Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds, or anything associated with it. Unfortunately.
Author's Note: This story was inspired first when I watched the episode with Emily's burial, and noticed that her mother was not there. (I assumed her father didn't show up, either.) This one-shot started off completely different, then morphed itself into this somehow. I've gone over it and edited it multiple times, spent a long time making sure it was good enough to make me happy - and I've decided that it's never going to be perfect enough, so I'm publishing it now. I'll probably keep going back and editing it, even now. I can't tell if I'm proud of it or not satisfied. Anyways, if you hate it, love it, have some constructive criticism, whatever - please drop me a review or PM and just let me know. (: Thank you, and I hope you enjoy!
Don't You Remember?
If she's being honest, she never actually wanted kids.
In fact, she and Ethan had agreed on that when they first got married. It wasn't as if they loved each other anyways. When it came down to it (and she didn't like to think of it this way, honestly), they only got married for their careers – and who wants kids with someone they don't love? Besides, they both knew they wouldn't make good parents. It was a fact that she accepted long ago, and how poorly she did with Emily only proved how right she was.
While she's being honest, maybe she should throw in that for a long time, she resented Emily. She resented her own daughter.
Maybe she and Ethan hadn't been in love, but they had become good friends and they could have a good time together. They were relatively close; by Elizabeth's standards, they were almost too close. But she liked how things were going. She liked how easy things were between them. She liked the trust they shared.
It was only a matter of time before that was all broken, left as nothing but a distant memory. She can still remember the night that, to her, it all ended – she was at one of the fancy functions she attended so often, faking a smile as a fellow politician droned on and on, when something he said struck her. 'Kids have such an impact on politics it's almost unreal,' he was saying, and Elizabeth was suddenly listening intently. 'I guess it makes people more relatable, makes them seem more grounded and realistic. Gives people hope that they can be more successful, even when they've got families. You ever notice how the ones with families get the better promotions, the better embassies?' Then he stopped, took a sip of his drink, and grinned. 'Almost makes you want to go have a kid, hmm?'
It was more than almost, because when she got home that night and Ethan wasn't looking, she slipped her birth control in the trash. Only a few months later, they had a baby on the way, and everything changed – they went from being friends to being enemies, went from thinking of themselves as some sort of husband and wife to simply the businessman and the Ambassador, went from talking and laughing to yelling and crying. She never told him she did it on purpose, because he never asked. That was never part of his insults.
He trusted her more than that.
So Elizabeth resented her baby before she was even born. It was her own damn fault, she knew, but she was also too damn proud to admit that, even to herself. She didn't even want a child. She didn't know what to do with one, how to raise one, how to love one. All she knew was that it was a way to further her career – all she planned on was furthering her career. Not ruining her life in the process.
With her life pretty well destroyed, all she had left was her career. (She had a daughter, too, but sometimes she had to remind herself, that's not just some little girl – that's my daughter.) Her focus remained on her job. It became all she knew, besides the hatred in Ethan's eyes, the hurt in Emily's, and the pity in the maids' who saw the little things that clued them in to the true nature of the lives they worked for. It was all she knew, and it was all she could teach Emily. It was all she cared to teach Emily.
So she taught a young girl the nature of politics. Everything from how to present herself to the public, to carefully constructing words so that nobody could possibly be offended, to keeping emotions so far out of the equation that they may as well not exist, was passed down from mother to daughter. It was a lot like teaching someone to act, she decided, and Emily was naturally a good actress.
Too good an actress on occasion, Elizabeth thought, as Emily kept a straight face in the toughest situations and pretended not to hear the shouts that filled the large house at all hours of the night. She made it seem like she remained unaffected by the unstable state of her life. She never cried, never faltered. She adjusted, learning languages and meeting people and making the general (mostly adult) population fall in love with her.
It was one night that Elizabeth was thinking about this and the thought that, Well, at least she did what she was meant to, slipped into her mind. This very moment in the still of the night was the first time that Elizabeth remembered feeling guilty about the reasoning behind her desire to have a child. Up until that point, she had regretted the means and the effects – and the thought to regret the act had crossed through her mind – but now she truly regretted the actual act, the actual decision. She created a human being to be purely a career tool. What did that make her?
Besides, of course, the cold-hearted, unconcerned bitch everyone saw her as.
She felt like the evil mother in some movie that was created just for everyone to hate. And really, she figured that she was. She fit the stereotype perfectly, she noted, as she ignored, criticized, and slapped her daughter. Not that Emily ever seemed truly bothered about it – that stoic look never left her face and the pain never showed in her eyes. Elizabeth could do anything, say anything (and sometimes she would, just to try to get as much of a rise out of Emily as she could) and the biggest reaction she would get would be a small flash of anger in the younger brunette's eyes. It was never pain and never sadness. It was always anger, and the times that that happened were few and far between. Not even Elizabeth thought of herself as that emotionless. There were times she looked at Emily and could equate her to nothing more than a robot.
It was almost unreal. Even Ethan noticed it, and ever since Emily was a few years old, he barely noticed anything. He had started drinking heavily, and Elizabeth knew he was running around with numerous girls – probably anyone he could find. Life for him became about sex and alcohol and late-night fights with his "wife." Work was still at the forefront of her mind, and for him work was on the backburner; he practically owned the company, so what did he care? He was mostly just a pretty face anyway, a corporate pawn who got all the big bucks. But he barely noticed a thing – Elizabeth would fire a maid and he would ask weeks later what happened to her; something would break and be thrown out and, weeks if not months later, he would ask where the item went. He didn't notice anything going on in his own house; he didn't really care about anything that was going on in his own house.
But he did, after some time, notice Emily. The first time he ever mentioned it to Elizabeth was after one of the mother-and-daughter fights. It had been a particularly bad one, at least on Elizabeth's side; she was coming up with reason after reason that Emily was not nearly as "good" as she should be by this point, adding insult after insult, shouting and screaming and basically tearing her daughter apart. Emily fought back for all of about ten minutes before the walls snapped into place and there was not a hint of emotion found in her eyes, face, or stance, not even the anger that Elizabeth liked to see because it at least let her know Emily was feeling something.
Ethan picked up on that as he walked into the house. And an hour later, after Elizabeth decided she was done and sent Emily to bed, he turned on his wife. It was her fault that Emily was that way – it was the woman's job to raise the child. He didn't have to do anything but keep the roof over their heads and the meal on their plates. Granted, Elizabeth's wages rivaled his own, and she was gone just as much as he was, and with more reason. But nonetheless it was her fault. Emily was supposed to be her responsibility.
It was after this fight, when Elizabeth lay awake in her giant, empty bed and heard the cracking of footsteps upstairs that she realized Emily was still awake as well. It was this night that she finally realized Emily listened to each fight that passed between her and Ethan.
It was this night that Elizabeth first felt guilty for everything she put her daughter through.
But even that wasn't enough for her to change. Somewhere among all of this she stopped being Elizabeth Prentiss and became solely the Ambassador. She lost what humanity was left in her and became nothing more than her job. Elizabeth Prentiss had ceased to exist, but Ambassador Prentiss had never been so alive.
That had such an effect on Emily that Elizabeth didn't like to think about it. While most children said "hey, Mom," Emily greeted her mother with "hello, Mother," first for years with a sarcastic, snide tone (she was being overly formal, just the way Elizabeth liked it) and finally with an air of casual acceptance. When talking with others, Emily referred to her as either the Ambassador or "my mother." Never Mom. Not even "Mother." Always "my mother." Emily's compartments were so strong that Elizabeth had to wonder if maybe Emily had lost herself, too, and become little more than the Ambassador's daughter and later the FBI Agent.
Well, like mother like daughter, right?
Every time Elizabeth thought about how Emily ended up, she couldn't figure out how to be proud. Her daughter was not only in the FBI, she was in one of the hardest units of the FBI, saving lives day in and day out. She was protecting people and putting away serial killers. Honestly, Elizabeth knew she wouldn't be able to live with seeing half of the things Emily saw on a near-daily basis. Her daughter was strong, emotionally and physically, and successful. So why couldn't she be proud?
Maybe it was because she knew Emily was just like her, or at least on that same path. She knew her daughter wouldn't allow herself to end up exactly the same, but the way she was going wasn't much better. And – if she was still being honest – there was a part of her that couldn't stop resenting Emily. That small piece of disgust and hatred when looking at her daughter remained, because Emily had single-handedly ruined her life (granted, she propelled the Ambassador's career, but at times even Elizabeth had to admit the job was not enough). Emily had destroyed her relationship with Ethan. Plus – Elizabeth cringed as the honest thoughts slipped into her brain uninvited – she hadn't ever truly let herself love her daughter. She was a pawn, and that was the extent of it, for the most part. Hell, had Emily been somebody else's daughter, Elizabeth found herself thinking she'd have cared more for her.
That was awful. That was possibly the worst thing she had ever thought, about anyone or anything.
And the rising guilt made her wish that she had been the one who died, in place of her daughter.
And the unfamiliar emotion made her throw herself into her work, until she didn't think about it anymore. Until she didn't feel it anymore.
She couldn't bring herself to go to the funeral.
She couldn't bring herself to feel.
It had been a week since she made her reappearance to the team. A whole week, and everything was the same and everything was different and she felt like she was out of place and she felt like she was home. She didn't know how to feel. She didn't know what to think. She didn't how to act. She almost felt like it was four years ago, when she first joined the team and she was struggling to prove herself every single day. It felt like that again. She felt like she had to earn her place on the team again, prove to them that she deserved to be there.
She just didn't know how to do it. She had disappeared – no, she had fucking died – for seven months and she had ruined everything. They all tried to seem like there hadn't been that big of a shift since she left and came back but she could tell. They were never as good at holding things in and hiding things as she was, and she knew it, and they all knew it. But they still tried, and she pretended not to notice (for them) and she tried harder to get it back to the point where everything really was fine.
But it had been a few weeks, and so far, she was making little progress. Reid was beginning to speak a little more, but when he did, he chose every word carefully. He never got too close, and Emily noticed. And sometimes he would rub his temples, gently, and Emily noticed that, too, and she wondered if maybe those same headaches were still bothering him. But she wasn't close enough to ask. She didn't know if she ever would be.
Garcia, even, smiled just a little bit smaller for her; her eyes were just a little bit less trusting, a little more hurt, every time she looked in Emily's direction. Her hugs were always a little bit tighter and a little bit longer, like she was afraid that if she let go, her friend wouldn't return. She always watched her carefully, out of the corner of her eye, thinking that she wouldn't notice, but Emily definitely noticed. And it broke her heart.
Morgan was always one step closer to her, always on his guard, always trying to make sure that nothing happened. He didn't want her out in the field. He didn't want her to strap on that Kevlar and every time she did, she could practically feel him bristling. He tried not to show it, but she noticed.
Rossi talked a little more, joked a little more, smiled a little more. He would pat her shoulder or agree with her when she made a suggestion, and he probably thought she wouldn't think anything of it. He was barely any different than he used to be, anyway, but barely was enough. Those pats on the shoulder were his way of saying, "I'm glad to have you back, Prentiss," in a more meaningful way than his words could every say. His quick agreement of her ideas – even if she could tell he thought something different – were him saying, "You're important here." His talking and his jokes and his smiles were saying, "You're part of this family. Don't think differently. Don't leave again." And she wanted to tell him, "I wish everyone else was too. I'm not that important. I think I already proved I don't belong in this family. But I'm not leaving again." She wished she could say that, but she couldn't, because she was supposed to pretend like she didn't notice. And she was never good at saying what she really meant.
And then there was JJ and Hotch. Hotch was the same, basically, but every time he looked at her there was a hint of guilt and shame in his eyes and she knew that it was taking its toll on him. He had hidden it from the team just as much as she had, and although most of them didn't blame him the way they blamed her – or JJ, for that matter – he still felt as though it was all his fault. She wasn't supposed to notice this – and she knew nobody else did – but she did.
JJ had yet to tell her the "long story" regarding Will, and Emily wondered if she ever would. Emily didn't want to push, and so she let it go. But JJ seemed a little bit more distant, a little less open, and Emily didn't know how to fix it. She had always thought she was closer to JJ than anyone else on the team, but now she wasn't so sure. And if there was some clue out there, she certainly hadn't noticed it.
But right now the team was pretty much everybody who knew she was still alive. She had convinced Strauss not to tell her mother, and she had yet to figure out how to do it herself. She kept telling herself she'd do it, tomorrow, but every day she pushed it off until the next day, and the next day, and then the next, and now she didn't know when she was going to do it. All she knew was that she had to.
So she decided to work her way up to it, and that was why she was sitting on the small couch in her temporary hotel room (her mother had sold her apartment not long after her "death" – strangely, Emily was fine with it; she wasn't sure she would feel comfortable going back, anyways) pouring over the surprising long list in her hands. The guest register. From her funeral.
She could honestly say she had never imagined she would one day be looking at this.
It felt weird, looking at a list of all the people who had attended her funeral. A list of names that all believed her to be dead. Some names she honestly didn't recognize; some were friends. People she knew, people she wasn't surprised to see on there. The team. Strauss. Ethel, who used to live across the hall from her. Brianna. John Cooley. Clyde. A few others she knew, and expected. A good number of fellow FBI agents. Two names she was definitely surprised to see: Matthew Benton's parents. A few more she didn't recognize. A few family members that lived in the area, most of whom she hadn't seen in years. She figured most of the names stayed only for the receiving of friends, then left. Most probably didn't care enough to stay through the entire funeral.
She scanned the list quickly, making a small dash near every person who already knew. That hardly made a dent in the long list of names, which was almost overwhelming, but she told herself it was okay. Then she reached the end of the list, and felt her heart skip a beat. She looked at the back of the sheets of paper, making sure there weren't any names she missed. Then she scanned the list again. Her throat went dry. She went back to the beginning, and read each name, in order, no skimming, no scanning, making sure every name was read.
The names weren't there.
Shaky hands put the paper down on the coffee table and picked up the phone. Shaky fingers pushed the necessary buttons, and shaky arms brought the phone to her ear.
"Hello?" JJ's calm voice came through the line.
"Hey." Even her voice was shaky, and she cringed. She let out a shaky breath, shut her eyes, and tried again. "Hey, JJ."
"Is everything okay?" She must have heard the way Emily's voice shook to begin with. Emily silently cursed herself.
"Uhm—" She paused. "Yeah, everything's fine. I just had a question for you. If you have time."
"Of course I have time, Em." Emily almost wanted to smile. JJ was the only one who called her 'Em' anymore. "What's going on?"
She explained the list she was looking at. "I noticed neither of my parents' names are on there," she finished. "I just wanted to know – make sure, I guess – that they weren't really there. I guess I just had to hear it."
"They weren't there, were they, JJ?" Nothing. "JJ?"
"No," she finally admitted. "No, they weren't there." She paused. "I'm sorry, Em. I really am."
"It's fine. It's not your fault." The guards were in place. She felt like the walls were closing in on her but she could hold them back long enough to pretend to be fine for JJ.
"Are you sure you're okay? If you need –"
"I'm okay, really. I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow at work, alright?"
"Alright. Call me if you need anything. Really."
"I will, JJ, I promise." It was an empty promise, and they both knew it. She wasn't completely fine, and they both knew that, too. But Emily was best left alone when she was like this – to compartmentalize, to regroup, to do whatever – and they both knew that too.
"Alright, well… Bye, Em."
She tossed the phone back onto the table and stared again at the list. She wished that the names 'Elizabeth Prentiss' and 'Ethan Prentiss' would somehow appear and prove to her that she was wrong and that JJ was wrong. That no, they definitely showed up. Even if they were just there for the receiving of friends, it was better than nothing. She would take something over nothing.
But the names wouldn't appear and she knew it. She didn't know why she had expected them to be there to begin with; being her parents didn't mean they were obligated to be there. Hell, her mother wouldn't have been there when she was born if she had had an option. She honestly didn't know if her father was there or not. They certainly hadn't been to anything else she had considered important. On her first day of school every year, her nanny at the time had taken her and picked her up. When she broke her arm when she was seven, the new nanny had taken her to the hospital and back. They attended one swim meet in her three years on the swim team. She was in two plays in high school; they didn't go to either of them. She went to her high school and college graduations alone.
But by God, if they were needed somewhere for work, they'd be gone in a heartbeat. No hesitations. No matter what they were doing.
Emily always told herself she didn't care. She didn't need her parents to be there for her. She had always been independent and stubborn, and she knew she didn't need anybody to hold her hand through life. She could do it on her own, and she would. And she did.
She was a Prentiss. She didn't need anyone or anything. And if she did, she pretended not to. She was a Prentiss.
But she couldn't lie to herself, not right now. It hurt. Everything else they had ever missed she had put into a box, to where it barely bothered her anymore. She had covered it with some gauze and hidden it underneath everything else, underneath that mask she wore so well. But this hurt. She couldn't deny that, not to herself, not right now. Her parents hadn't cared enough to show up to her fucking funeral. That possibility had never crossed her mind but now it was more than a possibility. It was the reality and it hurt, it stung, it felt like someone had just knocked the wind out of her and she could barely breathe.
She didn't know anymore if she wanted to tell them she was alive. They obviously didn't care that much that she was dead, so would they really care that she was alive? Then, on the other hand, a twisted part of her felt like she would get a fair amount of satisfaction walking up to the Ambassador and watching that surprised, speechless look come across her face (for once) and then saying something like I know you didn't go to my funeral and then watching that same surprised, speechless face grapple for words and excuses, knowing that they won't be enough. Yeah, a twisted part of her felt like that might be worth it. To finally leave the Ambassador speechless and maybe afraid and guilty and – mostly – feeling. To make her feel something other than pride.
But Emily knew she wouldn't do that. She could think about it all she wanted to, but she wouldn't do it. She was a Prentiss. She was better than that. Doing that would only reinforce to her mother that she wasn't good enough to have been her daughter in the first place. It probably wouldn't have any effect on her father. It would make her feel even more stupid for thinking those names would be on this list anyway. She should have known better. She did know better.
They had barely been there for the first important day of her life; why would she expect them to be there for the last?
It was two weeks after his daughter died that he actually returned to D.C. His first day after touching down in the city, he was caught up in a whirlwind of work. Do this, meet with them, do that, present this, listen to that. Then he was tired, and he needed his sleep. After lunch on his second day in D.C., he decided to go to her grave. He called his wife. Sometimes he wondered if he should even call her that. They had been discussing divorcing for years, but every time they were about to go through with it something came up that made them to decide to put it on hold. Something to do with the job, or on occasion how everything would have to be split up, just something. But, he called her, and got the directions to Emily's grave. Then he handed the sheet of paper with the hastily scribbled instructions to his driver and made a semi-important phone call.
When the car pulled up to the cemetery, Ethan realized he had forgotten flowers. "Damn it," he muttered, but he shook his head and got out of the car and told himself it wasn't that important. Then he walked through the gates and walked in the direction Elizabeth had told him.
He came to the marker and he stopped. "Emily Prentiss," he read. "Fidelity, bravery, integrity." And he stared at it. He didn't know his daughter that well, but he had always imagined something different on her gravestone. Her full name, for one thing. Then something poetic. Short, but poetic. Something meaningful. Sure, she was all those things – he guessed – but something just didn't sit right with him. It just didn't feel right.
He shrugged it off. She died untimely; someone else had picked out the words, and that was all it was. And since she hadn't picked it out, it was very possible that she could have wanted something like he imagined.
The possibility that they could have thought the same thing made him feel a little bit better.
"I wish I could have been here," he said slowly, trying out the feel of the words on his tongue. It felt weird, talking to a grave. He didn't think he had ever done it before. "For your funeral, I mean. I wasn't here, and I wish I could have been. But you know how it is, Emily. I was already at the annual business conference in London. I simply could not get away. If you were here, I'm sure you would understand. You always seemed to."
He wondered what he was doing, justifying his actions to a ghost. He was too pragmatic to think that Emily could actually hear him. Even if she could, he doubted she would understand as much as he wanted her to. Hell, how could she be understanding when he hated himself for it?
"I am sorry, Emily. I want you to know that. I know you can't hear me. But saying it, even if you won't hear it… It feels better than knowing I never said it at all. I'm sorry."
And he was sorry. For everything. For every little thing he had ever put his daughter through and all those things he couldn't do for her and everything he missed out on. He was truly, deeply sorry.
But he was too pragmatic to think that it would change anything, so he stuck his hands in his pockets and turned away, feeling like a small weight had been lifted off his shoulders. A small weight, but a weight all the same, and that was all that mattered. All the remaining guilt and pain he felt he forced to the back of his mind, putting on a small smile for the driver when he made it back to the car. He slipped into the seat. "Back to the office, Ronnie," he instructed, pulling out his phone to make another call.
Ethan Prentiss had never been a man to dwell in the past; he had just made a larger exception for his daughter than he could remember ever making for anyone, and now it was time to get back to the present.