Well, folks, we've come to the end of the story at last. I honestly did not mean to string this out for almost a year, but I'm really thankful to the readers and reviewers that have hung in there and stuck with this one all this time! I hope the ending lives up to what you've expected for it and I hope to have something else totally new to post for you soon. I still don't own them, of course, but I do still like pretending I have a say in what they do for a little while. Thanks again for reading!

Trial by Fire

Epilogue – Chapter Twelve

One year later…

Derek Morgan was barely winded as his feet pounded on the pavement of the back alley he was racing down in pursuit of the suspect. This guy was as good as caught and didn't even know it yet. This was the first case Morgan had been reinstated to full active duty for, and he wasn't wasting a second in returning to his full-throttle action tactics and the place on the team that he'd long ago staked out as his own.

The suspect took a sharp right turn ahead of him, and Morgan swung around the corner only seconds behind him, then ducked quickly, just in time to avoide the rusty old pipe the unsub swung at his head, having gone on the offensive and turned and waited to strike at him. Reacting on well-forged reflexes, Morgan came out of the crouch position with fists raised and caught his target on the chin with his first punch. The guy went down like a sack of potatoes, proving once again that it was always those who seemed toughest who ended up having the glass jaw. He liked this part of his job – he was good at it – and he was glad to be back.

He got the cuffs on the guy just as Hotch and Emily came barrelling up behind them on foot, and he began to haul their suspect to his feet while the guy complained loudly about police brutality and when did the Feds start thinking they were action heroes? Hotch said nothing, but in the slightly disapproving shaking of his head, Morgan could see the barely contained smile in his boss' eyes. Prentiss wasn't even trying to hide the grin she was giving him over the suspect's shoulder, and Morgan cheekily returned her smile.

"Police brutality pleas won't get you too far," Morgan growled in the man's ear, all playfulness gone as he got his prisoner moving towards the cruiser parked back where the chase had begun, "when I share how you nearly took my head off with that pipe."

Soon the suspect was in custody, headed back to the station for questioning from the squalid house where they had received a tip that he was staying in. Morgan had every intention of interrogating the scumbag, more sure than ever that he was their guy, and hoped that Prentiss might work the old 'good cop, bad cop' routine with him in interrogation. She closely resembled their three victims: a young teacher, a secretary, and a librarian. All lovely intelligent brunettes who quietly kept to themselves and had yet had the unfortunate commonality of having attracted the attention of a sexual sadist who had stalked, harassed, and eventually broken in to rape and strangle them to death in their own homes near Westchester, OH, where they had now finally tracked him down. If she played at having some sympathy and understanding for his plight, there was no doubt in Morgan's mind that this lunatic would let down his defenses, make a mistake, and give Morgan all the opportunity he needed to pounce and catch him in a lie.

Piling back into the SUVs with Prentiss, Hotch, JJ, Reid, and Rossi, Morgan couldn't help feeling the buzz of an adrenaline high that he'd been missing for so long. All his senses were on full alert, his muscles were just pleasantly stretched and alive, and he felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that they had caught this monster and he'd had a hand in taking him off the street. Leaning back against the seat, he breathed in a deep, satisfied breath and closed his eyes for just a moment, reflecting how glad he was to be right there, back in the field with his team where he belonged. Opening his eyes again, he surveyed the rest of them as he listened to Reid and Emily discussing the late-night showing of the new "Star Trek" movie they'd caught the night before and chuckled himself as he saw Rossi shaking his head at the both of them. This was exactly the sort of thing he had missed, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

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Hours later, as early evening crept across the sky, Derek was pleasantly surprised to actually be heading home with Penelope at a decent hour. Barring any unexpected calls from JJ, they might have the whole weekend to themselves. All their current cases were solved, most of the paperwork was caught up, and he'd finished his last session of physical therapy the week before. Unbelievably, for once, everyone in their lives seemed to be healthy and well. Needless to say, it was rare that things were this right in the world they lived in and they hadn't had this much time for just the two of them since he'd been hospitalized almost a year ago.

"So, Mama," he asked her happily, slinging an arm over her shoulders and pulling her closer as they walked out of the FBI building and into the parking lot, "what are we gonna do with a whole weekend off?"

She chuckled, leaning ino him readily, giddy with the possibilities of having two days alone with him to cleanse her mind of the horrific and disturbing images constantly cluttering it and replace them with some good memories instead. To have him happy, healed, and feeling like himself again – and still there beside her – seemed almost more than she could have hoped for. Waggling an eyebrow at him lasciviously, she merely giggled and said, "Oh, I can think of a few things, Hot Stuff…" and let her thought trail off suggestively.

His perfect grin grew wider, crinkling the laughlines she loved and stirring up the twinkle that lit his eyes. "Have I told you lately how much I love that naughty brain of yours, Baby Girl?"

"Hmm…" she mused teasingly, pretending to seriously consider his question before quipping, "Not in the last eight hours anyway."

By then they were easily laughing together and had reached where Esther and his motorcycle were parked side-by-side where they had left them that morning. "What would you say to a spin on the bike before we go home? Esther will be alright here in the lot for one night."

"That sounds like an excellent plan, Gorgeous," she answered, giving him a wink, and already moving to reach for the leopard-print design helmet in her car's backseat that he'd bought especially for her when she rode with him. She stuck it on over her riotous blond mane, strapped it under her chin, and turned back to him, grinning at him adorably from under the brim. "Let's do it!"

And a few minutes later they were flying down the highway, lost in the dark and set free by the wildness and thrill of the ride; the cool wind in their faces and whipping through her hair, refreshing their spirits. Penelope let out a gleeful whoop of joy that was almost immediately snatched away in the breeze, but Derek smiled at the sense of excitement radiating off of her and the way her hands clutched around his waist as she held on. Morgan took the long way – drawing out the trip they were both enjoying so much before heading back to his apartment. When they did eventually swing into the parking lot, stop, and get off the bike, they were both windblown, but laughing and energized; thrilled to be alive and out in the night together.

Taking her hand, he led Garcia up to the front door and into the familiar apartment; one that was no longer quiet, lonely, and empty of all but the furniture and basic masculine necessities. Her bright variety of purses and scarves colorfully festooned the coat hooks in his hallway. Leftovers of different recipes she'd successfully cooked for him joined the sparse six-pack, Chinese take-out container, and occasional steak that used to be all his refridgerator had held. Her collector comics, graphic novels, and fantasy-adventure sagas had joined his Vonnegut and Michael Crichton books on the shelves and her chick flick dvds were scattered across the coffee table. In the last year, she'd become a part of his life to an extent that he'd never thought anyone would. And he loved her for it; he was so glad that she had shown him he was able to let someone in fully, able to allow them to help him because he didn't always have to be strong. She had changed him, and he didn't want to be who he was before. A blessing in disguise had come from his catastrophe.

"Okay, Handsome," her voice lilting lightly in play broke into his serious thoughts like a ray of sunlight through clouds, "you suggested riding the bike home, which makes it my turn to decide what we're doing next, by my calculations."

"Absolutely, Goddess," Morgan agreed, turning on the charm as he pulled her close to steal a kiss and then got wrapped up in it and nearly distracted them both from even moving beyond the entryway. When he finally pulled away he added cheekily, "no matter how wicked it is, your wish is my command."

"Oh, normally I'd try to make y ou regret that statement," she smirked mischeivously, "but I'm too ready for us both to have some fun tonight."

"I like the sound of that," Morgan chuckled, patiently awaiting instructions, while promising himself that he would be as good as his word and let her take the lead.

"Okay then, if you're so eager, go find us some mood music and make yourself comfortable and I'll be right there," she winked.

When he turned towards his bedroom to do as she asked, Garcia watched the swagger that was gradually returning to his step as he walked away. That was a good sign, and if things continued to go her way tonight, he'd be even more sure of himself by the time she was finished with him. Making sure he was gone and couldn't see what she was up to, Penelope snuck over to where he had tossed his jacket, holster, and other work things, grabbed what she needed, and followed the path he'd taken moments before, ready to put her plan into action.

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Once Morgan reached the bedroom, he eagerly toed off his shoes and tossed them toward his closet, then crossed the room towards his dresser where the stereo sat and finally settled on starting some sultry r&b in the background. He heard Garcia enter the room behind him just as he had reached out to flick the lights before pulling his black T-shirt off over his head. Light was still coming in from the living room, so he knew she could see where she was going, but though he hated to admit it, even to himself, ever since his accident he wanted the lights out. Neither of them – especially her, he was sure, wanted to look at the scars that weren't ever going to fully fade running down his side, chest, and hip. He'd once been possibly even a little vain about how women seemed to react to his good looks, but now he knew he wasn't so breath-taking, at least not in the good way that he'd once been. Really, he was just trying to bypass her having to see them and pretend it was okay. He actually thought he had done a pretty good job of being inconspicuous about his change in preferences and had managed to keep her from sensing his insecurity.

He should have known better. Seconds after entering the room, Penelope was on him, kissing him ravenously, like a woman starving for food and suddenly finding a feast. Her hands lightly brushed his face before skimming his neck and coming to rest on his shoulders as she pushed him back towards the bed. His knees came in contact with the mattress forcefully enough to send him toppling backwards, sprawled on the bed with her on top, just as she had intended. She wriggled against him as she ordered him to lie back and stop talking when he spoke to try to slow her down. Excitement stirred in his stomach as she gave him orders, an unusual occurrence that should have been a warning to him that something was up, but instead only served to turn him on powerfully.

Penelope took one of his hands and pulled it towards her, lightly kissing the pulse point in his wrist before letting her lovely pink tongue flick out to lap at his skin, causing him to take in a sharp hiss of a breath and to worry that he wasn't going to be able to hold out if she kept this up.

But arousal quickly turned to surprised concern as he suddenly felt her pull his arm up to the bed's wooden post and felt the cool metal of his own handcuffs click securely closed around his wrist. He moved immediately to jerk the captured hand away from his headboard, but she'd been stealthier than he'd realized and the movement was only brought up short and ended in merely rattling the wooden headboard and alerting him that he wasn't going anywhere. "Pen, what the -?!" he started, only to have her confuse him even more when she slid away from him, stood, and crossed the room again to turn the lights back on.

"What are you doing? Turn the lights back off and get over here and finish what you started!" He would admit she had his heart pounding desperately, but it was suddenly more in panic than pleasure, which irritated him immensely as he rattled the handcuffs' chain again futilely, finding only that they were just as strong when used against him as they had always been when he'd used them in the line of duty. He didn't like feeling vulnerable and helpless; he knew it, she knew it, and it seemed that now that weakness was going to come back to bite him.

"Nope, my rules, Honey Buns, and I want them on," she said as she watched him testing the cuffs' strength. "I wanted to see you, and I knew you didn't want to let me, so that's why I used your handcuffs. You're just going to have to relax and accept it. Trust me, this will be good for you."

"Penelope…" he growled warningly, barely gritting the word out between his teeth. He was making a good show of anger, but in reality nervous beads of perspiration were dotting his forehead as he realized she was serious about this, she wasn't going to let him go, and she was coming back towards him. "You'd better watch out, Mama. I've still got one free hand," he warned.

"Oh, hush, Stud Muffin, would you just lie back and listen to me?" She crawled back onto the bed beside him, licking her lips hungrily as she took in the muscles straining in his neck and shoulders and the nervous way she could see a shudder ripple through his sculpted, rock-hard abs every so often. "You've been hiding your luscious, tempting self from me in the dark for quite a while now, and I've been letting it go; let you think you're getting away with it. But enough is enough. You have no reason to hide. And if I have to trap you this way to get a chance to prove it to you, well, obviously I will."

"Garcia, come on," he whispered hoarsely, giving up struggling and instead appealing to the sympathetic side of her nature, the false anger and blustering banter gone from his voice now and desperate appeal replacing it against his will, "…please…just…"

"Look at me," she ordered firmly, suddenly serious instead of gently teasing him, and taking his chin in her hands and forcing him to look at her face-to-face. "Look me right in the eyes, Derek."

He did as he was told, not having much choice but to do as she asked. To his surprise, what he saw in her gaze changed him all over again, warmed and reassured him from the inside out.

"Are you really looking? Do you see what I've been telling you for a year now? I love you, Derek Morgan. I love every part of you; your gorgeous, loving heart, your charm, your magnetism, the way you make me feel like no one else ever has. I love the laughlines that crinkle up around your eyes, I love your smile, I love your lips, I love your voice, I love your tattoos, and your arms, and every single inch of your beautiful chocolate skin. Do you understand me? Really? Because I mean it; there's nothing about you I would change. You're sexy and attractive and strong and honest and you're mine. You're perfect to me and you have to understand that. I can't bear to know you're looking at yourself so differently from how I see you…" Her musical voice stopped then, but she wasn't truly finished.

As Morgan reached out to muss his free hand into her blond hair and pull her in for a kiss, she returned it briefly, but then pulled away to stroke her hand lightly along his face and neck to his shoulder where there was a slight discoloration from the skin graft and burns that would always be there. Going slowly, letting her lips linger, she kissed that spot and whispered, "You're so beautiful, Derek. I love you."

Then she continued her journey down the more deeply scarred path of his side, placing soft, slow, lingering kisses over the roughly healed but now forever marked skin of his ribs all the way to his waist, where the jeans he was still wearing stopped her, repeating her words of love and adoration as she went. Her lips caressed, soothed, and how much she treasured even his scars in a way that words alone never could. Tears welled up silently in Morgan's eyes and he couldn't help that they eventually spilled over and trailed down one cheek. Finally, he understood what she had been trying to say to him for so long. She truly did still like to look at him, still found him handsome, and still wanted him. He didn't understand it, but he also finally shed the feeling of disgust for himself that he'd been carrying around and stopped fearing that she was secretly repulsed by the changes fire had wrought on his body as she willingly kissed the places he had feared the most. Just as he would find her beautiful no matter what; she had extended him the same grace without even thinking twice.

"Penelope," he whispered as she crawled back towards the head and cuddled her body up against his, leaning in to nuzzle her face into the crook of his neck. "I…I don't know what to say…"

"Just tell me you believe me. That understand…and you realize that you don't need to hide – not from me."

He let his eyes meet hers, connecting his soul and hers in the deep, intense gaze between them. Thinking back over all that had happened in the last year, all they'd been through and conquered together, and how she'd been right by his side all the way, he knew there was nothing he could do but believe that the strength of the two of them to overcome anything together would never change. It had been a long trial by fire, one nearly enough to break him. But when her by his side, he'd found the strength to press on. And now he had more in his life than he could have imagined possible. Pulling her even tighter to his side, Morgan held Penelope tight, holding her as though he would never let her go, then said the only thing he really could, "Thank you, Penelope, for everything. I love you too."