DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
SPOILERS: 2x17 Jones, 3x19 The Crossing, 3x20 Lo-Fi
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Better As A Memory
By gilligankane


i. I move on like a sinner's prayer

You catch her eye from across the room, and you can't help but smirk. She blushes and your smirk blossoms, spreading across your face and it feels unfamiliar, but like smiling is something you've been missing out on for the last thirty-odd years of your life.

"Prentiss." Morgan nudges you in the ribs and you take your time looking at him, content to keep your dark eyes locked on her light ones. You smirk once more, for good measure, because you know exactly where that blush disappears to under her shirt.

"Yeah?" He's smirking too, but for an entirely different reason, because – here's to hoping – he's not thinking about getting out of the office and making JJ scream his name for the rest of the night, because that's why you're smirking.

"Wanna go get those files from Hotch for me?" He's halfway out of his seat, expecting you to say "no" like every other time he's asked you, but you nod and get out of your chair before he can comment on it. You sway past JJ and she averts her eyes.

She can never keep herself from watching you walk.

ii. I let go like a levee breaks

When you land in New Orleans, you can see right away that this bottom-feeder wanna-be has his eyes on her, watching the tilt of her head and the slight lift of her lip when she smiles. You watch how he studies her, memorizes every step she takes and every word, ever letter, she says. You can almost see the wheels in his head turning furiously, trying to catalogue every movement she makes and you'd find it funny if you didn't consider her yours.

She isn't though.

So when you see them come back from the bar, after scouting the area, you see the way she's blushing and the way he struts a little taller than before and you know, you know, that he probably put a move on her.

When you're finished for the night, lying boneless beside her and breathing heavy, you force your body to move and you stand, gathering your clothes and slipping into your pants and shirt, sans underwear. You don't look back at her when you leave, but you know she's probably just staring at you.

iii. Walk away as if I don't care

When you wake up in your own bed (for the first time in a long time) and the sheets on the other side are cold and lonely, you realize you were being an idiot, because she obviously wasn't interested in him. At least, she wasn't when she was panting your name and biting down on your shoulder, coming apart in your hands.

So you walk into the office, ready to pack up your bags and get the hell out of Dodge, because you're sick of this place that smells like alcohol and infested with creepy, skin-crawling Cajun men, and because you've never done it with her on the plane before and you're up for trying new things.

But when you walk into the precinct, a smile on your face and an apology on your tongue, you see her leaning a little too close to him; see him smiling a little too eagerly; see her slip him her business card, smooth and with a secret smile.

You shrug your shoulders for anyone watching and board the plane by yourself.

iv. Learn to shoulder my mistakes

It was your fault, and you don't need Hotch to tell you that. Your gun wavered for that spilt second and you nearly got yourself killed. Your gun wavered because you could see the white's of the unsub's eyes and you knew – you knew she wasn't a killer, she was just a desperate mother – but your gun wavered all the same and the bullet only missed you by inches.

Usually, on days like these, when you compromise a situation, or almost die, you end up outside her apartment, with a cocky, fake grin and your own "Bette Davis" eyes.

Usually, you let her take care of you for five minutes, maybe ten, before you kiss her solidly, and before you end up tangled in her sheets, her slight body wrapped in your arms.

But this isn't a usual day, because at the same time as she's watching the EMT bandage your arm where the bullet seared through your flesh, she's smiling giddily at her cell phone and you know it's from him and you know what that means.

So instead of showing up at her door, you open your liquor cabinet, because it was your mistake and you can take care of it yourself.

v. I'm built to fade like your favorite song

She comes around a couple days after your recent brush with death, just to check up on you, because she was "concerned when you didn't show up for work" but you smile and shake your head and tell her that Hotch gave you a few days off and that you're fine, just a scratch.

"Scratch," she scoffs and you can't help but smile wider.

The truth is, your arm aches bad, just like your leg ached the last time you were shot, and you're a little woozy because you haven't eaten too much lately and you can still feel the whiskey clinging to your skin and your mouth. But you tell her you're fine and you press her against the back of your front door, laughing into her mouth as she accidentally grabs your arm. You laugh into her mouth and run your hands along her stomach, feeling the muscles ripple under her shirt and you know that after this, you're going to be okay and the world will stop spinning.

And when it's over, instead of lying in your arms the way she always does, she checks her phone. She's missed a call and she calls him back. You kind of just fade into the background and she sits at the edge of your bed, still glowing. And when you can feel her look back at you, you feign sleep.

And she leaves.

vi. Get reckless when there's no need

There is no reason for running into the house, especially without your gun and your vest and your backup, but that son of a bitch is holding JJ in there and no one is doing anything about it.

"Prentiss!" Hotch comes to life first.

"Emily!" Morgan yells half a second later.

But you don't hear them, because that bastard has JJ and no one is doing anything about it. So it's up to you. And you're ready for him, so when he comes at you, hand-to-hand combat, you bring your leg up in such a blur that you're not sure how he ends up on the floor, but JJ is in your arms, arms wrapped around your shoulders, hanging on for dear life.

Hotch gives you a glare that translates to "I should have your badge you impulsive little brat," but he keeps quiet because JJ's eyes are fluttering open and closed.

He knows why you went in there. You know why you went in there. But he's right. You were impulsive and you were stupid and you should have waited.

But it's JJ.

And calculated seems to fly out the window where she's concerned.

vii. Laugh as your stories ramble on

Garcia calls you on a Friday night, just as you're pulling on your flannel pajama pants and your tank top, getting ready for bed, and you almost don't pick up.

"Hey gorgeous. Listen, I would call someone else, but Morgan is in Chicago and Reid is my last choice," she rambles and you find yourself stopping her, because as much as you love the crazy blonde, it's been a long week and you just want to sleep the entire weekend away.

"I'm at this bar with JJ and I have a date in an hour, but I don't want to leave her here and…" You shake your head and pull your pants down again with one hand, trying to find your jeans.

"Just tell me where you are." You grab your jacket and your keys and leave the warmth of your apartment, heading into the cool night.

You find her on the edge of a barstool, talking animatedly to the barkeep who clearly has better things to do. Mercilessly, you glide over and step in.

"Emily!" and she launches in, telling you something about a pineapple and a coconut and she's laughing so hard that the words don't make sense, but you smile anyways and eventually you start laughing.

Maybe you don't need sleep. Maybe you just needed to see her.

viii. Break my heart, but it won't bleed

Today, you're going to do this right. You're going to ask her on a date and bring flowers to her doorstep and buy dinner and walk her to her doorstep. You're going to do this right and maybe even ask her if you can do it again sometimes, because you maybe sorta kinda might be falling for her.

"Hey, Emily, you remember Will, right?" She's smiling happily, clutching his arm and you find it ironic that she holds your arm the same way when she screams your name.

You put on a brave face. "Yeah, 'course. Hey," you offer in his direction, your hand holding the card with the name of the restaurant on it stuffed into your coat pocket.

Maybe some other time.

"We were going to grab a few drinks with the rest of the team," she says, beaming her beacon of light in your direction. "You in?"

"Maybe some other time," you say, the card crumpling into a ball of anger. You smile anyway and turn on your heel, trying to ignore the way she laughs at him – the way she used to laugh at you.

ix. My only friends are pirates

You're trying to forget the sound of her voice, so you seek solace in the only real friends you have: Jack and Morgan.

They burn your throat as they slide down, smooth as ever, but you welcome it. It's better than the burning of your skin where her hands used to be.

Jack and Morgan.

Morgan and Jack.

They never seem to let you down.

x. Never sure when the truth won't do

"Are you…hey." She waves a hand in front of your face, because she thinks you aren't playing attention to her.

"What?" If she thinks you sound annoyed, it's because you are.

"I was just wondering what you're doing tonight, that's all." She's got that look in her eyes, the same one you've been dreaming of for a couple of nights now. "If you're busy," she clarifies.

"Yeah. I am." Busy dreaming about you, you say to yourself.

"Oh." She pauses, looks across the bullpen, and sighs deeply. "Do you think he's…" She leaves the question open-ended.

"What? A good guy? A nice friend?" She smiles.

"Good for me," she says, and you quirk your eyebrow, as if you're trying to say "are you really asking me this question?" But she is, and what's worse is that she's looking for an honest answer.

So you lie.

"Of course I do."

xi. I'm pretty good on a lonely night

When he leaves to go back home, you realize he's only been here a week – the longest week of your life.

And, unsurprisingly, she gets lonely quick and ends up on your doorstep with a sheepish smile and a bottle of wine – a truce offering. And you've missed her so much, without actually realizing that you've missed her, so you don't even look at the bottle of wine.

You ignore the fact she tastes like smoke.

"Hey," she whispers against the side of your mouth and you don't smile this time, because you know what she's here for and if that's how she wants it, then that's how you're going to give it to her.

"You're amazing," she whispers later, her hair spread across your sheets.

You pretend to be sleeping, because you know you're amazing, and you're just waiting for her to really figure it out.

xii. I move on the way a storm blows through

You know he's back in town, the entire Bureau knows, but she still wants you to meet her in front of her house. You delete the text message and roll over in your empty bed, closing your eyes.

"I texted you," she says in the morning, nonchalantly, looking at you over the rim of her coffee cup.

"Did you?" You don't look up, because she'll be able to read your eyes, so you focus on finishing the report in front of you and you hear her sigh loudly.

"Want to go for drinks later? You, me, Garcia?" You look up at that and nod once.

You get there early, because you've got nothing else to do, and when she strolls in, clutching Garcia's arm, her head thrown back in laughter, you see her stop short out of the corner of her eye. Involuntarily, you tense up.

"Baby?" The redhead on your arm, the one you just met a half an hour ago, leans close and whispers the question into your ear. You smile reassuringly, toss a "raincheck?" over your shoulder and lead the woman out of the club, your smile fading as the neon lights of the bar get smaller and smaller in your rearview mirror.

xiii. I never stay, but then again, I might

He's gone again and it's only a matter of time before he comes back. You don't talk about the redhead because it's none of her business and because nothing happened and she doesn't talk about him either. A silent agreement.

She's arched against her mattress, and you're finishing up. You give yourself a minute to breath, closing your eyes at the way her fingertips scrape against your stomach. This is your routine, at least when you're in her bed.

You come.

You conquer.

You leave.

Except that when you let the sheet fall off of your body and you reach down to grab one of your socks, her arm snakes around your waist and holds you against her.

"Stay," she murmurs with her mouth pressed to your back. "Just stay for a little while."

Maybe she just wants a warm body. Maybe she really wants you.

You never stay, because it's not in your routine, but her sheets are warm and her body is shaking and you can play hero for a night.

So you nod and you settle back against the pillows. You'll stay.

xiv. I struggle sometimes to find the words

"Do you think I'm making a mistake?" The question breaks your concentration and the SUV swerves slightly to the left and you're too caught off guard to grab it quicker than she does.

"Excuse me?" You place your hands back on the steering wheel, avoiding the places she's holding it and keep your eyes focused on the dirt road in front of you.

"Do you think that me and Will – the long distance thing. Is it a mistake?" A part of you wants to hit her, smack her across the face, because she has no right to be asking you a question like this. Not when she's going to coming apart in your hands later. Not when she's going to be thinking of him.

"I…uh…" You sigh and keep your eyes on the road.

"Sorry, stupid question," she says after a minute of silence. She turns to look out the window and you watch her out of the corner of her eye.


xv. Always sure until I doubt

It's been what, months, since she started seeing him, and you were so sure he'd be a distraction, because she belongs between your sheets and nowhere else.

But he's back again and it's the 5th weekend in a row and he's starting to be a pain in your ass.

"He won't last," Garcia mumbles next to you, and you raise an eyebrow over your beer mug. She's out there on the floor with him, and it sure as hell looks like it's going to last. "Please. I'm not blind Emily. I can see the way you look at her, and the way she looks at you. He won't last," she repeats softly.

You used to believe that too. You used to believe that he was a small distraction and that he was going to just kind of disappear if you closed you eyes and held them shut long enough.

You used to be so sure he'd "get some and get gone" but he's still hanging around and you're not so set in your ways anymore.

xvi. Walk a line until it blurs

You've always gone the same way, done the same thing, every day of your life. And it's been good, because it's routine and you like routine and you like having everything the same as it was the day before.

Except that she stops calling you.

And routine goes right out the window.

There was always a fine line between the two of you, and you've always straddled it dangerously.

And now that line, the one you used to walk, because it was routine, is gone and you're all turned around and she's not calling you anymore so you lose yourself in your work and your liquor cabinet and laugh at the shadows that dance on the walls of your empty apartment.

xvii. Build walls too high to climb out

You're sinking. You're sinking and she walks by you every day and smiles in your direction, but one of those distracted smiles, because you know she's thinking about the baby growing inside of her and she's not really concerned with the way you're slowly sliding into withdrawal and you're not even fighting it.

You're having withdrawal's from her – from her voice and her smell and her real smile.

But you still let yourself slide, because maybe she'll come and reach out her hand and pull you up from the wreckage.

But she keeps walking by and the walls around you get higher and higher and higher and you sink lower each day.

xviii. But I'm honest to a fault

The ring is on her finger, sparkling in the fluorescent lights of the bullpen and she's staring at you expectantly, as if she wants you to say something about the sheer size of the ring, or what it means, or what it doesn't.


You glare at her, dark eyes peering out from under your bangs. "Well what?"

"Well, what do you think?" You can't name the look in her eyes, but you're hoping it's the look that says "please, kiss me now." It's not.

"I think," you sigh loudly, running a hand through your hair and trying to breathe her in. You're the only two here, and you can tell her now, tell her how it's wrong and how that ring looks so out of place on her hand. "I think you'd be a great wife."

It's the truth; she would.

And you love her too much – because now you know you love her – to tell her anything but the truth. Even if it's not the truth she wants.

xix. I see you leaning, you're bound to fall

You've been home for two minutes, just enough time to take off your jacket and your shoes and walk into your kitchen slowly, when the doorbell rings frantically followed by incessant pounding on the door.

It's only open an inch when she comes barreling through, eyes rimmed with red and shaking hands grab your collar as she pulls you into her. The ring cuts into your neck, digging into your skin, but it almost feels good, and she's kissing you.

Really kissing you.

And even if she's crying, you can still make out the words she's whispering to you and you can still feel her breath against your cheek.

"I love you Emily."

And you kiss her hard, with her engagement ring digging into your neck and her tears coating your cheeks, you kiss her and try to remember she's not spoken for.

xx. I don't wanna be that mistake

You're gone before the sunlight hits her eyes though, because you're not going to be the reason she doesn't get her happy ending, the one everyone knows she deserves. You can't give that too her because you're not the settling down type and she deserves someone to come home to.

The highway stretches on for a long time, and you're heading straight, because straight gets you away from all of it faster and farther.

You don't want to be the reason for her pain and her suffering and her disappointment, so you pack a bag while she's still sleeping and you leave.

You don't leave a note, even though she'll look for one. You shut off your cell phone, even though she'll call you. You don't wake her up, even though she'll hate you for it later.

You just drive.

xxi. I'm just a dreamer, and nothing more

Days later, you finally stop in Boston, even though you've been in the city since the morning you left. You drove around and around and only stopped for gas, but now you're tired because exhaustion is catching up with you. You pick the most elusive hotel and rent a room for the night, crashing down into the hard mattress.

And you dream of her.

Of white picket fences and golden retrievers and little blonde towheads with sparkling eyes and their mouths turning up at the corners.

Of 9-5 workdays and coming home to help cook dinner and teaching multiplication tables and reading over English assignments and routine and happiness.

When you wake up – only two hours later – you close your eyes against the bright yellow peeling wallpaper and sigh.

You try and close your eyes again, trying to dream of her.

xxii. You should know it before it gets too late

You call her a week after you leave her in your bed, not really sure what you're going to say, but listening to the ringing and hoping she doesn't pick up.

She does and she doesn't say a word, because she knows it's you calling. You hear her breathing softly and you sigh into the receiver.

"What?" she asks coldly.

"I wanted you to know that I'm…I…" the wallpaper is still peeling in this rat trap hotel and your eyes roam over the walls, because you wrote your entire apology on them on in black Sharpie and she wasn't supposed to say "what" and it's throwing your entire speech off.

"I don't love you." The words come out on their own volition and they're a defensive mechanism and a complete lie. But you've opened this can of worms and if it'll get her her happy ending, then that's what you'll do.

"I just wanted you to know that." You hang up before she can say anything and you stare at the walls.

That wasn't in the script.

xxiii. 'Cause goodbyes are like a roulette wheel

Garcia calls you and tells you that she's leaving, going to live in New Orleans so that when the baby is born, she's already settled in, and even if she won't tell anyone, she wants you there.

So you come home and you stand in the bullpen obediently and you watch as Hotch gives Will a friendly clap on the shoulder and you watch Garcia cling to JJ and try not to cry.

You watch Reid stare a Will's outstretched hand – part of you is thrilled that Reid seems to hate Will as much as you do – and you watch Morgan wrap JJ in his arms and you watch her slender form seem to disappear in his embrace and you watch as she comes closer and closer to you.

Neither of you say a word. To them – to all of them except for Garcia – you guys were best friends and they know that this is going to be hard for you, so they avert their eyes, suddenly busy with other things to do.

"Bye," she says, standing too far away for you to hug.

"See ya," you throw back at her.

She walks out the door and he follows her. You ignore the way Garcia is staring at you.

It doesn't matter anyhow.

xxiv. You never know where they're gonna land

You're standing outside her door and hoping he doesn't answer it. She opens it still looking over her shoulder and when she turns to face you, her smile falters.

"What are you doing here?"

But you're not sure what to say to her. "Is he still here?" you find yourself asking.

"No," she says after a couple seconds of silence. "Why?"

"I just wanted to say goodbye," you tell her, your voice cracking. "I just wanted to say goodbye. I just wanted…" She cuts you off, raising her hand.


She slams the door in your face.

xxv. First you're spinning, then you're standing still

Months fly by, night creep by, bottles of whiskey disappear, and the mail comes. She's getting married, and she wants you to come see her take his name.

Like hell.

You shove the envelope to the back of your desk, buried under your bar receipts and when Garcia calls, you don't pick up.

She wants you to come to her wedding. She wants you to watch her marry the father of her child and the man who promised her everything. She wants you to watch her as all her dreams come true.

Well, fuck that.

You take another swig of Jack Daniels and repeat it out loud. "Fuck that."

xxvi. Left holding a losing hand

Still, Garcia drags you onto the plane and you find yourself ransacking the mini bar when she's not looking, and you're throwing your head back and swallowing the burning liquid when Morgan turns his head for a fraction of a second.

You reach your peak somewhere over North Carolina and by the time you touch down in Louisiana, you're three sheets to the wind, and it's only getting better from here.

She's standing at the airport, a two month old attached to her slender hip, and smile on her face that's stretching from ear to ear and – god – she's never looked so good. She looks relaxed and just a little shorter now that she's not wearing heels and she looks older, but good. She's never looked so good.

You smile for a second as she yells "Over here!" because she's waving her arm excitedly and grinning, but then you see his arm, wrapped securely around her waist and they look so perfect you can't think straight.

They're just so perfect, and she's never looked so good.

You're so drunk.

xxvii. But one day you're gonna find someone

The church is beautiful, you'll admit that much.

You feel wrong though, because you're nursing a hang over, but you're "being supportive." Actually, you're really just trying to get her to look at you, because she won't and she hasn't since you got off the plane.

Garcia hasn't tried to tell you that you can win her back because even if she was always rooting for you two, she can't lie to you: they're perfect for each other. You see the way he smiles at her and the way she smiles back at him and you finally get it.

She's got someone. Someone who isn't you.

And she seems happy.

And she looks like she belongs at the end of this aisle, and you can almost see her in her white dress. And it's not you she's marrying and for the first time you get it.

And it hurts.

xxviii. And right away you'll know it's true

She laughs and your heart stops. It literally stops beating right there in your chest and you can feel your entire body shut down. The chair you're sitting in is the only thing keeping you upright, but somehow you force yourself to stand and move away from the table and through the throbbing crowd – because New Orleans has amazingly packed nightclubs – and towards the bathroom in the back. You barely hear the sound of a chair scraping across the floor, but you feel his hand grab your arm.

"Hey, can we talk?" You throw a glance back at the table and all eyes – except hers – are on you, so you nod and he leads outside into the cool New Orleans night.

"She said no, at first." He tells you after a couple minutes of silence. You look up from where you were staring at the ground. "She said no, because she was still in D.C. and she still worked and she was still pregnant and," he pauses. "And she still had you."


"She said yes." That's all you can think to tell him.

"Yeah," he says, grinning suddenly as the group comes out of the bar. "Yeah, she did."

God, they're so perfect.

xxix. That all of your seeking's done

"Oh, sorry," she automatically says as she enters your hotel room. She was obviously looking for Garcia, so you pretend like this isn't awkward and you smile coyly.

"She never came back from Morgan's room last night," and you watch as she can't help but smile.

"Well, well, well."

"They've been trying to hide it from us for the last couple of months but…"

"But you're profilers," she says, finishing the sentence for you.

"Yeah, something like that." You're not sure what to say now, so you fumble. "He's a good guy."

"Don't talk about him," she all but growls. You nod.

"Okay." She gets up from where she had sat down and goes to the door, stopping for a second before turning the knob, but then she's out the door. "I just think you've finally found the right one, is all," you say to the empty room.

xxx. It's just a part of the passing through

The ceremony is going to start in a few minutes and you're standing outside the double doors of the church, staring at the angry, grey sky. It's a nice day for a white wedding. Or something like that.

"Hey." You half-turn and she's standing in front of the doors, looking at you with amusement.

"Shouldn't you be inside?" She stares at you and blinks a couple times before answering.

"Did you mean it?"

"Mean what," you ask, eyes clouded with confusion.

You watch her sigh and watch her fingers twist themselves. "When you told me you didn't love me. Did you mean it?"

"Hey, JayJ, we got's to boogie," Garcia sticks her head out from behind the door. "You too Em."

You smile softly at her in her perfect white dress and move around her to go into the church, because you don't have the nerve to say no. Because you didn't mean it then, and you don't mean it now.

xxxi. Right there in that moment, you'll finally understand

She looks at you, then looks at him, and back and forth until you feel dizzy and you see the room spinning. You're trying – and failing – to look tough and strong and indifferent. Her eyes are telling you that if you've got something to say, say it now, but you only see it for a second, because you catch sight of his face and you can't move.

He looks so hopeful and his smile is so wide and his eyes are telling you, when he looks at you, that he's amazed this woman agreed to spend the rest of her life with him.

And you can't help but smile back at him and accept that you're taking backseat in this one.

You can feel her eyes on you still, but then you see her look at him and she stops and really looks at him.

And she sees the same thing you do.

And you watch her fall in love with him, in that one second, that one glance, and you know she doesn't want an answer to that question, because she's answering her own:

"I do."

xxxii. That I was better as a memory than as your man

At the reception, you watch her hug people she doesn't know and laugh and smile with the people she does. You stand off to the side, watching with hooded eyes, because even though you couldn't stand up and object back in the church, you're kicking yourself for it now.

You grab champagne off a random table and down it in one swallow, ignoring the way the bubbles feel sliding down your throat. Breathing deeply, you head in her direction, intent on telling her that it's not too late to get an annulment, and that there have been shorter weddings than this and that…

But they're dancing now, and her head is resting on his shoulder and her eyes are closed in contentment.

They're so perfect.

You smile and tip your empty glass at Garcia when she makes a move to come see you, because you know she feels like she should say something, anything, that might make you feel better, but the truth is, the blonde in the wedding gown is the only one for you.

You're a good memory she can look back on someday and smile about.

Except that you don't want to be a memory.

One day though, she'll remember you and what you had and maybe she'll come back to you and you'll get your happily ever after, you think to yourself.

You sneak a last glance before you turn on your heel and leave, because there's a plane leaving in one hour and you're going to be on it and you see her staring at him – not at you – and she looks…she looks happy.

Maybe not.

The End

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