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Strategic Planning

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Olivia Pope sits in her office with Senator Edison Davis, who’s just been kicked off the Senate Intelligence Committee at the behest of the president himself, a flagrant violation of separation of powers. Senator Davis was kicked off the committee partly to hide a massive domestic spying program and partly, Olivia knows, simply because her ex-boyfriend is jealous and entitled. She's deciding what move to make next to inform the nation that domestic spying on a scale that even most conspiracy theorists haven’t imagined is actually happening, despite a federal injunction acquired under dubious circumstances prohibiting the publication of that information, and she wants to laugh, because she has the fleeting thought that she is so very tired of ex-boyfriends.

Minutes tick by. Senator Davis sits watchfully, elbows resting on the arm of his chair and fingers pressed together in front of him, exuding an affable patience, like he’ll be ready whenever she is. She gets up to pace so she doesn't have to watch him watch her. Her purposeful strides back and forth seem not to disturb him at all. She knows that beneath tat studied stillness, he's looking for a plan of attack. He has always been able to slip behind a shield of easygoing calm, regardless of the circus surrounding him. She has always hated this about him and appreciated it in equal measure. It’s a calming resolve when you’re on his side, and an aggravating challenge—nothing but stubbornness—when you’re not. She’s not yet sure whether they are currently on the same side or not.

“Blow the whistle,” she says, spinning on her heel.

He raises his eyebrows questioningly.

“Blow the whistle,” she says again, enunciating each word. “We blow this thing open. We don’t have Artie anymore but we have you and that's even better. Tell the public about Thorngate. Go on TV and tell the American people that the National Security Agency has been spying on them through their computers and cellphones for years, that their privacy and trust has been breached to an extent that they cannot even imagine, and that their president has gone to great efforts to hide that program from them, including interfering with the freedom of the press and threatening elected senators in order to remove you from the Intel Committee. You want to be a client, that’s the strategy. You go on TV, you look authoritative and calm, but angry and deeply offended at this unfathomable invasion of civil liberties.”

He immediately starts shaking his head. She remembers him best as an idealistic junior senator, confidently throwing fire to advance his principles, throwing fire to advance his career, and sometimes throwing fire just for the sake of throwing fire. But he’s been in leadership positions for years now, and his instincts are defensive.

She pulls a chair up next to him and sits, leaning forward to try to make him look at her. “ They've stripped your most important committee position. They’re probably going to make up something to censure you with. It's going to be something that every senator does, an earmarked grant fro a charity or travel with public money, and they're going to splash it on TV like it's the most serious violation of public trust imaginable. You’re not in line anymore, not for anything that matters. You won’t ever be Majority Leader. Not ever. There’s nothing left to lose. They can’t throw a sitting senator in jail for revealing information that every single American citizen has a right to know, not without bringing themselves down. Not after we take this public. Lead the congressional inquiry into Thorngate and be a hero. Every single member of Congress will be running away from this thing, falling all over themselves to investigate and denounce every nook and cranny of it, and you'll be in control. Become the next president. I can help you do that. Anything you want.”

He holds his hands up in a gesture of surrender to stop the barrage. “Even setting aside the idea of revealing classified information, which we will get to in a second, Liv, we can’t go accusing the president of bribing and blackmailing congressmen without something more than your gut.”

She gets up and paces back towards the window. “It’s more than my gut,” she says. “I know and you know exactly what happened here. It’s what they do, what he does. It’s how they do business. It’s how they've done business for a long time now. And you don’t change your strategy when you think you're winning. You know as well as I do that the president sent Cyrus Beene in with a back pocket full of allegations of ethics violations and earmarks, and blackmailed and bribed you off that committee, and blackmailed and bribed everyone into silence.”

“Fine,” he says, “for the sake of argument, we’ll say I agree this is a good plan, unlikely to end with me under federal indictment, or uncharged in one of those prisons that supposedly doesn't even exist. What about you?”

“They can’t bring me into this without bringing in Artie, and the one thing they cannot do now is bring up Artie.” She shudders and tries to remember when she became a person who turns people over to the NSA to have god-knows-what done to them. “As far as they’re concerned, he never existed.”

"This is highly classified national security information, Olivia." He sighs and rubs a hand over his face, slumping back in his chair with a defeated air that somehow grates at her. She comes to sit back down next to him, giving herself a moment for the rush of impatience to ebb.

“Edison,” she says, and his shoulder tenses slightly but does not look up. “You, of all people, know what Thorngate is. You know what they use it for. You know who they use it against. Are you seriously going to tell me that the NSA has all this information and the NYPD doesn't? Or won't? We all work so closely against terrorism after all, don't we?" She lets the disgust she really feels come out in her voice, and it feels like a relief. "Look me in the eye and tell me that you think this program doesn't violate every principle you came to Congress to fight for. Tell me you think this program is actually a necessary tool to keep the country safe, and that it’s worth what it takes—what it steals--from all of us. Tell me that and I’ll drop it. We’ll find another strategy.”

“Liv. . .”

She reaches out to put her hand under his chin, forcing his gaze up to her face. “Look at me and tell me that you don’t know in your gut that this thing is a travesty. An unconstitutional, illegal, immoral travesty.”

He meets her eyes but doesn't say anything.

“Okay then.” She holds his gaze, trying to look for some of his old resolve. “You want to be a client? That’s the strategy.”

***

The next day, Mellie Grant has a light afternoon planned. She’s been a little more tired than usual the last couple of days, though she’d never let it show. When she walks into her one scheduled appointment that afternoon—a meeting with a decorator for the nursery—the last person she expects to find sitting comfortably in an armchair is Olivia Pope.

Mellie wishes that her first instinct would be recoil, that without even thinking she’d immediately turn and leave the room and call her agents to have Ms. Pope escorted from the building. But they were a team much longer than they've been enemies, or whatever they are now, and so she hesitates when she sees Olivia, has not yet trained her feet and her voice to immediately turn away or shout for help. She hesitates just long enough for Olivia to cross the room and shut the door. Mellie has just as good a long game as Olivia, but Olivia has always moved faster.

“My instincts have been muddled for awhile," Olivia says, turning to lean her back against the door. “I haven’t been seeing clearly. So I didn't get it. The miscarriage. The deal we made. The tape. The pregnancy. I didn't get it.”

Mellie’s tired of it all, tired of her husband, tired of Olivia, tired of people not doing their jobs and screwing it all up, and she’s not in the mood to be a player in Olivia’s game today. “What’s this about, Olivia?” she fairly spits.

“Our deal,” Olivia repeats, unrattled. “I didn't get it. All this. She gestures around the opulent office; the size of the room that’s bigger than the first apartment Mellie shared with Fitz; the lush carpet; the matching furniture; the pictures of Mellie with important people from all over the world; the wall of humanitarian awards. “I thought it was about all this. Or I thought it was for him.”

Mellie walks away to sit in the chair that Olivia vacated, pressing a hand to her temple. “Do you have a point?

“We made a deal,” Olivia explains, walking towards Mellie’s chair. “You said it was you on the tape, you got pregnant, and the president stayed the president. We made a deal so it seems only fair to give you a heads up that I’m reneging.”

Mellie’s head snaps up.

“Now that I have your attention,” Olivia continues. “Our deal. It was never for him, was it?”

Mellie says nothing.

Olivia sighs with exasperation. "The president, if I have anything to say about it, is about to be publicly exposed as an overreaching, lawbreaking hack, with no respect for the laws of the country he says he loves, few principles and no respect for the people he’s supposed to lead, a disappointment to all who voted for him, who approves the invasion of civil liberties on a massive scale, and strong-arms members of Congress because of petty jealousy. But I think you've known that for awhile, haven’t you."

Mellie finally looks up to meet Olivia’s gaze, genuinely surprised. “You can’t be serious.”

Olivia continues as if Mellie hadn't spoken. "I'm going to do everything in my power to make everyone else know it too. I'm trying to bring you a lifeboat here, Mellie. It seems only fair. But I can't do that if you won't help me a little. I'll ask one more time and then we'll drop it forever. Our deal. It wasn't for him, was it? It's for you."

Mellie sizes her up for a minute, and Olivia tries not to blink. “Yes,” Mellie says defiantly.

“And it’s not because you want to stay First Lady.”

“No,” Mellie agrees. “And what’s wrong with that? I’ll remind you that I have been the only person not screwing up the whole thing for quite awhile now, including right up to this morning and your little . . . hunting trip.” Olivia flinches. “So I’ll ask you one more time, what exactly is it that you want, Olivia?”

“I want to know what you want,” Olivia says. “I want to know what it’s all for.” She gestures broadly. “Your story, it's a great one. Lawyer, loving wife, happily becoming a mother later in life after heartbreaking disappointment. You've built it carefully. You must have something in mind. My bet’s on a Senate seat first, and who knows after that.” Mellie doesn't reply and Olivia takes a few steps closer so she's looking down at Mellie in her chair. “Am I close?”

Mellie doesn't meet Olivia's eyes , but she smiles and it has a touch of self-satisfaction in it.

“Okay then,” Olivia continues, starting to pace again. “It is a great story. But you're going to need more than that, you’re going to need some legitimacy and some real experience. I can help you with that. I want to make a new deal. Let's renegotiate.”

Mellie scoffs, unable or unwilling to hold back a laugh.

“We were a team before,” Olivia points out.

“That was. . . a long time ago.”

“No so long.” Olivia pauses. "You've played this game very carefully until now. I'd hate to see it be for nothing." She turns to go. “I'm admitting that I may have been backing the wrong Grant. I'm giving you an out, but it's an exploding offer. The time for renegotiation is now, and it won’t last long. We’re kicking off with an interview tonight. If you want to see it happen. CNN, 8:00. We'll work out everything else as it comes.”

“What’s stopping me from telling that to Fitz and Cyrus,” Mellie asks Olivia’s retreating back. “I’m guessing you've found a way to keep them from finding out about this new plan in advance. Why shouldn't I tell them everything you just told me and let them stop you?”

Olivia stops with her hand on the doorknob. “We could be a good team again, Mellie. I believe that.” She closes the door on her way out.

***

Later that evening, Olivia strides through the humming newsroom, feeding off the energy of something huge about to happen. She slips into the green room to meet Senator Davis, fresh from wardrobe and makeup, where she knows he, as always, refused to let them pick his tie.

“Senator,” she says.

“Olivia." He looks confident. The tenseness in her shoulders eases slightly.

She approaches him, reaching both hands up to his gray and purple striped tie. “Be authoritative,” she says, unceremoniously pulling the knot out of his tie. His eyebrows raise but he doesn't stop her. “Don’t be offended for yourself. It’s not about you. Be offended for your country,” she continues, tossing the old tie across the back of a nearby couch and pulling a new red one from her jacket pocket. “Be outraged for the people, who've been spied on in their cars, in their offices, in their homes,” she instructs, looping the tie around his neck. “Thorngate is an outrage. The president stomping all over the First Amendment and the separation of powers is an outrage.” She emphasizes each word with a tug on the tie as she knots it. “Be a hero,” she says, cinching the tie a little too tightly before smoothing it down with her hand. He smiles calmly as she steps back.

“I know how to do this,” he says, reaching up to loosen the knot in his tie.

She smiles too. This might actually work. If she could have pictured the future ten years ago, she never would have guessed the paths they'd take, but she thinks she might have imagined them ending up just like this.

A head pokes through the door. “Two minutes, Senator.”

She nods at him. “You got this.” He gives her the kind of smile he used to, when he was newly elected and on a mission, as he walks out the door.

Olivia turns towards the only other person in the room. “You ready?” she asks.

Mellie nods.