Title: One of these days
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Prompt for 10_hurt_comfort: #5 Emotion
Disclaimer: Neither the show nor the characters belong to me, they belong to CBS. Nonetheless, I love to borrow them from time to time. No copyright infringement intended. The idea for the story and the story itself - including all possible pre- and sequels - belong to me.
Summary: There are days when you just feel like packing it all in.
“I don’t think I can do this any longer.” Penelope whispered staring at the glass of Whiskey in her hands.
He didn’t say anything in return. This just wasn’t the moment for him to talk but the moment to shut up and listen, as Prentiss had described it.
“I’m just not made for this.” she continued. “Maybe I should hand in my resignation.”
He bit his lip to keep himself from asking her not to do that. As much as he wanted to talk her out of it immediately, he knew that she needed him to listen to her first.
“I just can’t stand it any longer.” she emptied her glass in one go. “Falling asleep every night just to wake up from the pictures and the screams a few minutes afterwards. And I know that after what I saw during the past days I’m not going to get a wink of sleep tonight.”
Silently he refilled her glass and watched her down this drink as well. He was grateful that there was only one glass left in the bottle he could pour himself. Penelope had had enough already – and having a bad hangover the next day wouldn’t make things better.
“Come on, baby girl.” Derek finally said after she’d been silently staring at the now empty glass in her hands for several minutes. “Let me take you home.”
She raised her head to look at him, the first time this evening, and he could see that she hadn’t slept much during the past days. He wondered if she’d slept at all.
“Do you know why my place is so… colorful?” she asked her voice barely above a whisper.
“No” he smiled at her, “maybe because it’s a lot like you.”
The corner of her mouth went upwards just slightly. “It’s to remind me that life actually is wonderful. It’s to cheer me up and make me forget about all the pictures I see at work. It makes me believe that there is not only evil in the world and that there’s something good in anything and anyone.”
“Everything happens for a reason.” he added softly.
Penelope nodded and closed her eyes for a moment. Her voice was slightly shaking when she continued: “That’s why I can’t go back to my place tonight. After what I had to see in the past days it just seems… false. There was nothing good in this guy.”
“No” he affirmed, “no, there wasn’t.” Then he stood up and gently nudged her shoulder: “Come on, baby girl! The day’s been long enough and we’ve both already drunk enough. Let’s go home!”
Sighing she agreed and let Derek lead her out of the bar. She didn’t even seem to notice that he paid her bill as well – otherwise she would have insisted on sharing.
During the twenty minutes drive Penelope didn’t say a word, she just stared out of the window into the dark night. She saw couples probably on their way to the movies or a bar holding hands and teasing each other, obviously in a very good and light-hearted mood – very much contradicting the mood she was in at the moment.
The sight of a family caught her attention as Derek had to stop at a red light. Mom, dad and two children, certainly heading home now considering how late it already was. Maybe they’d gone out for dinner, perhaps to celebrate a birthday or another anniversary. They looked happy. The parents were holding their youngest child by the hands swinging the squealing girl occasionally between them. And they all were laughing.
Penelope couldn’t help but ask herself if they knew how much evil there was in the world. How easy it was for one disturbed human being to destroy all the happiness of their family – or that the victims of their most recent case had been about the age of their youngest child. They probably didn’t know. And Penelope wished that she didn’t know either.
She felt Derek slowing the car down and turning into the parking lot. Only then did Penelope realize that he hadn’t taken her to her apartment. Without saying a word she followed him up the stairs and into the apartment where an overgrown puppy greeted them exuberantly, causing the numbness Penelope had been in the whole evening to crumble slightly and herself to smile.
“I ran a bath for you.” Derek smiled after a while. “Go and relax a little, I’ll change the bedding.”
She wanted to protest, tell him that he didn’t have to do all that. She really wanted to. But at the moment, she simply didn’t feel like it. She felt much too exhausted to say anything. So she just nodded and managed to croak a “Thank you.”
Sighing Penelope took off her clothes and let herself sink into the hot liquid inhaling the soothing scent of the bath oil. She wasn’t sure how long she stayed in the tub letting the warmth relax her exhausted body and her distressed soul. But it must have been pretty long she figured when suddenly someone knocked softly on the door.
“Baby girl, you’re okay in there?” she heard concern in his voice.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” she replied. “Just… a little sore.”
“You shouldn’t stay in there too long.” Derek advised.
She smiled to herself at his obvious concern. Her mother had been the only one so far who ever said that to her – a very long time ago. “Just a few more minutes.” she begged. Penelope assumed that Derek was okay with it. At least he didn’t say anything in return.
Taking a deep breath she closed her eyes and tried to let go of the pictures and screams that where burnt into her brain after she’d had to watch the videos of children being tortured in unimaginably cruel ways over and over and over again until she just couldn’t take it anymore – and still a few times more. She knew that it was important to watch closely to find the tiniest bit of evidence telling them who the unsub might be or where the victims were kept and tortured. But everyone had their limits.
Exhaustion must have taken her over pretty soon after Derek had knocked on the door. At least she didn’t remember much after the little conversation until she saw the pictures again and heard the screams echoing in her mind. And then suddenly someone called her name and she felt a hand being placed on her shoulder, shaking her gently.
“Baby girl?” she heard his soft voice call out. “Penelope? Wake up!”
She cast up her eyes and gave him a puzzled look before she realized where she was. Swallowing she looked at the water – grateful that there was still enough foam to cover her – and back at him.
“I’m sorry.” Derek smiled at her carefully keeping his eyes on her face and resisting the urge to let them slide even a fraction lower. “I didn’t want to invade your privacy. But I got worried when you didn’t come out of the bathroom and when you didn’t answer when I knocked on the door I thought I’d rather make sure that you’re alright.”
“It’s okay.” she assured him and gave him the most genuine smile she could manage. “I was just… pretty exhausted, I guess.”
Derek nodded and remained where he was for a few seconds. “Get out of the water and into bed!” he smiled at her and following a sudden impulse he leaned down to kiss her forehead.
Penelope closed her eyes and leaned into the touch letting the warmth of it flow through her body. It reminded her that despite all the horrible things she’d faced during the past days there was still something good in the world.
“I left you a shirt you can wear for the night.” he explained. “I figured you would prefer not to sleep in your clothes.”
“Yeah, thanks.” she smiled. Under different circumstances she’d certainly have felt embarrassed or at least awkward about him standing next to her while she was taking a bath. But she was just too exhausted and her mind was too occupied with other things to really worry about it.
“You know, what I said earlier today” she started once she was settled in Derek’s bed – another thing she would have felt awkward about any other day – and just before he left the room, “I meant it.”
She waited for him to turn around and lean against the doorframe before she continued: “I should quit. I’m just not made for this job. I’m just too… emotional, I care too much.”
Frowning in concern Derek walked over to the bed and sat down facing her.
“I’m not trained to look at those pictures and videos the way you are.” she whispered. “I can’t deal with them the way you do. And what this guy did to all the children…”
“I know” Derek softly said, “it was awful. Don’t think we don’t feel anything when we look at those pictures and videos. We do. We care. We care about the victims and when it’s about children it’s always hard for all of us. But it’s true, we’re trained to deal with the emotions.”
Penelope didn’t say anything in return.
“I know this job is asking a lot from you.” he continued and reached out to gently caress her cheek. “And it’s true that we’re trained to look at crime scenes and stuff and deal with what we see and you’re not. But you do an amazing job. Because you didn’t stop looking at the pictures – no matter how much it bothered you or how hard it was to endure – you were able to tell us where this guy kept the children and we were able to save Eric’s life.”
“Yeah, I guess it was worth it.” she whispered and looked down so that Derek couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
“Not to mention the lives of all the other potential victims.” he smiled.
Penelope raised her head again to look at him.
“I can’t really give you any advice on how to deal with all that.” Derek said apologetically. “I can only tell you what I do. I try not to concentrate too much on the victims or what is done to them. That doesn’t mean that I forget about them or dehumanize them or anything. But I try to concentrate more on the background and what it tells me about the place where the victims might be taken to.”
“And you never get nightmares?” she whispered.
“Of course, I do.” he negated. “Especially when the victims are children. But when I do I try to think of all the victims we saved or can save by catching the unsub and lock them away.”
She nodded and looked down again unable to hold back the tears any longer.
When Derek saw the tears dropping down on the blanket he gently pulled Penelope into his arms and whispered: “It’s okay, let go!”
“I’m just not made for this job.” she sniffled once more.
Derek crawled under the blanket next to her and pulled her into a tight embrace. Stroking her back and whispering comforting words he waited for her to finally find some sleep before he let the exhaustion take him over as well.
Penelope didn’t really feel a lot better the next morning. Okay, she felt rested, at least she had been able to sleep through the night without any nightmares haunting her. But she didn’t feel really better. Sighing she took off her glasses, closed her eyes for a moment and rubbed the back of her nose between her thumb and her index finger. Maybe she should talk to Hotch and tell him about her decision.
A knock on her door startled her out of her thoughts. “Come in!” she called out fairly certain that it was Derek.
“Sir.” she exclaimed and instinctively wanted to jump up from her chair but managed to keep herself from doing so. She wasn’t at school anymore. “What can I do for you?”
“I just came here to give this to you.” he said, handing her a small stuffed lion.
Penelope took the gift from him and examined it while holding it in her lap. Hotch had never been in her office before – especially not to give her a gift of any kind. She was touched even though she wasn’t exactly sure what this was about. It wasn’t her birthday or any other holiday she could remember.
“Um… you can put it on your computer screen.” Hotch informed her.
That caused Penelope to look up at him: “I know.” she smiled. “Thank you.”
“I just wanted to tell you that we all know how hard this job is at times and we all appreciate what you’re doing.” he explained. “Most of the time you’re the one who finds the last clue to help us get the unsub. You’re really doing a great job and I wouldn’t want another tech analyst in my team.
I’m very proud of you, Garcia. Especially after the last case. I know that it was hard for you to watch those children suffer. But nonetheless you looked at the pictures and videos again and again until you found what we needed. You fought for the last victim and that’s why we were able to save him. That’s why I chose the lion, to remind you how much strength you have.”
She wasn’t able to say anything but just looked at him, a single tear rolling down her cheek.
“I’m proud of you” Hotch repeated, “we all are.” He gave her a warm smile and then left.
Smiling to herself Penelope placed the stuffed animal on the right side of the computer screen she used the most. This way, she could always look at it and know that Hotch appreciated her work – moreover, that he was proud of her. She wiped the tears away that had sprung to her eyes and went back to work.
She didn’t get very far before someone else knocked on her door. When she whirled her chair around to face the visitor she wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Derek leaning against the doorframe. “You talked to Hotch.” she stated.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he shrugged as he stepped closer to her.
“Thank you.” Penelope just smiled.
“You need a new accessory for the left side.” he said pointing his head towards the computer screen and the lion sitting on its right upper edge.
She smiled looking at the stuffed lion again. “You think?”
“Yeah.” he nodded, leaned forward so that his face was right next to hers and placed a small plastic bag on her desk. Then he gently kissed the top of her head and left.
Penelope eagerly opened the bag and new tears sprung to her eyes. Carefully she took the accessory out of the bag and placed it on the other edge of the screen. This present was just beautiful and very much Derek.
The wide smile remained on her face for the rest of the day. Now she knew that she could deal with whatever would appear on her screen. Because whenever she felt that she couldn’t stand the pictures anymore she could look at her knew accessories and remember from whom she’d got them and what they told her.
The lion telling her that Hotch was proud of her and reminding her that she was strong enough to deal with all that. And Derek’s gift always reminding her where she belonged – the small puppet, a baby girl.