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He thought he was the consummate player.
It was there in the confident way he held himself as he'd spoken to the exotic mocha skinned bartender, shoulders squared back and chest puffed out. It was in the slow swagger as he retraced his steps across the bar, pausing every few feet to chat up one beauty or another. It was in the just-this-side of arrogant tilt to his chin as he sized up the competition prowling around him.
And with a shake of his graying head, David Rossi smiled grimly. The one all-important truth that Derek Morgan didn't realize was that this life...drinking cheap beer in smoky dive bars...was going to eventually grow old. And by the time that comprehension dawned on the steadfast Lothario, the bright ray of sunlight that currently sat across from him, toying with the paper umbrella perched above the ice in her glass, was going to be gone.
Watching as Morgan easily slipped his arm around a faceless body, Dave could almost feel the tension crackle around Penelope Garcia. Shooting her a sympathetic look, he returned the smile she forced to her stiff lips.
"Well, Agent Tall, Dark and Deadly," she said, her strained chipper voice announced over the music as she reached for her purse, "I think I'm outtie. Adios to all my amigos and amigas."
"Garcia," Dave rumbled, reaching out to touch her arm as she scooted hastily out of the vinyl booth, "You want me to drive you home, Kitten?"
"No need, captain," she winked with a smart salute, her fake smile not reaching her eyes. "Esther's in the parking lot, gassed and ready. I'm beach bound tomorrow. I'm blowing this popsicle stand and seeking out the sunshine," she told him brightly, purposely avoiding looking toward Morgan's gyrations with the young redhead on the dance floor. "Keep an eye on my piece of chocolate candy, okay?" she said, jerking her head toward the center of the bar without actually looking. "I'd hate for him to melt. Make sure he gets home. Please?" Garcia whispered, trying not to choke up as she abruptly dropped her gaze from Dave's all-seeing eyes.
She wasn't quick enough though. He'd already seen the thin sheen of moisture shining in the bar's dim light. "I'll get his ass taken care of, Garcia. You just drive safe, okay, honey?"
"Will do," Garcia nodded, casting one quick glance over her shoulder and wincing as she watched Derek nuzzle his dance partner's neck. Quickly, she grabbed her keys and coat and with a last, parting smile at Rossi was gone.
Disgusted, Dave turned his eyes back to the dance floor as the slow love ballad finally ended and Morgan and his flavor of the moment parted company. Pursing his lips as Morgan ambled back toward their table, Dave shook his head at the younger man.
Eyebrows furrowing, Morgan looked around the almost empty table. "Where's Baby Girl?" he asked, eyes narrowing.
Frowning up at Derek, Rossi focused a patented glare on the seemingly ignorant fool in front of him. "Well," Dave drawled, leaning back against the vinyl, "I guess she got tired of watching the live sex show you had goin' on out there," Rossi commented, nodding toward the now empty dance floor.
"C'mon, Rossi," Derek grinned with a quick shake of his bald head, his teeth gleaming, "It's not like that between me and Mama, Man."
"For you, Derek," Rossi countered sternly with an intense stare at the younger man. "It's not like that...for you."
"Wh-...Nuh uh," Morgan said slowly, shaking his head furiously as he dropped his long neck bottle on the scarred wooden table between them. "Garcia and I are friends, Rossi. That's all," Derek insisted, sliding his large body into the booth across from Dave.
"You really are an idiot," Dave grunted, taking a swig of the top-shelf scotch in his glass. Motioning for the cute waitress with a crooked finger, Dave waved his empty glass in the air. Waiting until he'd seen her smiling nod, Rossi turned his attention back to the clueless man he sat with.
"Why the hell would you say that, Rossi?" Morgan growled impatiently. "Did Garcia say something? If she's upset with me about something, then I need to..."
"Derek," Dave ordered, holding up a hand to forestall any further words, "Shut up and listen to somebody that knows what the hell he's talking about."
Taking a pull of his beer before clasping it tightly between his hands, he nodded to Dave. "Hit me. I'm listening, Rossi."
"You want it straight? No frills?" Dave asked, settling back against the leather padded booth as he cocked his head at the confirmed bachelor sitting in front of him.
"Yeah," Morgan nodded, his fingers sliding against the label on the sweating bottle. "I guess I do."
"Fair enough," Rossi replied tersely, meeting Derek's eyes. "A piece of advice from me to you, my friend. You keep on fucking around and you're gonna let the best thing you never thought you wanted slip right out of your grasp."
"Rossi, I'm lost, man!" Derek groaned, running a hand over his face as he attempted to understand the cryptic words.
"Obviously," Dave muttered, his frown deepening. "I'm talking about that beautiful young lady that just left here with her heart in her eyes," Dave explained, thumbing toward the door. "I'm talking about Garcia."
"Look, Rossi, I don't know what you think you're seeing, but I think you need your vision checked," Derek huffed, his dark cheeks reddening slightly under Dave's silent scrutiny. "Penelope is my best friend."
"Are you saying that you don't love her?" Dave asked with narrowed eyes, sliding in easily for the kill shot.
Catching the glint in the older man's dark eyes, Morgan shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes dropping guiltily to the table.
"Look, son, you might be a player, but I invented the game," Dave said grimly, fingering his scotch glass. "And I'm here to tell you, there ain't any winners in it. You'll lose every time. It just takes a while to realize it. This," he said, gesturing around the bar, "will all get old in a few years. And when it does, she'll be gone, Derek. Forever."
Morgan didn't have to be a profiler to know that the elder man was speaking from hard learned experience. Decades-old pain shadowed his eyes as he spoke. And there was something haunting in his tone...a lost, achy thread in the deep timbre of his voice. And, Derek Morgan was man enough to admit that it scared the shit out of him. "I'm not good enough for her, Rossi," Morgan confided quietly, ashamed of himself. Ashamed of his actions. Or his inactions.
"Then learn to be good enough. Else, my friend," Rossi said wryly, raising the glass the waitress had dropped off seconds before to him in a dark toast, "I am your future."
And with those words hanging in the air between them, Morgan shivered, the other man's words rocking him to his core. Was he willing to gamble his future on the ease of the present?
Perhaps, he needed to make that road trip to the beach with his Baby Girl after all.