DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is told from the perspective of Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss, Emily’s mother. The thought occurred to me several months ago in a conversation with Her Majesty, but never came to fruition. However, yesterday, talking to racethewind10 about the possibilities of her next story in her “Five Times Emily and JJ Didn’t Let Go” series (marvelous, btw…go read if you haven’t!!), this tale came to my befuddled, often troubled mind. And it demanded to be written. So, here it is. My deepest, most sincere thanks to a beautiful bevy of beta readers (in alphabetical order, no less): eclecticfan who conquered her cold long enough to read for me; racethewind10, whose brilliant muse inspired mine to even begin this little tale and who praised my little Gremlin to continue; ralst, the Queen of All Things, for whom this tale was written, inspiration for all things; seftiri, mighty Egyptian goddess and gorgeous writer, who read and re-read and suggested and told me when I lost Emily’s voice; tremblingmoon, dearest one, who always makes me feel brilliant, even when I’m not. To all of you, my most humble thanks!! You rock.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Elizabeth Prentiss watched as the taillights of her daughter's car rounded the curve of her circular driveway and disappeared into the Virginia night. She stood in the large bay window of the front living room, arms wrapped around her in a self-protective manner she only indulged in when she was alone. Diplomats couldn't afford to be seen as weak or secretive, at least not if they wanted to remain diplomats. Life was reduced to appearance alone; how you look, how you speak, how you stand, how you walk, and the biggest of all, how you lie. She had mastered them all, become them, until she could no longer tell where Ambassador Prentiss ended and Elizabeth began.
She had sacrificed so much for her career, certain in her mind that the rewards would far outweigh the losses. And there were times, standing in the grand ballroom of an American embassy, thousands of miles from the country she represented, the silk of her gown like a warm, second skin, pearls at her throat, diamonds in her ears, a practiced smile on her face, surrounded by avid listeners all prepared to accept whatever fabrication she presented them with in order to earn the goodwill of a nation that handed out favors and punishments indiscriminately, like a bully in a schoolyard, that she felt that every capitulation, every submission to the greater good, to her greater good, had been well worth it.
It was only that, lately, those moments had been far fewer, and she was left instead with the nagging sensation that she had simply been a well-used pawn, tossed aside when her usefulness was seen to be over, and what she was left with was not what she had bargained on. Not by a long shot.
Somewhere along the way, perhaps on a dusty road in Jordan, packed with weary refugees or by the edge of a Russian stream, swollen by the melting snow and the Spring rains, she had lost herself, and in the process, the one thing she held most dear: her daughter. Elizabeth was certain that Emily would never believe her if she told her that it had all been for her, and in her heart, she knew that even she could not bring herself to tell that particular lie.
But the reasons for it all, the whys and wherefores, the practiced lines about country and duty, didn't eliminate one essential fact: she loved her child, and somehow she had managed to lose sight of the only real thing in a life filled to overflowing with artifice. In her blindness and her deep-seeded desire to succeed in a man's world, she had lost Emily. And that was something she was having a hard time living with.
Over the past year, left to her own devices, with no posting, no sign of a posting in sight, she had a great deal of time to think, and she had come to recognize that if she was ever going to have a better relationship with her daughter, she was going to have to put as much effort into it as she had selling the myth of America to disbelieving countries bent down under the weight of foreign debt and corrupt governments.
The only problem was, she had no idea how to go about reconnecting all the stray threads of maternal love and filial admiration and respect that she had so artfully shredded years ago. They hung loosely between them, refusing every effort to be tied or mended. It was as if both she and Emily lacked the skills to sew them back into some sort of livable whole. Words which should have brought them together instead seemed to drive them further apart.
Tonight had been a prime example. What might have been an opportunity to be included in her daughter's life had instead devolved into an evening of recriminations and accusations. Elizabeth knew that the impetus to disaster had been her fault; she just didn't know how to not be that person: that person she had become, who knew just how to look, how to speak, how to stand, how to lie. The person who was more concerned about all of those things than her daughter's happiness. The person who, staring at her reflection in the heavy panes of glass, Elizabeth Prentiss had come to despise even more than Emily Prentiss did.
It had seemed like such a simple thing, such a good way to reconnect. A quiet dinner. A little casual conversation. Nothing too intense, nothing too personal. When she had called to invite her, she had heard the hesitation in Emily's voice, could see in her mind her daughter's face, the dark eyes cautious and doubtful, one hand unconsciously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear in the way she always had when she was uncomfortable or apprehensive.
She had tried to beg off, saying that she already had plans with a friend, but Elizabeth had been prepared for that. After all, she had been a politician for many years; she was familiar with politely deceptive tactics. She had insisted that Emily bring her friend to dinner, the guilt inducing line about not knowing any of Emily's friends anymore having the desired, albeit very reluctant, effect.
Dinner had been fine; more than fine, in fact. Emily's friend was someone the Ambassador had already met, another member of Emily's team: the young, quite lovely FBI agent who served as the unit's press liaison. Jennifer was charming, bright, interested in hearing stories of the family's travels and postings, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement as Elizabeth told a few funny anecdotes about Emily's childhood. In fact, having a third person there seemed to make things easier, as mother and daughter didn't have to rely solely on each other for conversation. It was after dinner that things spiraled out of control.
It wasn't that she hadn't always known that Emily was gay. It wasn't even that she had ever cared really, as long as Emily was happy. She had never been all that concerned about the fact of it. It was the perception of it that troubled her greatly. She cared deeply whether anyone else knew that Emily was gay. Well, specifically, whether certain people knew: people with influence and power; people who mattered. And in moments of clarity like this one, she hated that part of her that cared more about what anyone thought than about the well-being of her child.
Elizabeth turned and paced slowly across the room to the mahogany cart on the far side of the fireplace, expensive cut glass decanters containing ruby and amber liquids reflected back in the high gloss of the wood. She chose one randomly, splashing a large shot into a matching crystal tumbler. She took a small sip, savoring the taste of the aged scotch against her tongue; tasting the peaty soil of Scotland and the splayed oak of the barrels, lost for a moment in the flavors before the reason for the drink came rushing back to her in Technicolor clarity. She tilted the glass back, sending the rest of the liquid scorching down her throat, snatching her breath for a few seconds as it made its fiery way through her body.
She dropped listlessly onto the soft leather cushions of the couch, the room dark except for the faint illumination filtering in from the entrance hall, throwing a slanted spill of yellow light across the Persian rug, bringing to life the subtle blue and red threads with which it was woven. It amazed her that an evening could go so wrong, so quickly. She had been so pleased with the way things were progressing; with the slow but steady loosening of the muscles in Emily's jaw at dinner, so that by the time the maid had brought in dessert and coffee, there was an almost comfortable glow to the room.
Most of that was due to Jennifer- JJ, she had to remember- who appeared to be making a concerted effort to steer the conversation towards pleasant topics; who laughed, cajoled, teased Emily about the tidbits of information shared about her childhood. She should have been able to see, even then, the way her daughter looked at the blonde, the softening in her dark eyes when she met JJ's smiling countenance. Apparently, the almost congenial mood of the evening blinded her to what she normally would have noticed instantly. If she had, the shock of it might not have caught her off guard, might have allowed her to simply step back and keep her thoughts to herself. If only.
Instead she had walked into the solarium, having hastily cut short a telephone call from a friend at State, to find Emily kissing JJ. At least the very end of a kiss, their hands clasped gently, fingers entwined. Emily was just pulling back, her lips leaving JJ's reluctantly, her head tilting sideways as she brushed their foreheads together. Elizabeth stood stock still in the doorway, the part of her mind that had served her well in her career, the part that simply observed, that had no emotional investment in anything, noting the beauty of the scene, the way the moonlight spilling down through the glass ceiling dropped a pool of silver light around the two women; how lovely they both were, one head so dark, the other so pale, sculpted features joined tenderly in a kiss.
The other part of her, the part that was Ambassador Prentiss, the part that was Emily's mother ignored all of those things except for the bare fact that her daughter was standing in her house kissing another woman.
Emily turned to face her, her expression not the embarrassed look of a child caught doing something wrong; not chastised, not frightened, not even startled. She simply gazed calmly and defiantly at her mother, her chin tilting up, challenge evident in every slender line of her body. JJ drew in a deep breath and appeared about to make a tactical retreat, but Emily tightened her grip on JJ's hand, holding her in place, drawing her closer to her, as she stepped slightly in front of her; a knight protecting a lady from a furious Queen.
Elizabeth hesitated for an instant, a voice in her head telling her that now was not the time, that the words she allowed life at this moment would grasp tenaciously to existence; that they would grow stronger, like mutating cells, building a living barrier between her and her child. Pushing it aside almost petulantly, she ignored the voice. She refused to swallow the words that sprang unbidden to her tongue.
"Emily, have you lost your mind?" The harshness of her tone echoed against the Italian tile floor, like metal against stone.
"Oh, please, Mother. Spare me the look of shock and the righteous indignation. It isn't as if you haven't known for years," Emily answered, her own voice like chilled steel.
"Knowing and walking in on you kissing someone are entirely different things, Emily. Besides, my righteous indignation, as you so charmingly put it, has less to do with your proclivities and more to do with who you're kissing," Elizabeth couldn't seem to stop the sharp, cutting edge of her words; the observer in her watching in fascination as the moment devolved, as if in slow motion.
"Excuse me?" Emily's anger was clear on her face, her dark eyes flashing, teeth clenched, jaw muscles tightening to hard knobs.
"Jennifer, this has nothing to do with you. You seem like a perfectly lovely person," Elizabeth began, her eyes moving for a brief time to the blonde's face, her tone shifting from ire to conciliation then back to ire in a dizzying flash as she turned her comments back to her daughter. " I merely meant, Emily, that you work together. In fact, unless I am mistaken, and I don't think that I am, you outrank her. Surely you've considered the consequences to not only your own career, for which you have shown a decided lack of interest, given your past actions, but to Jennifer's as well? I cannot believe that the FBI looks kindly on this type of relationship."
"This type of relationship? Exactly what type are you referring to, Mother? Oh, right, the deviant type. The abnormal type. Is that what you meant? Believe it or not, not everyone in the world is as narrow minded and bigoted as you are, Mother. The Bureau has a non-discrimination policy that even includes these particular 'proclivities', astonishing as that may be to you," Emily's face was white with anger, her eyes black in the dim light, her hand still squeezing JJ's tightly.
"I am aware of the policy, Emily. And I wasn't referring to your sexual preference, but thank you for your stunningly candid opinion of my character . I was referring to a relationship that is not only fraternization between agents in the same unit, but involves two people of unequal rank, which any company, government or otherwise, has to have policies against and a great concern with preventing," Elizabeth's voice dropped to a low, controlled cadence, although she was unable to stem the drops of blood stained injury that fell from each syllable.
"I see. Your concern is only for us, and our careers, is that what you're saying, Mother?" Emily replied, the words so weighted down with disbelief and sarcasm that they seemed to fall with a clank to the floor between them.
"What if someone finds out? What then? Do you honestly think that they will merely look away and pretend it's not happening, simply because you're in love? I'm presuming that you wouldn't willingly risk everything that you have both worked for on anything less than love?" Elizabeth took a step closer, the air between her and her daughter fairly crackling with electricity and tension.
"I'm not going to dignify that with a response, because to tell the truth, it's none of your goddamn business, Mother," Emily could barely speak around the hurt and sheer fury in her voice, part of her wanting desperately to tell her mother that people already knew and that the world hadn't collapsed around their ears, but unwilling to even engage with her in what she knew would be the ensuing, inevitably doomed discussion.
"You're my daughter, so that makes it my business, whether you like it or not. I don't care if you're thirty-eight or thirteen, when I see you making foolish, dangerous choices I have an obligation to say something, even if it is met with your typical reactionary response," Elizabeth replied as calmly as she could, that voice tugging at her sleeve, begging her to make some effort at amends before the whole situation degenerated beyond hope of repair.
When Emily spoke again, her voice was quiet and hollow, echoing oddly in the large room.
"That's just it. That's all I have ever been to you, isn't it, Mother? An obligation? A duty? Well, you can officially consider your obligation at an end, because I'm done. I can't do this anymore. I can't stand being ripped apart every time I give in and give you one more chance, thinking that this time will be different; that this time you'll be different. I can't keep letting you hurt me. I just can't."
Emily began to walk toward the door, clearly intent on leaving, but it wasn't Elizabeth who stopped her, but JJ.
"Emily, you can't leave it like this," JJ said softly, tugging on Emily's hand and stopping her forward motion. "You'll regret it if you walk out now."
"I'll regret it even more if I don't, JJ," Emily told her sadly, her dark eyes shimmering with emotion, as she turned to meet her mother's eyes. "I think it'll be easier to live with the constant ache of regret than this never ending state of torturous flux. I can't keep allowing myself to believe that things can change, only to be devastated again and again when they don't. My mother is never going to be any different than she is right now, are you, Mother?"
Elizabeth flinched, feeling the words strike her like a physical blow, knocking the air from her lungs. Her mind screamed for her to do something, to try and salvage the situation, but she found herself grasping at straws, unable for the first time in her life to find the right argument to win the day, the right words to persuade her opponent to see things her way. Because this wasn't an opponent; it was her child, and all of her pretty words and logic, all of her subtle tones and swaying looks weren't going to fix this.
Emily waited, against hope it seemed, for her mother to deny the charge, to say something, anything to convince her that she was wrong. When the words didn't come, when all that she was met with was a blank, hopeless stare from her mother's hazel eyes, she let out a ragged sigh, and with JJ's hand still grasped firmly in her own, made her way to the door.
Elizabeth stood frozen, her mind still processing what had happened, Emily's words ricocheting in her skull. Mercifully, that stalwart voice in her mind came to her rescue, shoving her forward, opening her mouth to send a plea into the silence of the room.
"Emily?! Please, wait a minute," Elizabeth begged, moving quickly now across the tiled floor, her heels clicking a staccato rhythm. She drew even with the couple, astonished at the depth of sadness and concern in Jennifer's clear blue eyes, both her hands wrapped around Emily's hand, as if seeking to send strength and love through the simple act. Elizabeth felt a wave of shame wash over her at the love evident in Jennifer's every look, every gesture towards her daughter, and she sent a silent prayer of thanks that Emily had found this lovely creature.
Meeting Emily's eyes, eyes she had seen for the first time nearly thirty-nine years ago, round and innocent and even then, bright and curious, Elizabeth felt the love she had for her daughter tight in her chest, tendrils spreading out to every part of her body. She had to make this right. Somehow. She had to find the words to let Emily know that she couldn't bear losing her, not like this, not completely.
"Emily, I know that I haven't been the best mother in the world. I definitely haven't been the mother that you deserve. I wish that I could go back and do some things differently, be someone different, but I can't. Those are regrets that, unfortunately, we both have to live with.
"I honestly don't care about your being gay. I need for you to believe that. I'm so happy for you that you and Jennifer have found each other and that what you feel is strong enough to face any difficulties. I just don't want to see you hurt, that's all. I'm very proud of you, of the person that you've become. I wish that I could take more credit for it, but again, we both know that I can't. Still, I am proud. And I do love you, Emily. More than you could possibly know," Elizabeth stared deeply into Emily's eyes, willing her to accept her words with all the meaning behind them.
Glancing at JJ, Emily could see that the blonde's eyes were wet with tears that spilled over, tracking in gentle lines down the perfect curve of her cheeks. Elizabeth felt again a sense of humble astonishment at the depth of emotion between her daughter and Jennifer. Emily had yet to respond to her words, and as each moment passed, a sense of dread clasped its fingers around her heart. Finally, Emily spoke, her voice again quiet and impossibly sad.
"It's not that I don't know that you love me, Mother. I know that you do, as much as you can. It's just that I need to figure out, for me, if that's enough."
This time, neither she nor JJ tried to stop Emily as she walked quietly from the room.
Elizabeth rose cautiously from the couch. She had been sitting there for four or five hours now and her legs were a bit unsteady beneath her. She crossed back over to the cart, lifting the heavy decanter half full of Scotch and walking with it clutched in her arms to the couch. Pouring another generous amount of the amber liquid in the tumbler, she settled back against the cushions. Emily hadn't spoken to her again as she and JJ had left, simply gathering their coats and walking out into the chill January night. The silence of the house was oppressive, the incessant tic-tic of the massive clock on the mantle sounding like a metronome to music she could no longer hear.
There was every chance that Emily wouldn't change her mind. She had a stubborn streak a mile wide sometimes, a trait she had inherited from her grandfather, and which had shown itself at random intervals as she was growing up. But Elizabeth knew that this had nothing to do with Emily's stubborn nature, not really. It had to do with her, and her inability to stop being Ambassador Prentiss long enough to simply be Emily's mother, a role for which she had always found herself sorely unprepared, and completely unrehearsed.
The sharp ring of the phone startled her. The clock had chimed one not too long ago, and Elizabeth couldn't imagine who would have the temerity to call her at this hour. She almost let it go to voice mail, but something urged her to her feet, crossing to the extension and pressing the button just before the line clicked over.
There was a silence so long that Elizabeth assumed it was a wrong number and was about to hang up when a voice responded, a voice she knew as well as her own.
"Em. I didn't expect to hear from you," Elizabeth stuttered, shocked at the sound of Emily's voice on the other end of the line.
"I didn't expect to call. But I was thinking; well, actually, JJ and I have been talking since we left there. We were wondering if you'd consider coming and having brunch with us on Sunday. Maybe we could actually talk about some of the problems we have and see if we can try this again; being mother and daughter, that is. I can't make any promises that it will work. And to be honest, Mother, if it doesn't, I don't know if I can keep trying. It's just too painful. But, at least with everything out in the open now, I feel like this time I owe myself one last chance," Emily said, clearly trying to keep the sliver of hope in her tone from sounding too pronounced.
"I'd like that, Em. I would like that very, very much. Can I bring anything?" Elizabeth answered, not even bothering for the first time in years to maintain a neutral tone, her relief evident in every rounded vowel.
"No. Just you. Say around eleven? My apartment?"
"I'll be there. And Emily, I meant what I said before. I really am so very happy that you and JJ found each other. I have a feeling I am going to grow quite fond of my new daughter-in-law," Elizabeth said firmly.
"Daughter-in-law? Okay, Mother, let's not push your politically correct boundaries too far on the first night. I don't want your head to explode," Emily chuckled, her voice equal measures of relief and amusement.
"Emily Prentiss. Don't think that you know me so well. I have hidden depths," her mother supplied, as relief and pleasure washed over her like a Spring rain.
"That's the thing, Mother. I don't really know you at all. But I think that I'd really like to learn, if you give me a chance," Emily stated earnestly, still a little hesitant at being rebuffed.
"I can't think of anything I would like more, Emily. Anything. I'll see you Sunday. And thank Jennifer for me, all right?"
Putting the phone down on the couch beside her, Elizabeth allowed the warmth of hope and possibility to spread through her veins. It wasn't perfect and God knows, there was so much work to be done, but at least, she had one more chance to fix the terrible mess she had made of her relationship with her daughter. Standing up, she stretched, willing the tightness in her shoulders and back away. It was time for Elizabeth Prentiss to master one more task; how to love. She prayed that this was a lesson at which she wouldn't fail, for the price of failure was simply too high. Emily.
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