, so that was what they all tried to do. Schools remained open, the mail was delivered, children were born—life went on, punctuated by air raid sirens (too few of them drills and too many of them skirting close to American silos). Olivia took on new clients and they all kept a close eye on the news and slept lightly with their radios on, waiting for the screech of an emergency broadcast.
US troops engaged the enemy, NATO right behind them. Ground was gained, then lost, then gained again and held. Graphs and percentages and topographical maps were added to evening news broadcasts. The day was ended always with numbers (dollars in expenditure, troops in advance, targets destroyed, warm bodies on the ground and bodies beginning to grow cold swathed in enemy colors).
After the first three months, it was decided that for their safety, Mellie would take the kids back home to California. DC was unsafe; everyone knew it but no one had the courage to say it aloud.
Submarines blasted each other out of the water. A few edged too close to the patrolling USS Valley Forge—Ohio-class, carrying a substance that had become more precious than gold, and talk of the elephant in the room had begun.
That time, the guise had been about a war like this, of its size and proportion, couldn't be sustained. There was a drain on manpower and machinery and funding already, and they weren't even half a year in; the virus had taken too much of a toll. The enemy was prepared, stronger than anyone had anticipated. They were zealots, and zealots couldn't be reasoned with.
The list went on, every single item a piss-poor justification. Olivia lived those last few days barely sleeping, moving back and forth between her offices and the White House. She had called her family and her friends, making sure they knew exactly what to do if something were to happen, and had already had a game plan in place for Abby, Huck, Harrison and Quinn.
The last afternoon they had all been in the Oval Office together, it had been an argument.
"Every single adviser on your staff—myself included—agrees," Cyrus had said, folding his arms over his chest.
"Well I don't," Fitz had snapped right back, bracing himself on his desk. "I'm not going to leave Washington and create a panic."
"Is that really what you're worried about, Mr. President?"
Fitz's eyes hardened. "If this is about wounded pride again, Cyrus, I swear—"
"It's about you feeling like you're abandoning the people here," Cyrus said instead, cutting him off. "I know how you feel, sir, really. I do. But it isn't safe here. We're not talking about leaving American soil; just leaving DC. This place has a target painted on its back and you know it."
Fitz cursed and shoved himself up, taking to pacing behind his desk. He turned his head in Olivia's direction. "What do you think?"
Olivia glanced at Cyrus, then Fitz. Her eyes lingered. "Go," she said. "We need you alive and safe for whatever comes next. That's what's important."
It had not been the answer Fitz had wanted to hear.
Olivia was on her way back to Pope and Associates when her phone had rang.
"It's done," Cyrus had said, just as she got past the White House gate. "We got him on Air Force One."
Seven minutes after wheels up, air sirens sounded. The story broke across every news channel in the world, amidst a backdrop of explosions.
It hadn't felt like a goodbye. Olivia should've known better.
With the help of Quinn, they manage to get a feeble connection going to the base in California, piggy-backing off a complicated network of intact radio towers.
"There won't be any picture and the sound won't be completely clear, but you'll be able to talk to your family," Olivia tells him.
Fitz scoffs, running a few fingers over the scars on the left side of his face. "It's probably best that they don't see me like this."
The connection is sustained for a little over an hour. Fitz spends the whole time in the communications room and it is unprecedented; the techs normally put a ten minute cap on all radio contact so as not to tie up the airwaves for other transmissions.
When it is over, Olivia can tell the call has exhausted him, but he takes the time to thank the techs and shake each of their hands before Olivia and the doctors help him back to the infirmary.
"So," he says as they bustle him back into bed, "when do I get to meet this Council?"
"They've…been in contact." To put it mildly—their representative had been on the radio every day to check on his condition and ask when he would be cleared to travel. Presumptuous assholes.
"Is my taking over again going to be a problem? I'm not really in the mood to fight a war on two fronts."
Olivia snorts. "They're in over their heads and eager to hand the reins back to you. Provided you want them."
"I want them." His hand touches her wrist and Olivia glances up to meet his eyes. "Olivia. I want them."
She studies him long and hard, waiting for her gut to roil, but it doesn't. "Good."
"That little speech of yours, yesterday." Fitz grunts as he leans forward so Olivia can shift his pillows a bit. "Cyrus would've been proud. I think the student has finally surpassed the teacher."
"It wasn't a compliment," Fitz returns with just a hint of bite. He leans back, takes a deep breath and shuts his eyes. "My life has been nothing but betrayals. My father betrayed my mother, my mother betrayed me by staying with him. Dad betrayed me, Mellie betrayed me but at least I could've seen that coming. I betrayed her every time I slept with you—her and my kids. I betrayed you," he says soberly, looking up at her. A corner of his mouth turns up. "So what's one more?"
Olivia forces herself to stand there and take it (and god, it hurts) because Fitz has a right to this, to loathing her for what she did. Put everything else between them away and there is still the fact that—
"You lied to me," Fitz says softly. "Every opportunity you had to tell me and you didn't, you lied to me. I know you well enough to know that you weren't doing it to protect yourself, but me. I want you to know that that doesn't make it any better," he continues. "Not for me."
Olivia lowers her head in acquiescence. When it becomes clear that that's all he's going to say on the matter, she stands and prepares to take her leave.
A hand catches her wrist again. "Stay."
Olivia jerks and looks down at him. He's smiling faintly, and it makes her blood boil. "Still can't control your erections around me?" Olivia says quietly, and Fitz's eyes close.
"I never should've said that."
"We never should've said a lot of things to each other," Olivia snaps back, and she isn't sure how she means it.
Neither is Fitz, who raises his head. Hollow blue eyes seek hers out. "This isn't about…" He takes a breath. "When Hal finally died and I was alone in that basement, I thought about you. You…kept me going." The fingers on her hand squeeze gently. "Stay. Please."
Olivia surges forward and presses her lips to his and for once, she thinks that she might need this even more than he does.
When Olivia finally found him, he was crumpled on a chair, skin mottled with beads of sweat, paler than she had ever seen him. His eyes, usually so sharp and clear were glassy, unfocused. Empty.
She was scared.
"Cyrus," she'd said, feigning a calm she didn't feel, "we need to go."
Cyrus didn't move, didn't register her presence. Olivia banged her hand on the desk. "The evacuation started twenty minutes ago. We have to move!"
Dead eyes wandered up to meet hers, paralyzing her. "I did it."
"I did it," he repeated softly and Olivia came around to his chair to grab the collar of his shirt and pull him forward with as much strength as possible. They were so close that Olivia could feel his breath on her chin.
"Listen to me, Cyrus; they're giving us twenty minutes before the hammer comes down." Cyrus didn't move, didn't even blink and Olivia's voice cracked like an egg. "You aren't the only one who just lost someone, you son of a bitch. Get up!"
Olivia flew across the room, picking up documents and folders that had been strewn about as though by a storm.
"I put him on that plane." His words sliced through the sounds of the sirens and Olivia never knew that just hearing words could hurt so much. "I…I told him it would be safer, that the rest of us would rough it out, but he needed to be out of the city."
"Cyrus! Get up!"
Cyrus refused to move. "He was so angry with me. He fought me and the Secret Service, yelling all the while. He wasn't going anywhere without you." Olivia stopped to find Cyrus staring up at her like he had never seen her before. "Jesus Christ, Liv…he loved you so fucking much. Almost as much as I love you." Olivia physically recoiled from the words. Cyrus rocked back in the chair, eyes dipping away. "I killed him, Liv. I killed him."
"Cyrus." And Olivia's tone changed because Cyrus's did. Suddenly every nerve on her body was burning, sticking her feet to the floor.
She saw Cyrus moving, saw him reaching down out of her line of sight and picking up something, placing it in his lap. And nothing that was happening or had happened—nothing was as frightening as this.
"Cy," she whispered, but his name was lost in the steady scream of the alarm.
Cyrus turned to her, his movements oddly fluid and gentle. His lips tilted up and the vision of his face would be burned into her memory for the rest of her life. "I told you so, Liv."
And before she could rush forward, before she could yell, before she could even take a breath, white hands were wrapping around the handle of a gun and raising it to a mouth.
The single shot silenced everything else.
Papers slipped out of her arms like leaves from a tree. Unheard, the siren wailed on.
It isn't love and Olivia isn't going to fool herself into thinking it is. Too much has happened for it to be that, not at this moment. This is…circumstance. Relief and fear and frustration and anger and sorrow and pain, but not love. Not anymore.
And she is so fucking sick of this, of fucking him with only one foot in the door, of yearning and aching to put her all into it and give herself to him completely (he doesn't deserve her) and being unable to (would he accept her?). She's tired of him draining away her sense of self with every thrust of his hips and she's tired of letting him. She's tired of trying to sustain love on battlefields, of laying down in beds composed of lie upon lie upon lie. Edison flits through her mind, somewhere between the spike of pleasure/pain and he was right: love shouldn't hurt but goddamn it, feeling pain is better than feeling numb.
Fitz is well enough for this, well enough to kiss and touch her back but Olivia doesn't want tenderness from him, not now, so she pushes his hands off of her and holds them on either side of his head as she rides him hard, hard because she wants both of them bruised in the morning. Fitz lets her restrain him and takes what she gives him, hard and fast and mercilessly because the thought of never having this again because she had lied to him or because he had died inflames her.
"Olivia," he says in the darkness as flesh meets flesh and he doesn't nearly sound as wrecked as she feels.
(Come on. Come on.)
Olivia doesn't realize she's spoken aloud until Fitz thrusts up hard, the only movement she will allow him. Olivia tosses her head back and moans and her grip on Fitz's wrists loosen, but he doesn't try to touch her again.
The hospital bed creaks and rocks (like his seizures) and she whines (higher than a siren) and drags her fingernails over the newly healed scars on his bare chest (hands that had dug into rock and earth trying to find him again) and she leans down to bite a bruise into his neck (you almost died, I almost lost you).
Olivia takes and takes and takes, and Fitz lets her.
Orgasm grips her and it is an apocalypse all its own, erasing everything that came before it and leaving her feeling drained and barren and gone.
She doesn't realize she's shaking until Fitz's hands touch the sides of her hips. "Liv."
Olivia clenches her teeth closed and refuses to open her eyes.
She swallows back a sob.
"It's okay, Olivia." Hands stroke up her arms and cover her skin.
No. It wasn't okay, and it never would be again.
His hands turn firm and suddenly she is being pulled down to his chest and she hates him in that moment, hates him for being composed and strong and gentle and there, despite everything that had happened. But Olivia lets herself be held.
"They forced me on that plane," Fitz says some time later, after she has stopped shaking and when her eyes have gone dry again. "They forced me and all I could think about was all the things was I never going to be able to say to you."
"Like what?" she says into the skin stretched too tautly over a few ridges of ribcage.
Fitz tries to sigh, but it comes out as something like a shudder. "That I wanted more time. That I loved you, that I hated you a little less than I loved you."
Olivia feels compelled to tell him the truth. "I hated every person I pulled out of the rubble for not being you."
He kisses her forehead, and then takes a deep breath. "I killed Verna," he says in the dark. Olivia goes still and his arms loosen around her, giving her the option to pull away. "Right after she told me about Defiance. She was going to tell the world I wasn't the President, and I…" He is waiting for her to say or do something, and continues only when it's clear that she isn't going to move. "I know how much she meant to you. I used to feel guilty, but I don't anymore."
Olivia remains tense for a few moments more before she slowly, gently lays her head back on his shoulder. "Cyrus would've called it an eye for an eye," she whispers.
"I never told him. Or Mellie. I never told anyone. I don't know why I'm telling you."
There is no more talking after that, not for a long while. Olivia is beginning to feel sleep take her when she finally responds.
"She tried to kill me, too." Fitz's hand goes still where it is, stroking her back. Olivia raises her head and balances her chin on top of his (beating, beating) heart. "She tried to kill me when she tried to kill you."
It's not quite six AM when she directs Sal to drop the chopper down. Olivia lets Fitz climb out first, watching him carefully as he eases out of the seat and slips down to the ground below. He doesn't stumble, and Olivia turns to Sal.
"Give us an hour," she directs. The pilot nods and it is Olivia's turn to leap from the chopper. She watches as it lifts into the sky, upsetting the dust around them into a small whirlwind that whips at the protective layers of Olivia's suit; the only wind there will be in the decimated areas for months. She turns to Fitz, who is wiping a gloved hand across the visor of his helmet, watching the helicopter rise and glide away.
Silence reigns in its wake: deafening, unnatural silence. No wind, no animals, not even the sounds of crickets. She lets Fitz look around, lets him take in the lifeless world around them, the flat expanse of dead land, the stumps and trunks of the few burnt trees that weren't disintegrated entirely. In the distance are the misshapen piles of what used to be buildings that she knew all too well.
"It's so…" Fitz's tinny voice fades. He turns around to face her. "Where are we?"
"The Mall," she responds quietly.
She is close enough to him to see his expression change as he casts new eyes at the world around them. She knows he is looking for old, familiar things: the pool, the monument, the domed roof of the Capitol rising out of the ground to east. Imagining this space full to the brim with spectators waiting for him to be Inaugurated.
"This was the first thing I saw after I came out of the bunker. The first piece of ground I walked on, after," she tells him.
"Jesus," Fitz whispers, looking to the east. "Is everything…?"
Olivia doesn't want to answer that. "We can rebuild," she says instead.
"We can," he agrees, and (thank God) his heart is in it. "It'll never be the same, but…" His head twists in her direction. "Did you know…could you have ever imagined anything like this?"
Olivia thinks that she knew right after she'd heard the first siren ring. "We were all too angry to be properly scared."
They stand in silence for a while, watching the thin line of horizon visible through the cloud cover turn brighter and brighter.
"Everything that came before this can't be forgotten. It shouldn't be," Fitz says with finality. "But some things will be different this time."
Olivia's heart beats just a little faster.
When Fitz turns to face her, Olivia's breath catches. "I could've survived not winning, Liv." She can't look away from him. "I would've been hurt and I would've been angry and disappointed and cursing my father to hell and back, but I could've survived not winning. What I couldn't survive—didn't survive—was losing you."
Olivia, for once in her life, is thankful for the helmet. She doesn't want him to see her eyes water. "I'm sorry," she says finally, and she means it.
"You broke my heart. I don't know if I'll ever be…" Fitz's voice grows raw just before he stops himself. Olivia waits, holding still, and a rush goes through her when Fitz takes a single step towards her. "But I want to be."
"I want that, too," she says softly.
It feels like a vow.
Fitz nods. "We can rebuild," he repeats. "And we will."
And Fitz will heal, fly to HQ and take over from the Council. He will coordinate a worldwide relief effort, reconnect cities and states and loved ones who are still out there searching for their other halves and Fitz will be followed because they all need something to believe in again. Lives will be rebuilt in different places by wiser people. Olivia will continue searching (Huck, Abby, hold on) and picking up the pieces and putting the world back together, and somehow, they will all begin again.
Fitz takes his hand in hers. They stare out at the world. Dawn is breaking over the remains of Capitol Hill, and the faintest hint of a breeze blows through the Mall.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty is an internationally ratified document to stop the production, spread and armament of nuclear weapons.
The War Powers Resolution is a law passed by Congress in 1973 designed to limit the President's power to go to war without Congress's permission. Every President elected after 1973 has declared the law unconstitutional.
Pripyat is the famous ghost town near Chernobyl that was evacuated and abandoned during the nuclear disaster.
Fast Pace and Cocked Pistol are DEFCON (Defense Condition Readiness) exercise terms, Fast Pace referring to DEFCON 2 (almost maximum military readiness in preparation for nuclear war) and Cocked Pistol referring to DEFCON 1 (nuclear weapons have been deployed).
An air-raid siren: www. youtube dot com/watch?v=k2a30-j37Q (remove spaces)
Ohio-class submarines are nuclear-powered submarines carrying over half of the US's nuclear weapons arsenal. There are eighteen subs in total; Valley Forge is a made-up number nineteen. SLBM stands for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which is self-explanatory.
A mock Emergency Alert Broadcast for a nuclear attack: www. youtube dot com/watch?v=6NG89XBvZxo (remove spaces)
The Doomsday Clock is a real thing. The current time reads 11:55.