Hello! So I was meant to be writing fluffy smutty things about bees and mirrors (hopefully coming soon to some highly classy smut fics near you) but I got stuck and then this ended up happening instead. It's just a little look/venture into Elizabeth's panic/PTSD around the President Andrada is a Bastard episode and the Henry Got Shot episode... hopefully it's not awful. I'm super super nervous about this one though so if you hate it please tell me gently lol x
Chapter One – Break in Diplomacy
Waking on a gasp, Elizabeth jolted, pressing a hand against her chest in the hope of calming her racing heart. She blinked into the dark, trying to get control of her breathing, confused for a minute as to what might have woken her so suddenly in the middle of the night.
Then she remembered. Andrada.
The memory of the shock of the incident had refused to leave her ever since the Philippines, and the churn of unease in her gut had been percolating since the very start of her meeting with President Andrada. It was making her head spin. She squeezed her eyes closed, willing the world to right itself.
She felt the phantom touch of an unwelcome hand against her body.
Eyes snapping open, she sat up abruptly, hands clenching in the bedsheets.
"Babe?" Henry's sleepy voice curled through the dark like a lifeline and Elizabeth grabbed onto it, turning towards him and reaching one hand back to seek out his. Shifting against the pillows, he took her hand, his fingers closing warmly around hers. "You OK?" he asked.
She opened her mouth to say yeah. Because she was, wasn't she? She was fine. Her knuckles ached where they had collided with President Andrada's face and her head was banging with stress and exhaustion, but she was fine.
Except for the fact that she wasn't.
Except for the fact that she could still feel him touching her and remember the creeping feeling from the very beginning of their meeting that something wasn't quite right. Except for the fact that she could still feel the adrenaline rushing in her veins from when she had reacted to punch him, and she still felt as though she was on high alert, waiting for an attack.
She was fine but not fine. "I –" she started, but she didn't have enough breath to complete the sentence, nor any idea of what she really wanted to say.
Andrada had assaulted her, and she wanted to hold him to account. Andrada had assaulted her, and she wanted to save the Singapore agreement. She didn't know how to do both, didn't know how to prioritise her duty to her job and the other women he had hurt and herself.
Because she had a duty to herself, too, as the Secretary of State and not. She had to do what she personally thought was right. She sucked in a noisy breath and felt the struggle of it in her chest as the faint strains of panic licked up her ribcage and tried to constrict her, tie her down and keep her in their grasp.
"I don't know what to do," she said, and it came out sounding loud in the dark, quiet bedroom.
Henry shifted forward carefully, slowly, and it was clear he could tell she was on the edge. His free hand wrapped gently around her forearm, his palm sliding against her skin soothingly. He sat close enough that she could feel him at her shoulder, feel the warmth and sense the security he offered even as he was careful not to crowd her in case she wanted the space. "What do you want to do?" he asked quietly.
Her face crumpled and she hunched over her knees, curling in on herself even as she rounded her back and tilted slightly to the right, the better to be close to her husband. "I have no idea," she said, the distress plain in her voice. It made her feel embarrassed, the fact that she was so uncertain. She thought that she should be sure. She thought it should be an easy decision. She shouldn't be deciding whether or not it was worth bringing a complaint against a powerful man who assaulted her. It shouldn't even be a question. And the assault shouldn't even have happened in the first place. It made her feel angry, too. "I want him to pay," she told Henry. "But I don't want him touching me to be the thing that I'm remembered for."
That was the thing, wasn't it? One of the things, anyway. Even if she spoke up, even if no one questioned her word over his, even if it played out in the best case scenario – that incident would be in her by-line. It would colour how people saw her, and Elizabeth didn't think she wanted to be considered a victim for the rest of her life.
Henry squeezed her hand. "There's plenty you'll be remembered for, babe. If you do decide to go public, it's not the only thing about you. People know that."
"If only I hadn't punched him." She said it without really thinking about it, more like musing out loud as she considered whether things might have been simpler if she hadn't broken the man's nose.
"And what would have happened if you hadn't punched him?" It may have had the hallmarks of a question from the ethics professor designed to get her think about the situation in a different way, to help her see things clearly, but Henry couldn't stop himself from sounding like the protective husband he was, the emotion in his voice hanging between them in the air even after he had finished speaking.
She turned to face him fully as she thought about it. "I don't know."
Henry's face was just about visible in the dim room. He swallowed audibly and nodded. "Exactly."
She flexed her hand in his, felt the twinge of bruised knuckles and an answering ache echoing up her arm as she put stress on the injured tendons. She knew what Henry was saying without saying: she didn't know what would have happened if she hadn't punched Andrada, didn't know what he had been thinking, how much worse it might have been. She had been acting on instinct to make him stop touching her and she thought that instinct had been right. She was sure that Henry thought that, too.
But it didn't make it any easier, or make her feel any better.
Pressure welled up behind her eyes and in her chest, the urge to cry surging through her whole body like her mind was demanding the emotion to be felt. Elizabeth willed it to go away, wanted nothing but oblivion for a little while before she had to come to a decision about what she wanted to do. She just wanted to sleep, wanted blankness.
She held her breath and screwed her eyes shut, willing the feelings to tamp back down, her stomach convulsing as she tried to get her adamant emotions back under control. She felt like she was spiralling, her thoughts scattered, snatches of coherence caught out of thin air before they flittered away again, leaving her with the confusion and distress and shock and the memory of a man's hand touching her and her hand colliding with his face and then the commotion of his security and her security entering the room, and everything had been so frantic ever since and she still felt frantic now, felt like she was still racing, still in the mode of flight or fight, caught in freefall and –
"Breathe." Henry's hand left her arm and moved instead to her back, pressing firmly between her shoulder blades. "Elizabeth, breathe."
She heard his voice but in her mind she was in Andrada's office, running through an endless stream of what if scenarios; what if she hadn't turned her back, hadn't punched him, hadn't brought up the drones - her brain catching again and again on the real-life memory of the way it had felt when he had walked up behind her and touched her like he had some sort of right. Like a bastard.
For some reason the increasing sense of indignation coupled with Henry's concerned, insistent voice worked, breaking through the fog of her jumbled thoughts and she found her body obeying, sucking in a loud, desperate breath. The air filled her lungs and she couldn't hold in the tears any longer, feeling them spill hotly down her cheeks in frustration and stress and lingering fear.
Elizabeth let herself collapse forward onto Henry's chest, her head landing against his collarbone as she sought out his comfort, her hands bunching in his t-shirt as he brought his arms up to hold her gently, like he was afraid of making her feel constricted. She dragged in a juddering breath and felt the spikes of it down her throat and into her lungs as she resisted the magnetic lull of the panic balled inside her.
The panic frustrated her, reminded her of other bad things, awful things, and it made her furious with Andrada for dragging it up again, for making her remember and forcing her to relive the choking feeling of everything spiralling out of control around her.
Henry's hand smoothed over her hair and his lips pressed softly to her forehead. "It's all right," he murmured. "It's OK."
She looked up at him, only just able to make out the shape of his features through her tears and the dark of the room. He gave her a slightly sad, rueful smile; Elizabeth got the sense that it contained an apology but she couldn't quite tell for what. She kept her eyes on Henry's face, the simple act of looking at him providing her with a hint of reassurance that gradually helped the tears to lessen and her rapid heartbeat to finally slow.
Damn, she was so tired. She didn't think she'd slept for more than an hour before she'd been startled awake by her own mind, and she hadn't managed to sleep at all on the plane home from the Philippines, too wired to relax. She just needed to sleep. She couldn't think clearly, make a decision about what to do, when she was so drop-down exhausted and still tingling with adrenaline. She couldn't think like the Secretary of State when she was so all over the place.
She thought that the fact that she thought that was telling, but she wasn't quite ready to unwrap it just yet.
She traced her fingers over Henry's chest. "I don't have to decide right now, right?" Part of her wanted to ask him what he thought that she should do, but she knew he wouldn't answer and she was glad that he would support her no matter what she decided. But she still felt the need for reassurance on at least some level.
"I think you're allowed to sleep on it," he said. He brushed his fingers over her hair. "Do you think you can sleep now?"
He asked the question like if she said no, he'd sit up all night with her to keep her company. Such a good man. So different to Andrada. "Yeah," she answered after a pause, pushing herself up from his chest so she could roll over onto her left side, her preferred position for falling asleep.
There was a moment's hesitation before Henry turned towards her, and Elizabeth knew that the assault had spooked him, that it bothered him, too. Then his palm curved around her hip as he curled his body around hers, his leg sliding over hers to hold her to him. His touch was safety and security – and entirely welcomed. So completely different to the touch of the rogue President. No matter what she decided, she knew he'd have her back. Elizabeth took his hand to pull his arm closer around her and let Henry's rhythmic, steady breathing lull her own breathing into a more relaxed state. She stared into the gloom, feeling her husband gradually go slack with sleep around her. Her own eyelids were dragging down like magnets drawn irresistibly together. She thought that she could sleep now.
She thought that she might know what she was going to do about Andrada, but she wasn't yet ready to admit it. Maybe in the morning.
The knot of unease loosened slightly inside her, but it didn't completely unravel even as she fell fitfully into sleep.