Author's Note: Giddy up kids, super long A/N!

First, the awards, thanks so, so much for the votes! If you notice my little avatar up the corner, you can see I won some very nice stuff this week! And Falling In Love With A Girl got the trifecta :) You can see the results on my profile but given that I spent like 15 months of my life posting that epically long story, I can't even tell you how much it means to me that it still means so much to so many other people as well. Truly, thank you so much. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to pull together something else of that breadth and length or if that was my big contribution to the world. I guess time will tell :) And in gratitude, I would love to give you all the postings that you're waiting on, but unfortunately I just have one tonight. So let's move to "second."

Second, this story. If you're new to my stuff you can consider this is a standalone with the only caveat being that H/P are an established couple. For fans of the Girl'verse, this is the next edition in Universe C (the Epiphanies one). Last we left Hotch and Em it was a few days before Halloween and Dave was stealing Hotch's tampons. Now we've moved ahead about a week and a half to Jack's birthday party, an event also addressed in Chapter 118 (In Laws & Out Laws) of Falling In Love With A Girl. So this is the same birthday party at Haley's house, but as this is a different world, it's the version of that day if Hotch and Emily were already coupled up. You will notice a little bit of echoing in some places to the other version, but in other areas things go very differently because the situation is very different.

I don't know if Haley's mom has a name in canon, (you know I stopped acknowledging the show existed awhile ago), but for purposes here, I've named her Helene. I probably should start writing down all my fictitious monikers because at some point my memory is going to begin to fail and I won't have a clue who I named what in which world. Actually that's already happened. Apparently I gave both Derek and Spencer the same middle name in the Girl'verse. Xavier. Somebody asked if that was intentional, no. I'm just an idiot :)

Prompt Set #16 (March)

Show: The Old Adventures Of New Christine

Title Challenge: How I Hate Your Mother

Drop a House on Her Aaron

Emily stood fuming in the middle of Haley's upstairs bathroom.

''That freaking BITCH!'

Two minutes ago Emily had been heading into the kitchen to get a drink of water when she heard Haley's mother talking to somebody in the pantry off the front hall. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop but it was kind of hard not to the way that woman's voice carried. You could probably hear her from one end of the Astrodome to the other. And at that moment in time her screeching cackle was being used to telegraph to the world that . . . among other things . . . she, Supervisory Special Agent Emily Rose Prentiss, was a "classless whore."

Classless. Whore.

It didn't matter that even at forty years old with twenty-six years of dating under her belt that she still counted her lovers in the single digits. No. Nor did it matter . . . Emily ground her teeth . . . that she'd just come off a flipping YEAR of celibacy! And the man she was sleeping with now was in all likelihood the LAST man that she'd ever sleep with again in her life! Nope, that didn't count either. All that mattered is that this, this . . . her nose wrinkled in disgust . . . woman who she met like two hours ago, had just branded her as holding the same position in society as Paris Hilton!

It went without saying that Emily wanted this woman trampled to death by circus elephants.

GRRR . . . she began pacing . . . and God knows who the hell she was talking to! It could have been the family priest or something! She'd been so angry . . . and embarrassed, it doesn't matter how untrue the statement is, it still sucked . . . that she'd just bolted to the staircase and then into the first open door she saw upstairs.

Hence her arrival in the bathroom.

And the WORST part of the whole thing was Emily couldn't even say anything back to the awful witch! Again she was technically eavesdropping when the classless whore comment was uttered (bellowed) into the hallway. But also she and Hotch were only at Haley's house because it was Jack's birthday and she and Haley weren't exactly BFFs. Not that their relationship was frosty . . . politely strained was probably the best assessment . . . so she clearly wasn't close enough with her to go and say "hey, anybody ever tell you that your mom's a snotty bitch? And anymore of the White Cheddar Cheez-Its?"

Yeah . . . she snorted to herself . . . that definitely wouldn't fly.

Nor would landing a roundhouse kick across his Helene's smug, hateful ass face. Emily was fairly sure that would cause a "scene" and the thirty seconds of joy and satisfaction she felt at rearranging her dingy yellow smoker's teeth would be negated by the ensuing forty years of guilt she'd feel for ruining Jack's special day.

Seriously though . . . Emily angrily pounded her fist into her other palm . . . she needed to hit something soon or she was going to burst. Where the hell was Morgan when she needed him? The man prided himself on the ability to take a punch to the gut. And though Emily ordinarily ridiculed him for this ridiculous macho bullshit . . . mostly because he had been known to use this technique to pick up women of low intelligence and artificially inflated cup size . . . right about now she'd happily be using his solar plexus as a speed bag just to work off some of this righteous indignation.

Though the idea was of course ridiculous on its face, Emily's brow furrowed as . . . for a brief moment . . . she actually considered calling him. Yes, she realized it was nuts, but smacking him around would indeed make her feel better. And one thing she knew for sure, if she asked Derek to meet her for emergency sparring, he would absolutely do it no questions asked.

Her nose wrinkled.

Initially anyway.

But then she reminded herself that he would definitely ask questions after he got here. Well, of course not here here as in Haley's house. Asking him here would be way more insane than just the principle of calling him at all. But she'd be asking him to the general neighborhood. And then she'd have to explain what the hell she was doing in this general neighborhood and well . . . Emily sighed as her foolish little pipe dream faded further into the distance . . . calling Derek out tonight would just be outing her relationship with Hotch to yet another member of the team. Dave was an accident.

This would be on purpose.

Besides that, she reminded herself of another fact. Dave was one thing, Derek was something else entirely. Dave probably kept as many secrets as her father did. Granted David Rossi could also be a terrible gossip, but as had been established last week, generally he just gossiped with her and Hotch. But Derek . . . Emily rolled her eyes . . . he gossiped with everyone! Before you could say "Derek shut the hell up," he would have already told Garcia and Reid. And then Garcia would tell JJ and then JJ would tell Dave and Dave would get that panicked look in his eyes as he tried unsuccessfully to play dumb and JJ would know that he already knew and then there'd be hell to pay because she'd be all hurt that she was the last to know, and hurt hormonal JJ tended to yell a lot and throw things and oh dear God . . . Emily shuddered to shake the horrible images from her brain . . . time to shut down that horrible daisy chain of repercussions.

Bottom line, Derek couldn't be trusted to keep his big yap shut.

All right . . . Emily took a breath to try and calm down . . . time to deal with this like a grown up that didn't have some major unresolved anger issues. Though that was certainly a good . . . grown up . . . thought, it was one that went straight to hell when Emily caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror.

God damn it . . . her jaw started to twitch as she stared at her reflection . . . she'd gotten herself so worked up that she now had big red spots of color on her cheeks. And working that into the rouge she'd put on that morning, she looked like Miss Piggy had done her makeup for her. A look that might be attractive if you're trying to pick up talking amphibians, but not so much when you're trying to fit in at a small child's birthday party.

Especially one where you were already the center of attention.

And she absolutely hated that her presence was garnering so much attention on what should just be Jack's day and nobody else's. But since she and Hotch got together early last month this was her first "official" family outing with him. He'd assured her that he'd cleared it with Haley ahead of time (or at least given her a heads up, Emily wasn't sure about the substance of the conversation), but regardless, Hotch said that everything would be fine and that she could just play wallflower if she wanted to but that both he and Jack really wanted her here today. And . . . Emily pouted slightly . . . she'd really wanted to be here today too. She adored Jack and would definitely have been home moping around the house if she'd skipped the party.

Though as much as she'd wanted to attend, Emily had also been very nervous about entering Haley's domain. For hours no less.

Since Hotch told Haley about their relationship, most of the women's interactions to date consisted of Emily inadvertently picking up the phone when it was meant for Hotch, or the polite 'feels like rain' type chit chat required during the Jack trade-offs.

Neither would be asking the other for a kidney anytime soon.

They weren't even really to the share a Tic Tac stage yet. So Emily had put on what she'd hoped was a conservative/appropriately festive outfit . . . black pants with a dark blue turtleneck . . . with the intention of easing into this new 'accompanying live-in boyfriend to his ex's house for a family gathering' thing.

Essentially she was going to take Hotch up on his offer to play wallflower.

But unfortunately those plans had been shot right to hell as soon as she'd walked in the front door. Jack had done a running tackle across the room screaming "Daddy! Miss Emily!" right before he plowed into them. Of course all eyes had snapped to the three of them and Emily had felt her face begin to burn as she'd kissed the top Jack's head. Then she'd heard at least a half a dozen stage whispers of "oh, that's the new girlfriend," from the adults in the room.

Not that there was technically anything wrong with that moniker, because that was indeed her new title. Hotch's girlfriend. And it was a title which she was ordinarily extremely proud and deliriously happy to wear . . . Hotch was the best invention since the grande nacho supreme platter at Tacos, Tacos, Tacos . . . but today there had been a tone that had come with the title. And it wasn't a nice one. It had instantly made her feel like an outsider.

Like she wasn't really welcome.

Hotch had of course been really sweet though. He'd pretended there was no giant pink elephant and just introduced her to the room at large with proud smile. It was the subdued Hotch version of a smile of course but the pride wasn't in question. Then he'd slipped his arm around her waist and guided her over to the small loveseat in the corner of the room. As she'd nervously tucked Jack's present down beside the cushion, Hotch had whispered in her ear that people were only staring at them because she was so beautiful.

Of course that was complete bullshit . . . they were staring at them because Haley's family had cast Emily in the role of Hester Prynne . . . but when she'd turned to tell Hotch that he'd just shot her a dimple and a wink . . . a deadly combo . . . and she'd ended up grinning at him like an idiot.

It was impossible to be annoyed when he was being adorable. And of course he knew that too. So his adorableness had immediately reset the tone of the party for her. Though she was still feeling out of place, she reminded herself that their curiosity . . . and perhaps even their resentment . . . though annoying and embarrassing, was also kind of understandable. They had known Hotch for twenty years as Haley's husband . . . and now he was here with somebody new.

That was going to be strange for everyone.

So keeping that point in mind, Emily had been able to call up her decades old diplomatic reserves, slap on a smile and crack a few bad jokes. After awhile the room . . . which initially was putting off a definite chill, and that was not at all her imagination . . . began to warm up to her. The others had included her in a few of their conversations and somebody had even asked her what she did for a living. Things had been going pretty well for the first hour and a half.

And then she'd been called a whore.

Emily felt another spike of anger . . . how the hell was she going to go back out there and face those people? What if Haley's mother had been whispering that in everyone's ear? Maybe they were only being nice to her now because they felt sorry for her.

Or maybe they were just laughing at her behind her back.

Okay . . . she closed her eyes for a second . . . she was letting her imagination run away with her. There was no reason to brand Haley's entire extended family . . . sister, cousins, whatever . . . as a bunch of two faced back stabbing hypocrites just because their matriarch wore buckle shoes and a big pointed hat.

Not to mention that Emily was totally letting Elphaba win if she allowed her to drive her into this exile for the rest of the evening. Really . . . Emily took a deep breath . . . if she didn't get her shit together soon then she was going to miss Jack cutting his cake and opening his presents. So essentially she'd be missing the whole purpose of her attendance at this party and then she'd be just as miserable for the rest of the week as she would have been if she'd stayed home.

Actually more so because she'd also have the lovely 'classless whore' memory to carry with her as well.

So in an effort to salvage a (good) memory of the day, Emily tried to move on to the next thing and shove the worst (best) of her revenge fantasies back down under lock and key. Her favorite right now was the one where Helene was peddling her bicycle and got sucked up by the twister. It was an image that made Emily happy, but not really one that was doing anything for her 'moving on to the next thing' approach, so she decided that addressing the residual pink spots on her cheeks would probably be a good diversion.

Figuring that external regulation of her body temperature would help her internal boiling, she reached down to turn on the faucet.

Then for a moment she watched the cold water trickle out and swirl down the drain. It was a soothing image. One that she focused on for a few more seconds. Then she took a breath and wet her fingers. Right as she went to sprinkle the water on her face, Emily heard a tentative knock on the door. It was immediately followed by a familiar . . . concerned . . . voice.

"Emily, are you in there?" Hotch called out softly.

All thoughts of water splashing gone, Emily ran over, whipped the door open and yanked her boyfriend inside the bathroom by his sleeve.

Thank God! Not only did Hotch always make her feel better in general, but this was another man who prided himself on his ability to take a punch. She could finally get that anger issue addressed!

But then Hotch yelled "whoa!" as he went flying across the tile floor and into the vanity. And Emily cringed as she realized that she might have yanked him just a little bit too hard.

Or maybe a lot too hard . . . his forward momentum wasn't slowing.

Fortunately she saw him catch himself just before he went tumbling into the bathtub.

"Jesus Christ Emily!" Hotch shot a scowl across the room as he rubbed his hip where it had collided with the ceramic tile, "are you trying to kill me?"

That's what he gets for being a concerned boyfriend, a bruised pelvis.

Emily winced as she realized that she had actually hurt him . . . that was going to be a nice black and blue on his hip. Her anger at Helene was immediately pushed aside as she hurried over and pressed a quick apology kiss to Hotch's lips.

"I'm so sorry Aaron," her hand gently glided over his sore spot before her fingers looped around his, "I wasn't trying to maim you. It's just that something happened and now I'm, well, I'm just," she gave him a sheepish look, "just kind of mad."

Hotch rolled his eyes, "yeah, I inferred that much from your Houdini act and now your efforts to fling me through the back wall of the house."

Though his tone was sarcastic, seeing the little pout on her lips, Hotch remembered his primary concern here was Emily's well being. Her maiming him was an accident, so he pushed aside his residual irritation at being hurled into the vanity and turned to shut off the running water. Then he looked back at her with a wrinkled brow. "So tell me what happened that got you so upset that you disappeared for ten minutes?"

For the most part they'd been having an okay time. Or at least he'd thought they'd been having an okay time. Though Emily had clearly been more than a little nervous about accompanying him to Haley's, Hotch had been insistent that she be there with him. As far as he was concerned, Emily was a permanent fixture in his life . . . a member of his family . . . and it wouldn't have been a celebration without her there.

Jack had agreed.

It had never even occurred to his son that Emily wouldn't be there. For the last two weeks he'd been chattering on about showing her his room and his toys, so when they had knocked on Haley's door ninety minutes ago . . . they'd left work two hours early with two totally different excuses . . . Jack had been over the top thrilled to see Emily standing there as he'd expected her to be.

From the slightly pinched smile Hotch knew that Haley herself was a little less thrilled to see Emily than Jack was, but Hotch also knew that his ex was trying to be gracious. This blended family situation was all very new for everyone. But he had given Haley a full week's notification of Emily's arrival so she had plenty of time to adjust to the idea of the other woman's presence.

Granted, things were still a tad bit awkward when both women were in the room . . . sometimes Emily would go to help Jack or he'd run up to show her something and Hotch would see Haley's expression tighten . . . but he was hopeful that would fade in time.

Most things did.

So all in all he'd thought things were going pretty well. Certainly better than he had expected they would be going today. Because regardless of what he'd told Emily, he had been a little concerned about the reception she'd receive. Not so much from Haley, but her family.

Haley needed to make nice because of Jack . . . the others did not.

And Hotch also knew that walking in the door Emily was feeling very self conscious about being the stranger in a strange land. But Emily being Emily she had covered that discomfort with aplomb, and as far as he was concerned tonight she had been her usual amusing, charming, personable self. That was the amusing, charming personable self that he had fallen in love with this past summer.

And that woman was a keeper.

And as he'd hoped, Haley's sister and cousins . . . after an initial sniffing out period . . . had soon begun to warm up to her. Or at least make some effort to include her in their conversation. Granted, it was a conversation about the next season of American Idol . . . a topic for which Hotch knew Emily held absolutely no interest . . . but she'd feigned enthusiasm and cracked a joke about somebody named Seacrest's hair and it wasn't long before Hotch was letting out the breath that he'd been holding. They were starting to accept her.

Their first outing together wasn't going to be a complete disaster.

And they'd moved from pop culture topic to pop culture topic . . . Emily had dug her fingernails into his hand when Paris Hilton was mentioned . . . and time had begun to pass. He had of course noticed Haley's mother depart the room within twenty minutes of their arrival . . . shortly after Haley's cousin Linda had asked Emily about where she worked . . . but that had actually been a tremendous relief. She'd already called him "Alex" twice and that was guaranteed to continue if she had stayed.

The only thing Helene Brooks contributed to a conversation was the desire to drink hard liquor.

So he and most of the other adults were all together in the living room, the kids were in and out between there and the den, and then Emily said she was going to the kitchen to get a drink. And she never came back. It was like she'd gone into the Bermuda triangle. Though as she began to explain to him what had happened downstairs, he immediately understood why it was she'd felt the need to take a breather from the party. And as he felt his own blood pressure begin to spike, Hotch knew that he was also going to need a few minutes to get his composure back.

A few minutes and a body bag to throw Helene's corpse into when he was done with her.

It took her a bit of huffing, puffing and cursing, but Emily finally managed to get the whole story out about overhearing the Wicked Witch of Northern Virginia . . . Hotch's moniker for Haley's mother that Emily had previously thought was rather harsh, and she was now embracing with gusto . . . talking to somebody about that, "tart, Alex had shown up with today." She told Hotch that honest to God it had taken her almost a full twenty seconds to realize that he was "Alex" and she was the "tart!" And then "tart" had been replaced by "classless whore who had the nerve to show up at the house after breaking up her daughter's marriage," and Emily had fled. She told him that she'd been afraid of pulling the weapon today hidden by her ankle and violating several rules of professional conduct that would have resulted in her dismissal from the FBI, if not her actual incarceration in a federal prison. OPR tended to frown upon battery of unarmed civilians.

But of course OPR never met Haley's mother.

Before their acquaintance today, Emily had assumed that Hotch had to have been exaggerating a bit over just how bad Mrs. Brooks was. Really, very few people were that complimentary to their current in-laws, let alone their former ones, so she just figured that there had a been a bit of unHotch like "dramatic flair" in his stories.

There wasn't.

If anything as soon as she'd heard herself being referred to as a "classless whore" . . . a first for the Ambassador's daughter . . . Emily had started to think that Hotch might have been holding a few things back. Though as she stood in the bathroom now seeing his face turn an unhealthy shade of purple right before a string of expletives left his mouth that made her prior ones sound like a church sermon, Emily instantly felt a wave of regret for telling him what the older woman had said.

He was so protective of her that she should have known how upset he'd get about what had happened. Though she'd been expecting righteous indignation on her behalf, it was clear from his reaction that he was far beyond righteously indignant.

He was either going to have a stroke or commit a murder. So Emily quickly moved to soothe over a situation that only moments before she had created.

"Aaron," she squeezed his fingers, "please, it's okay. Really, I feel better just having told you what happened so how about we just forget about it now? They're just words." Seeing his look her gaze shifted for a second, "okay, granted they were mean, hurtful words, but," her eyes snapped back to his as she shook her head, "she's nobody to us. Her opinion doesn't matter. She's just an ignorant, petty woman, and thinking about it now, I know I've let her derail far too much of my time so far. She's not worth it."

Though Emily knew intellectually that what she was saying was absolutely true, it was very difficult attempting to push down her own emotional recoil. But she was doing it for Hotch's sake. She wasn't going to be the reason that he executed Jack's grandmother on his fourth birthday. So she pushed her hurt down a little further as she soothed her fingers along his cheek. Then she gave him a faint smile.

"The party's half over and we'll be home before we know it. Then we won't have to see that awful woman again until what, Jack's next birthday, right? And that's a year from now."

Short of birthdays, the only scenarios Emily could envision having overlapping time with The Wicked Witch were Jack's high school graduation and Jack's wedding. And given those latter events were a few decades off, Emily felt confident that they could suffer through this once a year crap without her committing battery and Hotch needing to be admitted to the ICU.

Fingers crossed anyway . . . it would kind of depend on his reaction right now to her attempts at appeasement.

Hotch's teeth were grinding as he stared down at Emily . . . he knew that she was right, that her opinion meant nothing to anyone, that they'd be home soon and that they probably wouldn't have to see her again for a year. But still . . . he wasn't going to let this go. Nobody talked about Emily like that.


So even though he'd been putting up with Helene's crap for more than two decades, Hotch decided that today there would be a line drawn in the sand. He was done.

But then he saw Emily's worried eyebrow and remembered that there were other considerations beyond his girl's honor.

His son's happiness.

So . . . Hotch slowly exhaled as he pulled Emily's soft body to his chest . . . he'd do it after the cake and presents. Once that portion of the gathering had passed, the party was technically over, so he'd pull Helene aside and get a few things off his chest. Now that he didn't have to keep the peace with Haley's mother, it was time to reset the ground rules.

Before that though . . . he rubbed his hand down Emily's back . . . it was time to push aside his own thoughts of vengeance and just make his girl feel better.

"Sweetheart," he murmured against Emily's temple, "you're being much too kind in thinking that we should just let this go." Then he sighed, "but you're right about one thing though. They are most definitely stupid words from a petty, ignorant woman."

He leaned back to look down at the beautiful, kind hearted woman in his arms . . . Helene wasn't even good enough to wipe her shoes.

"I don't want you giving anything she said even a moment's more consideration," he said firmly. "She's always been a hateful, bitter witch and unfortunately her behavior just seems to be getting worse as she gets older. I'm sorry that you had to hear that though," he whispered as he brushed her hair back behind her ear, "and I will deal with her later, but you're right," he patted her back, "we shouldn't let it ruin the party."

Emily stared up at Hotch for a moment as she tried to gauge his temper . . . it appeared to be under control. And Hotch didn't usually cool down that quickly unless he had a plan for vengeance. So her eyebrow quirked up slightly.

"Are you going to make her cry?"

Though she knew the Wicked Witch was a formidable foe, if anybody could make her cry, it would be Hotch. He could be really, really, really scary when he wanted to be.

And right now that's what she wanted him to be.

Hotch's lips started to twitch, "if that's what you'd like, then yes," he sobered as he tipped his head, "I can indeed make her cry."

What his girl wanted she got. And besides, he already knew what he was going to say so he knew that making her cry would be a snap. Worst case scenario he'd tell Helene that he and Haley were getting back together.

That'd start the waterworks.

"That is what I wish," Emily nodded, "I want actual tears leaking down her face. I mean I'm ordinarily more of a bygones girl but," she scowled, "she called me a whore Hotch! Me! If she was ten years younger I would have slugged her," she jiggled her head, "well you know, after the party was over. But still I would have flattened her like road . . ."

Hotch cut off the rest of the ramble with a kiss. Then he murmured against her lips, "I promise you there will be saline secretions so you don't need to make anybody into road kill. Now," he leaned back slightly and squeezed her hands, "we really should get back down to the party."

They'd be cutting the cake soon. And God knows it wouldn't do to have anybody notice the two of them had disappeared . . . in the bathroom together no less . . . for an extended period of time. Improper inferences would most definitely be made. And . . . he rolled his eyes internally . . . they really didn't need any of those on top of the whole 'classless whore' remark.

Emily nodded as she reached up to wipe the red gloss from Hotch's lips.

"Right, as soon as I pretty up," then she turned back to the mirror to finish fixing her makeup, only to see that her coloring had now returned to it's normal hue.

Hotch always made everything better. And catching his eyes in the reflection she gave him a little smile.

"I guess I look okay now. I'm ready to go."

Hotch's eyes crinkled as he slipped his arms around Emily from behind.

"I was going to say," he kissed her neck, "that I don't know how you expected to get any prettier than you already are."

Emily snorted as she leaned back against him.

"You're so full of it today," she raised her eyebrow at him in the mirror, "did you forget that you were already getting lucky tonight?" She smirked, "it's not necessary to keep it laying it on quite so thick."

As soon as she saw him put on a little cone shaped party hat just to make his son happy she'd nearly jumped his bones. The hat wearing had of course only lasted as long as Jack was in the room, but since she and Hotch had gotten together, for Emily, "good daddy Hotch" was just the epitome of uber sexy. It was perhaps the driving force right now behind her desire to make her own little half dozen mini Hotches . . . Hotchai, she hadn't figured out the plural yet . . . but the point was that way she'd get to see that part of him all the time and not just the weekends.

So given her desire for all the little Hotchai, of course it went without saying that Hotch did get very lucky every weekend he did play daddy. And as he'd dropped the little piece of cardboard back on the table she'd leaned over to whisper all the fun things that she was going to do to him when they got home.

Random Tuesday or not, it was definitely go time.

"Never hurts to cover your bases," Hotch responded with a smirk.

"Ha!" Emily barked a laugh as she lightly smacked his hands, "come on, let's get going before the Wicked Witch I end up getting into a tousle over the ruby slippers."

"Fortunately you're wearing black boots today sweetheart," Hotch pointed out helpfully as she opened the door. And Emily turned back to roll her eyes at him over her shoulder.

"Have you not heard of dramatic flair? They're symbolic ruby slippers. Now come on Tin Man," she tugged his hand.

"The party awaits."


By Emily's estimation the rest of the party was . . . at best . . . awkward. Though they got back downstairs before anyone seemed to miss them, unfortunately Helene had returned to the living room in their absence. And while they were gone she had apparently decided to take the always classy approach of ignoring Emily's existence completely . . . as in talking around her as though she wasn't standing right in front of her . . . all the while continuing to continually refer to Hotch as "Alex."

It really wasn't pleasant for anyone.

The other adults were alternating between conversing in hushed little groups and talking way too loudly. Haley just seemed completely out of sorts and Hotch, well Emily was just glad that Helene wasn't a man because she would have been beaten unconscious before you could say compound fracture. By the time cake and present time rolled around Emily was ready to jump on a zip line just to get them out the door a little faster. But then Jack opened up the present she had bought him . . . a hook & ladder fire truck with working lights and sirens. And seeing that look of absolute joy on his adorable little face suddenly all the rest of the crap they'd been putting up with didn't seem quite so bad.

Because really, love kicked hates ass every time.

Then he'd run over and given her a big sloppy kiss and a hug and told her it was the "bestest present" and Emily shot straight to Cloud 9. So rather than simply ignoring the daggers she got from his grandmother . . . the first acknowledgement of Emily's existence in over an hour . . . instead she decided to not so subtly flip "Nana" off over Jack's head. Was it mature? No. Should she have done it in front of the other young children? Absolutely not. Would she do it again?

In a heartbeat!

Because it was a moment of triumph. The woman had gone apoplectic and there had been a chorus of muffled snorts around the room. But before the Wicked Witch could open her mouth, Jack had moved on to jumping up and down about the next thing and she lost her window.

Score one for the classless whore!

The best part for Emily wasn't really even seeing Helene's reaction . . . it was Hotch's. It was the first time in her life she could recall him actually bursting out laughing in public. Then he'd immediately slapped his hand over his mouth but the damage was done.

Hard ass mystique was broken.

Finally he'd just tugged her in front of him, wrapped his arm around her waist and tipped his head down. Lesser mortals might have considered this an act of affection.

Emily knew that he was just trying to hide the persistent grin.

Then after the turning point of the Great Flip Off, there was cake . . . uneventful . . . and then she and Hotch had made their "official" goodbyes to the group. Hotch however had stayed behind. And Emily now had been sitting alone in the car . . . under a streetlight . . . for almost ten minutes wondering what the hell was happening inside the house.

The suspense was killing her.

But knowing she couldn't hurry him along just by wishing his appearance, Emily decided to check her messages. A few minutes later she heard a noise and looked up from her Blackberry to see Hotch coming down the walk.


Their eyes caught in the light, and seeing the faint smirk on his face, she grinned . . . oh man, this was going to be good! So she hurriedly wrapped up her last text message to Garcia with a "have to run. Talk later." and jammed her phone into her pocket.

Penelope was just looking to find out where Emily had bought her bag of gourmet chocolate covered potato chips. That question would keep.

The one on the tip of her tongue wouldn't.

"What happened?" She asked excitedly as Hotch climbed into the car.

Emily was almost bouncing up and down. After the flip off she'd really been looking forward to being there for the full smack down. However she had understood that it wouldn't really have been appropriate for her to be standing there for the whole conversation Hotch had with his ex-mother-in-law.

Damn personal etiquette ruining her good time.

"Well," Hotch slammed the door shut and shifted in his seat, "after you left I cornered her in the hallway and I told her that I heard what she'd said about you. I cut off her attempted denial as I told her that I of course had also taken note of her childish persistence in continuing to refer to me as "Alex" after having spent the last twenty-two years in the same family unit. Then I reminded her that unit was no more. That things had changed, and that I was no longer under any obligation to put up with her boorish behavior," Hotch snorted slightly, "I tell you sweetheart, her eyes almost bugged out of her head. I really don't think anyone had ever spoken to her like that before, so," his lips pursed slightly, "I kept going."

Emily grinned at him across the front seat. "That's my guy. What did you say?"

Hotch was just as talented at the verbal beatdowns as he was at the physical ones.

"I told her that," Hotch cleared his throat, "point in fact, the 'Alex' that she so badly wished Haley had married instead of me, was indicted last month for embezzlement and tax evasion and that he'd be spending the next three to six years in the federal penitentiary." His mouth twitched slightly, "that was clearly news to her. Apparently that had not yet made the busy body circuit. So I added on that if she ever referred to me as Alex again that I'd be sharing that story with her entire family via email and that she could endure the embarrassment of her ridiculous attachment to a convicted felon that her eldest daughter had last dated twenty-four years ago."

"Gah!" Emily simultaneously squealed and clapped, "oh my God I love you!" And Hotch chuckled, "yes, sweetheart, I love you too. Now would you like to hear the end?" Emily immediately straightened up as she nodded. "End please," so he continued.

"Well," he gave her a look, "this last bit's all about you. I told Helene that if I ever again heard of her making derogatory remarks about you personally, or our relationship in general, that there would be serious consequences. Consequences which would include my having the custody agreement redrawn to deny her visitation with Jack. I reminded her that he was my child and that as long as he was a minor then I would determine who he could and could not see. And that as far as I was concerned, she was an unfit role model, and that I wasn't about to allow my son to be poisoned by any of her pathetic, bitter rantings." A cold smile frosted over Hotch's lips, "that got the tears running. She started in with the," he rolled his eyes, "haughty, wounded, 'I have no idea what you're talking about, how can you speak to me this way,' but it was weak. She might be a hateful witch, but she's not stupid. She clearly got the point. And before I left I corned Haley too and I told her what her mother had said about you and told her what I said to her mother. Then I told her that if she didn't get that woman under control that I would have no qualms whatsoever about following through with legal action."

Hotch knew denial of visitation was a tricky one if Haley decided to fight him, but he was unwielding on that point. His son would not be exposed to that garbage any longer. I was likely that someday he'd be putting a ring on Emily's finger and he wanted all of this crap cleared up long before that happened.

They were starting fresh today.

Emily's eyes popped.

"What did she say?"

Oh crap. Hopefully this wasn't going to turn into World War III. Hotch and Haley had been getting along pretty well the last few months and Emily would feel horrible if she was the reason everything went to hell in hand basket. But then she saw Hotch's lip quirk up.

"Relax sweetheart," he reached over to pat her leg, "it wasn't a fight. She was actually pretty embarrassed. She said that she understood completely and she apologized and said she should have done more to intervene today." He picked up Emily's hand, "and she also said to tell you that she was very sorry for her mother's remarks and that she promised that nothing like that would happen again."

Though initially he'd been annoyed with her for not speaking up earlier in the evening, by the time they were done talking tonight, Hotch actually had felt kind of badly for Haley. When he'd told her about the remarks in the hallway she'd clearly been mortified. And it said something to Helene's reputation that it never occurred to Haley that Emily . . . a woman that she had her own strained relationship with . . . could have been making the whole thing up.

It sounded exactly like something her mother would say. And though part of him . . . the petty divorced part that was rapidly shrinking away the longer he was with Emily . . . did still feel like Haley should have stood up to her mother years ago, he couldn't deny that he was also complicit in allowing his mother-in-law's behavior to continue unchecked. As obnoxious as she'd been over the years, Hotch lived in a world with much greater evils than Helene Beatrice Brooks. So he'd never really thought she was worth the energy of a fight. But now he could see that she'd been emboldened by his pacifism and that's what had allowed her to think that she could get away with her comments today about Emily.

Well . . . Hotch squeezed Emily's hand . . . no more. This was perhaps the first outward step he'd taken to affirm their relationship to the world at large. He'd even go so far as to say that this had been a test of his commitment to her . . . he leaned forward to press a quick kiss to her lovely lips . . . to their relationship. But he felt confident in saying that he had passed said test.

Nobody insults his girl and gets away with it.

After Hotch pulled back, Emily stared at him for a moment before she reached up to stroke her fingers along his cheek.

"Thanks for dropping a house on her honey," she said with a soft smile.

She'd never had any man . . . save perhaps her father . . . who had unloaded on another person like that simply for hurting her feelings. Her eyes crinkled as her hand ran over his five o'clock shadow . . . definitely had a keeper here.

"Anytime sweetheart," Hotch leaned forward to give her another kiss, "anytime."

Emily smiled as she settled back against the seat and Hotch pulled out his keys. Just before he turned the ignition Emily's brow wrinkled and she put her hand on Hotch's arm.

"Do you think there's any possibility that Helene is wearing the other half of Strauss' amulet?"

The Wicked Witches of Northern and Central Virginia.

Hotch snorted.

"Perhaps," he shot her an amused look, "and how would we test such a theory?"

Emily settled back in her seat with grin.

"You bring the buckets and I'll bring the water baby. It'll be an epic Munchkin style smackdown."

Hotch's eyebrow rose as he stared at Emily for a second. Then he turned the key and pulled into the street.

"We'll stop at Home Depot on the way home."

A/N 2: The reason I actually carved out a little time to finish up this story I'd begun months ago was because I LOVE our new Christmas prompts and I have so many ideas for them! And I would really like to write nice Christmas season stories in the Girl'verse, but Universe C and A are the only ones at the right point on the calendar to work them in. And it's already Christmas Eve over in A, plus Emily's sick and, just like in real life, cancer does add a bit of a bittersweet pall to even good days. But over here in Universe C I've decided definitively NOT to give Emily cancer. I had an idea for doing it here that would have revealed it much earlier than in The Hours, but then I realized this is just a nice pleasant universe where they're already together and happy so essentially just the lighter elements of Girl can carry forward without so much angst that's in the others. As tempting as it would be to continue this world as a bigger ongoing story (there are fun things to do with them that are different than The Hours version of H/P coming together at a later date), I think it is best this world exists in standalone stories. That way I can write some quickie little one shots as they come to me and not get dragged down writing an overall saga (even if it's just a Christmas saga) that the good Lord, and all you nice people know, I just don't have time for :)

I have also been focusing on the stories I know people are waiting on, I won't list them because you know what they are, but they are coming this week. It's a broken record but again, work, killing me! Sunday and Monday I had to log in at midnight to talk to somebody halfway around the world. And when my primary writing time is like 11-2 am, a midnight break really futzes things up! I have four things though that are very close to posting, so my hope/intention is to focus on one a night. If that approach works then there should be a posting every other night through early next week. Next one is Fracture though, that is my promise and solemn vow to you. I'd hoped to get that done for today too but it just wasn't in the cards.