AN: I thought maybe we could use this after last night...I know I could!... Dawn was right...shipping is hard work!
"Do you have it all?" Derek called to Penelope. He was standing in his entryway, waiting to go to Sun 'n Suds, the new tanning booth/Laundromat combo in their area.
This seemed to be the nouveau chic thing in their area, a combination of two unlikely things that might draw patrons to both establishments. There was a beauty parlor/bar and a movie theater/restaurant. He could understand the appeal of those two—dinner and a movie combined, or drinking beer while getting a haircut sounded okay—but the tanning booth/Laundromat was another story.
What would be next? A funeral home/bowling alley?
"C'mon, Hot Stuff," Penelope insisted. "It'll be fun to see what it's like."
He arched his brow. "It's a Laundromat, baby. It ain't that thrilling."
"Please?" she asked, those pleading eyes of hers wearing at his heart. "It'll be fun spending Saturday with you. Pleeeeeeeease?"
"You'll get to see the women tanning in their bikinis..." she added in a sing song voice.
He chuckled. Really, he didn't care if he saw women in their bikinis. He was more interested in spending time with his best friend, but somewhere better than that. Still, he couldn't deny her with that look on her face.
"Okay, Garcia. I'm game."
That had earned him a squeal of delight and a huge hug. That was worth it. Besides, they wouldn't be there long. Garcia had said she had a lot of laundry and she hadn't been able to get to it lately, but how much laundry could one woman accumulate in a week and a half—
Watching her dragging a huge raspberry sack filled with laundry and kicking another abundant sack in front of her, he shook his head in dismay. The things were overflowing with colorful laundry, like massive sacks of Skittles throwing up.
"Holy crap," he said, trying to hide a chuckle. "That's really terrible."
"It's not that bad…"
"Really, really terrible."
"I haven't been home," she argued defensively, putting up her little chin.
He gave her the narrowed eyed look. "You could've done a few loads instead of going out with Lynch."
"I haven't gone out with Kevin in forever," she retorted, which surprised him a bit. "Besides, I would've accumulated this much in that time anyway."
He sighed and lifted the laden sacks easily. "Come on…"
"It's really quite simple: darks in one pile, lights in another, reds in yet another, and whites in another," she began to explain as they started sorting the laundry. "Permanent press goes here, delicates go here, cold water wash is here…and that's that."
He'd offered to help sort, but man, there was nothing simple about the way Garcia did laundry. He had brought in his standard issue Marine duffle full of clothes, made two piles—dark and light—and tossed them into waiting machines. His washers had been going for five minutes, and she was still explaining.
"Oh! Unless the white says do not bleach," she added passionately. "Then they go in this pile."
Derek chuckled and picked up a shirt, reading the tag. "What about this one? It's white, but it says cold water, and—"
"That goes in this special pile," she said, tucking the little pile of lace and silk closer to her. He watched her cheeks redden. "With my unmentionables."
Ah… her panties pile. Time to tease…"Sweetheart, if they're unmentionable, how come you just mentioned them?"
"I'd like to see these unmentionables," he continued, pretending to peer closer. "C'mon, let me see. I think some of them would definitely be worth mentioning."
"Nothing that exciting," she said, blushing even more brightly.
He arched a brow. "Lynch not into sexy drawers?"
"Derek, be nice."
"Okay, okay…" he said, planning to back off, but then he caught a glimpse of something familiar. He leaned over her dark pile, and snagged the item off the table.
Sure enough… his black boxer briefs.
He stared at them for only a moment, and then looked up into her wide eyed face. "Baby…what are these doing there?"
She stared at him guiltily, and then stuttered in answer, "You…ah…you… um l-left them at my place."
"Three months ago," he said, arching a brow. "I asked you for these back."
"I, um, just found them."
He could tell she was lying; there was no doubt about it. Penelope was a terrible liar. It didn't take a profiler to figure that out; she got this look like she was constipated and nauseous at the same time.
"Penelope… don't lie to me. You've had them this whole time."
Her face turned beet red, and she looked down in acute embarrassment.
Well, that was his answer. She'd had them, obviously, but why would they be in her laundry now? He looked at them…they were wrinkled, stretched somewhat, so someone had worn them.
A horrible thought went through his mind and he dropped them, quickly.
"Did you give them to Lynch to wear?" he asked. God, he'd have to bleach his hands and then boil them in lye water…
"No!" she cried, looking appalled. "Of course not."
"Then who wore them, P?" He held them up and shook them. "Because I know damn well, that is not how I left them."
She stared back at him, unable to speak. Her mouth opened, and shut, and then opened before she closed it finally and set her jaw.
"I hate those stupid boxers," she snapped, and started taking the piles they had sorted and stuffing them back into her bags.
"Baby Girl, what is—"
She continued muttering to herself, "I embarrassed myself ridiculously—twice now!—and for what? Because I can't get rid of a stupid dream."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, absolutely confused.
She looked like she was going to burst into tears, and then she sniffled and cried, "I'm going home!"
Quickly, as if on impulse, she yanked his boxers out of his hands, stuffed them in her bag, and then grabbed the heavy sack and began dragging it. He watched her head for the door.
"Penelope!" he called as she reached the sidewalk and continued to drag her bundle. "Stop!"
"No!" she said, wiping away tears with one hand. "Take your stupid boxers and go home."
"I got thirty minutes left on my machine."
She rolled her eyes and then kept walking.
"Baby, you left half your clothes there," he added, staying in step with her.
"I'll buy a new wardrobe!"
"Hey," he ordered, grabbing her arm and stopping her. "Enough nonsense. Stand right there and tell me what is going on."
She looked at him with her big, teary eyes and took a shuddering breath. "Kevin and I broke up…"
He gave her a sympathetic look. He felt terrible for her; she was his best friend and she was hurting. "I'm sorry, baby."
"…Over your boxers."
That gave him pause. "Can you explain a little?"
She sighed and dropped her bag, and then sat on the bus stop bench. There was a drunk on the other end in a filthy yellow jacket and a yellow foam cowboy hat; he looked the man in the "Curious George" stories, gone horribly wrong.
"Can I have a dollar?" he asked with a grin.
Penelope glanced at the man, but Derek turned her chin to him.
"Focus on me, honey," he said, and then let go of her chin.
"I wore those boxers," she said, hanging her head.
He figured that out, too. It only took a minute before he put two and two together. He was no Reid, but he was a decent mathematician. "Why?"
"I found them, D, the very next day after you'd spent the night," she said quickly. "Kevin actually found them. I explained to him what happened, and he believed me."
Derek bit back a sigh. He wondered if he would've been as understanding…
"Anyway, I decided to wash them and then return them to you right away." She looked up at him. "Then you were gone for two weeks on a case. I couldn't return them, and I really missed you." She sniffled, her eyes watering a bit, as she said honestly, "I don't hate those boxers, Derek."
He'd guessed that, considering she took them out of his hands.
"I missed you so much, and this is going to sound silly, but l saw them on my dresser, and they reminded me of you," she said.
He nodded for her to continue.
She swallowed hard. "I'd had another big fight with Kevin... I turned down his proposal... and I wanted to be closer to you, so I would feel better….so I put them on."
"Awww, honey," he said softly, cupping the side of her face in his hand.
She shook her head and pulled away. "The next day, Kevin showed up and he saw me in them. He was furious, accused me of some things, and told me we were done…for good this time."
Derek pulled her into his arms, her soft body melding to his. "He's an idiot. You can do better."
She pushed away immediately. "No, I can't."
"Of course you can."
"No," she said, shaking her head adamantly. "You even said he was a great guy."
He snorted. "I can be wrong once in a while."
"You weren't." She wiped at her cheek with her hand. "I threw away my relationship over your underwear, Derek."
"Baby, he's a fool," he said. "My drawers shouldn't have made that big of a deal to him."
She shook her head again. "No, he was right. I did choose your underwear over him."
"What else did he say?"
"I tried to explain that having part of you near me comforted me, because we were such good friends, but he didn't believe that." Her expression clouded over, and she swallowed again. "He said I wore them like a token, because I was in love with you."
Derek felt his heart pound heavily in his chest. So many impossible dreams over the years were about to come true.
"Was he right about that, too?"
Her eyes spilled over as she nodded.
"I'm sorry, D!" she interrupted, flying to her feet with a sob. "I know you…didn't ask for…this. You told…me…not to…drink that wine, and wish for better things, but I love you so much, and—"
That hit him as a surprise. "You were wishing for better things?"
"I should've given them back, but I…couldn't. I had that part of you, those stupid, wonderful, horrible underwear, and I… didn't want to let… them go," she said, still crying.
"Baby, shush," he said, tugging her into his arms. He held her chin and made her look at him. "Woman, will you please let me get a word in edgewise?"
She swallowed and nodded. Her nose was running, her eyes were red and swollen, and her skin was blotchy…but she'd never looked so beautiful to him.
"Angel, first things first," he said. "No matter where I go, no matter what I do, you always have a part of me…always." He picked up her hand and placed it on his chest. "You have my heart. You don't need my drawers to prove it."
"I know, but—"
He put his fingers on her lips. "Second of all, if you find them to be a great fashion statement, you can have all of my boxers. I am sure they look better on you."
She smiled through her tears. "No, they don't."
"Third, if you want me, I am all yours," he said softly.
She looked shocked. "But you said-"
He cupped her face in his hands and stroked away the tears. "I know what I said...I didn't mean it. I thought you were happy. I didn't know you wanted more."
"I wanted you," she answered honestly.
"I love you, too; I always have."
As he leaned down to kiss her, they heard clapping.
"That was... beauferul." The drunk was smiling over at them. He hiccupped and continued. "Can you spare a…dollar?"
"Sorry," Derek said honestly. "I need all my quarters for laundry."
He looked at Penelope. "How 'bout you?"
"I wish I could, but there's vagrancy laws, and I have to be law abiding. However I do have a nice pair of boxers for you, if you'd like them?" She winked at Derek. "I don't need them anymore."
The man grumbled and walked away.
Derek shook his head, grabbed the bag with one hand, and Penelope with the other. He kissed the top of her head. "Silly girl."
And they returned to the Laundromat.