Fandom: Criminal Minds
Prompt for 24_runes: #16 Sowilo (success, goals achieved)
Word count: 2879
Disclaimer: Neither the show nor the characters belong to me, they belong to CBS. Nonetheless, I love to borrow them from time to time.
Summary: Part 14/? of the ‘Loser Lynch’ series.
warnings: spoilers for season 3
When Derek pulled their car into the parking lot of the FBI’s parking garage, Penelope felt her heart beat faster. She hesitated when they got out, and Derek headed towards Hotch, who’d parked his car next to them. It had been too long since she’d last set foot in this building, and too much had happened in the meantime. It felt strange to be back, even if it was just for a few hours.
Derek, who always kept an eye on his baby girl, noticed Penelope’s hesitation and turned around to look at her. “If you’re not ready for this…”
“I am,” Penelope assured him quickly. “And I really want to do this. It just… feels strange, that’s all. But I’m fine.”
“You sure?” Derek asked worriedly. “You don’t need to go in there.”
“I know.” Penelope smiled at him. “But I want to.”
“We can stay here for a while if you want to,” Hotch suggested. “No need to feel rushed.”
“Thank you.” She nodded and took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”
Derek’s first intention was to object. But then he reconsidered it. If Dr. Melrose thought that Penelope was ready for this, and more importantly, Penelope thought she was, he wouldn’t hold her back. Maybe this would even do her good.
Penelope took another deep breath and grabbed Derek’s hand when they were standing in front of the glass doors leading to the bullpen of the BAU. Sure, it wasn’t her first encounter with her coworkers after her attempt to commit suicide, but meeting them for dinner in Derek’s apartment seemed different from meeting them here at work.
They hadn’t dared raising this subject at dinner that night. Derek certainly wouldn’t have let them address the matter anyways. But Penelope was able to tell from their faces that it had been on their minds the whole evening long. Would they ask her anything now? Or would they be mad to see her here? They certainly didn’t know that she was coming back. Would they even want her here after everything that had happened?
When the doors opened and Hotch stepped in, everyone in the room turned to look at him.
Carefully, Penelope and Derek followed. She smiled coyly at JJ, Emily and Reid, who were standing around Emily’s desk.
For a moment, the room was dead silent, since all activity seemed to stop, and everyone just stared at the pair who had just entered.
Then large smiles covered both Emily’s and JJ’s face, and the two women almost ran towards their friend, hugging her exuberantly.
“I can’t tell you how much we all missed you.” Emily said with a heavy sigh.
“Please, tell me that you’re back for good,” JJ added as she hugged Penelope tightly.
“That bad, huh?” Penelope quipped.
Emily just rolled her eyes. “You have no idea. The techs they keep sending us are just… so… incapable.”
“Well, that’s where I come in, I guess.” Penelope smiled and sighed with relief. At least one of her worries – that her friends wouldn’t be glad about her coming back – had just disappeared. Now if only the other techs hadn’t messed with her babies too much!
“And we’re all glad to have you here again.” Rossi smiled and walked towards Penelope to softly peck her cheek.
“Thank you, sir.” She blushed slightly. This went much better than she’d expected, except for Spencer, who hadn’t moved one bit since she’d entered the bullpen. Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t remember him talking a lot that evening, either.
But Penelope didn’t really have the time to worry about that, let alone ask him what was wrong, since JJ and Emily had to bring her up to date about the newest gossip in the bureau while they led her to her office.
“Wow,” Penelope gasped when she entered the room. “It… It looks just like when I was last in here.”
“Nobody touched anything,” Hotch explained. “I made sure of that. None of the techs were allowed to work in here.”
She turned to give him a watery smile, then she turned back to her babies and let her hand run over one of the screens before she sat down in her chair and started her computers. Everything seemed just as they always had.
Penelope worked for a little more than two hours, and it almost felt like it had before Kevin; except for the fact that Derek never left her side. He seemed quieter than usual. At first, Penelope thought that it would get better once he realized that she wasn’t overdoing it. But it didn’t. He just stood in one corner of her office and stared at the floor in front of him.
When she’d fed her babies the necessary information and they were working on their own, she finally turned to him. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Derek looked up at her and gave her a small smile. “Why do you think something’s wrong?”
“You haven’t spoken a single word since we came in here,” she replied. “Now spill it!”
“I’m just worried about you, sweetness,” he replied.
Penelope frowned at him. “No, you’re not. If you were, you’d have already noticed that I’m just fine. So tell me the truth, please.”
“I was just thinking,” he admitted reluctantly.
Penelope stood up and walked over to him to wrap her arms tightly around his waist. “About what?” she demanded as she leaned her head against his chest.
He remained silent for a few moments, before he answered almost too quietly. “Us.”
Frowning again, Penelope raised her head to look up at him. “Do I need to worry?”
“No,” he whispered. He leaned down to give her a gentle kiss before replying. “I was just thinking how many times I stood here watching you work and wished that things were different. That I wished I’d dared to make a move on you. If I hadn’t been so…”
She silenced him by putting her hand over his mouth. “Derek, we’ve already been through this.”
“I know, it’s just…” he sighed and took her hand in his, gently kissing her knuckles. “I was thinking about what you said earlier today, how it was bullshit that I thought you couldn’t want me.”
Penelope bit her lip. “I’m sorry about that. I just wanted to say that you thinking that you’re not good enough for me sounded so... ridiculous. I know it wasn’t the best choice of words.“
“I know what you meant,” he smiled. “And actually, I’m glad you said it that way, because it sounded like you, the old you, the Penelope I fell in love with. But I wanted you to understand something, and I’m not sure that you did. I know how all this must look like to you, and I can understand that you’re doubting my feelings.”
“I try not to,” she quickly assured him. “I mean, I want to believe you, and I so want this to work. I’ve been dreaming about us being together since the day we met. It’s just…”
Derek silenced her the best way he could think of, by pressing his lips against hers. “I really do understand you,” he replied. “But I also want you to understand that I’m serious, that I’m in love with you and have been for a long time, and why I didn’t make a move on you earlier. Alas, I’m not that good at talking. That’s why there’s something I want to show you as soon as we’re back home.”
“Okay,” she just nodded. Of course, she was curious and wanted to ask what exactly it was Derek wanted to show her, but she also knew that he wasn’t ready for this. It must be something very personal, something he was afraid to show her – or at least didn’t feel entirely comfortable showing her.
“I love you, Penelope, more than anything in the world,” he whispered and leaned down to kiss her again. His heart skipped a beat when she sighed and let herself sink against his chest.
When Penelope raised her eyes again, she caught a glimpse of someone standing in her doorway. “Ah, honey, you know, I could really go for a coffee right now,” she said smiling brightly at Derek.
He blinked at her for a second, not sure he really should leave her alone. He wanted to argue with her that he should probably stay. After all, that had been Dr. Melrose’s requirement to allowing Penelope to be here at all.
But then he noticed the expression on her face, and when he turned, he saw Reid standing in the door to Penelope’s office, looking like there was something he needed to get off his chest.
Derek bit his lip and hesitated for a moment. Reid was behaving strangely, even for him. Maybe he shouldn’t give him the opportunity to tell Penelope whatever he wanted to tell her. He might hurt her, say something to get her down again. But then Derek sighed and left them alone to get Penelope the required coffee.
“Hey, sweet pea,” Penelope greeted her visitor happily. “What can I do for you?”
But Reid didn’t answer. He just looked down and shuffled his feet.
She formed a voiceless ‘okay’ before she let herself drop back into her chair and swung around to her beloved computers. Frowning, she noticed that her babies had come up empty.
“So you just want to replace my watchdog, huh?” Penelope asked after a few minutes of Reid just standing in the doorway staring at her.
“I’m mad at you, you know that,” he finally said.
Penelope stopped the quick movements of her fingers on her keyboard and slowly turned towards him. She wasn’t sure whether she really wanted to hear what Reid was about to say.
“Why did you do this?” he asked, stepping a little closer. “I mean, how could you? Do you know what this made us all feel like?”
She just swallowed, not sure what she could answer.
“We all love you and we care about you,” Reid went on. “I thought you knew that. I thought you knew that no matter what, we’d always be there for you. But instead of asking for help, you left us wondering what in the world we could have done to prevent this. I’m mad at you, and at myself, because I love you and I thought that there must have been something I could have done.”
“I… I’m sorry,” Penelope stuttered.
“You know, my whole life, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I was just the freak no one wanted to hang around with.” Penelope could see tears springing to his eyes, but Spencer ignored them. “I was too young for high school, too young for college and… too geeky for anyone. But when I started working here, for the first time, I felt like I DID belong somewhere. You treated me as if I was just like anyone else, just as normal as Morgan or JJ. You were always there for any of us.
And when I heard about what you had done, all I wanted to do was yell at you. I understand that you were distraught, but… Why did you do this? This is not you.”
Penelope hadn’t even noticed the tears that were now streaming down her face. “I know,” she sniffled. “And to be honest, I’ve been asking myself the same question. I just… I don’t know. I felt so alone and… like nobody wanted me. I’m sorry, I…”
“This is stupid,” Reid interrupted her. “We all love you. I thought you knew that. I… I don’t want you to be sorry. I just… want you to know how much you mean to me.”
Penelope quickly wiped away the tears that were running down her cheeks, then stood up and hugged her favorite genius. “But I am sorry. Because I didn’t even think about all of you or what I did to you.”
“I know,” he nodded as he hugged Penelope back. “I didn’t want to blame you, but…”
“I know that,” she assured him.
They stood in Penelope’s office, embracing each other, for a good couple of minutes. Then Penelope whispered, “Thank you.”
Reid gave her a puzzled glance as he let go of her.
Penelope smiled. “For telling me the truth and for not treating me like I’m a raw egg or something. Thank you for being so honest with me.”
He took a deep breath and then smiled shyly. “I actually expected you to yell at me.”
“Well, it certainly is a good thing that I sent my watchdog away, because he wouldn’t even have let you finish your first sentence before yelling at you,” she grinned at him.
Reid grimaced sheepishly.
“Hey,” Penelope put a hand on his shoulder to make him look up at her again, “we’re good. As I said, I’m thankful that you told me how you feel. I… I can’t really tell you why I did this. All I know for sure is that I really wanted to die. But right now, I’m more than glad Derek found me in time. I have so much to live for.”
“I’m sorry if we… didn’t show you how much we all cared,” a small, teary voice said from the doorway.
“I know you do.” Penelope smiled reassuringly at her best friend. “I… I guess I’d just forgotten about it.”
“We’ll make sure you never forget about that again,” Hotch said from where he was standing next to JJ.
“I know,” Penelope nodded. Then she turned her attention back to her screens. “I’m sorry, sir, but I fear all my searches have come up empty so far. There is no connection between the victims; nothing they all had in common.”
Hotch frowned and took a deep breath. “Thanks for trying anyways.”
“Hey, I didn’t say I was finished,” she pouted as she sat back into her chair. “I don’t give up that easily. I just need a little more time.”
“Now that sounds like my girl,” Derek smirked as he placed a cup of frappuccino on the table next to Penelope’s babies.
She took the cup and inhaled deeply. This was it. This was what she needed to feel normal again: some work to do and her favorite chocolate God providing her with the most delicious beverage in the world.
Derek looked around at the rest of the team and frowned. “Did I miss anything?”
“We’re just here to see if Penelope needs anything,” Hotch replied.
One corner of Derek’s mouth moved up slightly. It hadn’t escaped his notice that Hotch was using a more personal address now – and it seemed to make Penelope feel more comfortable. Maybe because Hotch only called very few people by their first name.
“I’m fine,” Penelope sighed, “except for the fact that all my searches came up empty.”
“Don’t overdo it, Baby Girl!” Derek scolded her. “Maybe you should take a break.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” JJ agreed. “Maybe you can come back tomorrow.”
“Nobody expects you to find anything the other techs couldn’t,” Hotch added. “Maybe there is just no connection and he chooses his victims randomly. You really shouldn’t…”
“Um… guys?” Penelope carefully interrupted them. “I think I may have found something.”
All heads turned towards Penelope. She stood up, grabbed a board marker and quickly went to the white board she used to write on while searching the lives of victims.
“Apparently, there is some kind of connection,” Penelope started as she wrote down the names of the first two victims, “but it’s not very obvious. I almost missed it.”
A frown appeared on Hotch’s face as he tried to determine what Penelope might have found.
“Now, Terri Rodriguez and Elisa Warren, victims number one and number two, both went to the same fitness center twice a week,” Penelope explained as she drew a line between the two names and wrote down a third name. “Elisa Warren and the third victim, Miranda Lawrence, had the same hair stylist and so on. The victims aren’t all connected, but each victim has some connection to the previous one.”
“So he probably met the first victim frequently somewhere, maybe even knew her,” Spencer jumped in. “We know that he watches his victims for at least one week before he kidnaps them. It makes sense that he chooses his next victim while watching the most recent one.”
“At some point, our unsub crossed paths with Terri Rodriguez; the question is where and why he chose her,” Hotch added.
“That’s why I printed a list of every place Terri used to go to frequently, as well as a list of places we know she’s been during the three weeks before she was kidnapped,” Penelope announced proudly and handed a stack of paper to a stunned Hotch.
“God, I missed you.” Hotch gave her one of his very rare smiles before he turned around to the rest of his team. “We’ll meet at the table in ten minutes. Finally, we have something to work with.”When Derek looked at his Baby Girl, he found himself smiling with relief. This had done Penelope better than he’d ever expected. She was literally beaming – especially after Hotch’s remark.