Title: City on the River 17/?
Fandom: Criminal Minds/X-Men
Pairing: Emily Prentiss... eventually Emma Frost
Summary: When one person travels into an alternate universe a thousand others are created. What if Didi showed up without a time slip on Emily's doorstep, in a world without mutants? What would a twenty-five year old Emily do?
Apologies: oh god, I never know whether these are completely awful or kind of okay when i write them. I think I failed on the funny part as well, but hey, hopefully the mess that is Emma's head is slightly less opaque now. I don't even know. But hey, I have turned my outline into scenes! Yay. :( Yeah, I really need Emily's reaction to this chapter. So that's next, but don't hold your breath. And I've probably screwed up somewhere in this, since Chapter is Long, so just let me know and I'll try to get it sorted.
The party was exactly the sort Emma had been afraid it was going to be. Too many well-dressed people were standing around pretending to be intimate while tribes of furious children raced around underfoot. They were actually intimate, and utterly focused on finding candy in all the ingenious places adults could think to hide it. Didi stood back from the crowd, her face locked in a serious expression, and every few moments a small child would approach her, looking distressed. She would say something and point, and then the child would run off, bring back an egg and pour half the candy inside into Didi's basket. Emma repressed a grin. It probably wasn't a good idea to approve of extortion.
Emma had coerced Emily into nice slacks and one of her clingy maroon sweaters over a white oxford, which, at least was semi appropriate (and Emily wondered why everyone thought she was gay, not that that was an issue here since everyone had been told). (Still, Emma liked her maroon sweaters.) And Emma tried to find something suitable. (She had never worn jeans as often as she had since she came here, jeans and long sleeved t-shirts, and Emily would still look up at her and smile and say something stuttery about the blue looking nice with her eyes,) but it meant she had to raid Emily's attic to find anything appropriate for parties. (She could get away with the jeans for picking up Didi. In that situation she was just modern and casual, and most of the other parents wore garishly colored yoga pants and parkas. Emily had forced a long wool coat on her, so in comparison she was verging on classy.)
The problem was that Easter meant pastels, and Emily apparently did not hold with pastels. (She could have worn the blue sweater that Emily, not-so-subtly, had gotten for her to serve as a replacement Columbia sweatshirt when the real thing was in the wash, but she was damned if they were going to match.) Finally she located a pink silk blouse that still had the tag on, then gave in and wore her white jeans with it. It needed lipgloss, but her life had devolved into chapstick lately. Still... she considered it, and then went to the drawer in her bedside table and pulled out the bag of cheap garish crap she had brought with her from her last life. There were too many bright reds, deep purples and cherry pinks, but she had some left of the right color. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror and looked at herself.
She could almost pass, she thought. The only real gaps were the diamond tennis bracelet and the thin gold chain that her husband had bought her to conceal his infidelities.
She had never wanted to be her mother.
Emily peeked in at the open door and flinched back visibly. Emma stared at her for a moment. Did she actually… She could be better. She could not make this situation even more horrible than it was. Just don't make me go back to where I was. She pushed past her, ducking back into her own room, slamming the door behind her and jerking the blouse off over her head. She had a blue and white plaid button-down t-shirt in her closet. Who the fuck cared if she didn't fit in with those women? She rubbed the disgusting paste off her lips, grabbed her threadbare Columbia sweatshirt and buried her face in it for a few moments.
Emily knocked on her door. "Are you ready?" She sounded tentative.
Emma breathed in the scent of the detergent they used once more, and then stood up, dropping it on the bed. "I'm coming."
She stepped out, seeing the steeled expression on Emily's face soften in relief when she saw her. They didn't match in any way besides that they both looked like themselves. That was good enough. Didi charged down the hall in her new dress and tiny red converse sneakers. Emma raised an eyebrow. Emily shrugged helplessly. It didn't matter. Emily had managed to make her sit still long enough to brush her hair. Children just had to be presentable. She picked Didi up, bracing her on her hip and turned to fix Emily's collar.
Emily gave a half nod, eyes a little brighter than usual, and Emma wondered if this was where she was supposed to kiss her. Jane would probably kiss her husband here, maybe on the cheek, after he told her she looked nice, after she helped him with something. But there was only so far you had to take a lie when both people knew it was a lie.
Jane met them at the door with a happy squeal, took Didi from Emma's arms and put her on the floor, stripping off her coat and giving her a push towards the other children, and then she threw her arms around Emma. "I'm so happy you decided to come!" And then she hugged Emily as well. Emma tried not to laugh at the way Emily's arms stuck out like a scarecrow's. Then Jane hurried off.
Emily glanced at Emma, looking slightly worried. "Hitting the champagne too hard already?"
Emma shrugged. "She's like that. And she was really interested in seeing you. Don't ask me why." Then of course Jane hurried back with two paper cups of champagne. Emma took a sip and shook her head. Okay, Emily had been right.
Jane then took Emily's arm and tugged her into the house. "Emily, you won't know anyone. I have people I want you to meet."
Emily caught her eyes, a little despairingly as she was pulled away, and Emma looked away quickly, trying not to feel abandoned.
* * *
After incessant work by Jane, the other parents had begun to deign to allow Emma into their group and even directed one or two questions her way. Standing outside, watching the egg hunt, and hoping no one would ask her why Didi wasn’t rushing around like the other children, she was a victim to the ladies in their diamond tennis bracelets and pearls.
“So,” asked Mrs. S, who Emma thought was possibly a divorcee living on substantial alimony. “Have you decided which kindergarten you’re sending Deirdre to yet?”
Emma blinked. Kindergarten? Already? “It’s… April.”
Mrs. S shook her head sympathetically. “You don’t know? Chris is my second, so I went through it all with Andrew. The best schools fill up their classes very early, and the wait lists can be incredibly long.”
“In Minneapolis?” Emma asked, vaguely shocked. She had heard of that sort of thing happening where she had grown up and in New York, but they were six hours from Canada here.
“There’s always public school,” said Jane helpfully. “I’ve heard Barton is very good, an excellent arts program. And Burroughs is one of the top in the state.”
“But you’re bound into your district. And, of course, of the ones in this area…” Mrs. S began derisively. “Pratt has a Somali bilingual education program.”
“Really?” On one level Emma wondered whether the occasional African-sounding terms Didi would sprinkle her conversation with were Somali, while on the other she waited to see how the sides of this debate were going to form.
“I went to public school all twelve years. It isn’t the end of the world.” Jane was looking pointedly at Mrs. S, but Emma flinched anyways. Her parents had been far more like Mrs. S than Jane.
“And I went to private school for my entire life,” Emma added bitterly, “and I’m still an unemployed dropout.”
“Emma,” Jane admonished her kindly, but the other mothers were moving uncomfortably away.
Emma just shook her head and gestured for her to go with them. She leaned back against a tree and tried to force now the bitterness that rose up like bile every time she turned around. Why were they all doing this to her right now? Why did everyone want her to make plans? Couldn’t she see that she was clinging to this life with the bare grip of her nails? Making plans was reaching out, looking for a new handhold, and if she dared to let go, even for a moment, she’d fall.
Jane was looking at her, tragedy in her expression, and then slipped away from the group.
* * *
“So,” Emily said awkwardly, looking around like she wished she had a tree to lean against too. “Um. Do you want to go?”
Emma rolled her eyes, looking away. “Jane sent you?”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine!” she snapped back. “I don’t know why everyone insists on pretending things are normal when they’re not!”
“Emma-“ Emily’s hand curled around her arm, and she wasn’t allowed to do that! Emma jerked back, throwing her off.
“Don’t touch me!”
And she had to turn away. She couldn’t deal with Emily’s face right now. She fled.
* * *
"Is everything alright?"
Emma, shoulders hunched as she stood as unobtrusively as possible in the kitchen, flinched away from Jane's slightly accusing tone. "It's fine."
"Did you two have a fight?"
"I don't want to talk about her!"
"You’ve been upset for weeks. Please tell me what's wrong."
"What do you not understand about 'I don't want to talk about it!'?"
"Nothing happened! God! Leave me alone!"
Jane caught her hand as she tried to storm away again. "I understand that it's hard. But she loves you so much. It's not fair to either of you if you ignore that."
Emma froze at her words. How could people be so stupid? How could the know so little. "She doesn't love me!” She turned, letting her gaze cut into Jane. “I take care of her brat for her, and she throws money at me and keeps me fed, and she changed my life, and I... I don't want to go back to that."
Jane didn’t run away from her. She squeezed Emma’s hand, and Emma wondered why she couldn’t just throw it off like she did Emily’s, why Jane’s sympathy didn’t turn her gut upside down in panic and fear. "You're angry with her because you don't think you can treat her as well as she treats you?"
"That's not what I said."
"You said that she takes care of you, and you don't want to lose that. But you don't feel that you do enough to warrant it."
Emma felt sick. "I’m charity. Eventually you get sick of giving to a charity that doesn’t give you any gratitude."
"You should apologize to her."
"They're just words."
"Apologize by showing her that you care. Because you do care."
"It's just... you pulled away. You usually touch so casually. You really do care about her. You shouldn't be ashamed of that. Even when you were annoyed with her, when she mentioned your brother-" Emma flinched. "You still touched her. But when you're angry with yourself you think you don't deserve it and pull inside. Just forgive yourself for problems you can't change."
"No. I can't, and I won't." She couldn't do what Jane wanted her to do, reach out and wrap her hand around Emily's waist, let herself be comforted, let herself be weak. And she couldn’t let Emily touch her. She couldn’t give her that sort of power. "Just please, leave me alone."
* * *
Jane did leave her alone. Unfortunately, she didn’t let it drop. Women she hardly knew were coming up to her now, smiling, offering hors d’oeuvres, and saying, “I just met Emily. She’s so sweet. But I heard you were having problems. I really hope not.” It felt like guerrilla warfare, and Jane was winning.
Emma volunteered to help out with the egg dying to try and escape the onslaught. It was a dangerous decision. Children, high on sugar, were being allowed to play with dyes and hardboiled eggs, clearly a recipe for disaster. But although there were a few crunches of egg hitting floor, and, once a few of the children discovered that they could stain paper towels into exciting tie-dye patterns, a few splashes, and one small girl, un-presciently dressed in a white frock, got stained and cried (Emma ended up with her in the bathroom, rinsing out the dress, and trying to tell her that it was much prettier green, and wondering when people decided that she was good with children), but over all it went off without too much incident. And finally the children, chocolate smeared faces and dye-stained fingers, smelling like vinegar, were rounded up to wash their hands and be fed. Emma collapsed on the staircase.
There was a paper cup of champagne hovering in front of her.
"You look like you could use this."
Jim, Jane's husband, smiled, and handed her the cup. He had his own and settled down on the steps next to her. Emma ignored him in favor of the alcohol, and sighed into the bubbles. Emily was on the other side of the room, trapped in a corner, and looking skittish as she was cornered by Mr. S, who seemed to be trying to talk to her about sports. Emma could have warned him that it wouldn't go well.
Jim followed her gaze. "I heard you two had a fight."
"God, you too? Your wife sent you here to try and fix me, didn’t she?"
Jim laughed, looking guilty. Fuck him. She turned away and watched Emily brighten up slightly, and really... Mr. S imitated a golf swing. Were they actually talking about golf?
But Emily's family had been something like her own. Her father had probably played golf. Emma sank into herself a little more. In some ways, Emily was all the things she hadn't wanted, all the things she had gone out of her way to avoid. The last thing she had wanted to be was her mother, trapped in a family, no way out, nothing that she wanted, nothing but appearances, desperately struggling to stay happy with drugs, when there was no way to make your situation better, to stay beautiful enough to hold men's interest when there were always younger, fresher, prettier girls trying to take your place. But here she was.
Emma glanced over at Jim, placidly sipping his champagne, not bothering to make a pretense of following his wife's instructions in case she looked over. To him, what was she? Essentially married, with a family, nothing else to do but pick up her daughter from school, try to be pretty for parties. She looked down at her dye-splashed blue-plaid shirt. She hadn't wanted to be that. Emily had been scared when she looked like that. But maybe it didn't matter what she wanted. Maybe that was who she would end up being, regardless of how hard she tried to fight it.
"Do you find me attractive?"
It was an absent thought, but Jim looked surprised. Then he smiled, glancing away. "You know. I'm not sure how to answer that question."
Emma frowned, not liking the sound of that. "Seriously?"
He shrugged, giving her a goofy smile. "It's the sort of question that can get a man hit."
"Not answering it can do exactly the same." He winced. She shook her head. "I don't... I don't care about you in particular. It's just... research."
"Well, honestly, no. I don't. I think Jane's more attracted to you than I am."
Emma looked at him narrowly. He seemed regretful, but genuine. "I don't think I've ever heard that before. Not to believe it."
"Do you believe me?"
"I think so. I would have hit you if you said yes."
Jim grinned. "Guessed right then." He put his hand lightly on her arm, and she restrained herself from flinching away. Why did everyone insist on touching her today? "I don't think you'd want me to be attracted to you, regardless of my marital status."
"Why not?" She hadn’t given a damn about the marital status of the men she had danced for. She hadn’t given a damn for them at all, just for their money.
"You're very pretty, but you don't project it. Girls who want to be noticed..." he glanced out over the room of mothers in blouses and pearls, "even more mature women who want to be noticed, they show it."
"Very clearly." Jim laughed and looked embarrassed. "I'm going to give one of my stupid sociological pronouncements now. Jane hates them, but, you know, you have to find a way of generalizing about the world. They're true for me at least."
Emma laughed, but it was forced.
"You see, women like secrets. That's why there are always fads for the stoic, emotionless Mr. Darcy type. That's why they hate pick up lines. They're too obvious. Women don't trust the surface, and they always want to believe that there is more going on underneath. But men like things to be obvious. And girls who want to attract men intuit this. They aren't subtle. They don't come across as secretive or preoccupied. Coy is different. Coy is obvious. Men are attracted to people who show an obvious interest in being noticed."
Emma considered this. "You may be onto something here."
"Finally! A woman who appreciates my philosophy!"
"So it's just that I don't blatantly beg for your attention?" She knew how. She had been a professional. She hadn't wanted to turn it back on since she had left. Maybe she had done it for Benji once, but it was safe, because he was Emily’s friend too, he wouldn’t want to hurt her, and he wouldn’t even know how to go about making a play for Emma. Emily didn't even have a switch. If she liked you she would be all ears and dark eyes and a pretty mouth, and if she didn't she would be as impenetrable as a glacier. She never set out to be noticed, but sometimes it was hard to look away.
"It's worse than that, I'm afraid."
Emma scowled at him. He chuckled, not intimidated.
"It's why I said Jane was more attracted to you than I was. You... you're entirely secrets."
"What?" Had he…? But no.
"You come off as someone who has a lot to think about. It's intense, not a problem or anything, but you hold a lot in, don't you? Jane is obsessed with it. She wants to believe it's your deep affection for everyone that you can't admit. But... if you were a guy, a- Mr. Darcy type, say," Emma reeled slightly at this. "I'd say you were just pissed off, because your girl is hanging around with other people, and either she hasn't figured out why you're annoyed, or she's being complicated and manipulative and making you upset on purpose."
Emma stared at him. "Totally off base."
"Well, you're not a guy." Jim shrugged. "I had a large margin for error."
Emma finished her champagne and frowned again. "She is really manipulative though. But she doesn't know it. Look at her. Does she look manipulative? But she always seems to know what I'm thinking, and it gets really annoying sometimes!"
Jim looked at her, and looked at Emily, and then looked back at her. "You're a girl."
"You're a girl, who thinks like a girl, trying to understand a girl who really doesn't think like a girl. And, like what always happens in this situation, you are reading way too much into this."
"I've only met Emily once or twice, but she's never come off as... subtle. I know you don't like words like love, so I won't offend your ears. But Emily's nice to everyone. But when you're around, she looks for you. She's aware of you, in the same way that you're aware of Deirdre. Love or not, you're important to her."
"Oh." Emily had just glanced over, caught her eye, and gave her a small helpless smile. She did that a lot. Emma had thought it was guilt, or something.
"You're unhappy, and you're mad at her for not knowing what's wrong and trying to fix it. But I know, at least for me, that I'd rather be told what's wrong straight out than have to suffer for not deducing it with my incredible women's intuition."
Emma laughed involuntarily. She hadn't intended to laugh. It wasn't fair that he actually had managed to figure out what was wrong. Emily knew what she was thinking so much of the time, but this time Emma could hardly pinpoint what was making her unhappy. How was Emily supposed to know?
"Jane wants me to apologize."
"For being unhappy?"
"For taking it out on her, maybe."
"So it's not her fault?"
“She’s not helping. I just…” Emma scowled at her hands. “Why does everyone want me to make plans? We don’t know what could happen, and still everyone’s like, ‘think about the future. Hope for stuff.’” She clenched her fists. “The last time I did that it all blew up in my face.”
“The crazy kindergarten ladies? Jane’s been complaining about them all week.”
Emma let out a huff of laughter. “I went to private school as a child. My mother would have never even thought of sending us anywhere else. Emily thinks I should go back to school. I… my life: private school, college, make up, being attractive to men, that fell apart. It turned into utter shit. And I don’t want to be shoved back into it.”
“Being attractive to women is better?”
He sounded too amused. Emma glared at him. Not being attracted to her had nothing to do with not indulging in voyeuristic fantasies. “It hasn’t bitten back yet.”
“Has she told you she wants to send Didi to private school? Jillian’s probably going to Pratt. I don’t make quite enough to pay for my daughter to be indoctrinated in bourgeois values and creationism.”
“We haven’t talked about it. She’ll probably bend over and do what I tell her.”
“You don’t want her to listen to your opinion?”
“Not when I have ulterior motives.”
“Then explain them.” His expression added ‘idiot’ to the phrase. “Why does she want you to go back to school?”
“She thinks I’m bored.” And Emma felt ashamed for assuming that it was anything else, for thinking it was pushing her out, trying to make her stable on her own.
“So she’s not ashamed of you because you don’t have a degree?”
Emma snorted. “Her mother might be, but Emily is not her mother.”
“And you’re not yours.” Jim patted her shoulder. “Jane likes you because you’re not like them. Stick with us, we’re awesome.”
Emma looked at him for a long moment. “Why are you trying to help me?”
“Mainly? So you don’t seduce my wife away from me. Just go, and be normal and happy with your… whatever, your cute family unit, and she’ll get over it. She usually does.”
Jim patted her shoulder again, and disappeared. She sank into herself, mashing the paper cup in her fist and pressing it against her mouth. She could feel Emily’s eyes on her and she looked up, catching them just as they guiltily flicked away. She always tried to help, even if she didn’t know what she was doing.
Mrs. L, who Emma had met barely twice, came up, face flushed with a little too much champagne. “I just met Emily!” she said. “She’s so sweet. You’re really… lucky, you know.” She hiccupped. Emma tried not to groan. “But I heard you were-“
“We’re fine,” Emma cut her off. “I was just going over there to apologize. It was stupid. I don’t know how it got around to so many people. But you know, the public school/private school question, it’s very difficult.”
“Oh yes,” Mrs. L nodded eagerly, and somewhat vacantly. “So hard.”
Emma pushed herself up off the stairs, repressing a smile, and strode into the living room. She spotted Jane, watching her curiously, and that was good enough. Emily was trapped again, another mother Emma sort of knew, and she set in for the rescue. She touched Emily’s arm, and Emily turned, the surprise and pleasure vivid on her face. Then she looked anxious, opening her mouth to ask something, if Emily needed to go or if Didi had fallen into the poison oak.
“I need to apologize,” she said, loud enough that those nearby wouldn’t have to strain to hear. Her eyes flicked to Jane, who was leaning closer, looking embarrassingly excited. Then she looked back and saw Emily smiling, amused, with a slight hint of teasing subterfuge.
“They’ve been harassing you too?”
And Emma laughed, because of course she understood. “What have you been telling them? Everyone’s saying how sweet you are and how lucky I am.”
Emily ducked her eyes. “I just… didn’t want to accidentally hit on anyone again.”
Emma shook her head, still smiling. “Glad you’ve learned your lesson. I’m sorry for being… such a bitch, though.” Emily opened her mouth as if to defend her from herself, and Emma cut her off. “I’ll explain things later. Shh, just play along.”
She looked surprised, her lips slightly parted, and really, what else could she do? Emma kissed her, because she needed to be kissed. Emily’s mouth was warm, and she felt the slight hiss of breath she expelled in surprise, and Emma smiled into the kiss. Emily kissed back, playing along softly, never pushing too hard. And it hurt a little inside, and she didn’t want to break it. Emma was sure that Jane would leave her alone now. But Emily was the one who broke it, gently, and Emma leaned into her, brushing her lips against her ear. “Thanks.”
“They were really bothering you that much?” Emily murmured, letting their fingers twine together. She was grinning, a bit shyly, entertained by the subterfuge.
Emma’s smile broadened, pleased at the poise she saw. It was an unexpected feeling, and her cheeks hurt so she quickly turned away and schooled her expression. Jane was standing there with her mouth open. She squeezed Emily’s fingers, tossed her a smile, and sauntered towards Jane.
“You can call off the hounds. We made up.”
“You-“ She was stunned. “You’re so cute!”
Emma jerked back. She hadn’t expected that one. “Not cute.”
Jane grinned and glanced over her shoulder. “She still looks stunned.”
Emma glanced back. Emily was trying to talk to someone, smiling vaguely, and glancing over to Emma every few moments, obviously shocked.
“You really don’t apologize often, do you?”
“I guess not.”
* * *
“That was insane, I’m so sorry.”
Emily, draped with a hyper, clinging small child, glanced over at her and smiled, hoisting Didi into a better position. “It was an experience.”
Emma grinned. It was better like this. Maybe she was really on her side. She started off again, towards home.
“Mommy.” Emma glanced back to see Didi give Emily a whack with a marshmallow rabbit. “Wake up!”
Emily jerked back to herself, still looking a bit overwhelmed. Emma stared for a moment. She hadn’t even kissed her that time. Too much champagne, clearly.
* * *
The TV was a muted glowing blue screen in the dark living room, and Didi was a lump of sugar coma sprawled over their laps. Emma leaned slowly and carefully back into Emily, and breathed out as Emily adjusted to accommodate her without wrapping her up and trapping her.
“She’s still going to be here next year, isn’t she?”
Emily tensed slightly under her, and then sighed. “We can’t assume she won’t. It’s… not a bet we have any odds on.”
“Private or public?”
Emily cringed. “God, I hated private school.”
Emma laughed. Of course she would have hated private school. “You would have suffered just as much in public.”
“Like you’d know!”
“So we agree, public?”
“Didi’s discipline problems will be less obvious in a more mixed group.”
“You’re just a pushover. She’ll never learn how to behave around you.”
Emily scowled and her hand slid down Emma’s side, scrunching up her shirt, and tickling her. “Hey!” Emma yelped, and tried to squirm away. Emily grabbed for her arm, and they overbalanced, Didi slipping onto the couch between them, as they rolled over and landed in a heap on the carpet.
“Not a pushover,” Emily muttered.
“That was totally evidence to the contrary.” Emma didn’t move off of her. Her warmth was like a talisman, keeping her back from the precipice she had been walking along alone all week. Emily’s hands closed around her waist and she didn’t push her off. “Can you…” she started. Emily’s muscles tensed under her. “Can you get the information about the university program? I don’t really know about it, but… there might be something interesting.”
Emily relaxed, her breath brushing against Emma’s face. “Of course. I’ll find out.”
Emma closed her eyes, resting her head on Emily’s shoulder. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She would stay as long as she could. That was all she could promise herself, but she could enjoy it a little at least. She didn’t always have to remind herself about the inevitable end.
Even if it was inevitable, as ends always were.