"Alright alright I'm coming." Penelope grumbled exasperatedly as the incessant knocking on her door continued regardless how hard she tried to ignore it.
"What?" she said frustrated as she opened the door without checking who it was. Derek cringed seeing the annoyance all over her face.
"Sorry" he said somewhat sheepishly. Penelope's countenance didn't soften at the sight of him, if anything her body language screamed that she was not at all impressed that he was standing at her door.
"What can I do for you today Agent Morgan?" she asked evenly as Derek dropped his gaze,
"I guess I deserved that." He muttered to himself.
It had been months since he had been appointed Temporary Unit Chief of the BAU. It had been months of 'Garcia' and 'Sir' after he had clearly drawn the line of professionalism between them. It had been equally long since they have had any exchange outside work. Derek hung his head, knowing that their friendship was fractured and he was in large part if not solely to blame. As she stood there awaiting his answer she couldn't help but wonder who was the man that stood before her, as she no longer recognised him. A man she once knew so well that no words ever needed to be spoken. A man so in tuned with her that not only did he know her moves before she made them, but understood the reasons behind them.
"I just wanted to see you." A look of disbelief crossed her face before she could reign them in.
"Can I come in?" he asked as she stood there assessing her next move. Penelope let out a deep sigh before standing back to make way for him to enter.
"No tree?" Derek observed. Penelope who was always the first to have her tree and decorations up, whose Christmas shopping was done by Thanksgiving, who played Christmas Carols the moment December first came around had uncharacteristically displayed not an once of Christmas cheer that she was so well known for. Derek watched as she merely shrugged her shoulders without answering. As he tried to read her, it saddened him to realise he couldn't. He couldn't see past the walls she was hiding behind, walls that never existed between them before.
A lot had changed in the last few months, and Hayley's death only widened the growing distance between the team that was once was a family. Losing Hayley the way they did haunted each of them differently, and as they tried to deal with that and keep it together, they had stopped relying on each other. He knew the Hotch turned to Emily and Rossi. That the three of them had definitively bonded as a trio. JJ poured what little time she had on to Henry and Will only separating from them when it was absolutely necessary. Reid was spending what free time he had going back and forth visiting his mother. While he had Tamara, a breath of fresh air he needed and allowed him to pretend that he had a life outside the BAU. Leaving Penelope alone. It made him realise right then and there that the one person Penelope always had, was him and he hadn't been there. His eyes met hers in a silent plea begging for forgiveness at the realisation.
The last few months had been the hardest for Penelope, and though she had never truly felt like part of the team, she always had Derek who was her link to that family unit she once so cherished, and with him gone, it only confirmed that her place was growing obsolete and non existent. Coming home that night after what Foyet had done almost killed her. She walked into her darkened and empty apartment, sunk into her bed and began to weep for what seemed like days.
As they resumed work as usual Penelope did her outmost to project outwardly was she so inwardly could not feel, she had them fooled, and it wasn't hard. Everyone was still lost on their own guilt and demons that they rarely saw passed themselves.
"So now that you've seen me, now what?" she asked not giving him a inch.
"How are you?" he inquired somewhat lamely.
"Fabulous. Was that all?" she replied.
"Let's not." She interrupted not letting him continue.
"Let's not pretend we're friends. Do not insult my intelligence by providing me with lame excuses and platitudes." Derek was taken aback not by the harshness of her tone, but her resolve that she truly did not expect anything from him, least of all his friendship. Penelope walked over to her door and opened.
"I'm not quite sure what inspired you to remember that I existed, but you're a little late. So, dare I say had I meant anything to you, please respect my wishes and get out."
"Please Derek, there's nothing to say. Just go." He searched her eyes for a glimpse of his friend Penelope and dropped his gaze in realisation that she wasn't there. That she had been cast aside so much in the last few months that she had permanently hidden from the world so that no one could hurt her. Derek could only nod and hang his head in sorrow. As he passed her he placed a hand on her arm. Penelope stiffened at his touch. As she shut the door behind him she wrapped her arms around herself as the tears began to flow from her eyes uncontrollably. Derek stood on the other side of the door listening as she tried contain her sobbing. It broke his heart to know that he had played a major part in breaking hers.
"Derek, don't tell me we have another case." Emily grumbled as she picked up the phone.
"No, something more important can you please meet me in the break room in half an hour. If you're with Hotch and Rossi can you bring them too? It'll save me the call. I have to call Spence and JJ."
"Sure Morgan, we'll be right there." Emily, Dave and Hotch we're sitting around in her apartment. Jack was with Jessica at the mall so Hotch had gravitated to Em's place that morning and when Dave called him later on, they had extended the invitation to join them. Every single one of them were curious as to why Derek was calling them to the office on their supposed day off.
"Is this going to take long? I've had to leave Will and Henry at the mall. We've just taken a photo with Santa and we were going to finish up the Christmas Shopping."
"Yeah, we were just getting comfortable before you called." Rossi added.
"I wouldn't have called you if I didn't think it was important. Something tells me that I don't need to ask this question, but I'll ask anyway. Have any of you spoken to Garcia lately?"
"Yeah, yesterday." JJ replied automatically,
"I mean other than case related issues, have any of you spent any time with her? Or even talked to her?" The room fell silent as they all racked their brains. JJ and Emily gasped realising that they hadn't. Reid, Rossi and Hotch also shook their heads no. Hotch had noticed after his first case back on the job after Hayley and Jack went into Witness Protection Penelope had steered clear off him. He had thought about apologising to her after he had yelled at her but he never got the chance to.
"It's not just you, me too." Derek admitted ashamed.
"I think with everything that's going on, and all of us going our own ways, she's shut down. I was just there and she literally threw me out. No I'm sorry's is going to make this up to her." The other five faces mirrored his in regret and guilt. Penelope was the first person to drop anything for any of them, the first to be on hand when anyone needed a hug or a shoulder to cry on. She was fiercely loyal to a fault, and at the time where she would have needed them the most, they had left her behind as they licked their own wounds
"Do you have any ideas?" Hotch asked clearing his throat before speaking.
"I honestly don't know Hotch.
"I think I may have one. Let me call Will."
Penelope had taken a shower and gotten out of her pyjamas. She had cried herself to a point of dehydration and she was exhausted. She slipped on her favourite pair of jeans and her Mafalda T-Shirt and sank into her couch with a book. She glanced at her hallway closet and considered taking some of the Christmas decorations out to hang around her apartment but just shook her head turning her attention back to her book. She did not feel the Christmas season at all. The only thing festive evident in her apartment was a dancing snowman that her friend's Mac and Stella had sent along with their Christmas presents that remained unopened. She considered taking up their offer to head on up to New York to spend Christmas with them as there certainly wasn't anything keeping her in Virginia. The more she thought about it, the more inviting it became. She wasn't working during the holidays, with everything that happened with Foyet, Strauss had given them Christmas and New Year off. She was about to grab her phone to call Mac when she head a light tapping on her door. She groaned hoping it wasn't Derek again.
"Aunt P, it's me Jack. Henry and I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. Can you please open the door?" Little Jack Hotchner said sweetly on the other side of the door. Confused as to why Jack and Henry would be there she rolled her eyes as she got up deducing that Morgan had sent out the alarm bells.
"That's just playing dirty." She grumbled beneath her breath. Placing a fake smile on her face she opened the door to see one Jack Hotchner carefully holding her Godson Henry in his arms. Immediately her heart melted at the sight of them
"Oh hey my little men." She greeted rewarding them with a genuine Aunt P smile and a hug.
"Merry Christmas Aunt P."
"Merry Christmas honey. Where are the big people that you belong to?" Penelope asked knowing that there was no way that they would be there on their own.
"They said that Henry and I had to soften you up first before they can show their face."
"Is that so?" Jack handed Henry over to her as she dropped a kiss on his head and Henry's. Within seconds the rest of them appeared. Hotch, Derek, Will and Rossi were carrying the largest Christmas tree she'd ever seen, while Reid had an armful of bags filled with decorations, Emily and JJ were carrying groceries, ready to invade her kitchen to prepare a feast.
"A Christmas tree doesn't make up for it, but we're hoping it's a start. We're really sorry Penelope. We're sorry that in the midst of all our dramas we forgot the most important thing and that's we're a family. This team isn't just a team, it's a family and we're sorry that it took hurting you to realise how important this family unit is, to all of us. You need to know that you're a part of this family, and integral part and despite how we may have been acting you mean a lot to each of us." Hotch said sincerely.
"So if you would let us, we would like to start new traditions and set up your Christmas tree together, as a family." Derek added.
"Please Aunt P." Jack begged,
"And how can I say no to that face?" She said cupping Jack's face affectionately in her hand.
"Come on in." she relented ushering the rest of them in. She watched as the boys set up the tree in the corner, Emily and JJ dropped the groceries on her kitchen bench while Reid laid out the decorations on her coffee table. The adults could see that Penelope wasn't ready to thaw that had there been no Jack and Henry at the door, they would have received the same reception Morgan did.
"Aunt P, can we bake Christmas cookies?" Jack asked excitedly bouncing beside her as he swung her hand back and forth.
"Sure Sweetheart, why don't you wash your hands while I hand Henry back to his Mommy and we can get set up okay?" Jack nodded and made a bee line for Penelope's bathroom. She had babysat him a number of times before and he was well acquainted with her apartment.
"Listen you guys, I really appreciate the sentiment, but you don't need to do all this." Penelope said as soon as Jack was out of ear shot. Six determined faces told her that they were not budging,
"Pen," JJ said placing a hand on her arm,
"I'm really sorry."
"It's okay. You all have your own families, you can't apologise for that."
"No, what we're apologising for is that we've managed to give you the impression that you don't belong in this family. We've all forgotten what we mean to each other, and how important our roles are in each other's lives. You guys are my best friend's in the world, all of you. Including you Penelope Garcia, without you I would not have survived those first few weeks at the BAU." Emily said walking over to Penelope.
"How did we get here?" Derek asked out loud.
"It's been a hard few months, and we've tried so hard to keep it together that we've lost each other." Dave answered sadly looking at how much damage was weathered.
"Well it stops here." Hotch said determinedly.
"We have lasted in this job for as long as we have because of who we are as a Unit. Of how we work together, of how we take care of each other, of what we mean to each other. Each of us is integral to how this Unit and family work. I know that without each of you I would not have survived the last six months."
"It's what families are for." JJ said.
"READY Aunt P!" Jack said squealing as he came out of her bathroom
"Well I guess we better get started. Your Dad and Uncles can start with the tree. Aunt Emmy and Aunt JJ can help with the decorations and you and I can get started on the cookies while I check out what we can have for dinner." Hotch, Dave, Derek, Will, Spence, Emily and JJ grinned at each other knowing that it was Penelope's way of absolving them.
As Jack was busily cutting out the cookies with his Christmas Themed cutters Derek slipped into the kitchen while Penelope was deciding on what to make for dinner.
"Can I help P?" Penelope looked up from the recipe book she had in front of her,
"Sure. You can help Jackers put his cookies in the oven. Jack honey are you almost done?"
"Almost, come look."
"You've done a great job kiddo. Uncle Derek is going to help you with putting it in the oven okay."
"Okay," Without any thought or warning, Derek pulled Penelope into a hug. Caught unaware Penelope looked up at him surprised. Derek ignored her bewildered look and tightened his arms around her as he dropped his head on her shoulder,
"I'm sorry I screwed up P. You're my best friend and I don't want to lose you." He murmured softly in her ear. He felt her finally relax into his embrace.
"Forgive me?" he pleaded as he met her gaze,
"I suppose so. It is Christmas after all." She answered half teasingly as he grinned at her. He brought his lips to her forehead and gave her another squeeze before releasing her.