When people talked about their New Year's Eve traditions--New Year's Rockin' Eve on TV and a champagne toast with friends, or a trip to Times Square to spend it with the world, or a secluded getaway with that special someone--Derek always smiled knowingly.
"What do you look so smug about?" Prentiss asked, leaning her hip on the edge of his desk. "Got a hot date to ring in the New Year with?"
Derek felt his smile shift to something a little flirtier. A little dirtier. "Always."
"There's always a party somewhere," he said. "I find the hottest woman there and kiss her at midnight." He gave her the slow, wicked grin that made most women weak in the knees. "They say that how you spend New Year's is how you'll spend the new year, right? Why not make it a good one?"
"And never the same woman twice, right?"
"Sounds kind of depressing to me," Reid said, dropping his messenger bag onto his desk and unzipping his coat.
Hotch walked in, folder in hand and serious look on his face, and Derek was spared having to respond. Having to admit that maybe Reid was right.
: : :
The party was in full swing when Derek arrived. He didn't know many people there--it was being thrown by a friend of a friend of Desiree's, and for a moment, he missed her and Sarah fiercely, even though he'd been home a week ago for Christmas--but he didn't need to. There were always more women than men at these things, and they were always happy to find out he was unattached. Sometimes he stayed in Chicago through the new year, tagged along with them to whatever parties they'd been invited to, but this year he'd wanted to get back to DC, spend the holiday closer to home. He wasn't sure what that was about, but with a cold beer in one hand and a beautiful lady smiling up at him, he didn't really feel a need to figure it out at the moment.
He ate hors d'oeurves and talked football with Darlene, drank beer with and got felt up by Chiaki, and traded phone numbers and fake promises to meet up sometime with Elyse, but none of them, or any of the other women there, seemed to feel right. None of them were who he wanted to spend New Year's Eve with, let alone the next year.
He mingled for a while, but his heart wasn't really in it.
He found himself smiling, engaged in a conversation with the hostess's husband about Firefly of all things, and he remembered sitting on Garcia's couch and watching it with her while she recovered from her injuries. Even now, just the thought of those terrible days made his stomach clench in fear, and he had to put down his drink and surreptitiously wipe his damp palms on his jeans. He wondered what she was doing tonight, if she was somewhere with friends, drinking pink fruity drinks and talking about Firefly. Thinking about him.
"Sounds like you've got a good one," Greg said, smiling. "She here tonight? I wouldn't mind meeting another local Browncoat."
"No," Derek said. "No, she's not."
"Yeah." He wondered why he was here when he had someplace else he wanted to be. "Listen, Greg, it's been fun," he said, "but I just remembered I've got some place I've gotta be."
He found his jacket in the pile on the bed and headed out into the cold night.
: : :
Nobody answered when he rang her doorbell; Esther wasn't in her parking spot, and the lights weren't on in her apartment.
She could be anywhere--at a party, getting back together with Kevin, at work. He couldn't do anything about the first two, but he could certainly check in at the office.
He glanced at his watch; he had a little time. In the cool darkness of his car, the quiet was broken by the barely audible hum of DC 101 on the radio, playing some song with a heavy bass line he couldn't identify with his mind occupied by other things: whether she would even be there, if going to see her was the right thing, if it was finally time to stop dancing around what was between them and step up to the plate.
"You're mixing your metaphors," he muttered as he pulled into the parking spot next to her car. He turned off the engine and sat in silence for a few minutes.
He knew, if he did this now, if he walked into Garcia's--Penelope's--office and kissed her at midnight, that it wouldn't be a one-time, casual thing, that even if they laughed it off afterwards, it would change everything. And he was afraid, more than he'd been in years, but when he weighed that against the fear of not going inside and kissing her, of waiting so long for it to be right that the moment was long past when he finally acted, he realized that there was only one thing to do. He looked at his watch again. He was running out of time, and not just metaphorically, if he wanted to make it up there before midnight.
"Time to man up," he said as he exited the car and headed inside to the elevators.
: : :
She was in her office, watching something on YouTube and sipping on a Big Gulp. He leaned against the doorjamb, drinking in the sight of her. He must have made some noise, because she turned, her face lighting up when she saw him.
"Hey, baby girl. Happy New Year."
"It's not New Year's for another two minutes," she said. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at a party, getting ready to kiss all the pretty ladies at midnight?" She said it matter-of-factly; she knew who he was, had accepted it a long time ago, and loved him anyway. It was one of the things about her that terrified him as much as it thrilled him.
"I was," he said, slinging his jacket over one chair and himself over another. "Rather be here, though. How'd you pull this shift?"
"I asked for it," she said. "I like the quiet. It's nice to know I could be saving somebody's life without having to actually do it right this minute."
"You've got a good heart, Penelope," he said.
She beamed. "So do you." He sat for a few seconds, basking in her light, and then she said, "Why are you here?"
He shrugged. "So there I was, at the party, and I was talking to this guy, and it made me think of you."
"We were talking about Firefly."
"And I thought, 'Why am I here, talking to this guy, when I could be with my best girl?' So I left. I tried your apartment, but you weren't there."
"No," she agreed. "I was here."
"And I got here just in time," he said, looking over her shoulder. "Ten."
"Nine," she said, and they counted down together as he pushed his chair closer and closer. She watched him approach, and he could see hope warring with skepticism in her expression as he inched forward.
"One," she said, more a breath than a sound.
He kissed her as her computer chimed out midnight and started playing "Auld Lang Syne."
She sighed into his mouth and he knew he'd made the right choice, that he hadn't waited too long after all. Her skin was soft and warm under the pads of his fingers and her mouth tasted of cherry lip gloss and lemonade slushie.
"Happy New Year, baby girl," he said, pressing kisses to her cheek, her temple, her forehead.
"Yeah," she answered, glowing like she was lit from within. "It is now."