Author's Note: This story may be read as a standalone, but it is designed to follow the oneshot, "The Player". It will have three chapters and is the second in a series of five stories. I hope you enjoy it.
The Illusion of Happiness
She loved her beach house. Adored it, really. It was her Mecca. Her haven. Her escape pod from a harsh reality and a fleeting love she couldn't attain.
At least, it had been. Until now.
Because now, he was here. On her doorstep. With an overnight bag.
And he had that look.
The waves lapped gently against the sandy beach, and the soft splashing of water was soothing...calming, even. At least it would have been...should have been...if only he wasn't looking at her with those soulful, deep eyes.
His arrival had fallen on the cusp of sunrise...her favorite part of the day when she stayed here. The gentle yet insistent knock at her front door drew her in from the back deck just at that magical moment as the sun rose over the water.
She'd left him in DC last night, dancing happily in a bar with another nameless, faceless woman. Par for her course when she accompanied him for a hot evening on the old town. All her nights out ended in that way. Nothing unusual about it. Except, this time, the pain of the scene unfolding had been nearly unbearable...and she'd had a witness to her bitter turmoil in SSA David Rossi.
She'd glimpsed the fury in her older colleague's dark eyes when he'd offered her a pitying look. And she'd responded as she always had where Derek was concerned. She'd pasted a fake smile on her face and tried to feign happiness with the skill of a seasoned Broadway actress.
But Rossi, in his usual fey way, saw past the illusion she valiantly attempted to create. The lovable Rat Bastard had a knack for finding her weaknesses and using them against her. And she'd known by the set of his mouth alone that he'd grown tired of Derek Morgan's antics.
Between Derek's defection last night to one of his endless honeys and David Rossi's chilling insight into her psyche, she'd needed to flee. Escape was the only option when she was under the microscopic review of a seasoned profiler. And luckily, she'd already had her bag packed and gas tank filled. So, naturally, she and Esther had made a run for the proverbial border.
Her tears had dried on her cheeks by the time she'd arrived late last night, and she'd almost managed to convince herself, once again, that in matters of the heart, she was doomed to solitude. It was better that way. After all, if she never really allowed herself to reach for the distant stars, she never had to experience that crushing plummet back to Earth, right?
She had more than most women her age, didn't she? She had a satisfying career that allowed her to whoop criminal ass with technological wizardry and wonders. Her life was full with an adopted family, her wonderful godson, and her volunteer service. And finally, she had a best friend that she knew would do almost anything to ensure her happiness and her life. Wishing for the impossible devotion her heart desired was just downright greedy.
At least, that's what she'd been telling herself repetitively for years.
But, now, here he was, staring at her with unfamiliar eyes, his dark face serious and focused, looking at her like he'd never seen her in her life instead of a few short hours ago. Finally prying her usually loose tongue from the roof of her mouth, she stuttered, "D-Derek...what are you doing here? What happened?"
"We need to talk, Baby Girl," he answered softly, shifting his bag from hand to hand. "And evidently our discussion is long past due."
Forehead wrinkling in confusion, Penelope pulled her bright yellow terrycloth robe tighter around her. "Huh?" she grunted, still trying to make sense of his sudden appearance. Sure, he'd been here before. He was her best friend. But, prior to this morning, he'd always been an invited guest. He'd never just appeared out of the blue before.
Something was wrong, and she felt the first tingling of fear teasing the back of her mind at his sudden unannounced entrance into her tiny private corner of the universe. Blinking several times, she finally persuaded herself that, no, he wasn't just a fabricated figment of her wishful imagination. He was really there, big as life on her doorstep.
"Let me in, Princess," Morgan replied steadily, his shoulders tense as he waited not too patiently for her reply. "And I'll explain why I'm here, okay?"
Stepping aside slowly, Penelope nodded blankly as she watched him tiredly trudge into the small sitting area of the airy beach house. Following him inside the room, she dropped into her usual position beside him on the couch and took a good look at the man to her right. "Were you up all night, Handsome?" she asked, frowning as she noted the dark circles underneath his normally expressive eyes.
"Yeah, Sweetness, I was," Derek nodded, turning to stare at her, attempting to memorize this moment for eternity. How the hell had he missed for years something that Rossi had noted in an instant? How had he missed the most important thing in his life?
"Okay, Stud, you're starting to scare me over here? Did something happen last night?" Penelope shook her head as her eyebrows drew together. "It's six in the morning on a day that you didn't have to be out of bed until noon, if then. And, yet, here you are sitting in my little slice of heaven," she said, gesturing around the sunlit room. "AND you're being cryptic. You're not cryptic, my packin' profiler. You're blunt and in your face. So something's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong, Penelope," Derek denied softly, shifting his feet to press harder against the rag rug, the soft fabric shifting beneath his feet, much like his life had shifted over the past few hours.
"AND NOW you just used my given name! Who died?" Penelope yelped, panic rapidly climbing up her spine as she jerked forward, her body tensing in preparation for another crushing blow.
Author's Note 2: We have a couple of announcements for you all today. We're proud to announce that signups are open for the Fanfic Challenge - Round 4 on our forum, "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" or, as we like to call it, the "PYOP Challenge" (pick your own pairing challenge) through September 1st. For those interested, simply go to the forum to the PYOP Challenge thread and sign up with your favorite pairing. On September 2nd, we'll assign you a scenario to write provided by some of our lovely fellow authors. This will give everybody an opportunity to write what they love and provide readers with some awesome stories. Please sign up at the forum or shoot us a PM signifying your willingness to participate. So, please come join the fun and let's make this the most successful challenge yet!
We also have a wonderful new interview with the lovely Sarramaks. Please check out her interview and let her know your thoughts!
And, as always, thanks to everybody still reading, reviewing, alerting and favoriting our stories. We couldn't do this without your support!