Title: Superposition
Rating: PG
Criminal Minds
Prentiss - gen
Genre: Drama/Angst
There's no telling whether the cat is alive or dead until she opens the box. In another universe, she might have made another choice. In this one, she chose the cat.
Author's Note: Excuse the Prentiss-angst #534, but I was cleaning out my in progress folder.

Emily stared at her phone, the name and number she really, really didn't want to see flashing across the screen. The team had just gotten back from Alaska, and she didn't particularly feel like going out, least of all with Mick Rawson, narcissist extraordinaire. Even if he might have been good for relieving some tension, she wasn't in a particularly self-loathing mood. Didn't want to deal with yet another disastrous attempt at romance with Tom freaking Berenger.

Maybe a cat really was the way to go.

Realistically speaking, they didn't snag cases as much as it often seemed like they did. While the cases were grueling – physically, psychologically and emotionally – on average, they were only away one week out of every four. It was probably just a trick of the imagination that they only ever seemed to get cases when she actually had plans. The rest of the time, there were other teams covering incoming cases. Part of her really, really wished she was on a case right now, just so she didn't have to deal with this problem.

It had taken Emily a long time to learn how to say "no." It had taken a painful, awkward, sticky sexual experience, and a life lost (two lives, if she counted Matthew) to understand that she didn't always have to do what people wanted her to do. For a long time, she had taken that message just a little bit too seriously, doing things she knew her mother would disapprove of. Maybe that was normal for teenagers, but that didn't make it any easier to live with.

Reid talked about alternate universe sometimes; not to Hotch or Rossi or Morgan or JJ, who usually just became overwhelmed when he broached a topic of such a nerdy caliber. Emily had grown up on Vonnegut and Tolkien and Orwell, but more than that, she'd grown up in a world where she wondered if things could ever be different. She'd grown up in a world where she wondered what it would be like to have a sibling, or a real Christmas, or a house with a big backyard that didn't have foreign dignitaries calling at all hours. She'd lived stateside for the last few years of her schooling, but by that point, backyards weren't something she was remotely interested in. She was interested in locking herself away, and sneaking out on a school night; two completely contrary things that seemed to fit together far too well. Schrodinger's cat, in a superposition of alive and dead at the same time. There's no telling which until the box is opened.

In another universe, the cat was dead. In another universe, she picked up the phone, and put on her fake smile, and said, 'Hi Mick, I think you're a handsome devil, and I'd love to go out with you sometime.' She'd put on her high heels and her red dress, and he'd take her out – maybe to dinner, or a movie, or to a jazz club, and afterwards they'd come back to her place, kiss at the door before…

It would end, though.

No matter which way she looked at the situation, it would end. Work would get in the way, or he'd find a more interesting piece of tail to chase after, or she would decide that, no matter how good the sex was, no matter how nice it was to have someone hold her, it really wasn't him she wanted.

There wasn't anyone else she wanted either, but that was a moot point.

In this universe, the cat was alive. In this universe, she picked up the phone, and gave a real sigh, and said, 'Look Mick, I'm really not interested, could you please stop calling me?' only not in so many words, because if there was one thing that being the daughter of an Ambassador had taught her, it was tact. How to be forceful without being disrespectful. Sometimes she still put her foot in her mouth, because her mother couldn't teach her everything, but it worked anyway. Mick said goodbye and hung up, and Emily stared at her empty apartment.

Really, she should have gotten something smaller. She could have lived comfortable in something half the size, and she wouldn't have felt so ridiculously alone. Maybe one day she'd start looking at the real estate section of the newspaper and consider moving, but that would never happen; there was part of her that held out hope she might still find Prince Charming in the least expected place. Maybe he was hiding under the bathmat, or waiting in an unsub's basement.

The next day, she found a pet store, and bought food bowls, and a scratching post, and a litter box, and all the other things that a furry companion might need. If she bought them first, it was a little harder to back out. Of course, she still could, but considering she'd just spent over two-hundred dollars on cat accessories, she'd think twice about it. It seemed ironic to think that if she didn't work such long hours, then she wouldn't have needed the automatic cat feeder, or the freaking drinking fountain. Even still, she'd probably have to talk to a neighbor about refilling the feeder during those cases that took a little longer than a few days.

The visit to the shelter was a little sobering, but if there was one thing that the BAU had taught her, it was that not everyone could be saved, no matter how hard you tried. That wasn't something that came from walking this path, it was a universal fact. That didn't make it any easier.

Half an hour later, she left with a two-year-old calico named Montana, half positive that she had just made a really big mistake. After all, she couldn't even manage to sort out her own life, how the hell was she supposed to take care of another living being?

Montana was understandably nervous when Emily let her out of the carrier. Sometimes, the signs of abuse were just as clear in animals as they were in people. Sometimes, she really wished she didn't know that.

There were no doubt a few websites that could give her some advice on how to deal with the situation properly, and she lucked out when they didn't get called in on a case for another week and a half. It was a short one; two days, if that, but Emily came home yawning anyway. A blur of fur and claws met her at the door, rubbing enthusiastically against her leg. The next morning, she woke up with a heavy weight sitting on her chest. 'Good morning, Montana,' she murmured, and the cat meowed back. She liked to think that the animal was saying good morning back, but it was probably something along the lines of "feed me."

It wasn't the universe where she had an arm across her stomach, her head pressed against a firm chest. It wasn't the universe, wasn't the life that she had envisioned as a child, the life that she had ever really expected. Still.

Could have been worse.