DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For Rachel, who asked for a happy Ambassador Prentiss story. This isn’t happy, but it’s the best I could do. Unbeta’d, so all errors are mine. This is set after my Ambassador Prentiss story, Rapprochement.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The wind off the water was cold, bone-chilling cold. The damp spray hit her face, numbing her skin, the salt coating leaving her cheeks stiff and smarting. The scarf covering her hair did little to stop the fierce tempests from whipping the brown and grey strands around her face, some sticking to her dry lips, so that she raised an ineffectual gloved hand to brush them aside. Her tan Burberry wasn't nearly warm enough, and the cashmere sweater and wool suit she wore under it did little to inhibit the chill wind from sending shivers coursing through her body. This wasn't where she had intended to be when she had dressed this morning and yet, she couldn't think of anywhere else to go.
Under her feet, the sand was packed and hard from the icy tides that swept across it, tides that were creeping ever closer to the soles of chic Prada boots. Not that she cared at this point if the sea ruined a pair of shoes. In the distance along the beach, she could see the shapes of sandpipers skimming along the wet sand, their legs seeming too thin to hold their bodies as they dodged the swelling surf. Above her, gulls wheeled in the buffeting winds, tethered to the invisible currents like kites in the breeze, their harsh cries an atonal harmony line to the bass pounding of the waves on the beach.
She had been standing here for hours, her feet rooted to the earth, the heels of her boots imbedded in the sand. The ocean was gray and cold and uninterested in her and that was the most that she could hope for right now. Odd when apathy was the best case scenario. Better by far than empty words, recriminations and the bitter taste of regret in her mouth. A line from Millay came to mind, one about the sea possibly destroying her but willing her no ill. That was all she could expect now, but it was something at least.
Her meeting with the Under Secretary had gone badly. Well, badly for her. She doubted seriously that it had put much of a dent in the Under Secretary's day. It had destroyed hers. Her day, her week, her year. Her life. Well, that might be a bit melodramatic, as Emily would point out, but still, in the overall scheme of her life, not one of those captured for posterity moments. Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss wasn't used to be being, well, used. Tossed aside. Made redundant, as the Brits said. She had always thought that it was a much better phrase than laid off or unemployed, but suddenly, the term had new meaning for her.
She was redundant. Superfluous. More than necessary. Diplomats were a dime a dozen and apparently, her particular skills were no longer useful, no longer valued. A lifetime spent reshaping and reforming a nation into something acceptable to people it wanted to do business with, or simply exploit, or worse yet, conquer. A charmer. A snake-oil salesman. She remembered her first mentor at State telling her once that a diplomat can tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the journey. The Under Secretary needed some work on his sales pitch. Hell wasn't looking all that great.
The muffled sound of a car door slamming carried to her on the brisk breeze, but she barely registered it. Probably her driver checking on her for the tenth time since she had ordered him to drive out here to the Maryland shore. The look of confusion and concern on his face hadn't penetrated the thick cloud of depression that had settled on her, enveloping her, as she made her way out the marbled hallways of the State Department and across the cold tarmac to her car. The thought of going home, or having to face anyone right now was anathema, and so she had retreated to the only place she had ever felt at peace: the sea.
The feel of a hand on her arm startled her and she turned quickly, eyes widening as she met her daughter's worried brown eyes.
"Mother, what in the world are you doing out here? You're going to catch pneumonia," Emily asked roughly, her concern evident. She wrapped a thick Tartan wool car blanket around her mother's shoulders, attempting to draw her toward the car parked on the edge of the empty road.
"How did you know where to find me?" Elizabeth asked, a part of her sharp mind registering the dimwittedness of the question.
"Edwards called me. He was worried. He said he had never seen you so distracted and then when you asked him to drive you out here and you climbed out and started walking toward the water, he really got worried," Emily explained concisely, still attempting, without much success, to lure her mother back toward the waiting warmth of the car. Elizabeth wasn't budging and Emily had to tap down the urge to throw her mother over her shoulder in a fireman's carry and cart her forcibly to the Lincoln.
"Mother. It's thirty degrees out here and I'm freezing. Can't we continue this discussion somewhere I have less chance of getting frostbite?" Emily pleaded, intentionally keeping her tone light, despite the fact that the chauffer's call and her mother's bizarre behavior were causing a slight wave of panic to creep across her chest.
"You go on back to the car. I'm fine," Elizabeth said absently, her gaze focused once again on the distant line of dark gray against the lighter gray of the sky.
"Mother, please. You're going to catch your death. Come on back to the car and we can talk, all right?" Emily stated calmly, moving around to stand in front of her mother, blocking her view of the sea.
After a moment, Elizabeth seemed to realize that Emily wasn't going to relent and reluctantly allowed herself to be lead toward the road. However, instead of walking to her own car, she veered to the right and marched slowly to Emily's Land Rover, pulling open the passenger door and slipping inside. Emily motioned to her mother's driver that he could go, giving a wave of thanks, and slid into the still warm interior of the car, quickly turning on the car and the heater.
Elizabeth's gaze was still fixed on the vast rolling expanse of ocean, her expression wistful and Emily had to steady her breathing, as a new wave of anxiety washed over her. She had never seen her mother like this, so fragile, so melancholy, so defeated, and the child in her couldn't stem the fear that rushed like the tide to the shore. Her mother was stoic, strong, imperturbable. Never a crack in the infamous Prentiss armor. Only now that armor seemed battered and bent, and Emily didn't know how to mend it. Or if she should even try.
The silence filled the car, thickening the air like smoke. Emily finally got up the courage to confront her mother when Elizabeth spoke.
"When I was a girl, I used to go down to Lambert's Cove and walk along the beach and find a spot on the top of the highest dune and sit for hours and hours. It was the only place where I could be me, the only place that I wasn't expected to be the perfectly behaved Elizabeth. When I was posted in the Middle East, it nearly killed me some days, being so far from the sea," Elizabeth said softly, musingly, almost unaware that Emily was there. "Just the scent of the spray, the salt and the brine. Being able to feel the wind coming in off the water, making the grass on the dunes sway. When I can't take any more, the only thing I want is to walk along the beach at Lambert's Cove."
"This isn't the Vineyard, Mother," Emily replied just as softly, the whine of the wind as it rushed over the car nearly drowning out her words.
"I know that, Emily, but it was the best I could do for right now," Elizabeth admitted with a rueful smile.
"What happened at State, Mother?" Emily's voice was the gentle prodding usually reserved for small children, and Elizabeth knew it. She just couldn't muster the indignation to complain.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was informed that my services are not needed at the present juncture. Or at any juncture in the foreseeable future. I'm surprised that they didn't hand me a five dollar plaque and a fake gold watch and send me on my way, but apparently we don't have the funds for the niceties these days," Elizabeth answered, her voice tired and resigned.
"This administration won't last forever, Mother, thank God, and I am sure that come January, there will be a post for you," Emily tried to reassure, despite the fact that her own world was a little tilted on its axis by her mother's display of insecurity.
"That's kind of you, Emily, but you'll forgive me if I don't share your optimism. And what if this posting fails to appear, what then?" Elizabeth turned finally to face her daughter. Emily was startled at how pale and exhausted her mother looked.
"Then, you write your memoirs. Write another book. Teach. Go to work for one of those think tanks. Hire yourself out as a private consultant to foreign governments. There are so many things you can do. This isn't the end of the line, you know. Maybe, it's a much needed fork in the road that you should take," Emily responded, needing to see a spark of hope, of something in her mother's eyes.
Elizabeth was silent for some minutes, weighing Emily's words, searching her daughter's face for more than just signs of sincerity, but for signs of faith, faith in her. Finally she sighed deeply, a forced half-smile just touching her lips.
"I'll think about it. About all of it," she stated, her voice lacking its usual firmness. "Thank you for coming all the way out here. You didn't have to. I wasn't planning on attempting a Virginia Woolf reenactment, but it's sweet of you to care."
Emily chuckled softly at her mother's slight attempt at humor. Maybe the armor wasn't irreparably damaged after all. Mother and daughter sat in a much more comfortable silence for a while longer, until Emily slid the car into drive and pulled away from the edge of the road.
"Think about it tomorrow. In the meantime, come home with me, and have dinner with me and JJ, all right? You can stay in the guest room and in the morning, Edwards can pick you up and take you back to McLean. Deal?" Emily inveigled, glancing at her mother's profile, trying to gauge her response.
"No. Not to McLean. He can take me to the airport in the morning," Elizabeth stated firmly, the old confidence just creeping back into her voice.
"The airport? Where are you going?"
"The Vineyard. I need to go and sit on a dune in Lambert's Cove for a while. I need to remember how to be me again. Then I can figure out where to go from there. But tonight, I want to have dinner with my daughter and her lovely girlfriend and remember all the things I often forget to be grateful for. Like you, Emily."
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