Warnings: Contains heavy infidelity in the beginning as per usual.
AN: I've always wondered how the story would have gone if Liv had made a different choice vis a vis rigging the election, so I decided to write it. I will be using some canon events within the story, but reworking them slightly to fit this timeline. I'm cross posting this to archiveofourown as backtohogwarts.
With a rope around my neck
I can feel the pressure of cheating death
I am facing the giants
Planning to silence the nations
Great is the power of violence
But greater is the power of defiance
"Defiance" - Righteous Vendetta
"I'm not going to say yes." Olivia says defiantly whilst still pitching her voice low, because regardless of how much this whole idea makes her want to scream, she doesn't want to start any rumours that could be damaging to Fitz's political career.
"Just… think about it, okay?" Mellie says, fixing an ice cold smile onto her face that's tinged with an emotion Olivia can't place, "We both want this for him right? For him to really make something of himself? Be someone?"
He is someone, she wants to say, but she doesn't. As is becoming increasingly common in her interactions with Mellie, she bites her tongue.
"I have thought about it." She admits finally, "But I will never change my mind. He wants a clean campaign and what you're all suggesting is about as far from that as it's possible to get."
"I know, I know. But he doesn't have to. It would be… we'd be doing it for him, Olivia." Mellie implores her.
Olivia knows Fitz would, and someday will, make an amazing President of the United States. He will lead the country and the armed forces with the firm, no nonsense hand that they need, whilst nurturing them with the kindness and compassion they deserve.
There is a very real possibility that they might not be able to push this through this time around. She found the chink in his armour, the openness and honesty that Fitz wasn't showing the voters, just too late, and Olivia isn't sure there's a way to fix it this late in the game.
Except, according to Mellie and Cyrus and Verna and Hollis, there is a way to fix it - at any stage in the game, simply by literally fixing it.
She sucks in a deep breath and she knows that Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III will make one of the greatest Presidents this country has ever seen.
Fitz is sitting up in bed, Olivia's bed in her hotel room, the sheets pulled up over his hips but his chest is bare, watching while she takes off her make up and gets ready for bed in her pajamas; off-white silk bottoms and a black camisole. He can't really stay the night, not the whole night, but it's nice to pretend, even just for a little while.
"It's going to be one of the closest races in history." He says to her, "Or so they keep telling me. I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a compliment or not."
She pauses as she takes off her mascara; to him she looks frozen as if with fear as she seems to almost stare herself down in the mirror. But that can't be right, he thinks to himself, Liv doesn't do fear and she sure as Hell doesn't freeze up when she's anxious. Liv is a fixer. Liv thrives on working things out.
"Liv?" He says hesitantly, "Livvie, what's wrong?"
She opens her mouth like she wants to reply, but struggles over the words for a minute. She shakes her head over a mouthful of empty air and then, with her voice quiet and almost sad, says, "There's a town in Ohio. It … it's called Defiance. It has a population of 4,539 people and. It's like… if there was such a thing as a swing …town… kind of? Defiance would be one. Within the swing state of Ohio, Defiance is one of the towns you need to win."
"To win Ohio or to win the election?" Fitz asks, watching her carefully. She still has not resumed taking off her make up.
"From this point forward you should assume that the answer to that question is always 'both'." She replies, dropping her gaze from her own eyes to her hands and taking a deep breath.
Something has her so wound up that she can't even look herself or him in the eye. He swings his legs out of bed and pulls on his previously discarded boxers and crosses the room to her side.
"What is it? What's got you so wound up?" He asks her gently, moving closer so he can put his arms around her.
"Don't." The word trips from her lips like it cost her something to say it as she takes a sideways step out of his reach. Which, isn't that just a metaphor for their entire relationship? No matter how close they seem to get, they're always one step out of reach.
He stops where he is, feeling very suddenly like he's on the outside of something that he wants very much to know about. Whatever it is it's tearing her apart and he doesn't like to see her like that. Whatever it is, if she tells him, he can help. He'll try his best to help.
"They… they want to rig Defiance."
The words are so quiet that he almost asks her to repeat herself, and it takes a second for the words to sink in, and when it does, there are so many things wrong with that sentence that he's honestly a little unsure about where to start.
He stumbles over the start of several different sentences, aborting them all before asking, "Who exactly is 'they'?"
Olivia swallows, "You're not going to like it." She warns him.
"I don't like that anyone in my own campaign thinks I'm incapable of winning this without cheating. I don't like that you knew about this and haven't told me until now, which means something's obviously happened. We're past the point of what I will or won't like." He tells her bluntly, and it only serves to strengthen her resolve here.
"It was Hollis's idea." She admits, "He started it. Apparently he 'knows a guy', whatever that means."
"Who else?" He asks, staring a hole into the side of her face as she watches him in the mirror.
"In order?" She replies, "Cyrus, Mellie, Verna."
"What?" He breathes, looking crestfallen, "Mellie and Cyrus?"
She nods, biting the inside of her lip. "Cyrus and I were talking about bringing your Father on board, and Hollis suggested that we, and I quote, 'stack the deck'."
"And now you're thinking it might not be a bad idea." He says acidically, turning away so she can't see the hurt on his face.
"No. No, I've been telling them 'no' all along." She insists immediately, reaching out to grab his arm and pull him back around to face her, "And that hasn't changed."
"But?" He asks, staring her down, locking all his muscles for fear that he crumble to dust where he stands.
"If there's any chance you could lose Defiance…"
"I should, what? Let them do it?" He asks, much too dark to really be called sarcastic.
The look she gives him is enough to tell him that no, that's not what she was going to say at all. He pauses and tries to think it over.
"You think Hollis and Mellie and the others are going to go ahead with this with or without you because they know you can't say anything without incriminating yourself for not reporting it and doing irreparable damage to my career." He guesses eventually, and she nods, with so much guilt in her eyes that he has to look away for a second to regroup.
"The deal they were all talking about means that no one can walk away, or they'll all lose everything."
Off his questioning look she continues, "When you win Cyrus becomes your White House Chief of Staff, Verna becomes a Supreme Court Justice the next time a seat on the bench opens up, and Mellie becomes the First Lady she was born to be." The last part is just a fraction more distasteful than Olivia's usual style, but the words slip out without her intention.
"What does Hollis get?"
Olivia ruefully huffs out a short laugh, though there's no humour in it, "Hollis gets what he wants. His horse wins the race."
He's silent for a minute, trying to let all that information sink in. "Why do you look so guilty if you were so sure about saying no?"
Her eyes flutter closed and she tips her head back, biting her lip as she rolls her head to the side before she opens her eyes again. "I look guilty because I feel guilty." She replies, shaking her head, "I should have told you about it when they first started talking about it but I didn't think that they were actually serious, I mean, I know that we've all done some grey-area things for this campaign but… but rigging a national election? That is not what I signed up for."
She looks as crushed as he feels and the next words out of her mouth wrong foot him so fast it makes his head spin.
"I look guilty because today I realised that I'd do it if you asked me to. And… and I hate that. I hate knowing that about myself."
He's half way to shaking her with the sheer terror of it; "Liv, I would never- you can't, you have to promise me-"
"I won't, I won't." Liv swears painfully, tipping forwards and pressing her face into the crook of his neck and grasping at his arms, "I swear to God I won't." It's halfway between a broken sob and a painful moan and he pulls her closer still, one arm cradling her body against his, the other knotted in her hair as he tips his head down and buries his face against her neck.
"I know I can't ask you, especially not now but stay, Fitz. Just tonight, stay, please."
In the year that he has known her, and the few months that they've been doing … whatever this is … he's never heard her plead for something. He's heard her demand what she wants from the people working for her, he's heard her command respect from the people who think she works for them, he's heard her beg him to tip her off the cliff when he's holding her at the edge and a thousand times over he's heard her say that it is often easier to ask for someone's forgiveness for something than it is to ask them for permission, but he's never, not once, heard her plead.
It disarms him, how fast he murmurs, "I'm not going anywhere, Livvie. I'm here, sweet baby, I'm right here.", whilst trying not to think about what the future could hold for him now.