"How come I only get to travel with you guys like once every two years?" Penelope asked as she made her way through the BAU plane, her knitting grasped firmly to her chest. It was always a thrill to be out with the team, especially because Derek would always pay special attention to her. She'd never admit it, but she delighted in being doted upon – or rather, in Derek Morgan's brand of doting. Whenever anyone else tried, it usually made her a little cranky. It also didn't hurt that when the team went into the field, they would always stay at very nice hotels, something Penelope herself would never do on her own.
Though he was behind her, Penelope could practically hear Derek's grin as well as sense his amusement. "Trust me, mama, it can get old sometimes."
She turned to take the bag Derek was carrying for her and rolled her eyes. "Oh right, like the way that spa treatments at five-star hotels can get old," she quipped as Derek stepped between the seats opposite her.
Emily passed them, her lips twitching as she addressed Derek. "Remember that time when we boarded and they hadn't chilled the Cristal yet?"
Penelope had to hand it to Derek, he had one hell of a poker face. "Oh, I almost quit the BAU that day," he retorted.
Penelope shook her head, grinning. "You know what, you guys can joke all you want, but I'm never leaving this plane." She got comfortable, and started working on her scarf. She always brought her knitting along to work because it helped her to have something to focus on aside from the horror that all too often came across her screens. Her gran had taught her when she had come online as a Guide after her parents had been killed and it had sort of become her coping mechanism for stressful situations, especially when she had to be around a lot of people.
Penelope listened as Hotch briefed the team, paying attention even as the stitches flew over her needles. She didn't even have to look anymore, which was helpful. She wished she could have started digging already, but without her computers she was stuck. She'd just have to wait until she could access the NYPD system and pray that it wasn't too outdated.
Every now and then she could feel Derek's gaze on her and when she'd look up, they would share a smile.
She sighed. For years they had been friends, and not for the first time, Penelope ached for more. She was a Guide, dangit, and unbonded at that. She wished for a Sentinel of her own so badly at times it felt like there was a giant hole in her chest. Before the BAU had 'recruited' her, she had gone to meet'n'greets like all Guides and Sentinels were supposed to, but it had never amounted to anything. And then she had crossed paths with one Derek Morgan and it felt like her whole world had changed.
There was only one problem. Derek was latent, which meant they couldn't bond. In truth, there was no way of knowing for certain whether Derek was her Sentinel, but in her heart of hearts she was sure. There'd been an instant connection between them the likes of which Penelope had never experienced before. That had to mean something, right?
A spike of worry pierced her thoughts and she looked up to find Derek watching her, a slight frown marring his face. Flashing him a brief smile, she shrugged and jerked her head toward the pile of papers in front of Hotch, hoping Derek would take it as the reason for her distraction. Certain as she was, she hadn't told Derek about her beliefs and she saw no point in changing that now. The only person she had ever confided in was JJ, and she had sworn her friend to secrecy.
Derek's reassuring smile as he mouthed, "We'll catch him," warmed Penelope.
The second they arrived in New York City proper, Penelope tensed. There were a lot more people around, and after the recent murders, everyone was uptight. Derek grabbed her bag and pulled Penelope into a sideways hug as they made their way from the car to the building. He leaned in to murmur in her ear, "I'm right here, okay? Let me know if things get to be too much for you and I'll make sure you get some space."
Patting his chest, she beamed at him. This. This was one of the many reasons she was convinced Derek was hers. He always looked out for her and he always seemed to know just when she needed him the most. "Thanks, Morgan," she said quietly.
He let her go to open the door for her and as usual let her go through first, not following until after the rest of the team was inside. Penelope paused to wait for him and tilted her head as she watched Derek give a cursory glance along the street before closing the door behind him. He had always been like that.
When they got to their destination, Derek stuck close to her side, JJ flanking her on the other. JJ leaned in to whisper, "Is it me, or does she look exactly like Haley?" indicating the woman coming their way.
Penelope stared for a minute, then shared a look with her friend that spoke volumes. Apparently their fearless leader had a 'type'. Something to file away for later, Penelope figured; it never hurt to have something to tease Hotch about.
Hotch introduced the team to Kate, who seemed relieved. "Anything you need," she said, "just tell me. Please, don't stand on protocol."
Well, Penelope could definitely get on board with that. "What can you tell us about the city's surveillance system?" Penelope tried to push back the wall of stress and fear and anger that tried to get through her shields. She needed to get out of the bullpen, and the sooner the better. Derek briefly grasped her hand before letting go again. The contact settled her just enough to keep her cool.
Kate met her eyes, looking a little regretful. "It's run by the NYPD. It's still in the infant stages. It's been rather controversial. American privacy laws."
Well, that didn't sound too promising, Penelope thought.
Kate smiled a little as she added, "But they've had some success."
"And I'll have complete access?" Penelope asked hopefully.
"They're already expecting you," Kate answered with a satisfied look. She turned to her assistant. "Shirley?"
Shirley nodded and gestured for Penelope to follow her, which she did gratefully. Computers likely meant a small enclosed space, and that suited Penelope just fine; she was craving the empathic buffer it would provide. All the way through the halls of the building, Penelope had to focus on her breathing, on remaining calm. She couldn't afford to let the emotions barraging her affect her in any way. She needed a clear head to catch this creep.
Somewhere along the line, Shirley handed Penelope off to an officer who led her the rest of the way. When they arrived, he walked off, never having uttered a single word. The woman who greeted her upon entering the room, however, was all smiles as she got up to shake her hand. "Hi, you must be FBI. Lisa Bartleby," she said by way of introduction.
"Penelope Garcia." Glancing quickly around the place, Penelope squashed the impulse to groan at the less than up-to-date system the NYPD was using. "May I?" Maybe it wasn't as bad as it looked. A girl could hope, right?
Lisa gestured for her to make herself at home, which Penelope took her up on. Setting up her laptop she immediately began the process of connecting to the system and running scans as had become her habit. Lisa stood awkwardly off to the side, watching Penelope work. "I, err... I hardly ever get visitors."
Grinning up at her, Penelope assured, "You'll hardly know I'm here." She let her shields down slightly to get a better read on the woman and nodded to herself. She was alright. Slightly nervous, very intrigued by Garcia – she wasn't exactly the poster model for an FBI agent, after all – but more importantly, Lisa was kind and gentle. In Penelope's experience, that wasn't a combination often found in police officers and she found it quite refreshing.
"What's your operating system?" Penelope asked, hoping to coax the officer into feeling more comfortable with having her in her space.
"Linux OS with err, six gigs of RAM," Lisa answered, sounding a little startled.
When Penelope rattled off the rest of the stats, she could feel Lisa's nerves dissipate, replaced instead by a sense of companionship and understanding. Penelope loved getting through to another geek. They chatted about the system and where the cameras were in the city as Penelope continued working, setting up a facial recognition program ready to run as needed. It was one she had created herself, or rather, she had augmented the program the FBI had already used.
Together, they poured over all the footage they had so far, combing the crime scenes for anything that might help. It took hours, and after a while, Penelope noticed that Lisa's emotions seemed to close off some. Glancing at her new friend, she asked quietly, "How long have you been doing this?"
"About six months."
Penelope cringed. Still a rookie, then, or near enough. Not long enough to have become jaded in any event, though this string of murders seemed to be doing that job just fine. Focusing back on her screen, she suppressed a sigh. "Wish I could tell you it gets easier." She really did, but she knew from bitter experience just how cruel people could be. She'd witnessed it often enough, after all. At least she had the buffer of her computer lab, but the team came face-to-face with it on a daily basis, and sometimes that still bled through to her.
Lisa sat back. "Yeah, well, I'm used to pulling footage of muggings or robberies. Watching someone get shot in the head..."
Yeah, Penelope understood that all too well. "You know what helps me? You make it your own. Separate yourself from the screen." She dug into her purse and started to pull out various items: a tiny toy lion, a seahorse, a wind up turtle, and one of her fun pens.
Lisa huffed a laugh as she picked up the turtle and eyed it carefully. "This isn't exactly umm, regulation," she hedged, though Penelope could feel her amusement.
Shooting Lisa a cheeky grin, she said, "Well then, thank God that it's just us in here then, huh?"
That seemed to lighten Lisa's mood enough that she could face getting back to work again. Garcia's phone rang and the sight of Derek's name made her smile as she answered. "Speak, my Adonis, and I will obey." And wasn't that closer to the truth than she'd ever admit to.
Derek's voice cut through her mirth. "There's been another murder, Garcia. I need you to check the footage of the crime scene."
He rattled the address off, which she wrote down and passed along to Lisa. "I'll get right on it. Call you when I get something."
She smiled sadly. "Please be careful out there."
"Of course. Don't you worry that pretty little head of yours, Garcia."
He rang off, leaving Lisa and Penelope to scour the footage. Lisa found the perp first and pointed to her screen. "There, see?"
Penelope leaned over, then pulled the stream onto her own computer and began running scans. She already had what information she could scrounge from the other crime scenes, but they hadn't given her much beyond what they already knew. She hoped that this time, she would net something that might help her team catch the guy.
It took a minute for the program to ping with results. What she saw made her frown. "Well, that's weird."
"What is?" Lisa asked, but Penelope was too busy to answer.
She ran the numbers again, this time on split screen. There was too much interference, visually, for the first murders to give her anything conclusive, but the last two certainly made her sit up and pay attention. Even as she dialed Emily's number, aware that she would be near a computer, she emailed the footage to her, too. "Emily, I just emailed you something you should see."
"Okay, give me a sec."
Penelope could hear noise in the background, a murmured conversation between Emily and Spencer as far as she could tell. She quickly ran over what she had discovered before Emily cut in. "Hang on, the others just walked in."
Fiddling with her pen nervously, Penelope watched the screen, listening intently to the conversation on the other end of the line. The sound of Derek's voice made her relax slightly as it usually did. She always worried when he was out in the field, always wished that they could bond already so she would know he was okay.
"You still there, Garcia?" came Spencer's voice, cutting through her thoughts.
"Would I ever leave you?" she retorted cheekily. "Okay, check it out. I did a digital perspective analysis rendering on the shootings where we had footage." She was aware of Lisa paying close attention as she explained to her team what she had discovered.
When she had finished, the silence on the line was heavy, until finally Hotch let out a sigh. "We've got more than one unsub."
Penelope nodded. "Looks that way, sir."
"Alright. Thank you, Garcia," Hotch said, ending the call.
Lisa turned to her with widened eyes. Penelope could feel the woman's tension increase."More than one what? Unsub?"
Quirking a rueful grin, Penelope nodded again. "It means Unknown Subject. Unsub."
Lisa thought that over for a moment. "Oh God..."
Wrinkling her nose, Penelope hummed agreement. "Yeah. But we'll catch them. You'll see. My team's on it and they're the best." She hoped they would get a lead soon, before more lives were lost, but she was aware – morbid as it was – that the more victims there were, the more information they could gather. Sooner or later, the unsubs would make a mistake and they would get them. Penelope clung to that belief. At times, it was all that helped her through doing her job. Well, that, and her absolute faith in Derek.
It was hours later when Derek showed up to take Penelope to their hotel. "You ready to call it a day, mama?"
Penelope stretched her arms out, heaving a sigh. "Yeah. This'll all be here tomorrow, right?"
Lisa shot her a look that said as clearly as the emotions she was broadcasting that she thought Derek Morgan was a fox. Penelope didn't disagree in the slightest and grinned at her. "Derek," Penelope said, gesturing to Lisa, "meet Lisa Bartleby, she's been helping me out all day. Lisa, SSA Derek Morgan."
Stepping into the room, Derek offered Lisa both his hand and his flirtatious smile. "Pleased to meet you, Lisa. Hope Garcia's not given you too much trouble."
"Hey!" Penelope smacked Derek's chest in retaliation.
Lisa laughed, shaking her head. "Penelope's been great. She's a real wiz with the computer."
Penelope shot Derek a triumphant grin. Derek winked at her, grinning. "Don't I know it. She's the best."
"Shut up," Penelope mumbled, feeling suddenly shy at the praise – and the rush of affection she felt coming from him.
"C'mon, babygirl. Let's get you to bed so you can get some sleep and have a fresh start in the morning."
They bade Lisa goodnight, and once they were in the car, Derek kept his eyes studiously on the road as he asked, "Say Garcia, you mind my asking why someone like you hasn't found their match yet? There's gotta be a line of Sentinels waiting for you, yet I've never seen you with one. Why is that?"
Swallowing hard, Penelope gazed out the window as she tried to get a read on Derek's emotions. Her own were in too much turmoil to really do her any good, however. They had never really broached the subject before, something she had been grateful for because she knew she wouldn't be able to lie to Derek even if she wanted to. Which she most certainly didn't. She wondered where his sudden curiosity came from as she fumbled for an answer that would be the truth, without coming right out and telling him.
"I don't think he's out there," she finally settled on saying with a slight jerk of her head out the window.
Derek frowned, but didn't say anything to that. The jumble of emotions coming from him confused her more than anything. He seemed almost relieved at her answer.
Lisa handed Penelope a cup of tea. "Here you go."
Penelope beamed at her as she held the cup between her hands, allowing the smell of tea to soothe her. "Thanks."
Lisa took her seat again and nodded. "You're welcome." They sat in silence for a while, watching the screens in a vain attempt at catching anything out of the ordinary as they had all morning. Penelope had drained half her cup before Lisa spoke again, sounding almost casual. "So... you're a Guide, right?
Lips twitching, Penelope took another sip before replying. "Yeah, I am. How'd you know?" She hadn't introduced herself as one, and she tried never to broadcast the fact to anyone. As her gran would have said, it was just good manners not to.
Shooting her a bashful grin, Lisa shrugged. "I'm a sensitive. My mom's a Guide, but I didn't inherit the gene. Not sure what my dad was, he died before I was born and mama never liked to talk about him."
Penelope nodded in understanding. "Gotcha." It was like that for some Guides who had lost their Sentinels. They survived, but it was nearly unbearable to be reminded of the loss. Usually they only made it through because they had kids, as seemed to be the case with Lisa's mom. "Sorry about your dad," she added quietly.
"Thanks," Lisa murmured, seemingly focused on her screen. After a beat, she spoke up again. "So what's the deal with you and Derek?"
Tilting her head slightly, Penelope took a moment to assess Lisa's emotional landscape in an attempt to suss out her motivation behind the question. Getting nothing but genuine curiosity, she put down her cup. "We're just friends," she said with as even a tone as she could muster, trying not to let the ache she felt bleed through.
Lisa caught onto it, though, and turned to face her with a challenging look. "Just friends?"
Rolling her eyes, Penelope sighed, picking up her pen and fiddling with it. "Yes, just friends," she stated again. The silence that followed seemed oppressive to Penelope until finally she caved. "Alright, fine. You win. He's a latent Sentinel and I wish there was a chance at something more with him." Blushing, she added, "You've met him. Pretty sure you would agree the man is all sorts of hot and awesome." She couldn't believe she had just spilled everything to a near stranger. Something she tried very hard not to speculate on. She didn't believe Lisa would betray her trust, though.
Laughing, Lisa nodded. "He struck me as a nice guy, yeah. And he's definitely hot," she added with a wink. Sobering a little, she asked softly, "So you've never had a Sentinel of your own?"
Penelope shook her head, glancing down at her hands as she tried to focus on something other than the ache in her chest. "No. I sort of stopped looking when I met Derek."
"Why? I mean, don't all Guides need a Sentinel, and vice versa?"
Giving her a small smile, Penelope nodded. "Yes, we do. Don't get me wrong, we can manage without one most of the time, but in order to be all we were meant to be, we do need each other. We're not truly complete, otherwise."
"So..." Lisa prompted, feeling a little confused, but also intrigued as far as Penelope could tell.
"Reid – he's the tall, lanky one – always gives me all these stats on Guides and Sentinels, trying to convince me to continue my search," she admitted. "Reid's completely brilliant, and I love the man to pieces, but he just doesn't get it. He's a mundane, but when he found out I was a Guide, he immersed himself in as much information on Sentinels and Guides as he could get his hands on. Of course, being a mundane, he doesn't have access to everything, but I think he's probably the most well-versed mundane out there when it comes to all things Sentinel/Guide."
She paused to take a sip of tea, then continued. "He didn't even know that Derek was a latent Sentinel at first, though once he read up, he figured it out. I think he suspects why I've stopped attending meet'n'greets, but he's never called me on it outright."
Lisa nodded quietly, letting Penelope get everything off her chest.
"Anyway, when I met Derek... something changed. I still feel that ache that all unbonded Guides do, but whenever I'm near him, it isn't quite so bad. From the second we met, there's been this... this spark between us, and I just... I couldn't anymore. The idea of going out there to look for a Sentinel sort of gives me hives now. So I deal as best I can. I sit in my little office, surrounded by my computers," she gestured around the room and grinned, "much like this – though between you and me, I get to play with the really fun toys."
Lisa laughed at that, but Penelope went on. "Whenever I'm around a lot of people, it gets really hard to filter all of it out. Being in my office, it sort of helps. It distances me from the world, which, you know..." She shrugged.
Lisa nodded. "Yeah, I get it." And Penelope could tell she meant it. Leaning forward, Lisa gave her a calculating look. "You think he'll ever come online?"
Shaking her head, Penelope sighed ruefully. "I don't know. Even if he does, there's no guarantees. Something Reid's pointed out to me more than once. JJ, too."
Lisa reached over and grasped Penelope's hand briefly, squeezing it. Understanding passed between them as they sat. Then without another word, they both turned their attention back to the screens and their vigilance.
Try as she might, Penelope's thoughts kept circling back to their conversation. Her hope – futile as it might be – that something would happen for Derek to come online… for him to be hers so they could bond. She loved everything about the man, and she cherished the connection they shared, the banter they traded back and forth. She wouldn't change those for anything. Well, except the obvious, of course.
After a while, Lisa suddenly leaned forward, peering intently at her screen. "I think I got something."
Penelope sat up, already reaching for her keyboard. "Is there anyone nearby?"
"Negative," Lisa said, grabbing the phone. "This is the surveillance command center. We have a possible murder suspect at the subway platform on Fifty-ninth and Lex."
Dialing Hotch, Penelope pulled the feed onto her laptop and began running the program to compare the suspect to the unsubs from the other footage.
"Sir, we have a possible unsub on the subway platform on Fifty-ninth and Lex."
"Does it look like it could be one of our guys?"
Penelope could hear Derek in the background when Hotch switched to speaker, followed by a quick explanation of what he knew so far. "Yes, sir," Penelope said, trying to keep from letting Derek's irritation rub off on her. Her eyes widened a little in horror as she watched the scene unfold. "He's got a gun." Oh please, please no. "He shot her," she added quietly, stunned.
"Oh my God," Lisa whispered.
Penelope reached for Lisa's hand, giving it a quick squeeze. "He's getting away." Penelope was horrified at what she had just witnessed.
"Garcia, can you get eyes on him above ground?" Rossi asked.
Fingers flying, Penelope searched through various feeds. Her heart was racing, and it took everything she had to push Lisa's emotions aside and focus on her task. The woman was as sickened as she was. "He's heading west on Fifty-ninth street."
"If he makes it to the park, we've lost him," Kate said.
"We've lost the visual," Lisa murmured, shaking her head as they both watched the unsub slip off the screen and out of their grasp.
"Are the police on the scene?" Rossi asked.
Shaking her head, Penelope took a wavering breath. "Negative." She could hear Derek venting his anger over the line at Hotch. All she could do was sit in silence, wishing she was able to help him. That she could have done more to catch the unsub before another woman lost her life. When Hotch told Derek to take a walk, Penelope swallowed hard and whispered, "I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't be, Garcia. You did everything you could. Keep doing what you're doing. We'll find them," Hotch assured, then hung up.
Lisa and Penelope shared a long, sorrowful look before resuming their vigil.
When Derek came to pick Penelope up to take her to the hotel, she was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Their efforts had brought nothing new, and all they had to show for the two days the BAU had been on the case was another body. Something that didn't sit well with neither her nor Derek, so she wasn't all that surprised to find him still quietly pissed off about it.
She couldn't not try to take his mind off of it, to not attempt to soothe a sentinel in distress even if that sentinel was latent. "Hey," she said quietly as they drove.
"What, babygirl?" Derek said tiredly, casting a quick glance her way.
"So I kinda sorta ordered yarn last night for a baby blanket." Which was totally true. The second she had made it to her room after hearing the news of JJ's pregnancy, she had scoured the net for a pattern and bought enough yarn for it and a few other things, too. It would be waiting on her when she got back home.
Derek huffed a startled laugh. "Are you serious?"
Grinning, she nodded, pleased that affection and amusement were overtaking Derek's earlier anger. "Totally. I have the perfect pattern, too, and I made sure everything was gender neutral, because you know, no idea if JJ's having a boy or a girl at this point."
"She's barely even pregnant, Garcia," he protested, though she could tell it was only half-hearted.
She mock-scowled, wagging her finger admonishingly at him. "Do you have any idea how long that'll take to knit? It's not like there isn't the chance of us getting called out at all hours, either. So yes, I'm going to start on it as soon as we get home. And don't you dare breathe a word to her about it, Derek Morgan," she warned. "I want it to be a surprise for her baby shower, so I won't be working on it in the office."
He held up a hand in supplication, grinning from ear to hear. "My lips are sealed, mama. Promise." After a beat, he added, "Just you make sure you don't take the whole 'shower' thing too literal, Garcia. Leave something for the other people in JJ's life to gift her, too."
Penelope gaped, then smacked Derek's bicep. "Hush, you. How did you know?"
Quirking a brow at her, he chuckled. "What? That you wouldn't just stop at knitting a blanket? I know you, Garcia, and you're one of the most generous people I've ever met."
She stuck her tongue out at him even as she blushed. Derek shook his head and reached over to squeeze Penelope's neck gently.
"Will you show me?" he asked as he pulled into a parking spot.
The rush of affection she felt for him almost made her want to fling her arms around his neck. She refrained, though, and not because they were still buckled up. A lot of the guys in her past had always made fun of her for her hobby, some had even scorned her for it. Not Derek. He thought it was charming, and more than once had simply watched her. If he had been online, she might have worried about him zoning. And he was always genuinely interested in what she had to say. Smiling brightly at him, she nodded. "Of course."
He followed her to her room and they spent about an hour hanging out. Only some of that time was spent checking out the stuff for JJ. It was nice to let the case fade to the background for a little while and just be.
The following morning, though, Derek was once again all business. The team was on the ground, split across the city at the most vulnerable points according to the profile they had come up with. It made Penelope anxious to know they wouldn't be together, but she understood the necessity of it.
Punching a few buttons, she double-checked that she had everyone on a conference call. "Okay people, talk to me. Mouseketeer roll call. Fifty-ninth street?" She could feel Lisa's amusement, but she ignored the woman in favor of focusing on her team and locating them on the cameras.
"Check." Emily down.
Penelope bit her lip, nodding in response to JJ's reply. She was glad that Derek had insisted on having JJ's back today. Not that Derek would have trusted anyone else to do it after learning about their friend's state. "Chamber Street?"
The list grew, going well beyond her team and she went by the book methodically. Still, she tried to keep a close eye on her people, knowing they counted on her to be their eye in the sky. She was almost done with the roll call when Reid called on another line. "Talk."
"Garcia, do you have eyes on everyone on the team?"
"I can get 'em."Her hands flew over the keyboard, bringing up the cameras to double-check where they were. She had momentarily lost Emily and the cop, Cooper, she was teamed with, as they had taken the subway, but she found them before too long.
"Okay, this is not good," Lisa said, frowning.
Penelope leaned over to see what she was looking at. "What's going on?"
"I'm doing what you asked. I'm looking at the footage to see if I see the same person coming back to the crime scene in the days after the shootings."
Penelope nodded. They had split up the work between them. Lisa focusing on past footage and Penelope staying on the live feeds. "Right."
"So I find the camera with the widest angle on the scene."
"So you don't have to sift through hundreds," Penelope finished.
"Exactly," Lisa said. "But..." She let her sentence trail off as she punched in a couple of commands that did nothing.
Frowning, Penelope turned back to her own computer and began trying to figure out what was going on. She got the same results as Lisa. The cameras weren't changing and were completely out of their control. A little more digging showed her that the whole network had been hacked in a way they never would have detected. Not as a whole, but individual cameras. "They hacked them?" she muttered to herself in disbelief, which only grew when she realized they had been so from the beginning. She shared a look of shock with Lisa. "They've been watching us from the start."
Just as she turned back to her screen, she caught the latest victim crumpling to the ground. "Oh, my God," she stammered, fingers flying over her keyboard as she tried to find a camera that still worked so she could track the unsub.
"Garcia!" Emily encouraged.
"I'm on it, I'm on it." Come on, come on, she thought frantically. "Sixteenth and Broadway. He's running East on Sixteenth."
Penelope's eyes were fixed on her screen as she watched Emily's chase with growing dread. There were a couple of times when she lost sight of them, each time making her breath hitch with fear. Please let them be okay, she thought, breathing a sigh of relief when another camera picked them up again. It was short lived, though, and Penelope jumped a little when she saw Cooper go down.
Lisa, who had been leaning across to follow along, grabbed her phone and put in a call for an ambulance and back up.
"They're on their way, Emily, just hang in there," Penelope assured when Emily begged her to call for help.
Oh, but she felt helpless at times like these. Taking a moment to collect herself, Penelope cupped her hands in front of her face and just breathed. Everyone was okay, aside from Cooper, and help was coming. The unsub was shot, so they wouldn't need to see if he would return. After a minute, she turned to Lisa. "Okay. Let's go back to the start. We need to check every single camera. Figure out which ones have been compromised. Don't do anything to try to get the hackers out, I don't want to tip them off that we know they're watching if we can avoid it. Just... check."
Lisa nodded and set to work. It took them hours more before they had finished checking the last ones and when they did, the picture it painted wasn't pretty. Penelope called Derek's phone.
"Talk to us, Garcia." Derek said, sounding tired.
"We got a problem," she started, and explained everything they had found out. Not a single camera had been left untouched by the hackers. She hated to admit it, but it had been an ingenious workaround on the hackers' part.
Penelope couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that was creeping in on her as she hung up. Something big was coming. Everything in her told her so, but she just couldn't see what it was. Unsure what to do next, she decided to go over the footage one more time, hoping against hope to come across something – anything – useful. Derek sent her a text a half hour later to let her know he wouldn't be able to pick her up, but that he had sent an agent out to drive her to the hotel.
Lisa scrubbed her face. "Not much more we can do here at the moment, is there?"
"Not really," Penelope agreed. "See you in the morning?"
Lisa nodded and they both headed out to turn in for the night. The agent who waited for her by the curb greeted her solemnly, checked that he had the hotel information right, but otherwise remained silent. That is, right up until the radio crackled and news of an explosion on Federal Plaza came through. The agent cursed under his breath even as Penelope let out a whimper.
"Back. Take me back right now," she ordered. "I have to go, they'll need me."
"Right," the agent said, turning his sirens on and heading back to the surveillance center. Dropping her off without a by-your-leave, he was gone by the time Penelope ran through the front doors, Lisa following hot on her heels.
"I heard," Lisa said, both sounding and feeling anxious.
Penelope's phone rang. "Agent Rossi? We heard there was some kind of explosion."
"Where are you?"
"I just walked into the CCTV command post." Penelope was vaguely aware of Lisa letting the other officer know they were taking over. Ignoring the bustle around her, she rummaged through her bag for her laptop.
"Can you see anything?"
"I literally just walked through the door, sir," she apologized. She hated having to come up empty when her team needed her.
"We got on the news that it was an SUV that exploded. A black SUV within blocks of Federal Plaza."
Penelope's heart stopped for a moment as her thoughts raced. Hotch? Reid? Emily? Derek? JJ? Were they alright? "Oh, God."
"Now do you have eyes there?" Rossi pressed.
Fumbling with her laptop, she stammered, "Err, yeah, yeah, I have three hundred cameras right there." She willed her laptop to boot up faster, for the system to show her her team was in one piece. Please let them be okay, she prayed. "Gimme a sec," she murmured.
"I'm here with Reid, but I don't know where anyone else is," Rossi said, sounding as agitated as she felt.
Penelope breathed a sigh of relief at the news that Reid at least was okay. That was two people down, five to go.
Heart racing, she hung up and tugged her earpiece behind her ear. "Okay, Lisa. I need every feed of every camera for twenty blocks concentrically out from the Federal Plaza. Get that explosion from every angle you can and then back those feeds up."
"You got it."
"I'm going to call the rest of my team." After checking that everything was up and running as it should be, she started calling.
"Yeah, I'm still here," Derek said by way of answer.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Penelope felt her heart rate drop a little in response to his voice. "Yes, you are. Thank God," she said quietly, blinking rapidly.
"I'm almost back at the Federal building. What the hell is going on?"
"Okay. We're going over the closed circuit footage right now."
"Who else have you checked on?" Derek demanded.
Penelope pushed aside the pang of guilt at not having called any of the others first. "You're the first. Rossi and Reid called me."
"Alright. Well, keep me on the line while you check on everyone else."
Okay, she could do that. She dialed Emily's phone, which was picked up at first ring.
"Is everyone okay?" Prentiss asked right off the bat.
"I've spoken to Rossi and Reid, and Morgan's on the line."
"Emily, where are you?" Derek asked.
"Err, I'm following Detective Brunsten to one of the NYPD incident command posts."
Penelope frowned in confusion. "One of them?"
She could imagine Derek's indulgent smile as he said, "Yeah, after 9-11 they decentralized. They had way too many eggs in one basket on that day."
That made sense in a way. "Has anyone talked to JJ?"
"She was headed back to the hotel," Emily replied.
"In a black SUV?" Penelope asked, dread filling her.
"I think so," Emily answered, her voice taut with concern.
"Stay with me, I'm going to dial her number." Penelope's heart seemed to plummet when the call went straight to JJ's voice mail, and got cut off mid-message.
"Wait, what was that? What happened?" Derek demanded.
"It went dead mid-message," Penelope said automatically, her throat dry with fear. Not her, please not her. Not now.
"Try her again," Emily suggested. "She's probably back at t-"
The line went completely dead. "Derek?" Panic threatened to overtake Penelope. "Derek?" Dialing frantically, she got only dead air. "I just lost all contact with my team."
"I found it," Lisa said.
Penelope ignored her, muttering to herself as she tried to figure out a way to get in touch with her team. She couldn't stand not knowing if they were okay.
Lisa prodded again. "I found it."
"What?" Penelope snapped, feeling instantly contrite. It wasn't Lisa's fault that communications had gone down, after all.
"I found the explosion."
That got Penelope's attention. Leaning across to see Lisa's screen, she watched in horror as the SUV exploded as Hotch and Kate approached, both of them being blown away and out of camera view. "Oh my God," she gasped, panic holding her in its grasp.
"They weren't inside," Lisa reminded her calmly.
Lisa gripped Penelope's arm and held her gaze. "They weren't inside."
For a minute, Penelope boggled at a mundane comforting her, the Guide. She was supposed to be the one that helped others, that soothed and calmed and kept a level head. But this was her team, her family, and she had no Sentinel to help ground her. In that moment, she felt the lack of that bond more keenly than ever before. More so because she had no idea if Derek was okay.
"Right. Play it again, right now," she demanded. She focused on her breathing, her eyes glued to the screen as she struggled to remember how to do her job. Come on, Garcia. Snap out of it. They need you, so help them.
They watched the footage over and over, finding every angle they could. The happy cry when she saw Hotchner was on his feet would have embarrassed her, but she didn't care. They poured over the images, going back further in time until they found the bomber in action. Penelope watched with bated breath as the scene unfolded from there.
"He watched," she breathed, stunned. "That sonofabitch watched." Blinking rapidly, she began typing. "Give me another time code. Twelve, twenty-nine, thirteen."
Lisa's shock as the bomber ran over to Hotch after the blast mirrored Penelope's own. "That's him. That's the bomber," Penelope managed, quickly pulling up the live feed so she had both on her screen. She dialed Derek's number with grim determination, muttering, "Please have service, please have service, please have service," as she waited for the call to go through.
"Garcia, I got Hotch. Listen to me. You gotta get somebody down here right away, you hear me? Right now."
Pushing aside the spike of worry at his words, she steeled herself. "Morgan, he's there. The bomber, he's on the scene."
"What?! Are you absolutely sure?"
She nodded. "Yes. Derek, I'm looking at him right now. He's a couple of feet away from you. Scraggy hair, T-shirt over long sleeves, jeans," she rattled off. Relief washed over her as she saw Derek's head swivel in the direction of the kid who stood watching them. Relief turned quickly into growing concern when Derek initiated pursuit of the unsub, leaving Hotch and Kate behind.
"What do I do, what do I do?" she muttered frantically to herself as she tried to keep tabs on Derek as best she could, her heart stopping every time he went out of range of one camera, only to beat twice as fast when he reappeared on another. "Team. Gotta tell the team." She was vaguely aware of the worry emanating from Lisa but she ignored it as she put in a Skype call to Emily's computer, it being the only one showing as online. The second the call connected she blurted out, "The bomber! The bomber, Derek's chasing after him."
The team turned as one, but it was Reid who spoke first. "What?"
Taking a steadying breath, Penelope tried to gather her thoughts, realizing she was babbling. "The bomb, it was in Kate's SUV – or under it, rather. Hotch is out there with her. He seems okay, but she seems really hurt. He hasn't moved her."
"Where was Kate's SUV parked?" Rossi asked when Penelope came up for air.
"Err, two blocks East of Federal Plaza."
"Two blocks East and they target Kate's SUV?" Emily asked, sounding both doubtful and surprised.
Rossi nodded. "Have you ID'ed the bomber?"
In the background, she saw Reid move to the side, causing Penelope's anxiety to spike again. Not having eyes on all of her team was not a good thing right now. She pointed over her shoulder to Lisa. "Lisa's running him and dead guy through VICAP now."
Rossi straightened and turned to the others. "Call Homeland Security, they should be at all the murder sites. See if they've found anything."
"I'm on it." JJ disappeared from view, presumably to make the call.
Rossi turned back to the screen. "Garcia, find out how we can help Morgan."
She nodded. "Yes, sir." Help Morgan. Yes, she could do that. She needed to do that.
"And Garcia? Patch the feed of the explosion to us," Rossi added.
"Right. Done." She muted the connection and began pouring through every feed in the area she had last seen Derek. She found him coming down the stairs on the subway platform on Chambers street, only to lose him again the second he stepped into the train. "C'mon, Derek, where are you?" she muttered, fiddling with her pen nervously as she willed the man to appear on her screen again.
Behind her, Lisa cursed under her breath. "Nothing on VICAP on either of them."
"Damnit, okay. I need you to send backup to Chambers street, as well as both stops adjacent to it. I don't know where they are, but that's the last place I saw them."
"On it," Lisa assured and placed the call.
Time seemed to crawl by as she watched for any sign of the wayward agent. Un-muting the call with Rossi, she gave him a quick update and ended up helping him go through the events of the explosion. When the call came that Derek was alright, Penelope sagged in her seat, closing her eyes for a moment. As it turned out, her relief was short-lived. Hotch had made it to the hospital with Kate, and Derek needed the rest of the team to head there. She was glad that Hotch would be okay, but she could not shake the feeling that things were going to get much worse before the night was through.
Penelope and Lisa cooled their heels as they waited for news, for something to pop up on their screens. Anything. Eventually, Rossi radioed in, "Garcia, can you remote access the cellphone grid I'm in and jam all the frequencies?"
Fingers flying, she did as ordered. "Yeah, I can, but only for a short period of time."
"There's a bomb in the basement of this building."
Penelope's breath hitched, knowing that nearly her entire team was in that hospital. "I'm on it." Turning to Lisa, she added, "Okay. We need to access and pinpoint the three closest cell towers to the location and then disrupt the satellite feeds to them, and we need to do it fast. Here we go."
She kept up a steady mantra for everyone to be alright, for them to be safe. Working as quickly as she knew how, she nodded firmly in satisfaction when the satellite feed cut and the cellphone grid went down. The radio was still open, allowing her to catch some of the conversation on the other end.
"Where did Morgan go?" Hotch asked.
"To the basement to find the ambulance," Reid replied, sounding worried.
Penelope's heart seemed to drop to her stomach. Switching comms, she called, "Morgan?"
"Yeah, baby?" came Derek's somewhat winded and distracted reply.
"You sound stressed."
Please tell me you're not about to do something stupidly heroic, she thought. "Where are you?" There was something going on that he wasn't telling her, she was sure of it.
"Not where I wanna be right now."
She groaned and closed her eyes, wishing she could punch him in the arm right that second.
"Garcia, take this down for me: FDNY one-oh-eight."
Frowning, she quickly did as asked. "That's an ambulance. Are you okay?" She was starting to feel really uneasy, enough so that her spirit animal, Woody, appeared next to her on the desk. She glanced briefly at the woodpecker and tried to smile, though she was pretty sure she failed miserably. The bird scuttled over and rubbed its head against her arm. It helped calm her down a little, as contact with her spirit animal usually did. A part of her marveled – as it always did – how both exactly like its Earthly counterpart the woodpecker was, and how completely not at the same time.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Derek's voice cut into her thoughts. "Just track it for me."
Taking a steadying breath, Penelope entered the information into her tracking program and the ambulance pinged on her system.
"Oh my God. Garcia, how long can you keep jamming the cellphone lines?" Derek's stress bled through his voice.
"Err, a few minutes, max. Why?"she stammered, casting a quick glance at the other screen to confirm.
"'Cause I'm gonna have to get this ambulance outta here."
What? No! "Or you could just evacuate the building like everybody else," she snapped.
"No, as soon as the airways are clear this thing is going up."
"Going up?! Oh my... That's like, in three minutes! Because that's when the satellite moves into position!" Penelope's heart raced. Please, Derek, please, don't do this. Don't be the hero, she thought.
"Come on. Garcia, listen to me. I need you to find an area in town I can drive this thing, and you tell everybody – you hear, everybody – that I'm comin'. Come on, baby, do it. Go!"
Her throat felt tight with fear. She was pretty sure that not all of that had been directed at her, but she still couldn't help but react accordingly. Passing along the pertinent information to Lisa, she asked her to take care of the calls, while Penelope searched for a safe place to detonate the bomb, then went into the traffic system, ready to give Derek a green wave. Much as she hated to do as he asked in this instance, because driving that ambulance would mean certain death, she had to. The only reason she wasn't already completely falling apart at the seams was the presence of Woody.
"Alright, talk to me, Garcia!"
"Okay," she gasped, trying to calm her emotions enough to function, despite feeling like she was stuck in a mælstrom. "Head North and floor it. I'll tell you where to turn." Loud bangs sounded in the background, making her jump. "What was that?"
"Nothing, it was nothing. Just talk to me!"
Time seemed to become this strange thing for Penelope, slowing down and hitting fast forward all at once. Working as fast as she could, she mapped a route for Derek that would take him where he needed to go, but no matter how many lights she changed to green, to her it felt like she wasn't going fast enough. There was no way that Derek would be able to get there and get to safety that she could see, and it was more than she could bear thinking about.
"How am I doing, Garcia?"
There was something in Derek's voice that Penelope had never heard before and it only added to her distress. "How's he doing?" she managed to ask Lisa, who was keeping a close eye on the time.
"One minute, seven seconds."
Oh God, no no no no no. This couldn't be happening. "Why does it have to be you? Why do you always have to do this?" she rambled, unable to keep a rein on her emotions. She knew she was projecting, but she couldn't help herself and right in that moment, she didn't care. She forced herself to breathe, to stop the trembling. "Derek, you don't have a lot of time, please be smart about this," she pleaded. Please come back to me, she added to herself.
Her heart dropped when the computer beeped. "Signal's coming back online." He was out of time, he wasn't going to make it.
"Thirty seconds till full coverage," Lisa supplied.
This was too much. "Derek, drive to the opening and then get the hell out," she ordered, shocking even herself as she used Guide-voice.
"There's something I really want you to know, Garcia." Derek sounded strange, pained and vulnerable all at once. It made her want to reach through the phone and grab him. To snatch him from Death's grasp.
"Save it, just get out!" Penelope cried, not ready to hear what he might say.
"No no no, not quite there yet," he protested.
Lisa began counting down. "Ten."
"Morgan," Penelope pleaded.
"Just listen to me," he urged.
She struggled against the need to do as Derek said and her own desire for him to get the hell out of there. "Morgan, please."
"You know what you are, Garcia?"
The tracking signal cut even as Lisa said, "We've just lost track of him."
"Morgan!" Penelope heard the blast and it felt as if she got hit by it herself. There was no way Derek could have survived that. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to hail him. "Derek?" Oh God, please, please let him have done the impossible. Please.
She couldn't breathe. Couldn't do anything but listen to the static in her ear, feeling as if her whole world had just fallen apart. She was aware of Lisa's attempt to comfort her but wasn't able to acknowledge her in any way. Woody was huddled up against her chest making sorrowful noises of distress, but Penelope didn't have the energy to respond. How could she? Derek was gone. Her Sentinel was gone.
Her whole body jolted at the sound of Derek's voice in her ear and it wasn't until he started speaking again that she was certain she hadn't just imagined it.
"I'll tell you what you are to me." He sounded winded, and there was still that strange quality to his voice she couldn't pinpoint. "You're my God-given solace. Woman, you promise me one thing. Whatever happens, don't you ever stop talking to me."
"I can't right now, 'cause I'm mad at you," she managed, nearly folding in on herself with the force of her relief.
"I can wait," Derek said, almost sounding like his usual teasing self.
Lisa was on the phone, calling for someone to head to Derek's location. Penelope raised her head, smiling tiredly at the woman. "Thanks, for everything."
Lisa merely nodded, her attention still mostly on her call.
Taking a few moments to gather herself before beginning the process of packing up, Penelope settled in her seat. Woody seemed to preen, exuding an air of satisfaction that puzzled her a little. She stroked his feathers gently and whispered, "And thank you, too." With one last brush against her, Woody disappeared from view.
"What was that?" Lisa asked as she hung up the phone.
"Oh, nothing." Penelope glanced at her, but it seemed as if Woody's visit had gone unnoticed. Just as well, she thought.
Penelope got a ride to the hotel after saying goodbye to Lisa. The team was still wrapping things up but were supposed to meet up there shortly. She was half-torn between wanting to hug Derek tight and hit him for scaring her so badly. The more she thought about it, the more upset she became and started to lean toward the latter option. No matter what, she promised herself, she would give that man a piece of her mind.
All her anger dissipated the minute she laid eyes on Derek in the lobby. His back was to the doors, but the second she stepped into the building, he turned to face her, looking ragged and rough around the edges. His whole demeanor had changed from what she had known it to be. He seemed to prowl toward her now and all she could do was stare as he approached. "Derek?" she asked softly.
Without uttering a word, he wrapped his strong arms around her and buried his face into her hair. She hugged him back for all she was worth. After a couple of minutes, she thought she heard him mutter, "Guide," but it was muffled by her hair so she couldn't be sure.
Pulling away slightly, she tried to keep a tight rein on her emotions. She told herself she couldn't have heard correctly. Her heart in her throat, she asked, "Derek? What happened out there?"
Cupping her face in his hands, he peered into her eyes until she felt she was drowning. "Babygirl." His voice was raw and Penelope had to fight against the urge to reach out to him with her gifts. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "I came online," he said simply, as if those three words wouldn't upend Penelope's world completely.
She blinked stupidly at him as her heart seemed to trip. "You- What?"
Pressing his lips against her forehead, he whispered reverently, "Guide."
This time, there could be no mistake. Everything inside her seemed to hum and with a wavering breath she uttered the one word that meant the most to her. "Sentinel." Her Sentinel. She could feel her shields stretch, feel her whole being reach out to Derek in a way she had never done before as the bonding process started.
Derek's face lit up with one of his beautiful, heart-warming smiles as he traced a finger along Penelope's cheek. His pleasure dimmed a little, his eyes suddenly serious. "Babygirl, have you really been waiting for me all this time?"
Blushing, she nodded, remembering their conversation the other day. "I told you my Sentinel wasn't out there." Placing her hand over his heart, she beamed at him. "He's been right here all along."