Penelope Garcia, in short, has no idea what to expect when Derek Morgan walks into her office at 7 o’clock sharp on a quiet Friday morning in late October. It’s not unusual for him to show up so early, he often stops in before hitting the gym before work. But he doesn’t have his gym bag with him this morning, that’s the first thing she notices when he walks in the door. The second thing she notices is that he looks tired, like he hasn’t slept in a week.
“Can I talk to you for a minute, Penelope?” He asks, and her heart drops. It’s Penelope. Not babygirl. Penelope. Still, she smiles as wide as she can manage and leans back in her ergonomic swivel chair, steepling her fingers.
“Of course. What can I do for you today, mi amor?”
“I’ve been thinking about something, and I think I just need to-“ he gestures vaguely. “-talk it out with someone. With you.”
“Talk to me, Derek. What’s going on? Is it work? Your mom? A girl?” He flinches, as if surprised. Penelope gasps and claps her hands together. “Oh my god, it is a girl! Who is she?” Derek shakes his head.
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
“I didn’t sleep last night. At all.”
“Derek, I don’t need to hear about how you got laid last night.” As a matter of fact, Penelope Garcia wants nothing less than to hear about Derek’s new girlfriend. Still, she flips a pen between her fingers and steels herself.
“No, it’s not- this girl and I, we’re friends. Good friends. And I love that we’re friends. It’s a good friendship, you know?”
“And I spent so long being friends with her that I never even considered... you know.”
“What, love? It’s not a dirty word, babe.”
“Anyway, after... everything that happened last week, I’ve given my life a lot of thought.” Last week, Derek had nearly died at the hands of Billy Flynn. Penelope can’t remember ever being so worried for him as she had been, or as angry as she was after he had yelled at her. But then he had bought her dinner and apologized approximately seven hundred thousand times, and she forgave him. “And I couldn’t sleep last night because I realized...” He swallows hard, like the words won’t come out of his mouth unless he forces them.
“Derek,” she says gently but firmly, and takes his hands in hers. “Tell me. Whatever it is you’re trying to say, tell me.”
“I realized I don’t want to be her friend. Well, I do, but I don’t just want to be her friend. You know?”
“Yeah.” Penelope chuckles breathlessly. “I do.”
“Well, I spent all of last night trying to figure out what to tell her. When to tell her. How to tell her.”
“And you want my advice? Aw.” Penelope batted her eyelashes.
“I can go talk to Hotch, babygirl-“
“No, no.” She thought for a moment, tapping her pen against her chin all the while. “Tell her... tell her that loving her and being her friend aren’t mutually exclusive. Tell her that being her friend makes your love go that much deeper and that much stronger. Tell her that being her friend wasn’t just a step to loving her but that it’s the simple basis of the reason you love her.” Penelope took a deep breath. “Tell her that, and if she still doesn’t fall in love with you, she never will.” He considers her momentarily, and Penelope shifts in her seat. Her confusion only deepens when he kneels in front of her. When he looks up at her, his eyes are earnest.
“Loving you as my friend and just plain loving you aren’t different things,” he says. What is he doing? Practicing? “I love you because you’re my friend, not in spite of it. I’m not your friend because I love you, I love you because you’re my friend. And I just... love you.” Penelope smiles and clears her throat.
“That was really good, Derek. She’s going to fall in love with you, I guarantee it.”
“No, Pen, I-“ He sighs, shaking his head, and rises to his feet. “That’s not-“ And that’s when he does something very odd. He spins Penelope around by her shoulders to face him, takes her face in his hands, and kisses her. He’s warm and smells like Old Spice and coffee and the geraniums he has planted on his fire escape. Penelope freezes, unable to think. So. He wasn’t practicing then. When he releases her, she blinks rapidly, her eyes wide. The office is silent except for Derek’s heavy breathing and the soft sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons over Penelope’s computer speakers. His hands are still radiating warmth into her cheeks, and with one hesitant, but not quite shaky, hand, Penelope reaches up and wipes a smear of dark pink lipstick off of Derek’s upper lip.
“So it was me.”
“Yeah, babygirl, it was you. It’s always been you.”
“You love me.”
“That’s about the size of it, yeah.” Penelope leans back in her chair and lets out a long, slow breath. “What? Should I not have- I shouldn’t have done that. Damn it.”
“No! No.” Penelope grabs Derek’s hand and squeezes it. “That- I- no. You definitely should have done it. But, um, I just don’t... get it.”
“What’s there to not get?”
“Nothing, exactly, but...” Penelope sighs and rubs her temples. “I love you, Derek, but in my brain, I thought when you were flirting with me- I thought that was just, you know, how you are.”
“I’m still confused, what’s the issue here?”
“The issue, Derek, is that in all the years I’ve known you, I never even considered that you were flirting with me because you liked me!”
“To be fair, Penelope, neither did I until a couple of weeks ago!”
“And that’s exactly the point.” Penelope smiles, but there’s something a little bitter there. “What if you don’t? What if it’s all in your head? What if you’ve just convinced yourself that you love me because I’m just, like, the only woman who’s close to you and knows all your secrets and knows that you like your coffee with more sugar than you say and knows that you play the cello and knows that you still have a stuffed panda bear your dad gave you in your closet?”
“Why are you so convinced about this, Pen? Didn’t you hear what I said?” That’s when Penelope snaps. She jumps to her feet and begins pacing the room, waving her hands as she speaks.
“Because in the movies, the girl like me doesn’t get the guy like you, Derek! And that’s not to say I don’t think I deserve a guy like you. I know my worth. But the guy like you ends up with a girl like Emily or JJ. Not me.”
“And what exactly do you mean, ‘a girl like you?’” Derek leans against her desk and folds his arms across his chest. “A smart, funny, beautiful, and overwhelmingly kind one?”
“Sure, but I’m also loud. And weird. And nerdy. And I dress like this.” Penelope gestures down at her dress, which is patterned with big yellow, green, and blue abstract shapes.
“So? Babygirl, have you learned nothing since you started working here? Real life isn’t like the movies. In real life, there are no guys like me and there are certainly no girls like you. There are just people. And even if there were, a guy like me would get to fall in love with whoever he wanted to. A guy like me could fall in love with an Emily or a JJ or, hell, even a Spencer, if he wants to. And I want to fall in love with you, Penelope Garcia.” Penelope stopped her pacing and sniffed.
“That was some speech.”
“Thank you. I try.” He stands and crosses the room until he’s facing her. With one hand, he tips her chin up until her eyes meet his.
“I just have to ask. Once. And I’ll never ask again.” She wrings her hands, but manages to calm her breathing. “Are you sure? About me? About us?” He smiles, the wide, brilliantly white, toothy grin that she fell head-over-heels for the first time she saw it.
“I’ve spent my whole life waiting for the day when a beautiful, kind, funny girl-“
“Don’t forget smart.”
“Right, and smart. Anyway, I’ve been waiting for the day a girl like that would love me just as much as I love her. Now, it’s been a lot of years that I’ve had that dream. Are you gonna ruin it for me, babygirl?” Penelope doesn’t answer, at least not verbally, she just throws her arms around Derek’s neck and kisses him. He doesn’t even pause, just wraps his arms around her waist. She’s just running out of breath when the door to her lair opens. They jump apart, panting, but it’s too late. Aaron Hotchner stands in the doorway, his hand still on the door handle, his eyes wide and mouth hanging slightly open.
“We’ve got a case. JJ’s ready to brief us. I was just coming down to get- um, to get you, Garcia.” Hotch clears his throat. His eyes dart around the room, refusing to make eye contact. “But we need both of you in the briefing room.”
“Right. We’ll be right there.” Hotch opens his mouth as if to say something else, but he appears to think better of it and backs out, closing the door behind him.
“Well, that’s not ideal,” Penelope says, sitting back down in her chair.
“Crap. We’re in deep trouble.”
“Please. We’ll be fine. Hotch and Emily practically invented inter-office romance.” Derek’s head snaps up.
“Never mind. Don’t worry about it. Point is, Hotch won’t get us in trouble.”
“Good.” Derek nods and shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Okay. Well. Um, bye.” He leans down to kiss the top of her head, a familiar and comfortable gesture, and after a moment of hesitation, presses a soft kiss to her lips. “Bye,” he says again.
“You know we’re going to the same place, right?” He stops halfway to the door.
“Yep. I knew that. I definitely knew that.”
“Walk me to the briefing room?” Penelope asks, sidling up to him.
“Always,” he replies, and holds out his arm, which she takes. This is not the first time she has taken his arm, and it is far from the last, but it is the first time that when she takes it, he kisses her cheek. It is the first time that she knows for certain that the butterflies in his stomach are going just as wild as the ones in hers. “Thank you,” he says, his eyes fixed on the hall in front of him.
“For letting me love you.” Penelope squeezes his arm.
“My pleasure, Mr. Morgan.”
“That’s Agent Morgan.”
“Whatever you say.”