Summary: "I've got nothing to hide." A piece of Elizabeth's past resurfaces, and she's forced to confront memories long since buried. When perception is everything, will she find the strength to face her fears and open up to the nation, but more importantly, to her family?

A/N: Elizabeth's character fascinates me, and I wanted to explore how—given her personality, and the glimpse we saw of her as young girl—she coped with her parents' deaths, and also her relationship with food. This is the result. (N.B. I kept the flashbacks deliberately mild to avoid triggers.) If this isn't for you, I've posted a couple of other stories that might be more your thing. Check them out. Thanks.

London, Summer 1984

Chapter One

Present Day


Elizabeth groaned. No way. It couldn't be seven o'clock already. The cold air prickled over the back of her arm and charged every last hair to attention as she groped and fumbled her way across the bedside table—phone, book, binder, other phone—until her hand stumbled upon the alarm. She swatted it.


Thank God.

The mattress dipped behind her. A moment later, Henry's hand grazed her waist and then slid down, down, down and teased up the hem of her t-shirt. With his palm flat to her stomach, he fluttered his fingertips over her skin and then pressed his chest flush to her back—a surge of warmth—followed by a trail of kisses that started at the tip of her shoulder and ended at the spot behind her ear. "Good morning." His lips brushed against her earlobe, his voice groggy from sleep.

A tingle shivered up the curve of her neck, and she cracked open one eye. A shaft of sunlight sauntered through the slit between the curtains and illuminated the motes of dust that spiralled through the air. "Morning."

Henry nuzzled the nape of her neck. "I think we should add a 'good' to that."

She chuckled, but as his hand slipped lower and lower over her abdomen, she caught hold of his fingers and laced them through her own, thus stalling their descent.

He propped himself up, and as his gaze raked over her, she rolled to face him. He quirked one eyebrow, as if to say—Why not?

Elizabeth met him with a stern gaze. "I've got work."

Darkness eddied beneath the surface of his eyes. He freed his hand, and cupping her jaw, he brushed his thumb back and forth over her cheek. "You can be five minutes late."

"Wow, a whole five minutes, huh?" A smile crept across her lips, and she met the pecks that he placed at the corners of her mouth with the flutter of a kiss. "Sounds romantic."

"Then tell them you were busy." His lips roamed down her neck and then paused to suckle at her pulse point, and when her breath hitched, he smiled against her.

"Doing what exactly?" She threaded her fingers through his hair and dragged her nails over his scalp as he wandered lower, over her collarbone and between her breasts, pressing sloppy kisses through the cotton of her shirt.

"Book club."

She snorted. "At seven AM?"

His gaze darted up to meet hers, his eyes alight with a dangerous glimmer. "It'll be a riveting read, I promise. A real page—"


Henry's whole body jumped, and his eyes shot wide; he couldn't have looked more surprised had her whole DS detail stormed into the room.

Elizabeth cackled. "Oh my God, Henry, you should see your face." She cradled his head against her stomach whilst his own chuckle reverberated through her, and then she shifted from beneath him and placed a kiss to the top of his head. "I guess that's the universe's way of saying 'no'."

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, and her toes wriggled as the cool air snaked between them. She padded across the floor towards the bathroom.

Henry called after her, "What about you? What do you say?"

She stopped in the doorway and smiled over her shoulder at Henry as he peered up at her from the tangled sheets. "Take a cold shower."

A pause. Then—"Join me."

Elizabeth grinned to herself. Top marks for persistence.

The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open on the seventh floor. No one waiting to meet her, always a promising start. Elizabeth strode through the outer office, the air alive with the trill of telephones and the bustle of paperwork as interns and staffers flurried by. At the end of the office, hunched over his desk with his head in his hands, was Blake.

"Good morning." Elizabeth patted his arm as she sailed past.

"Morning," Blake murmured, or perhaps groaned. Then his head snapped up, and he did a double take. "I mean: Good morning, ma'am." He pivoted in his chair and jumped to his feet, and then scurried after her as she dumped her bag inside her office door and made a beeline for the break room. "Ma'am, there's a Ms Harston on her way up to see you."

Elizabeth shot him a glance over her shoulder. Ms—"Who?" The colleagues they passed in the corridor murmured their greetings, and she returned them with a nod and a smile.

"Ms Harston," Blake repeated. And when she frowned, he continued, "Russell Jackson arranged the appointment…regarding your interview next week…" His expression withered. "Still no bells?"

She gave a shrug. "I guess I don't believe in Santa." The aroma of coffee that bloomed from the pot and percolated through the air hit her as she stepped backwards into the break room.

Blake stopped in the doorway, and his expression turned to despair. "The profile piece."

Something vague fluttered in a recess of her mind. "Right." Her frown eased for a second, and then deepened again. "Am I still doing that?" She turned to the table, where almond croissants, blueberry friands and chocolate muffins all crammed onto the cake stand at the centre. Elizabeth grabbed a plate and perused the selection. Her stomach grumbled.

"Yes, ma'am. Russell Jackson is insistent."

Elizabeth shot Blake a look. "Well, if Russell's insistent…" She nabbed one of the chocolate muffins and set it on her plate, turned back to the door, hesitated, and then grabbed a friand too.

Blake cleared his throat. Eyes wide, eyebrows arched, he nodded at her plate.

Elizabeth's smile fell. "What?" She clutched the plate to her chest, as if someone—Blake—might snatch it away. "I'm feeling carb-y."

"I can see that," Blake said. His gaze lingered on the cakes. Pining.

Elizabeth broke off a chunk of muffin and popped it into her mouth. Moist, chocolatey gooeyness. So good. Had she been alone, she might have moaned. She licked her thumb clean and then tilted her head to the cake stand. "Want one?"

Blake's tongue darted out, as if to lick a dusting of icing sugar from his lips. But then his expression crumpled. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. "I can't." He hurried after Elizabeth as she carried the plate back to her office, his footsteps quick behind the tap of her heels. "I'm actually meant to be on this five day juice cleanse."

Juice cleanse. Elizabeth stopped so sharply that he almost bundled into the back of her. She turned to face him. "Why?"

"Some old friends are in town this weekend," Blake said as they continued along the corridor. "I promised I would meet up with them and—"

"And you think they care what you look like?" Elizabeth raised her eyebrows just a fraction.

Blake paused. Baffled. "Well, they're human…so, yes."

Elizabeth stopped by Blake's desk. "No one cares, Blake. And if they do, maybe it's time to get some different friends." She presented him with the blueberry friand.

Blake stared at it suspiciously.

She held it closer to him. "It won't kill you."

Blake gave a wry smile. "You should tell that to my Uncle Melvin." When Elizabeth frowned, he added, "He's horrendously allergic to blueberries."

Elizabeth eased the cake away, and she studied him as if he might erupt in hives at any moment. "Are you?"

Blake's lips pursed. Then—"No."

She grabbed his hand, turned it over and dropped the cake in his palm. "Life's short, Blake." She patted his arm. "Live a little."

"By eating cake?" With the way that Blake eyed the friand, it might contain either hemlock or the secret of eternal life.

"It's a start," Elizabeth said.

Blake stared at it a moment longer, then lifted it to his mouth, inhaled its sticky scent and took a large bite. His eyes closed and let out a moan. Utter bliss.

Elizabeth chuckled to herself. "See. Didn't hurt, did it?"

"Tell that to my PT," he said through his mouthful. He crammed the rest into his mouth and then dusted down his hands and motioned to the woman sat on the sofa outside Elizabeth's office. He chewed quickly and then swallowed. "I believe this is Ms Harston."

"Madam Secretary." The auburn-haired woman stood up and tottered towards Elizabeth, hand outstretched, her smile so wide that it revealed the smudge of coral lipstick that stained her teeth. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last. I'm Emilie."

"Nice to meet you." Elizabeth shook Emilie's hand and then motioned for her to step inside the office. She gestured towards the couch. "Please. Take a seat." Once she had placed her plate with its chocolate muffin down on the coffee table, she shrugged off her trench coat and tossed it to Blake.

Blake caught the coat with a flourish and hung it up in the closet. He turned to Elizabeth. "Is there anything I can get for you, ma'am?"

"Just coffee," Elizabeth said. "Thank you."

Blake nodded and flashed her a smile. "Coming right up."

Elizabeth lowered herself onto the cushions at the opposite end of the sofa to Emilie. She met the young woman with an expectant smile. "So, I understand that Russell Jackson sent you?" She broke another piece off the muffin and stuffed it into her mouth.

Emilie nodded, a touch too enthusiastic. "Mr Jackson just wanted to make sure that you're prepared for the interview next week." She rifled through the pink leather tote at her feet and produced a file stuffed with page after page of paper. "I've drawn up a list of questions." She handed the wad to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth brushed the chocolate crumbs from her fingers before taking it. "Since this is more of a profile piece, aimed at showing your personal side rather than your policies, pretty much everything is up for discussion."

"I can see that," Elizabeth said. She wet her thumb and flicked through the reams of questions. Some of the CIA files she had worked with were far less exhaustive than this. Asking about her job at UVA… fair enough, but did people really care about her favourite colour?

She dislodged a piece of chocolate from her teeth with her tongue as she scanned down the list. Several pages deep, Blake nudged the door open and carried a tray with two cups of coffee inside. He balanced it on the table and handed Elizabeth hers. Elizabeth shot him a look. "You might want to bring the whole pot."

Emilie's smile faltered. "I know it seems like a lot—"

Elizabeth glanced at her. No kidding.

"—but the worst thing is to be caught off guard."

Coffee cup halfway to her lips, Elizabeth paused. "I have done interviews before."

"I know that, ma'am." Emilie nodded. She chewed on her bottom lip, and the smudge of coral spread. "But given the personal angle…Mr Jackson thought it would be best to go through all the scenarios first, just in case."

All scenarios? What, exactly, did Russell think she did all day? Elizabeth laid one hand atop the stack of paper. "I think I can manage most of these questions without any hand-holding, so how about we skip to the ones that you—" or Russell "—are most concerned about."

"Um…sure…" Emilie took out her own copy of the document and sifted through the pages. Each sheet that she turned, she placed down on the cushion between them. The pile grew larger and more disordered by the minute. She paused on a particular page. Her brow furrowed, and she made a kind of tutting noise as she skimmed down the column of text. Then she stopped. She looked up at Elizabeth, eyes wide. "Iran?"

An explosion. Then the ricochet of gunfire. Chuh-chuh chuh-chuh-chuh. Stay down! Elizabeth's pulse quickened. Breathe in, hold, breath out. She swallowed her sip of coffee and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, concealing the barest tremor of her lips. "I can handle that."

Emilie nodded, but her gaze held on Elizabeth for a long second before she looked away and surrendered the page to the heap between them. Her finger trailed down the list, passed a question, and then scooted back. "It's likely that they'll mention your parents and how their…"

"Death?" Elizabeth offered, and a deep ache billowed through her chest. Why can no one say it?

Emilie lowered her gaze. "…shaped your life. Are you happy to talk about that?"

"Happy isn't the adjective I'd use," Elizabeth said, "but I'm prepared to discuss it."

A blush crept through Emilie's cheeks, and she shifted on the couch. She turned the page. Then paused. "There is one thing that I wanted to bring up." She tapped a rose pink fingernail against the line highlighted at the bottom. "The summer of 1984…"

"What about it?" Elizabeth sipped on her coffee.

Emilie gave a stilted shrug. "I don't know."

The coffee cup chimed against the saucer as Elizabeth set it down. She eyed Emilie, and the younger woman's blush deepened. "You don't know?"

Emilie's gaze darted all over the place as she rambled. "I have a friend who works on the show and he just said something about a hospital admission in 1984—"

Elizabeth's stomach lurched. You spent the summer with me in London; that's what you'll say if anyone asks.

"—but he wouldn't say anything more than that, just that they were planning to ask about it and—"

Elizabeth surged up from the sofa. Hand on her hip, she paced towards the door.

"Is…is there something wrong?"

Elizabeth pinched her brow. She turned back to the couch. Emilie had risen to her feet and hovered like a lost schoolgirl, too timid to ask for help from a passerby. Elizabeth stared at her, hard. "And he didn't say anything else, this friend of yours? The hospital name, the dates, the ward." Please not the ward.

Emilie shook her head. "No, ma'am." She chewed on her lip. "If…if this is a problem…"

Damn right it's a problem. "It's confidential." Elizabeth bit the inside of her cheek as she shook her head to herself. "They shouldn't have access to my medical records."

"I understand…" Emilie wrung her hands. "…but if the information is out there…"

Elizabeth's mouth formed a grim line. "It's only a matter of time." She nodded. "I know." She grabbed the door handle and hauled open the door. She leant out and shouted, "Blake."

Blake jumped up from his desk and fumbled with the button on his blazer as he hurried over.

Elizabeth looked back to Emilie. "Thank you for your time, Ms Harston. Have Blake take your details, and I'll be in contact if I need anything else."

Emilie froze to the spot, as though she had strayed onto the path of a pressure-release land mine, but Blake swooped in and ushered her away, and she stumbled out into the main office, her gaze fixed on Elizabeth, her expression stuck in a perfect question of: What did I do?

Elizabeth swung the door shut and leant back against it. Her heart pounded, a staccato against the peal of silence. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. You spent the summer with me in London. Don't let this define you.

October 1984

Tick, tick, tick. The indicator beat out the time as the car slowed and curved onto the driveway that wound its way through the grounds. The gravel crunched and prickled beneath the wheels, and Elizabeth's stomach clenched. 'Houghton Hall'. The name was emblazoned in bold white letters across the maroon sign. The car sailed between the two stone pillars and eased along the track towards the red brick building that loomed ahead.

Elizabeth's aunt glanced at her. "I've told the school that you spent the summer with me in London. That's what you'll say if anyone asks. Do you understand?"

Elizabeth paused. Summer in London. It couldn't be further from the truth. "But—"

The car jerked to a stop. Elizabeth grabbed hold of the seat beneath her, her heart pounding. Her aunt turned to her, crimson lips drawn tight. "Elizabeth, listen to me." She jabbed a manicured nail at Elizabeth's chest. "You are a woman; you needn't give anyone anymore reason to think you're weak."

"But I don't want to lie," Elizabeth said. There's nothing more valuable than the truth, her father had told her, and it's a gift you can give for free.

Her aunt shook her head to herself and let out an exasperated sigh. "You're gifted, Elizabeth, but it's naive to think that people won't judge you for this. Maybe one day…" Her expression softened, and she rested her hand against Elizabeth's knee. "Look, you have a chance now to make something of your life. It's time to put this whole episode behind you."

Elizabeth's lips pressed into a taut line. She turned away from her aunt and stared out of the side window, through the row of poplars that lined the drive. In the silence, the toll of the bell rang out, as solemn as the knell that saw her parents to their graves. Perhaps her aunt was right, perhaps that's where that summer belonged, hidden beneath the earth until flowers grew atop and people no longer cared what had nurtured them from underneath.

Her aunt's hand retreated to the steering wheel. As the car pulled away again, and the tyres skidded over the gravel, she murmured, "Please, Elizabeth, don't let this define you."