Author's Note: To my surprise, (given my muse is beginning to get a bit twitchy after a few weeks of steady output), I got this done. And yes, we're wrapping TWO things in one week, so exciting!

Note: Please interpret the above exclamation point, with the irony in which it was placed :)

This picks up the next night from the parking lot incident. And though this chapter doesn't have the humor of the other ones, the reason for that will become obvious as you start reading. Again though, the tone fits for the overall universe which has (if not initially by design) generally now end up with one serious chapter per story.

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TV Prompt Set #38 - (Combo March & April 2012)

Show: Desperate Housewives

Title Challenge: Everything's Different, Nothing's Changed

Everything's Different, Nothing's Changed

Emily anxiously pounded her index finger into the concaved, shiny metal elevator button.

And then she stood there, biting her lip, with her hands clamped tightly together in front of her. She was trying to remain outwardly calm as she watched the little red light slowly bounce down from the hospital's fifteenth floor.

It was taking forever.

And though there was a part of her that wanted to spin around on her heel, smash through the fire door ten feet away, and run up the seven flights she needed to go, she knew that would be completely irrational (borderline psych ward) behavior. This wasn't an emergency. The emergency had passed hours ago. This was just . . . she swallowed . . . a visit.

That's all. A visit.

Hotch was fine.

Well . . . her eyes started to sting . . . no, no, he wasn't actually fine. If he was, then he wouldn't be up on the seventh floor of this hospital. He'd be back at the hotel with the rest of the team, splitting a pizza, refusing more than one beer, and trying to unwind. Or if not unwind, at least forget the body count for a little while. That was usually what they did in cases like this.

Block things out.

But Hotch wasn't back with them at the hotel trying to block things out. No, he was here in this inner-city hospital in the middle of Texas. And without him there with the group, Emily couldn't even pretend to have any interest in grabbing a slice or her own single bottle of beer. As soon as Morgan and JJ had walked back in with their dinner, she'd grabbed the keys from Derek's hand, and muttered that she was going to get some air.

She'd be back later.

Rossi might have known where exactly she was going to breath in her air . . . but he didn't say anything. And she certainly wouldn't have confided in him even if he had asked. She was still pissed off at him.

They, were still pissed off at him.

She and Hotch both. Not that it had affected their work the last twenty-four hours. Their work had been exemplary . . . everyone's work had been exemplary.

They'd cracked the case.


And nobody knew that they were having a 'thing' with Rossi, because everybody was cool and detached on the job anyway. Especially when they'd reached the stage where they were today. The stage where they planned the locations of the entry teams, and divided up the work of the internal search grids.

They were a bunch of cool, bad assed, cucumbers then.

But tonight, back at the hotel, they were all trying to be a little too cool, a little too . . . detached. And that's because they were all a little too shaken up.

And that was because of Hotch.

Why he was in the hospital. The last time Emily had seen him, he'd been on oxygen. That was when he was being loaded into the back of the ambulance. Smoke inhalation, the EMT said, meet them at Methodist, downtown campus.

And then she slammed the door in Emily's face.

But that was five hours ago, Emily reminded herself as the elevator numbers ticked down to nine . . . and then eight . . . he was better now. Rossi had said so. Rossi had spoken to him. Perhaps if they lived in a 'normal' world . . . which they did not . . . under the circumstances (aka, the big fight) Rossi would have been an odd choice for Hotch's hospital phone call. But Rossi was second in command. And obviously that meant that he had to be the one that Hotch called. So Rossi had spoken to Hotch, and Rossi said that Hotch was fine.

He was just . . . resting.

Right . . . Emily took a shallow breath as the red light bounced to five . . . resting. But she hadn't heard that from Hotch's own lips. He hadn't called her himself. So that meant that there was no pizza and beer and unwinding. There was no going to bed and pretending to sleep.

She had to see him.

She had to confirm for herself that he was just fine.

That he was just resting.

And then all would be well.

Or if not well, at least she'd be able move forward from that awful moment out in the street. That moment where she'd last seen him, when that ambulance door had slammed in her face.

The door had slammed shut, and then they'd raced off, lights spinning, sirens blaring . . . just more light and noise cutting through a sweltering Texas neighborhood already overrun by emergency vehicles.

Emily had wanted to run over to her own emergency vehicle and peel out after them. Chase them to the hospital with her own lights spinning, and sirens blaring.

More light and noise to frighten the locals . . . and she almost did it too. But then Morgan had called her name . . . called her back.

The UNSUB. The missing women.

The search wasn't done.

Her job wasn't done.

So though it had taken something from her . . . something that she was ashamed that she could let go . . . she'd let Hotch be taken away.

And she let herself go back to work.

She'd turned and run back into the smoky building. The building that she'd run out of just minutes before. That's when she and Morgan had been dragging Hotch out on his heels. He'd been gasping for air even as the skin on the back of his forearm was continuing to bubble up.

Yeah . . . she swallowed as she thought back . . . he'd been burned too.


The burn was bad . . . the elevator doors finally slid open and Emily hurried inside . . . but fortunately it was localized to just that one spot on his arm. The arm that he'd thrown up to shield his face from the fire. He was falling backwards.

And he was falling backwards because he was pushing her behind him. Below him.

Knocking her down.

Protecting her.

And nearly knocking her out in the process.

When her head had hit the planks on the filthy floor of that hallway, for just a second she'd been completely stunned. But because of Hotch's actions . . . because she was FLAT on the floor . . . the backdraft had blown completely over her.

But not him.

That's when he'd gotten the burn. Even as she was still trying to process what had happened . . . that the UNSUB had booby trapped one of the rooms . . . it hadn't been expected . . . Hotch had begun dragging her out of that hall.

They were still both on the floor . . . he had her face jammed into his FBI windbreaker . . . and he was pulling her as he crawled along. And by the time they reached the main corridor of the boarding house . . . otherwise known as 'relatively fresh air' . . . Hotch was sucking wind.

And that's when their positions had reversed.

Her head had started to clear from the hit that she had taken. And due to his actions . . . his protection . . . her lungs had stayed almost completely clear of the thick black smoke.

His had not.

So when he collapsed, she screamed for someone to help her . . . and Morgan and JJ had come racing up the stairs. And then they'd dragged him outside. She might have been screaming for the EMTs.

She couldn't quite remember.

She just remembered feeling panic and fear and adrenaline . . . and then he was gone.

And she had to go back to work.

Hotch had called Dave an hour later. They were still searching the grounds then, having been kicked out of the three story home, by first the fire department . . . and then the bomb squad.

Everybody thought that they were nuts for not leaving when the first device went off.

Of course it turned out to be the only device . . . and it was small . . . but still, nobody knew that then. And they were just trying to do their job. Trying to find those women that they knew were still alive. And they knew they were alive because they'd profiled it.

Even if they hadn't profiled that little 'ka boom' off the second floor hallway . . . but nobody bats a thousand every time.

And tonight they did not get their home run.

But they did find those women. The ones that they knew were still alive. There was a storm cellar . . . one detached from the main structure. JJ noticed the discoloration in the dirt. Dave found the tripwire . . . and Reid the pulley to open the door.

She and Morgan climbed into the hole.

It was a team effort.

And Emily was so happy to find those women, that for just a split second . . . almost like a shimmer in the space around her . . . she forgot something terribly important.

That Hotch wasn't with them.

That he was hurt.

And then she remembered . . . and she hated herself for forgetting. For even just that second where the world had seemed to bend. And that's why she was riding up in this elevator to see him now. Or at least one of the reasons . . . there were so many. That was the problem with being in love from afar.

Everything was complicated.

The doors finally opened on the seventh floor, and Emily took a breath as she stepped out and into the brightly lit corridor. It always looked like high noon in the middle of a patient ward. And her eyes were wide as they darted back and forth, trying to decide which way to go.

She didn't have Hotch's room number . . . just the floor . . . so she needed to find the nurses' station first.

And then she saw dark skin and light blue scrubs . . . one of the nurses coming out of a patient room . . . and so she turned left.

"Excuse me," She called out as she came up behind her, "Agent Hotchner. What room is he in, please?"

Her voice wasn't quite as authoritative as she would have liked . . . there was a tremor that she couldn't hide . . . so she compensated by pulling out her badge. Given that she was still wearing her FBI vest and windbreaker . . . she'd hadn't even thought to change when they got back to the Sheraton . . . this was definitely over identification.

But a little over identification never hurt anything.

The nurse paused, her brow wrinkling as she looked her over for a moment. Then she took a few steps to check the clock on the wall over the nurses' station. Emily's feet and gaze followed.

It was well after eleven.

"Please," she whispered, the tremor more pronounced than before, "I need to see him."

The nurse stared for a moment longer . . . most likely taking in the bruises on her face . . . and then her eyes dropped to take in her soot covered clothes, and her tightly curled fist. Finally her expression softened.

There was sympathy there.

"Room 416," she whispered back while putting her hand on Emily's shoulder and pointing to the East wing, "but visiting hours were over at nine so," she gave her a little smile, "try to keep a low profile, okay?"

"Yes, thank you," Emily nodded as she tucked her credentials away with a grateful smile, "thank you very much."

And then she turned to hurry down the hall, trying look like she wasn't jumping out of her skin . . . even though she was.

He was fine, she knew that he was fine, so she needed to calm down. And she most definitely needed to NOT come off like a complete spaz when she saw him.

She would just embarrass herself.

So with that key thought in her head . . . of attempting to keep a little dignity . . . she stopped to take a breath just outside his door. And once she thought that her emotions were locked back in the box . . . or at least not being worn DIRECTLY on her sleeve . . . she stepped forward.

Then she knocked once on the open door before poking her head around the corner.

"Hotch?" she called out softly, "are you awake?"

There was no response.

But as Emily stepped further into the room . . . and took note of the two empty beds, though one clearly had mussed sheets . . . she realized that there was no response because there was no Hotch. And she could see that the bathroom door was open too, so he wasn't in there either.

A wave of panic started to rise up . . . but she quickly pushed it back down again. He was fine. The nurse had been completely calm. And clearly if anything had happened to him . . . certainly anything 'serious' . . . his floor nurse of ALL people, would have known about it. So she had obviously sent Emily to this room expecting that he'd be in here.

So where did he go?

For a moment she stood there, her fingers tapping anxiously against her holster as she tried to think like Hotch. Though the man was stubborn as hell, he wasn't stupid. He had sucked in a decent amount of smoke . . . thick, hot smoke . . . and they had admitted him to monitor his breathing. And she knew that Hotch was quite fond of 'breathing' in general, so she just didn't see him . . . in situation like this . . . being foolish enough to check himself out AMA.

That could be suicidal.

And again, if he'd been cleared to go, that's something his nurse would have known about it.

Okay then . . . Emily turned and stepped back into the hall . . . that meant that he had to be around here somewhere. She looked back and forth, trying to figure a logical Hotch hidey hole, somewhere he might have decided to go. And then she saw it.

Patient lounge.

They probably had a TV in there, and . . . she started heading down the corridor . . . she had noticed that the one in Hotch's room was out of order.

There was a sign taped over the screen.

And sure enough, when she poked her head around the corner of the lounge door, there he was . . . sitting on one of the battered leather couches. He was in a green hospital gown and his black dress pants, (gun on his lap), while he flipped channels on the remote with the hand that wasn't bandaged. Her eyes started to burn.

He was okay.

Of course she had known that, but it wasn't the same as actually seeing him for herself. And so she was able to blink the moisture away, and keep her voice steady, as she stepped through the doorway and whispered.

"Figured I'd find you in here."

Hotch's head swiveled as his eyes snapped over to hers.

"Hey," the remote fell from his fingers and down to the cushion, as he looked up at her in surprise, "what are you doing here?"

His voice was scratchy and hoarse, but the doctor had told him that should fade in a day or so.

Unfortunately the scars from the burn were going to take a bit longer to heal.

Emily stopped short at Hotch's response, her brow shooting up to her hairline.

"What do you mean what am I DOING here?" She sputtered in disbelief, "you're in the HOSPITAL Hotch! You're HURT! Where else would I . . . be?"

Her last word ended with a stumble and an awkward pause. And then her eyes dropped to the floor.

Well, so much for playing cool and collected. Spaztastic as usual Em. But there again, the unrequited love thing . . . her face started to get hot . . . so messy. But there was nothing to be done about that now. He would either comment on her overly 'heated' response to his benign (conversational) question, or he wouldn't.

She was really hoping that he wouldn't.

And in the hopes that he would ignore it if she did, Emily tried to will the blush from her cheeks as she started over to the couch.

"So, um," there was an awkward clearing of the throat as she brought her eyes back to his, "how are you feeling?"

Though she was still praying that he would play stupid, Emily could see that Hotch was looking at her oddly. So it was clear that even if he didn't acknowledge her embarrassing display, it had certainly caught his attention.


Hotch stared up at Emily for a moment, and then his expression began to soften as he saw the worry lines around her mouth and the tension in her brow.

Not to mention the pink in her cheeks.

And putting himself in her position . . . realizing how worried HE would be, if she had been the one loaded into the ambulance . . . he gave her a faint smile.

"I'm okay. Now," he put his hand out, "come sit down. I was trying to get the news, but that can wait."

Though he wanted to ask her about the case, that could wait too. Rossi had texted him an update when they finished at the scene. So he already knew that they'd found a half dozen live girls in a storm cellar . . . and twice as many dead ones in the actual cellar. This case was definitely not falling into the "win" column for anyone.

Even with live recoveries and a dead UNSUB, it barely counted as a tie.

Emily's eyes stayed locked onto Hotch's for two beats. And seeing the warmth there . . . and knowing then that he wasn't put off by what could be considered her 'odd' behavior . . . she continued across the small room.

Her boots were clicking on the shiny white tile as she approached the couch.

And then her fingers were sliding into Hotch's.

He tugged her down.

Slowly, she lowered herself to the battered cushion beside him. Now that she was so close to him, her eyes were starting to sting again.

He smelled of smoke . . . but of course she probably did too. Also though, he just looked so vulnerable in the cloth gown. And there were a few small cuts on his face from where the door splintered just before it blew into the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. At that point they were already on the ground . . . he'd knocked them clear to the other side of the doorway. They'd been so lucky.

But only because of him.

They were quiet for a minute, and then Emily squeezed his fingers.

"I was worried about you."

Her voice was thick, the emotion back again . . . but this time she couldn't find it in her to care. And then Hotch huffed humorlessly.

"Yeah," his grip on her hand tightened, "I was kind of worried about me too."

Not as worried as he had been for her though. Her welfare had been his only thought when they slapped the oxygen mask over his face.

At least she was okay.

"You are all right though?" Emily asked slowly, "really? We can fly home tomorrow?"

Obviously they weren't leaving without him. So if he wasn't better, if he wasn't released, then the rest of them weren't going anywhere either.

"Yeah, well," Hotch tipped his head, "I think so. Officially, the doctor said that she was 'cautiously optimistic' about me leaving, but she wouldn't say definitively until twelve hours had passed without any breathing problems." Then he lightly patted his chest, "that's why they're keeping me. Because my lungs do hurt a little, not too bad, but," he rolled his eyes slightly, "she said with my," he did a half-assed one handed air quote, "'age' that she thought I should be monitored a bit longer. So they'll do another set of breathing tests in the morning."

Not that he resented the woman's efforts to keep him from potentially dropping in respiratory distress, but it was annoying being chained to the bed after SPECIFICALLY being told that he had to stay a full eighteen hours JUST because of his age! He wasn't even that damn old!

Emily nodded slowly, her eyes locked onto the array of magazines fanned across the table in front of them . . . seven of the ten were over a month old.

Not that that mattered in the slightest, but she'd recently realized that she could no longer stop her brain from 'noticing' things like that. She was always working. Always on the job.

Even now.

"That's good," she finally murmured back to Hotch. Then she realized that she sounded distracted, that she had been distracted, and turned to him.

"I mean, I'm glad that they're optimistic about you leaving."

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Hotch winced slightly and reached out to touch her cheek.

"You know," he whispered as his palm cupped around her jaw, "as long as you're here, you could get your nose checked."

Even though they'd iced it last night, it was still swollen. And she'd also developed a faint mouse under each eye . . . but not so faint that she could cover them with makeup.

Every time he looked at her he felt like a complete bastard all over again.

"What?" Emily blinked in surprise, "oh, no." She wrinkled the nose in question, and then winced slightly at the pain, "no, I'm fine. It's not broken, so there's nothing for them to do anyway."

"You could get some pain killers," Hotch pointed out softly, "I know it has to still be hurting you Emily."

"Hotch," Emily she scowled slightly, feeling a faint bit of irritation begin to color her words, "we're here because of you. Because YOU left the scene in the back of an ambulance," she shook his hand away and leaned back, "so let's stop talking about me."

Hotch's fingers curled back into a fist . . . he pulled it to his chest.

"Are you angry with me?"

The question had a note of surprise . . . and hurt. She'd pushed him away. She hadn't done that since last month when they had that terrible fight.

He couldn't go through being shut out like that again.

"No, yes," Emily shook her head slightly as she felt the irritation building, and it was building out of nowhere. "But not about the damn nose. I told you to forget about that."

She turned to him then, her voice getting harder, but with her eyes visibly moist.

"You shouldn't have done that. You shouldn't have pushed me under you. I was closer to the door, I should be in here. Not you."

He could have died protecting her. And that's why she was suddenly so pissed off. He could have DIED, and all he cared about was her stupid busted NOSE!

What was WRONG with him?!

"No, Emily," Hotch's raspy voice was firm as he reached over to take her hand again, "no, you should not be in here. You're my responsibility. Your safety," his voice thickened further, "your life, if something happens to you, to any of you, if it goes wrong, that's all on me. And I couldn't . . . I . . ." he paused for a second to clear his throat, "I did my job tonight. And that's the end of it."

That was a lie. Because it was really barely even the beginning of it. Of course he would have taken the same protective action if he'd been going through that door with JJ or Reid . . . or even Morgan or Dave. It was his job to make sure that they ALL stayed safe.

And he'd willingly lay down his life for any of them.

But with the others, he probably wouldn't have been personally terrified while he was doing it. Not for his own safety of course, it was never for his own . . . but just for hers. For Emily's. He was terrified that he would fail, and she would be hurt.

And he couldn't live with that.

Not if it had been in his power to prevent it.

Emily stared back at Hotch. Her jaw was tight and her tears were pooling as she felt the strength of his grip wrapped around hers.

Finally her expression shifted, softened . . . broke. And with that her watery gaze dropped down to his chest.

His poor battered lungs.

"Are you huggable?" She whispered.

She desperately needed a hug, and she needed it from him. But she was afraid of hurting him. But then she felt his fingers on her chin . . . and he was tipping her head back. His expression was unreadable.

And then something changed in his eyes.

"For you," a sad smile touched his lips, "always."

Feeling one of those tears slip over and slide down her cheek, Emily turned to face him. And as his hand fell from her cheek, she reached up to wrap her arms around his neck.

And as he slipped his arms around her body, and tugged her close, more tears began to slide down her face. And she hated that she was being so emotional, that she was once again completely wearing her heart on her sleeve. And she needed to hide it away.

Otherwise it was going to get broken.

But maybe . . . she bit her lip and buried her face against his throat . . . just maybe he would simply read her reaction as that of a close friend, upset over a close call. And that was part of it . . . or at least the bare essence of it . . . but the feelings weren't those of friendship. They were much deeper.

And that's why she couldn't stop crying.

"Do you think that they'd let me sleep in your room?" She sniffled as she ran her fingers through the hair on the nape of his neck.

Hotch closed his eyes, feeling a shiver run over his skin where she was touching him.

"Why would you want to sleep in my room?" He whispered back, already knowing the answer . . . but needing to hear her say it anyway. This was all that they had.

And he'd take what he could get.

"Because I don't want to leave you here by yourself," she sniffled again, "what if you need something? You'd be all . . . alone."

Her voice caught on the last word. And feeling a faint sob beginning to bubble up, she took a deep, shuddering breath. There had been too many days now with too little sleep, and too much stress. And so she took another deep breath as Hotch began to rub little circles on her back. He was whispering softly in her ear, telling her that he wished that she would stay, that he'd like the company. And she sucked in another breath . . . though this one not quite so ragged. Then he whispered something else.

And she froze.

Slowly, she leaned back, her red rimmed eyes wide with surprise.

"What did you say?" She sniffed, the back of her hand coming up to catch her drippy nose.

Hotch's eyes crinkled slightly.

"I said that I'm not leaving," he repeated softly while reaching up to wipe the tears from her face, "I've decided to stay. There are still things for me to do here." Seeing Emily eyes widen slightly at that statement, he tipped his head, "with the job I mean. There's work to do. I'm not finished yet."

Though the words that he was saying weren't untrue . . . they weren't the whole truth either. Mostly he was just staying for her. Because if he left, who would watch her back? That's all he had been thinking on the ride into the hospital, what would have happened if he hadn't been there?

Who would have been her partner tonight? Would she have been hurt in that explosion? Burned?


And those weren't abstract questions, because danger was not an 'abstract' element of their job. Every moment that they were in the field, there was a risk . . . usually one of great bodily harm. But it wasn't until today when the harm came so very close to Emily for the first time in some months, that Hotch realized the FULL implications of him leaving.

She would be alone in the field.

Nobody else would look after her the way that he did . . . as though his life, depended on it. Because that was the truth of the matter. His continued well- being was now tied up in her continued well-being.

Their fates were intertwined.

And he had been a fool to think that he could go off and leave her. There would be no leaving her. Not now . . . he closed his eyes as she leaned into him again . . . not for the foreseeable future. He would rather live with this . . . he rubbed his hand along her back . . . just her coming to give him a hug at midnight, than nothing at all.

So when she murmured against his throat that she was hungry, his eyes crinkled as he patted her back.

"Me too," he whispered back, "why don't you sneak us in a pizza? They can bring it to the lobby, and you can run down the stairs to bring it up."

She leaned back then and smiled at him, and even though her eyes were still a bit shiny . . . it was a big, toothy grin.

One so bright that it made his heart hurt.

And he saw yet another reason not to go. Not just to stay and play Kevlar on the days that she needed it, but also, that smile that he had fallen in love with. And her deep throaty laugh as she wiped her face and started pulling out her phone. These were the pieces of her that he had now. They were wonderful pieces.

And they were pieces that he wasn't willing to let go, no matter how great New York might be.

So he would stay in Virginia, and stay in this job. And he would just keep Emily close, as close as he could without completely jumping off the deep end. And they could have good days . . . and make good memories . . . even with the limitations on their relationship.

The limitations were really mostly only in his mind anyway.

Well, aside from the sex, that one wasn't just in his mind. But . . . he rolled his eyes slightly . . . that was not a thought for today.

Today was for starting new, with what was old.

And with that in mind, as Emily dialed information, clearing her throat as she asked for the closest pizzeria in the area, Hotch leaned back against the couch and tucked his arm around her shoulders. Then he pulled her to his side. And with her head resting on his chest, and her hand resting on his knee, he finally closed his eyes and sighed.

Perhaps this day was a win after all.

A/N 2: The prompt was key here in setting the tone for the chapter. Potential big plans on one day, suddenly are just a passing fancy on another. And just one little thing happens to change everything, even though nothing really changed at all.

And though this universe is overall fairly light in its humor, it is first and foremost a series of tales about two people in love, trying to find a way to be together, even though they can't be. At least not until MUCH later. So obviously under those circumstances, and their jobs, there isn't always going to be a 'funny' to mine from the moment. Sometimes the moment will be sad, or strained, or like this one, heavy and emotional. The trick here for me, is to not make the emotional elements repetitive to a stage in Girl where they were friends and not yet something more. Because their reasons here for being apart are very different (it's work alone) and also their relationship here is not the same. They won't be getting back home to go cuddle up on Emily's couch. There is a gap in how far Hotch feels he can go with her, so there is more 'longing' here (or there will be) as things move forward. And I do have other stories planned for this world. It's still only early October, and they don't get together until the following February. There are holidays, and all the angst therein, to mine!

And thank you so much EVERYONE who has been leaving me notes this week! There was much feedback on the closing of Reason and the opening of the sequel, and I've barely made a dent in being able to get back to people :) Again, thank you all though.