skieswideopen: Henry and Elizabeth from Madam Secretary, each looking thoughtful (Madam Secretary: Elizabeth & Henry)
skieswideopen ([personal profile] skieswideopen) wrote2016-06-18 11:57 pm

This is how the world ends

Written for [ profile] gameofcards.

Dmitri had nightmares for months after he got back--got out. He still wasn't sure what to call it. He was having trouble finding words to describe the entire experience. To describe his entire life as it was now.

The trip to the coast was Henry's idea. ("I'm not your handler or your professor anymore," he said. "Just call me Henry." It felt odd, like going to meet a general at headquarters wearing an Afghanka, but it was hardly the oddest aspect of this new life.) Dmitri thought Henry meant the beach house to be a sort of reward for enduring the weeks of debriefing he'd undergone, as if he'd been in a position to tell the Americans anything they didn't already know about the Russian military or political scenes. It wasn't like they'd shared secrets with him in the prison; the words his guards had whispered to him had been about other things entirely.

If he had known something, he would have shared it. He hadn't cared at that point about either betraying his country or helping the Americans--those months in prison and knowing who had put him there had taken care of that--but he'd been drained and in pain and it was easier to cooperate than not. Besides, there was still Talia to think about, and he thought his cooperation would give her a better chance at a good life here.

Maybe the trip had also been about getting him away from the secretary now that his hours were no longer occupied. Dmitri found he didn't care. He spent long hours walking along the beach, trying to cast his pain and anger and nightmares out to the sea, or bury them in the hot sand. Sometimes he sat and watched the tide turn, thinking about things bigger and longer-lasting than any one life. The things worth trading--betraying--someone for. Intellectually, he understood why they did it. He understood that they were sorry for it.

Emotionally, he struggled with it, perhaps because he knew they'd do it again.

("He had nightmares for weeks after you were taken," Elizabeth told him. "It nearly destroyed him. I know that doesn't change what happened to you and that it's no reason for you to forgive any of us, but I thought you should know that.)

Every day, Talia tracked him down on the beach as the sun started to touch the edge of the water, sky alight with pink and gold. "Dima," she cajoled, sometimes in English and sometimes in Russian, "come back and eat."

And because he could never resist her--what else did he have to live for now?--he came and ate whatever she or Henry or Stevie or Alison had prepared, and then forced himself to stay for whatever evening activities they had planned: books and movies and board games and occasionally conversation that was mostly innocent questions from the three McCord children--or the younger two, at any rate--about his and Talia's lives in Russia or mildly embarrassing stories about their parents.

He should care more, he knew. Care about what his life would be now. Care about what was going to happen next. But every time he tried, he felt like he was wrapped in wool. The only thing that seemed to cut through it was anger and he didn't want to feel that--didn't want to say or do something he might regret--so he pushed it back and let the wool muffle it.

Then the attack came, and suddenly the world snapped back into focus.

They watched it, all of them together, on the television: spaceships over DC, over Moscow, over all of the major world cities, hovering. Waiting.

Henry had his phone out less than a minute into the broadcast, but the cell networks were sagging under the weight of a country's worth of panicked calls and he couldn't get through.

"I'm sure Mom's okay," he said to his children after the third failed attempt. "She'll be with the president in a bunker."

Stevie and Alison agreed with him quickly, trying to protect their brother--or maybe convince themselves. Dmitri wasn't sure. He positioned himself beside Talia, whose eyes were fixed on the television, and touched her arm gently, letting her know that he was there--really there now, sharing the fear and awe of the moment.

That was when the ships started firing. They watched in horror, all of them, frozen in the moment as the cities began to fall. Then the broadcasts ended abruptly, presumably as the infrastructure fell.

Dmitri looked at Henry, looking lost and hopeless, no doubt thinking of his wife, and then he visibly pulled himself together. He put his phone away and turned off the TV. "We need to get ready," he said. "Jason, Talia, start taking an inventory of what we have in terms of food and other necessities. Stevie and Alison, reach out to our neighbours. We're going to have to cooperate to get through this, and we need to get to them before panic takes over. Dmitri, you're with me."

"What are we doing?" Dmitri asked, feeling more alive than he had in months. Since those early days of captivity, when he'd spent every waking moment sure that the next moment would bring a bullet.

"We're going to go talk to Ken at the store and make sure that whatever supplies he has are fairly distributed. People tend to think of themselves first in these situations. We're going to make sure they think of others too."

This was the reason he'd agreed to spy in the first place, Dmitri realized as the two of them drove into town. This was the Henry McCord who'd convinced him that the impossible could be made possible, that treason could be honourable, that safety could be assured. And even though Dmitri knew firsthand that even the great Henry McCord was fallible and that safety could never be assured, he couldn't help but admire the way he walked into the crowd, calling for order and then convincing people not to take more than they needed. To leave some things for the next people to come through. To share what they had. To cooperate.

To show compassion.

If there was a good way to face the end of the world, Dmitri thought that Henry McCord would find it.

And if the world didn't end, maybe Dmitri could use these lessons to find a new way to live.