"Are you really serious about listening to me talk about anything?" Erin asked about twenty minutes into their conversation. There were only two weeks before they were due home, and by this point she and Erin had grown much closer than she had thought possible. There were just a few small stumbling blocks still in Erin's way at times. So hearing her ask that told Penelope that they were about to get serious in their friendship, and a part of her reveled in that knowledge.
"I wouldn't lie to you, dumpling. My ear is open to hearing whatever you'd want to tell me. Is it your ex-husband again? Because if he doesn't start leaving you alone, I will kick his ass when we get home. Nevermind the fact that I'm not a violent person, he is making me want to be violent towards him."
"It's not Alan, no. They've chosen Emily's replacement and it was the person who I was expecting and dreading it to be. We have a history, Penelope, one that you can quite easily look up in the files. But if I asked you not to do that, would you allow me to tell that story for you? I don't want you to read what happened and think the worst of me, even though I deserve that. I just didn't realise that I would grow to need our friendship quite this much so soon." There was a short paused, and Penelope listened to Erin breathe heavily a few times before she spoke once more. "The new team member is Alex Blake, and I worked with her the first time she was attached to the BAU. We worked well together, until we didn't, and I still regret to this day what happened. Ever since I came out of rehab the first time, I've been trying to make amends with her, but I've been rebuffed at every attempt. It makes sense, given what I did to her, but it still hurts."
Penelope let out a soft sigh, drawing one knee up to her chest as she thought of how to respond to Erin. "It sounds like you were closer than friends with her, Erin. Anyone who you're still desperate to find forgiveness from after a great number of years has passed means that they mean something to you. Is she your soulmate?"
"No." The answer was quick, like she had hoped it would be, but there was still a twinge of hurt at the denial, though she didn't know why she felt that way. "No, we were intimately close before the incident, but we were also both married, starting our families, and feeling trapped. Even though James is and always has been the one to share Lexie's song, there was still an underlying tension there at the beginning. I didn't find out what had caused that until after the incident had occurred. If I had known, things would have gone differently. I wouldn't have been so quick to let her and John take the fall for what happened. I would have shared in the culpability."
"You're talking in riddles, dumpling. Care to start from the beginning?"
"Not until I can see you face to face. I know, it's selfish of me to give you a mystery, but you're going to be home in two weeks, and I'm certain that we can steal away for lunch in my office, where I know I can keep out prying eyes and ears. I just needed to let out a little stress, to know that there was someone there who could listen to me."
"Always, Erin. Now, I hope that you're going to pick us up at the airport?"
"I wish that I could, but I don't think that it will be possible. Would you mind if I sent my assistant in my stead?"
"I suppose that will work, as long as you come see me once we're back in the building. I have a long overdue hug meant for you." Erin let out a bit of a watery laugh, which caused Penelope's heart to skip a beat. "Seriously, I've found myself missing you these last three months, and while I know that I can easily hug Jayje when I get back, and get a quick kiss on the cheek from Rossi, and that welcoming look from Hotch, you're the cipher in my life. At this point, I know that we're just as close as Jayje and I are, and that means I miss you. A lot. And this Alex Blake isn't going to separate us so easily. And you know that I am going to research her as soon as we're off the phone. I promise, I won't pry into the incident, but I want to know more about who I'll be dealing with."
"I knew that that would be your answer. And I won't begrudge you if you do find out something that changes how you feel about who I am. I have tried to live and speak honestly for the last eight months, and I am hoping that you will keep that thought in the back of your mind."
That forlorn sound was back in Erin's voice, and Penelope wished that they were together, since she wanted to hug her so tightly in that moment, to squeeze the pain out until Erin smiled once more. "I think that I can do that, Erin. Through our little chats, I think that I've found out the measure of who you are, and I truly like you."
"I truly like you, too. And I have a small request to make."
"Tell me something that you'll miss about London, or the country as a whole. Paint me a happy picture of your time there so that I have something to hold onto when Alex walks into the BAU Monday morning, ready to follow the rest of your team out into the field."
"I can totally do that, Erin. So, Clyde is a really great guy, and he made this experience so great for us. I didn't have quite as much to do after the first month, which allowed me to explore and see things I probably wouldn't have, if I were here on holiday. And the best one was when I got to fly up to Edinburgh and spend the day exploring. The best part of it, even though it was just a day trip, was getting to explore the Greyfriars Kirkyard. All my Harry Potter geekiness came out, and I may have taken a few too many pictures."
"I remember seeing some of them, yes. Along with pictures of the castle. It looks magical."
"It is. I wish that I could accurately describe to you just how much it affected me, and I really hope that I can get permission to enter the country once more, after this assignment is over. And maybe I can twist a few arms to get you and Jayje to come with me. Make it a proper girl's vacation, and even Emily might be able to join us, too. It would be so lovely!" Erin giggled. "I know, it's probably a pipe dream, but it's good to have a dream at times. And then, after a magical day spent in Edinburgh, I took the night train back to London. It was an almost six hour journey, and I would have liked to see the countryside, but I slept the entire night away, reaching London once more in time to head into the office. I've been doing some research, too, into Scotland, and there are so many things that I'd love to see. I swear, if I spent years over here, I wouldn't be able to get to every sight that I wanted to see in the whole United Kingdom. And a part of me really wants to share this excitement with my friends." Erin made a low sound of agreement, which made Penelope smile as she launched into another story about her time spent in London, determined to leave Erin in a better mood than she had been when she called.