Less than a Hero
Penelope Garcia stiffened at the husky voice from the doorway. She didn't need to look behind her to know who had spoken to her.
And what he was referring to.
"Yes," she answered tersely, spitting the word out. She jammed her laptop into its case with more force than necessary before turning to snatch up the assorted pens she had scattered across the workspace. Lisa had ducked out to use the bathroom before Penelope left.
She whirled suddenly, furious. "No! No, don't you sweetheart me, Derek!" She hissed the words through clenched teeth, knowing if she shouted she would start crying again. She was too tired to start another crying stint.
Derek Morgan hesitated in the doorway, his hands outstretched. He let them fall to his side after a moment.
She let her gaze slide over him, assess him, quickly. He looked as exhausted as she felt, maybe even more. The blue denim of his jeans were darkened with soot and smudged with grass stains, presumably from leaping from an exploding ambulance. His eyes were onyx pools of an unreadable emotion, the lines around them tight. He looked older than his thirty-three years.
She imagined the last few days had aged them all a good decade.
Leaning against the desk, Penelope rubbed her forehead where a headache had throbbed for the last four hours. "Dammit, Derek, why?"
"I had to get that bomb away from everyone."
"And taking the team and leaving through the front door wasn't an option?" She was angry again. No, furious. "It wasn't enough that Hotch almost died? You had to try for your own spot in the local cemetery?
She swiped at her eyes. Damn. She was crying again.
Derek took three steps to her, closing the distance between them. He rested his hands on her shoulders. "I had to do something." He stared down into her eyes, pleading for her to understand without words. "I couldn't just let that thing blow up and kill a bunch of innocent people and my team."
He slowly traced the trail blazed by her tears with his thumb, following it with his eyes.
Penelope lifted her hands and framed his face, leaning close until they were inches apart. "What about you? Losing you is not an acceptable substitute for a hundred people I don't know."
His lips curved into a thin smile. "I didn't die."
Her jaw clenched and she released him, stepping out of his hold. "No, you didn't," she replied icily. "Not this time, anyway." She stepped around him.
"I was teasing," he offered weakly.
"This isn't funny!" She braced her hands on the desk, trying to control her emotions, reign them in. "How … how do you think I would've felt if you had died?"
Nodding slowly, Derek placed a hand on the small of his back. "I knew I wasn't going to die."
She sagged visibly and turned back to face him, her expression helpless. "You didn't know that."
He lifted a single finger and pressed it to her lips. "Yes, I did. You know why?"
She waited, her eyes searching his. "Why?" she finally whispered, her voice breaking.
"Because there was no way in hell I was gonna leave you," he replied quietly, his tone resolved. He smiled again, softer this time, his eyes lighting up as they looked at her. "I can't leave you."
He took his finger off her lips and cupped the side of her face with his hand, marveling at the soft skin under it.
Unconsciously, Penelope leaned into his hold. "You mean it?"
"Of course I mean it, princess." He grinned now, a full-blown Derek smirk that left her heart racing.
She nodded slowly. "Don't make a habit of it."
"I'll do my best."
It wasn't the promise she had wanted, nor the assurance her psyche craved, but she accepted it. Expected it. Derek Morgan wasn't a man who sat on the sidelines and watched as the world fell apart at his feet. He would always fix it, or die trying.
She had fallen in love with a hero. He couldn't deny who he was, and neither would she.