Author's Note: I'm always shocked to see how long it's been since I've been here. Christmas! Unbelievable. Though I can't help how the weeks do seem to just slip away, I promise that I will make a concerted effort to avoid hitting that lengthy a posting gap again.

I don't know if it's ever been established what Garcia's religion is (if she has one she practices) but I've decided that in this world (as in Girl) that she's either Catholic, or was at least exposed to Church tenets at some point in her formative years. Not sure why that's how I see her, but it is. And if that is because she once flat out said "Hey guys, I'm Catholic!" then please do feel free to point that out to me so I can know I'm an idiot :)

Twitter Account: ffsienna27 – For story announcements, etc. If the alerts . . . or the site . . . are down, this is a backup to find out what's going on for postings.

So, guessing you go catch up from the last chapter, this picks up later in the night. Or very early the next morning really. Opening w/Emily.


TV Prompt Set #22 (September 2010)

Show: Chicago Hope

Title Challenge: Faith, Hope & Surgery


The Dead of Night

Emily's gritty eyes dropped down to her feet to see Daisy sleeping in her little canvas bag, half tucked under the visitor's chair that Emily was sitting in. Somewhat envious of the apparently peaceful slumber of her little feline, Emily bit her lip as she sat back in the chair.

There would be no peaceful slumber for her for quite some time.

With a sigh, she looked over to see Spencer and Kevin slouched in the seats across from her. It was clear that they were both half asleep . . . and it was also clear that they were both trying to pretend like they weren't.

Their eyes kept popping open as they jerked in their chairs.

And Emily knew that they were doing this because they felt if Dave and Hotch could still be going strong at four plus am . . . now that Derek's surgery was over they were off inserting themselves where they weren't wanted, into the actual investigation . . . then the younger men felt that they too should be wide awake and "doing things."

That was bullshit.

Everybody functioned through crises in their own ways. And Hotch and Dave . . . cut from very different Y chromosomes than Kevin and Spencer . . . needed to be "doing things" simply to keep their sanity intact. And Emily wanted to tell the other two that it was okay, that it wasn't a reflection on them personally or their manhood. And that they should rest now because staying awake for the whole night wasn't going to do anything for . . . or prove anything to . . . anyone else. And that in fact, it would actually be better if they were fresh to help with whatever was needed come the morning.

She wanted to say these things.

But it wasn't her place to say anything.

After everything that she'd done wrong the last few weeks, Emily had lost her right to tell anyone else how to live their life. So with a shake of her head at their stubbornness, her gaze shifted up from the boys who were trying to be men, and down to the end of the small hospital waiting area that had been set up specifically for their group. JJ was on one of the battered leather couches curled up next to her husband.

He was holding her hand . . . she was weeping against his shoulder.

It was quiet, dignified weeping, but still . . . hearing it for the last twenty minutes . . . since Hotch and Dave had left the group . . . was driving Emily mad. But she knew that she couldn't say anything to her friend. Not just on the principle of what a schmuck thing it would be to do, but also, it would be incredibly hypocritical. Emily had certainly shed more than her share of tears that night. And just because hers had been in small private intervals with Hotch, and JJ's were openly in public with Will, there was no difference in their expression of grief.

The only difference was that now it was JJ's turn.

Still though, as Emily stifled another yawn . . . she'd lost count how many at this point . . . she checked her watch and saw that it was closing in on 4:30 in the morning. And she knew then that she couldn't take any more quiet weeping from anyone.

Herself included.

"I'm going to stretch my legs," she said softly as she stood, picking up the cat carrier as she came to her feet.

"Can you please keep an eye on Daisy for me?"

The words were directed to the couple on the couch. And the question was rhetorical . . . per Hotch's orders, nobody was going anywhere. So as expected, JJ nodded as she sniffled and wiped her hand under her nose.

"Of course," she patted Will's leg, "we'll be here."

With a murmured, "thanks," Emily walked over and placed Daisy down on the floor next to Henry . . . also sound asleep in his own personal carrier . . . and turned away, scrubbing her hands down her face.

'Christ almighty, I need some air.'

Of course she couldn't go outside, so there would be no air to get. But still that was the thought in her head as she stepped out of their private alcove and out into the open hospital corridor of the Shock Trauma Center. The corridor . . . the floor . . . that had been cleared of all other patients and then swept by an FBI SWAT team before it was commandeered as a secondary command center and staging area for what was presently the biggest active manhunt in the country.

They were on full lockdown.

Nobody got in or out except necessary law enforcement . . . mostly federal, Morgan's attack on the heels of Kelly's murder had ratcheted up the FBI Director's personal interest in the case . . . and authorized medical personnel . . . mostly surgical, it had taken a small army of trauma surgeons and nurses to keep Morgan alive this long. And even those people were going through a vigorous verification of their identifies . . . cross checking their names, badges and credentials against all online photo databases . . . before they were allowed to step past the checkpoint by the elevator. Anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow at the delay was to be arrested on sight.

Hotch's orders.

Though he wasn't in charge of the murder investigation or the attack . . . still technically they were considered local matters . . . a few hours ago the Director had tasked Hotch with "official" coordination of the FBI cooperation with both the LEOs, and the U.S. Marshalls. The Marshalls having been pulled in at midnight not only as backup for the teams' . . . and their families . . . FBI security details, but also to assist with the cross jurisdictional elements of the manhunt for Lipsky.

There was a lot of ground to cover.

And as Emily paused to sneak a glance at her new (fairly significant) other, holding court with Dave and a group of Marshalls' down by the nurse's station, she could see that his jaw was clenched and his posture was rigid.

He looked about ready to strike someone.

But of course . . . a wave of sadness washed over her as she turned away . . . it had been a hellish night on top of a hellish few days. The five, white knuckle clenching hours waiting for Derek's surgery to end had been emotionally draining for everyone though.

Not to mention it was also physical exhausting as well, as it had been (yet another) night with no sleep. And she and Hotch personally were now on their third day without proper rest.

They couldn't keep up this routine much longer.

'Not that they had control over any of this shit of course,' she thought bitterly. Again, they weren't in charge of the investigation so they were stuck simply being reactive to each horrendous new curve that was thrown at them. And tonight all they'd been able to do was just sit and wait to find out if Derek was going to live or die.

It was . . . she scrubbed her hand over her mouth . . . well, horrible didn't even cover it.

Initially the hospital vigil was just Emily, Hotch and Dave. Fortunately with Dave's lead foot . . . and the flashing red light he'd jammed in the front window . . . the three of them had arrived in Baltimore only thirty minutes after Derek had been rushed into surgery.

After the first hour of pacing, enough time had passed . . . and enough roadblocks had been thrown up . . . that Hotch and Dave decided that it was safe to move the rest of the team out of their homes and up to the hospital as well.

Of course they all traveled with not only their significant others . . . hence Kevin and Will's presence . . . but also their shiny new security details. In fact the only people with a full detail that weren't at the hospital were Haley and Jack.

Though they were still considered an unlikely target, after the brazen attack at his apartment, Hotch had started to get antsy. So a few hours ago he'd called in a couple of favors and put three more agents on Haley's house. They were off duty volunteers. And that was on top of the official detail that he'd already assigned the day before.

Basically nobody was getting anywhere near Hotch's son without a rocket launcher.

And Christ knows Lipsky might actually have one! But at this point everything that could reasonably be done to keep everyone safe, had been done. And after each of the team members had been moved to the hospital . . . every one of them anxious and worried wondering what was going on with Derek . . . Hotch had pulled them aside, sat them down and explained exactly how severe Derek's injuries were and precisely how much difficulty they'd had in stabilizing him pre-flight. Basically he was preparing them for the worst.

It was not a pleasant conversation to have, or to watch. Derek was an immortal. An immortal whose heart had stopped three times that night. An immortal who had been declared "legally" dead for twenty-seven seconds during his time on the operating table.

Truly, it was a miracle that they weren't sitting around planning his funeral.

Emily nervously chewed her lip as she continued down the hall . . . not yet anyway.

But his condition was bad enough as it was. As Emily had somewhat anticipated, JJ and Reid had both taken the news badly.

A little bit of crying from one, a little bit of quiet stammering from the other.

But JJ at least had Will with her . . . and the baby of course. So that was something. But then Reid decided to focus in again on looking after Daisy.

So that was something too.

But Garcia . . . Emily felt a knot forming in her stomach again as she thought back on their hours pacing the halls . . . she was completely shell shocked. Nobody could really do anything for her. And Kevin was doing his best to be supportive, but he wasn't trained in grief counseling . . . as the rest of them all were, and they'd been completely useless . . . nor was he a field agent. His unit's day to day work wasn't anywhere near as traumatizing as theirs was.

Hell, with the exception of the Crimes Against Children Unit, nobody's day to day work was as traumatizing as theirs was! So poor Kevin was completely ill-equipped to process this level of horrific violence that had been brought so intimately into his world.

'Too bad,' Emily thought bitterly as her boots clicked along the tile floor, 'it would have made things easier for him.'

Maybe.

It's not like she was having an 'easy' time of it herself . . . Emily's steps slowed as she approached the ICU . . . there was no preparation for violence of this magnitude striking the people that she loved. It wasn't like work. There was no distance to be maintained from the blood that had been spilled.

It had splattered all over her.

At this point she was operating mostly in a bubble, no longer making any genuine effort at engagement in her surroundings. When the others tried to talk to her she drifted away. Yes, she knew that was awful, but she was just too tired. Really she didn't want to talk to anyone but Hotch because she was too afraid that if she became involved in a conversation . . . actually connected with one of the others in their own grief . . . that she was going to lose her shit again. That couldn't happen.

Hotch was the only one that was allowed to see her cry.

And given that they were only able to get a few minutes alone together each hour . . . she couldn't even hold his hand in the waiting room . . . the rest of the time she was just quiet. Just thinking.

Praying.

At some point she knew that she was going to have to try to catch a few hours of sleep. But after what had happened the last time she'd tried to go to bed, the prospect of closing her eyes for longer than a blink was not an appealing one. So she had no intention of even attempting to take a nap until she was sure that Hotch could lie down with her. And given that it was likely to raise some eyebrows if the two of them commandeered a private bed for themselves, she knew that it was unlikely that they'd be getting any rest for some hours.

So . . . knowing that it was time to suck it up . . . after another weary yawn she tried to hide with her palm, Emily nodded a hello to the agents watching the ICU door. She knew both of them well.

Hotch had picked people from the Unit for that assignment so he'd know they were above reproach.

Then she continued a little further down the hall to the observation area for the critical recovery unit. Present occupancy of the unit . . . one African American male.

After Emily had picked a spot to stand that was far enough from the two men on the door that they wouldn't try to speak to her, she leaned forward slightly to place her forehead on the glass wall of the ICU.

Through the transparency, she could see Penelope sitting in the visitor's chair that had been placed by Derek's bed. It was her shift with him. They were all planning on taking them . . . of course they'd given Garcia the first one . . . so someone would probably be along to relieve her shortly.

Emily stared intently at Morgan's motionless body, trying to maintain some emotional distance from the moment. Though that was a bit hard to do given his appearance. It was the second time that she'd seen him since he'd been wheeled out of the surgical suite at the end of the hall. And sadly he looked no better now than he had forty minutes ago. His color was terrible and he was covered in tubes and wires that were monitoring his vitals and feeding him fluids and oxygen.

Feeding him life.

Really, without that equipment hooked up to him . . . he would be dead. Full stop, end of sentence.

End of Derek.

Tears began to prick Emily's eyes as she considered that future, that empty chair across from hers . . . so much for emotional distance.

And then those tears began to pool as her gaze shifted back down to see Penelope bent over praying, working the small pink pebbles, on the set of cheap plastic rosary beads.

Dave had found them for her in the chapel.

And it pained Emily so much to see Garcia hunched over Derek's side that way. With tears running down her face. Because Emily knew that Penelope wasn't just working the beads for a simple prayer.

She was working them for a miracle.

They so desperately needed one. Derek's blood loss had been severe, and the surgery touch and go. Again, he'd actually DIED for a brief time! So obviously that was very bad to say the least. Because with no heart pumping for the fourth time that night, there had again been no blood flowing.

No oxygen flowing.

So though the surgery had carried him through the immediate crises . . . actually bleeding to death from the severed artery in his leg or the organ damage he'd suffered from the other stab wounds . . . the prognosis was still little better than grim.

The doctors said that if Morgan recovered . . . that was their word, if . . . they were concerned about possible brain damage. But beyond that nightmarish scenario . . . the one where Derek Morgan was left a shadow of himself . . . there was also the situation with his leg.

Emily's stomach turned as she thought back on the surgeon's word.

Amputation.

That's what he'd said, and that's when her head . . . her world . . . had started to shift to grey. Because the fears about the brain damage, though they were real, Emily could convince herself that the doctors were just preparing them for the worst case scenario. Covering all bases.

Covering their asses.

But amputation . . . Emily's nails dug into her palm as Penelope began to rock and weep . . . that wasn't just covering their bases. That was a plan of action. A step they intended to take if things continued down the path that they were going.

And the path they were going down was pretty God damn terrible.

Oh Derek . . . one of Emily's own tears spilled over as her gaze shifted from Garcia sobbing, to their friend lying motionless in the pristine white bed. From this distance . . . if she ignored all the facts and figures and tubes and monitors . . . a person might actually convince herself that as he lay there in front of them, he was just sleeping.

That he was just resting from his surgery and ready to wake up any time.

And then everything would be okay.

That was bullshit though. Derek wasn't going to wake up any time soon. The trauma to his body had been too great. So now her friend was lying there unconscious. His spirit . . . another tear slipped down her cheek . . . everything that made Derek Morgan a great man, a great agent . . . everything that made him her friend . . . it was all locked away.

And she was terrified that there would be no key to bring him back.

Just then Garcia lifted her head, her tearful gaze shifting up from the beads in her hand, immediately locking onto Emily's similarly watery eyes. And even with the physical distance . . . even with the physical partition between them . . . Emily's skin burned. There was anger there.

Blame.

She hadn't actually come out and said the words yet . . . Garcia had nothing to her at all since her arrival, which was telling in and of itself . . . but Emily knew that the other woman thought that this was somehow her fault.

That she'd brought this fresh hell into their world.

Really though, this one wasn't her fault. At least she didn't think so. Still though, Emily chose to look away first, letting her eyes drop down to the white tile.

Penelope was hurting in a way that Emily wasn't and she saw no reason to make this harder for her. Of course Emily loved Derek too, but their relationship was different.

Her feelings for him were different.

Up until seven, eight months ago, Garcia had been fairly actively pining for Derek's affections. It wasn't until Kevin had come along . . . and made a genuine pursuit of her . . . that Penelope had finally begun to accept that things with Derek were never going to be more than they were. He loved her fiercely.

As a friend.

But all the rest of it, it was still very raw. Very much in the recent past. And really . . . Emily took a step away from the glass as she scrubbed away her tears . . . situations like this tended to dredge up a lot of things sometimes best left buried. That was the reason that Hotch was hiding some things from her that he had already disclosed to, not only the other members of the team, but also Kevin too.

And those were things about Derek.

The fact that there was evidence that . . . and this was a hard one for Emily to admit even to herself . . . on some level he might have brought this attack on himself.

At least partially.

And they knew because his laptop had been brought to the hospital and while JJ kept Garcia occupied, Hotch had Kevin pour over it. They were looking for a clue as to what Morgan been up to over the last sixteen hours. Trying to find out where he could have been when he'd been attacked. Because it was clear from the condition of his house . . . spotless . . . that it hadn't been there. The police had been all over his house and found no signs of a struggle there. And Christ knows a man like Derek Morgan wasn't going down without a vicious fight.

And also . . . as Emily had suspected when he'd left them at Hotch's apartment . . . there were no indications from his phone records that he'd had a date tonight either. So with no other leads they were left with the distasteful task of snooping through their friends' personal computer to figure out what had happened to him.

Initially what Kevin had found under recent activity seemed pretty routine. A lot of case notes from their current batch of referrals, an after action report from their trip to Little Rock the week before . . . and then he'd found something else. Something that had greatly concerned Emily when she'd seen it.

Google searches on Edward Eugene Lipsky.

And not just Google searches, it appeared that Derek had gone through every public search engine on the web, and every official database he had access to, trying to dig up information on Emily's stalker. There were notes on all of Lipsky's known addresses, all of his known contacts, and even a partial profile of his behavior to date.

Morgan had been conducting his own little investigation.

And if that was the case . . . Emily felt a little surge of her earlier anger rise up again . . . then he'd had NO business at all going after him alone! Especially after Hotch had expressly FORBIDDEN them from doing so! Hell even SHE wasn't looking for Lipsky! But that would be just like Morgan, doing his own thing . . . going off to play hero. And it would also explain why he had lied earlier about having a date.

To make sure that they didn't catch wind of his activities.

Well good job Derek . . . she thought as a sob rose up in her throat . . . real good job! Look what happened to you! You didn't get the bad man this time.

This time the bad man got you.

Tears now spilling over again as she choked down another sob, Emily's grief stricken gaze snapped back to the motionless body on the bed.

Please God . . . she prayed desperately . . . please don't let him die! Please let him live and be whole again! And then in a month when he's all better, when all that remains of this night are the physical scars . . . her jaw twitched . . . I can beat the crap of him for being so God damn STUPID!

Feeling her anger at both Derek's actions and his attack swirling together . . . and knowing that she had absolutely no appropriate outlet for those feelings, she just had to let them go . . . Emily took a ragged breath as she turned completely from the glass wall.

Enough of that.

Enough of the blame and the anger. It wasn't helping anything. In fact it was clouding her judgment. Making her think ill of one of her best friends. Yes, Derek did have a hero complex, and yes, he had a habit of not listening to Hotch . . . or anyone else . . . when he got a bug in his ear to do something. But that wasn't the only reason that he would have gone off on his own . . . she sniffled . . . mostly he would have done it because he loved her, and because he was worried. And because he wanted her to be safe.

And because he wanted to make it better.

And those were all fine, wonderful . . . laudable . . . reasons to risk your life for another person. But . . . she took another breath as she shook her head . . . he was still a big, stupid, pain in the butt, dummy. And when he got all better . . . she started looking to the future . . . she was definitely going to give him a solid kick in the ass for doing what he had done. For scaring the shit out of everyone and nearly getting himself killed in the process. And as she thought to that future, she realized that it felt good to make plans for later.

Plans for when he was better.

But in the meantime she still had to deal with the reality of the now. And the reality of the now was that they had a very long . . . very dark . . . path to follow, before they could ever hope to reach that future. Because it was a future uncertain. One with too many variables to count.

Too many things that could go very, very wrong.

Emily stepped back, wiping her face with the back of one hand as the other hand fell to her gun. Once she was sure that the tears were cleaned up, Emily lifted her head, her gaze shifting past the two FBI agents trying not to look like they were taking note of her mini-breakdown, and then down the length of the corridor in front of her. She was looking for her new security blanket

She was looking for Hotch.

But as her teeth sunk into her lip, she could see that he and Dave were still conferring with the detectives and agents working Morgan's assault and the deputies' suspected murders. And though he was not running the show, Hotch was clearly doing most of the talking . . . he tended to be the center of attention anywhere they went . . . but still she could see that he kept shooting glances back over his shoulder.

Glances back to her.

Oh . . . she felt a little pang of need in her chest. Then she began to wonder if he'd been doing that the whole time. Or if he'd just noticed her wiping her face. And then she wondered if anybody else had noticed his attention to her.

And then she decided that she didn't care.

If at the end of this, their new relationship was outed to the others on the team . . . or even to the Bureau at large . . . well . . . Emily's expression softened as she curled her fingers slightly in a little wave . . . they'd deal with it. It would be bad . . . their eyes caught for a moment before he turned back to the group . . . but it certainly wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to her this month. She pictured Derek bleeding out on the hallway floor.

It wouldn't even rank in the top ten.

Feeling another wave of physical and emotional exhaustion wash over her, Emily turned away completely from the two men who were tugging her heart in different directions.

One breaking it, one filling it.

Then she walked a little further down the hall and over to one of the outer windows of the floor. Her hand came up to rub across her forehead as the stared out at the city skyline.

Baltimore.

She hadn't been up here since last summer. It was a trip to the Inner Harbor. A trip with Kelly actually. It had been her birthday the week before and because Emily had been away for the actual day . . . child abduction case in Ohio . . . they'd decided to make a whole weekend of it. They packed a couple bags, booked a hotel and then spent Saturday and Sunday just hanging out and acting like did when they were in their twenties. Back when they were young and life was good.

Back when Emily thought she could still make a difference in the world.

Those days were long past . . . the years at the BAU had killed what was left of the idealism of her youth . . . but still, that weekend had been a good one. They watched a concert at Harbor Place, saw the Orioles lose to the Angels, and ate way too many crab cakes. And then . . . Emily's lip quirked up as her memories overwhelmed her . . . they spent the rest of the night flirting and drinking with a table full of fresh faced Marines. They'd all been much, much too young for them. Really, it was a ridiculously . . . embarrassingly . . . cougar'ish display. One that ordinarily Supervisory Special Agent Emily Prentiss of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, wouldn't have been caught dead engaging in. But for just that day . . . she didn't care.

She just wanted to have fun.

Her breath caught . . . God, would she have another day like that again? One where she was happy for no reason and did goofy things just for fun? Or was this nightmare she was living now going to be the event . . . the catalyst . . . for her transformation into someone new? Someone darker.

Someone more like Hotch.

Emily immediately felt a stab of guilt at the thought . . . like it was a betrayal. It wasn't that she didn't adore him as he was . . . because he was indeed a wonderful man. Kind and compassionate, sensitive and strong. And these past few days had proven how very sweet and loving he could be as well.

But he was other things too.

He was angry a lot. And he was sad and somber . . . always so somber. And he hardly ever smiled. And even when he did, it was never a big smile.

Never one that demonstrated an open happiness and joy with his life.

And she wondered if he ever did feel like smiling that way. If he ever was that happy. Or had the world around him truly become so dark and twisted, that whatever joy he felt now could only come in small doses?

God . . . Emily's eyes burned . . . how sad that would be if it were true. And someday . . . maybe someday soon . . . they would be close enough that she could ask him that question. But in the meantime, all she could think about was how she herself was being altered by her exposure to the evils of the world. Wondering if some day she too would discover that she could no longer smile.

And how terrifying that life would be.

"Em, uh, do you want some, um coffee or something?"

Though Spencer's words came soft and hesitantly, Emily still jumped slightly at his sudden appearance by her side. She'd been too lost in her own thoughts.

And she was still too lost to want to come back from them even then.

She didn't want to talk to him. She just wanted to go back and think about her life before. That happy day with Kelly. But it was hard to simply ignore a person who had asked you a direction question. And this was the fourth or fifth time since Reid's detail had brought him to the hospital that he'd come up to her alone, trying to initiate a conversation of some kind. And as with those other times, now he was nervously fumbling his words.

It was obvious that he didn't know what to say.

Of course she didn't either.

Still though, as she turned her head slightly to look at the man/boy beside her, Emily knew that she'd take Reid's nervous fumblings over Garcia's out and out hostility any day. But of course . . . Emily stared deep into Spencer's eyes . . . there was no guarantee that before this was over that they wouldn't both hate her just the same.

It would all depend on what happened to Derek.

"Coffee, Emily?" Reid repeated hesitantly as he shoved his hands into his pockets, "do you want one? Kevin and I are going down to the uh, nurses' break room. I could get you a snack or something."

Why was she staring at him like that?

"No," Emily's voice was soft as her head turned, her gaze drifting back to the glass, "no, thank you Spencer. I'm fine."

Yes, she knew that she should say something more to him, say something comforting. Ask how he was holding up, or if there was anything that he needed . . . it wasn't all about her.

But she didn't.

She knew that after her little cry fest of a few moments ago, that if she tried to play 'big sister' for Reid, to pat his back and lie comfortingly as she told him that everything was going to be okay, and that Derek would be just fine, then she was going to lose it completely.

Again.

And even though she knew that she was being a selfish bitch, on this small point . . . trying to keep control of her own sanity until the sun came up . . . she felt that she was justified in being a selfish bitch. It's not like it was her default position. It was just today.

Just, now.

Still though, she could see him out of the corner of her eye, standing there. Waiting. Wanting her to say something else to him.

To say something kind to him.

Because . . . she flashed back on all of their months together, all of their bad days together . . . that was what she did. It's what she always did. So it was what he expected from her. More. He wanted more.

And she had no more to give.

Emily's eyes started to burn.

"Hon," her voice was husky as she put her hands up to shoo him away, "please, you're killing me right now. Just, go back and sit with the others for a bit longer okay? I'll be back over in a little while."

In front of her, Reid's reflection was clear in the glass . . . as was the flash of pain twisting his sweet face . . . and Emily knew that she'd hurt him with her words. With her dismissal. And for that she was sorry, but still, she didn't take it back. Because she was entitled to be a little bit selfish.

So he needed to go away.

And finally he seemed to understand that. And though it was her choice for him to go, still her heart cracked as she heard the murmur.

"I'm sorry for bothering you."

Then his reflection turned, and it started back towards the visitors' area. And in that moment Emily hated herself for making him go, but she hated herself more for the relief that she felt at his departure.

God damn it.

The curse passed her lips as a fresh tear spilled over and ran down her cheek.

As she was angrily wiping it away, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in her heart, a warm hand pressed lightly against her back.

"Let's take a break."

Hotch.

For a moment she just stood there, thanking whatever god had just sent him over to her. Then she turned slightly, and the hand fell away . . . as did the warmth.

Her eyes fell shut.

"I really need some fresh air," she whispered to the body she could feel just inches from hers.

Of course she knew that this was not a request that Hotch could grant for her. It would probably be some days before she'd be allowed out in the world long enough to get more than a breath of oxygen.

"I know," Hotch said softly, "I'm sorry but you know that we can't." Then he tipped his head towards the end of the corridor away from the team. "Come on, let's just take five. I already told Dave we'd be in 406."

Though all of the patient rooms were empty, that was the room Hotch had picked as his own personal meeting space. There was nothing particularly special about it other than he had liked the distance. Just far enough from the group that he felt like he had complete privacy . . . that's where they'd pulled apart Derek's computer . . . but also equidistant from the guards posted on either end of that wing of the corridor.

Basically secure but private.

And that's what he needed for his time with Emily. That's where he'd been bringing her for five minute breaks every hour. And he could he could see that at the moment, she was on the verge of losing it again.

Emily slowly lifted her head, nodding slightly in concession as their eyes caught.

"Right . . . 406."

That room had been her safe haven since they'd arrived at the hospital. Just a few stolen minutes each hour that they had waited for Derek's surgery to finish. Hotch would take her down there and he would lock the door and pull her into his arms. And for just those few minutes . . . no more than five so they'd be right there when the surgeons' came out . . . Emily would attempt to ground herself again. It had been working.

It had been the only thing keeping her head on straight.

But there was no doubt . . . they began walking slowly down the hall . . . that if she didn't get some sleep soon that she was going to be back on the verge of becoming a regular basket case again. Never mind the emotional trauma of the night, and her fears and worries for Derek's short . . . and long term . . . recovery, just the simple physical stress from her exhaustion was breaking down her control again.

She tried to distract herself.

"Did his mother land yet?"

The jet had gone to pick her up a few hours ago. Ordinarily Hotch would have just stuck with a phone call, or just waited until they'd had better news to share before he'd even reached out. But Derek's condition was so bad that it would have been irresponsible to not have contacted his mother immediately.

If these were Derek's last hours on earth, Mrs. Morgan deserved the right to say goodbye to her son.

"Yes," Hotch responded softly as he curled his fingers into a fist, "not long ago. They're driving her in now."

He was not looking forward to that conversation. Just thinking about it made him feel slightly ill. And he could tell from the flash of discomfort on Emily's face, that she wasn't looking forward to seeing Derek's mother either.

Explanations would need to be given. The chain of events that had resulted in Derek's catastrophic injuries would need to be explained. And it was not implausible that Mrs. Morgan . . . as Penelope before her . . . might possibly feel that Emily held some culpability for that chain of events.

It was bullshit but . . . Hotch bit his lip . . . you did not argue with a grieving mother. And definitely not one that had already lost her husband in the line of duty.

As Emily suddenly swayed slightly into his space . . . her physical and emotional exhaustion pouring off of her . . . Hotch kept his hands curled at his sides. And as she straightened up and they continued walking down the hall, he moved another inch away from her. He was trying so hard to be good.

To be professional.

But still he wanted to reach out and touch her. To pull her to his side and tuck her under his arm. Then he'd press his lips to her temple and he'd tell her that he was right there with her . . . and that he wasn't going anywhere.

All of those things he wanted to do . . . he did none of them.

And he did none of them because as he shot a look back over his shoulder, he could see Rossi's eyes on him.

Boring a hole into him.

And for a moment Hotch stared back, feeling his stomach churning. Aaron Hotchner was not afraid of many things, but still he feared that judgment that he thought was coming soon. He feared that Dave . . . a man who had clearly sized up their new relationship with a lingering glance at Hotch's t-shirt on Emily's body . . . would say the words that Hotch felt were on the tip of his tongue. That he was making a fool of himself. Or worse . . . that he was taking advantage of his authority, and Emily's vulnerability.

He was afraid that Dave would tell him that what he was doing with her was wrong.

So Hotch was being careful . . . being very careful to watch all of his physical interactions with her in front of the others. Not that the others didn't know that they were taking time alone together. But he'd been checking on all of them individually. That was his job. And obviously Emily . . . being the focus of this psychopath and all of the horrors he'd committed thus far . . . had been under more stress than the others. Had suffered more trauma than the others.

It was only right that he show her a little more focused attention.

But still, he waited until he and Emily had stepped through the door and into 406 before he felt free to let his guard down. When she stopped a few feet inside the room, just short of the stripped hospital bed, he paused as he had already a half dozen times that night, turning back to lock them inside.

Then he followed Emily over to the bed, tentatively reaching out to run his hand down her arm.

"I saw you talking to Reid," he said softly, as his fingers curled around her wrist. "Are you all right?"

"No," Emily whispered back as she stared at the closed blinds across the small room, "no, I'm not. But there's nothing to be done about that." Her voice started to thicken, "I was unkind and selfish. I hurt him, and I was glad when he walked away."

For a moment there was silence, the only sound Emily's ragged breath, the only touch Hotch's loose grip on her soft skin. But then he took another step towards her and reached out to slip his other arm around her body, sliding it past her holster to rest his hand on her stomach.

His other hand then moved from her wrist to lock his arms at her waist. Then he pulled her back against his chest.

"What do you need me to do?" He murmured softly against her neck.

"I need you to fix everything. Make Derek okay," her voice cracked. "And make Garcia not hate me, make JJ stop crying, and make Spencer not sad."

The words were broken, the tears evident as her hands closed over his.

Hotch winced at her requests, squeezing her tightly as he pressed a kiss to her skin . . . she was breaking his heart. And he wanted to tell her that he would fix it all for her if he could. That he would do it not just for Derek and the team, but because he would do anything for her personally.

Anything to make her smile again.

That was something that he could no longer do freely. But she still could . . . and it brightened his dark soul to see it . . . so it would kill him if that ability was taken from her as it had been taken from him so many years ago.

But those were foolish promises. Declarations for things beyond his control.

So instead of saying empty words, Hotch said nothing. He just kissed her again. And as he felt her body shaking with grief and guilt and tears that she'd decided . . . for reasons that he didn't understand . . . just couldn't be shed, he simply kept his body wrapped around hers. She was clutched back against his chest, his chin resting on her shoulder and their hands bonded at her waist.

Their fingers were wound together so tightly that the pressure hurt.

But after a few minutes of her quaking, the silent grief began to pass. Her grip on his fingers loosened slightly, and then a minute after that she took his right hand off of hers, lifted it up . . . and pressed it to her lips.

"Thank you," she whispered against his palm.

And before he could say anything in response . . . to tell her that thank yous weren't necessary, that he did it because she needed him to and that was the end of that . . . she had turned around in his arms. His heart ached as he saw her eyes were bright and shining with the still unshed tears.

One hand slipped off her waist to rise up and cup her cheek.

Still though, he said nothing. He just waited to see what she needed him to do. And when she leaned up slightly, he leaned down . . . meeting her for the kiss. Her lips were slightly chapped and she tasted of the Tic Tacs he'd given her a few hours ago. And like all of their stolen kisses that night, this went on for too long . . . and yet not nearly long enough.

When she pulled away her breath was short and those slightly chapped lips were swollen and those tears that had been shining . . . they started to slip down her face. And all those words that he couldn't say . . . in that moment he would have promised her the world if only she would stop crying.

Fortunately he was prevented from making a colossally foolish declaration, by a knock on the door.

"Hotch? Em? Are you guys in there?"

JJ.

"Yes, JJ," he called back, keeping his voice even as the pads of his thumbs wiped the tears from Emily's skin.

"Uh," there was a pause, "they just radioed. Derek's mother's here. She's on her way up."

Feeling that pit in his stomach come back . . . and then freeze over, Hotch flinched. And then his eyes fell shut as he tried to again imagine what in God's name he was going to say to this woman, how he was going to explain that he had allowed this to happen.

And there was no mistake here when it came to fault.

His team . . . and their safety . . . they were his responsibility. He'd sensed that Derek was lying to them earlier and he should have called him on it. But he didn't. He'd allowed himself to be distracted by his concerns for Emily. Her physical security and how she was dealing emotionally with her friend's death. And this is where they ended up because of that distraction . . . in the fifth circle.

Next stop brain damaged amputee.

As Hotch took a slow breath, trying to get those terrible thoughts and images back under lock and key, he felt Emily tug him down to her chest. And as her arms tightly encircled his neck, and his her waist, she did what he couldn't.

Acknowledged the moment.

"We'll be right out Jayje," she called through the door, her voice as clear and steady as his had been a moment ago. His grip on her tightened. Then she rubbed his back comfortingly as she added. "I just need a minute."

And for that . . . for pretending to be weak so he could appear strong . . . Hotch felt a wave of possessiveness and need wash over him.

In moments like these he knew . . . this is the woman that he wanted with him always.

So as they heard JJ murmur "okay," and move away from the door, Hotch buried his face in Emily's neck. Then he kissed her throat.

"Thank you for that," he whispered.

"No thanks necessary," she murmured back with a sniffle, "you needed a minute . . ." she rubbed his back again, "so I took one for you."

As Hotch heard his own thoughts and feelings suddenly reflected back from this remarkable woman, this remarkable woman who was slowly stealing the best parts of him, he felt a renewal of his strength.

A renewal of his courage.

And he was reminded then, of what it meant to be in love. The things that were traded off . . . the things that you got in return.

He leaned back, lifting Emily from the cold tile as he clutched her tightly to his chest.

"Nobody else is going to get hurt," he whispered fiercely, "we'll keep them all together here at the hospital, and then under escort back to the Academy. And no matter what happens with Derek," Hotch took a breath to again clear the terrible images from his mind, "no matter what they have to do, we're going to take care of him. He'll have the best medical treatment, the best doctors, the best rehab," he paused as he thought back to the possible amputation, "the best prosthetics if it comes down to down to it. Somehow, I'll make this right again Emily," he rubbed his hand down her back as he breathed those two magical words into her ear.

"I promise."

Yes, those were all the promises that he it was foolish to be making . . . and yet he had made them anyway.

Because she took the minute for him.

A sad smile twisted Emily's lips as she nodded slowly against Hotch's shoulder.

"I believe you will," She whispered back.

And she did. She did because she knew from the strength of his voice, the urgency of his tone . . . he'd meant every word he'd said. And that belief . . . his belief . . . was something to hold onto.

It was a way forward down the dark path.

"Okay then," he slowly lowered her to the floor, still holding her by the waist as he leaned back slightly to catch her eyes, "I need to go talk to Morgan's mother. Why don't you go wait with . . .?"

"I can come with you," she cut in somewhat anxiously as she wiped the remaining moisture from the corner of one eye, "you know, maybe I can help."

She just felt so guilty about everything that had happened. And she hated the idea of Hotch having to explain all of this alone. But then she felt him squeeze her hip.

"That's sweet of you to offer Emily, but," Hotch shook his head slowly, "I need to do this part alone."

Though the support would be nice in principle, in reality these conversations required complete privacy. If Derek's mother wanted to curse him for allowing this to happen then it would be nice . . . for all parties. . . to not have an audience for that moment.

Emily looked at Hotch for a moment. Then she reached up to cup her hands along on his jaw before she kissed him again.

"If you're sure," she murmured as she pulled away. And seeing him nod once more as he rubbed her hip, she sighed as her hands fell to his chest.

"Then I guess I'll go find Dave."

Or maybe she should talk to Spencer. This little bit of recuperative time with Hotch had made her feel better. Not all better . . . she let him pull her into a hug . . . but enough that she could probably limp through the social niceties with Reid that she hadn't been able to earlier. He was hurting too.

And she owed him that much.

That was the thought still rolling around in her head as she and Hotch stepped out into the corridor a second later. Then she gave his fingers a quick . . . subtle squeeze, it was behind his back . . . before she let him walk away.

She waited for a moment longer, watching as he continued quickly down the hall to the small crowd stopped by the elevator. They were finishing up the security check in.

As Hotch stepped up to the group, from the distance Emily could see him move in next to JJ, waiting for Mrs. Morgan to finish clipping on the visitor's badge. There was a doctor . . . perhaps a nurse, it was a person in blue scrubs that Emily hadn't had any contact with yet . . . standing by her side, saying something in her ear.

Perhaps it was an update, perhaps she was explaining the doctor would be out in a minute. Either way Mrs. Morgan nodded slowly right before she lifted her head. Hotch was in front of her, putting his arm up, saying something . . . most likely asking her to come with him for a moment . . . but she was just looking at him. And then Emily saw the next part in slow motion, her eyes widening as she saw Mrs. Morgan's arm come up . . . and before anybody could do anything to stop her.

She'd slapped Hotch across the face.


A/N 2: You ever crawl to a finish line? That was me finishing this chapter. This was supposed to go up by Monday, but then I went to the dentist (an appointment I'd forgotten when I said Monday) and he drilled into my face. And then I had migraines for the next 2-3 days. Then I started trying to proof again, but I was so damn tired from the headaches I could only do like 4 pages a night (usually I bang through a final proof in one LONG sitting) so I had to keep stopping. It was SOOOO frustrating! The good thing though with the epically long final proof, was that I ended up adding like another 3000 words! So yes, there was an unexpected delay, but you got almost twice as much to read than you would have otherwise. So go migraine delays! Maybe :)

It wasn't intentional that in essence most of the chapter just alternated straight Emily POV, and then straight Hotch POV. It just really kind of worked for the flow so that's how I decided to keep it.

And now you know how Derek ended up a target. He was nosing around where he wasn't supposed to be. And really, who thinks Morgan would have just minded his own damn business in a situation like this?

I've never written Mrs. Morgan before, and I have only the vaguest of memories of her onscreen. But I figure, there's going to be some anger there, and Hotch is going to be the likely target for it. It doesn't matter how old your child is, he's still your child. And this was the man that was supposed to be watching out for her boy. And then Garcia, again, with her attachment to Derek, I think her anger over what happened, that he could die, would need an outlet. And Emily is a logical one given that it all started with her. I'm sure they'll work it out though :)

And see, I'm making an effort to pull in the whole team! Not sure how long I can keep that up, but at least one more chapter.

The next scene is clear in my head and I don't want to lose the thread (there's a certain rhythm to this story that's hard to get back into when I let myself get out of it) so I'm going to try and bang that out in the short term. This won't be the next post though, there are many other things people are asking me about :) but I'll try and get it up this month.

Next posting will be somewhere in the Girl'verse. And after I go make something to eat, I'm going to blow the dust off all the chapters nearly ready to post and see if I can get any of them up this weekend.

As always, thanks for any and all reviews and feedback you might have dropped on my stories. I try to get to everybody but you know emails slide down the page so quickly that it doesn't always happen and then I feel badly when I find them later. So if you ever hear back from me 3 months after you dropped a note, please know I wasn't just being a schmuck. Simply trying to juggle all aspects of my life :)

Prompts Announcement – Assistance Requested:

Last thing, Kavi and I got an idea to try something different in the TV forum. We've found some good "picture/photograph" prompts, so we'd like to meld them with an actual PHOTOGRAPH challenge! We thought it was good time given that the cast members have been posting new pics pretty regularly so there are a ton out there now. We thought this would be fun. I have no idea if anybody else is doing this (we're a bit out of the loop, sorry :) ) but anyway, as we're not perhaps as plugged into all the same sites as other people might be, so we're soliciting for good photo ideas from you, kind readers/writers. So any real life pictures (and we're looking for RL ones, not show clips, we might do show clips at a later date) that you think would make fun prompts please drop one of us a note. Either a PM or you can send me a tweet.

And the pictures aren't just limited to H/P of course, really we're looking for anything unique or sweet or whatever you see that you think would give a creative boost to people's imaginations. I have a really cute TG, MGG one that I saw that I'd like to use. Really, anything that catch's your fancy. We're going to pull together maybe a dozen and then put the prompts up with them. It's just a little summer twist.

Anyway, that's all folks!