Author's Note: I expected this up yesterday but RL conspired against that happening.

But yes, it's the conclusion of CB. So YAY that's another one knocked off the list! We're back down to 14 ongoing stories, but keep in mind that's out of 58 total so my completion percentage is still way up there :)

It's been a little while since I updated here but we left Emily getting on the plane and Hotch heading back to the hospital. We're picking up the next day.


Prompt Set #9

Show: Without A Trace

Title Challenge: More Than This


Bonus Challenge #17

Show: Police Women of Maricopa County

Title Challenge: That's No Way to Be a Girl


The Wrong Made Right

Emily was in the middle of a meeting with Dave and the lead detective when her phone began to vibrate. She looked down to see Hotch's name flashing.

Shit.

She shot Dave a look as she stood up.

"I'm sorry, but I have to take this."

She and Hotch had spoken when she first landed, but it was still so early that his mother hadn't left recovery yet. He told her that the surgeon wasn't expecting to have any news for them until at least noon, so after she hung up with Hotch, Emily had tried to distract herself with the case so that she wouldn't think about Hotch pacing those hospital corridors all by himself.

That image was breaking her heart.

But because of that recurrent picture in her mind . . . there was no doubt that's what had been happening all morning . . . she'd been acutely aware of the hours and minutes ticking away. So she knew that it was now almost one.

Forty-five minutes passed the point she'd been hoping to speak to Hotch.

She'd been trying to extract herself from the meeting for the last twenty frigging minutes so that she could call him and find out what was happening. The fact that he was calling her first did not seem to be a good sign of anything. And as she saw Dave nod and tell her to give him his best, Emily tipped her head as she hurried out, already hitting the green button before the door had fallen shut.

"Hey," she asked softly as she stepped into the corridor, "how are you?"

Her eyes darted around the precinct as she tried to find a private place to talk. The rest of the team was in the large conference room to the left so she went right.

The last thing she wanted was for anyone to overhear their conversation. She'd had enough questions when she'd arrived that morning. So she wasn't about to open her behavior up for more group discussion.

Hearing Emily's voice come through the line, Hotch closed his eyes for a second . . . thank God. Though she'd only been gone for seven hours, he'd missed her so much. It had taken no time at all for him to begin to need her in ways that he hadn't needed anyone before.

But of course he'd never gone through anything quite this bad before.

And all he'd wanted as he paced those hospital corridors was to have Emily next to him, to hear her voice again. And now finally here she was whispering in his ear once more.

It wasn't the same as holding her hand . . . but still . . . half of his wish was better than not having any of her at all.

Then he heard her worried voice come through the line again as she asked if he was there. And that's when Hotch realized that he was taking too long to answer her. So he opened his eyes, again finding himself looking down at the scratched varnish of the wobbly Starbucks table.

He sighed.

"I'm here but, things aren't good. It didn't . . ." his voice caught, "it didn't . . ."

He had to swallow before he was finally able to finish the sentence.

"It didn't work . . . I have to talk to the doctor today."

Though he and Sean had decided last night that they would remove their mother's life support if the surgeon told them that there was no hope of meaningful recovery, when the doctor asked him today, Hotch just couldn't give him that answer until he had talked to Emily first.

She had become his sole support system. Emily was the reminder that even if his mother was truly gone now, he wasn't alone in the world. Yes, he had a brother and a son . . . but Sean had his own family. And Jack was still so little that Hotch couldn't take anything from him but his love.

Emily though . . . he heard her intake of breath through the line . . . from her he got tenderness and strength.

And she was his alone.

But being forced to talk to her in the middle of the Starbucks half a block down from the hospital was making this whole conversation even worse than it would have been otherwise.

And given that he already felt like he had a hole in his gut, he really would not have thought that possible.

Hearing the pain in Hotch's voice, Emily's eyes began to burn.

"Oh Aaron," she murmured in sympathy, "I'm so sorry."

Spotting an empty interrogation room, Emily slipped inside as she continued speaking softly, "so there's really no hope? Yesterday's surgery didn't do anything?"

"Well yeah," Hotch suddenly spit out bitterly, "it did do something. It killed her Emily."

And then he cringed . . . that's great Aaron, she's all you've wanted all day and now you're biting her head off a minute into the call. He was just wound so tightly that he'd been snapping at everyone today.

But that didn't make it okay.

"I'm sorry sweetheart," he whispered sadly, "I didn't . . ."

But Emily gently cut him off.

"It's okay Aaron, I understand."

The stress he was under right now was horrendous. And with her gone again he had no positive outlets for working off any of that nervous energy.

A little snapping was to be expected. Also, it was better than him keeping it all in and bursting a vessel.

She just couldn't believe that after that many hours of surgery that it had all been for nothing. Yes, she'd known that it was a long shot . . . still though . . . she'd stayed hopeful for Hotch's sake.

It was a hope that for once the universe would be kind to him.

But apparently . . . she thought bitterly . . . a little kindness for a man that did so much good was just too much to ask.

As silence continued to come through the line, Emily knew that Hotch was just trying to get his emotions back under control. As she pictured him sitting by himself, the tears started to pool in her eyes.

He so badly needed somebody there with him. But unfortunately there was no one. She was gone, and she knew that there was no way that he'd go to Sean right now. Hotch was the older brother so he needed to be the strong one. And because of that, her guy was all alone.

All alone . . . a tear slid down her face . . . in a city of seven million people. And she knew that all he was trying to do right now was shove his anger and loneliness and grief back down under lock and key.

But as strong as he was, she knew that this was just too much for him to handle by himself.

It was too much for anyone to handle alone. And her brain began to whirl as she tried to decide what to do for him. Then suddenly the words came flying out of her mouth.

"I'm coming back."

Okay . . . she blinked . . . that was easy.

"Emily, no," Hotch said firmly before he cleared his throat, "you can't do that. There's a case. There are children to find, you can't leave."

As much as he wanted her back . . . as much as he NEEDED her back . . . there was work to be done. And work came first.

Always.

Emily knew exactly what he was saying . . . it was the same thing that she'd said to herself in the wee hours of the morning. But that this was this morning. And she was now resolute in this decision so she shook her head firmly.

"Don't try to talk me out of it Hotch," she wiped her hand across her face, "I'm coming."

But of course he did try to talk her out of it. And she listened to the bitter weariness in his tone as he started in on the job and their responsibilities and how sometimes they had to make sacrifices for things bigger than themselves.

And she knew that he believed all of those things . . . he had built a life out of making sacrifices for things bigger than himself . . . but she also knew that he wanted nothing more than for her to come back to him. So she did what she should have done last night.

She put him first.

"Hotch," she cut him off with a sigh, "I'm just one person on the team, one person in this whole city out of hundreds that are actively looking for these children. My presence is not going to make or break this case," she took a breath, "and honestly, I think these children are already dead. Beyond that though," her voice got husky, "and it might sound horribly callous, but there's always going to be another missing child . . . always."

Her voice started to waver.

"Honey, we can't keep living our lives for strangers . . . we have to start living them for ourselves. And, well," she sniffled as the tears came back again, "you're more important than they are. I want to be with you," her voice cracked, "I shouldn't have left you."

It wasn't until she was on the plane . . . sobbing quietly in the corner as the man next to her kept passing her napkins . . . that Emily started to really think about her decision.

How stupid it was.

She should have just refused to leave him. She should have called Dave back and said that Hotch might have to remove his mom's life support the next afternoon . . . she was QUITE sure that Hotch hadn't mentioned that point to him when they spoke . . . and she wasn't going to leave him alone. And Dave would have understood completely, and he would have told her to stay with him, that they'd get by.

They always did.

And then if things had actually gone well with the surgery, if his mom had been moved to a regular room, THEN Emily could have caught the flight to Dayton to join the team and find the children.

But she made a different choice . . . and she'd hated herself for it.

How in God's name did they ever expect to build a real, genuinely loving and supportive relationship if one of them couldn't put aside this God forsaken job for a measly TWENTY-FOUR hours? That's all it would have taken.

A twenty-four hour delay.

Hell, a TWELVE hour delay would have told them his mother's prognosis! But Emily was so wrapped up in the routine of duty and responsibility that she didn't even let herself consider that there really were other choices.

That it didn't always have to be the ringing phone that ruled their lives.

Hotch tucked his head down as he slowly scrubbed his hand across his mouth.

What Emily was saying was exactly what he'd been thinking last night. That eventually he was going to have to choose to live his life . . . not for the job . . . but for himself. That he needed to take a serious look at his priorities if he ever wanted to be happy again.

Apparently Emily had come to the same conclusion.

And as he heard her crying on the other end of the line . . . six hundred miles too far away . . . his main regret was that they hadn't had this conversation last night. Because he knew then that he had no chance of changing her mind.

She was coming back.

And though he knew as her chief that he should order her to stay . . . he just couldn't do it. He needed her too much.

"Okay sweetheart," he whispered in a husky voice, "whatever you want to do. Just tell me when to pick you up."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Hotch realized that he couldn't leave the hospital for that length of time. He'd already been gone too long.

"Actually, Ileana's going to have to pick you up," he sighed, "I can't leave for that long."

Thank God the storm had passed or it wouldn't have even been possible for Emily to come back all. Though the county roads were still covered in snow and ice, with the millions of cars and pedestrians traveling on Manhattan's streets, that snow was quickly turning to slush.

Emily sniffled," right," she pushed back her chair as she wiped her hand across her face, "okay," she took a breath, "I'm going to go talk to Dave and then I'll go to the airport and catch the next flight."

For a moment she paused, her eyes dropping down to the battered interview table.

"When I know my flight number I'll um . . . well I guess I'll call the hospital and have you paged."

Cell phones were so unreliable there that she didn't trust that he'd get a text message.

Hearing Hotch whisper back "okay sweetheart," her heart broke just a little more for him. And just before she opened the interview room door Emily stopped, her voice catching as she said softly, "I promise hon, I'll be there soon."

Feeling the tears beginning to pool once more, she quickly hung up before she started crying again.

There would be time for that on the plane. Right now she had things to do.

Hearing the line click, Hotch listened to the buzzing in his ear for a moment before he slowly exhaled.

"I love you too."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/

Emily landed back in New York ten hours and fifteen minutes after she'd left. Again she was exhausted, but again she was pushing that aside as she raced up the gangplank and ran through the terminals.

Sleep had become a luxury that other people enjoyed.

It was four ten in the afternoon when she stepped outside into the cold again. The air wasn't quite so bitter as when she left, and it only took a second for her to spot Sean and Ileana's Range Rover at the head of the arrivals line.

Knowing that every minute of delay now was an additional minute away from Hotch, Emily hurried passed the half dozen cars between her and the forest green utility vehicle. When Emily arrived she knocked once on the passenger side glass and a second later the locks clicked.

With some trepidation she opened the door and climbed inside.

At first she said nothing, and there was no greeting from the other woman. For a moment Emily stared straight ahead out of the windshield, watching the State Troopers ushering cars passed them.

After one more beat, Emily slowly shifted her gaze to look at Hotch's sister-in-law.

She was staring back . . . and as expected . . . there was judgment flickering in her eyes.

Emily knew that Ileana was wondering how she could have left Hotch at a time like this. But she didn't know the life that they led. She didn't know how monumental it was that she'd walked away from an active case and flown back to him. Ileana wouldn't understand the looks of astonishment that her action had elicited from her teammates. She'd told Rossi what was happening, but she wasn't about to out Hotch's personal situation . . . not to mention their new relationship . . . so to the others she'd simply said that she had to leave, and walked out of the station.

Emily's concerns were far beyond what the team thought of her behavior. Yes, they were her friends, but Hotch needed her and that's all that mattered. Rossi could handle the rest.

Though as she sat there now waiting for the words of condemnation from the woman next to her, Emily also braced herself for an awkward . . . possibly contentious . . . ride back to the city.

It all depended on how much Ileana hated her right now.

But instead of yelling and saying all of the awful things that Emily would be thinking in her shoes, all Ileana did was twitch her jaw once.

"He missed you."

The words came out softly . . . and then she looked away, turning to check her mirrors.

As they pulled into the airport traffic Emily slumped against the seat, her eyes burning, her ready bag clutched to her chest.

Trying to hide her tears, she turned to look out the passenger side window.

Whether or not she knew it, those three little words were probably the worst thing that Ileana could have said to her. The guilt was like a knife in chest, twisting into the hole that was already there.

Feeling a trickle start to spill over, Emily's hand came up to discreetly wipe the corner of her eye, and then she bit her lip as she clicked her seat belt into the lock.

It didn't matter what Ileana thought of her right now . . . she told herself as the airport started to roll away from them . . . all that mattered was that she was back for Hotch.

She cleared away the condensation forming on her window.

The rest of the family, well . . . she rubbed her hand across her mouth . . . that would have to be a project for another day.

/*/*/*/*/

As Emily expected, the ride into the city was silent and awkward. She could have tried to explain things to Ileana . . . how their world worked . . . but she just didn't feel like getting into any of it now. All she wanted to do was call Hotch, but she knew that he was in the ICU and there was no chance of reaching him there. Even still, halfway to the hospital she decided to send him a text that they were on their way and she'd see him soon. She signed it with an X and an O.

Though she knew that it was doubtful that he'd get it, it at least made her feel better that she tried.

Unfortunately given that it was the middle of rush hour, the traffic was slow not only over the bridge, but all the way across town. And knowing that no amount of cursing . . . or praying . . . was going to make it move any faster, Emily was trying to be patient as they stopped and started for mile after mile.

They were getting there . . . she told herself over and over . . . and as long as they kept moving it would be okay.

But then suddenly they stopped moving.

At first when the car again came to a grinding halt . . . a mere nine blocks from the hospital . . . for a few minutes Emily thought nothing of it. Horns were blaring, people were cursing.

It was a typical day in New York.

But then she saw the crowd begin to gather a few car lengths ahead of them.

Shit . . . her jaw started to clench . . . New Yorkers were far too jaded to stop and gather en mass to look at a simple fender bender.

Something worse had to have happened. Maybe a pedestrian accident.

And as she'd yet to hear any sirens, Emily realized that she might be the only authority on the scene.

Great.

Though they desperately needed to get to the hospital, Emily couldn't just ignore something going on right in front of her. It wasn't like leaving the team working in Ohio.

If she was the only person here with a badge then she needed to step up. So she did her best to push all of her personal worries to the side of her brain as she undid her seat belt and turned to unlock the door.

She was back on the clock again.

As the seat belt slipped back, clattering against the door, Ileana looked over at Emily in surprise.

"What are you doing?"

Though she was still irritated with the other woman for leaving, she knew that Aaron needed her. And it was still much too far to walk from here.

"Something's wrong," Emily said simply as she opened her door. And as she swung her feet out of the SUV, she called back over her shoulder.

"Lock this after me."

Then Ileana watched in astonishment as Emily got out, and then began hurrying down to the crowd ahead of them.

Her hand was on the butt of her gun.

For a moment Ileana sat there stunned . . . she'd never seen anyone jump out of a car and into rush hour traffic before.

What in God's name was going on?

Emily was pulling out her badge as she went past the second car, yelling out, "FBI!" to part the crowd as she approached.

As a hole was made in front of her she tucked her badge away and stepped through the opening.

"Now what . . . FUCK!"

Her eyes popped as her heart started to jackhammer.

There . . . right in front of all these people standing and doing nothing . . . a man was stabbing a woman in the street.

Emily simultaneously yanked out her weapon as she screamed at him.

"FBI! DROP YOUR WEAPON NOW!"

In the distance she could hear faint sirens . . . apparently at least a few of the onlookers had thought to call the police . . . but the man paid neither her . . . nor the approaching cruiser . . . any heed as he continued to maniacally slam his bloody arm down over and over into the already mutilated body in front of him.

Realizing he wasn't going down easy, Emily had just a split second to decide what to do next.

Though this was clearly a situation that would justify deadly force, there were too many people in close quarters. The clearance from the attack site to the onlookers was barely eight feet so it would be difficult to make a kill shot without injuring bystanders in the process.

So Emily made a blitz attack, rushing from behind to close the half naked man with the bloody knife. She put the muzzle of her pistol right against the base of his skull.

His hand froze in mid-air.

"Listen," she hissed, "I have some place I need to be so I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about blowing your fucking head off if that's the fastest way to resolve this situation. Now you can drop the knife and we can wait for the police together, or I can pull the trigger and then wait for the police alone," her teeth ground together, "your choice."

Ordinarily blowing a suspect's head off was clearly the option of last resort, but Emily's trigger finger was itching. After everything that had already happened this week she was far beyond giving a shit about this man's motivations for his crime or finding a way to a peaceful surrender.

He had just butchered a woman in cold blood, he could rot in hell for all she cared. All Emily wanted was for this standoff to be over so that she could get on with her life.

But unfortunately he was hesitating, clearly sizing up the veracity of her threat. So she helped him along with his decision making by grinding the muzzle into his flesh.

Just as she opened her mouth to give a final warning, the knife clattered to the ground.

Her foot slammed down on it as she barked, "now you're going to put your hands straight up and then I'm going to pull this gun away from your head. And then you're going to lie flat, face down on the ground. You will fold your hands behind your head. But," her voice dropped dangerously, "if you so much as twitch while I'm patting you down then you're going out of here on a gurney. Do you understand me, sir?"

That was his final warning.

"Yes," he jerked his head once as his hands slowly rose up, "understood."

"Good," her jaw clenched as she took two steps back, "now on your knees, and then on your stomach, hands locked behind your head."

Once he was prone, Emily did a quick one handed pat down before she pulled out her cuffs.

"Give me your left arm," she commanded. As his arm slowly twisted around she grabbed it and slapped on the first bracelet.

"Now the right."

He hesitated. And feeling the vibration coming off his body she placed the barrel of her gun against his spine before she whispered softly enough that only he could hear.

"You do it and I guarantee you'll spend the next thirty years rolling around Sing Sing."

The man immediately dropped his other arm down and she clicked the second cuff. Then she put on her safety before she tucked her gun in her waistband and stooped down to do a more thorough weapons search.

Still nothing.

Well . . . she stood up, her eyes falling back to the item on the ground as she thought bitterly . . . no weapons but the eight inch butcher knife.

With no small amount of disgust, Emily wiped her bloody hand off on her pant leg . . . the prisoner was covered in arterial spray . . . before slipping her gun back into its holster. Then she stepped over to check the vitals of what she already knew was the dead body on the ground.

Yes . . . her eyes shot back to the prisoner as she stood up again . . . the woman was definitely gone. But of course Emily had known that before she even got the knife out of his hand.

The pool of blood on the sidewalk by her neck was clearly from her carotid. And if there was any mercy in the world then that would have been the first cut and the poor woman would have bled out immediately.

Unfortunately Emily could see that wasn't what had happened. There were defensive wounds on her hands and wrists.

She was fighting him for awhile.

"Emily?"

Hearing Ileana's voice behind her, Emily whipped around as she stepped in front of the body.

"Go back to the car right now Ileana!" She ordered.

Christ! She could not be here, she could not see this!

"But we have to . . ."

And then Ileana caught sight of the red slush on the ground and the body next to it.

OH GOD!

Her hand came up to cover her mouth . . . what had happened here?

Emily winced as she shot another look at her prisoner before she snapped her head back to Hotch's sister-in-law.

"Ileana," she tried a different approach as she put her hand on the other woman's arm, "please go wait for me in the car."

Emily absolutely needed her GONE! Not only did Ileana not need to see this . . . nobody needed to see this . . . but she was also a distraction for Emily.

And when you're trying to secure an active crime scene . . . and cuffed prisoner . . . all by yourself, distractions were the last thing you wanted. Especially when you still have a crowd of onlookers less than ten feet away.

Some of them looked a little twitchy and Emily was just counting the seconds until backup arrived.

That's when Emily heard the sirens around the corner. Unfortunately Ileana didn't seem to register them, she was just staring down at the body on the ground.

"The police are here now," Emily continued in a gentler tone, "and they'll take care of the rest," she squeezed her arm, "please Ileana, please, you have to go now. I'll be along in a minute."

God, why did this have to happen today?

Ileana finally tore her eyes away from the puddle of blood soaked into the snow.

"This is your job?" She asked as she looked over to the other woman with a mixture of sadness and disbelief.

"Yes," Emily nodded as she gave Ileana a little push back to the car.

"Now please, go Ileana, you don't need to see this."

WHY WOULDN'T SHE LEAVE?

Hearing the pleading tone of Emily's voice, Ileana finally nodded and moved back a few feet. But she didn't make it back to the car. She'd only walked a few feet before she suddenly bent over and threw up on the sidewalk.

Watching Ileana get sick, Emily felt a stab of pain in her heart. She wanted to go help her but she was working. Then she heard the cruiser skid to a stop, doors slamming and the yells to make a hole.

Though it felt like forever, Emily knew that perhaps only two to three minutes had passed since she'd run up on the scene. The police had probably been delayed by the traffic jam.

Emily pulled out her badge again as she directed her attention to the officers hurrying through the crowd.

"FBI," she called out, "Special Agent Prentiss, your vic's dead." Then she pointed to the handcuffed suspect, "that's your perpetrator, he needs Miranda but I caught him in the act," she moved her boot off the bloody knife on the ground, "and this is your murder weapon."

She could no longer count the number of times in her career that she'd run up on a murder in progress. But of course the specialized nature of her work . . . hunting active serial killers . . . did dramatically increase those odds above even those of an average patrol officer who would generally be first on the scene of such carnage.

Yeah . . . she started pointing out bystanders that would make their best witnesses . . . she really was a lucky gal.

Ileana wiped her mouth, trying to calm her roiling stomach as she watched Aaron's girlfriend explain to the female officer what she had seen and done while the woman's partner started working the crowd.

After a few minutes of back and forth while the officer took notes, Emily pulled out her card. Then she explained that she had a family emergency and needed to go, but if the detectives had any more questions that they could find her at Beth Israel. The woman nodded as she tucked the card into her pocket, and Ileana saw that just before Emily turned away she asked the officer if she could switch out her cuffs for the other woman's. The officer readily obliged, even slipping them into an evidence bag for her until she could clean the blood off.

Ileana's eyes began to burn as she saw Emily tuck them into her pocket before she shook hands with the woman. And Ileana knew then that act was considered a professional courtesy.

Handing somebody a bag of bloody handcuffs was a professional courtesy in their world.

When Emily turned and started over to where she was standing, Ileana straightened her spine.

If she could do this kind of work every day, then the least Ileana could do was pull it together for the few minutes that she was exposed to their life.

Emily stopped in front of Hotch's sister-in-law and the two women looked at each other for a moment.

"I'm sorry that you had to see that," Emily said softly.

Ileana gave Emily a sad smile as she reached over and took her hand.

"I'm sorry that you did too."

Now she felt just terrible for all of the unkind thoughts she'd had that morning when she'd discovered that Emily had left Aaron. She'd been so angry and confused when she'd arrived at the hospital to find him there all alone. And regardless of Sean's insistence that the other couple's relationship wasn't their business, Ileana had been completely unable to understand how Emily could leave Aaron when their family was going through such a tragedy.

Especially when it was so obvious how much he needed her support.

But now that she had seen a little sliver of their world . . . how truly awful it was . . . she could see how dedicated they both must be to choose to see these terrible things. She also now understood why it was that Aaron rarely smiled.

This was a world without joy.

Feeling the tears unexpectedly flood her eyes, Emily dropped her gaze to the ground as she frantically tried to blink them away. It must be the lack of sleep.

Right . . . she took a breath . . . she was just overtired and stressed out.

That's all it was.

But regardless of reason, she did NOT cry at crime scenes, so after she had her emotions back under control again, Emily looked up and cleared her throat.

"We need to go now," she said firmly.

Careful to avoid looking directly into the other woman's eyes, Emily took Ileana's hand and began leading her back to the car.

/*/*/*/*/

Hotch paced back and forth outside the ICU waiting impatiently for Ileana to return with Emily. He'd already worn a hole in the floor and the nurses were starting to give him the evil eye.

But he couldn't help the pacing, it was the only thing keeping him from going completely nuts. Because even accounting for rush hour traffic, they should have been back nearly an hour ago.

Either Emily's flight was seriously delayed . . . though Ileana probably would have had him paged if that had happened . . . or something bad had happened.

Given the week that he was having Hotch was pretty sure that it was the latter.

"Hotch!"

Feeling relief flood his heart at hearing Emily's voice, Hotch spun around to see her hurrying towards him from the elevator bank.

"Hey," he closed the distance between them, opening his arms as Emily dropped her bag and crashed into him, "where have you been?" He squeezed her to his chest as he sighed, "I was getting worried."

"I know, I'm so sorry," Emily wrapped her arms around his neck, "but I couldn't help the delay, there was a stabbing."

Hotch's momentary relief vanished as he pulled back, asking in a near panic as he looked her over.

"What happened? Are you all right?"

He'd just known that there was something wrong!

Emily moved her hand up to cup his jaw, "shh, it's okay," she soothed, "I'm fine, I promise."

It had been her hope that she could avoid getting into any of this with him now, but that had been rather foolish thinking on her part. Clearly he wasn't going to hear the word "stabbing" and now want all the details.

So she slid her hand down to his shoulder as she sighed.

"We were like ten blocks away when traffic stopped, I got out and there it was right in the middle of the street," her jaw twitched, "I caught the guy in the act while twenty people stood around doing nothing."

Hearing the note of disgust creep into Emily's voice, Hotch bit his lip.

"And the victim?"

"Dead before I got there," Emily put her head back on his chest as she continued softly, "I gave a statement to the uniforms but I'm sure a detective will be coming by for a follow up."

God willing he or she would show up shortly so that Emily could get that taken care of before it was time to remove the life support.

Feeling Hotch's hand rub down her back, Emily shoved all thoughts of the murder in the street out of her head, refocusing solely on the purpose of her visit to New York . . . helping Hotch through his mother's death.

Her arms slipped around his waist before she tipped her head back.

"Enough about that, what's happening here?"

She didn't want to ask how he was, she knew how he was . . . terrible.

Though he'd heard Emily clearly, Hotch didn't answer right away. He just stared down at her, thinking about what she'd just told him.

About the fact that the violence really did follow them everywhere.

Then he blinked, avoiding Emily's question for a moment longer as he looked over her shoulder.

"Where's Ileana?"

Sean was down in the family room with Gabby waiting for his wife to get back. Hotch had tried to sit with them for a few minutes but he was much too antsy. He couldn't even distract himself with Gabby. She wanted him to read her a book but Hotch couldn't focus enough to even get through the Cat in the Hat. He kept losing his place. Finally Sean had taken over, quietly suggesting that he try another walk around the floor.

"Uh," Emily cleared her throat, "traffic was horrendous so she let me off three blocks away and I hoofed it, but I don't think she'll be that much longer. She was aiming for the next closest parking garage."

Though she knew that this was the time to mention that Ileana had also seen the carnage in the street, Emily just didn't want to add to his burdens right now.

She had to tell him why it took two and a half hours to get from the airport . . . but he didn't need to know the rest. The rest could wait until later.

Hotch nodded slowly, "okay," he pulled Emily back to his chest again as he slowly exhaled, "good because we're doing it tonight."

When they'd had their update at noon, the doctor had told him that if his mother's condition was going to change it would have done so by then. That essentially she was brain dead. Still Hotch wanted to wait the full twenty-four hours from the end of the surgery before he had the machines removed.

Just in case.

Emily tightened her hold on his waist as she murmured against his shirt.

"I'm so sorry Aaron."

That's what she'd told him on the phone, but there was nothing else she could think to say. But she was so grateful she'd decided to come back.

It was obvious that he was a wreck . . . obvious to her anyway . . . and it just killed her to think that she might have recognized too late that her place right now wasn't out in the field, but here with him.

Knowing that his voice wasn't steady enough to talk, Hotch just kissed the top of Emily's head before tucking her under his chin.

She had become his security blanket. And for a few minutes he just stood there in the corridor with her, smelling her hair and feeling her warm body in his arms until he felt grounded again.

As long as he had Emily with him he was fairly sure that he could get through the rest of this horrendous day without losing control. He could break down again later, in private, with her.

Once he was sure that everything was locked up tight, he patted her back. And when she looked up at him, he leaned down to give her a kiss.

When Hotch pulled away, Emily's eyes locked with his and for a second and she so badly wanted to tell him that she loved him.

But she was afraid that it was still too soon for those words.

Their relationship was so new . . . the romantic aspect of it anyway . . . that she didn't want to rush things too much. Then he might think that rather than a place of genuine emotion, that her words were being said only as an effort to comfort him in his grief. And that could hurt them later.

So instead she leaned up, putting her arms around his neck before she squeezed him close one more time. And as he clutched her to his chest like a rag doll, she pressed her lips to his ear.

"I won't leave you again. When we go home, we're leaving together."

Hotch's breath hitched for a moment before he nodded and leaned back, a sad smile ghosting over his lips.

"Thank you for disobeying me," he whispered back.

Her eyes crinkled slightly as she cupped his jaw with her hands, and after one final kiss, she stooped down to pick up her bag from where she'd dropped it by their feet.

Of course Hotch immediately murmured, "I've got it," as he reached past her and hoisted her duffel onto his shoulder instead. And then he slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her against his side.

"Come on," he sighed, "let's go find Sean."

/*/*/*/*/*/*

Epilogue

They removed his mother's life support at eight fifty-two pm on February the 26th, two thousand and nine. It was a Thursday.

When the line went flat Sean and Ileana began to sob.

Hotch didn't shed a tear.

He had never cried in public before, and that day was no different. The only two people who had ever seen his tears were his mother when he was a boy and his Emily when he was a man. And as he stood there, seeing that line go flat and feeling the grief rip through him at the loss of the first woman, the second one was wrapped around his side, her face buried in the curve of his neck.

And feeling her warm tears soaking through his shirt was what allowed him to keep his own watery eyes from spilling over.

Because he knew that on that day, Emily was crying for both of them.

Today though . . . nearly ten months later . . . as he stands over his mother's grave for the first time since the burial, he can feel the tears are beginning to pool in his eyes as they did that day in February.

He doesn't want to cry though, his grief is private and it's his alone. And though this is a place of death and remembrance, it is still much too public an arena for him to lose control.

But then again his angel arrives at his side, her hand slipping into his before she squeezes his fingers.

The weather is mild for December in New York, warm enough to go without gloves, and Hotch can feel the warmth of her skin pressed against his. Then his thumb moves up to stroke over the two bands on her finger.

A sapphire band for their engagement, a diamond one for their wedding. They've been married for twenty-two hours and thirty-six minutes.

Not that he was counting.

Their engagement was short. As he'd suspected, he'd known at six months that he wanted to put a ring on her finger and they were married less than two months after he proposed. The sapphire had been a present for her birthday.

Her second present actually.

First he handed her his letter of resignation as chief of the BAU. Then he told her that he wasn't going to make the same mistakes that he had made with Haley, that he knew now what he had done wrong the first time. And he promised Emily that this time he would get right.

And then he got down on one knee, told her that he loved her and asked her if she would be his wife. She started to cry as she said yes, that she would be absolutely thrilled to be his wife.

His eyes crinkle slightly as he thinks back . . . that was a good day.

They've had many of them since they got together, but still that one stands out in his mind. Perhaps because so much of their early time together was marred by his grief over his mother's death, but Emily's birthday was one day that was completely untainted by death.

After he slipped the platinum and sapphire band on her finger . . . sapphires were her favorite . . . he sat down next to her on the couch and pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. He handed her the list of local openings that matched his pay grade. And then he told her that if she wanted to stay in the BAU, that he would start applying to those positions.

Before she could answer he put up his finger and pulled out another list. This one he told her, was if she too decided it was time for a change.

The second list was openings in New York.

Of course he hadn't needed to explain his reasons for that choice. But he said it was just an idea and that he didn't want her to feel pressured. Whatever she wanted to do was fine with him, but that the second list had openings that matched both of their grades and would keep them out the same command structure. He told Emily that a few weeks earlier he had mentioned a theoretical move to Haley. They'd both grown up there, and with the exception of her sister, most of her family still lived there, including her elderly parents. After Hotch's mother had died, Haley had started trying to get home more often herself, and she told him that if he got transferred for work, that she would not be opposed to relocating back to Westchester County too.

So he told Emily, that no matter what they decided to do, his visitation with Jack didn't have to be part of the equation. Either way he was going to be transferring to a position that would give him more time with his son.

For a moment Emily was silent as her gaze ran first over the shiny new ring on her finger and then to the two lists that he'd placed on the coffee table. And then finally she looked to the pile of case files sitting on the floor.

Just a short stack of the nightmares that were wearing at her soul.

She looked back at the lists, leaned over and tore up the sheet of local jobs.

"I want our children to grow up with their cousins," she'd said before she kissed him and climbed into his lap.

That was October twelfth. The next day he told Haley that the theoretical had become actual, and she said that she had been expecting that it would. She'd already set up two interviews with interior design firms in New York. That had been her major in college and she'd just started working again after taking a few years off to raise Jack. But she said she was worried about her parents and was happy for the change. Their custody agreement prohibited either of them moving more than fifty miles without the permission of the other so it wouldn't have been possible for her to move unless Hotch was on board with it. Which in this instance, worked out for all them.

So Haley and Jack moved on November 15th. She has found some part time work, and they're staying with her parents until she finds a house in her price range.

He and Emily had begun their own house hunting right after her birthday. Ileana and Emily had become close, talking regularly on the phone and sharing pictures on Facebook of their personal Hotchners . . . Sean and Gabby and Jack and Hotch respectively. So Ileana would go and take pictures for them and once Emily and Hotch had narrowed down their choices to three, they flew up and did a walk through themselves.

They closed on a four bedroom in Rye on November 3rd and left the BAU on November 27th. That was the day after Thanksgiving.

Rossi was again left in charge of finding the monsters under the bed.

And as the two men had shared a final glass of scotch in his . . . their . . . office, Hotch had asked him again if he was sure that he wanted it. That maybe it wasn't time for him to think about writing another book, or maybe finding another wife.

Perhaps it was time for him to try to be happy too.

Rossi had taken another sip before he said quietly that happiness was beyond him right now.

That he still had penance to do.

Hotch had stared at him for a moment before he nodded and told him that he understood.

And he did understand.

Their work was a zero sum game. You gave it all or you gave it nothing. And when it was time to walk away, you had to leave it completely.

So if Rossi still had more dues to pay, then it wasn't yet time for him to go.

Hotch on the other hand, his accounts were now even. On December 1st he had started running a narcotics unit in Manhattan. Mostly it was an eight to six job, but he knew that every few months there would be a raid thrown into the mix so he'd still get to have a little action. The best part though was that there was little OT and no travel outside of the five boroughs.

And that was just fine with him. He had a fiancé . . . he squeezed Emily's hand . . . wife . . . now to go home to.

Not that Emily was sitting at home baking cookies. She was a floor down from him running her own unit. Hotch told her to apply for the promotion, that she had in the years and as long as they were making a big change anyway, she might as well go for the brass ring.

So she got a grade increase, a new title, and her own team.

Counterterrorism.

Her people were linguists though, analysts that assisted with threat assessment. So barring another major attack, for the most part her overtime was also limited, and the only travel would be the occasional trip down to headquarters in DC.

So they were able to commute together, they had lunch together, and overall they both had a perfect schedules for starting a new family. That was the plan for next year.

A baby.

Today though . . . he leaned down to put the bouquet of red roses on the grave . . . today they were on their way to the airport. They were taking a one week honeymoon in Italy before they came back to their new jobs again. They could have gone for longer . . . both of them had months of annual leave saved up . . . but they wanted to make sure that they were home well before Christmas so they wouldn't be in a rush.

They had Jack for Christmas Eve and plans with Sean and Ileana for Christmas day.

Hotch already knew that was going to be another good day.

But Emily had thought it would be a nice if they stopped into the cemetery before they left for the airport. She knew that he'd been avoiding it. And she was right, he had been.

He felt guilty.

Guilty that his move back to New York had been too little too late. That he hadn't been there for his mother when she needed him, that wherever she was, that she was disappointed in him.

She'd never woken up after her accident so he hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye.

That apprehension had been clawing at him when they were driving over and he wanted to tell Emily that they could do it when they got back. But that would have been cowardly, so he shoved his anxiety down and made small talk about the mild weather.

And as he stood there now he was glad that she had suggested they come today. Though he felt grief and loss . . . the guilt . . . he took a breath . . . it wasn't the crushing weight that he'd expected it would be.

Because as he thought about his mother and the last time they spoke, he remembered something.

She had been proud of him. She liked to tell her friends what he did for a living.

That he caught bad people and made the world a safer place.

And that was true, for all of the heartache that had come with the BAU, for all that it had taken from him, when he walked out of those glass doors for the last time, he knew that the world was a safer place for the work that he had done there.

That was something to be proud of.

Though . . . he felt a small stab of guilt dig into him . . . he still should have found more time to visit his mother before it was too late. But . . . he took a breath . . . that was now neither here nor there.

And her death had taught him a lesson that he might not have otherwise learned.

That life was more than just your work, that eventually your penance would be paid, and when it had been . . . he ran his thumb over Emily's hand . . . then it was time to walk away.

He turned to look at his new wife.

"Are you ready to go Agent Hotchner?" He asked softly.

He'd been so pleased that she'd taken his name. Though having two unit chiefs with the same surname was a bit confusing for their new colleagues, he knew that they'd figure it out eventually.

Emily leaned down to place her own red rose on the grave. Then she looked back at Hotch.

"Affirmative," she said with a little smile as she slipped her arm around his waist.

His eyes crinkled slightly and he kissed her temple before turning back to the gravestone. He stared down at that slab of grey slate for almost a minute.

He was telling his mother that he was sorry that she hadn't known his Emily. That she made him so happy, and that she would have loved her as much as he did. Then he told his mother that he loved her and that he would be back to visit her again. When he was done, he blinked the tears out of his eyes and whispered aloud.

"Bye mom."

And then he turned away, pulling Emily to his side as they crossed the yellowing grass of the cemetery lawn. He looked up to see that the sky was a crisp, clear blue.

Not a cloud to be seen anywhere.

A faint smile touched his lips as he leaned down to press a kiss to Emily's cheek.

Today was a good day too.


A/N 2: I thought it would be different to have an 'enough is enough' world where they finally decide that the BAU really does take more than its pound of flesh and there's a point where priorities have to be made between what you owe the world and what you owe yourself. And this was a world that I felt it was just time to walk away. Plus I liked Sean and Ileana (and Gabby) and I'd kind of like to come visit with them again so we can see them with Hotch and Emily and Jack. You know having a "normal" family situation like most people have with relatives that are seen more frequently than just on national holidays. Plus, giving Jack a cousin of the same age to grow up with seems like fun. That said, I have no plans for another multi-chapter fic in this world, but perhaps an occasional one shot just to check in and see how things are going. So if anybody has an idea for another story here, feel free to plant the seed in my brain. Maybe I'll do one where somebody from the team comes to visit.

And I felt Emily's ass kicking in the street qualified her for an entry in the Girl Power bonus. Also, her having a Facebook account is canon, it was in 52 Pickup. The idea of her sharing family photos with her new sister-in-law was such a nice normal thing that I had to put it in there.

So by Baobei's list of stories she had requested updates on :) I just have Fracture left to attend to. Not this week though, holiday festivities did cut into my writing time more than I expected (the family actually expected me to be social and participate in all the reindeer games), but hopefully sometime next week. And I have a few other stories with chapters closer to fruition anyway so there will be something (or perhaps a couple somethings) before that goes up.

Hopefully you liked the end. When I started this story I had NO idea this was where it was going to but I liked this world. I love the Girl'verse but this world had some layers to it that I enjoyed writing.