Title: The Goddess of Small Things: Beauty in the Breakdown
Author: dannica webb
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Category: Drama, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort, UST
Spoilers: About Face, Identity
Summary: For once, this isn't about him. Post-ep for Identity.
Beauty in the Breakdown
When Dave returns from another ridge after another sniper shot – this time one that hit a guilty target – he doesn't go straight home. He sits at his desk and stares at his cell phone until everyone else has left, even Aaron, who dropped in to say goodnight and blessedly refrained from asking questions he wasn't yet prepared to answer.
He's a hypocrite and he knows it. For verbally skewering Aaron over keeping secrets from the team. For that flash of anger at Penelope when Morgan said he wouldn't give up finding out Dave's reason for coming back. Because for a moment, the thought that she might have betrayed him to Morgan did cross his mind.
It's hard to disentangle from the jealousy he sometimes feels at their closeness. And not just her closeness with Morgan, but with the rest of the team.
He drops his head in his hands. He hasn't wanted for the acceptance of another human being since he first joined the Bureau. He's an egocentric son of a bitch. He doesn't have room in his heart for anyone, as his ex-wives so eloquently described to the judge in all three of his divorces. He doesn't give a damn what the world thinks about him.
Except for them. Except for her. And he hates it, the weakness of dependence on another person's approval. He hates that he's almost envious.
It's not the envy, though, that leads him to get up from his chair and cross the bullpen to go down to Penelope's office. It's the way Reid looked haunted by the images she pulled off the tapes, and the strained note in her voice when it floated across the plane from where she was video chatting with Morgan on the way back.
He tells himself that if she's not in her office, if it looks like she's gone home for the night and everything's fine, he'll leave it alone. As it turns out, he doesn't have to wonder if he would have had the balls to look up her number or drive by her apartment, because there are the muffled sounds of crying filtering underneath her office door when he raises his hand to knock.
He can hear sniffling, as if she's trying to collect herself, before the knob turns a few moments later. "Derek, I told you to go home and get some sleep, I'm fine – " she starts before the door's even open. Then she looks up and sees him and her mouth drops open for a moment. "Sir. Did you need something?"
"You're not fine."
She looks up at him, perplexed, but something about the way he's looking at her or the feeling of his hand against her face when he reaches up to brush away the tears makes her lose it again. She starts to apologize but before she can get the words out of her mouth, he pulls her into his arms without thinking and lets one hand comb its way through her hair, which has come unpinned. The other cradles her back.
"You don't have to apologize," he whispers, anticipating her desire to close down as his chin rests on the top of her head. He can see over her shaking form the shadow of the tapes of torture on her desk, the victims' photos lying next to them in a small pile. Her computers appear to be off and the office is mostly dark.
The shaking lessens after several minutes and she twists out of his arms, peering up at him from under her lashes. "I'm sorry," she says again. "I don't...usually break down like this."
"It's natural." He pulls a handkerchief from the pocket of his dampened suit jacket and hands it to her.
She spares him a wan smile before blowing her nose loudly into the silk, then gives a nervous laugh when she's dried her eyes. "I'll wash it and bring it back tomorrow, promise."
His lips quirk up at her concern. "Have you eaten yet?"
She blinks and looks up again. "N – no." She stumbles over the syllable before continuing with a rueful shrug, "Not sure I could keep anything down anyway." She looks dispossessed but doesn't increase the space between him, suspended in the moment.
He has the sudden urge to kiss her but swallows it down. For once, this isn't about him. "Would you like me to drive you home?"
She shakes her head. "I have Esther." His puzzlement must show on his face because she smiles again, then adds, "My car – her name is Esther," as she steps back to grab her keys. "I'll be okay. Promise."
He opens his mouth to question her again but stops. It would probably be rude, and he's already well overstepped propriety with this woman. So he steps back against the wall to let her pass, then closes the door and waits for her to lock it. He escorts her as far as her car and carries the look on her face when she thanks him all the way home.
Normally after a case like this he wouldn't be able to close his eyes for hours, but tonight something about her smile has warmed him like a finger of scotch never could. He sleeps dreamlessly.