Disclaimer: I own nothing.
So we're at the final installment of this story. I really appreciate you sticking with me on this ride. This one was hard to write, but I managed to get it done. Thank you so much for your reviews, follows, and favorites! Check your inboxes soon for a new story starring our favorite duo, Hotch, and Prentiss :)
"I'm going to miss you so much," Elia said as she stood with Penelope in the airport while Derek checked the bags and Rossi and JJ got coffee.
It was the January after Derek retired from the FBI, and he and Penelope were embarking on their trip that was starting in Greece. Elia wouldn't see her parents for another six months, but to keep herself busy she would start attending Georgetown for the spring semester.
Penelope pulled her daughter into her arms and kissed her forehead. "I'll miss you, too," she said, hugging her daughter tightly. "Six months are gonna be too long."
Elia's lower lip trembled, and a burning sparked in the backs of her eyes. She may have known her mother for less than two years, but it felt like a whole lifetime with her. After her whole childhood and adolescence without Penelope, she never wanted to be away from her again, naïve as it sounded.
"You guys have to send me pictures…a lot of them!" Elia laughed half-heartedly to try and relieve some of her sadness. "Seriously, make sure you guys get some good ones."
Nodding, Penelope agreed. "Okay," she promised. "I'll get you some." She looked at Elia and wiped some of her daughter's tears. "We'll be back sooner than you think."
"I know," Elia mumbled. "I'll just miss you, that's all."
"Spend some time with Kyle," Penelope suggested. "You might finally get some real alone time now that your father won't be around to scare him." Averting her eyes, Elia grumbled something unintelligible. Penelope frowned. "What was that?"
"Kyle and I had a big fight last night," Elia admitted after a moment of silence. She shook her head. She didn't want to focus on her boyfriend when her parents were headed out of the country in less than two hours. "But that's not what I want to talk about. I —"
Penelope's frown cut her off. "Tell me what's going on," she urged, pulling Elia down so they were sitting on the nearest bench.
"Mom, I really don't want to —"
"Nuh uh," Penelope persisted. "You didn't think you could bring this up and I wouldn't ask about it, now did you?" She gave Elia a teasing smile, but when Elia didn't return it, she sighed. "Okay, what is it really?"
Elia shook her head. "We got into a stupid fight about school," she muttered reluctantly. "He wants us to get an apartment, I want to live in a dorm room." She rolled her eyes. "It's stupid, but give it a few days, and I'll figure out what to do to fix it."
"Sounds like you need a makeup ritual," Penelope observed, moving a lock of hair from her daughter's face.
Arching a brow, Elia shook her head. "What are you talking about?"
"A makeup ritual," Penelope reiterated. "You know? When you both apologize after a fight with a special tradition type thing." She arched a brow. "Do people not have those anymore?"
Elia shrugged. "I've got no idea. This is the first serious relationship I've ever been in." She arched a brow in an identical way to Penelope's. "Why? Do you and Dad have one? What is it?"
Penelope bit her lip and shook her head. "Uh…you really don't want to know, sweetheart," she said with a chuckle. She leaned forward and kissed Elia's forehead. "But find Kyle after we leave. Make up with him."
Before Elia could respond, Derek approached them, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He grinned brightly. "Hey girls," he said, putting his hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Talking about anything interesting?"
"Nothing for you to worry about," Penelope chirped. She squeezed Elia's hand before rising from her seat. She pecked Derek's lips and shook her head at his curious expression.
Elia rose to her feet as well as JJ and Rossi approached them, two carriers of coffee in their hands. JJ handed Derek and Penelope their coffees first, smiling at them "Your caffeine, amigos," she said. "Two percent lattes."
Penelope gratefully accepted the coffee and nodded. She moved close to her daughter again and linked their arms together. In that moment, Elia wished she had told her father she wanted to go. She knew her parents needed to do this on their own, but she knew their absence would leave a hole in her. Numbly, she took the cup of coffee JJ offered her, but she didn't bother to listen to what she was saying. Her body felt weighed down, and her ears were ringing.
This much attachment would be concerning to anyone who didn't understand the relationship she had with her mother and father.
Derek glanced at his watch and pursed his lips. "We should probably be heading to the gate," he said. "Security is gonna be a long line." He sipped his coffee briefly before setting the cup back in JJ's hands. He looked over at Elia and pulled her into his arms, giving her a tight bear hug. Her ribs felt crushed, but she didn't mind at the moment. It would be half a year before she could hug him again. "Love you, Baby Doll," he said, kissing the side of her head.
"I love you, too, Dad," she whispered, fighting the burning in her eyes once more.
He pulled back and looked towards Penelope, winking at her. Penelope nodded and shoved her coffee into Derek's hands. She wrapped Elia in her arms and held her even tighter than Derek did. Mother and daughter held one another for a long moment. "Have fun, Mom," Elia said, a few of her tears finally slipping out. "I love you."
Penelope nodded and moved back, cupping Elia's cheek. "I love you, too, Baby," she murmured. "We'll send you pictures of everything. I promise."
Elia nodded, reluctant to let her mother go. It felt like she was losing her again, even though she well knew she wasn't. Both her parents said goodbye to JJ and Rossi, hugging them quickly before starting off for the security gate. Before they disappeared, both of them turned and looked directly at Elia. Smiles covered their faces, and they waved.
Waving back, Elia watched as they faded from view. A hand was placed on her back, and she turned to look at JJ's comforting smile.
"They'll be back sooner than you think, bella," Rossi said, leading her and JJ back out the way they'd come in.
Elia wrapped her arms around herself and nodded blankly. Then she remembered her mother's words. Maybe she didn't have to be completely lonely while her parents were gone. Looking at JJ momentarily, her expression perked up. "Aunt JJ? Instead of dropping me off at home, can you take me to the Ace store on Broadmoor? I want to go see Kyle."
With bemused glances at one another, JJ and Rossi nodded. "Absolutely," she said. "We can do that."
As soon as JJ and Rossi dropped her off, giving her hugs before she got out of the car, Elia went inside the store, stomping her boots to rid herself of the snow. She glanced around the different aisles of hardware supplies. Down aisle eight, she found her boyfriend stocking a shelf, his expression bored as he put price tags on items. As she hurried down the hall, her wet boots squished on the floor, drawing Kyle's attention. Her mother's words rang in her ears, and she halted in front of him.
"Elia?" he asked, confused. "What're you —"
She didn't allow him to finish. Throwing her arms around his neck, she pressed her lips to his and kissed him deeply. Without hesitation, he returned the kiss, his price tag marker clattering to the ground as he wrapped his arms around him.
"What was that for?" he asked with a slight chuckle when they broke the kiss.
"It's the beginning of our makeup ritual," she declared.
"Our what?" He laughed, pecking her lips.
"It's something my mom told me about," Elia explained. "And we're going to have one now."
Kyle grinned. "Your mom is a cool lady," he remarked. "It's gonna be weird not seeing her for awhile."
Resting her head against Kyle's chest, Elia sighed. It really would be a long six months without Penelope and Derek, but all she had to do was remember they were always with her. They may not have been there physically, but as long as they were still in her head and her heart, she would be able to make it through just fine.
The sounds of gentle waves lapping against the rocks of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea filled Derek's ears as he and Penelope stood staring at the pink and orange sky. Both of them had their arms around one another, just the two of them looking at the setting sun.
Derek kissed the top of his wife's head and rubbed her upper arm with his thumb. A slight breeze rustled the skirt of her light and airy teal dress. Holding him tightly around the waist, Penelope murmured, "I can't believe we're here. We're doing everything I never thought I'd ever get to do."
"Well we're gonna do everything you want to do now," he promised. "We'll go wherever you want to from here."
Looking up at him, she smiled and cupped his cheek. "You ready to do this?" she asked.
Nodding, Derek kissed both her hands before pulling the box containing their rings out of his pocket. "I'm more than ready, Baby Girl," he said. He turned to face her and slid her ring onto her finger; it was a perfect fit. She did the same and slid his ring on his hand. Linking their fingers together, they looked at one another so deep that their eyes penetrated straight through one another.
"I'm taking you, my best friend, for the second time in our life," Derek said, thinking back to the vows he'd written with the help of Rossi before he and Penelope left DC. "I'm the person I am because of you, and every day with you and Elia have been the greatest days of my life. And no matter what happens to separate us, we will always find a way back to each other." Lifting her hand, he brought it up to his lips and kissed the spot he'd slid her ring on. Emotions flooded through him, and he fought the urge to pull her into his ams and kiss every ounce of life out of her.
Penelope blinked tears away that were swimming on the surface of her eyes, smiling the whole time. "Standing in front of you, I'm getting ready to make sure you know I love you as much as I did when you first called me Baby Girl. No amount of distance is ever going to keep me from you. I vow to fiercely love you, now and forever. I'm always going to be yours, just like you're always going to be mine."
Derek could see every piece and shard of her feelings for him shining through her words and her eyes. The light of the sun shone down on her face, bathing it in a soft orange glow that colored her face just the perfect shade of rosy pink.
Cupping her cheek in his hand, he leaned down so his lips were hovering over hers. "Do I get to kiss you now?" he whispered, his voice soft as rain droplets.
She arched a brow and gave him a "well, duh!" look before pulling him down by the collar of his shirt. Their lips crashed together, and he melted into her embrace, relishing the taste of her. Red wine sweetness and a sharp minty flavor that was uniquely Penelope filled his mouth, and there was nothing else that entered his mind. All around him was Penelope.
As they kissed, a snapping sounded from behind them, and they broke apart to look in the direction. A young couple stood behind them, the man holding a camera and snapping shots of them. The man held up his camera and spoke in broken English. "We do not mean to intrude," he said in a thick French accent. "You both — how you say? —are perfect in that shot."
Derek kissed the top of Penelope's head and nodded. "She sure is perfect," he murmured, holding her even tighter against his body. And I'm never letting her go again, he added to himself.
"How in the hell did we manage to get a full moon tonight?" Derek asked as he and Penelope sat in the cool sand of the private beach they were staying on. "We've got to be the luckiest people on the planet."
She snuggled against his bare chest, soaking in the warmth of his mocha skin. "Baby, it's the night before the full moon," she corrected. "I checked the calendar last night."
He shrugged. "Well it's still nice," he said, kissing the top of her head. They remained together in the sand, his fingers tracing indiscriminate patterns on her arms as they stared at the water. "You think Elia's doing okay?" he asked after a few moments of nothing but the sounds of lapping waves filling their ears.
"I know she's alright. I sent her a video message on that program on your laptop," she murmured, biting her lip. "I figured out exactly how to use it, but I can't remember what it's called. It's weird, but I'm finally getting back to figuring out some of this new technology."
"Well, you've always been a genius," he pointed out, smiling widely. He leaned around and kissed her cheek.
With a sad smile, Penelope leaned into Derek and stared upward at the sky. She soaked in the feeling of his skin that felt warmer and healthier than any sun ray. But even his body couldn't always keep her fears and nightmares at bay. Though she was moving forward every day, her past came after her still. It took being with her daughter and Derek to bring her back. And they did that each and every time she needed them.
Rising to her feet, Penelope winked at her husband and began sliding the straps of her dress down so that it pooled at her feet. She stood in nothing but her underwear, shaking the dress off her ankles. A melodic laugh bubbled from her lips, and she turned so she faced him head on. Her fingers fiddled with the clasps on her bra, and she slithered out of her panties, tossing them onto his lap while he stared at her in hunger.
"Damn, Baby," he growled, getting on his knees to kneel in front of her. He wrapped his arms around her hips and placed a kiss on her bare belly. "You're the sexiest woman on the planet, you know that?"
She ran her hands over his head and sighed happily. The light of the moon glinted off the band of her new wedding ring, and she smiled so wide her face began to hurt. "C'mon," she whispered, backing up towards the water. "Let's go swimming." She ignored the growl of annoyance from Derek and scampered off across the sand.
"You don't think we're too old to be skinny-dipping?" he called after her, teasing.
"It's our honey moon, Baby Boy," she cooed back, her feet at the water's edge. "No one's gonna say we can't have a little fun!"
Entering the warm water, Penelope let herself fall backwards into the waves. The water washed over her, and she closed her eyes, letting the sea clean away every horrible memory that dared to linger in her. As she stood up, Derek's strong arms wrapped around her from behind. The fuzz of his goatee tickled her neck, and she covered his hands with hers as they rested on her belly.
"I love you, you know that, right?" he murmured in her ear. His teeth nibbled at her earlobe. The gesture sent a tickle up her spine almost as much as the arousal pressing against her back.
She hummed low in her throat as she turned around, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I love you, too," she whispered, pressing her lips to the base of his throat. Her fingers traced the shape of his goatee, and a teasing smile sparked up on her face, illuminated by the light of the moon. "Even if you are going gray."
"Hey now!" he growled teasingly. "Better be careful…" His teeth nibbled at her bottom lip.
"Oh, yeah?" she purred. "Why?"
Derek grinned and kissed her deeply. "I'll get you back for that when you start going gray," he answer when he broke the kiss. "And —"
Penelope silenced him by pressing her lips to his. Their mouths danced together and he kept her in a crushing embrace so there was no room for separation. And she wouldn't have tolerated it. She didn't ever want to leave his arms again.
As they stumbled back up to the beach, tumbling against the sand in a tangle of arms and legs, she straddled his waist. They kissed on and on, making love beneath the moon that took up half the sky above them. Warmth flooded through Penelope, but instead of fleeing for fear of being torn away from Derek like it had done so many times before, it remained. There was no fear of a flashback, no sickening cold that threatened to rip her away. It was just her, him, and the connection between them, unthreatened.
Gone were her fears. She was still here after all this time, and she had her family to support her.
And that was all she needed to make sense of things.