Disclaimer: I don't own anything except the plot. Disclaimer applies to the whole story.
Chapter 1: Penelope
God, I was tired, I thought as I sat in front of my babies. Too bad the team was still out in South Dakota on the latest case. I knew that they were all just as tired—or more so, considering they'd been working non-stop for just over a week. Everyone had known last Thursday when we gathered in the conference room that this case would be a bad one. I took off my glasses and scrubbed at my face, remembering back to that day.
"Franklin, South Dakota. Located about sixty miles west of Sioux Falls, with a population of just under three thousand. Two boys, ages six and eight, have been kidnapped and murdered in the last six days. A third, Jimmy Townsend, went missing yesterday after school. He just turned six a month ago. The bodies were found by hikers this morning. They'd been brutally raped, beaten, and then strangled to death. Coroner puts the time of death about three days after each boy was taken. The local sheriff called and asked for our help."
JJ looked and sounded as horrified as I felt, even though I'd yet to force myself to look up at the pictures I knew she'd displayed on the screen on the wall.
There was silence for a moment, until Hotch cleared his throat. "I don't have to tell you that this will be a bad one, people. Grab your bags and take a few deep breaths. Wheels up in twenty minutes."
I grabbed my laptop and hurried out of the room, not wanting the others to see the tears already streaming down my face. I rushed into my office and closed the door quietly, setting the tablet down on my desk and burying my head in my arms, sobbing almost silently. I didn't say a word when I heard Derek's familiar quick knock on my door.
"Sweetness? Can I come in?" he asked as he opened my door. I knew he'd seen my shaking shoulders and heard my sobs when he shut the door, rushed over to me, and went down to his knees, spinning my chair around and wrapping his arms around me. "Oh, Baby Girl. I know. This is gonna be a bad one. I'm sorry you're gonna have to help. I can only hope that you don't have to do much."
I sniffled once, wrapping my arms around him as well. "I know, Hot Stuff. I'm worried about you and the rest of the team, too. It won't be nearly as hard for me as it will be for you. Are you ready to go?"
He kissed the top of my head once more, giving me a squeeze before standing up. "Bag's ready to be picked up on my way out the door. Just wanted to come in and say goodbye before heading out. Call if you need to talk, okay? Don't try to be a rock if you don't feel like it."
I nodded. "You call if you need anything. I mean, I know you'll call if the team needs anything, but Derek, if you need to talk, I'm here, okay?" I smiled to show how much I meant it.
He smiled the special smile that he only seemed to direct at me and nodded. "Will do, goddess. I'll talk to you soon, I'm sure. Be good," he said, smirking as he waved once and then closed my door behind him.
They'd been right. The case had been a miserable one for everyone. Poor little Jimmy's body had been found not too long after they had arrived, and the next day, seven-year-old Tanner Smith had been kidnapped on his way home from school. His body had been found the day before by some older kids on their way home. Then, just an hour ago, eight-year-old Seth Harris had been taken from his front yard when his mother ran inside to answer the phone. The team was frantic, knowing that Seth only had until Sunday to live—if they were lucky and the UNSUB didn't finish it faster with the pressure I knew the team was putting on him.
I hated this case. Every time I talked to Derek or another member of the team, they sounded more and more down. I was trying my hardest to stay positive, but even I, the team's eternal sunshine, was having a hard time keeping my head above water on this one. Luckily, with some information I'd given them, along with their brilliant profile, the team now knew who'd taken and killed the boys. It was only a matter of time before they caught him. The sick, twisted bastard was a deputy in the sheriff's department. He worked the early shift, which meant he was off duty when the boys were taken as well as when he dropped the bodies. With the kidnapping of Seth Harris, they had a fairly good idea of where the man was going, so I was waiting by the phone to hear word of rescue of young Seth and the capture of the murdering rapist.
I knew that after the case was wrapped up, everyone on the team would need to talk to their loved ones. A brilliant thought came to my mind, and I immediately picked up the phone. The first person I called was Derek's mother, Fran.
"Hello? Penelope, is that you? Are you and Derek all right?" By the end, she sounded almost frantic.
"Hi, Fran. I'm sorry! Yes, yes, we're okay. I didn't mean to scare you. Derek and the rest of them are away on a case at the moment. It's been a bad one, but they should hopefully have it wrapped up within a few hours. I wanted to do something to help take away some of the stress, so I'm calling someone important to each of them and asking if they would be able to call their person when I give them the word. I thought I would have everyone get a phone call at the same time just after taking off on the plane. That way they can get in a better place and might be able to rest on the ride home. Will you, and maybe Des and Sarah, be around to call Derek later tonight?" I finally took a deep breath. I'd been worried about getting it all out before breaking down, the need to find my own comfort weighing heavily on my shoulders.
"Oh, Penelope. It sounds like you need someone to talk to, as well." Fran's voice sounded concerned, and I smiled.
"I will, Fran. I'm sure I'll be the first place Derek comes after dropping off his bag at his desk when they get home. I'll be okay until then. But thank you," I said sincerely.
"Of course, sweetheart. Please know you can call me if you need to talk. I'm always here for my son's best friend and the woman I consider a daughter, even though we've never met in person. Now, I'll get Des and Sarah over here in a few minutes, and they can spend the evening here. We'll be here when you're ready for us."
I smiled. "Thanks, Fran. It'll mean a lot to Derek to talk to you. This case..." My voice trailed off, and I swallowed before speaking again. "It involved children, and you know those cases always hit Derek especially hard. This one's been rough."
"Oh dear," she whispered, the heartbreak and pain evident in her voice. "It'll be our pleasure. Call when you need us, Penelope."
I hung up the phone and opened the file with the numbers for the rest of people I needed to call. Within twenty minutes, I'd made four more phone calls and was staring into nothingness when my phone rang with the special ring I'd set for Derek's number.
"Tell me you got him and Seth is home safe and sound," I said, not even bothering with a hello.
In an exhausted-sounding voice, he said, "We got him, sweetness. He'll be heading to jail after he gets out of the hospital. He took three bullets before going down, but the doctors say he'll be fine in a few weeks. At least well enough to transfer to the jail infirmary until he's healed or sentenced to prison. As for Seth, his parents have already taken him home. He wasn't harmed at all, aside from being terrified, along with some bruises around his wrists and ankles from being tied up."
I let out the breath I'd unintentionally been holding. "Oh, thank God!" I frowned slightly. "Are you all okay? How are you, handsome? Are you okay?"
He sighed. "I am, Baby Girl. Just tired. We're cleaning up here and plan to be in the air in an hour or so. I'll call you from the plane before trying to get some sleep, just to let you know we're well on our way, okay?"
I smiled. "Good. That's good. I'll be here, sweet cheeks. Tell the family hello for me, and I'll see you all when you get home."
"I will. Later," he said, sounding better than he had when I'd first answered the phone.
Hanging up, I immediately made five phone calls, giving them the time to put my plan into action. Satisfied, I grabbed my cell phone and headed to the break room to get a fresh cup of coffee. It would be a while before they got home, and I wasn't budging from the BAU until then.