Cover art by electricmonk333
A little over two years after, the walk across the mezzanine to his own office wasn’t yet to be taken for granted for Morgan. The office itself had felt like his own from the start, Penelope’s work; baby girl was the best friend anyone could ask for. But walking up the stairs and across the mezzanine still got to Derek. The thrill of My office had died a long time ago, and it had always been suffused with guilt. First the thorny, many-hued tangle of filling in for Hotch, before the Reaper had caught up with them one last time; and recently - too recently - the twisting, expanding cold at the sight of Reid not even lifting his head from papers Morgan knew he did not actually need to read, and knowing that there was no JJ, and no Emily, and Emily was gone.
Just under four months after, Emily Prentiss was not someone he took for granted, either. There were three of them, of the team, in the bullpen once more, but now it was not Morgan, there, but JJ, who was no longer ensconced in a tiny office whose walls were lined with case folders, stacked halfway up to the ceiling. Derek would never hear the end of it if he leaned against the railing to watch JJ, Emily and Spencer down in the bullpen, he knew that; some days, Morgan had to force himself to walk straight to his office once upstairs.
Some days, the feeling that having his own office was an exile, not a perk, wore off within a few hours. Some days, it never felt like that. Other days, they were not in the bullpen but working out of the same tiny conference room in a PD somewhere.
With cold winds beating on the windows and Colonel Massey not three days in the rearview mirror, this was a coffee sort of a day. Morgan would go pour himself a cup, have it go cold while attending to something or someone, throw it out and pour himself a new one, at which point he’d demonstratively return upstairs - only to be back less than an hour after.
There’d be no retreating to Penelope’s for half an hour, today, but Rossi hadn’t glanced at him through a conspicuously open doorway, yet, which meant he’d probably not just so happen to bump into Morgan in the kitchen before the afternoon. Only Rossi ever did anything to call Morgan up on this.
Presently, he was pouring himself the first cup of this excursion and surreptitiously surveying the bullpen. Lawrence’s team was out still; it was a rare day when all three teams were in. That only Wasserman’s team was in, left the desks immediately next to Reid’s and Prentiss’s empty. He hadn’t seen JJ in a few; Prentiss and Reid would both rant his ears off if he asked after her.
Morgan was heading out of the kitchen and about to do just that when Penelope marched out of the hallway. He slowed his step, allowing her to get to the team’s desks first. Reid looked up at her approach - gaze skittering to Morgan for a split-second - but he said nothing, and neither did Morgan, and so Prentiss straightened with surprise as a fuzzy hat was dropped on her head.
It was, quite possibly, the ugliest knitted hat Morgan had ever seen.
Prentiss’ eyes focused on Reid, registering his scowl, before she reached up to remove the hat, swiveling halfway around in the chair and asking: “What is it?”
Morgan would have expected her to sound wary. She sounded curious, and when she saw the hat her face lit up with delight.
Something soft, warm and a little too heavy was dropped on her head. Emily immediately scanned back through the last few seconds in her memory. She’d noticed the approaching steps and Reid’s momentary distraction, but Reid had schooled his features and Emily had failed to register the distinctively purposeful click of steps, and so failed to realize that it was Garcia, specifically, who’d walked up behind her.
Garcia, who’d just given her what was doubtlessly a hand-knitted warm hat; and judging by Reid’s catlike sulk, it was a particularly nifty hat.
Emily pushed her chair, swiveling in what would probably be a failed attempt to look at both Spencer and Penelope and reached up for the hat. “What is it?”
She could feel the horizontal stripes as she grasped the hat, noted the uneven weight distribution as she pulled it off. The pattern still caught her by surprise. “It’s a dalek! You knitted me a dalek! It’s even purple! Penelope, thank you,” she got up to hug the other woman.
“You didn’t think I'd make you a boringly grey dalek, did you? You, my friend,” Penelope swatted her arm, “are too hip for that.”
“That,” announced Morgan’s voice from behind her back, “is the ugliest hat I have ever seen.”
“Shut up,” Reid replied promptly. “You don’t know anything.”
Emily turned around. Reid was already upset, and Morgan was bound to make this worse. Except -
“Why don’t I get a dalek?” Reid continued, petulance evident.
- Penelope wouldn’t, would she?
“Psh, but why would you want a dalek, my friend?” Penelope said.
Reid opened his mouth to reply -
- Of course she would, Emily realized.
“When you get the TARDIS!” Penelope finished blithely, offering him a blue hat, complete with ear flaps -
- which Spencer grabbed from her hands, face finally lit with joy, and immediately pulled over his head. He was grinning.
A smile was tugging at the corners of Morgan’s mouth, too, for all that he declared: “You’re all crazy, you know that?”
“But you love us,” Emily said, relieved at having gotten it in first. Reid would have been angry at Morgan, and Garcia was Garcia.
Only as she watched Derek’s expression shift did it occur to her that this may have been too much, too blunt. But then the muscles around his eyes relaxed, and he said: “Not that I know why.”
This would all be easier if Derek would talk, Penelope thought. Exasperation was futile. She knew why Derek was the way he was, as much as anyone did, and they all had their things that they carried with them, the stones in their backpacks. Acting like nothing could hurt him, pretending that nothing had hurt him, was Derek’s burden that he was yet to shake off.
So she let it pass, in the bullpen, a tingle down her spine at the sense of wrongness. She traded quips with her fellow geeks - she’d earned that, just as Emily and her doctor were worthy of those hats - and left Derek be, for a while, careful not to glance worriedly at him. Maybe she ignored him too much, but that she knew how to fix later.
Spencer and Emily settled back into their work when she left them, still bickering, and if either of them noticed that she went up the stairs instead of disappearing down the rabbit-hall hallway then she couldn’t tell. She was acutely aware of herself as she walked across the mezzanine, irked - just like she was each time - that Derek’s office was at the very end of the hallway, past all those doors. Hotch’s door was open as always; he never lifted his head, and she was convinced that he always knew who it was, and that he chose not to frame her in the doorway unless she put herself there. Rossi’s door was closed, as it often was, but that never meant nothing; Rossi only pretended not to keep an eye out.
Derek liked his privacy where he could get it, but today his door was open. Penelope rapped softly on the doorframe. “Hey.”
Derek raised his head, straightening his back like he was covering up some other reaction. “Hi, baby girl. What’s up?”
He seemed a little more perfect than usual, now that she was looking for it. She stepped in, saying: “I don’t know.”
“Hey, whoa. Now you’re worrying me.”
And he was - his shoulders hitched up. “Nothing to worry about.” She didn’t know where she would stand, by his side or in front of his desk, until her feet carried her to look at him from above. “Right?”
They remained like that for a few seconds, and then Derek collapsed back in his chair with a soft sigh, hands going up fleetingly and then back down, his left resting on the desk and his right -
The framed photo of her making a funny face at the camera was carefully placed at the top, easily visible. But he never added anything to the fun zone she’d put together for him. She swallowed.
Don’t you ever stop talking to me, he’d said, and she took that to heart. But right now they weren’t on two sides of a phone line, they were close enough to take each other’s hands, and Penelope didn’t need to say anything more. She could see the moment when something came loose behind his eyes and he was her Derek, again, with the tight solid cover over the melted chocolate goodness inside.
Her hand had to have twitched, because he took it in his. “Don’t ever change, woman.”
“Never,” she said, lightly, and then took her hand out of his and shoved at his shoulder. “And no matter who thinks I’m crazy.”
“Because I think you’re crazy,” he corrected, re-settling in his chair. Her drawer remained open, out of view for anyone not at Derek’s desk, anyone who wasn’t her Derek or herself.
“So you’d totally wear a dalek if I knitted you one.”
He huffed, and she cut him off blithely with: “Or maybe I should knit you a cyberman.”
She totally would, she decided on her way back to her lair, buoyed by Derek’s incredulous look on top of Spencer’s and Emily’s joy. It would just be an amigurumi and not a hat, is all.
And this one, she’d see that Derek would keep where he could see it.