Penelope smiled as she heard her song start to play in her mind once more. It was very quiet, like it normally was, but that just made her focus on it all the harder, wanting to pick up more of it this time around. Unconsciously, she began to hum along with it, feeling a certain joy fill her heart as the song grew stronger. Her mother came into her bedroom, kneeling down to ruffle her hair, and she frowned a little, shaking her head as her focus was broken. "What's that dark look for, Penny?"
"You broke my song."
"Well, what song was it? We can put it on the radio?"
She shook her head fiercely. "You can't play this song, Mama. I've never heard it before, except in my head. I think it's like the song that you and Miguel share."
A knowing smile spread across her mother's face as she scooped Penelope up into her arms, swinging her around a little before pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. "You're so young to hear your song, my love, but I am glad that you have the first inkling of what your song will be. Your stepbrothers still haven't heard their songs for the first time. When do you hear your song most often?"
Her mother carried her over to her bed, and she grinned as they bounced down onto the mattress. "When I dream. I wake up with it in my mind and heart. This is only the second time that I've heard it when I was awake. When do you think that I'll meet my soulmate, Mama?"
There was a long pause before her mother answered her. "It could be a long time, sweetheart. I never thought that I would find the person who shared my song, so I married your father. I loved him, dearly, but he wasn't my soulmate. But I know that if I hadn't married him, I would never have you, and you're one of my greatest joys. Everything works out for a purpose, and while I don't know what your purpose will be, I know that one day, you'll meet the man who sings back your song to you."
"Will it be a man?"
She didn't know why she felt the need to ask that question, but it fluttered free from her lips before she could swallow the words. Her mother's arms tightened around her shoulders a little, letting her know that there had been something that her mother didn't like about it. Finally, she listened to her mother draw in a deep breath and knew she was about to receive her answer. "Your life would be a little more difficult if your song was shared with a woman. We don't live in a country that's nice to people like that. But maybe one day, when you're older, that will change for the better. I pray that is so, but I don't hold out high hopes. Just know that you will always have a home with us, my sweet daughter. No matter what this world might throw at you, we will always protect you and the person who shares your song."
"Okay, Mama. Will you sing your song for me?"
Her mother nodded and snuggled her close to her chest once more, rocking her back and forth as the song that had been her lullaby when she was a baby poured from her lips. "All right, Penelope, I was just coming up to see if you wanted to take a nap. I know, you're a big girl of seven now, but you were a little cranky when you came home from school today. If you try and sleep for twenty minutes, and can't, than I won't bug you about it anymore."
She tried to deny that she was tired, but a wide yawn told her mother the truth before she could come up with a stretching of the truth. "Fine. Just close the curtains, please." Her mother nodded as Penelope stretched out on the bed, letting her head flop down onto the pillow as she stared up at the ceiling. Before she left the room, her mother draped a blanket over her body before kissing her forehead lightly. As soon as the lights were off and the door was closed, Penelope let out a deep sigh and turned onto her side, trying to call the song back up in her mind. "I don't know where you are, but at least I know you're somewhere out there. And I hope that when we do meet, we hit it off right away. And I hope that we meet right away, so that we can have forever together."
Penelope yawned widely, trying to ignore the heavy feeling of sleep that was slowly creeping into her body, dulling her senses. But it was also in that moment her song began to start up in her mind once more, and she reached out for the silvery tendrils of music, wanting to hang on to it as she fell deeper and deeper into sleep. Just before she fully succumbed to slumber, Penelope heard a distinctly girly voice start to hum along with the melody of the song, and she smiled a little to know that she had the smallest inkling of who her soulmate was, and what she might sound like when their paths finally crossed.
Penelope let out a deep sigh of frustration as she tried to find out more information about this team that was currently holed up in the bank. The fact that her nerves were still on edge from her encounter with Kevin earlier didn't help things either. She knew, deep in her heart, that he wasn't her soulmate, but given that she was now in her late thirties and her soulmate hadn't appeared, she had been lowkey thinking of Kevin as her backup lover. He was always just there, but when he asked her to marry him, to live with him on a remote farm in the middle of nowhere, she had known just how wrong that thought was. Though she had reacted poorly to the way he had proposed, and things had ended messily between them, she still had feelings for the man, since they had been together for three years before that little dustup.
Shaking her head a little to lose the cobwebs of distraction, Penelope refocused her attention on what was happening inside the bank, seeing how cagey and nervous the men looked, even though the woman was cool and in control. That was going to be a problem, she could just feel it in her bones. She shifted in her seat a little to try and relieve some of the tenseness in her back, but that didn't do anything, so she cracked her back as best she could before pulling out her phone to check on her messages. Every one of her friends seemed to be checking in with her, and she worried her lip between her teeth, torn between answering them and letting her know that everyone was all right at the moment and keeping her focus where it needed to be.
"Screw it, I'll just send out a mass text to all my friends, it shouldn't take that long," she muttered as she opened up her messenger app and tapped out a quick message to her friends before turning the device off and shoving it back into her pocket. With that out of the way, she seemed better able to concentrate at the task at hand, though she wasn't upset when her song started to run through her mind. The sweet melody was a welcome relief in that moment, and she allowed that sound to fill her mind as she hurriedly wrote down the results of one search before using that information to help guide her next search.
The song started to get a little louder, something that hadn't happened in years, not since Haley had been murdered, and she frowned a little as she looked away from her monitors to see if anything about her surroundings had changed, but there didn't appear to be a new person in her little mobile tech cave. Frowning, she tried to think about when she had heard the song at that volume last, and she realized that it hadn't been when she was on the phone with Hotch and the rest, listening to Foyet shoot Haley. It had been when she was being interrogated by Strauss and her compatriots. There had been true compassion and sorrow on her face, and when Penelope had teared up, she saw the woman's eyes become wet with unshed tears. And then, her song had started to hum loudly in her chest, and she had been comforted by that, even as Strauss's voice imperceptibly broke on her next question.
"It can't be," she muttered, shaking her head firmly. "Complete and utter tosh." Pushing her thought to the back of her head, she glanced back up at the bank footage, watching how there was no change. Even through the glass she could feel the tension in the hostages, as the panicked, frightened, looks they shared told her everything that she needed to know. The door to the mobile command unit opened, and she jumped a little before turning her head to see who was coming in. Rossi was the first one in the room and then came Strauss. She wore a grim look on her face, but the thing that drew Penelope's attention the most was the fact that she was wearing a pair of skintight jeans. She had never seen their boss in anything other than smart business attire, so this change was odd, but strangely alluring. Rossi cleared his throat a little, which clued her in to the fact that she was staring perhaps a smidge longer than necessary, and she looked over at him, taking in the dirty little grin on his lips. "I really hope that you two have brought me something that I can work with in order to figure out just what is going on here. I hate being this much at a loss."
"I wish that I had better news for you, Kitten, but we're stymied as well. The most we can tell you is that this is not the first time they've done this. The operation, up to the point where Will and his partner exchanged gunfire with the unsubs, was quite smooth. They did not plan on the police force showing up so soon, and that should work in our favor. We just need to come up with something concrete to give to the Director, because Erin is the one who is trying to keep him at bay while we work on a viable solution to this mess. We need to be free from interference for this to work out well, and I do not trust the Director to not futz something up."
Strauss tutted beneath her breath, and Penelope watched as Rossi rolled his eyes a little before reaching out and rubbing her shoulder softly. "David. Not here."
Penelope's eyes widened as she read into that all the implications that those three words might have. She was not prepared to have two revelations of such magnitude in one harrowing day, especially not when she had a very important job to focus on. "Fine, Erin. I'll head back out to Aaron and see where he is with SWAT." He brushed past them, and Penelope took a few calming breaths before looking up at the woman. She had moved closer to Penelope's side, leaning in close to look at the monitors.
"I know it's a longshot, but have you been able to identify any of the unsubs?"
She shook her head a little before letting out a forlorn sigh. "I just know that they're good, and that the woman terrifies me for some reason I can't put my finger on. The men, they're easier to read. She is like a closed book. And I know, I haven't taken the profiling courses, my observations are just based on all the work I've done with the BAU for the last nine years, but my gut is screaming that this will not end well. I wish that I had the tools to understand how to make sense of this, but I don't, I can just try and find the data and the others can interpret it for me."
Strauss's hand closed around her shoulder as she straightened her spine. "They rely on your skills just as much as you rely on them to get results. You are, perhaps, the most well matched team that the FBI has, and if you tell anyone I said that, they won't believe you."
"You're probably right about that, ma'am, though I think that you've changed a little while you were on leave. You're handling this much more calmly than you might have before."
She knew that it was chancy to call attention to the woman's absence, but she also couldn't stop her mouth from saying those words, knowing that the Strauss of just a few months ago would have burst into the mobile command unit giving angry commands. But this woman here, she was softer, for a reason Penelope didn't quite understand yet. "I have learned in the last three months that I needed a new approach to life. I wish that I could say more, but…"
"I get it, we're not exactly friends. But we could be! If you wanted a friend in the BAU, that is. I know, mixing work and pleasure isn't the smartest idea, but JJ and I make our friendship work. And it's not like I would expect us to go out drinking and dancing. No, a friendship with you would be all classy events, like art gallery openings, and nights at the opera. I need a little culture in my life."
And then, for the first time ever in her career, Penelope saw Strauss genuinely smile, a radiant look that stole Penelope's breath from her lungs. "I suppose that I could take you along to an opera or two. We could even start with Wagner." Penelope furrowed her brow a little, trying to figure out why that might be funny. "No, I wouldn't do that to you, we'd start off on something accessible. But would you really want to be on friendly terms with me?"
"Yes," she replied quickly and simply, giving Erin a brilliant smile in return. That response seemed to please Erin to no end, and she began to hum softly as she turned her attention to the screens once more, thereby missing the fact that Penelope's smile faded from her face as she heard the song of her soulmate slip from between the lips of the person she least expected.
Penelope was glad that not only had she booked an Uber for JJ's wedding, but she had also pregamed by drinking nearly half a bottle of wine. She knew that both Kevin and Erin would be there that evening, and she needed something to lend her a little bit of courage to face them both. Still, she didn't want to get sloppy drunk, since she didn't want to embarrass her best friend as she married her soulmate. That was the one thing that JJ had disclosed to her when she told her that she had finally said yes to Will's proposal. Though there was no way that she could tell JJ, or Emily, or anyone on her team that she had finally found her soulmate, too. Because there was no way that they would believe or accept what she knew to be true.
Letting out a little sigh, she climbed out of the car that had driven her to Rossi's mansion, making certain to leave a five star rating as she tripped up to the door. To her surprise, Erin was the one who answered her knock, and she gave the woman a shy smile before brushing past her to find the open bar she was almost certain Rossi had set up for the shindig. "Isn't Mister Lynch coming with you, Penelope?"
She looked over at Erin, shaking her head a little as she accepted the fruity drink the bartender had made for her, forcing herself to sip slowly as she steeled herself for conversing with the woman. "No, we broke up a few months ago, and he's seeing Agent Sharp now. I'm a free bird."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Don't be, we weren't soulmates, so it's not like any relationship we built was The One. I'm still waiting to hear my song sung back to me."
A tender look flickered across Erin's face as she nodded. "I'm waiting for that, too. Don't tell David." The woman touched the side of her nose before accepting a glass of water from the bartender and leaving Penelope's side. Once she was out of sight, Penelope let out a long breath before downing the drink in her hand quickly and turning back to ask for another.
"You shouldn't have lied to your soulmate," the woman said as she handed Penelope another of the same drink. "And before you ask, I could see it on your face. Which means, if you really don't want her to know, you're going to have to hide yourself a little better."
Penelope nodded as she took the glass from her hands and began to wander through the house, speaking to everyone she came across, until she spotted Kevin and Gina. That triggered her flight mode, and she escaped out into the backyard, walking around as she nursed her new drink. It was so easy to keep an eye on Erin, since she felt drawn to her soulmate. A few times, Erin glanced up at her, giving her a small smile before continuing her conversation with JJ's mother.
Everything quickly became a blur as she found herself growing increasingly nervous about interacting with Kevin or Erin. Soon, though, it was time for the ceremony, and Penelope was grateful to focus on her friend's happiness and not on avoiding two people. The meal was also an easy thing to get through, since she was seated next to Derek and could talk to him without fear of revealing herself. It was only when the music began to play that she knew she might be in a spot of trouble. Thankfully, Derek led her out onto the dance floor and held her close as they swayed back and forth.
"Emily's leaving us, you know."
She looked up at him in surprise, shaking her head a little. "I did not know that. Did she tell you or something?"
He nodded before pressing a kiss to the side of her head. "I just don't think she ever truly fit back into her old life well. It would be hard for any of us to hit the ground running like she did, and the more she tried to make it work, the less it did. I just want to see her happy."
Penelope nodded, knowing that she couldn't reveal what she knew about Emily's song, that it had to come from her own lips. Still, it hurt to not be able to clue Derek in a little on how they could get Emily to stay, and she sighed deeply before resting her head on his chest as they continued to dance. It took a few songs before Rossi cut in on them, twirling her over to another corner of the dance floor. "How are you doing tonight, Kitten?"
"I'm more than a little drunk right now? But this is a beautiful thing that you've done for JJ and Will."
"I had to do something to make this horrible weekend somewhat better. I'm sorry that I invited Kevin. I knew about the status of your relationship, but it completely slipped my mind as I was going about planning this shindig. I'm assuming that that's the reason that you're so tipsy?"
It was a tiny lie to shift the entire blame for how much she'd drunk onto Kevin's shoulders, but there was no way she was telling Rossi that he was sleeping with her soulmate. "Yeah. It's just been so weird seeing him on the arm of another woman. I know he's not my soulmate, we don't share a song, but he was really comfortable?"
"I understand that, Kitten." He pulled her a little closer to his chest. "I lost my soulmate when Carolyn died, and I don't think I'll ever hear a song like that again." Penelope teared up a little at that tender admission, and she sniffled as she tried to hold them back, not wanting to ruin JJ's perfect night by becoming that sloppy drunk stereotype. "Have you heard your song?"
"Since I was a child. It's a beautiful gossamer thing, and I, I don't know how to share it with the other woman." That was the closest that she wanted to come to revealing who her soulmate was, but the way Rossi's arms tightened around her told Penelope that he understood her reluctance, even though he didn't know that she and Erin belonged together. "I thought I heard it earlier, but I think that was just me trying to soothe myself from the trauma we just went through."
"I was singing our song to myself all day, too." She allowed herself to cry at those words, feeling his lips press against her temple as they continued to swirl around the patio, passing by Erin and Hotch. Penelope gave the woman a yearning look as they went, hoping that she didn't catch said look as she was passed from Rossi's arms to Reid's. As the night lingered on, she managed to dance with everyone, including Kevin, before JJ pulled her and Emily into a threeway embrace. Their dance was more than a little awkward, but they made it work, trying to ignore the fact that Emily was crying a little.
Eventually, she knew that she had to let JJ and Emily have their own private dance, since JJ had been so instrumental at making certain Emily was safe during her time being dead, and she pulled away from them to head over to the refreshment table, picking up a fresh flute of champagne. She knew from the taste that it was nonalcoholic, but that didn't really matter, she just wanted something to do with her hands. "So, everyone rates a dance but me?"
Penelope gulped down her mouthful of champagne before she turned to look at Erin. "I didn't know if you'd want to dance with me," she replied just as softly, giving Erin a small smile before finishing her drink and setting the glass by the other used ones. "Shall we?"
She held out her hand to Erin, and they stepped out onto the patio. Penelope tried to copy some of the dance moves that she had watched Rossi do with the woman, twirling her around. That was all well and good until the woman came back close to her body, and Penelope instinctively closed an arm around her waist, holding Erin closer than was probably appropriate. It was when Erin was close enough to her that she could count the individual lashes on her eyelids that Penelope felt their song well up in her heart. Erin stiffened a little, though she didn't pull away from their dance. Instead, the song grew louder between them until they were moving to that tempo rather than the actual music being played, and it took everything in Penelope to keep herself from leaning further in and kissing the woman and thereby destroying everything. Instead, they just continued to dance to their song as the night went on.
"You were dancing with Strauss for a long time there, PG," JJ said as she took a seat next to Penelope, giving her a probing look. Penelope shrugged a little as she looked over at the woman, seeing that she was dancing with Hotch now, their heads bent closely together. A thrum of jealousy and longing coursed through her body as she turned her head away quickly to focus on JJ. "Seriously, is there something going on that I should know? I could still use my contacts to make certain that there's nothing untoward going on there."
"No!" she said sharply, watching her friend recoil a little. "Sorry, that came out a little harsh. All right, can I trust you?"
There was a short pause, and JJ took a deep breath before licking her lips and shrugging a little. "That depends. Have you truly forgiven me for keeping the truth about Emily from you for all that time?"
"Yes. You were doing what was necessary to keep her safe and alive. I wish that we could have known about it, like we did with Haley, but then, Foyet outsmarted us, and Doyle could very well have done the same. This, this isn't quite so serious as that situation, but it is my heart and soul on the line."
JJ smiled a little, shaking her head a little. "I love how dramatic you can be."
"It is my specialty. So. You and Will share a unique soulmate song." JJ nodded. "I know who my soulmate is, too. I should have figured it out a few years ago, when the song was louder in her presence, but I chalked it up to my off kilter emotions over Haley's death. And then, yesterday, I actually heard my song sung aloud. By her." She looked back over at Erin and released a deep sigh. "But she's with Rossi, and she looks to be so happy. I could never even begin to think about coming between that, not after everything she's been through."
JJ's eyes flickered away from her to look up at someone else, just as Penelope felt a warm hand close around her shoulder. Sucking in a deep breath, she bent her head back to look up into Rossi's face. A deep flush betrayed her embarrassment, and she struggled to blink back tears as she lowered her head and pursed her lips together. A sick, heavy, feeling invaded her stomach, and she wondered suddenly if all those drinks had been such a smart thing. "Jen, I think that Kitten and I need to have a long talk. If I don't see you and Will before you head out for the night, congratulations again."
"Thanks, Dave," JJ said as she rose to her feet and went back over to her husband. Panic caused Penelope to start fiddling with her dress, feeling like she was going to crawl out of her skin. Dave took JJ's now empty seat and reached out for her hand, picking it up and holding on lightly as he just looked at her, smiling, trying to put her at ease. Or so she thought, well, hoped, really.
"How much of that did you hear?" she asked in a tiny voice, feeling uncomfortable with their conversation already, and he hadn't said anything yet.
"I came into it when you told Jen about your song, and the fact that the woman who shares that song with you is currently involved with me. You should have told me while we were dancing together about this. I would have understood."
She let out a deep breath through her nose as she tightened her grip on his hand. "I like you both too much to just run in and drop a bomb like that. She's happy with you, like I told Jayje, and that might be all that matters, really. I don't love her, not yet. Finding your soulmate doesn't automatically mean that you're desperately in love with them. But I will admit that my heart is now a little more tender towards her."
"I did notice that your dance together certainly grew a little more intimate as it went on, like you were lost in your own little world."
"I think that we were dancing to the tempo of our song. And I think that Erin might know about the connection as well, since she reacted at one point. I'm not going to say anything, I want you to know that. She's your partner. I know, I'm repeating myself, I just don't want you to feel like…"
He held up his hand before reaching out and pressing one finger against her lips to quiet her words. "Yes, Erin and I slept together this weekend. It was a lot of fun, but you probably don't want those details." She shook her head, listening to him chuckle. "We've worked off steam together more than once, and while we work as friends with benefits, we both know that we're not meant to be with each other. Your song is lovely, by the way."
"You've heard it?" Penelope gave him a shy smile as she scooted her chair closer to his, wanting to know more. "When?"
"Before you ever joined the BAU. Erin would hum it under her breath when she was at work, and I always assumed that it was the song she shared with Alan. Until she told me that Alan had no song in his heart, but they had married to keep the peace with her parents. She wanted to wait until she met, well, you, even though she might not know for certain it is you, but things were different back then, and you were lucky to meet your soulmate before bowing to societal pressure."
"Oh," she whispered, squeezing his hand a little tighter. "I, I don't know where to go from here, honestly. Are you certain you wouldn't mind us exploring something?" He shook his head. "But how will we navigate the red tape at work? I mean, you are the reason why we have the frat rules that we do." Rossi blushed a little as he raised his eyebrows before chuckling a little. "She's just come back, I don't want to rock that boat, either. But look at her, she's beautiful and worth fighting for. Even if I have to transfer to a different department."
"Are you certain you aren't in love with her, Kitten?" he teased gently, and she stuck her tongue out at him before shaking her head. "Well, I'll keep your secret for now. You just need to promise me that you'll reach out to her. Hold out the hand of friendship and build up to revealing that you're meant to be together. And if you need any pointers on how to please her, I'm your man."
"Really, David!" she exclaimed, using Erin's inflections in a near perfect mimicry, and he chuckled as he shook his head. "What?"
"I'd heard that there are some soulmates who start to sound like each other. We've seen it with Jen and Will. I just never expected to hear Erin drop from your lips." She bit her lower lip as she shrugged a little. "So, if you want to keep things under wraps for the time being, you might want to police your language a little more."
"I'll keep that in mind. Um, I should probably order my Uber now. I think that I've learned enough tonight. Don't you?" He nodded and Penelope pulled out her phone and called up the app, quickly getting that squared away. "I'll just go wait for them in the foyer. You go distract Erin so that we can just leave things be for the time being."
They stood up at the same time, and Penelope was surprised to find that Rossi pulled her into a tight hug, rubbing her back softly. "Sometime you have to have a little courage, Kitten. You survived a maniac trying to hunt you down, I know that you can survive letting Erin know you're soulmates."
"Okay. But you have to set up a night at the opera for us. I know that she likes that, and I want to learn more about what she likes before things start to get a little more serious?" Rossi nodded before kissing her cheek softly and pushing her in the direction of the house. With one last look at Erin, she slipped inside and began to think about what her next step would be with Erin.
It had been three weeks since JJ's wedding, and with the woman off on a short honeymoon, thanks to Rossi, and Emily leaving for Interpol, Penelope found herself swamped with work and thus not able to find a free moment to speak with Erin. She had sent a few emails to the woman, but when there hadn't been a response, she had given up, hoping that once the team was back up to a full complement of people, there would be time to get to know Erin better.
With that thought in mind, she let herself into her office that morning and booted up her systems, expecting it to be another day of more of the same. Grabbing her mug from her desk, she went down to the break room to get coffee, as she'd woke up late that morning and hadn't had time to stop at her usual shop. As she added cream and sugar, she felt a familiar presence behind her, and she turned, half expecting to see Erin. A small frown formed on her face when she only saw Morgan standing there. "Well, good morning to you, too, Hot Stuff."
"Sorry, I was just expecting it to see someone different. How are you this morning?"
"Stressed. Did you not check your phone? We need to be in Strauss's office now."
Frowning, she fished around in the pocket of her skirt, pulling out her main phone and seeing that he was indeed right. "Shit. Did she say what was going on?"
Derek shook his head. "All my text said was that we needed to be there first thing this morning. And I know it's the same thing she sent you, because she did it as a group message. Now, get your sweet ass moving so that we can get back to work as quickly as possible. I still don't like being called into her office like I'm a naughty schoolboy."
She laughed as she followed him out of the breakroom and down the hall to Erin's office. Her assistant was just sliding behind her computer, giving them an odd look as they went right for the inner door. "Do you have an appointment with Chief Strauss?"
"Yes, she texted us to meet with her first thing this morning. And seeing as how that message was sent ninety minutes ago, I'm assuming she's here already." Derek gave the young woman a winning smile as he turned the doorknob and let them into Erin's inner sanctum. "Good morning, Ma'am. I brought Garcia with me as soon as I saw your text."
"Excellent. Please, have a seat." Erin smiled shyly at her before schooling her features into the usual cool look she always wore, and she wondered if Derek had caught the expression. From the way he was looking at a spot somewhere above the woman's shoulder, she figured that he hadn't. Which was for the best, since she didn't want to raise too many questions at the moment. Taking a deep breath, she refocused her attention on the woman, trying to ignore the first stirrings of their song. From the way Erin owlishly blinked, she was trying to do the same, and Penelope dared enough to give her a tiny flicker of a smile before lowering her eyes to Erin's chin and waiting for her to speak. "As you know, Agent Prentiss is now attached to Interpol, and is extremely busy, what with the upcoming Olympic games. As such, she and Clyde Easter had asked that the two of you be sent to them on secondment."
Penelope felt her brow furrow at that word. "I'm sorry?"
"I had to look the word up as well, Ms Garcia. Apparently, it's a term our British compatriots use for when we loan out agents to other places. Or doctors, or police officers. I rather like the term, even if it feels odd on the tongue at first." Derek nodded, and from the corner of her gaze, Penelope watched his jaw tighten just a tick, which told her that he was not pleased with the direction the conversation was taking. "Now, you don't have to say yes, but the assignment would be a great boon for our department, and the money you both would earn would be greater than what you could earn here in the same amount of time."
"How long are we talking about?" Derek asked, his voice tight and low.
"Twelve weeks. From this Thursday until the third week of August."
Derek's hands clenched into fists, and Penelope winced a little, knowing that he was about to explode in anger. "Three months?! Really? She couldn't stay here, but she expects me to be at her beck and call for three fucking months?"
The foul language didn't seem to faze Erin, instead she just blinked slowly as she nodded. "I think that the intention is for you to work more closely with Clyde than with Agent Prentiss, but yes, it will be an extended period of time. Again, I must stress that this is an amazing opportunity for our department, and the money that you will be paid will more than make up for the inconvenience. And I have been assured that you will both have the opportunity to see the sights and some of the Games, if you wish."
"Think of it, Der. I get to be that much closer to Prince William! Who knows, maybe Clyde can introduce me, and I can become like a technical wizard to the Royal Family," she teased, trying to get her best friend to relax and smile a little. Erin, though, frowned quickly, as if she didn't like the idea of that at all, and Penelope gave her a small wink before looking back at Derek. "It has always been my fondest wish to be connected to royalty, after all."
"Baby Girl, if I have to come back, you have to come back. Besides, you know he's happily married." He shook his head a little before giving her a grateful smile. "I'm sorry for my outburst, Ma'am. Emily and I left things on bad terms, and that clouded my first reaction to your news."
"It is all right, Agent Morgan. I wasn't particularly pleased with the idea myself when it first crossed my desk. After all, with you and Ms Garcia gone, Alpha team will be down three members. I'm trying to fill Agent Prentiss's role, but it is very difficult to do so. What answer should I give to Agent Prentiss and Easter?"
There was a brief pause before Penelope spoke up. "It is a definite yes for me. I've always wanted to visit the UK, but with my background, it had been next to impossible to get permission to visit. Being officially invited into the country? Is something that I can't turn down. But who will work with my teams while I'm gone?"
"I have already broached that subject with Mister Lynch, and he has tentatively agreed to take on your workload. It will be a change, but it won't be permanent." She nodded and turned to Derek, hoping that he was seeing her point of view. "Agent Morgan?"
"I suppose that there only ever was one choice. Someone has to look after my Baby Girl and make certain that she doesn't end up in the Tower." She gasped and reached out to smack his upper arm lightly, giving him a look of faux outrage. "I'm just kidding."
"I know." She gave him a simpering smile before turning her gaze back to Erin. "I guess that we're going to London. If only you could come with us, Chief Strauss."
"Alas, my duty lies here. Now, Agent Prentiss said that she would have all your documentation ready for the flight on Thursday. After you leave today, I do not expect you to show up tomorrow, as you'll both need time to pack and get your affairs in order. I'm sorry that this is such late notice, but I was just informed of it myself early this morning."
"Thank you for this opportunity, Chief Strauss. We'll try to make you proud and not go rogue while over there." Penelope rose to her feet and clasped Erin's outstretched hand, shaking it firmly, even as their song began to rise up between them once more. It took everything in her not to react and for just a moment, it appeared that Erin was steeling herself as well. All she could do was give the woman a small smile as she let go of her hand and scurried from the room, already planning on what to bring overseas for an extended stay.
They had only been in London for two days when Emily pulled her aside before breakfast and gave her a serious look. "What are you running from, Garcia?" she asked as she sat them down at her table, looking into her eyes. It was difficult to keep her gaze, as Penelope felt like Emily could see into the depths of her soul. "I can tell that your heart isn't here, you know. You look like I did when I returned to the BAU from the dead, so I know that haunted expression. Why did you come if you didn't want to be here?"
She let out a deep sigh, wishing that she had a mug of coffee to wrap her hands around. "Coffee and then I'll talk?" she asked, pouting a little in that way she knew would get Emily to do as she asked. Her friend rolled her eyes before getting up and pouring them both large mugs of coffee. "Milk, too, please."
"You don't ask for much," Emily muttered as she added a liberal dash of milk to one mug before returning to the table. "All right, you have your coffee. What is making you so distracted, so haunted?"
"I don't even know if you'll believe me if I tell you. Have you heard your song?" A dark look slipped across Emily's face as she hands tightened around her mug. Even though Penelope knew the answer, she took expressions as all she would get and plowed right ahead. "I have heard mine since I was young. Like, five or six. It's always been a part of me. And it's a woman. I've known that since I was young, too, that my soulmate was a woman. And I found her."
"Who? Is it someone we know?"
Penelope nodded as she brought her mug to her lips, sipping at it as she tried to get her thoughts under control. "So, I'm going to tell you a little story, and I'm going to ask that you not say anything until I'm finished. No matter how much you might want to interject. Okay?" Emily nodded as she drew an X over her heart, making Penelope smile. "I should have known who my soulmate was during the inquest into Foyet's death, as that was when I heard my song start to get louder. But then I didn't hear it like that again for a long time. Not until the bank heist. When Erin Strauss and I were forced into small quarters and she was staring at the little screens, I started to hear my song. Pouring from her lips. Soulmate songs are only known by the people who share them.
"But I didn't tell her that I knew, I just listened, and tried to reconcile the fact that my soulmate was sleeping with a member of my team, and that she also happened to be someone that I haven't always gotten along with. And it would have been fine, I think, if you hadn't dropped the bomb of leaving us for Interpol and her asking me to dance with her all in the same night. When we were in each other's arms, the song took over and enveloped us. I could have sworn that she knew, too, but neither of us said anything. Rossi overheard me telling JJ about it, though, and he let me know that he wouldn't stand in the way of us getting together, since he knew he wasn't Erin's soulmate. I just don't know what to do, Emily. I don't know her well enough to even begin to think about a relationship, but the more I think about her, the more I want a relationship with her. I thought that three months away would do me good, help me put my head on straight, but so far? That is not the case."
She let out a long breath before bringing the mug to her lips once more and taking a long drink, her eyes never meeting Emily's. "I know who my soulmate is, too, and he will never look at me the same way again, since I left him in the BAU to come over here."
Penelope's eyes shot up to look at Emily's face, seeing the pain and regret there. "Sometimes, we just can't stay where we are. It hurts too much. The cracks in the foundation are too great. But if your soulmate just happens to be a handyman in his spare time, flipping houses all on his own, you might be able to find in him the person who can help repair the cracks in your heart. Just saying. Though you might have to be the one to reach out first. He's still hurting."
"You speak as if you know that I'm talking about Derek."
Penelope smiled softly as she reached across the table to squeeze Emily's hand softly. "You didn't need to, but you just confirmed it. And I won't tell anyone that I know. As long as you promise me that you'll work on things with him while we're here."
"I suppose that I could do that. As long as you do something for me."
"And what would that be?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at her friend.
"That you do something about your soulmate. You're separated for three months, but that doesn't mean that you can't get to know each other. That's what cellphones and email and Skype are for, after all. If you start a solid friendship foundation now, when you return home, it will be that much easier to slip from friends to lovers."
Penelope nodded a little, swirling the remainder of her coffee around in her mug. "I suppose that I could do that for you, yes. I suppose that we both have to be a little brave right now and step outside our comfort zones. What, what if she doesn't want to explore a relationship with me?"
"I don't think that anyone could ever reject you, PG. You're too sweet. But that's also why I think that you should reach out to her. Are you in the office today?"
She shook her head. "No, Clyde thought that it would be best if I had a little more time to acclimate, since my role won't be quite as vital as Derek's. I'll start Monday."
"Well, if you want an exploring partner, I don't have to go in, either."
Penelope gave Emily a small smile as she nodded. "I think that I'd like that, Em. And this way, we can both talk a little more about our soulmate issues." Emily just ticked an eyebrow up at her as they stood up. "I'm going to get changed for a day out. I must say that I love England so far. Everyone dresses for the day, and I don't look quite so out of place here. But I know that I can't stay. My future lies in Quantico." Emily gave her a small nod as she traipsed through the flat to the room she was using, slipping out of her pyjamas before flipping through the dresses in her closet and selecting a suitable one for a day out. It didn't take long to get dressed and apply her makeup, and then Penelope was rejoining Emily in the kitchen.
It looked like she had changed also, into a chic pair of grey trousers and a dark blue blouse, and Penelope grinned to see that they had unintentionally color coordinated. "People might think we're a couple," she teased as she picked up her purse and slung it over her shoulder.
"That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, honestly. And that would help you grow accustomed to being seen on the arm of a woman." Emily winked before heading over to the door. "Would you rather head to a park or the Tate Modern?"
"Ooh, the Tate sounds nice. Let's head there first, and see where our day takes us? And maybe at lunch, I'll send off a quick email to Erin, asking her to talk later." Emily chuckled as she nodded, linking arms with her as they made their way down to the lift, ready to head out for the day.
Emily had been able to spend most of the morning with Penelope, exploring the Tate Modern, until Clyde had called her in to the office for an emergency meeting. When she had asked if she was needed as well, Emily had shook her head, telling her to enjoy the rest of her day before pressing a few notes in her hand to get lunch with before rushing off to catch the Tube to the office. Penelope had watched her leave before letting out a deep sigh and looking ahead. Not too hungry yet, she made her way over to the community garden that was attached to the Tate, finding herself content to claim a bench and people watch for a little while.
Pulling out her phone, Penelope leaned back and looked up at the blue sky, taking a few pictures of the clouds before picking the perfect one to upload to her Instagram. With that done, she got up and began to walk along the river, heading towards Shakespeare's Globe. She smiled to see that there was a gift shop there, and she knew that she would have to hold herself back from buying everything she saw and wanted. There was only so much room in her luggage, after all, and she didn't really want to purchase another bag.
There was something so lovely about the interior of the theatre, and she couldn't help but pull out her phone once more, taking a selfie before impetuously sending it to Erin, thanking her once more for allowing her to have this wonderful opportunity. And since she was already texting the woman, she decided to do the hard thing, and honor Emily's request. While I have your attention, I thought that I might ask something of you. Would it be all right if we called and chatted sometimes? I'm going to be here for so long that I need a touch of home, and I can't easily call the team, we'll probably just chat through texts and email. But your schedule always you to have a stable timetable, and this would help us get to know each other a little better. I know, it's a bit forward, but I already find myself a little homesick, even while I'm in a place that I've always wanted to visit. I'm certain that will change once I'm working with Clyde's team, but that doesn't begin until tomorrow, since he wanted me to get acclimated. Anyway, I've rambled on long enough. I'm going to grab a bite here at the Globe and then ride the ferry down the Thames and take a bunch of pictures. I hope that your day is going well. Xo, Penny
She pressed send a half second before she realized how she had signed off the text and hoped that Erin would instinctively know that was how she almost always addressed her friends. Letting out a long breath, she finished up the self-guided tour and then hurried over to the small café and found something that sounded absolutely scrumptious. Letting out a soft giggle, she could just imagine Erin and herself sitting here, sharing a meal as the sun shone down on them, the woman rolling her eyes a little at Penelope's flowery language.
She took her time eating, knowing that there would be little time to sit and savour moments like this once she was actually doing what she had been brought over to London to do. Her phone buzzed towards the end of her meal, and she picked it up, hoping beyond hope that Erin had reached out to her already. Penelope frowned a little to see that it was just a text from JJ, asking if she had gotten used to the time difference yet.
I wish! Though I think I'm doing better than Derek is, he was really grumpy coming back to the flat last night. But we have three months to get used to being on this time before we come back home. How is Henry? I am trying very hard not to buy everything that I see for him, because I know that your house can only hold so much! Xo
With her reply sent off, Penelope put her phone back down before finishing up her food and then taking care of her didn't take long to get to the giftshop, and it was so very hard to restrain herself, knowing that she still had more than eighty days in the country. Still, she ended up purchasing a lovely scarf that she thought might suit Erin, along with a nearly matching one of her own. It was a small connection between them, and she hoped that the woman would like it. Letting out a happy sigh, she left the building and went over to the ferry station, waiting for the next boat to arrive. When it finally did, she made certain to get a spot where she could watch the passing buildings, taking copious pictures with her phone while she tried to drink it all in. She wanted to hold on to the wonder of something new for as long as possible, thinking that everything she was seeing could become mundane by the end of her extended stay in London.
"Isn't it beautiful? I've lived in the city for seventy years, and I still can't get over the views." Penelope turned her head to see an older woman, delicate like a bird, addressing her. "Is this your first time in London?"
She nodded in response, smiling widely. "I'm here on a short-term work assignment, and I just can't get over the fact that everything is both so old and so new. I want to experience everything I can in three months, but I know that that's too little time. And I know I need to get away from the tourist trap areas, too, in order to see the real heart of London, but I still wonder what I'll miss if I do that."
"You young people today, and you're FOMO. Don't worry about what you'll miss, focus on what you're seeing. With only one life to live, you have to make the most of it and try not to have regrets. Ever." Penelope nodded and slipped her phone back into her pocket, knowing that she needed to be present to experience everything that she was seeing. "Are you here alone?"
"Yes. I just met my soulmate before heading here on assignment, unfortunately. So I'm torn between wanting the time to fly and the days to stretch out into eternity."
"I remember that feeling quite well. As long as you talk to him as much as possible, you'll get through this time with no worries." The woman patted her arm lightly before moving to the inside of the ferry, and Penelope let out a little sigh as she turned her attention back to the city skyline. She really wished that Erin could be with her in that moment, seeing this, too, and she knew that they would have to come back here once they were together, so that they could share in this beauty. Feeling her phone buzz against her thigh, she pulled the device out and looked at the screen, seeing that it was just a comment notification from Instagram. It was truly still too early to hear from Erin, but she still had that instant moment of hope that she would be wrong. Knowing that impatience was not going to be her strong suit, she tried to swallow down her sigh of disappointment as she slipped the phone back into her pocket, vowing not to look at it again until she was back at Emily's flat.
Penelope had ended up falling asleep early, finding that the long walk she had taken after riding the ferry for a while had tuckered her out more than anticipated. That, and the fact that she was more than a little disappointed to not hear from Erin before she crawled into bed for the day. Her sleep was restless, but eventually she had shifted into something approximating slumber, waking up with her alarm the next morning to feel somewhat rested.
After showering, she dressed for her first day of work with Clyde and his team, torn between being her authentic self and toning it down for the day. In the end, she went with what she felt most comfortable in, and smiled at her reflection before making her way down to the kitchen, finding Derek and Emily already at the table, eating breakfast silently. "Good morning!" she called out cheerily as she made herself a bowl of cereal and took a seat next to Emily, smiling at Derek. "So, ready for your next day at Interpol? I'm going to be relying on you to show me the ropes, you know," she teased, giving him a broad wink before starting to eat.
"I think that I can definitely give you a show, Baby Girl," he said, a wisp of a smile crossing his lips. "Are we all heading in together, then?"
"I thought that we would, yeah. You both know the way to go, I'm a bit behind the eight ball."
Emily gave her a dark look, as if she hadn't wanted to be included in this little group, but Penelope just smiled and shrugged, knowing that if she could get the two of them talking, there would be a chance of them burying the hatchet by the end of their secondment. "Well, I want to leave in about twenty minutes, all right?"
"That works for me! I'm all dressed and ready to go as soon as I'm finished eating." The sunny smile never left her lips, and eventually Emily's features relaxed into some semblance of a smile as well. The rest of the meal was quiet, but not quite as stilted as it had been before, and she chose to take that as a good sign. Finishing up her cereal, Penelope got up and dumped the last bit of milk down the drain before rinsing the bowl out and putting it into the dishwasher before grabbing her phone off the charger and slipping it into her pocket without looking at the notifications. "I take it that you're ready to go?" Emily said with a little laugh.
"Yes! I want to be a little early for my first day." Penelope picked up her purse as she paused by the door of the flat to wait for her friends. Derek was the first to amble over to her, and she instinctively wrapped her arm around his waist as she peered up into his face. "I know, it's a little weird being surrounded by people who sound so different to us. Even Emily is starting to acquire a bit of an accent. But I'm really happy here, right now. I think that I'm where I need to be, and you are, too. You just don't see it yet." Squeezing his waist a little, she let out a soft sigh, glancing back to see what was keeping Emily. She was slipping into a jacket as she walked over towards them, and Penelope waved at her to try and hurry her along.
"I'm coming." Rolling her eyes, Emily finally reached their sides, brushing past them to head out the door. Penelope was the next one out, Derek bringing up the rear, locking the door with the key Emily had given them to use while they were there. It didn't take long to get down to the Tube station, and after they had tapped in, Emily led them to the correct train that they had to take. Once the train arrived, Penelope followed Derek onto it, and they managed to find a trio of seats. Penelope took the single seat, receiving a glower from both of her friends.
Giving them a small shrug, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and scrolled through her notifications. Her shoulders slumped when she didn't notice anything from Erin, and she unlocked her phone to call up her text messages. There was a new one from JJ, and she grinned a little as she returned it, knowing that it would still be a few hours before the woman woke up and could see it. Then she went into her emails and felt her heart stop a little when she saw that Erin's name appeared there.
With a slightly shaky finger, she touched the email, blinking a little before glancing to see what Erin had written. I thought it would be more appropriate to write you an email, rather than a text. It's easier to hide evidence of an email, after all. My children have a very bad habit of stealing my phone and looking at my notifications, and so I tell all my friends to email me, instead. I didn't have that opportunity before you left for London. Thank you for the picture, it looks lovely, and I wish that I could be there. However, my duty lies here, where I have to find Agent Prentiss's replacement. That is not going as well as I would like, since it is hard to find the right person who will mesh with your current team. Aaron doesn't seem to be too bothered by the fact that this is taking a while, as I think that he would just like to have some peace and tranquility for the current moment. In answer to your question in your text, I would love to talk with you on the phone a few times while you're over there. It's nice to have the idea of a friend in you. I do hope that Clyde doesn't work you to the bone, I'm going to need that wonderful brain of yours in tip top shape when you return. Working with Mister Lynch is proving to be a little more difficult than anyone thought, since he's not you. I hope that you enjoy your first day of work, since I know that you won't see this email until the next morning for you. And since there is five hours that separates us, if you want to call at half past ten your time, that would work for me. Probably not today, since you'll be so focused on your first day working at Interpol. Please, do not fall in love with London, whatever you do. We need you in the BAU. Erin
Penelope tapped her feet softly against the train floor, unable to keep the grin off her lips. Emily focused in on her, and she gave her a small nod. "I love that you are so happy on a Monday morning, Penelope, let's see if you can keep that smile on your face all day long. Did you get good news or something?"
"The very best news. I got the answer that I wanted." Derek gave her an odd look, and she giggled lightly. "Don't worry, Der, everything is all right, and we're entirely sane, I promise. It's just looking to be an entirely wonderful day, and I am looking forward to whatever it brings." He nodded in return before slipping his headphones over his ears, shutting them out from his world. Sighing a little, she gave Emily another, softer, smile, knowing that these things would take time. As she had just found out, all that was needed was a little patience.
It had been a good first day working with Clyde's team at Interpol, and she was still brimming with excited energy, even when it got to be close to 10:30. Knowing that she might not be able to settle down to sleep until she talked to someone, she decided to throw caution to the wind and crept down to the kitchen where her phone was charging, hoping that no one would hear her if she carried on a conversation with Erin in that room. Before she called, Penelope started to heat up a kettle of water, knowing that there would be nothing more perfect than drinking a cup of tea while she spoke with Erin. Digging through the cupboard, she grabbed out a large mug and a sachet of Lady Grey tea before taking a seat at the table and grabbing her phone.
She was still uncertain if this was a good idea, but she still pressed her finger firmly on Erin's number before bringing the phone to her ear and waiting to see if Erin would answer or not. It took a few rings before she heard the connection be made, and Penelope sucked in a shallow breath as her brain suddenly went blank as to what to say. "I wasn't expecting you to call, Penelope. Your first day must have been hectic."
There was something so pleasing about hearing her voice, as if their song was imbuing her words with a melody that was familiar and warm. "I hadn't planned on calling, either. I just found myself thrumming with energy after the day I had. The FBI has pretty good technological systems, but what Interpol has? Blows my system out of the water. I hope you don't mind that I'm taking notes on things that I'd like to improve when I'm home. I know, we have a budget, but I think that I have a way to make things work. After all, I did a thing to get tablets for our team when I wanted them."
Erin chuckled deeply, and Penelope flushed a little at the sound, wishing that she could be there to see what she looked like with a full smile on her lips. "Well, if anyone can work miracles, I know that it's you. You've done it numerous times over the course of your time with the BAU. Like during the bank heist…"
"I hated that. I was on edge for too many hours, and not knowing if people I loved would live or die, and there didn't seem to be anyone that I could turn to. And then you were there, and reacting in the way that I did, it was surprisingly refreshing. How are you doing after that? Is Rossi treating you right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Penelope."
"Don't try to play that game. We know way too much about each other, because of the time that we spend together. Secrets don't stay secret very long amongst us. Except when they come to me. Secrets die with me, because I know that certain things need to be kept close to the vest. So, is he treating you all right?"
The kettle started to whistle, and she jumped to her feet, pouring the water into her mug before dropping the teabag into it and going back to her seat. Erin still hadn't answered by the time she sat back down, and she decided to wait her out, knowing that the answer would eventually come. "We are getting along quite well, yes. And before you ask, his reputation is much deserved. This is really just a fling, you know. I can't see it lasting long." There was another small break in their conversation, and Penelope thought that she could hear their song being hummed under her breath. "Is Derek handling things a little better now?"
"Sort of. He and Emily are almost to the point of talking, so that's progress. I hope that by the end of our stint here, I'll get them to admit that they share a soulmate song." Erin's breath caught in her throat, as if she was wondering about their own song, and Penelope rushed on ahead with her words. "They're both so stubborn, though, that it might not happen. Still, a girl can dream eternal. I'm still waiting to find my soulmate, though I love the song I hear in my dreams. It's elegant and refined, but I can hear me in the more playful passages. I hope that she likes the pieces of me in the song as much as I like the pieces of her."
"Is, is your soulmate a woman, then?" There was a breathless tone to Erin's voice, as if she was not quite certain she wanted to hear what Penelope would say next.
"Yeah, I heard her voice singing our song in my dreams one night. Mama told me that it was common to find that out before one meets their soulmate. It's supposed to help narrow things down, but…there are still a lot of women in the world today, you know."
"I do. My soulmate is a woman, too," Erin replied in a rush. "I know, it's not what most people would expect, given that I was married to, and I'm currently sleeping with, a man. But when you're born into certain families, things are expected of you, and marriage and children were one of them."
"I completely understand. There was a reason that I never told my parents that my soulmate was a woman. They wouldn't have understood." She let out a light sigh. "Wow, I'm sorry to have gotten so maudlin on you. Usually I'm a lot more upbeat than this."
"I think I'd rather have honesty than forced happiness. Being happy all the time is toxic to everyone. Another thing that I learned too late in my personal life." It was Erin's turn to sigh before she cleared her throat. "I thought I saw on your Instagram that you were on a ferry yesterday?"
"Yes! It was a great way to travel down the Thames. There are so many little places that I want to get out and explore, but I don't know if I'll have time for it all, especially with the Olympics starting up soon. Emily said that she might be able to get us some tickets to a few of the events. Can you imagine that? Me? Getting to go to the Olympics? This trip has been amazing already, and I have you to thank for that." She sipped at her tea before leaning back against the chair, staring up at the ceiling.
"You deserve some happiness after all that you've been through. So did the rest of the team, but I couldn't offer the same opportunity to them. Agent Prentiss was quite specific that it should be the two of you."
"And what are you doing to make yourself happy, Erin? Besides boinking Rossi every chance you get?"
Erin let out that sweet laugh again, and Penelope smiled a little wider as she got to her feet and began to pace around the kitchen, listening to Erin talk about the things that she was trying to do to make certain that she didn't fall back into old patterns and habits. In that moment, Penelope vowed that she wouldn't let anyone or anything trip Erin up in her recovery, fully recognizing the first stirrings of love that came with being Erin's soulmate.
Penelope woke up the next morning with their song on her lips. Humming along to it, she chose her outfit for the day before heading into the bathroom she and Derek were sharing for the trip, hanging her outfit on the closet door before stripping off her pyjamas and stepping into the shower. Allowing the water to muffle some of the sound, she began to sing her song a little louder, feeling free to do so. She knew that it wouldn't matter to Emily, she knew that Erin was her soulmate. But Derek might not react quite so calmly to her sudden declaration. JJ still didn't really get it, after all, and she was open with Will being her soulmate, so she knew about the bond that that brought, and she still wasn't certain that Erin and she were meant to be together.
Shaking those thoughts from her head, Penelope continued to was her body and sing her song, letting the joy of it fill her heart, wondering if Erin could hear her. She knew that that was a possibility, and smiled to herself as she finally washed the last of the conditioner from her hair. Turning off the shower, she grabbed a towel to wrap around her body before stepping out and padding over to the counter. Plugging in the hairdryer, she continued to sing her song as she went through her morning routine, making herself ready for the day ahead.
Once she was finally happy with how she looked, Penelope left the bathroom and made her way down to the kitchen, still singing her song. It was unconscious by this point, and she felt her heart grow so light at the sound that she didn't want to stop singing it. Waltzing over to the cupboard, she pulled out the cereal and made herself a bowl before taking a seat at the table. She looked up at her friends, seeing that they were staring at her, and she gave them a small shrug as her humming came to an abrupt stop. "What?" she asked before taking a bite of cereal.
"You are way too perky for someone who was up so late last night. Who were you talking to on the phone?"
Swallowing, Penelope shot a quick look to Emily before answering her best friend. "How do you know I was up talking, Der?"
"I had to go to the bathroom, and heard your voice. Have you finally decided to let Kevin out of the doghouse?"
She shook her head, and hoped that JJ would cover for her, if Derek texted her. "No, I was talking to JJ, trying to see how things were going without us there. Seems that they're still looking for someone to replace you, Em. You left a pretty large hole to fill, in all our hearts."
Derek rolled his eyes a little at the perhaps too saccharine words, but he nodded, as well, seeming to believe that she had said. Emily knew that there was something different to the story, and she arched an eyebrow upwards as she took a sip of coffee. "I imagine that it must be quite difficult to cope with three of us gone right now."
"A little, but Kevin is trying to do his best. I'm still not ready to speak to him, though."
"Is that why you were singing such a happy song? Thinking about the prospect of reuniting with him once we get back from this assignment?" he asked, and Penelope shook her head. "And what even was that tune? I don't think I've ever heard it before in my life."
"That's my soulmate song, Der. I've finally found them, and of course it had to happen before we got sent over here on a long assignment. At least I know they'll be waiting for me when we get back." Taking a deep breath, she stirred her spoon around her bowl, watching the cereal move gently through the milk, thinking about how she would love to have mornings like this at the kitchen table with Erin. That would probably be a long while off, but still, it was something that she wanted in her future. "Have you heard your soulmate song?" she asked offhandedly, not thinking about the fact that Emily would not be at all happy with her in that moment.
A sharp kick to her shin told her that she had indeed made a misstep, and she tried to give Emily a sheepish look, even as she heard Derek draw in his own deep breath. "I can't say that I have heard such a song. I'm not even certain that I believe in a thing like soulmates. We make our own soulmates, they're not just fated to enter our lives at some point. I'm going to head in now, Clyde wanted me to work with his team on the forensics of explosions, and I still need to get some things set up for it. I'll see you all tonight?" he asked as he pushed himself away from the table. Penelope nodded quickly, still watching Emily as they heard him leave, closing the flat door behind him with a dull thud.
"I am so fucking sorry, Emily. The words slipped out before I even thought about the meaning behind them. I know that he's still angry with you, but it seemed like he was coming around a little. Until I opened my big mouth."
"I know that you didn't think, but not all of us have the luxury of carrying on a telephone affair in order to get to know their soulmate better without having to worry about her figuring out that they belong together. Or did you tell Erin that last night while you were talking to her?"
Penelope shook her head a little, looking down into her bowl as she took a few shallow breaths. "I'm not brave like you, Em. I don't have that internal drive that tells me I'll be all right, even if the world is falling down around me. I'm squishy, like a stuffed animal. You're elegant and cool, like a sculpted marble statue. And I know, that's probably way oversimplifying things, but that's how I view you."
Emily reached across the table, covering Penelope's hand with her own and giving it a soft squeeze. Looking up, she saw that her friend was near tears, and her own eyes welled up. Blinking rapidly, she tried to stop them from falling and making her mascara run, waiting for Emily to speak. "You have the best heart of anyone that I've ever met, Penelope Garcia. How you see people is beautiful. And maybe, once I get a little more accustomed to the idea that Erin Strauss, the resident Ice Queen of our department, is your soulmate, I'll ask you to describe her to me."
"Then you're not mad at me?"
"I'm upset, of course, but that's more on me than you. I cocked things up so badly with Derek that I doubt he'll ever be receptive to the idea of us sharing a song. But you're right, I think that he is thawing towards me a little, so who knows what the next eleven weeks will bring? I'm certainly hoping that we'll at least be talking by the time I take you to the airport."
"From your lips to God's ears, dear Emily. Now, let's head in for the day, I want to make a lot of memories that I can tell Erin the next time we talk." Emily laughed as she nodded, pushing away from the table to take her bowl and put it in the washer while Penelope fixed her makeup, hoping that the day ahead of them was a good one.
It had been three weeks since their first chat, and Penelope was growing accustomed to hearing Erin's voice every few days. Though they weren't talking about anything too particularly deep just yet, she had managed to find out quite a bit about her children, her parents, and she had told her just as much about her own family. But still, they seemed to dance around the one elephant in the room, and she knew that eventually, she might have to make the first move and bring it up herself. That thought was more than a little scary, and she shook it out of her brain, knowing that she needed to think about happier things, as it was their prescribed time to talk.
"Erin!" she said as she answered her phone. "It is an entirely dreary Saturday here in London, so I am hoping that the weather is a good sight better back home in Quantico!"
The older woman laughed lowly, and Penelope could picture the way she was shaking her head. "It is a glorious day. Tabitha's soccer game went well this morning, and I've just dropped them back at their father's house, and am headed out for a late lunch. I hope you don't mind if you hear my food being eaten."
"Eh, I'm used to is, given the work we do. I'm actually going to try and catch the football match here, when the US women's team plays. If I do, and if Emily can get me access, do you think that Tabby would like something signed?"
"She would love you forever if you could do that. I won't tell her until you tell me that you have something in hand. I think that one of her favourite players is Tobin Heath? I don't know if that means anything to you, but I'm certain that you can figure that out."
"I will most definitely write that name down and do some research. Other than soccer games, do you have anything exciting on the docket tonight?"
There was a short pause. "I'm seeing David tonight. There was a rather bad case that the team was on, and we both need to work off some steam. Though I'm almost certain that you didn't want to hear all that."
"No, no, it's fine. JJ and I talk about things like that a lot. Emily, she's more reserved. You're like the perfect blend of them both, where I get to see into your mind, but not hear all the salacious details. I do hope that he is continuing to treat you right, though. Because he knows full well what happens when someone hurts my friends."
"I'll keep that in mind." Erin hummed a short bar from their song, and it took everything in Penelope to not answer her, even though she desperately wanted to. "The short list for Emily's replacement came across my desk yesterday."
"From the way you said that, there's someone on it that you aren't happy is there."
A deep sigh slipped out of Erin's mouth, and Penelope tightened her hand around her mug as she waited for the woman to reply. "You could say that. And given her experience, I know that Aaron is going to want her above the others."
"You could always remove her name from that list, pretend that it never was there?"
"She'd find out somehow, and then would be out for my blood once more. I couldn't do that to her. Especially not when she's one of the last people I need to make amends to. Typical me, leaving the hardest ones until the very end. Thank you for Jason's number, by the way. I haven't gathered up the courage to call him yet, but knowing that I can reach out has made a large difference."
"I can completely understand that hesitancy, we never really hit it off, either. I can't think of what might have happened if he had been with the team when I got shot instead of Rossi. Don't get me wrong, he was a dick to me in the fallout, but I did sort of deserve to be raked over the coals for the secrets that I was keeping. I put so many people in danger."
"You were trying to protect your family, Penelope. I would have done the same, most likely, if I was in your position and had the same resources that you have at your disposal. Family and friends mean the world to me, Penelope. I know, I don't show that at work, but it's hard to show that side there. I need to be impartial so that I don't appear to favor any of the teams that I oversee, so I can't make nice with people I might think that I could be friends with. And the people I can be friends with, well, they aren't the type of people I want to be friends with. I'm taking a chance with you; I know that this could blow up in my face. But there's something in my heart that trusting you will be the best decision of my life."
"I should think so! I am a happy ray of sunshine into everyone's life." Erin giggled. "I know, I can be a bit much at times, but that's just part of my charm. You'll get used to it with time. I hope. And, when we get home, do you think that we could head out to a concert? I'm so afraid that I won't have time to do anything cultured here, since there aren't that many shows on the West End that still have tickets available. We're here during peak tourist season, and with the Games starting in two weeks, the population here is swelling to almost unmanageable levels. Don't get me wrong, I love people, but this amount of people is a bit much, even for me. As a result, there is nothing available, even though there are a number of shows that I would love to see."
"I'll try to find us something to see, once you're back. And I can email you a few options, that way you're still seeing something that you might like."
"That would be awesome, Erin! How is Hotch doing, by the way? Not to completely change the subject, but…he's the one I worry about most on the team."
Erin drew in a soft breath. "I don't think that you have to this time. He seems to be coping quite well. And I'm trying to give him as much support as I can, while making it seem like I'm not doing anything at all. I know that he doesn't like meddling."
"That is an understatement! He has a very particular way of doing things, and I've learned to couch my ideas as ones that he's come up with. Though I think that he has realized how I'm maneuvering him, and tolerates my suggestions now. Seeing as how I do, generally, have the team's best interest at heart."
"I might have to take lessons from you, then. Though I hope that since the wedding, I've become a little more trustworthy. Though I know that it will take time to fully gain everyone's trust. It's a hard thing to rebuild after the damage I did."
The forlorn sound of Erin's voice caused her to tear up a little, and Penelope let out a deep sigh. "If I was there right now, I would so be hugging you. Make certain you get Tabby or Karen to give you one in my stead. And for what it's worth, I trust you." The almost pleased sound that spilled from Erin's lips injected a spot of happiness into her heart, and Penelope began to steer the conversation into a more positive direction, wanting to hear Erin happy once more.
"Erin! You will never guess what I just managed to pull off!"
Penelope was thrumming with joy, even though she knew that she should be upset that the match had not gone their way. Despite the loss, the entire team had been so gracious to give her a few moments of their time, including signing a team picture for Tabitha. She had only hoped to get the player that Erin had mentioned her daughter loved, but it seemed like everyone wanted to add their signature once they found out Penelope was doing it for a friend's daughter. And so she had made her way to the café near Emily's flat feeling like she was walking on air. Some of that joy dissipated when Erin's greeting was not so quick in coming. "What did you manage to do?" she finally asked, no happiness, no inquisitiveness, in her voice. Frowning, Penelope picked up her tea and took a sip as she fought the urge to put Erin on FaceTime, knowing that they couldn't do that every time they spoke. "Penny?"
"Sorry, my eye was caught by a passing dog. I have the attention span of a squirrel sometimes. Anyway, we were at the Sweden vs United States match today, and even though the outcome probably isn't what Tabitha would like, I did get to meet the team. And they were all kind enough to sign a picture for her. I'll bring it with me once I'm home, since I don't want it to get lost in the mail, but I'll be sending you an email later today with all the team pics I took in the locker room. I even got a picture of me with Megan Rapinoe, whoever that is. All I know is she's really cute."
"That's wonderful. I'm sure that Tabby will love seeing the pictures, and getting the gift when you're home."
Again, her words were lackluster, and Penelope wondered what was bothering her. Taking a deep breath, she decided that the direct approach would be better in this case and spoke before filtering her words. "All right, Erin, spill. What the hell has made you so sad today?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"Maybe not to everyone else, but I feel like we've really gotten to know each other in these chats, and I can hear it in your voice. Something has upset you, and I want to know what. I want to know if I have to kick some ass and ruin some social media profiles."
That elicited a small laugh from Erin, though it didn't last for long. "I really hate my ex-husband right now. I've been sober for seven months now, but he refuses to revisit the custody agreement. And to top it all off, I've been banned from attending Bruce's summer recital, since he'll be there, and he thinks that I can't be civil for the two hours that it would entail. He's playing Bach's "Air on a G String", which is one of my favourite pieces, and I know that Karen will record it on her phone, but it won't be the same as being there. David told me that he'd come along and fight Alan if he needed to, but I don't want to raise a fuss. I need to make certain that there's a glimmer of hope that I'll be able to change his mind. I just really want to hear my baby play."
Penelope could tell that Erin was crying by this point, and her heart longed to be there with her, holding her close as she rocked her back and forth, whispering that everything would be all right. But with an ocean separating them, all she could do was commiserate with Erin. "I'll hate your ex-husband right along with you, dumpling. There is no way he should be such an ass. When is the recital?"
"Not until seven."
"I'll call you then, so that you can talk to me and try to keep your mind off what you're missing."
"I can't ask you to do that. That means it would be after midnight your time, and that's not fair to you. I'll just call David and fall into bed with him. It will be easier to feed that craving than the one for alcohol. I've already slipped once, I'm not about to do it again. I won't."
"Dumpling, have you been having cravings for a long time?"
Erin's laugh was bitter, and she hated the sound of it dearly. "They come and they go, but I have the feeling that they'll always be with me. I just wish that they didn't come on so strong when I can least afford to have them."
"If we were on the same time, I would tell you to call or text me when you have a craving. Matter of fact, when I do get home, that is precisely what you're going to do. I know, I should probably ask if that's what you want, but I truly just want you to know that you have a safe harbor with me. That's what I try to provide for all my friends."
"You have the sweetest heart, Penelope Garcia. And I think that I will take you up on that offer. I need all the concern that people can offer me. I'm sorry to be so down, especially when you were so excited to tell me about the wonderful gift you managed to get for Tabitha. She is truly going to love you from this moment on."
"Just like her mother?" Penelope teased, only gasping in horror once her brain had caught up with her mouth. "Erin…"
"Yes. Agape love is some of the sweetest that friends can share. Now, what else can you tell me about how your work is going? I need something that I don't completely understand to help distract my mind from this current funk that I'm in."
"You know, what I do isn't that difficult. I think that you could really come to understand it, if you had the time to put into learning. After all, you're very intelligent. But, I suppose that I could go into the nitty gritty of why Emily wanted me over here. She knows how I work, how it's a little more intuitive than how other technical analysts go about their duties. The FBI might have put together a little list that I'm on, and made it so that I have to work for them until I want to retire, but Interpol doesn't quite work the same way. So, I'm showing some of these more straight laced people how to relax and trust their instincts."
"Are you also passing along the idea that colorful flair can make a difficult job that much easier?"
Finally, there was a note of warmth in Erin's voice, and she shrugged a little before taking another sip of tea. "In that department, I'm afraid I have yet to find a successful convert. There are just some things that you can't take out of a person, no matter how hard you try. Though maybe someone will see the wisdom of something cheerful to push away the horror by the time I come home to you." Again, she was skirting around what she really wanted to say, but this wasn't the time to reveal everything yet, she wanted to do that in person, but she was willing to get close when the occasion called for it.
"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.
"Thanks again for picking us up, Helen. I know that it's not exactly on your list of duties, but this makes things so much easier for us," Penelope said as she loaded her bags into the woman's trunk. Derek followed suit, and then they were heading towards her apartment so that she could drop all their bags off, knowing that they'd be safe there in case Derek got called out on a case. Then, they were off to the BAU, and Penelope was trying to calm the nerves that were bubbling in her stomach. "Are they still out in Seattle?" she finally asked, needing to know.
"Yes, but Agent Hotchner said that they should be back by the time you arrive at the building. He's been keeping in close contact with Chief Strauss."
"Oh?" Derek asked, leaning forward to look between the two of them. Penelope had told him about Erin being her soulmate after he had confronted her about trying to set things right between him and Emily. Their discussion had allowed things to thaw between the two of them, and though it wasn't all better, she had the feeling that one way or another, they'd be coming back together soon. "Why is that?"
"Something particularly bad happened last night. Chief Strauss didn't fill me in on the details, just let me know that speed would be of the essence this morning." Helen smiled at Penelope before pulling into the parking lot, and Penelope raised her eyebrows quickly to see that Helen had an assigned space that was much closer than the ones that Penelope had to use. "All right, I need to run and get breakfast for myself, since this superseded that this morning. And if Chief Strauss doesn't see you before the briefing, she told me to tell you 'welcome home'." Penelope grinned as they climbed out of the car, and she shouldered her purse before linking arms with Derek, heading into the building and over to the elevators.
"So, do you think that they've missed us at all?" he teased as they rode up to the sixth floor.
"Of course they did, sugar! They've had to get used to a newb on the team without us, and from what I've learned about her, well, it should be interesting to say the least."
"Yeah. She's like, crazy smart, and still lectures on linguistics. It appears that she transferred to a position at Georgetown when she got the job here. So she'll be pulling double duty, through the help of her grad students."
"It seems that you learned a lot about her, Baby Girl," Derek said as the doors opened on the sixth floor.
"I felt like I had to learn a lot about her, since we would be that much behind, given that we just spent a glorious summer in London. Even if you didn't get to have as much free time as I did."
"That suited me just fine, actually. I've travelled enough with this job, after all."
"Meh, I guess I'm just not as jaded as that, yet." They stepped into the bullpen, and Penelope looked around for her family. They weren't anywhere to be seen, so she turned to look at Derek in confusion. "I thought Helen said that they would be here when we arrived?"
"They may have gotten caught up in traffic. You know how bad it was when Helen was driving us, so give them a little slack. Besides, this will give you a little extra time to fill me in on this Blake woman."
She nodded, smiling a little as they stepped away from the door, not wanting to block it for their colleagues. "Apparently, Reid guest lectured with her a few times, because of course he did. I think that she's a mentor of his, since language fascinates him so much."
Penelope turned to see JJ and Reid coming into the bullpen, wide grins on their faces. "Jayje!" she cried out as she wrapped her arms around her friend, holding her close. "It is so good to see you! I brought presents!" She reached into her bag and pulled out a small double decker bus for JJ and handed over a tumbler to Reid. "Now, fill me in on the newbie. I've done a lot of research into her background, so I know that she's insanely smart, but smarts only count for so much. I need to know, beyond her intelligence, beyond how well she might work with everyone, is she nice?"
Derek was giving her a nervous look, and Penelope felt the blood drain from her face as she turned to see the woman she had been talking about standing there, a bemused look on her face. "I do hope that you mean the more modern usage of the word nice, since it originally meant that you were calling someone stupid."
"I, I would never. I'm sorry. I…"
Thankfully, her clumsy attempt at an apology was cut off by Hotch and Erin striding into the bullpen, tight looks on their faces. "We caught a bad one in Texas." They all nodded and Penelope found herself following after them quickly, hoping that she would catch a hint of their song. It seemed that Erin was in full business mode, however, though she did spare a small smile for her as she picked up the remote and took her place at the front of the room, waiting for everyone to take a seat.
"I can work the remote, ma'am," she said lowly, watching Erin shake her head.
"There's no point for me to have this job if I can't work the technology. Besides, there are going to be images that you don't want to see appearing onscreen, and since time is of the essence, it will be faster if I do this."
Penelope nodded, wondering just how bad the case was for Erin to react like that. Pulling out her tablet, she called up the current case notes and began to look through it, trying to swallow her feeling of revulsion at what she was seeing. Knowing that she had to focus, she pulled out a notepad and pen, taking notes while Erin spoke, making certain to smile each time their eyes met, trying to let her know that she wasn't going to let the gore on the screen distract her from her job. Finally, the briefing concluded, and everyone got up from the table, making for the door. Penelope tried to linger, only to get a small look from Erin before she indicated towards the door with her head.
Giving a small nod, Penelope hugged her notepad and tablet close to her chest as she scurried out of the room and over to her office, quickly keying in her password before entering the room and booting her systems up. The sound of her babies coming to life filled her with joy, and she realized just how much she had missed being here for an entire quarter of the year. Humming their song beneath her breath, she set about getting the office back to her liking, seeing that Kevin had rearranged things in her absence. Once it was almost back to where she wanted it, Penelope took a seat at her chair and settled down to work, knowing that this first case back was going to be awful, and not knowing how to make it better for her team.
Penelope had just finished sending Derek all of Blake's contact details when she heard someone knocking on her door. Frowning a little, she rose to her feet and crossed the small space, taking a deep breath as she opened the door. An easy smile spread across her face when she saw Erin standing there, looking rather nervous. "Chief Strauss! It's a pleasure to see you here. Come in." Reaching out, she laid her hand on Erin's shoulder, gently pulling her inside before closing the door behind them.
Once she knew that no one outside the office could see them, Penelope pulled Erin into a tight hug, breathing in deeply as a deep feeling of peace swept over her heart. There was something so right about the way that they fit together, which made sense, since she knew the woman was her soulmate. "I am so glad that you're back, Penelope," Erin murmured as she pulled away from her and took a seat on the sofa, smoothing her skirt down her thighs before turning her face upwards, an open look on her features. "Did you enjoy London?"
"Yes, so much. But I think that you know that from our frequent phone calls. Which I should thank you for, by the way. You didn't have to indulge me, since I know that you're a very busy woman. It was nice to have some part of home, though, especially since Jayje felt like she was being pulled in twelve different directions, given how busy she was. Now, gift time!" Penelope grabbed her bag and plopped down in her chair, rolling it over to Erin's side before starting to dig through it for the signed picture and scarf. "This, obviously, is for Tabitha, but I also bought you this."
She felt shy when she handed over the scarf, not knowing how Erin would react to the gift, since it seemed so small in comparison with what the woman could afford. Still, she made certain to keep looking at Erin, wanting to see how she reacted to the gift. A softness spread across her features, something that filled her senses with a happiness that swept away some of the shyness. "You didn't have to get me anything, Penny. But this is lovely. Thank you."
The quiet words pleased Penelope to no end, and she shrugged a little as her cheeks turned red. "It was the least I could do when you had been so kind as to arrange the work trip for us, and for keeping my spirits up. I was really homesick there for a while, but you never seemed to notice that, instead keeping my focus on what I should be doing. How, how are things between you and Alex? I didn't do any digging into her background with the FBI, I just looked at her other accomplishments. And man, am I intimidated. It doesn't help that we totally got off on the wrong foot this morning, so I'm certain that she's going to think that I am the largest idiot to ever darken the doors of the BAU."
"No, she'll be too busy trying to avoid me to think that. It's almost lunchtime, would you like to come back to my office, so that we can discuss the Alex situation over food? Somehow, I think that might be the only way that I can do that, and I need to get it out before I lose my nerve." Penelope nodded as she pulled out her wallet, following Erin out of her office. Anderson gave them an odd look, but she just smiled and shook her head as they went out into the hall and down to Erin's office. Helen was back, and the older woman gave her a bright smile as they disappeared behind the door. "Chinese food all right?"
Penelope nodded as she looked around the office, trying to get a feel on who Erin presented herself to be. Everything was so neat and orderly, which spoke to the fact that she craved control in the one aspect of her life where she was certain to get it. There were pictures of her children behind her desk, with more frames, that Penelope couldn't see, on her desk. The bonsai tree didn't really surprise her, because that was another thing that Erin could nurture and control, but she still smiled to see it. "Something with chicken, please. I'm still a quasi-vegetarian, after all."
Penelope gave her a quick smile before moving over to the degrees displayed on the wall, her eyes widening a little to see just how educated Erin was. She had known that she was smart, but this level of education told Penelope that there were times when she really had just been humoring Penelope. "I'm not smart enough for her," she whispered, feeling doubt about being Erin's soulmate.
"I think that you are more than smart enough, Penny," Erin said as she came over to her, resting her hand on Penelope's shoulder. "Accolades from universities measure only one form of intelligence. What I've seen from you over the years has taught me that over and over." There was a brief pause, and the air between them crackled with energy. The urge to start singing their song fluttered on her lips and as she turned to look at Erin, she wondered if she was feeling the same way. "The food will be here in about fifteen minutes," she said, breaking that tension as she took hold of Penelope's hand and led her over to the sofa, pulling her down to sit.
"All right, now, I think that you were going to tell me about why Blake is harboring such a grudge towards you. She does seem like a rather proud person."
"We were worse back then. We thought that the world should be handed to us on a silver platter, because we had all the answers. It was naïve and foolish, but what else would you expect from youth? Agent Jareau, Doctor Reid, and you had some of that same brilliance when you started with us. It's become tempered with time, but it's still there. But Lexie? She always shone so brightly, nothing ever tempered that. And we were so certain that we were coming up with the correct solution to the Amerithrax case. Her linguistic reading of the letters that were being sent pointed to the wrong person, we made an arrest, and ended up with egg on our faces. I was the one tasked with firing her, since I was the one in charge of the case. I could have fallen on my sword, but I thought of myself first and foremost, ruining our friendship in a moment. Ethan died two weeks later. I saw the obituary in the papers, and anonymously sent a flower arrangement and made a handsome donation to the charity that she and James chose, but it wasn't enough. Nothing will ever be enough to absolve my sins."
Erin wouldn't look at her as she quietly cried, but Penelope reached out to take hold of her hand anyway, threading their fingers together as they sat in quiet togetherness. Finally, though, she knew that it was safe to speak, and she took a deep breath before opening her mouth. "That was the bare bones of the situation, and you painted yourself in the worst light possible, wanting to spare Alex's reputation in my sight, but I know that that's all you can trust me with right now. I hope that one day, we can get to the point where you can tell me more, but until then, I'm still your friend, if you'll have me." Erin looked up at her when she said those words, giving her a tremulous smile as the sound of their song began to reverberate in Penelope's mind, letting her know that things were going to be all right with time.
There hadn't been time for Penelope and Erin to get together during the course of the case, though they had ended up calling each other twice. It was nice to finally be back in the same time zone, since that meant they could actually talk at a decent time and not have one of them be thoroughly exhausted. And when Derek called to let her know that the team was returning, she had texted Erin to let her know as well, seeing as how she was still in the office.
Hearing a bit of a commotion out in the almost empty bullpen, Penelope quietly opened her door and peeked out to see that there were happy faces on everyone in the team, but for Blake. Well, Penelope assumed that she had a mulish expression on her face, as her back was to her at the moment, her shoulders and spine stiff and unyielding as Erin leaned in and tried to speak with her. It broke her heart a little, to see how hard Erin was trying to find an inroad with the woman, only to be rebuffed, and she unconsciously started to hum their song, wanting to lend her soulmate a little bit of her strength. Erin glanced up at her in that moment, and Penelope smiled and nodded before stepping back into her office and waiting for Erin to finish. Rummaging around in the things that she had purchased in England, Penelope touched the other coffee tumbler that she had brought home and knew that it would be going home with Alex instead, in hopes that it might smooth out their rocky start.
Taking a deep breath, she smoothed out all the invisible wrinkles in her skirt and then peeped out the door once more. Erin had disappeared, and Alex was sitting at her desk, head bent low. A deep sigh slipped from her lips as she tried to gather her courage and make her way down to where the woman was sitting. "Just get on with it, Penelope," she murmured as she shook out her shoulders and strode from her office, starting to hum their song as she got closer and closer to Alex, needing something to lend her the courage she wasn't feeling in that moment.
Wordlessly, she paused in front of Alex's desk and waited for the woman to address her. "Can I help you?" she finally asked shortly, and the song on Penelope's lips cut off abruptly. She watched Alex appraising her, as if she recognized the song, and Penelope felt the blood drain from her face as she recognized the thought that Alex very well could. "Well?"
"Do you think that we could start over?" Alex ticked her eyebrow up before gesturing towards her with her hand. "Hi, my name is Penelope Garcia, and I do not handle change well. At all. Well, you saw that earlier, with that little display I put on. But, everything seemed to change overnight, and we were in England, and you just seemed to appear out of thin air. Here. I saw that you lived in the District, and that can't be an easy or fun commute."
She held out the tumbler to Alex, willing her to take the gift. "This is nice."
Alex actually giggled, which relaxed her a little. "Kind, and thoughtful. Exactly how Hotch described you to me when I asked about you and Derek. You're not the only one who doesn't deal with change well. I think that we're all a little hardwired to grow accustomed to our surroundings and not want anything to disrupt our neat little lives. That song you were humming earlier, it's quite lovely."
Somehow, Penelope knew that Alex was trying to dig for information, and she knew that she would have to tread lightly so as not to give anything away. "Thank you. It's just a little ditty that I came up with, I don't know if I'll carry it out further," she replied quietly. "Oh, I forgot to ask. Do you drink tea?"
"Tea, coffee, anything that will keep me awake, honestly. Why?"
"We're getting a proper tea of the month subscription starting next month, and I don't want to be the only one drinking it. Well, I know that Jayje will have some, but she's more of a coffee drinker than tea, so I hope that I've found a kindred spirit." Again, she smiled at Alex, hoping that she would get a smile in return. Slowly, her face relaxed into a soft look, and Penelope knew that that was all she was likely to get.
"I think that I will enjoy getting to taste different types of tea each month. Thank you again for the tumbler, I will put it to good use and think of you while doing so."
"You're welcome. And I'll just leave you alone for the rest of the night. Try not to stay too long, it was a rough case." Penelope resisted the urge to reach out and pat Alex's shoulder before going back up to her office, slumping against the door as she let out a long breath. That conversation had gone a little better than she had thought it might, and she hoped that eventually she might be able to get Alex to thaw a little towards Erin. Pulling out her phone, she texted Erin, asking if she was still in the building. Moments later, she had her reply, and smiling a little, she packed up her purse and hurriedly made her way out of the bullpen and down to Erin's office.
"What did you need?" Erin asked as she closed the door behind her. Penelope shrugged before dropping her purse into the chair in front of Erin's desk and making her way around to Erin's side, looking at her expectantly. "Penelope?"
"A hug might be nice?" Erin nodded quickly before standing and allowing Penelope to wrap her arms around her body. "Alex is going to be a really tough nut to crack."
"Tell me about it. I, I don't think that I'll be trying to reach out again right away. I don't want to push her away before I can get to know who she is now better." Erin pulled away from Penelope to sit back down, and Penelope hesitantly sat on the edge of the desk, wanting to spend more time with her. "So, I have tickets to the symphony in three weeks. They're performing Mahler's Fourth Symphony, and it's one of my favorites, so I thought it might be a great introduction for you."
"Okay. Should I wear anything in particular?"
Erin shook her head. "People come in jeans and a tee shirt, so as long as you don't wear an over the top hat, you'll be fine in what you wear to the office. I will be wearing something a little more relaxed than this, however. Power suits are only good in the office."
"But you make them look so good," she blurted out, feeling her cheeks almost instantly heat up in a blush. "I'm sorry, I just can't turn off the flirting with my good friends. You can ask Jayje how many times my mouth has ran ahead of my brain."
"You're fine, Penny. It's not like you've exactly talked dirty to me yet." She was surprised to hear Erin flirt back a little, but the look on her face was what stole Penelope's breath away, and she nodded jerkily as she tried to calm her suddenly racing heart. "Now, I hate to kick you out, but I do have a bit of work to do before I can head home for the evening. I'll talk to you tomorrow, either by phone or in person?" Penelope nodded as she slipped off the desk, squeezing Erin's shoulder lightly as she left her alone, looking forward to their next chat.
Penelope glanced at her clock, seeing that it was nearly midnight and Erin hadn't reached out to contact her. It was unusual for her not to text or call or anything, and she sighed a little as she picked up her phone and sent off a quick text to the woman. I missed not talking to you today, and I hope that everything is all right. Hopefully we'll be able to carve out a little time to speak tomorrow. Xoxo
She pressed send before she could second guess herself, and then she turned her phone on silent before slipping into her bed and turning the light off, staring up at the ceiling as she tried to calm her thoughts enough to drift off to sleep. Still, she couldn't help but let her thoughts spin out as she dwelt on Erin's silence. Everything had been all right at work, they hadn't had to go out on a case which allowed her extra time to get caught up on some of the backlog Kevin had left her with. She knew that the reprieve wouldn't last long, since there was most likely going to be a case the next day. Eventually, she managed to drift off, and found her dreams chaotic, jumbled, but filled with their song.
Her alarm broke through their song, waking her up much too early the next morning, and she let out a deep sigh as she reached out to turn it off. Penelope rubbed her temples absently as she tried to fight off the fog of a headache that told her she had had too little sleep, and then went through her morning routine on autopilot, not really registering anything that she did until she was seated at the round table for the briefing. Hotch kept giving her odd looks, and she did her best to smile at him, trying to let him know that everything would be all right once she had woken up a little more. "Wheels up in thirty," he said, and Penelope went to push away from the table, only for him to stop her movement with a heavy hand on her shoulder. "Is this jetlag catching up with you, Garcia?"
"I don't think so, sir. I just had a really cruddy night of sleep, and am trying to kick this headache so I can be in tiptop shape for you all. I'm sorry if I seemed a little spacy, I should be good by the time I've had my third cup of coffee. I was assuming it would be a tea day, but I need the caffeine. Stay safe out there, okay? I'm still trying to get Blake to warm up to Erin, I mean, Strauss."
Hotch gave her a probing look, and she shrugged as she let out a deep breath. "I thought I heard the rumor that you had become close while you were in London. Dave said that you crept up in conversations more and more over the months you were gone."
"Did he tell you anything else?"
"No. Should he have?" She shook her head and gave him a bright smile before getting to her feet and leaning in to hug him tightly. "Garcia?"
"Nothing, I just really missed you, that's all. Give my love to Beth." She let out a deep sigh as she went into her office, taking a seat behind her desk and staring at her monitors, trying to find her focus. She must have zoned out, because the next thing she knew, a soft hand was closing around her shoulder. Looking up, she saw Erin was there, a grim look on her face, and Penelope felt her heart drop into the pit of her stomach. "Yes?"
"We need to talk. I know that you might have to run searches for the team, but I've cleared my morning of meetings so that we could have a heart to heart."
Penelope couldn't stop the tears that prickled her eyes, determined not to wipe them away so that she wouldn't draw attention to her unease. Erin took a seat on the sofa, and Penelope drifted over to her side, sitting next to her. She tried to make herself as small as possible, knowing that this was going to be the moment of reckoning, and she wasn't prepared to be rejected. "What do we need to talk about?" she finally asked, her voice small.
"Do you know who shares your soulmate song?"
The directness of the question didn't surprise Penelope, as Erin had always had a forthright manner. She knew that she couldn't ignore the question, that she couldn't lie to Erin, but this wasn't the way she had thought this conversation would go. She had been hoping to mention something at the concert in a few weeks, since they would be on somewhat neutral ground. Taking a deep breath, she slipped one had off her lap and dropped it close to Erin's thigh, hoping that she would pick it up as she spoke. The fact that she did made her smile a little and she turned her head to look at the woman. "Yes, I do know who shares my song. I've known since the bank incident, when I heard her sing it unconsciously in my ear in an effort to soothe me. This wasn't how I had imagined letting you know about this. I wanted to go out a few times as friends before I broached the topic, since I have no idea how you feel about soulmates, about Fate. And now I have to wonder if this is when our friendship, that I've come to love so much, is over."
A choked sob tore from her lips, and Erin tightened her grip on Penelope's hand so that she couldn't pull away. "I love our friendship, too, Penny. It's been such a balm to my heart as I've dealt with Alan and his bullshit this summer. There are no cameras in your office, correct?" She nodded. "May I kiss you?"
"Yes," she breathed out as she turned her face to look at Erin, seeing the delicate play of emotions that was running over her features. Penelope had the feeling that the same sort of emotions were playing over her face as well, and as they leaned closer to each other, her breathing hitched once more, her eyes fluttering closed as sweet, soft, lips brushed against hers. It felt so right, as if every other pair of lips that she had kissed in the past meant nothing in comparison to hers. "Erin."
"I know. That was so lovely. I didn't expect this, you know. I thought that I was hearing things, because you hum the song, too, without thinking. It sounds so beautiful coming from your lips, and I hope that it sounds at least a little pretty to your ears, too. Alex, well, she also recognized the song dropping from your mouth, since I sang it all the time in the shower when we were at the Academy together. I just wonder why it took so long for us to find each other."
"Maybe we just had to be in the right time and place to recognize it. I won't argue with Fate, because it has brought me something so incredibly beautiful." Reaching up, she caressed Erin's face, smiling through her tears. "I can't say that I'm in love with you, not yet, but I do have tender feelings for you. We just need to date for a while before I say those words. Do you want to go on our first official date?"
"Before we go to the symphony. If I didn't have this case, I'd ask if we could slip away and spend the rest of the day together. I feel like I know so much about you already from our talks, but there's still so much that I want to learn."
"Tonight then? We'll go to Tony's and have Italian food, and head back to my house for a coffee nightcap? I'd offer you something stronger, but we both know why that can't be." Penelope nodded, feeling so much lighter now that the truth was out between them. "I'll stop by your office at five thirty and we can head out?"
She gave Erin another small nod before taking a calming breath. "May I kiss you, this time?" Erin just gave her a tiny smile, her eyes focus on Penelope's lips, and she took that as her cue to lean in and give her a tender kiss, relishing this moment for all that it was worth.
Penelope looked up at the clock on her monitor for the hundredth time that hour. Still, it was only three after five, and she allowed her shoulders to slump as she tried to focus on finishing the day out strong. Finally, after another three minutes of doing nothing productive, she pushed away from the desk and pulled out her purse, slipping out her makeup bag and touching up her lipstick before sending a quick text to JJ, knowing that she needed to tell someone her good news. I have first date jitters, Jayje. Erin and I are going out for supper tonight, and I don't know why I'm so nervous. She knows, by the way, we had a heart to heart earlier this morning, and I feel so free. Stay safe out there, because we are going to need a girls' night when you get back. Love you!
After sending that text out, she once more tried to finish up the tasks that absolutely needed to be accomplished before she left for the day. Somehow, she managed to find a slightly spaced out place and zipped through three of the tasks before she heard a soft knocking on her door. Swallowing nervously, Penelope saved her work before shutting down her systems and pulling out her purse, slipping her phone inside as she got to her feet and walked over to the door. "Chief Strauss, hello."
"Hello, Ms Garcia. Are you ready to head out?" She nodded a little as she turned off the lights and stepped out of her office, locking the door behind her. "I hope that you don't mind that I took the time to change into something a little more comfortable. I thought that, since we were seeing each other in a less than professional setting this evening, it would be better this way."
That was the first time that Penelope dropped her eyes from Erin's face to see that she had indeed changed, into a looser skirt while her blouse had an extra button undone. It was enchanting to see her lower her guard a little, and Penelope relaxed her face into a smile as she nodded. "You look lovely." Erin blushed a little as they made their way to the elevators. She couldn't find any small talk to make in that moment, because everything she wanted to say wasn't appropriate in their place of work. "I just wish that I had something I could have changed into."
"You look beautiful, Penny. Do you mind if I call you that? I never thought to ask…"
"I never thought to ask if you like being called dumpling," she said as they stepped into the open elevator, and she pressed the button for the ground floor. Thankfully, there was no one there who could overhear her words, and she let out a long breath of relief as the doors closed on them. "Sorry, I keep forgetting that we're on precarious ground here at the moment. My mouth truly does run ahead of my brain, and I'm going to cause this to come crashing down on our heads."
"It won't be that bad, Penny. I, I may have already spoken to the Director, when I put together that you were singing my song. And when Alex came to me, telling me that she knew, I was glad for that foresight. Yes, we have to tread carefully into our future, but we have permission to walk there hand in hand. Chastely, whilst at work, of course."
"Oh. Well. That does change things a little," she breathed out as she turned to look at Erin, her smile trembling on her lips as she drifted closer to her soulmate. "I can erase elevator footage, because I need to do this." Cupping Erin's face, she leaned in and kissed her softly. "That's about as chaste as I can be."
From the smile in Erin's lips, she knew that she had done something right, and they both sighed in unison as they clasped hands. "How are you planning on telling your team about this turn of events?"
"Honestly? Hotch and Reid are the only ones who don't know that you're my soulmate. Reid, because I'm not close to him, not like I would like to be, and Hotch because I just don't know how to tell him. Rossi was the one who told me that you and he were just a friends with benefits type relationship, and Jajye and Emily have been really supportive. I think the bank incident helped cement in their minds that you have changed for the better. Derek just doesn't want to see me hurt. I don't think that you would hurt me, though, now that we've revealed our shared song."
"I can't promise that there won't be hurt feelings between us. You know that I can be a bitch at times, that my drive can get ahead of my heart. But I will say that I will try to always apologise when I snap at you. One thing I took away from my parents' marriage is that we should never go to sleep angry with each other. Alan and I lost that along the way in our marriage, though I do feel that the fact we weren't soulmates led to the discord between us as well." Erin broke off her words, reaching out for Penelope's hand and squeezing it tightly as the elevator doors opened up.
Knowing that they weren't yet in a place where they could be free enough to hold hands while walking, Penelope reluctantly let go and followed Erin out of the elevator and then out into the parking garage. It didn't surprise her that Erin drove a beautiful maroon Jaguar, and a part of her hoped that one day she'd get to ride in it. "I'll meet you there?"
"I was thinking that I could drive. It wouldn't be too much of a hardship to drop you off either back here or at your home after our date. That way, if you wanted to have a glass of wine with supper, you could and wouldn't have to worry about driving right away."
"You think of everything, Erin," Penelope murmured as she went to the passenger side of the car, waiting for Erin to unlock it. Once she was buckled in, Penelope relaxed back against the seat, breathing in the familiar scent of Erin's perfume. "This is a lovely car."
"It's the car I always wanted," Erin replied as she backed out of her spot and pulled out into traffic. The drive to the restaurant was filled with Erin's music, and it didn't surprise Penelope in the slightest that she loved classical music, given how much they had talked about favorite musicians and songs quite often on their chats. "And yes, this is Mahler. I pulled out my recordings of his symphonies when you agreed to go to the concert with me. Though there's never a bad time to listen to Mahler."
"He's quite bombastic, isn't he?" Erin gave her a little half nod, half shrug, and Penelope laughed lowly as she shifted in her seat a little so that she could watch Erin as she drove, knowing that there was something so magical about watching a partner like that, seeing the way their face looked as their attention was focused on the road. Erin was no different, and Penelope found herself falling further under her soulmate's spell as she drove to the restaurant, knowing that there was no other place that she would rather be in that moment, or for the rest of her life.
"Are you sure that you don't want any wine?" Erin asked as their server stepped away from the table with their drink order. Penelope shook her head, giving Erin a sweet smile as she picked up her water glass and took a small sip. "You don't have to worry about causing me to slip if you drink around me, you know. David drank on our nights together."
"I know that I could, but tonight is our first date, and I really want to experience you without any bit of alcohol in my system. I want to become drunk on you, not on wine. And maybe that makes me an incurable romantic, but so be it."
Erin blushed a little as she picked up her own glass of water, sipping slowly as she tried to regain her composure. "Being with you is going to give me cavities, but I don't think I really care, at this point," she finally said as she picked up her menu, her eyes scanning the options. Penelope, having studied the menu earlier, knew exactly what she was going to order, knowing that anything with too much garlic or onion was off the table for her, since she was hoping to get a good night kiss before they left each other for the evening. She used the time to instead study Erin's features again, memorizing the way her eyebrows arched, the way she curled her fingers into her palm as she rested her chin against her hand, the way her tongue darted out to lick her lips before she finally let out a small sigh and set the menu aside. Once more, her cool grey eyes focused on Penelope, and she felt pinned to her chair by the gaze. "Have you looked your fill?"
"No. But then, I don't think I ever will, because I have to make up for lost time. Do you ever wear any brighter lipstick?"
"This is what's professional. When we go to the symphony, you'll see me look slightly different."
"I can't wait to see that, then. Maybe I'll wear something a little different, too. There are a few sides to me, after all."
"I will look forward to that, too." Erin gave her a soft smile as their server reappeared with their coffees. Their orders didn't take too long to place, and then they were back to staring at each other. "Is it strange that I feel like I know you so well?"
"No, because I feel like I know you, too. We spoke so often while I was in London, that I truly got to see what makes you tick. I'm so grateful that you indulged me even before you knew I was your soulmate. I, I kept that from you, and so my desire to talk with you wasn't completely altruistic. I wanted to get to know you better, so that there would be a firmer foundation when I finally revealed to you the fact that we shared a song. I guess that I couldn't hide well enough."
"I'm glad? Because I could feel that you were hiding something from me, and I had some small feeling that it was something of this magnitude. You reacted oddly when I hummed our song in the mobile command unit, that was my first little clue. I started building the picture during our talks, though I fought to keep it from you, since I didn't want to presume that you might be open to exploring where this is leading. I want this to lead into a relationship. But not too quickly? Physical pleasure is so sweet, but it's something I want to build up to. This might make me a prude, but…"
Her voice trailed off as their entrees arrived, and Penelope flashed the server a quick smile before picking up her fork and twirling it around in her pasta. "There is nothing prudish about the fact that you've undone a few extra buttons on that blouse. But I can wait, and it will be all the sweeter when we finally do come together. Though I do hope that there will be a little bit of heavy petting along the way. And maybe a little bit of talking dirty over the phone when cases get to be a little too much?"
"I suppose that could be arranged." Even the tips of Erin's ears turned pink at the blush that spread across her face, and Penelope grinned a little as she started to eat. Their conversation turned to more mundane issues, like what her children were up to, and Penelope found herself pulled in by the lilting, happy, tone that filled Erin's voice when she talked about her babies.
"When do you think I can meet them? I know that we shouldn't spring this on them right away, but I do want to get to know them, since they're such a large part of your life. I really want them to like me."
"Well, you don't have to worry about Tabitha liking you or not. She currently thinks that the sun and moon rise at your feet, given what you were able to give her. I will have my weekend with them next week, though I can broach the topic with them in our family chat tomorrow. I think that I'd rather get you accustomed to them sooner rather than later as well. Since you're going to be a permanent fixture in my life from here on out."
Another shy expression swept over Erin's face, and Penelope sighed as she set aside her fork and reached across the table to take hold of her hand, squeezing it softly before threading their fingers together as they stared at each other. "I'm glad to hear that. But if your children don't take to me, I'll understand and back off. Because your children will always come first." Erin tightened her grip on Penelope's hand as she shook her head. "What?"
"Love, in any form, is necessary for us to grow and be the people we are meant to be. My children are nearly grown, and so, if they are bothered by the form of my soulmate, then they only have to worry about it for a few more years. I've lived for too long without you to give up on this that easily."
It was the most romantic she had ever heard Erin, and a small smile spread across her lips as she nodded, starting to rub her thumb against Erin's wrist. "Do you want to stay for dessert?"
"No, I really shouldn't. I've had a lovely time this evening, and I want to hold on to it without it becoming overdone. Next time, we can have dessert together?"
"Of course, dumpling." Penelope squeezed her hand once more before letting how and pulling out her wallet, wanting to cover the bill for this first date. Erin gave her a small frown, but she shook her head as she handed her credit card to their server. "You forget, I am flush since returning from London. The pay was a lot better than what I normally receive. Besides, I like to take care of things like this, when I was the one who asked for the first date, after all. You can pick up the next one."
Erin nodded as the server returned, handing her the receipt she needed to sign. After doing so with a flourish, Penelope put everything back into her purse before pushing away from the table and getting to her feet. "Did you want me to run you back to the BAU, or home?"
"Home, please. As long as I can impose and ask you to pick me up for work tomorrow."
"I think that I can arrange that. Though I might let you off at the door and then go park, since we don't want to gossip mill to start up too quickly, even with the Director's tacit approval." Penelope nodded as she took hold of Erin's outstretched hand, letting her lead her back out to her car. The drive to her apartment didn't take too long, though she was surprised that Erin already had her address saved in her phone, and so didn't need directions.
Her soulmate parked on the street, leaving the car to idle as she turned to look at her. "Yes, Erin?"
"Have a good night," she said in a rush before closing the distance between them and giving Penelope a heated kiss. It was everything that she had expected, and yet so much more, and she fought the urge to deepen the embrace, only to squeak a little against Erin's lips when the woman pressed her back against the seat before sliding one hand upwards until she was cupping one of her breasts. "I, I should be going now," Erin said, a breathless quality to her voice as she sat back up and smoothed her hair, a wild look on her face.
"Oh, Erin, if that is what I have to look forward to, I will be hard pressed to remain patient. You might have to sneak into my office every day, since there are no cameras in there."
"We'll see," was the quick reply as Penelope undid her seatbelt and clambered from the car. "Sleep well, darling." Penelope could only nod and wave as she watched Erin drive off into the night, feeling strangely bereft at her leaving. That feeling remained until she had reached the stoop of her building and began to hear their song, loud and clear in her mind, and knew that Erin was trying to soothe both of them, that she felt much the same way Penelope did, and that somehow, everything would be all right.
There hadn't been a free moment for either her or Erin in the next few days, but to her delight, the thing that her mother had always told her would happen once she found her soulmate was coming true. She was starting to hear their song more frequently, and louder. Knowing that she didn't have to hide her song any longer also allowed her to hum it at work, knowing that there wasn't anyone who might ask questions. Hearing their song grow louder, Penelope looked up from her monitors, smiling a little wider as she got up from her desk and went over to the door, opening it to peek outside. Erin was entering the bullpen, and Penelope's smile faltered a little when her soulmate paused by Alex's desk.
The other woman looked up, and Erin said something lowly to her. In the space of time that that took, Penelope could hear their song change a little, become somewhat sadder, and she knew that Alex had rejected Erin once more. Tearing up a bit, Penelope closed the door and waited for Erin to join her, wanting to comfort her. Moments later, Erin was slipping inside her office, and the moment the door closed once more, Penelope was pulling her into a tight hug, burying her face in the crook of her neck. "Why do you hurt yourself so by always offering her another olive branch?" she finally managed to whisper before guiding Erin over to her sofa and pulling her down upon it.
"Because I know that at some point, she'll be willing to listen to me and see that I've changed. I won't give up trying until I die. I've made amends with everyone, but for her, and while it might be somewhat self-indulgent, I still respect her and want her to respect me. If I am completely honest, I want her to see me the way that Agent Jareau sees me. Because I know that you've been softening her thoughts, and I appreciate that so much." Erin pulled away from Penelope to peck at her lips chastely before looking down into her lap. "This is my one insecure spot. I have so much confidence in everything else, but…"
"I get it. You crave affection because it's the one thing that you can't have in your position here, and you cherish your friends dearly. On our phone calls, that was the one thing that came shining through. The way you talked about your book club, or the women you talk to while at Tabitha's games, well, I just found my heart softening to that side of you, and I may have extolled those virtues to Jayje when we would talk. It was instinctive, to build you up and help her to see you like I see you. Of course, she won't quite understand the depth of what I feel, since she's not me, she's not yours. I'm yours. And I'm babbling, because there's just so much in here." She took hold of Erin's hand and pressed it against her chest, trying to get Erin understand what she couldn't put words to. "Alex would probably be able to explain it better, but I'm just me. I'm sorry."
"Never apologise for who you are, darling. Ever." Erin reached up to cup her cheek and run her thumb against her cheekbone. "Now, I should probably get back to my office before people start to talk. Do you mind if I use the other entrance?"
Penelope shook her head as they rose to their feet, following Erin to the side exit that she rarely used. "Thank you for coming to see me. Though I knew you were coming, because I could hear our song."
"I was singing it in my heart as I came in, knowing that I needed some courage to make my way over to Alex and then up to you. I know that we have permission, of a sort, to explore our bond, but I still feel like I'm stepping out of some set boundary. And as someone who has always tried to live within a rigid set of boundaries, well, this is a little scary."
"I understand. It's a little overwhelming to find out your boss is your soulmate, after all." Penelope smiled briefly before leaning in and kissing Erin once more. "So, we have the symphony tomorrow evening. I was thinking, since you won't have your children, would you spend the night with me? I know that we'll most likely be late, and I would worry about you getting home safely after dropping me off. I don't want to have sex, but I really want to sleep with you."
Erin nodded. "I think that we can move up to that level of intimacy this weekend, yes. As long as you don't say anything about my pyjamas."
"I promise. Oh, tomorrow night is going to be lovely. Now go, I've kept you too long as it is." Erin rolled her eyes a little before leaning in and kissing her once more. Penelope let out a little sigh as they parted, and she had to shut her door quickly so as not to stare after Erin longingly. It was one thing to moon, it was another to get caught at it. She had just taken a seat at her computers once more when someone knocked on the door, and she took a deep breath before calling out, "Come in!"
The door opened and she was a little surprised to see Alex entering. "I thought Erin was up here."
"She was, but it was only to confirm something with me before she got back to work. Can I help you with something?" she asked as she gestured towards her desk, wanting Alex to know that she was free to take a seat there while they spoke.
"It is really difficult to keep up this pretense of not thawing towards Erin, but I cannot afford to trust her again. Not when I've worked so hard to get my reputation back and make my way here again. Please, can you somehow explain to her that I can't accept the olive branches just yet? I don't want to keep hurting her, because it hurts me, too. I know you might find that selfish of me, but that's how it has to be, at least for now."
Though Alex looked like she was trying to keep a stolid mask on her face, Penelope could see the expression of sorrow in her eyes. "I don't want to be the monkey in the middle between you and my soulmate, Alex. But I do want the two of you to work things out, eventually. I'll try to get her to ease off a little, as long as you promise me that you'll not be openly hostile in an effort to protect your heart."
"That would be an adequate compromise, Penelope. Thank you." Alex sank down onto the desk and picked up one of the stress balls, squeezing it in an absent rhythm. "When did you know that she is your soulmate?"
"Only a few months before you came back to the BAU. Imagine that, we'd been working together for nine years before I even found out that my soulmate was so close at hand. I'm assuming your husband is your soulmate?" Alex nodded. "When did you know that he shared your song?"
"I heard him singing it while in a bar with Erin, actually."
Penelope grinned as she realized that she could very possibly get an amazing story about Erin out of Alex, and she clapped her hands together once as she looked into Alex's eyes. "Tell me all about it, please? We're not going anywhere today, and you're the type of person who has all her work done early, so if you're game to share, I am more than willing to listen!" The woman let out a little laugh as she nodded, and Penelope sighed with excitement as she waited for the story to begin.
Penelope took another look at herself in the mirror, feeling strangely nervous about the way she looked. She knew that Erin wouldn't mind whatever she was wearing, had insisted that people attended the symphony in jeans and t-shirts these days, but she still didn't feel right by dressing too casually. She had dug through her entire wardrobe to find something that was both her style and a bit dressier than what she wore to work. Finally, she had settled on a silky black skirt, a maroon silk blouse that was just the tiniest bit tight and low cut enough to draw Erin's attention, and a face of makeup that was darker and had a little more sparkle than what she wore to work. Knowing that there was no changing now, not when Erin was due to arrive in ten minutes, Penelope turned from her reflection and chose a headband to set off her look, choosing something a little flashier than normal, but still elegant enough to fit in with the sort of people who ran in Erin's social circle.
Once that was in place, Penelope took one last turn around her apartment, making certain that it was marginally tidy for Erin. She had cleaned it thoroughly the entire week, and could only hope that the woman didn't mind the kitschy clutter of the place. Not for the first time, she thought about how different they were, and wondered if Fate had truly known what it was doing when it decreed that they should share a song. Trying to clear the nervous thoughts from her mind, Penelope straightened a stack of magazines on her coffee table before taking a seat and waiting for Erin. She didn't want to scroll through her phone, since that would just make her all the more nervous, she knew, so she instead focused inward, trying to center herself using the meditation techniques she had been taught in therapy. That inner peace lasted until her buzzer went off, and she knew that Erin had arrived at last. Rising to her feet, Penelope made certain to take measured steps so as not to make herself breathless before the right time, and pressed the button. "Erin?"
"Yes. Would you let me in?"
Penelope nodded as she pressed the correct button, allowing Erin to enter her building. It took a few more minutes for her to reach the apartment, and then a firm knock caught her attention. She smoothed her skirt and then reached for the knob, opening the door with what she hoped was a sweet smile. "Good evening…" she started, only to have her voice trail off as she took a good look at Erin. The woman was in a teal brocade dress with abstract splashes of color, reminding her distinctly of a Monet painting. The dress was an off the shoulder style, which just served to draw Penelope's eyes to her breasts, and she made a little mewling sound as she dragged her gaze away from Erin's chest to travel down her body to see that the woman was wearing matching teal stilettos.
"I said that I was going to be wearing something a little out of the ordinary, Penny."
"I was picturing something much different," she replied as she took the overnight bag from Erin's hands and set it on her coffee table before picking up her purse and licking her lips nervously. "Now I feel decidedly underdressed."
"You look beautiful and elegant. And yet you've still retained your sparkle with the headband you've chosen to wear. Now, I hate to rush you, but our reservation is in twenty minutes, and the traffic is not the best tonight."
"I'm ready to head out." She smiled before pressing a ghost of a kiss against Erin's cheek, not wanting to transfer any lipstick onto her face. Erin smiled back as she took hold of Penelope's hand and guided her out of the apartment. Once the door was locked, they made their way over to the elevator, and her smile grew a little when Erin possessively hooked her arm around her waist and pulled her close enough that she could smell the woman's perfume with every breath. "What are you wearing?" she finally blurted out, listening to Erin chuckle.
"Caroline Herrara's Good Girl."
"Somehow, I knew that would be your reaction. I hate to bring this up, but David also loved when I wore this perfume. I have my favorite scents, so I hope that you don't mind if I don't change just because of our new relationship."
"I don't think that I could ask you to change that, Erin. Especially when it makes you smell so delicious." Penelope rested her head on Erin's bare shoulder, breathing in a little more deeply as the elevator went down to the ground floor. As the doors slipped open, Erin once more took hold of her hand, leading Penelope over to her car, and she climbed into the passenger seat and turned on her side a little in order to watch as Erin drove. There was something so relaxing about watching her, listening to their song drop from her lips. Penelope couldn't help but join in as the drive continued, and she relaxed further back into her seat as she tried to not think about the fact that by the end of the evening, Erin and she would be sharing a bed.
"We're here, Penny."
Shaking her head, she looked up to see that they were indeed at a restaurant. It was much finer than she had been expecting, and once again, she felt underdressed, wondering if she would ever fit into Erin's world. "I don't think I've ever eaten here," she said breezily, trying to cover up how gauche she was feeling by sound as nonchalant as possible.
"I haven't been here in years. I just wanted to share something memorable for our first serious date." There was a slight blush in Erin's cheeks, and Penelope let out a deep sigh as she nodded, knowing then that Erin really was trying to make a good impression on her.
"You do know that I could very quickly grow accustomed to being pampered, and would come to expect that in our relationship."
Erin giggled as they got out of the car. Penelope wasn't surprised when Erin took hold of her hand once more, as that seemed to be their thing, and she didn't begrudge her that at all. There was something comforting about knowing that her soulmate wanted close contact with her. Not everyone expressed affection like that, she knew, and she was glad to find that she had a partner who desired that. "When we're together, I suppose that I can pamper and indulge you. As long as you reciprocate. Alan and David weren't ones for soft physical affection, like this," Erin said as she squeezed Penelope's hand. "And this is what I want. I want comfortable and passionate and you."
The way that Erin spoke that last word sent a thrill of desire through Penelope, and she nodded as she squeezed Erin's hand in return. Finally, they reached the door, and Penelope drew in a deep breath as they entered, knowing that she would have to use her best manners, hoping that she wouldn't embarrass Erin too badly, wanting this night to be as perfect as she could possibly make it for her soulmate.
Penelope felt like she was still riding the high of a great evening spent with someone she loved as they left the concert hall that evening. Erin had been right, she had instantly fallen in love with Mahler's music after hearing it played live, and to her surprise, she found herself looking forward to the next time that they would head to the symphony. The walk to the car was mostly silent, though filled with the music they had just heard or snippets of their song. "Did you enjoy the concert?" Erin asked as they stopped next to her car, and Penelope nodded as she leaned back against the vehicle.
"It was just so…I don't have the right words. This isn't a world I grew up in. I feel clumsy and dumb not being able to explain how much it moved me."
"Sometimes beauty is indescribable. It is perfectly all right to not have the words to explain how it moved your soul. That music feels like I feel when I kiss you." Penelope blinked a little as Erin leaned forward to capture her lips in a soft kiss. Penelope wanted to deepen it, but knew that they were in public, and so didn't want to get caught in too amorous a clinch. Still, she let out a long sigh as Erin's arms closed around her waist, pulling her a little closer as the kiss lingered on. "I can't describe what that makes me feel like, only that it fills me with a joy that I want to hold on to."
She nodded as she hooked her chin over Erin's shoulder, relishing this small space of time where it was just them, together, and no one to tell them to let each other go. Finally though, she knew that she had to get in the car, and so she reluctantly pulled away from her partner and opened the car door. "Well, let's make some more joy at my place."
"My saucy minx, you know that we're not going to do anything more than sleep tonight."
Penelope bit her lower lip as she nodded, taking a seat in the car before looking up at Erin and giving her a knowing smile. She shook her head as she closed the door, and Penelope let out a trill of laughter as Erin sashayed around to her side of the vehicle, getting behind the wheel and quickly pulling out into traffic. She couldn't help but notice that the woman drove a little faster than the speed limit in order to get back to Penelope's apartment, and that kept a wicked smile on her lips the entire drive. Somehow, they managed to get up to her place without pouncing on each other, and Penelope fumbled with her keys to open the lock, feeling Erin circle her arms around her waist as her chin dug into her shoulder a little. "If you keep distracting me, we'll be spending the night out in the hall, dumpling."
"I'm trying to be good," Erin murmured as she pulled away a little, allowing Penelope to focus and open the door. Once inside, though, Erin kicked the door closed before giving her a smoldering look. "Would you undo my zipper?"
"Yes," she breathed out as Erin turned around to show her back to Penelope. Her hand trembled a little as she took hold of the tab and ran it down Erin's smooth back, her fingers itching to stroke and caress her skin, knowing that if she did so, things would escalate much faster than they wanted. "Do you want me to hang your dress up while you change for bed?"
"That would be lovely," Erin murmured as she allowed the dress to pool at her feet. She tried not to stare as she stepped out of the dress and went over to her bag. "Where's the bathroom?"
"The closed door by my bedroom," she managed to squeak out as she knelt and picked up the garment, hugging it to her chest as she watched the woman tug off her heels and leave them behind before padding into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. It took her a few moments to shake the haze of desire from her brain, and then she was going into the bedroom, pulling out a padded hanger and making certain that the dress would hang without getting wrinkled before putting it in her closet. Listening to the water running in the bathroom, Penelope figured that she had enough time to change herself, and she quickly whipped off everything but her underwear before pulling on pyjama shorts and an oversized shirt.
Penelope was just finishing putting away her clothes when she heard Erin behind her. Turning to look at her, she found her breath catching in her throat to see her soulmate in a mid-thigh length teddy with a matching silk robe. "I'm just going to wash my face, Erin. Claim a side of the bed, though I usually sleep closest to my nightstand, since I have to have a place to put my glasses."
Erin nodded as she came up to her side, pressing her lips to Penelope's cheek before heading to the opposite side of the bed and letting the robe drop onto the floor. Sucking in a shallow breath, Penelope scurried into the bathroom and took care of her needs, washing off her makeup and applying moisturizer before heading back into the bedroom.
Her soulmate was stretched out on the bed, turned on her side so that she could watch for Penelope's return. A wide smile spread across her face when she caught sight of Penelope, and she patted the bed a little in anticipation. A soft sigh slipped from Penelope's mouth as she went over to the bed, pulling back the covers and stretching out on the mattress before pulling off her glasses and setting them on the nightstand. "You're beautiful, Penny."
"So are you," she replied as she turned to face Erin, resting her hand on the swell of her hip and looking into her eyes. "Since tomorrow is Sunday, do you normally set an alarm? Or do you wake up when you want?"
"I don't set an alarm on the weekend, no, but my body still manages to wake me up at around the same time. And you?"
"Same. Though if I've been out with Jayje or Emily, we usually roll in late and I manage to sleep late." Sliding her hand up Erin's side, Penelope started to run her fingers through her hair, finding the motions soothing to her. "I do hope that you manage to sleep in, though. I want to be the first one awake, so I can see how you wake up. I want to see if we stay like this during the night, or if we change positions. I want to know which one of us will be the big spoon. There are so many firsts that will happen tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to find them out."
Erin's face relaxed into that soft, sweet, smile that Penelope had quickly fallen in love with, and then she was leaning in to kiss her softly. "I want to find those things out, too. There is so much that I want to know, but don't know how to ask. I feel like, as soulmates, we should instinctively know some of these things, but I'm also glad that we get to find them out together."
"That's my fondest wish, too," she murmured before letting out a large yawn. "I'm sorry, I guess that I'm just a little more tired than I thought. Will you forgive me if I fall asleep so soon in your arms?"
"No, darling, sleep. We can talk more tomorrow," Erin lowly murmured before yawning herself, snuggling closer to Penelope. "Sweet dreams, Penny." Erin kissed her once more before letting her head fall onto the pillow, the smile never leaving her lips as her breathing evened out into sleep, Penelope following along shortly after her.
It had been so easy to fall into a routine with Erin, to look forward to Saturday nights spent either at her apartment or Erin's home, to wake up in each other's arms on Sunday mornings and laze around for a while, to snuggle and caress without getting too physical, and to be filled with a yearning that she wasn't certain she wanted to be fulfilled just yet. There was something to being held and cuddled that she was quickly growing to love. But like all good things, Penelope knew that there had to be a shoe ready to drop somewhere. And so, three weeks after they had started spending their weekends together, it did.
"Mom! Dad said that you were going to be home this weekend! Where are you?"
Penelope sat up with a groan, hating to dislodge Erin's hand from her breast, but needing to wake up and wipe the sleep from her eyes. "Erin? I think one of your children is…"
The door to the bedroom burst open, and Penelope gasped a little to see the three Strauss children tumble into the room. Erin groaned a little as she scooted closer to Penelope, throwing her arm back around her waist. "You're dreaming, darling, let's sleep for a little while longer," she muttered.
"She's not, Mom!" Tabitha, the youngest, bounded over to the bed, bouncing down on it with a resounding thump before reaching out and shaking Erin's foot. "Come on, wake up and introduce us to your girlfriend. Dad said that he thought there was someone new in your life, since you've been a little less prickly towards him. He just never mentioned anything about you suddenly being gay."
Penelope wished that the floor would open up in that moment, swallowing her and removing herself from this very awkward situation. "Erin," she hissed before starting to hum their song lowly, needing a way to soothe herself as three pairs of eyes stared at her.
"Oh, hey, that's Mom's song!" Bruce said as he joined Tabitha on the foot of the bed, giving her a shy smile. "Does that mean the two of you are soulmates? I never imagined that Mom's soulmate could be a woman, since we've only known her with Dad and David. How did you finally meet each other? Have you told each other that you love each other yet?"
"Bruce! Tabitha! Can you not see that you're making her feel uncomfortable?" Karen gave her a knowing look as she drifted over to the bed and took a seat next to Penelope. "I'm certain that you're familiar with who we are, but Mother hasn't taken the time to introduce us. Karen," she said as she extended her hand to Penelope.
"I'm Penelope Garcia. Pleasure to meet you. If only your mother would wake up and save me from this."
"I'm awake, darling, I just wanted to see what would happen," she replied as she sat up, curling her body around Penelope's as she looked at her children. "Why did your father drop you off today? He's supposed to have you until tomorrow after school. Weekends are his."
"He decided that he wanted to go spend the day at Tiffany's parent's house."
From the way that Tabitha said that, Penelope knew that there was no love lost between the kids and Alan's new girlfriend. A part of her rejoiced in that, since she thought that that might work to her advantage in the long run. "I see. Well. This was not the way that we wanted to introduce our relationship to you. And yes, Penelope is my soulmate, and I am very lucky to have found her when I needed her the most. How about the three of you start breakfast for us, so that we can get dressed and meet you in the kitchen? French toast sounds delicious this morning."
Karen nodded before giving Penelope a smile that reminded Penelope so strongly of Erin that she felt confident that things were going the absolute right way. "We'll be ready in about twenty minutes. Will that give you enough time?"
"That should be fine," Erin replied as the children left the room in the same whirlwind with which they had entered. Once the door was closed, her soulmate let out a deep sigh and pressed her lips to Penelope's cheek. "So those are my children. I really wish that we had been able to arrange it so that we could have had a better first meeting. Yet this feels perfect?"
"It really does, oddly enough. They seem really boisterous, though, not at all like you." Erin frowned. "I suppose that came out wrong, I'm sorry. I just see you as this collected, elegant, calm woman, I guess. But if this is a new facet of you, I am certainly glad to discover it. Forgive me?"
"Of course, darling." They climbed out of bed and Penelope padded over to the closet, pulling out one of the outfits she had started to keep at Erin's home, knowing that it was easier for them that way. Erin had done the same, and the familiarity soothed a part of her heart that she hadn't realized needed that. "And I know that I'm off kilter with the kids just showing up like that. I think they've just assumed that I would be always alone here, since I spent my time with David at his house exclusively. You're the only person who has shared this house with me besides Alan. They would have known that you mean more to me just by that fact alone. But you sang our song without thinking, and it just cemented it into place. I sang it to them as a lullaby when they were young, so of course they recognized it so quickly. And now I feel like I'm fucking this up."
Erin let out a deep sigh as she pulled away from Penelope, bringing her knees up to her chest as she stared at the mattress. "So, we're having our first disagreement about something completely out of our control. You do realise that this is completely ridiculous, yes? But it makes complete sense for who we are. Dammit, Erin, I love you, and I am not going to let this slight bobble in our plans cause us to have a full-blown fight."
Erin turned her head to look at Penelope, a sweet expression on her face. "You love me?"
"Yeah, I do. You're my soulmate, and I knew the first night you slept with me that this was love. Real love. I don't care if it takes you years to say those words in return, I know that they're in your heart, because of the way that you hold me while we sleep. It's in the looks that you give me when you think I'm not looking. You're my better half, my sweet dumpling, and even if we didn't plan on coming out to your children quite like this, in a way it's almost better. There's no need to dance around any longer." Reaching out, she wrapped an arm around Erin's shoulder and tugged her close to her chest, pressing her lips to Erin's head as she took a deep breath in through her nose.
"I'm sorry, I reacted badly. I panic when things don't go to plan in my private life. Forgive me?"
"Always, dumpling. Now, let's get dressed and join your kids in the kitchen. I cannot wait to get to know them better." Erin nodded as she leaned back to capture Penelope's lips in a tender kiss. The gesture touched her heart, and she fought to keep from deepening the kiss, knowing that they had to get down to her children before one of them came up to see where they were and walked in on something a little more scandalous than cuddling while sleeping. Still, she was so reluctant to get up and it took everything in her to pull away from Erin and climb from the bed to pad over to the closet and pull out their clothes for the day, knowing that sweeter times were ahead for them, once they were alone once more.
"I think that there's something seriously hinky going on, Hotch. I know that we have that person copying our former cases, which is weird enough, but…when we were at that game with Reid, I thought that I saw someone watching us. There was a glint of light that shone off something in a car, and the only reason I caught it was I turned my head to see how Blake and Erin were getting along."
"About that. When did the two of you become friends?"
Penelope knew that her supervisor was trying to avoid dealing with her first statement by focusing on the new relationship. "After the bank heist, when we danced together at Jayje's wedding? That was when we first came to an understanding. After that, we talked at least two times a week while I was in London with Emily. I was lonely for home and couldn't call JJ all the time, since we travel so much, and it seemed like the next best solution."
"Well, I do like the results that it's had for our team and in her. She's certainly nicer than she had been in the past. And I thought that we were going to have a rockier outlook between her and Blake, since I know all about the bad blood between them. You're just a great influence on people, Garcia."
She preened a little at the praise before taking a deep breath. "That's all well and good, but you're avoiding my concern. What if besides a copycat, we've picked up a stalker, too? Or what if they're the same person? I just, things are nebulous between me and Erin, and I don't want to have to add worry about you all on top of that."
"I don't think that you need to worry about us, Garcia. But if it will set your mind more at ease, I'll make certain to keep an eye out while we're on a case, and you can do the same here?"
She nodded, knowing that that was probably the best she could get out of him in that moment. "I will do that, Hotch."
"And tell Erin that I'm glad she chose to be friends with you. I think that this relationship will benefit you both."
She gave him a small nod as she left his office, heading down the stairs and out into the hall. Passing by Alex, she gave her a small smile before turning into Erin's office, hoping that she was there and not in a meeting. "Helen, please tell me that she's in. I really need to talk to her right now."
The assistant looked up from her computer and gave Penelope a short nod. "She's on a conference call at the moment, but as long as you're quiet, you should be able to head right in."
"Are you certain? I don't want to disturb her."
"I know about you two. I overheard the start of quite a few conversations when you were in London, and soulmates just give off this energy. Also? She has been a lot more easy going since you started this relationship. So, yes, I am certain that it will be all right for you to head right in. After the morning she's had, I'm certain that you will be a welcome sight. I'll keep out any other visitors until you leave."
"Thanks, Helen," she said, feeling a real sense of warmth for the woman spread through her body as she went over to the door and let herself into Erin's sanctuary. Taking a good look around, she drank in the elegant way it was decorated. Erin looked up from her phone, giving Penelope a quick flash of a smile before holding up one finger. Penelope nodded and then moved through the office, taking in all the small details that helped tell her more about her soulmate. The closer she got to Erin's desk, the quieter she tried to be, so as not to interrupt her. Penelope's breath caught in her throat, however, when she saw that on Erin's desk, next to the picture of her three children, was a picture of her. It wasn't the best one she'd ever taken, since it was what was on her ID badge, but just knowing that she was in a place where Erin could look at it whenever she wanted made her heart sing.
Finally, she took a seat in front of Erin's desk, waiting for her to finish her conversation. Penelope tried not to pay too much attention, since it wasn't her business, but she still picked up snippets of things, muffling her giggle when Erin rolled her eyes. "Yes, I understand. I will definitely have that report to you by the end of the day. Thank you. Good bye." Erin let out a deep sigh as she shook her head and slumped down in her seat a little before rubbing her hand over her face. "Do you have any idea how good it is to see your face right now?"
"I can imagine that it is quite good. But you need a better picture of me on your desk. We'll have one of the children take one of us together and I'll print it out here before bringing it to your office. Can we talk shop for a few minutes? I don't want to make a frustrating day worse, but, well, Hotch isn't listening to me and I am super worried."
Erin's face fell a little as she nodded, leaning forward and steepling her fingers together as she gazed at Penelope. "What's wrong?"
"You know that we've picked up someone who is copying our previous cases. So far, only two of them have been replicated, to our knowledge, but that's too many to be a coincidence." Erin nodded as she reached out and picked up a notepad and pen, poising herself to take notes on what Penelope was saying. "I don't have any more information to work with on that angle, but something hinky happened when we were all at Reid and Derek's softball game."
"I didn't notice anything odd," Erin murmured as she wrote a few notes. "What caught your attention?"
"I wanted to make certain that Alex wasn't giving you too much grief about being there, only to be pleasantly surprised by the fact that she was conversing almost pleasantly with you. While I turned my head, I saw something reflect the sun and found my attention drawn to a car that was idling on the street. I thought it odd, but it left soon after, so I didn't think too much more of it. Until the second replicated case. Now, I'm freaking out about the fact that it appears that someone is stalking our team, and I don't know how to proceed from here. I wish that you could tell me I'm blowing things out of proportion, but that's what Hotch did, and I still feel that hinky, off, feeling, deep in my gut. How do you want me to proceed? The last time I compiled data outside my team's knowledge, I got shot."
"We'll proceed with caution from this point on, Penny. I have the feeling that you're not wrong, but without more data, there's not anything we can do at the moment."
She nodded a little, trying to blink back tears. "I know it's only Tuesday. I know that you have the children this week. But may I please come home with you tonight? I need to be held by my soulmate."
"That would be fine, darling. Now, I really do need to finish that report, and then do a little digging on this myself, but we'll talk more about this when we get home. Meet me at my car at five, if you can get away."
"All right, I'll see you then." Penelope kissed her fingers before holding them out, watching as Erin copied the movement before pressing her fingers against Penelope's in the closest thing that they could get to a kiss in the office. "Until this evening," she said lowly as she got out of her chair, still feeling a pervading cloud of doom hanging over her head as she left.
Penelope was glad when she could finally escape work and get to Erin's home, hoping that she hadn't missed too much time with Erin and the kids. Parking in front of what would be the open space in the garage, she turned her vehicle off and made her way to the front door. Just as she was about to knock, the door was pulled open and Tabitha was grinning at her. "Penny! Mom said that you were on your way. Come in, we're just about to sit down to supper."
Tabitha reached out and took hold of her hand tugging her through the house and into the kitchen where the rest of the family was. "I don't think that she's going to run away, Tab. You don't need to grip her hand like a vise," Karen said, looking pointedly at their hands.
"I know! I just haven't let go yet." Tabitha stuck her tongue out at her sister before dropping Penelope's hand and drifting over to her mother and wrapping her arms around her stomach as she rested her cheek against Erin's shoulder. "Can we stay up late with you and Penny?"
"Absolutely not, Tabitha Marie. You know that it's a school night and while your father might let you get away with ruining your sleep routine, I will not. You can stay up until ten, as usual, and not a minute longer. If Penelope is not busy on Friday, and agrees to spend time at the house, then we can all stay up late and watch a movie or something. Would that be all right, darling?"
Erin didn't turn to look at Penelope, but she could tell that her soulmate was smiling by the set of her shoulders. "I suppose that I could clear out my entire weekend for you all, if you want to have me here that long. I know that I can get to be a bit much at times."
"I suppose that we could tolerate you for three days," Erin teased as she turned off the burner before turning and looking at Penelope, a playful expression on her face. "But we still have about ten minutes before everything will be ready to eat. Kids, why don't you set the table so that Penelope and I can decompress for a few moments? Please?"
"Of course, Mother. Bruce, Tabitha, get started. I'll come and get you in the living room when everything is ready, okay?"
Erin nodded a little as she stepped away from Tabitha to come up to Penelope, sliding her arm around her waist before guiding them to the living room. There was a small fire going in the fireplace, and Penelope couldn't help but grin as she led her soulmate over to there, tugging her down to the floor before leaning back against her chest, purring a little when Erin closed her arms around her waist and rested her chin on her shoulder. "Are you sure you don't mind rearranging your entire weekend to spend time with us?"
"First, I love you, so I love your children by extension. Second, given how I'm feeling right now about our little elephant in the BAU briefing room, I would relish spending this time with you. You make me feel safe."
"Why is that?"
"Because word gets around that you are a better shot than JJ, and since I don't believe in guns, well, I need someone proficient in using one to protect me. And you will protect me, right?"
Erin gently pulled her head backwards until she could press her lips against her forehead. "Of course I'll protect you, sweetheart. You're my soulmate, and I would do anything in this world to keep hearing our song until we're both in our old age." Erin kissed her once more before starting to gently rock them back and forth, humming their song beneath her breath. Soon, Penelope joined in, feeling herself become extremely relaxed in Erin's arms, almost lulled into a soft sleep. That lasted until Karen came into the room and announced that supper was served.
The mood around the table was chaotic and happy, and Penelope marveled a little at how well she fit in with the children, as if she had found a total of four soulmates when she and Erin had found their song. "Why are you looking so sappy?" Tabitha asked as Bruce served them all dessert.
"Because I just realized how much I've gained by being your mother's soulmate. There are four new little niches in my heart that belong only to you four, and I cannot wait to grow closer to you three as I become a more permanent part of your mother's life." She blinked back tears as she covered Erin's hand on her leg, giving her a sweet smile before looking at the children in turn. "Now, I think that if your mother will allow us to eat dessert in the living room, we should have time to watch a movie before you have to head up to bed. Unless there's homework that you have to finish?"
"I'm good, I finished it all during study hall," Tabitha quickly replied, giving her mother a hopeful look.
"I'll have to bow out, there's an important paper that I need to finish before class tomorrow. It's only the rough draft, but if I get it close enough to perfect now, I can avoid that much more work later on in the week. I'm going to head up now, and try to get it all banged out before I sleep tonight. See you in the morning, Penelope?"
"That is the plan. And if you need someone to give it a once over before you head to school, I'd be glad to do so."
"I might take you up on that," Karen said as she got to her feet and picked up her cake plate and fork. "Have a good evening!"
Erin nodded as she left the room, Bruce following at her heels, saying that he had an important math test to study for. She sighed a little as she helped Erin clean up the table before the remaining trio headed into the living room. "Is there anything in particular that you'd like to watch? I have a Netflix account we could use, it would just take me a moment to figure out how to make it work on your tv. Or we could just find something that's already on?"
"I have Netflix, too, darling. Tabby, did you have something in mind to watch?"
"Something funny? My song has been sad all week, and I know that it's not because of me, but it's still affecting my mood. I thought that if I saw something that lifted my spirits, I could send that through to them via my version of the song."
"Your mother is good at telegraphing her mood via our song, too," Penelope said as she curled up on the sofa with her cake, flaking off a small piece as she smiled up at Erin. "It was a little odd when I was younger, but it really helped when I lost my parents to have our song to rely on." Erin's smile wobbled a little as she handed the remote to Tabitha and then took a seat next to Penelope, letting her head come to rest on Penelope's chest as they turned their attention to the television and waited for Tabitha to choose something.
"Do you know why I'm still so off kilter? I've had a wonderful evening with your children, and it's helped to take my mind off this jackass, but now that Tabitha's gone to sleep and it's just the two of us, those intrusive thoughts are hurtling back into my brain and I can't get rid of them."
Erin let out a soft sigh as she bundled her close to her side, pressing her head down onto her chest. "What about this case bothers you so much?"
Penelope took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm the pounding of her heart as she thought of how to answer her soulmate without sounding a little bit overwrought. "It all goes back to the Fisher King case. And George Foyet. And Jason Clarke Battle. And Ian Doyle."
"I'm sorry, I don't follow."
She nodded a little, knowing that what she was saying didn't make much sense yet. "This will be at least the fifth time that some unsub has stalked our team. The Fisher King didn't want to hurt us, but he did shoot Elle, almost killing her. Foyet stalked us and nearly killed Hotch before killing Haley. Emily was very nearly murdered by Ian Doyle after he hunted her down. And I was nearly killed by Battle, because he hunted me down. There are chinks in our armor that I've fought to close. I've tried to bury our personal details so deeply in my system that it would take even someone like Kevin a year to find the most innocuous detail. And yet, and yet, this person that's replicating our previous cases and is stalking us seems to know our every move, professionally and personally. Which leads me to wonder which of us is in the crosshairs, and who might end up hurt. I don't want to lose you before I've even gotten the chance to really know you. So, I'm scared. Truly scared."
"If it bothers you this much, we can work together on gathering more information on this unsub. Will that make you feel a little better about this situation?"
"Yes. Because together, I feel like we can do anything. Including finding out who is after our team this time." Leaning in, she kissed Erin softly before getting to her feet and holding out her hand to her partner. "Can we go up to bed now? It's not that I'm getting tired, but I really want to cuddle with you before we fall asleep."
"That sounds perfect," Erin replied as she took hold of her hand and boosted herself to her feet. Hand in hand, they climbed the stairs up to the bedroom, and she hummed their song to herself as she went over to the closet and shimmied out of her dress and tights.
"Erin? Can we do something a little different tonight? We've slept together already, but I want to be a bit more intimate. And no, not sex, not with your kids here. I just would like to sleep feeling your skin against mine. Please?"
"I think that I'd like that, yes." Erin came over and pecked her cheek lightly before hanging up her blouse and skirt before unhooking her bra and placing it in her lingerie drawer. Penelope drew in a shaky breath as she tried to keep her thoughts as pure as possible, knowing that they couldn't take things to the next level, not yet, though that night was coming soon. "What are you waiting for, darling?"
"I don't know," she quickly replied as she shucked off bra, slipping it in next to Erin's before hurrying over to the bed and crawling in on her side. "I have been thinking of this moment for so long. Maybe I've built it up a little in my head, because seeing you like that, you're so open and soft and lovely and I'm just reminded of my own shortcomings?"
"Penelope," Erin said lowly as she reached out her hand to her. She nodded and drifted over to her side, climbing into the bed and hurriedly pulling the sheets up to her waist as she focused on Erin's face. "You're lovely. I wish that I had all the perfect words to tell you that in my eyes, you're gorgeous, and that I love you so much."
Before Penelope could reply, Erin had leaned in and captured her lips in a bruising kiss, one of her hands sliding into her hair and holding her close as she poured out all of her emotion into the kiss. Penelope groaned lowly against her lips as she sidled closer to her soulmate, wrapping her arm around Erin's waist but taking care to make certain that she kept her hand in an appropriate place, just in case one of the children happened to knock on the door. "I thought that you weren't ready to say that?" she panted out as she finally tore her lips away from Erin, smiling happily into her face.
"Yes, well, if you're right to feel so apprehensive about this replicator, then who knows what will happen in our future? I need to let you know my heart." Erin blinked a few times before starting to hum their song. Penelope nodded as she started to hum along with her, finding the song soothing her frazzled nerves.
"I just don't know how I'm going to make Hotch understand that I am seriously freaked out. I'm certain that he thinks I'm being paranoid, but you can't do the job I do for this long and not feel a bit paranoid at times. It also doesn't help that every time I've had this hinky feeling, something bad has happened. And before you start using that lovely doctorate on me, I am thoroughly aware of the fallacy of correlation not equaling causation, and all that."
"You also learn to trust your instincts when you've done this job as long as we have. Even if it is just the two of us gathering information, a tiny part of your mind can be put at ease. Yes?"
"Yes." For the first time, Penelope recognized how good Erin's skin felt against her own, and she let out a soft sigh as she ran her hand up and down Erin's back, letting her fingertips memorize where the slight scars were there, how her spine felt, just every little facet that she could drink in with her touches. "I love how you feel. I love how you smell. I love how you know just what to say to make me feel right. I know that that's partially the soulmate bond, but I think that this is also part of falling in love?"
"I think so, too. This feels so comfortable, Penny." Erin began to run her fingers through her hair, never taking her eyes off Penelope's as she leaned in and kissed her once more. "I like how our family feels with you in it. It's as if this missing piece has finally fallen into place."
"I love being your missing piece. Are there any concerts that we could pick up this weekend? I really want to go out with you and take my mind off all this crud. Is that selfish of me?"
"No, it's normal to want to think about and do the things that make us happy when we're faced with a situation like this. And I think that there's something that we could go see, yes. We probably wouldn't get the best seats, but we'd be together."
"That's all that matter, Erin. Now, tell me more about your parents. I'm assuming that I'll be getting to meet them at some point, yes?"
"Yes. And my grandmother. Maybe I'll start with her, since she's the one who made me into the woman I am today. Sort of." Penelope grinned and nodded, pulling the sheet up around their chests as she settled in to listen to her partner talk, wanting to know everything about her that she was willing to say.
"This is going to be the most amazing Christmas, Jayje!"
Her best friend gave her a wide grin as she took the bags of gifts from her outstretched arms. "Are these all for Henry?"
"No, there are a few for you and Will in there, too. What can I say? I just saw too much stuff in England that was perfect for him. And you. I even picked up something sweet for Erin, that I didn't tell anybody about, because I wasn't certain that this would work out half as well as it has been. I love her, so much. I just need to figure out how to tell Reid and Hotch about this, though. It feels like the elephant in the room just keeps getting larger, and I can't find a way to tell them that I'm moving in with her. We're taking the week between Christmas and New Year's to move the rest of my clothes over, and then using the rest of my lease to figure out what to do with my furniture. Our styles totally do not match, but there are things that I want to keep, and will have to sweet talk her into adding to the house."
Penelope looked up to see Reid approaching them, an easy smile on his face. Taking a deep breath, she nodded and motioned for him to join them. "I have found my soulmate, and it just makes sense that we would take this next step. And it will save me gas money in the long run, since we'll be able to car pool."
"Did someone new recently join us? I don't seem to recall anyone pop up in your conversations more recently. Except for Strau…" His mouth dropped open as he seemed to put things together. "Really?"
"Yeah. I figured it out when she sang our song in the mobile command unit. It just took us a little while longer to get to this point. What about you? Have you heard your song with your mystery woman?"
Reid blushed a little as he nodded. "That's how I know that I love her without seeing her. We share the most beautiful song. Though I suppose that you both would call your songs the most beautiful. Penelope, if Erin's comfortable with this, would you mind if I heard your song? I've listened to JJ's, and I think that Derek has sung part of his song, too. Hotch has never sung his song, which I get, it would be hard to do, after how Haley died, and Rossi has never mentioned his song. I think that Blake's is more of a rap than a song, given the music that she listens to, but she won't sing her song for me."
"I think we could arrange that, if you'd be willing to help me out."
"What do you need?"
"Some muscle when we're ready to move some of my furniture to her home. Please?" He nodded and Penelope let out a little squeal before hugging him tightly. "Thank you! You are the best! And I know, it's probably weird to think of me with Erin, but she's my soulmate."
"I think that's why this isn't so weird to me, actually. And as long as you're happy, that's all that matters." He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek before waving at both of them and heading for the elevators.
"That went better than I thought it would. I'm still going to hold off on telling Hotch, though. Let him have a happy holiday with Beth before springing this on him."
"That's probably for the best. So, if I want to bring Henry around to deliver your Christmas gifts…"
"You'll have to head over to my new place. I'll text you with the details later tonight. Right now, I have to get moving, her parents are due to land any minute now, and I've been tasked with picking them up, since Erin and the kids are doing the last minute cleaning and decorating. I cannot wait to see Henry and you later on, though. Maybe tomorrow, after Ken and Nan are settled?"
"Sounds like a plan, PG. And I am so happy for you and Erin. Seeing her look so happy is a great thing." JJ hugged her tightly before pushing her in the direction of the elevators. Grinning, Penelope gave her a wave before heading out of the bullpen and over to the stairs, knowing that she needed to work off a little of her nervous energy before she met Erin's parents. This was a huge step in their relationship, and she wanted to make an excellent first impression.
As soon as she was in the car, Penelope plugged her phone into the charger and took a few deep breaths before pulling out of her space and heading towards the airport. Thankfully the traffic wasn't too bad, and she managed to reach it with fifteen minutes to spare. Parking in the short term lot, she headed inside and looked for the baggage claim that Nan and Ken would pick their luggage up at, finally finding their flight number and positioning herself there. Taking a deep breath, she pulled out her phone and glanced at the picture Erin had sent her of her parents.
Her head shot up at the mention of her name, and she looked around until she saw Nan waving at her. Giving her a small wave back, she braced herself to meet Erin's parents, not certain what they'd make of her. "Hi," she said shyly as Nan and Ken came up to her side. Hesitantly, she extended her hand to them, only to have the tall, portly, man Erin called father pull her into a tight hug, thumping her back a few times before pushing her over to Nan, who similarly embraced Penelope.
"It is very good to meet you. Erin has told us nothing but good things about her soulmate. And I know, you were probably expecting us to be a little less welcoming, given that we pushed her to marry Alan, but we've changed, like all people should." Nan gave her a quick kiss on her cheek before hugging her again. "After everything that Alan has been putting her through with the divorce, and her battle with alcohol, I just want my baby to be happy. And you make her happy."
Penelope couldn't hold back her tears as she nodded, allowing Nan to guide her over the carousel as they waited for their luggage to arrive. "She makes me so incredibly happy, too. We spent three months getting to know each other through phone calls, and it was the most precious time of my life. There's so much to love about your daughter."
"That is precisely what I love to hear," Nan said as Ken ambled over to them, two small bags in his hands. "We travel light."
Penelope giggled a little as she nodded, knowing that she must have made a face. "I am a bit of a clothes hog," she admitted as she led them out of the airport and to her car. "The work I do, where everything is so dreary and bleak, I needed something cheery and bright to make me feel better about the things that I have to see and do."
Nan nodded as she slung an arm around Penelope's waist. The move reminded her so much of her mother that she let out a little sigh before starting to hum their song, knowing that Erin would hear the sound of it in her heart and know that everything was going very well.
"I'll get it!" Tabitha called out at the sound of the doorbell, and Penelope nodded as she finished up with cutting the cake for their dessert. It had been weird to bake with her future mother in law, well, if Erin wanted to marry her, but Penelope had found the experience soothing in a way that she hadn't realized. She had been without her mother for so long, she had been accustomed to mothering others for so long, that this care was foreign and welcome. Erin gave her a small wink as she finished filling the teapot with hot chocolate to bring into the living room, and Penelope giggled in return.
"That's probably Jayje. I told her that she could stop by to drop off presents today, since I'm going to be here for the rest of the year. And then every year after this." Erin nodded as she carried the pot over to Penelope's side and then pressed her lips to her cheek in a sweet kiss. "You have to know that you're special, dumpling. I never wanted to live with Kevin, and I can't imagine living apart from you."
Erin let out a soft, pleased, breath before kissing Penelope's lips. "I can't imagine living apart from you, either. And I want so badly to make love to you tonight, but seeing as how I got the children for their winter break, well…"
"Anticipation will make it all the sweeter when it finally does happen." Penelope gave Erin another kiss before picking up the tray and heading for the door. "Hey, Jayje! Where's my little man?"
"He already ran into the living room as soon as he heard the word snacks. Your daughter is thoroughly adorable, Erin."
"Thank you, Jennifer. Please, follow us into the living room."
JJ nodded and they made their way to where the others were. "Mom, Dad, this is one of my colleagues, Jennifer Jareau. Her son is Penelope's godson."
Penelope gave her partner a quick look of surprise, not knowing that she knew that about her. She hadn't ever brought it up in casual conversation, after all. "Aunt Penny! We even got a present for Miss Erin, since she's your soulmate!" Henry said as he ran over to their sides and threw his arms around her legs in a tight hug. "Is that the cake that Tabby promised us?"
Erin and Penelope laughed in tandem as she nodded, Henry letting go of her long enough so that she could set the tray down on the coffee table. Karen took over from there, plating the slices while Bruce and Tabitha poured the hot chocolate and passed it around to all present while Henry tugged on her and Erin's hands, leading them over to the tree and pulling them down onto the floor. Once Penelope was seated, he crawled into her lap and she closed her arms around him, rocking him back and forth as they listened to the buzz of conversation happening around them. Erin let her head come to rest on Penelope's shoulder, and that was when she caught Nan trying to discreetly take pictures of them. "Mother."
"What, Rin? We need pictures of the two of you together. This cosy moment is a perfect memory for us all." Nan smiled at them before taking a few more pictures of them. Penelope nodded before turning her head and breathing in deeply, drawing the scent of Erin's perfume into her lungs. "You two are so lovely together."
A faint blush rose up in Penelope's cheeks as she shrugged, feeling suddenly under too much scrutiny. Erin just slid her arm around her waist and drew her closer, sliding her hand up and down Penelope's side as she let out a long breath of contentment. "All right, I'm finished with my cake. Will you open your presents now? Since we can't be with you on Christmas?"
JJ laughed and shook her head. "You don't have to if you don't want to, ladies. Henry is just excited about anyone getting to open presents."
"That will be fine, Jennifer. Do you mind?" Erin asked as she looked at Penelope.
"That will be perfectly fine, dumpling. Do you want to get them for us, sweetheart?" she murmured in Henry's ear. He nodded excitedly as he slipped out of Penelope's lap and toddled over to the tree, dragging over two gift bags to them before plopping down in front of them to stare expectantly. "Who should go first?"
"Miss Erin, because it's her house."
Penelope nodded as she turned to look at Erin, smiling at her. "All right, Miss Erin, go ahead."
Erin rolled her eyes affectionately as she broke the tape seal on the bag and pulled out the first layer of tissue paper. She was methodical about unwrapping her gift, and Penelope fought the urge to rush her, knowing that this was all a part of what made Erin. "This is beautiful, Henry. Thank you!" she exclaimed as she pulled out a delicate Swarovski figurine. "I will put it in my office and think of you every time that I look at it."
"Mom wanted to get you a pen, but pens are boring. This is pretty, and so it's better." Penelope muffled the giggle that fought to escape at his logic, but Erin just nodded sincerely as hugged the figurine close to her heart. "All right, Aunt Penelope! Open your gift!"
She nodded as she dug into her gift, flinging the tissue paper all over the place as she uncovered what they had chosen for her. A wide grin spread across her face when she saw the array of headbands in the bag. "You know me too well, Henry! Thank you!" she said as she pulled out one that would go with her current outfit and exchanged it for the one she was currently wearing. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas! Thank you for having us!" Penelope's heart melted a little at the way he said those words, and she opened her arms to him, hugging him tightly before kissing his cheek. Henry wriggled out of her embrace before hugging Erin and giving her a sloppy kiss. "See you soon!"
"Of course!" Penelope replied as she waved at them. Tabitha got to her feet and showed them to the door, which left her and Erin with the rest of the family, and she suddenly felt under deep scrutiny. Scooting ever closer to her soulmate, Penelope tried to stuff down her feelings of nervousness in order to appear more at ease with the evening. She didn't know why she was suddenly so off kilter, but there was something that was setting her off, and Erin seemed to notice, since she allowed her thumb to stroke her side softly as she hummed their song in her ear.
"It's lovely that you have such a great relationship with your colleagues, Penelope. I kept trying to tell Erin how important that is to keep the peace at work, but her run ins with that brusque Agent Gideon seemed to influence her more than I ever could."
"Well, am I wrong?" Nan winked at Penelope before turning her focus back to Erin. "Now, the kids and I are going to clean up down here and get everything ready for tomorrow. Why don't you and Penelope go for a walk. I know that it can get to be a bit much with all of us invading your space."
From the twinkle in Nan's eye, Penelope knew that she was teasing them, but she wasn't going to say no to alone time with Erin, and she hastily got to her feet before reaching her hand down to Erin, tugging her gently to her feet before leading her out to the hallway, smiling a little at Tabitha as they shrugged into their coats, ready to have a little time to themselves before the truly hectic holiday season fell upon them.
Penelope groaned a little as she tried to shrug off the hand that was shaking her shoulder gently. "Go away, it's not time to get up yet," she muttered as she struggled to pull the sheets up above her head. A sweet laugh caught her attention, and she opened one eye a tiny bit to look into Erin's face, seeing that she was already looking polished and awake. "Why are you together already?"
"Because we have a church service to get to, remember? My parents always start Christmas Day with church. I tried to let you sleep as long as possible, but you really need to get up now so that we can arrive at the church on time. You don't have to put on a full face of makeup, but I thought that you might like to."
Penelope nodded a little as she sat up, a wide yawn splitting her lips as she reached out her arms towards her partner. Erin gave her a little smirk as she leaned in and gave Penelope a quick kiss before taking hold of the covers and tugging them off her body. "Erin!" she said sharply, feeling the cool bite of the bedroom air lap at her skin as she struggled to pull at least the sheet back over her body. "Come on!"
"No, darling, I'm sorry. You need to get moving, we leave in about forty minutes. You don't want to disappoint my mother, do you?"
Penelope pouted as she shook her head. "No, I like her too much already to do that. But does the church service need to be quite so early?"
Erin laughed as she shrugged. "That's usually how these services go. It was either this or a midnight service, and seeing as how you have been so tired these last few weeks, I thought that I would suggest that we go to an early morning service. Perhaps next year, we'll choose the midnight one?"
"I suppose," she replied, still not pleased with having to leave their nice, warm, bed so early. "I don't suppose…"
"That I've chosen your outfit for the morning? I have, yes. It's in the bathroom, waiting for you."
"Thank you, dumpling," she replied as she slid from the bed and closed the small distance between them, hugging Erin tightly before kissing her cheek and patting her bum. "I will meet you in the kitchen in thirty five minutes, please have tea or coffee ready, and we can just head out?"
"Of course, my love."
Those words made Penelope sigh as she nodded, slipping past her partner to head into the bathroom. Hanging over the closet door was her favorite Christmas dress, but she noticed that there was something glittery on the bodice. Drifting over there, she let out a soft gasp to see that Erin had left her an early present of a large emerald pendant. "Fuck," she breathed out as she stripped off her pyjamas before pulling on fresh undergarments and then shimmying into her dress before slipping the necklace over her head, letting it come to rest in the middle of her cleavage. Humming their song beneath her breath, Penelope quickly applied her makeup, using a lighter hand than normal, since she knew that they would be in a sacred space.
Finally, she felt ready to face the morning, and she left the bathroom and headed down to the kitchen, meeting Tabitha on the stairs. "You're up late, too?" the girl asked tiredly, and she nodded. "I love Christmas, but I don't know what I hate more – staying up late for the midnight service or getting up early for the morning service."
"Well, this is my first morning service in a number of years, so I'm just really tired. Sit next to me, and you can poke me with your elbow to keep me awake if I start to fall asleep."
Tabitha giggled as she nodded. "As long as you promise to do the same for me." Penelope nodded in return, following her into the kitchen and gratefully taking the mug of coffee from Erin's outstretched hand.
"There's not room in my car for everyone, so I was hoping that you could take Karen and Tabitha with you this morning."
"It would help if I knew where I was going, dumpling."
"Of course, I sent a text to your phone with the address already. Karen's out in your car, warming it up. I love you."
"Erin Elizabeth Strauss, you are not supposed to make me cry this early in the morning," she whispered as she went to her, wrapping her up in a loving embrace as she pressed her lips to Erin's, kissing her deeply as she struggled to keep her tears from falling. "I love you so much, my sweet dumpling. So much."
"Who knew that it would take those three little words, Penny," she murmured against her lips, and Penelope shrugged before kissing her once more. "Now, unfortunately, we have to get going, otherwise we'll be late."
Penelope nodded as she finally unwrapped herself from Erin, grabbing her coat and slipping into it before following her and Tabitha out to the garage. Everyone else was waiting for them, and Penelope gave Nan and Ken a small wave as she went over to her car and got behind the wheel, looking over to smile at Karen. "Thanks for warming up the car, Kare."
"You're welcome. I've already called up the directions for the church, but I can also just tell you where to turn, since we've been there quite a few times. Tabitha, are you ready?"
"Yep!" she chirped from the back seat, and Penelope giggled a little before backing out of the garage and following Erin as closely as she could. "Mama will drive slow enough, too, so that you don't have to worry about losing her. Is your pendant new?"
"Yes, your mother gave it to me for Christmas. I'm glad she went with jewelry, because I did, too. Mine isn't quite so extravagant, but I hope she'll be pleased with it nonetheless."
"Mom would love anything coming from you. She's much more about intent than value when it comes to receiving gifts, even though she lavishes them on other people. That's why Daddy's presents never went over well. She could tell that he didn't really put any thought into them, so she never reacted the way he thought she should. Not to change the subject, but Tabitha turns fourteen in March, and that means she can choose which parent she wants to live with, and the judge has to listen to her. We all want to live with Mom again, especially now that she has you in her life. Would you even want to stay if the quiet house of two became a louder home of five?"
"I would. Kiddos, I was shot a few years ago, and the wound was such that I would never be able to have my own kids. I was hoping that my soulmate would understand that, but it turns out she came with a ready made family for me to plug into. You guys don't resent me?"
"You make Mama happier than she's been in years. We know that rehab took a lot out of her, and that she had some fun with Rossi, but you've settled her and lightened her spirit. We knew that something was up during the summer when she kept talking about you. She only ever does that with her closest confidantes. So, we can be a family?"
"Of course we can, Tabby cat. I want nothing more than that. And since we're all girls in this car, I have to ask that, when you come live with us, knock before you come into the bedroom?"
"Of course! But be warned that Mother's Day is off limits. We come in and serve breakfast in bed, so you'll get to experience that for the first time this coming year. Welcome to the family, Penelope." She sighed and nodded, feeling much more at peace with how things were headed after their little heart to heart.
"This bracelet is so lovely, Penelope. How did you even know that I was going to get you an emerald necklace?" Erin asked as they fell into bed that evening. Penelope shrugged as she ran her thumb across the pendant she was wearing. "Well, this just proves that we were fated to be soulmates. Because you know me so well."
"I should hope that I do. Um, the girls and I had a good discussion on the way to the church today. Tabitha's birthday is coming up, and they told me that she'll be of an age to choose which parent she lives with, and well, they want to live with us. I told them yes. I want to be a family, Erin. I mean, you did the hard job of raising them until now, and I'm just coming in on the back end, but…I'll get to have the experience of having kids. You, you don't mind, do you?"
Erin responded by giving her a hard kiss, flipping Penelope onto her back as she straddled her body, staring down into her face as she shook her head. "No, I do not mind at all. Thank you, my darling one. God, I wish that my parents were not here right now, because I would love to make you mine right now. It just feels weird with them here."
"I totally understand. But we do have all this week where we could make use of my very empty apartment. Packing up my clothes will take time, after all, and we could totally say that we lost track of time."
"I love the way that your brain thinks, darling," Erin said lowly as she stretched out along Penelope's body, pulling the covers up around them. "I hope that you don't mind this. I love feeling your skin against mine, and I like being on top. David understood that, Alan never did."
"Why does it not surprise me that you like to be in control? But it is nice to give up that control once in a while. Can I tell you a secret?"
"There are no secrets between us, I promise. But I will keep what you reveal close to my heart and never reveal it unless you ask me."
Penelope smiled as she leaned up and kissed Erin softly. "I love your parents. My mom and stepdad have been dead for more than half my life, my dad died when I was a baby, and it is really nice to have parental figures in my life once more. I know, I shouldn't think of them that way, since they're yours, but I'm yours, too. Right?"
"Right. And I am perfectly willing to share them with you. I think my mother is smitten with you, too. And that's partly because I couldn't shut up about you whenever I called them. I was trying to fool myself by calling you my dear friend, but I think that Mom knew before I did that I cared for you much deeper than as a friend."
"Even before you knew that we shared a song?"
Erin nodded. "I knew that there was something deeper to this friendship that I wanted with you. Something happened in the mobile command unit, and I knew that I couldn't keep fighting it. Even while you were so sweet to encourage me to continue sleeping with David. He is very good at scratching that particular itch, but I have this feeling that you'll make that itch go away. In the best possible way, darling. You make me feel complete, which makes sense, since you're my soulmate." She kissed her once more before letting her head come to rest on Penelope's shoulder. "Did you enjoy your first Christmas with me? With us?"
"It was wonderful. I wish that Derek would have stayed here, so that he could help us with moving, but Reid's agreed to help us with that, should we need him."
"That will be nice. I've wanted to get to know him better. So, how about we pack on the twenty seventh and have him help all of us move on the twenty eighth? Mom and Dad fly out tomorrow already, so I want to spend the entire morning with them before they return to Mount Vernon."
"That is perfectly all right. We could take everyone out to brunch in the morning, and head to an art museum before we have to drop them off at the airport. Does that sound all right to you?"
"I think that that sounds perfect." Erin rubbed her cheek against her skin, and Penelope smiled as she started to run her fingers through Erin's hair, the motion soothing her heart. "Is there anything that you want that you didn't get today?"
"I did not get enough kisses," she teased, feeling Erin laugh soundlessly before she turned her head and pressed her lips against her collarbone. "Um, that is a most wonderful mistake for me to have made, dumpling. Because if you keep kissing me there, I'm going to want to skip over tomorrow and go right into the twenty seventh."
"I don't think there's a chaste place to kiss you right now."
"I suppose that I'll have to ask for a raincheck on those lips of yours, then. As long as the first place you kiss me in two days is right here." She reached down and took hold of Erin's hand, placing it between her breasts to rest on her heart. "I'm longing to feel your lips claim that spot as yours."
"I think I can make that desire come true tonight. If you trust me."
"Of course I trust you. I love you."
Erin sat up to give her a tender look before she moved down Penelope's body and paused to look up at her. "I love you, my darling Penelope," she whispered before lowering her lips to her chest and pressing a feather light kiss to her chest. "These last four months have been literal magic for me." Erin once more curved her body around Penelope's, letting her head thump down on her chest. From where she positioned her ear, Penelope knew that Erin was listening to her heart beat in her chest. "I knew that I would find myself falling for you when I realized that we shared a song. I just didn't know that falling in love with you would be so damn easy."
"Falling in love with you was easy for me, too. I know, the song makes things easier, but that doesn't explain just how easy our conversations were while I was in London. We really formed such a good friendship, that it easily blended into where we are now." Penelope let out a small sound of pleasure as she started to stroke Erin's hair. "But you still owe me a night at the opera. I would have thought that would have been one of your gifts to me."
"I'm actually waiting to hear from one of my contacts in New York. There's something that I want to show you, but I'm hoping to get better tickets than what's currently available. After all, your first time at the opera should be an excellent experience, and I am willing to hunt for just that. There hasn't been a revival of my favorite Handel opera Stateside since 1999, when Renée Fleming took the title role, and I really would like to see another staging of it."
"Well, I will keep my fingers crossed for that then," Penelope murmured as she reached out with her free hand and grabbed her tablet, quickly unlocking it. "How do you spell that?"
"Why? Are you going to listen to it?"
"Yes. If it's your favorite, I want to hear what it sounds like."
Erin let out a pleased sigh before spelling out the title of the opera, while Penelope tapped it into YouTube, finding a production of it that looked extremely interesting and adding it to her watch later queue. "I think that I'm going to fall asleep sooner than later here. I was up too early to still be up this late."
"That's fine, dumpling. I'll be following right after you," Penelope answered as she set the tablet back on the nightstand before slipping off her glasses and turning the lamp off. "Thank you for making this a wonderful Christmas for me. Even if I don't want to see your parents go quite yet. We'll have to go see them soon. Yes?"
"Yes, darling." Erin pressed her lips against Penelope's chest before yawning widely. "I'll see you in the morning." Penelope nodded as she encircled Erin in her arms, finding a deep sense of contentment filling her soul as she drifted off to sleep.
"Are you certain that you don't need us to help you pack, Penelope?" Tabitha asked, only for Karen to elbow her side sharply, making Penelope giggle a little. "What?"
"They need some time alone, Tabby. And we have things to do here, like start taking down the tree while they're occupied. Don't think about us, we'll have the house looking festive, but less like Christmas, by the time you and Penelope come home this evening."
"I am so glad that we have your permission to leave, Karen," Erin said drolly as she pulled on her coat, buttoning it while looking at Penelope in anticipation. Penelope nodded as she slipped into her own jacket, grabbing her purse and giving a quick hug to all the children before following Erin out to the garage. "We'll take my car? It has a larger trunk, so we might be able to fit all of your luggage inside."
"That sounds good to me, Erin." She gave her soulmate a small smile before settling back into her seat and scrolling through her Facebook feed, happy to see that Henry had enjoyed all of the gifts she had given him. After writing a quick reply on Jayje's post, she closed out of the app and hummed along to the music that was playing, keeping her eyes on Erin the entire time. It wasn't until she had parked in the lot reserved for tenants that she spoke once more. "I do hope you realise that the first thing we're going to do is not pack clothes. I have waited far too long to taste the skin that my body has touched."
A slight flush darkened Erin's cheeks as she nodded. "That was why I chose to wear something easy to get in and out of. And it's better that we consummate our relationship first, so that we can shower and let our hair dry instead of going home with damp heads."
"Well, my hair is not what's damp right now, dumpling." Erin groaned a little as she nodded, licking her lips almost innocently as she turned the car off and bolted for the door. Giggling again, Penelope exited the car, locking the doors before following after Erin, catching up to her soon enough so that she could wrap her arm around Erin's waist as they entered the building and climbed the stairs. "We could have taken the elevator."
"We'll do that when we bring the bags down, darling. And besides, anticipation is the best thing to whet this appetite of ours," she replied as they came to a stop in front of her door. "Because right now, there's this little bead of sweat that's rolling down your chest, and I want to trace its path along your body, my darling one."
Penelope shivered a little as she nodded heavily, her hand fumbling the key in the lock as she struggled to open the door, letting them inside. Erin practically pushed her aside so that she could close and lock the door before turning Penelope and walking her back against said door and capturing her lips in a deep, bruising, kiss. It was like nothing they had shared up to that point, and Penelope felt her knees go weak at the embrace. Without hesitation, she wrapped her arms low around Erin's hips, holding her in place as the kiss continued on and on, moaning into her mouth as she felt her soulmate slip the buttons on her blouse from their holes until they were all undone.
A low whimper stole from her throat as Erin began to kiss her way down her neck until she was making good on her promise, lapping and licking at the trail that bead of sweat had taken, burying her face in Penelope's cleavage even as her hands fumbled with the clasp on her bra. "Fuck," she gasped out as the cool air of the apartment caressed her breasts before Erin drew one taut nipple between her lips and suckled at it strongly. "More?"
Erin nodded as she pulled her head away, taking hold of Penelope's hand and looking at her with desire filled eyes. "Lead me to the bedroom."
"Why? You know the way there," she panted out, only for Erin to give her a look. Nodding, she threaded their fingers together as she guided them to the bedroom, stepping out of her shoes along the way so that it would be one less thing to do before falling into bed with Erin. "Make me yours?" she asked as the back of her legs hit the bed.
"That was the plan for today." The smile on Erin's lips caused her to shiver a little, and Erin used the small distraction to undo the zipper on her skirt, letting it fall to the floor with her blouse and bra before rolling her underwear down her hips. "Take a seat."
She nodded and did as ordered, relinquishing control over to her Erin, knowing that she wouldn't hurt her, that this would be the culmination of everything that they had been moving towards. Erin knelt and gently pried her legs apart before running her hands up and down her thighs. "Erin?"
"I'm taking my time enjoying you, darling. You're beautiful," she whispered before leaning in and pressing an almost chaste kiss to her vulva. "I know this waiting has been sheer torture for us, but it has made this moment all the sweeter for me. Scoot forward a little for me?"
Penelope nodded as she did so, sighing a little as Erin's mouth returned to her mound, her tongue running up and down her labia before slipping between them to flick and tease her clit, driving her on towards a quick orgasm. She wanted to make this first time between them last, but it seemed like her body had other ideas because despite her best efforts, she felt waves of pleasure sweep over her body and she fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling as Erin continued to eat her out, driving her to higher and higher plateaus of pleasure. Finally, after her third orgasm in a row, Erin pulled away and joined her on the bed. As Penelope panted, trying to catch her breath, she turned onto her side and began to make quick work of the fastenings of her clothes, tugging the garments off her body so that she could touch and taste as well.
"You're too good at that for this to have been your first time," she said as she leaned in and kissed Erin sweetly, tasting herself on her lover's lips. "Is that also a reason why Alex is so cross with you? Was she a jilted lover?"
"Not jilted, no. But when the Amerithrax incident happened, we were a little closer than appropriate, which resulted in the quagmire we found ourselves in. But she is warming up to me again. I think that's thanks to you, darling." Erin stroked her face gently before capturing her lips in another kiss. "But enough of the past. You are my present and future, and I know that you want to make your mark on me. I'm yours, Penelope Garcia. From now until the end."
"And I am yours, Erin Strauss." They smiled at each other before Penelope kissed her once more, then moving on to pepper Erin's face with soft, quick, kisses before working her way down the column of her neck. Determined to take her time, to help Erin experience as much pleasure as possible, Penelope made certain to keep her busses tender and light. From the way her lover whined and twisted her hips, she knew that this was exasperating her, but she pressed on, knowing that the end result would be sweet for both of them.
Penelope knew that she was crying too hard to even think about attempting to drive home, but she wanted nothing more than to be home in Erin's arms, knowing that she could be the only one to help heal this gaping wound in her heart. "Chief Strauss called, Penelope. She wants me to drive you home, since she thought that you wouldn't be in any state to drive."
She looked up at Agent Anderson, giving him a small nod as she tugged her purse out of the drawer and blindly followed after him, welcoming his hand between her shoulder blades as he guided her into the elevator and pressed the down button. "Why?"
"Because she trusts me, and I've always respected her. I know that your team has butted heads with her quite a lot over the years, but ever since her second stay in rehab, she's put in the effort to be a different woman. And now that you're together, you influence her more than you realise. She's more like you, you're more like her, and it's a perfect balance. So I would do anything to keep the two of you on even keel. Besides, I'm good at looking after people. I'm not just another pretty BAU face."
She giggled a little as she nodded, grateful to find an unexpected friend in the midst of her sorry. "I just don't understand how one bullet can do so much damage," she finally whispered, and Anderson shrugged a little before shaking his head. "I guess I'll know more tomorrow. I just need to be home with her."
"I completely understand, and I'll have you there as quickly as I can." He stepped closer to her and she welcomed the warmth that was radiating off him. It was too easy to allow herself to become catatonic as she lost herself in thought, trying to not think about how much Reid must be hurting in that moment. He had truly seemed to be in love with Maeve, and having her life ended by an unsub seemed like such a cruel fate. "All right, PG, we're here. Give your soulmate an extra hug from me tonight. Hold her close and tell her that you love her. I know that that's what I'll be doing as soon as I get home to Gina."
She nodded and leaned over to kiss Anderson's cheek softly. "You're a good egg, I hope you know that. Thank you for driving me home." He gave her a small wave as she exited the car, and then she was trudging up to the front door, letting herself in with the key. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched as he finally pulled away from the kerb and drove off into the night.
It didn't take long for her to lock the door once more, stepping out of her shoes and tossing her purse onto the table before making her way upstairs, knowing that Erin would most likely be in bed waiting for her, given how late it had gotten. As Penelope trudged up the stairs, she unbuttoned her blouse, pulling it out of the waistband of her skirt before undoing the front clasp on her bra. The rest would be easy enough to get out of, once she was in their room. Opening the door, she focused on the fact that there was a slight glow in the room from Erin's bedside lamp, and Penelope let out a choked laugh to see that her lover was fast asleep, her book closed around her thumb. The sight was so domestic and everything that Reid would never get to experience with Maeve that Penelope's little laugh turned into a full on sob, and she tried to hum their song as she shrugged out of her clothes and put them away before tugging on an oversized shirt and padded over to the bed.
Picking up Erin's book, she put a marker where she had left off and then went over to her side of the bed and climbed in. After pulling the sheets up around their waists, Penelope snuggled in close to Erin's side, letting her head come to rest on her chest as she tried to get to sleep. Every time she went to close her eyes, however, her mind tried to put together a picture of exactly what had happened to Maeve, and she let out a long breath. Eventually, she started to feel Erin's fingers drag through her hair, and Penelope lifted her head to look up into her soulmate's face. "I don't understand," she finally whimpered, and Erin nodded before contorting her neck enough to where she could kiss Penelope's forehead. "They were soulmates, and now she's dead, and they never had the opportunity to love each other like we do. How can life be so cruel?"
"It's not cruelty, my darling. It's just the way of the world. We could think life cruel for not putting us together until this point in our lives when we could have had fifteen previous years of happiness. But I've learned that we have to take what life gives us and be grateful for the time." Penelope nodded as she scooted up and rested against the headboard of the bed, staring down into her lap. Erin copied her movement before slipping an arm around her shoulders and gently pulling her closer. "I am going to be grateful for all the minutes that we have together."
"I need to remember that, Erin."
"You will, with time. You're just a little younger than I am, so there's some things that you haven't learned yet. But there are some things that I would rather you didn't learn, because you deserve to be happy, to not wear a millstone around your neck with the things you know about the world."
"I have my millstones, Erin. Being so connected to the internet leads to me seeing the dregs of society. I've been called vile names, had assumptions made about my weight and my sex life. Yet those words typed out by keyboard warriors are a drop in the bucket compared to what they tell me they'll do to me when they find me. But there's not the sense of immediacy like there was tonight. Or when Haley died. They're behind a screen and a keyboard, they can't hurt me physically in that moment. But I still wear their words around my neck?"
"I wish that you didn't have to experience that, darling, but I know that it's part of your job." Erin let out a little sigh. "What can I do to make you feel able to sleep tonight? I know that it will be difficult, because your heart is heavy and it's hard to sleep when your mind won't stop circling around all the bad that happened."
"Would you just sing our song to me? I don't think there's anything else in this world that would settle my heart at this moment. It's selfish, I know, since Reid will never be able to hear his song with Maeve ever again, but I need to hear ours."
"Hush, it's not selfish to want that, darling." Erin pressed her lips to Penelope's forehead and then shimmied down onto the mattress, stretching out before patting her chest lightly. Penelope nodded and shifted her body so that she could rest her head on Erin's chest. Once it was in place, Erin began to stroke her hair once more as she started to sing their song, the gentle sound of it filling her senses as she tried to will herself to sleep.
"I know that you might not be feeling up to this, but the children want to have a movie night. I convinced them that it wouldn't be appropriate for us to go out, but we could have something at home."
Penelope looked up from her monitor and gave Erin a small smile. "That actually sounds wonderful. I think that my heart is just starting to recover from losing Maeve, and I am ready for a comfortable family night. Though I have to say, I'm very surprised that Alan hasn't said anything about the kids not leaving our house."
"David put the fear of God into him, actually. He and Bruce were always close, and I know that they've kept talking despite our not having a relationship beyond our little tryst. And when you have as much clout in as many spheres as David has? Well, Alan knew that he wouldn't win. We have a court date that I completely forgot to tell you about because we've been dealing with the fallout from Maeve's murder. It will be in two weeks, and I hope that you will be able to take the morning off work and go to the courthouse with us."
"Of course, let me put that into my calendar." She whipped out her personal phone and called up the right app. Erin told her the date, and she put it in, making certain to request that date off with Hotch in an email right afterwards. "Now that that's taken care of, how about you stay with me until I finish this last search for the IRT, and then we can go home. I suddenly cannot wait to see the kids."
"I think that can be arranged," Erin murmured as she leaned in and kissed Penelope softly before taking a seat on the sofa, curling her feet beneath her and pulling out her phone. Unable to help herself, Penelope took a few candid shots of her lover before turning back to her work and quickly getting through the rest of what she needed to so. It took a little longer than she had anticipated, but soon enough, she was finished, and then she was turning off her systems for the day.
"I am now all yours," she said as she pulled her purse out of the desk, tossing it to Erin as she slipped into her coat and buttoned it. "Do you want to text the kids and ask them if they want pizza brought home? I thought we could swing by a place and pick some up, since I don't really feel like cooking tonight, especially if we're watching movies."
"I'll do that as you drive?"
She nodded and hooked arms with her beloved as they left her office and headed towards the elevators. Everyone else from their team had already left for the day, and she gave a little nod to Anderson as they passed by his desk. He waved in return before turning his focus back to whatever he was working on, and she let out a tiny sigh as they exited the bullpen and waited for the elevator to arrive. "Have you noticed that our song has changed a little since they've been living with us full time?" Penelope asked as they stepped into the elevator.
"Yes. My mother told me that that was something that might happen, since it happened when I came along. Because children are such a large part of our lives, the love you have for them bleeds into the love you have for me, and deepens the song. I rather like what I've taken to call Karen's theme. There's a bit of Mahler in it, after all."
"I thought I recognized that! I mean, I'm not an expert yet, since classical music is still relatively new to me, but he has a very distinctive sound. Sort of like John Williams!" Erin giggled as she nodded, letting her head come to rest on Penelope's shoulder as the elevator slid down to the ground floor. "Tabby has a sweet little coda in there, too, but I'm still trying to suss out what Bruce's contribution is. I guess, since he's so much quieter than the girls, I have a harder time connecting with him and hearing him."
"That will come with time." The elevator doors opened, and they stepped out in tandem, Penelope never letting go of Erin's arm as they went out to their car. "I'm just going to tell them that we're stopping, rather than asking. It's easier that way, especially since we don't know how long the pizza will take on a Friday night."
Penelope nodded as she climbed behind the wheel, taking Erin's keys from her hand and starting the vehicle before backing out of their spot. That was a perk that she had quickly grown accustomed to, even though she knew it was a shallow reason to love having Erin as her soulmate. As soon as the text was sent and the pizzas ordered, Erin turned up the radio, and Penelope smiled to hear Beethoven pour out of the speakers. She knew the Fifth Symphony, and she smiled as she tapped out the rhythm on the steering wheel as she drove. Next to her, Erin was humming along with the song, and she felt so thoroughly domestic in that moment that she wondered if that bucolic feeling would ever fade away.
"I'm sort of glad the traffic is lighter than normal. I think we're going to reach the restaurant as soon as the pizzas are supposed to be finished," Erin said as they pulled into the parking lot. "I'll be right back." Erin leaned over and pressed her lips to Penelope's cheek before leaving the car and she watched her jog up to the door, not wanting to take her eyes off her soulmate. The five minutes she was gone seemed so long, and Penelope let out a huff of relief as Erin got back into the car, setting the boxes of pizza on the dashboard as she fastened her belt before slipping them into her lap as Penelope backed out of the parking spot. "I hope this is enough for us all. I went with two, since I know that you and Tabby aren't partial to meat."
"This will be fine. And there are breadsticks, too, which makes everything better." Erin nodded as they continued on home, and suddenly Penelope felt words she never thought she'd say flutter on the tip of her tongue. "Do you ever think about getting married again? I know, it's so soon into our relationship, but we're soulmates, and I know that this relationship is going to last the test of time. I never thought that I would even think about marriage with someone, but now, living with you, I find myself wanting something a little more permanent?"
"Are you proposing to me in your car, darling?" Erin asked, a teasing lilt in her voice.
"Sort of? But not really. I need to get a ring and plan something glamorous, but I want to know if that's something you want before I take those steps. You could be content to just be a couple without the bonds of marriage, and I would be all right with that, too. I just feel this need, what with everything that happened to Reid and Maeve, to at least broach the subject."
They came to a stop at a red light and Penelope was shocked when Erin quickly leaned over and kissed her cheek with a loud smack. "I love you, and if you want to get married, we can. I guess that now I wait for you to choose a ring and a perfect time to ask?"
"Yes." Penelope took off as soon as the light changed, eager to start planning out just where the future with Erin would lead.
"David! I need your help!"
He looked up from the file on his desk and beckoned Penelope inside his office, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. She nodded and took a seat, trying to calm her nerves as she glanced nervously around the room. Silence fell around them, and Penelope fought the huff of irritation that threatened to break free from her lips as she watched him continue to work on the file he had open. Finally, he signed the bottom of it with his usual flourish and then he closed the folder and turned his gaze on her, pinning her to her chair. "What can I do for you, Kitten?"
"I may have done something really impulsive and blurted out that I wanted to marry Erin over the weekend. In my car. It was completely unromantic, and she humored me by being agreeable to the idea, but now that I have the thought in my head, I can't stop thinking about it. I'm no good at picking out jewelry for my friends, let alone even begin to think about choosing an appropriate ring for my soulmate! Is there any possible way that you could head out to lunch with me, and we could go looking for something spectacular for her? My budget isn't too large, but I know that you can help steer me away from crappy rings and find that diamond in the rough. Please?"
He chuckled a little as he nodded. "I suppose that we could go out hunting for something pretty for your soulmate. Do you want to head out now? It's nearly eleven, after all."
"Sounds good to me. Thank you!" He nodded at her, giving her that knowing look he always seemed to wear when he had more information about a situation than anyone else did. Frowning a little, Penelope got to her feet and followed David out of his office, stopping by her office to grab her coat before joining him at the elevators. "You look way too much like that cat that ate the canary. Care to spill?"
"There's nothing that I can tell you, Kitten. This is my normal look," he replied as he placed his hand on the small of her back, guiding her into the elevator as soon as the doors opened. Frowning a little, she pressed the button for the ground floor. "But you don't believe a word that I'm saying, do you?"
"Do you blame me? You always seem to know more than you let on," she shot back before nudging his side with her elbow. "I just want to make her happy."
"You are just by being with her, Penelope. I watched her change over the months while you were in London, seeing the way that she began to light up at work. There was an incandescence about her that I knew meant she had finally started to spark off you."
"But she didn't know about me. How did you know I was influencing her?"
He gave her a cheeky grin before leading her out of the elevator. "Because she was reacting the same way that Caroline reacted to me. Have you told Hotch yet?"
"No? I've just assumed that he would catch on, since we're not shy about hiding our relationship at work, but he hasn't quite seemed to catch on. And the longer that it goes, the harder it is to tell him? I know, that's not the smartest outlook to have, but I just can't seem to find a way to tell him the truth."
"Well, when Erin shows up wearing a shiny new rock on her finger, people are going to talk more than they already are. And those rumors might get back to Hotch. Do you want office gossip to be the one that lets him in on the fact that his boss is experiencing the sweetest pleasure in the arms of his friend and technical analyst?"
"Well, when you put it like that, I suppose not. But I have to be the one to find the right time and place to tell him. It's going to be a delicate conversation, and I have to do it my own way."
David rubbed her arm as he unlocked his car, opening her door for her. She giggled a little at the gallantry, and gave him a small wink before slipping into the leather seat and settling in. "I know that you will use a delicate touch, Kitten. But I'm assuming that it's the delicate touches that Erin likes most."
Penelope felt her face heat up in a deep blush as she fastened her seatbelt and tried not to look at him as she tried to think of something saucy to reply with. "We've both found that delicate touches are the sweetest. But you would know about that, wouldn't you? Tell me, did she mewl lowly when she was about orgasm when she was with you?"
He swallowed thickly as he started the car, backing out of his spot. Tony Bennett began to pour softly from the speakers, which caused her to relax a little and she turned to look at him, a smirk on her lips as she awaited his reply. "Yes. And she flushes all the way down to the tops of her breasts when she becomes aroused, and you just want to run your tongue around that skin." She cleared her throat as she shifted in her seat a little, finding his words affecting her more than she would like. "We can trade these little shots back and forth all day, Kitten. Somehow, I think that I'll be the one to come out on top. Even though it's sweet when Erin comes on top."
"OMG, stop! I do not need to have these mental images in my brain! And before you say anything, I will have you know that you were the one who started this!"
His rich laugh filled the car as he tooled down the road. "I love teasing you, just as much as I love teasing Erin. When you get home tonight, ask her about that."
"You can bet that I will, mister!" She gave him a small wink to let him know that she was all right with their banter, even though she was completely embarrassed by the mental images still running through her mind. "But turning to the more serious topics, what should I get for her? She's so elegant, but a diamond feels so impersonal. I know, it's traditional, and while Erin is super traditional, I feel like a diamond will just be so expected. But I get her something non-traditional, will she even like it?"
"Kitten, she is going to love whatever you choose for her because it came from you, from her soulmate. Erin's not pretentious, but you're right, she is elegant. Which is why I'm taking you to my personal jeweler."
"I can't afford anything you can afford!" she protested.
"I can call in a few favors, if you find something that you really love. Believe me, everything will work out in the end."
Penelope nodded as she tried to calm the nervousness in her stomach, wondering why she was so upset about this shopping excursion. She knew that Erin was ready for this step, too, given the way she had reacted to her impromptu proposal in the car. Still, she hoped that David's jeweler had exactly what she wanted, and that it would be something in her price range. Erin deserved the very best that she could give her, after all, and this was going to prove she could provide just that.
Penelope rubbed her finger over the velvet box that Rossi had brought by that morning. She had been planning to pick it up before taking Erin out to dinner. It had taken three weeks for the ring to be made, but it looked perfect, the deep green of the emerald sparkling and twinkling from the facets as Rossi had showed it off to her. And now, she was two hours out from their dinner, and she was at a loss for words as to how to propose to her soulmate.
"What is on your mind, Garcia?"
She looked up into Hotch's face and gave him a small smile. "It is going to be a very special night. It would have been better if I had had this in time for Valentine's Day, but the beginning of April will do, I suppose."
"It almost sounds like you're going to ask someone to marry you," he replied as he leaned against her desk, giving her a small smile.
"I am, and I hope that she says yes. Here, look at the ring I designed!" Without thinking, she thrust the ring box into his hand and awaited his response. From the low whistle that left his lips, she knew that she had made the right decision by going with the emerald cut for her emerald. It showed off the gemstone to perfection, and she hoped that Erin would like it. "So, you like it?"
"I do. And I hope that she says yes, too. I just didn't realise that you were so serious about anyone."
She blushed a little as she took the ring back from him, slipping it in her pocket before taking a deep breath. "I can't believe that you haven't heard the gossip going around the office place, Hotch. I've been dating Erin for almost eight months now." Aaron's eyes widened as he took in her words. "This really is a surprise! Oh my god, I thought that you at least knew we were seeing each other outside the office, given how we haven't exactly been discreet about things. Well, I mean, it's not like we've made out in the bullpen, just in her office, since there aren't any cameras in there. She's the one for me, Hotch. I never thought that I'd find myself wanting to settle into a ready made family, but her children love me, and we have full custody of them now, and this is the happiest I've been in my life. Just like you're happy with Beth."
"I didn't want to believe the rumors I heard, actually. I just thought that you two had become really good friends."
"That happened while I was in London, actually. I got super homesick and she agreed to let me call her, since you guys travel way too much for me to keep track of time zones when I'm halfway around the world. And you have to admit that it's been nice to have Erin on our side, especially as we deal with this whole Replicator situation."
"You've still not let that go?"
"No. And Erin and I have gotten Alex to agree with us, there is something seriously hinky going on, besides the copycat cases. I wish that you would take us seriously, but until then, we're going to continue to compile data and try to figure out what is going on. Three heads are better than one, after all."
He nodded a little before letting out a long-suffering breath. "You are even more stubborn now, I swear."
"I am not stubborn, I just know that I'm right, and Erin said that when we know we're right, we keep at it until we get our way." Hotch let out a loud laugh, and Penelope reached out to smack his shoulder lightly. "That does not mean I'm stubborn!"
"It totally does, Penelope. Now go, get ready for tonight, you're no good to us so distracted. And for what it's worth, I hope that she says yes. We need some happy news in the BAU, after everything awful that's happened so far this year."
"That is so true! And I am rooting for you and Beth to end up together, just so you know." Getting to her feet, Penelope hugged Hotch tightly, breathing in his cologne and feeling her lower lip wobble a little. "Oh god, I'm getting emotional already, and I haven't even reached the restaurant! She's so going to know before I even say a word."
"Haley figured out when I was going to propose, too. Sometimes it just works out that way. And it's better that way, since some of the pressure is taken off your shoulders."
She nodded as she let go of him, lightly wiping the tears away from her eyes. "Thanks for the pep talk, Aaron. But say a prayer for me, anyway. I think that I might hurl from nerves, too, and that is never a good combination with tears."
He nodded as they left her office, and she gave him a small wave as she made her way down the stairs. Anderson looked up from his desk, giving her a sly smile, and she shook her head a little as she made a detour over to his side. "A little birdie told me that tonight is the night. Were they right?" he asked as she plopped down onto a corner of his desk.
"Who said that?"
Anderson rolled his eyes a little as he glanced up at Rossi's door. "I saw his jeweler stop by and then he went to your office. It doesn't take a genius to make the leap that you had something commissioned from said jeweler, and that in turn means that you're going to ask Erin to marry you. I'm just assuming that tonight is the night. Am I right?"
Penelope shook her head a little as she let out a huff of breath. "I hate working with profilers sometimes, you know. Yes, you are right. I'm just making official what I asked her in the car a few weeks ago. I already have a good idea what her answer will be. And I hope that she likes the ring that I made for her. I'd show you, but I'm now running late if I want to get changed and show up to our restaurant on time. Karen agreed to drop her off, and then take the kids to a double feature."
"Double the fun for you, then," he teased, and she nodded before getting to her feet and giving him a small wave. He waved back as she turned and hurried from the bullpen, avoiding the elevators when she saw the small crowd gathered there waiting. Finding herself a bit breathless by the time she reached the ground floor, Penelope paused for a moment to catch her breath, feeling her phone vibrate against her leg. Pulling it out of her pocket, she smiled to see a new text from Erin, and she unlocked the phone to see what her lover had sent her.
I hope you like what I'm wearing tonight. I'll see you at the restaurant soon, my darling. Attached was a picture of Erin, wearing an elegant red dress that was just low cut enough to show off her cleavage. With that image in mind, Penelope began to plan her own outfit again, knowing that she wanted to match Erin a little, while also trying to not overshadow her, knowing that the focus, the emphasis, of the evening needed to be on Erin, and the love that they shared.
Penelope smoothed her skirt down her thighs as she stepped up to the host podium, not really knowing if Erin was there or not yet. She hadn't heard back from her in the past fifteen minutes, which made her a little more anxious than she already was for the night ahead. Giving the woman a quick smile, Penelope took a deep breath and then said, "Strauss, party of two for quarter after six? I'm not certain if she's here yet…"
The woman nodded as she looked down at the list in front of her. "It does not appear that your dinner partner is here yet. If you'd care to follow me?" Penelope nodded and released the breath she had been holding as she kept pace with the woman, heading back to a secluded part of the restaurant.
"I did call ahead about having a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne available for dessert. Was that request able to be accommodated?"
"Yes, ma'am, it is currently on ice and waiting for the right moment. I hope that you get the answer that you want tonight."
Penelope smiled and nodded before picking up her menu and taking a glance at it. Since this had become their favourite restaurant, as of late, she had an inkling of what she was going to order, but she still needed a bit of a buffer that would allow her to get her rapidly beating heart under control. "How did you beat me here?"
Looking up, she felt her heart lurch a little to see her Erin, smiling down at her. "I must have had really good traffic," she replied as she rose to her feet and leaned in to kiss her partner. "I haven't seen our server yet, so you're not too late."
"Good. I was worried when Karen took the scenic route here. Did you have a good day at work?"
She nodded. "Yeah, it was uneventful. Though I did have a small chat with Hotch about our little Replicator situation."
"Let me guess, he still thinks that we're blowing things out of proportion?" She nodded. "Even though Alex is of the same mind as us?" Again, she nodded. "I suppose that's to be expected, even if it is a bit disheartening. Alex usually isn't wrong."
"What about you?"
Erin shrugged a little as she picked up her menu and glanced at it quickly before setting it aside. "I know that I'm fallible, that I make mistakes, some of them large. But I also know who are my strong people. You are one, Alex is another. I'm glad that we've started making inroads, thanks to you, even though things are still so tense at times."
"Progress is progress," she started, only for their server to appear. It didn't take long for them to place their order, and she watched Erin raise an eyebrow when she forewent the wine that she usually ordered when they were at this restaurant. "I'm driving tonight, and I want to have all my faculties about me for the night ahead."
The smirk that flickered across Erin's face told Penelope that she probably knew what was going to happen, but she didn't mind, truly. "Well, perhaps I'll just have to get you drunk on kisses once we're home."
"I love the sound of that!" From there, they settled into an easy conversation about everything that was not related to their work or the Replicator. "I think Anderson is going to ask Gina to marry him, soon," she said, wanting to slide the idea of her own proposal into Erin's mind.
"That's wonderful. It's hard to fathom that we have quite a number of soulmates in the BAU. Speaking of soulmates, how are things between Derek and Emily?"
"They're moving more slowly than Emily would like. But it's hard to be soulmates with someone who lives halfway around the world. Believe me, I lived through that for too long, even if you didn't know that we were soulmates yet. Though Rossi seems to feel that you knew more than you were letting on all along."
"He's wrong. I just thought that you truly wanted to be my friend, and that thought gave me so much joy. As you now know, I don't have many close friends, given the hours I work, and all the events that I have to go to outside of work. Schmoozing is my strong suit, even though I hate it. But now that I know I have you to come home to, or drag along with me, well, it's made it easier to deal with that aspect of the job. Which reminds me, we have a black-tie event to attend next week. I've already taken the liberty of ordering us new dresses, since I know how much you love pretty things to wear. Once they're here tomorrow, you can find a beautiful fascinator to wear with it."
"Ooh, now you have me intrigued! I know that you've probably chosen something elegant for me." Erin shrugged a little as she finished off her entrée, giving Penelope an enigmatic smile. "Do you want to split that delicious chocolate cake that they have? I don't think that I could eat a whole piece by myself."
"I think that sound delicious, Penny."
They shared a long smile before Penelope caught their server's eye, drawing her over to their table and putting the dessert order in. "All right, while we're waiting for that to arrive at the table, I have a question to ask, though you probably already know what it is." Reaching into her pocket, she drew out the ring box. "David actually helped me make this a reality, and I can only hope that you like it. I, I never really thought that I'd find my soulmate, and that when I finally found her, I would eventually want to take this next step. Because my hippy parentage didn't make it seem like a viable option for me. But I want to take this step with you. Erin, would you please agree to be my wife?"
She handed the ring box over to Erin, watching her lift the lid. Apprehension tugged at her heart as she began to second guess the gem she had chosen, wondering if she should have gone with a traditional diamond after all when it took a beat too long for Erin to look up at her. "How did you know that I prefer emeralds? Alan assumed that I was like the typical woman they show in jewelry advertisements, and always bought me diamonds for Christmas and birthdays. When he bothered to go big on gifts, that is. But this, this is perfect, darling." Erin slipped the ring onto her finger and held it up so that it would sparkle in the light. "And I suppose that I should tell you that my answer is yes. With all my soul, yes."
"Thank you, darling. And now, since it's a foregone conclusion that we're spending the rest of our lives together, I hope that you will do me the honor of wearing this ring, to let everyone know that we are going to last the test of time." Erin handed over her own ring box, and Penelope picked it up, gasping in pleasure to see the round purple gem winking up at her.
"This is gorgeous, Erin," she breathed out. "I've never seen an amethyst like this before."
"It's not, it's a purple sapphire. I wanted something unusual for you to wear, since I know that you are anything but ordinary."
She nodded as she picked the ring up, sliding it into place as their server returned with dessert and the bottle of champagne. "Congratulations!" the woman remarked as she poured the drinks for them, and Penelope gave her a happy grin as she nodded through her tears. "I hope that the rest of your life is as happy as you appear to be right now."
"Thank you," Erin huskily replied, and Penelope gave the woman a quick smile before dragging her gaze back to her ring, loving how it looked in the light. "As soon as we finish our drinks and dessert, I'll have one last sweet thing to devour before we fall asleep." Penelope flushed a little as she picked up her fork and broke off a piece of the cake, knowing that this was the next logical step in their relationship, and she couldn't wait to show off her ring to everyone in the BAU.
Penelope frowned as she received the call from Aaron way too early in the morning a few weeks later. "What is it, Hotch? You're supposed to be on vacation, not waking me up after a long night spent in Erin's arms."
"That is not something that I ever needed to know, Garcia, though I am glad that you're so happy with her. I take it that she's lying next to you at the moment?"
"The Replicator case has taken another turn, and this time, he's targeted Sean. The Director wants her to come with the team, since this has the potential to become a very serious situation."
Penelope looked down at Erin, seeing that she was still asleep, though her face was settling into a deep frown, as if she knew that Penelope was about to wake her up and give her bad news. "That's all well and good, Hotch, but I can't let her go with you alone. Not if this is truly the Replicator."
"There's no need for you to come along, Penelope. We'll need you in the office, gathering information on his movements."
"Which I can do just as well with my laptop. I've done it before, remember Alaska? No, I am not about to let my beloved out of my sight if this is truly a Replicator case, Aaron. If something were to happen, and I miss out on hearing our song one last time…"
"Wait, you hear the music of the spheres with Erin?"
She nodded before starting to stroke her lover's hair. "I'm surprised that it took you that long to figure it out, really. I mean, we're quite an unconventional couple."
"True. I just assumed that your long distance friendship turned into something deeper between the two of you. Now, since you've decided that it's a good idea for you to join us, you can break the news to Erin while I call the rest of the team. Try to be at the BAU in an hour. I know that it will be tight, since you live sort of far out. The team will wait for you, if you are late."
"All right, we'll see you soon." Penelope hung up with Hotch before leaning down and kissing Erin's forehead lightly. She twisted and turned a little before blinking her eyes open and looking at Penelope in confusion. "I'm sorry to wake you, darling. But there's been a break in the Replicator case, and we need to be at the BAU in the hour. I'm, I'm coming with you to New York."
"I thought that I was dreaming that," she said, her words muffled with sleep. Sitting up, Erin stretched before reaching out and caressing Penelope's face. "So, we need to get up and get ready. I hope that someone makes certain we have our own room, since I don't relish being apart from you."
"I'll text Jayje to let her know that we need our space," she replied as she leaned in to kiss Erin's cheek. "There's not time for a shower this morning, Hotch wants us to be in the air too soon for that to happen."
"I sort of figured that. Time is of the essence, with this case."
Penelope nodded as she slipped out of bed and went over to their closet. "I suppose that I should wear something comfortable for the flight. I know that we're going to want to put our heads together and come up with a working theory before we land, but there is a good chance that I'll just fall back asleep if I'm not careful." She listened to Erin laugh as she pulled out a soft dress and cardigan to wear, dressing quickly before hurriedly making up a go bag for a few days, not knowing how long they would be in New York. "I'll brew us coffee while you dress?"
"Aren't you going to pack makeup?"
"You have a bag in your office, right?" Erin nodded. "I'll just use yours while we're there. I have spare lipstick in my purse, and that's all I really need to worry about. I'll just look a bit more muted for a few days. Or I can always use that as an excuse to nip out to Sephora while we're there."
Her soulmate laughed as she shook her head. "You are incorrigible, but that's why I love you so much. I'll see you downstairs in about ten minutes, since I want to check in on the children before we leave."
"Sounds like a plan, Erin." They each began to hum their song, and Penelope tried not to let the fact that there was a new, mournful, tone in the music get to her too much. Though it did tell her that Erin was just as concerned as she was about heading to New York, as if they both knew something had the potential to go tits up at a moment's notice. Each time they had gone to the City, they had left blood on the pavement, and she didn't want this to be more of the same.
To her surprise, Karen was already up and making breakfast for herself, though a full pot of coffee was already brewed. "Why are you up?" Karen asked as she looked up from the stove, giving her a small frown.
"There's been a break in the case that your mother and I have been working on for the last eight months. We're headed to New York as soon as she finishes dressing. Do you mind if I fill our travel mugs with that coffee? We're on a bit of a time crunch."
Karen nodded as she gave Penelope a concerned look. "I don't like the sound of that, Penny. This case has been weighing so heavily on you and her. Please, swear to me that you'll both be careful out there."
She let out a long breath as she finished filling Erin's cup. "I know that we will be careful, yes, but I'm afraid of something going wrong. There is always that possibility, even when we take the utmost care." Reaching out, she rubbed the young woman's arm as she tried to blink back tears. "But that's why I'm tagging along. Usually, I'd be here, in my tech cave, spitting out information for the team. I have to go, I have to watch over your mother, because we have a wedding to plan for, and there is no way that I'm about to lose her before we've settled down together."
"I'm not about to lose you, either." Penelope turned to look at her Erin, seeing that she had managed to put her hair up, though there were a few loose curls framing her face. "I'm just as worried about the outcome of this case, because it appears that any one of us could be in danger." Erin's face swam a little, and Penelope knew that she wouldn't be long from tears. Erin drifted over to her side, wrapping her in a tight hug as she hummed their song in her ear. "We're going to make it through this and bring him down."
Erin nodded against her shoulder. "Most unsubs like this are men. I'm fairly certain that this one is no different, even though we know next to nothing about who he might be, just the profile that we've been building of him. And that is exactly what we're going to use to bring him down. I took a few moments to put the profile we've been working on with Alex onto a thumb drive, so that the team can look at it while we're in the air."
"That's why you're the smart one of us."
Erin shook her head as she pulled away from Penelope, looking into her eyes. "You're just as smart as I am, we just have different strong suits. Never forget that, and never forget that I love you."
"Never," she whispered before kissing Erin sweetly, allowing her partner to guide her over to their travel mugs before grabbing their purses and bags and heading out to the garage. As a tired yawn split her lips, she began to hope that they would find the Replicator before any further harm came to those that she loved.
"So, we get to have two bonus people heading to New York with us," Derek said as they got out of the SUVs at the airstrip. Penelope fixed a tired look on him, seeing him blanch a little as he took her go bag from her hands to load it in the jet while she and Erin went over to the stairs and climbed into the jet.
"Your mood has dropped a little, darling," Erin murmured as they made their way to a set of seats.
"I know, I think that I'm just too tired. Would you mind terribly if you presented the working profile to the team while I catch a few more winks?"
"I think that I can handle that, darling." Erin brushed Penelope's hair out of her face before leaning in to kiss her cheek softly. "You're so keyed up over protecting me, that it's clouding your judgement. We need to keep in mind the fact that now that we're all on the case, we're that much closer to finding him. And everything will be all right." Penelope nodded and smiled sweetly when Erin kissed her other cheek before pressing her into a seat and then joining the rest of the team at the tables. It didn't take long for Penelope to fall back asleep, their song running through her mind until she was completely unaware of what was happening around her.
She didn't wake up until her ears started to pop, and as she sat up, she saw that Erin and Alex were talking to each other quietly, while JJ was curled up in the corner of her bench, absently scrolling through her phone. "Why didn't anyone wake me?" she asked as she sat up and stretched.
"Because Erin said that you needed the sleep. Plus, it was rather adorable to watch you sleep." She arched an eyebrow at JJ, only to have her friend giggle at her. "It amazes me how we pick up parts of our soulmate, besides the song we share. You look so much like Erin when you try to pull that off."
"Yes, I have noticed that she can emulate me quite well." Erin was giving her the softest smile and Penelope felt her heart lurch a little in her chest at the expression. "We did narrow our suspect pool a little while you were sleeping, darling."
"Yes. We believe that we're looking for a former FBI agent, most likely once attached to the BAU, given all the information that he's gathered on us. We're being targeted for who we are, and while it is upsetting to feel like this, at least we're one step closer. Once we get to the precinct where our base of operations will be, I'll help you with the relevant searches. The rest of the team has already decided how to divide up the fieldwork."
"That suits me just fine." Penelope met Alex's eye, seeing that she was giving her a knowing look, but she just shrugged a little before getting to her feet and shaking out some of the restlessness that was filling her body before sitting back down and fastening her belt as the plane descended. The ride into the precinct where Hotch's brother was being held was long, even with how early they had arrived, and she tried not to become too frustrated with everything, giving Derek a tight smile when he helped her carry the bag containing her work laptop into the building.
"We're going to go check into our hotel so that we can drop the luggage off before checking out Sean's bar. Is there anything you need before we leave?"
"No, I should be good, Sugar. And I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier, this whole case just set me on edge, and I am super worried about my love. It might be ridiculous, but it feels like this guy is zeroing in on her or Alex. Which doesn't make sense, because who would want to hurt them in particular?"
"Well, when you're trawling through the list of former agents attached to the BAU, you can add that as a parameter to your search, just to see if that helps narrow things down."
She nodded as they were shown into a large meeting room, showing him were to set her bag. Once his hands were free, Penelope turned and hugged him tightly. "You need to stay safe out there, too, Boo. Because I love you, and Emily loves you, and if anything happened to you on my watch, she'd kill me. And then Erin would be sad, and I would have to haunt people from beyond the grave, and we all know that we don't want that."
Derek laughed as he shook his head. "You are incorrigible, Baby Girl."
"You are not the first one to call her that this morning," Erin said as she and Alex joined them in their room. "She just has this silly idea in her head that I'm going to get hurt, and I know that that's not the case. Even though we've never had the best of luck here in New York."
Penelope kissed Derek's cheek softly before moving over to Erin's side, welcoming her arm automatically coming to rest around her waist. "I will leave you to your searches, ladies. Happy hunting."
"Same to you, Derek," she replied as he turned on his heel and made his way out of the room. "Now to get set up. I just wish that we had had time to stop at a coffee shop before we came here."
"This is New York, Penelope. I'm certain that we could get something delivered. Write down what you want, both of you, and then I'll go speak with the desk sergeant about getting the order fulfilled." Alex gave her a soft look, as if she also was feeling that heavy unease that permeated the air around them.
"That would be wonderful, Lexie. Thank you," Erin replied as she pulled out a pad of paper and quickly wrote down something before giving the pad to Penelope. She smiled to see what Erin wanted, and added her own drink and a few treats for breakfast. "While you're seeing to that, we'll start trying to narrow things down on our end. Let me know how much we'll owe you."
"This will be on me, Erin." Her partner went to protest, only for Alex to hold up her hand and give them both a stern look. "If we're to make this friendship work once more, you have to let me do some things, too. You can't just give and give and give. I've accepted your amends, and we're moving forward, which I appreciate so much. But we also have to have some give and take. All right?"
"All right," Erin murmured before letting out a soft sigh. Alex shook her head slightly as she leaned in and hugged her quickly, then copying the gesture with Penelope before bustling from the room. "I'd forgotten how assertive she can be. Though it is nice to have the start of a new friendship with her. More than being my soulmate, you've managed to also be a miracle worker, in that it feels like you managed to thaw the ice between us that I was certain would never crack." Erin took a deep, shuddery, breath as she took the cord out of the bag and plugged it into the outlet. In that moment, Penelope knew that she was trying to keep from crying, and she wordlessly began to set up everything she would need for the long day ahead of them.
Erin knew that she was doing everything in her power to keep her in the precinct and away from all the windows, as the bemused looks that she kept sending her way grew longer and longer as the day wore on. Even Dave knew that she was coddling Erin, since he was making cracks about it each time she called him with an update on the case. "Penelope, the kid glove treatment is starting to feel a bit like living in a gilded cage," Erin finally said as they finished up their supper. Everyone was back in the meeting room, though she and Erin had managed to find their own little secluded space to eat in, which suited her just fine. They were no closer to tracking down the man who was terrorizing their team, and it was starting to frustrate her beyond measure, knowing that every moment he was still out there was one more moment that he could get at the team, and in turn, Erin.
"I fully recognize that fact, Erin, and yet I can't seem to stop wanting to wrap you in a bubble. The longer we're here, the more I worry. I know it's not productive, I know that you're chafing against the way I'm holding on so tightly, but I can't seem to stop myself. I think of Emily, and how she fought that battle alone, and I know that this is not nearly the same situation, but I don't want to consider the possibility of losing you, too."
Erin sighed as she reached out and caressed Penelope's face before leaning in and kissing her. "I refuse to even entertain the idea of being separated from you for a moment, Penny. We are going to make it out of this whole and hale, and we are going to get married, and I am going to love you until the end of time." Erin kissed her once more before pulling her into a tight hug. Penelope nodded a little as she buried her face in Erin's hair, taking a few deep breaths as she tried to calm her heartbeat.
"I hate to break up this little lovefest, but we need to pick your brain, Penelope." She looked up at JJ, giving her a small frown as she disentangled herself from her fiancée and got to her feet. "You can frown at me all you want, PG, but if you want to keep Erin safe, we need to find this unsub."
She nodded as she allowed her friend to guide her over to the group, seeing Alex take her place and start to talk to Erin. "This hinky feeling in the pit of my stomach is only growing, Jayje. I feel like we're so close to capturing this madman, but he's slippery, like an eel."
"I feel off kilter, too. But I know that we're going to get this bastard. Now, Erin and Alex were both mentioning that they felt like it was someone who knew them, since the focus appears to be on Reid and them."
"I know, but there's not a common denominator between the three of them, since Gideon's had a solid alibi, and I don't think he's capable to hurting a flea, let alone an innocent person. So I've found myself stymied there. I wish that this bastard would make a mistake so that I had something to pounce on and nail him to the wall. Preferably by his balls."
Derek chuckled as he dropped a hand onto her shoulder, squeezing softly. "It's not like you to be this feral, Baby Girl."
"If Emily were in danger, you would feel the exact same way, Der. Don't even try to tell me otherwise." He nodded and she let out a deep breath before turning her focus back onto the laptop. "Now, the only other person that I haven't really been able to trace is this John Curtis. He worked with Erin and Alex during the Amerithrax case, and it looks like he left the BAU around the same time that Alex did, so I'm not too certain what happened there, but he might have gotten caught up in the same fallout that Alex was. Though I can't say for certain."
"He was, Penny. I had to make a very difficult decision with our small group when the wrong person was arrested. I know now that I made the wrong decision. I wish that I hadn't been so prideful back then, that I could have tempered my decision, but the orders were coming from above my head, and I had to be the heavy."
She looked up to see a pained look cross Erin's face, and she reached back to take hold of her hand, squeezing softly as she let out a long breath. "All right, I suppose that I can look a little deeper in that direction, though I haven't found anything on him at all. Are you okay?"
"I've reached the last of my steam, Penny. I'm going to head back to the hotel room. And before you say anything, I won't be going alone, Lexie is going to drop me off to make certain that I reach there safely. We both have our service weapons, so everything will be fine."
"All right, but make certain that she takes you up to our room, just in case. Okay?"
"Yes, dear." Penelope winked at her before getting to her feet and waiting for Erin to make the next move. She tried not to squawk in surprise when her partner gently pulled her into a hug, breathing in deeply before turning her face to press a tender kiss against her cheek. "There's no use in pretending we're not a couple when everyone's seen our rings. I love you, and if I'm still asleep when you get back to the hotel, wake me up so that we can say goodnight properly."
"Yes, Erin." She sighed when she received another kiss on the cheek, wishing that they were alone and she could kiss her properly. Still, these little stolen moments were precious to her, and she knew that their proper kiss would come in a few hours. "Alex, promise me that you'll keep her safe."
"I promise, Penelope." Alex reached out and rubbed her shoulder softly. "I should be back in about forty minutes."
"If you're not, we'll send a squad car out to look for you," Hotch said, a dark look passing between the two of them before Alex nodded in understanding. Penelope gave them a small wave, knowing that if she were to follow Erin and Alex out to the cars, she would never let her go, and she had work to do here, still. Erin waved back before following after Alex, and Penelope couldn't help but feel like her heart was leaving the building with her. "Are you ready to get back to work, Garcia?"
"Yes, sir," she replied quietly, knowing that she had to return her focus back to the task at hand. "So, I'm going to start a deep dive on this John Curtis and see if I can turn up any more information on him. It is very difficult to completely scrub yourself from the internet these days, so the fact that he doesn't have a digital footprint leads me to believe one of two things. He's either dead, and has been for years, or he is much more intelligent than I have given him credit for."
"While you're doing that, I'll lead the team in ways to deal with this unsub once we find him." Hotch smiled quickly at her, and she knew that he commiserated with her. Suddenly, in that moment, she wanted to ask him if his song had changed in the final moments of Haley's life, but with everyone else there, she knew that he would never answer. Still, it was nice to know that he understood, and that helped her fingers to fly, knowing that the sooner she found out more information on their only lead, the quicker they might be able to find the Replicator and put this nightmare behind them.
Penelope looked up from her laptop thirty minutes later, the feeling of dread growing in her stomach as she paused to listen to their song. In a matter of moments, the lovely melody had morphed and shifted into something dark and sinister, and she felt her hands turn to ice as she frantically looked around for Hotch, knowing that he would be the only one who could explain what was happening to her in that moment. "Garcia?"
She glanced at JJ and shook her head, getting to her feet and hurrying out into the hallway, frantically heading for the break room where the coffeepot was, knowing that their boss was probably there, since he wasn't in the briefing room. "Aaron!" she cried out as she slid into the room, feeling tears tremble at the corners of her eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked as he set down his mug, coming straight to her side and resting his hand on her shoulder.
"I know this is so personal, but when you were on the phone with Haley and Foyet, did your song change? Did it start to sound ominous and sad and wrong?"
He nodded. "Why?
"That's happening to me, now. Oh god, Hotch, Erin is in terrible danger, and I have no idea how to find John Curtis. It is him, I know it is, but he is still a ghost. And now I feel like I'm no good to you, because all I can focus on is what our song sounds like in this moment. Please, help me!"
Again, he nodded, wrapping an arm around her waist as he guided her over to the table, gently pressing her down into a chair as he pulled out his phone. "Alex, I need you to turn around and head back to the hotel. We're now almost certain that John Curtis is the Replicator, and he's done something to Erin. Yes, that's how Penelope knew something was wrong. I don't know anything more than that, just make certain you get back to the hotel as soon as you possibly can. I'll start the search for Erin here on my end." He disconnected the call and turned his gaze on Penelope. "What can you tell me about Curtis?"
"Not much. But first, let me call the hotel itself. Please?" He nodded and she tugged her phone out of her blouse and unlocked it, calling up their hotel and pressing the phone number before bringing it to her ear. "Yes, hello, this is Penelope Garcia, with the Behavioural Analysis Unit, and we're staying there while on our current case. My partner and her friend came back to the hotel about thirty minutes ago, and we've reason to believe that my partner is in grave danger. Would you please go up to our room and check on her?"
"I'll have to put you on hold."
"That's fine, I just need to make certain that she is all right. We're in room 318."
"I'll be back on the line with you in about five minutes."
"Thank you." She looked up at Hotch as the discordant strains of the hold music mingled with the sound of her new song. "Everything is all right for the moment, our song is still strong, but it's sounding so scary."
He gave her the saddest look she had ever seen, save from Haley's funeral, and this pushed her over the edge, into his arms, letting him comfort her as she sobbed out her sorrow and frustration. "We're going to find her, and everything is going to be all right," he said lowly as he started to guide her out of the break room and back to where the team was gathered. JJ and Derek were at her side in a blink, and she stepped out of Hotch's arm to allow her best friends to pull her into a warm embrace. "All right, we have it on good authority that Erin has been taken by John Curtis, our current best candidate for the Replicator. Rossi, you and I are going to head in the direction of the hotel, looking for Erin, while Penelope waits to hear back from the hotel, just in case Erin is being held there. Blake is already on her way back there, so she might be able to spot Erin along the way as well. Reid, JJ, Morgan, I want you to support Penelope and give her whatever she needs as she tries to hold herself together."
"How certain are we…?"
"My song has changed!" she cried out, interrupting Derek's words as she looked up into his face. "It sounds…" She broke off as a new element to the song appeared in her mind, and she bit her lip harshly to keep from bursting into fresh sobs. "Please, Hotch, let me go with you and David. Please."
"No, Penelope. You're in no state right now."
"I was foolish, and had Jack to think of, and knew where Foyet was. We don't have that much knowledge on Curtis. I need you to focus and try to get me as much information as you can on Curtis or his partners. Look into the man from a few weeks ago, the one who planted the tainted wine in Pennsylvania. There might be a connection that we overlooked there. The work will focus you. It focused me. And hold on to your song. The moment you hear another change, call or text me, and we'll redouble our efforts."
"Okay, fine. But the moment you find her, you need to call me and let me know where you are." Hotch nodded before reaching out and touching her shoulder lightly. "Don't look at me like that, I'll lose my control again, and I need to have that control if I'm to get us the answers we need. Find her and bring her home to me. And when you get to her side, you tell her that I love her."
"I will." He squeezed her shoulder before gesturing towards the door with his head. David nodded and they walked out together, leaving Penelope alone with her friends. "And remember, stay here."
"Yes, sir," she muttered as she watched them leave.
She started to attention as the voice on the phone came back to her ear. "Yes? Was Erin in our room?"
"No, and I've contacted the police already, since there are signs of a struggle in there. Your associate, Doctor Blake? Just arrived back and will assist the police when they arrive. I knew that you were waiting on an update, and that's all I can give you right now."
"Thank you so much, that is exactly what we needed to know. I'm sorry that your night will not be quiet because of this. Thank you for taking time to check for her." Penelope knew that the woman was saying something else to her, but she couldn't concentrate beyond the word goodbye, and she ended the call before turning unseeing eyes on JJ. "Alex is at the hotel right now, dealing with the police. Reid, JJ, would you go help her? I don't want any of us to be alone right now, since we have no idea what's happening. Plus, she could always use another set of eyes."
Reid nodded, and then came over to her side, hugging her tightly. "I didn't get my song for very long," he whispered in her ear. "I will do anything to make certain that your song lasts."
"Thank you," she whispered back, smiling to feel him ghost his lips against the shell of her ear before stepping away and giving him a sad look, hoping beyond hope that they would find Erin in time.
Penelope felt like she was typing through gelatin, and everything took way too much concentration and energy to complete. She had been on the phone with Alex, discussing what the team and the police had found in the hotel room. A fresh bout of tears had fallen down her face when Alex told her that Curtis had forced Erin to drink, and she knew that her soulmate would consider that atrocity to be enough to reset her clock, that she would think all her carefully made progress had been obliterated in a single moment, when the first sip of alcohol had been forced down her throat.
And now, she was trying to pinpoint where, exactly, Erin could be. She didn't have her cellphone or watch on her, both of which would have helped her pinpoint her location, with the built in GPS they had. So now, with the help of the police, she was carefully sifting through the camera data to see if she could spot Erin. Curtis was still an enigma to her, since she had been unable to locate a current photograph of him, and that frustrated her to no end.
"Hey, isn't that her?" Derek asked, touching the screen as Penelope paused the recording. "I mean, I've seen her wear that sweater when I've been over at your home. It's kind of distinctive."
"That's because her mother knitted it for her. It was the last thing she ever made Erin." Turning her face up to Derek, she smiled for the first time in what felt like ages. "Now to figure out where this is, and to see if we have a good glimpse of Curtis." He nodded, and Penelope began to go through the footage frame by frame until she figured out the cross streets, hurriedly texting the information to David, since she knew that Hotch would be driving.
"And have you found a picture of Curtis yet?"
"Not a good one," she murmured as she continued to work, feeling herself tense up as she tried to find a good glimpse of him. Finally, she found the moment that Curtis messed up, and she watched as he pulled Erin down onto a bench on the street, looking up at something that had caught his attention. Freezing the moment, she took a screenshot and sent it not only to the entire team, but also to the precinct that they were working with, telling them to send it on to whomever they felt would be of the most use. When that was done, she looked up at Derek, giving him a pleading look.
"What is it, Baby Girl?"
"I've done all that I can do here, now is the time that I go and join Hotch and Rossi. I'm no good without my soulmate, and you know that. You know that I need to be with her, and let her know that everything is all right."
He let out a deep sigh as he rested his hand on her shoulder. "You know that I can't let you do that, Penelope. Hotch ordered you to stay here, because we can't look out for both you and Erin." Her eyes filled with quick tears as she scrunched her shoulders up around her ears, feeling close to breaking down in harsh sobs. "Please, don't look at me like that. You're breaking my heart."
"Good, because my heart is breaking, too. What if she dies there, alone, without me? How will I be able to live with myself, with our children, if I tell them that their beloved mother died in the arms of another man, one who she had a tenuous relationship with, at best? Derek, if it were Emily, I know that you would do anything in your power to reach her side before the end. Hell, you did just that, not even knowing that she was your soulmate at the time. How can you stand there, looking at me in understanding, and not let me get to her side?"
Her voice broke on the last word, and the first harsh sob ripped through her body. Hugging herself, Penelope pulled away from Derek a little, needing to get her pain out of her system. She knew that it would have been a long shot to get him to agree, but she still thought that her best friend would be moved by her plight, at least a little. It wasn't until she heard him on the phone with someone that the first little ray of hope began to pierce the blackness of her grief. "I have to, Jen. She's going to go crazy if I don't. This is the address of where Erin and Curtis are, we're headed that way in about five minutes, since I think she'll want to stop crying before we head out. I don't care if he suspends me for this. Penelope needs to have time with Erin, just in case the worst happens. All right, we'll meet up there soon."
"You know that I don't want to do this, but you're right. You have to be by her side just in case the worst happens. I'm still praying that everything will be all right, because I know how much the two of you mean to each other, but we have to be prepared for the worst. And you know, we'll be here to support you, if that happens, yes?"
"Yes." She sniffled a little, blindly searching for a tissue in order to blow her nose and clear away the tears that lingered. Penelope gave him a grateful smile when Derek handed her what she wanted, hurriedly cleaning her face before getting to her feet. "All right, I think that I'm ready now." A sharp gasp slipped from her lips as she clutched at his arm, knowing that she was causing him pain with the gesture.
"What is it?"
"Our song changed again. It's, it's quieter now, and I don't know what that means. Can we please hurry?"
He nodded before gathering her up in a tight hug, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before reaching around and grabbing her purse off the desk and leading her out of the room. There were a number of officers milling about, and she tried not to acknowledge their sad looks, as if they knew the hell she was going through in that moment. "We've sent a number of squad cars to the location you gave us, Ms Garcia. Don't worry, we'll give your team as much back up as we possibly can."
She looked at the captain and gave him a small nod, knocking loose more tears with the gesture. "Thank you. I know that we've upended your precinct with this investigation, and I'm so grateful that you've been so gracious." The man smiled warmly at her, even though his eyes were sad, and she shrugged a little as she choked back further sobs, letting him shake her hand firmly before Derek hustled her out of the building and over to the remaining SUV. She climbed into the passenger seat and fastened her seatbelt before curling up in the seat as tightly as she could, listening to the sirens that Derek turned on as he pulled out of his parking spot and began to race towards where Erin was. As she prayed to the God that Erin believed in, Penelope began to sing their song, trying to infuse it with the previous happiness that it had had, hoping that Erin could hear her in her heart and mind as she waited for Penelope to arrive.
Despite the lights and sirens, despite Derek driving as quickly as safely possible, it still seemed like it took forever to reach where Erin was located. Their song had diminished to a bare thread, but it was still there, so she knew that her Erin was still alive. When Derek came to a stop on the outer edges of the gathered police cars, Penelope frowned, not seeing any ambulances or EMTs on the scene. "Derek, shouldn't there be at least one ambulance here?" she asked as she struggled to get out of her seatbelt, knowing that she had to get to the scene as quickly as possible to figure out what was going on.
"There should be, but maybe they've already taken her to the hospital, Penelope. We won't know until we get to Hotch and can ask him questions. Now take a deep breath, calm your hands, and then try to unbuckle the seatbelt once more. You're too frantic, which is why you're facing issues with that." Giving her best friend a nod, she closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths, willing her hands to be still before opening her eyes and calmly undoing the buckle with hands that still shook slightly. "All right, let's head over there."
"Thank you," she whispered as she got out of the car, allowing Derek to wrap his arm around her waist and guide her over to the milling crowd of officials. They were stopped for a moment, until Derek showed off his credentials and then they were being shown to Hotch's side. The first thing she noticed is that everyone else was already there, and they all looked incredibly sad, none more than Alex, who was quietly weeping. Shaking her head a little, she stepped out of Derek's hold and scurried over to Alex's side, taking hold of her hands and gripping them tightly. "What's wrong, Alex? Where's Erin?"
"Hotch didn't get ahold of you?"
"Erin, Erin's gone. She died before any of us arrived on scene. Go, talk to him, he was holding her until the end." The sorrow dripped from Alex's voice, and Penelope felt her heart grow ice cold with those words. She knew that that wasn't possible, because the song was still faintly ringing in her mind, but the firm, broken, way that Alex said those words, she found herself doubting the soulmate song. "Oh, Penelope, I am so sorry that I left her alone in her room. I thought we would be safe there, but I was wrong, and I stole your soulmate from you."
To her shock, Alex let go of her hands and tugged her into a tight hug, quiet cries filling her ears as the embrace lingered on. "Everything happens for a reason," she replied woodenly, allowing Alex to nod and press a quick kiss to her cheek before she was pushed away towards Hotch. He wouldn't meet her eyes, instead looking at her forehead, as if he didn't want to break down and cry. Frowning a little, she closed the distance between them and reached up to take hold of his face, gently bringing it down so that he would look into her eyes. "Where is my soulmate?" she hissed.
"She died, Penelope. I held her in my arms when she passed, I told her that you love her and that her children love her, and then she was gone. The ambulance left to take her body to the morgue about ten minutes ago. I'm sorry that you didn't get to say goodbye to her, I wish that we could have gotten you here more quickly, but our best just wasn't good enough in this case."
Penelope narrowed her eyes as she pushed him away from the rest of their team, knowing that what she had to say needed to be for his ears only. She didn't want to call him a liar in front of everyone else, because that wasn't fair to them. They still respected him so much. Glancing back at her team, her family, she frowned even deeper to see that Alex was now on the outer fringes of the circle, as if she was removing herself from the situation. Turning her attention back to Hotch, Penelope stepped closer into his space, craning her head back to stare into his eyes as she took a deep breath. "Why, by the Lords of Kobol, are you fucking lying to me? I can still hear our song ringing in my head, even though it's the faintest it's ever been. That alone tells me that my beloved is still alive, and that you're keeping us apart. Why would you do that to me, to us?"
"Because Erin is as dead as the Blackbird was. When we arrived, we found her, and only her. Curtis is in the wind, and he assumes that Erin is gone, so he's likely to make mistakes now, since his main objective is achieved. If he were to think that Erin was alive, she would be in incredible danger, and I know that you don't want that. You would want her safe, no matter what it took to make certain that happened. Or was I wrong to think that about you and your soulmate."
"No," she whispered, feeling entirely mollified by his words. She had never stopped to think about other reasons for Erin to be apart from her. "Was she in pain? Can you take me to her?"
"I cannot take you there until we know that we have Curtis neutralized. That would be placing you and the Phoenix in danger, and we can't have that. I want to keep you safe, Penelope, because I know that she would skin me alive if I allowed you to do something rash. Am I right?"
"Yes," she said as he pulled her into a tight embrace, allowing her to burst into broken sobs once more. "I miss her already, Hotch."
"I know that you do, Penelope. But we'll be by your side as you walk this road. She's going to be so proud of you." She nodded against his chest as he stroked her back, murmuring in softly in her ear as she struggled to get control of her emotions, knowing that she would eventually make herself sick if she continued to cry so hard. Feeling another hand on her shoulder, she pulled away a little to look up into Derek's face, seeing that he was near tears as well, and she nodded, knowing that she had to keep Erin's secret, at least until they found John Curtis.
"I am so sorry, Baby Girl."
"We didn't get here in time," she said brokenly before leaving Hotch's embrace to enter Derek's, allowing him to snuggle her close to his side. There was something so comforting about being in his arms, smelling his familiar aftershave, being surrounded by the closest thing she had to love in that moment. "She's gone, and I never got to hear her tell me that she loves me one more time. I never got to speak those words to her. Yes, Hotch told her for me, but there's a very large difference between his telling her those words and me telling her that. My heart is so broken."
He nodded and kissed her temple softly as they continued to embrace on the street, and she could only hold on to him, hoping that they could find Curtis soon, so that she could see her beloved and speak words of love into her ear once more.
"Hey, have any of you seen Blake lately?"
Penelope pulled away from Derek to look over at JJ, feeling her brow furrow together in confusion. "What do you mean? She was here when we arrived. She was right over there." Penelope turned to where she had seen the woman last, only to find her missing. "This is not good, Boo," she murmured as she took hold of his hand and pulled him over to where Alex had last been. "Alex? Where are you?" she called out looking at the people who were gawking and passing by their little gathering. There was no answer, and she let out a deep breath as she went to the SUVs, peering in them to make certain that she hadn't just tucked herself away in one in order to deal with her grief in private. Again, she came up with nothing, and felt a small klaxon of alarm start to go off in her brain.
"She should be around here, Baby Girl."
"I know, and that's what makes me so unsettled. Do you think that she went back to the hotel?"
"Without telling one of us? Or taking one of the SUVs? I highly doubt it." Derek squeezed her shoulder before turning and looking at the group. "Hotch! I think that we have a problem here!" he called out as he waved the others over. In moments, they had joined Penelope and Derek, all wearing variations of concerned looks on their faces.
"You didn't find her, either?" JJ asked, and Penelope shook her head. "Fuck, I was worried that something like this might happen. Hotch, we have to assume that she was taken by Curtis, too. There's no way that this is a coincidence."
"I feel the same way, JJ. All right, Derek, take Reid and Garcia back to the precinct, I want you three to delve deeply into Curtis's background. Also, Garcia, you need to try and ping Blake's phone, to see if she still has it on. It will be easier to track them down if we can get a handle on where her phone is."
"She also has a smart watch, so I can track her that way, if her phone is off." Hotch gave her a small nod and she smiled wobbily at him as Derek slipped his arm around her waist and guided her over to their SUV, Reid ambling along behind them. "The two of you are going to have to keep me focused, I hope you know. With Erin gone, and Alex missing, my mind is all over the place. I know that it's to be expected, but I still need to be held accountable."
"Of course, Penelope," Reid said as they paused outside the vehicle. She was a little surprised when he pulled her into a hug, and then she felt a few shaky breaths wash against her neck and understood. He was thinking about Maeve and how he had been ripped from his soulmate. Guilt began to wrap its tendrils around her heart and brain, and she ached to tell him that all was not lost for her, that this was a ruse to keep Erin safe, but she didn't know if Curtis was listening in on them.
Taking a deep breath, she waited until Derek had turned the vehicle on and started back towards the precinct before speaking. "The Blackbird returned to us, and so will my Phoenix. There were certain precautions that had to be taken, just like with the Blackbird. I can't have you mourning for that, Reid, when it's not the truth, but it is the truth that I have to live until certain subjects are brought to justice."
"Then we will hope that we can very quickly make that happen," Derek replied as he continued to drive. She nodded and settled back in her seat, trying to calm the unsteady tattoo of her heartbeat as she began to hum their song. It had lost the sad tinge that it had had earlier, and had started to gain strength, which told her that Erin was getting stronger, something that caused her heart to hurt a little less, even though she knew that it would be some time before she could see her soulmate. Just knowing that she was on the mend, however, was enough to let her know that she would be that much more focused on finding Curtis and where he had taken Alex. She couldn't allow him to steal another member of their team away, and she knew that it would be difficult to track him down, since he was a wily bastard and knew how to avoid detection. Which made sense, since he had been a part of the BSU and knew how to outsmart unsubs, and he had used that knowledge in order to become the perfect unsub. The only clue she had on him currently was that one semi-clear frame where he had accidentally glanced up at the camera for a bit too long, but she would be using that as soon as she arrived back at the precinct to create an algorithm that would sort through all the camera data in the city to find him. Knowing that Alex would be with him, too, would narrow down the parameters, since she had numerous clear photos of her that she could feed into the algorithm, as well.
"You look like you have a plan, Baby Girl."
"I do. I just have to pray that my fingers can fly fast enough to get to work. Reid, I'm going to have you call Agent Anderson and as him to tell you everything he can find on John Curtis and then relay it to Hotch. Derek, you've picked up enough from me in order to be able to ping the location of cell phones, how to triangulate from the data. I'll have you do that for Alex's phone while I write the algorithm for my plan. I know, it seems like a silly thing for me to focus on, but this could be our best line of attack to bring Curtis down. I won't fail Alex, like I failed Erin. She is going to be all right."
Derek gave her a tight nod as he picked up speed, weaving in and out of traffic as best he could until they were finally back at the precinct. Penelope hurried into the building before Derek had even turned the vehicle off, and slid into the chair in front of her laptop, waking it up and letting her fingers fly across the keyboard as she started to write the code that would lead them closer to Curtis. The others joined her moments later, and also got immediately down to work. There wasn't much talking at first, since they all knew how important it was that they find Blake as quickly as possible. Finally, Penelope had her algorithm up and running, and while that was happening, she began to look into the background of Curtis's previous accomplices, hoping that they could give her some clues into the man.
"Finally," she breathed out when she noticed a string of calls going from the latest accomplice and the same number. Popping that into her search databases, she quickly discovered that it was registered to an unfamiliar name. From there, she went down a long rabbit trail that eventually turned out to be connected to John Curtis, and she sent up a quick prayer of thanks. "All right, Reid, Derek, we have some good news. I think that we might be able to track Curtis down, since I believe I just found his mobile number. Have you had any luck on your end?"
"I think that Blake's phone is off. You mentioned that she has a smart watch?" Derek asked and she nodded. "Then I think it's time you took over with the triangulations, since you know how to ping that. I'll keep watch over your algorithm while you do that." She gave him a quick smile before switching places with him and clacking away at the keyboard, using both numbers to try and hone in on the place where John and Alex were, knowing that this was their best option of finding them and bringing Alex home alive.
Penelope paced back and forth in the ready room, her gut twisting and churning with nerves as she waited for the team to bring Alex back. She had sent them off to a location two hours north of the city what seemed like a decade ago, but was in actuality only four hours ago, and while she knew that there wouldn't be instantaneous results, she still wanted to hear something from one of them as soon as they had more information to tell her. It was sheer torture to listen to her song in her heart and know that she couldn't be with Erin until John Curtis was taken out, and Alex was on her way home.
A large hand touched her shoulder, causing her to jump and let out a small shriek. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean to startle you, but I tried calling out to you a few times before touching you."
"I'm just really jumpy right now. Waiting is the hardest part of my job, and this is the worst sort of waiting. What can I do for you?"
"It's getting to be late, and while I know that you might not want to rest until your team is back here, it might be for the best if you follow me to the break room, so you can at least get something to eat and drink. If any calls come in from your team, I'll make certain to get you as soon as possible."
She knew that he was right, but it still felt a bit like a betrayal to Erin and Alex. "I suppose that you're right," she finally replied, giving the younger woman a small nod before following her to the break room. There was a pot of coffee ready, along with an assortment of doughnuts and bagels.
"And if there's nothing here that catches your eye, there is community food in the fridge, basically, anything without a name on it is up for grabs. Take your time eating and drinking. You'll be no good to your team if you're worn out from worry."
"Thank you," Penelope whispered, giving the woman a small smile when she squeezed her shoulder and then left the room. Breathing out through her nostrils, Penelope went over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. The brew was bitter, but that suited her just fine, since it meant that it would help keep her awake more easily. Her stomach grumbled at her, and she went over to the table and picked up a glazed doughnut, quickly devouring it before grabbing a sesame seed bagel and refilling her mug. With both things in hand, she went back to the conference room and took a seat in front of her laptop, willing her phone to ring and let her know that everything was all right.
At some point, she must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew, a warm kiss was being pressed to her cheek, startling her awake. Shaking her head a little, she looked up to see Alex and Rossi in the room with her, and she burst into tears before hurriedly getting to her feet and throwing her arms around Alex into the tightest hug she could muster. "You're okay, sugar pie!"
"My wrists are sore, from where John had me tied to a chair, but other than that, yes, I'm fine. Now, how about we go and tell Erin the good news?"
"You know that she's alive, then?" she asked as she let Alex go, staring into her eyes to try and confirm to her that Alex was really standing before her, that it wasn't some figment of her imagination. Alex gave her a small nod, and that was all it took for Penelope to break down in tears, embracing the woman once more and nuzzling her nose into her thick brown hair. "What are we waiting for, then? Take me to my soulmate."
Alex nodded and guided her blindly out the door. It was so nice to give control over to someone else, and she didn't look up again until she heard a car door open, and then she pulled away from Alex long enough to climb in the back, seeing that Derek was already behind the wheel. Rossi joined him up front while Alex got in the back with her. Reaching out for her hand, Penelope laced their fingers together, hoping that the woman was all right with physical contact. "We'll never have to worry about John Curtis ever again, Penny. Dave managed to take him down with a shot almost as impressive as ones I've seen Erin take. I knew that things would be all right from that moment on, even if I still didn't know Erin was alive. Dave didn't say a word about that until John was declared dead, just on the off chance that he survived. It would have been a miracle, but stranger things have happened. You'll be the first one to see Erin, but would you mind if I joined you after the first few minutes?"
"No, I think that I would love to have a support system with me. I don't know what we're going to find at the hospital, after all." Alex nodded before patting her shoulder lightly. Penelope took the opening for all it was worth, cozying up to Alex and letting her head come to rest on her upper arm. They spent the rest of the drive in companionable silence, and Penelope tried not to dwell on the fact that she wasn't certain what condition she'd find Erin in when they reached the hospital. Unconsciously, she began to hum their song, and Alex joined in as well, adding a harmony that Penelope found herself soothed by.
"I listened to this song for years. I know it almost as well as I know my own," Alex murmured in her ear before she laid her head atop Penelope's. Penelope nodded a tiny bit before continuing on with the song, trying to tamp down her impatience at how long the drive was taking. Finally, though, they arrived at a large hospital, and Derek showed his credentials to the security guard out front before being shown where to park. "All right, we need to head inside and find where they're taking care of Erin. Don't worry about the police presence, Hotch said that it was necessary to keep Erin safe, just in case Curtis figured everything out."
She nodded, never letting go of Alex's hand as they followed after Derek and Rossi. Again, Derek showed his credentials as he spoke with another security guard, and then they were being escorted to a secluded part of the ICU and over to a private room where two officers were posted. "Good morning, we're here to take over for you," he said, shaking their hands before gesturing for Penelope to enter the room. She nodded and tightened her grip on Alex's hand, dragging her inside as well, not wanting to be alone in that moment.
"I'm perfectly okay with waiting for a little while!"
"And I suddenly find myself needing moral support sooner rather than later." Taking a deep breath, she went over to Erin's bedside, feeling a wave of sadness sweep over her when she saw that her beloved soulmate was hooked up to a number of machines. The noises started to get to her, and so she began to sing their song. It took a moment for her to recognize the fact that another voice, not Alex's, was singing along with her, and she looked into Erin's face, seeing her grey eyes groggily looking at her. "Darling, I never thought I'd get this opportunity again. Even though I could still hear our song, I didn't know how long that would last. Alex is here, too, because I didn't want her to have to wait to see you. And Curtis is dead, we won't ever have to worry about him hurting the two of you ever again."
Bursting into tears, Penelope dropped her head carefully onto Erin's torso, letting the woman run her fingers through her hair as they sat there quietly for a few moments. "I feel like I've waited a lifetime to tell you this, Penny. I love you."
"I love you, too, Erin. Now, I am going to go to sleep while Alex talks your ear off. I can finally relax, knowing that you're both okay." Erin tugged gently on a hank of hair before murmuring her assent, and as she and Alex began to speak, Penelope drifted off to sleep, hoping that this was the start of the best part of her life.