Title: City on the River 18/?
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: Do you know what I’ve realized – expectations are the worst thing ever for me. Knowing that people like this fic (any fic) and want more of it basically makes me freeze up. I don’t think this section is up to standard- the standard that I have created for myself far above my head that I will never reach. But at the very least, it has over 3000 words, and (hopefully) no atrocious grammatical errors. It may be utter crap otherwise. I’m sorry.
They woke up in a dogpile on the floor the next morning, Didi curled in between them. Emma’s head was pillowed on Emily’s shoulder, and Emily didn’t want to move. She raised her hand, just slightly, wanting to brush her thumb along Emma’s soft hair, but tugged it down again. Emma had kissed her again, but that didn’t mean the rules had changed. She sighed, relaxing, letting herself just be there for a moment.
When she first went away to college it had taken her a while to realize just how much she had relied on her mother and Michael, and the other friends she had had. At school she had no one, and she didn’t know how much it was hurting her until she reached out and hugged one of the trees that lined the path to classes. She had just needed to feel something, even the prickle of bark that couldn’t hug back.
Sometimes hugging Emma was like hugging a tree.
Emily knew certain things were off limits. The shoulder to the hand was fine, as long as it was just a touch, not curling her hand around Emma’s deltoid and sliding it slowly down, closing in a loose bracelet around her wrist. She could tap the back of Emma’s hand to get her attention, and that wouldn’t get her more than a dirty look, but she couldn’t lace their fingers together and pull her along, take her somewhere she’d be happy to go.
Emma could do it to her. Emma could do whatever she wanted. She could hold her hand, and lay her head in her lap, and kiss her when she really needed someone, but if Emily tried anything, even fixing the collar of her shirt, or wrapping her scarf around her neck, Emma would flinch away, upset and unhappy.
It wasn’t as if she couldn’t understand why, even if Emma treated it so casually it made her sick. But it hurt that Emma had to dance away at the last second, make sure that it was completely under her control. Emma had let her sleep in the same bed with her, and had still managed to cut away all of Emily’s good intentions and make her feel like some sort of criminal for wanting to reach across the sharp invisible divide. It wasn’t as if she had ever had sexual intentions either. She would never force even her thoughts on someone. It had always felt wrong to want something from someone when they clearly weren’t offering. And that was never the reason Emily wanted to touch her. She just wanted to reach out and comfort sometimes, when Emma’s eyes went dark and locked up, and she couldn’t. She had tried so hard, closed her narrow shoulders in a fierce hug, and Emma had resisted as fiercely as she could, resisted the comfort even more than the touch. It was a wall Emily couldn’t break down, and it felt like it hit back with a vicious elbow to the solar plexus.
But then yesterday, Emma had kissed her, just as a joke really, and smiled at her, like they were friends. Like she trusted her, finally, after six months of walking on tenterhooks, she at least trusted her to be on the same side. But her smile was the worst of all, that broad, pleased, honest grin, the one that felt like an ‘I love you.’ But there were limits, and she followed the spirit of the law, not just the letter.
* * *
Didi had gotten her hands on the scissors again. Last time the victim had been one of Emily’s favorite sweaters. This time Didi had managed to take a chunk out of her own hair.
“Oh bloody… Shiva,” Emily muttered, just skirting an obligation to the swear jar. “What did we say about the scissors?”
Didi had a look of bewildered innocence. It was fake. Usually she would just look irritated and bored with all the scolding and panic.
“Oh fabulous,” Emma drawled. “Now all the moms really are going to ask where I get your hair done.”
“I can trim it,” Emily offered.
Emma raised an eyebrow. “Have you ever cut hair before?”
“I’ve cut my own.”
Emma stared at her head. “This doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. But give it a shot if you feel the need.” She scooped up Didi and carted her towards the stairs. Didi protested. “You did it to yourself,” Emma said. “Now you get to have your hair washed so your mom can make it even again.”
Emily was careful and precise, and even though Didi’s hair was as thick as her own, it turned out rather well, she thought. Emma concurred. “Not bad.”
Emily glanced up at her, smiling shyly. “Yours is getting a bit long.”
Emma grimaced, pinching an end in her fingers. “And uneven.”
“I could…” Emily made a snip-snip sound with the scissors.
“This is a power trip, isn’t it?”
But Emma sat down in front of her, hair damp and clinging to her cheeks, and didn’t flinch when Emily wrapped the towel around her shoulders. Emily ran the comb through the damp locks, careful not to linger, not to take the opportunity to pretend that this was more intimate than it actually was. Emma’s hair was soft and fine, and Emily trimmed it back just to her jawline, making it even across the back. Her fingers brushed Emma’s ear, the skin of her neck, cool from the water.
Emma blow-dried it afterwards and examined the result. “Not bad. I’ve had salon cuts worse than this.”
“You’ve never had your hair cut at home before, have you?”
Emma eyed her. “When did you?”
“My nanny used to cut it, in the Ukraine. Not really that many hair salons around under communism.”
“Well,” Emma fingered the blunt ends of her hair once more. “Thanks.” She looked hesitant for a moment, and then smiled.
Emily relaxed. “No problem. Anytime.”
* * *
Emma stared at herself in the mirror. The haircut wasn’t too different to the one she had had while working as a stripper. It was short enough to wash quickly in an ice cold shower in a public park, short enough to fit up under a sparkly dramatic wig. But it looked different. The bad bleach job had grown out and actually being able to use shampoo instead of cheap soap made it thicker and less limp and wispy.
She was thicker. Slowly, she stripped off her shirt and turned from side to side, examining her arms and stomach. At one point, after a year of half starving, she could have fit her fingers around her bicep, but now they didn’t even come close. The definition there was from scooping up Didi and swinging her around. She looked stronger. She looked grown up. She couldn’t see her ribs under her skin anymore. Unclasping her bra, she untangled the straps from her arms. Her breasts were heavier, not comparable to her housemate, but with the same high roundness that her older sister had had. She shucked her pants and turned around, examining the curve of her ass, her legs. She flexed her toes against the floor and stretched her calves. It had been a long time since she had worn heels. At first it had hurt to wear flats again, but now she wasn’t even sure she remembered how to walk in the type of stilettos she had worn to dance.
A hiss of breath came from behind her, and Emma spun, covering her breasts instinctively. Emily’s eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open.
“What the hell are you looking at!”
Emily jerked back to herself and covered her face. “I’m so sorry! The door was unlocked.”
“Did you like it?” Emma snapped. “Did you like what you saw?”
There was a long moment of silence. And she needed to know. Emily was so polite, so restrained. Jim had said she watched her, that she cared. But that didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean she wanted her.
Emily kept cowering in the doorway, her hands over her eyes. And then, finally. “Yes.”
“Get the fuck out!”
“I’m sorry.” Emily moved backwards, hands still over her face, and crashed into the hall table, knocking it over. Not bothering to stop, she dropped her hands and fled into her room, shutting the door.
Emma closed her eyes, trying to regain her breath. This was too hard. Why was it always so hard? She looked down at herself, glancing in the mirror once more. The boy-shorts she was wearing were fairly modest, actually. She had been seen in far less than this by plenty of men. But they didn’t matter. Emily mattered. And Emma was different now, her body was different, and it was hers again. No one, not even Emily, was going to take it from her.
She closed her eyes, remembering the light brush of fingers against her neck. It had made her shiver. She had thought about letting it go farther, thought about letting Emily put her hands on her body, thought about the way it would feel. It wouldn’t be awful like it had been. Emily was different. She had felt her warm weight pressing against her back while sharing a bed, her breath hot on Emma’s neck, the gentle press of her lips. She had seen her bending over her translations with that frowning expression that she sometimes wore when studying Emma, and she could imagine that intensity focused on her body. She could imagine Emily hovering over her, leaning in to kiss her neck and slipping her hands up her shirt. But she could only imagine herself clinging to the sheets, eyes shut, waiting for it to end. She wasn’t ready.
She didn’t know if she ever would be.
* * *
Emma brought Didi to Jillian’s at five o’clock, a mini Lion King sleeping bag over her shoulder and handed it off to Jane in the kitchen.
“You’re sure she has everything she needs? You’re sure she’ll be all right?”
“Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure we can handle anything that comes up.” Jane squeezed Emma’s arm. “You’re so cute.”
Emma was offended by this. “I’m not cute.”
“Yes you are. First sleepovers are usually harder on the parents than they are on the kids. Didi’s tough. If no one’s called by eight, it’s going to be fine.”
Emma shook her head. It was strange really, the flinch of abandonment she felt as Didi ran headlong into the house to go find Jillian. “I just have no frame of reference for this.”
Jane cocked her head. “You don’t remember your first sleepover?”
Emma grimaced. “I never did that sort of thing. My family, well, I had three siblings, and our nanny would say things like ‘four atrocious spoiled brats is enough! I’m not getting paid enough to add more to the list.’”
“And your parents kept her?”
“We were atrocious. We went through so many babysitters. She was the only one who stayed. If we had done anything to displease her, she would have told our father, so we made bargains with her instead. I never really had friends, so I never wanted a sleepover, but my little sister would save up and pay her if she wanted to have someone over.”
“Ten dollars per hour per friend, fifty per friend for an overnight. It went up to eighty if the friend was a boy. Adrienne paid probably a couple thousand dollars for her boyfriends and to have our nanny not report on her extra-curricular activities.”
Jane just stared at her in shock. Emma blinked, puzzled by her response. “What?”
“Your family… was kind of nuts.”
Emma couldn’t deny it, even though ‘nuts’ sounded a little more positive than had actually been the case.
“Of course,” Jane said with a grin. “You know that the best thing about sleepovers is that you can go out.”
“Out?” Where? Emma wondered. She didn’t even get what she meant.
“And you don’t have to worry about getting home for the babysitter.” Jane squeezed her shoulder and gave her a suggestive eyebrow. “It’s Friday night. How long has it been since you and Emily have gone dancing?”
Dancing? “You mean… like on a date?”
“You’ve been married too long.”
“As good as. Especially if you can’t even remember how long it’s been since you’ve been on a date!”
Emma could remember exactly how long it had been, because it was never. Emily was home. They’d watch movies on the couch, maybe order pizza. She had gone out more times with Benji than with Emily. And that was a good thing. Whenever she went somewhere with Emily, to the FBI Picnic, to the Easter party, something happened. Emily was lured off, or Jane bullied Emma into kissing her. That kiss had been a relief. Emily didn’t push, didn’t try to take it farther, didn’t oppress her with desire. But Emily was polite. It didn’t mean she didn’t want it. It didn’t mean Emma didn’t owe her, owe her everything.
“I don’t know.”
“You have to. You guys are so sweet, but you can’t just be stuck at home all the time being parents. You need to get out! You’re both still young. You can still have fun.”
Emma thought about the idea of fun. Dancing for her had been anything but fun for a long time, but she had liked it once. She had liked going out and getting drunk, knowing that she was invulnerable. Some of her college friends had used the dance floor as an opportunity to grind down on their boyfriends thigh. But she had just liked the dancing, the loud music, the liquor that made everything fade away.
“It’s been a long time.”
“Well, tonight you’re free.”
Free? Emma didn’t remember what it felt like to be free.
* * *
Emma wasn’t going to lie to herself and say Emily wasn’t attractive. And she wasn’t going to claim that she didn’t get horny sometimes. And maybe, she thought, if she got drunk, she could let Emily touch her, let her work her hands over her breasts, let her suck on her neck and collarbone. Maybe that would be enough, enough for both of them.
She poured herself a glass of wine and waited for Emily to get home from work.
Then she poured herself another.
* * *
“Friday night sleepover!” Emma looped her arms around Emily’s neck as soon as she came in the door and gave her a crushing hug. “I now finally understand a parent’s joy at getting rid of their small child for a night!”
Emily laughed, then sniffed curiously, scenting the wine. “Is she gone already?”
“Mhm, I dropped her off at five.” Emma gave her a long intense look, biting her lower lip. “Let’s go out tonight, okay?”
“You sure you’re up for it?”
Emily shrugged. “Sounds fine to me. What do you want to do?”
“I want to go dancing.” She arched into Emily, eyes half shut, like a lazy cat, and stretching easily, unconsciously seductive.
Emily breathed in hard. Emma was gorgeous when she danced. The first time Emily had seen it, she had come home from work to find Emma and Didi boogieing in the living room. There was nothing overtly sexual about it. She was just in her own little world, her body moving easily, liquidly, to the music. (Didi was flailing like a scarecrow having a seizure). Emily dropped her briefcase with a hard clunk on the floor, and Emma’s head shot up, her eyes wild. “Caught” they seemed to say, and she looked ready to flee. Emily stuck her hand out. “Wait!” it said, and she dropped her coat as well, and moved into the room, trying to be smooth and adding a few fancy stylings to her saunter.
Emma stared at her for a long moment, the tension fading into a wry grin. Finally, she reached out and caught Emily’s hand, pulling it into her.
“I think I see where Deirdre gets her skills.” Emily flushed. Emma dropped her hand, and walked off, casting a half ironic smirk over her shoulder.
Emily wasn’t sure she could watch that again. She knew Emma didn’t want her, didn’t want her to touch her, and it just might be more than she could take. “Really?”
Emma swished her hand, flapping it at her arm. “Dancing.”
It sort of felt like a date. Emily tried to find something to wear that wouldn’t be horrifically shaming.
But Emma was in a dress. Emily ducked her head down, doing her best not to stare.
“You can look at me, you know. If I’m dressed like this, I want you to look.”
Emily looked up. She knew her cheeks were flaming red. Emma just looked at her, the effect of the wine undetectable. And her gaze was flat and serious. I don’t have to tell you the rules, it seemed to say. You can look, when I know you’re looking, but you know better than to touch.
* * *
“Oh my god! Your elbows!”
“What?” Emily exclaimed, offended that Emma was laughing at her. It was ladies’ night and after the pre-gaming, Emma was close to being drunk off her ass from the free alcohol, but that did not excuse mocking the dancing skills of the person who had picked you up off what was essentially the street and given you a home and a purpose and an oddly extraneous child to look after and love.
“Please! Let me just…” She caught Emily’s arms and pulled them down to her sides. “Keep elbows tight.” She moved closer to her, brushing slightly against her front. “You’ll give someone a shiner.”
“You’re so mean to me.”
“I’m mean to you?” Emma slid her hand down Emily’s forearm until it rested on her wrist. She lifted it and moved it to settle on her ass. Emily’s eyes widened.
“Are you sure…” she tried to move it up to the small of her back, but Emma pouted and pushed it back down. She slid her other hand into Emily’s, tangling their fingers together, and then draped the other one over her shoulder. She followed it, leaning in and breathing in Emily’s shoulder, the scent of her sweat and shampoo, Emily supposed. As she stepped in, Emily’s hand shifted slightly, and as she pulled back, they fit together, in an easy automatic way. Emily shifted her weight, reached out with her opposite hand. Emma’s arm crooked about her neck and their free hands joined. It was almost a waltz, if you could waltz to Third Eye Blind while hardly moving your feet.
Emma looked at her, her eyes widening slightly. “You… had lessons?”
“Years of them.”
Emma laughed and relaxed, swaying gently to the music. “Can you lead?”
“It’s all right. I’m good at leading backwards.” The song was slow and they couldn’t move far, too many other people on the dance floor, but it felt good anyways, familiar and strange at the same time. They were just rocking by the end of it, and Emma curled, purring, into her shoulder. “’ts nice.”
“Yeah,” Emily said softly, and closed her hands around her back, holding on to her as Emma drooped sleepily over her arm. “It's really nice.”
They stayed like that, moving gently, for a long time.
“You want to sleep with me, don’t you?” Emma’s voice was lazy, coy and a little drunk. Emily flinched. “I think about it. I think about letting you fuck me. You’d be gentle. It’d feel good. You’re so sweet; it couldn’t be anything else. But I don’t want you.” She leaned in, nuzzling her shoulder. “I just don’t want anyone else to have you.”
It was a blow calculated to wound, to cripple, and Emily felt weak. “Why not?”
“I need you. You’ve made my life something worth having, and I’m selfish.”
“But you don’t want me.”
Emma cupped her face and kissed her cheek. “Not enough. I’d sleep with you if you asked.”
“I’m not going to ask.”
“That’s why I feel safe with you.” She pulled back a little to examine Emily’s face and frowned. “You’re sad again.”
Emily blinked hard, not sure why she wanted to cry. “Yeah.”
“Don’t be sad.”
“You don’t want me.” And it came out how it felt. It wasn’t about desire. The word was flat, indicating simple lack of interest and disregard. I could do without you. But the reverse just wasn't true.
Emma moved in close, pressing her warm body flush against Emily’s chest. “Don’t think you’re not attractive. You’re pretty, and kind, and mostly sexy, even when you’re falling over your own feet.” She burrowed her nose in her shoulder. “And you smell good.”
“You’re pretty drunk.”
Emma looked up and smiled. “Yeah.” She tilted her head and then made a little seeking motion forward.
Emily cupped her ear, twining her fingers in the newly shorn hair, tugging slightly to keep her back. “Hey,” she murmured, trying to divert her from the suggested action. But Emma closed the distance and kissed her, warm, lips parted, but chaste. She pulled back after a moment, a moment that was far too long for Emily to bear, that left her stomach inside out and tied in knots, and looked at her, eyes curious and hazy.
“Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?”
“Is this what what’s supposed to feel like?”
“It’s never felt like that before, when I kiss someone. Is this how it feels when you love your family?”
Not for me, Emily didn’t say. Not at all.
Emma fell asleep on her shoulder on the bus ride home. Emily just closed her eyes and tried not to move.
Sometimes hugging Emma was like hugging a tree. Sometimes it was like hugging a knife right into her chest.