Disclaimer: I own nothing.
So it was my good friend and beta-reader, CeeCee333's birthday earlier this week, and for her birthday present I wrote her this. I'm using Ingrid Michaelson's "Home" from her most recent album as the basis. Happy (belated) Birthday, CeeCee!
Even in the harshest winter I feel so warm
Even when the marks climb up the wall I still feel small
This is my home
"What time are you coming over to pick up Regina?" Penelope asked tersely, entering Derek's office with her arms crossed.
Derek looked up from his paperwork that he was scribbling away at and arched a brow. His energy was low, and his patience with his ex-girlfriend was wearing thin. Since they broke up a year ago, they were constantly at each others throats. She hated the amount of hours he worked when the BAU wasn't even out of town, he hated how she decided on going to a relationship counselor without saying a word to him about it.
His two biggest problems with the current state of their relationship, though, were the strain it was putting on their three year old and that he was still as in love with her as he was when they were first together.
"I'm not gonna be done 'til 6," he groused, looking back down at his paperwork. "Then I'm meeting the realtor — some new chick named Savannah — at that café down on Baldwin."
Huffing, Penelope narrowed her eyes at him. "You promised Gina you would spend time with her tonight!" she snapped. "You can meet with some realtor another time to find yourself a new bachelor pad." She growled the last words like she was spitting poison out of her mouth.
Rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, Derek leaned back in his chair and looked up at her with an annoyed expression. "Jesus, Garcia," he grunted, "don't lose your shit over this. Just bring her there, and I'll take her to the apartment after I'm done with this woman. I want to find a place that will be good for Gina, and the only time this woman could meet was tonight."
Penelope sighed. She rubbed her temples tiredly. "Please, just…just spend time with your daughter," she said. "We're working on this thing about us, but just because we're not…together…" She paused, and Derek saw as she swallowed hard. His face softened until she finished her sentence. "…doesn't mean you should be a stranger to her."
"I'm not a stranger to her," he growled through gritted teeth. "You really think that?"
Penelope looked at him sadly, a hint of pity entering her gaze. "No," she murmured. "But it could happen. That's what scares me. I want her to have a solid relationship with her father. I know that's what you want, too, but that's not going to happen if you keep doing this routine."
They stared at each other for a long moment, neither of them blinking. He couldn't find the words to tell her that she was wrong, that their daughter knew him just fine. There was so much animosity between them that he didn't know if she would even respond to him or his attempt to tell her that.
However, before he could change his mind about opening his mouth, she turned around and started for the door. "I'll bring her by at six thirty."
Then she was gone, the door closed behind her and only the scent of her spicy apple perfume in the air. He inhaled deeply, trying to savor that small bit of her that he still had connection to. Leaning back in his chair, his eyes flicked toward the family photo of the three of them he kept. He was forced to change the frame after they broke up. Reid noticed he was still keeping the picture there after three months of separation, and he didn't want any of the team members knowing he was still hung up on his ex-girlfriend to the point he was keeping pictures of them out even a year later.
After he changed the frame, no one said anything, and he was almost positive they were all believing him.
He sighed. Thank God no one knew what he kept in his desk drawer in a little red velvet box.
"Mama, who is Daddy with right now?" three year old Regina asked, holding Penelope's hand as they walked down the sidewalk towards the café Derek told them to meet him.
Penelope smiled down at her three year old and squeezed her hand. "He's meeting a lady who's going to help him find a new house, angel fish," she said. "Daddy wants to find one with a yard just for you." She winked. "And I think he hinted you'd be getting a very special present soon." Derek told her that he was planning on getting a puppy for Regina. Clooney was getting older, and he wasn't as wily as he used to be.
"I don't want a present," Regina protested, squaring her jaw in the same way Derek did when he got frustrated. She shook her head, her chocolate colored curls bouncing on her shoulders.
"Oh?" Penelope laughed. "I thought you always wanted presents," she teased, leaning down to hoist her daughter up into her arms. She kissed her little cheek, smiling when her very noticeable dimples crossed her face. "So what do you want if you don't want a present?"
Regina's face went serious, and for a moment Penelope swore she was looking at Derek. Though Gina had Penelope's physical features, she possessed an eerily perfect replication of Derek's facial expressions and eyebrow movements.
"I want you and Daddy to live together," she insisted. "All my friends' parents mommies and daddies live together." She leaned into Penelope's ear and added in a whisper, "And Daddy misses you." Regina spoke like it was the most kept secret in the world.
Penelope's heart stopped for a moment, and she felt the blood drain from her face. She stopped in front of the door to the café. Derek missed her? Was this her usually very perceptive daughter picking up on something that was barely visible, or was this merely a desire to be like other children?
She remembered well the day he found out she went to see a relationship counselor. Even though she still loved him with all her heart, she was desperate to find a way to fix their bond for the sake of not only their daughter, but for themselves as well. However, the moment he found out she went to speak with someone, he shut down. Penelope tried to tell him what she was really doing — trying to find a way to cope with their relationship problems — but to him it was a sign that she didn't believe they could work through it.
The fighting began immediately after he found out. Two months later, she made him leave, and he left gladly. His only concern was their daughter. Penelope was clearly not on his mind when he was pulling out of the driveway after kissing Regina goodbye.
Regina's voice broke through Penelope's daze. Her face snapped in Regina's direction, and she forced a smile. "Yeah, sweet girl?" she murmured, kissing her daughter's cheek.
Her daughter giggled. "I want hot chocolate," she said. "Daddy is in there, too!"
Nodding, Penelope set Regina down on her feet and took her hand once more. "Okay, sweetheart," she said with a half-hearted laugh. Somehow even her daughter's enthusiasm wasn't doing anything for her; she was still wrapped in the cocoon that Derek always seemed to hold her in when he consumed her thoughts.
They entered the café, hand in hand. Regina dropped her mother's hand to run and press her face to the glass of pastries and treats. Penelope smiled after her.
As she pulled her wallet out to pay, the sound of a very familiar deep laugh filled her ears. Turning around, Penelope looked in the direction where Derek's laugh had come from. Like he said he would be, he was sitting with the realtor who would be helping find him a new home. However, this realtor wasn't what she would have expected; this woman was what Penelope would have expected to see on the cover of Vogue.
The look on Derek's face was one of ease. Penelope used to see it on his face when they were together. There was a relaxed light in his eyes, one she hadn't seen in a long time. Her heart ached at seeing him like that with someone else. She couldn't stop it, the green flash of jealousy that tickled its way up her spine.
After a moment, his gaze was drawn from the realtor by Regina rushing towards him. He rose to his feet and picked their daughter up, a huge smile covering his face as he lifted her off her feet.
"Hey, there's my Baby Doll!" he cooed, kissing her cheek. He set her down on her feet and picked up a small cup from the table. Handing it over, he touched her little cheek and smiled tenderly. "Got you a hot chocolate."
Regina grinned up at him. "Thanks, Daddy!" she said. She turned around to point at her mother. "Mama was gonna buy me one, too…" Grinning wickedly, she batted her tiny eyes. "Does this mean I get two?"
Swallowing hard, Penelope finally approached the table and put her hands on Regina's shoulders. "Not a chance, angel girl," she murmured. She stared at Regina's chocolate curls, still trying to gain the courage to look up at the new realtor who Derek seemed to be getting along so well with. Once she had it, she met the other woman's eyes and faked a smile, hoping she looked like a goddamn Cupie doll.
"Hi there," Penelope said stiffly, sticking her hand out, despite it feeling like there was a ton of wet cement weighing her arm down. "Penelope."
The other woman smiled and stuck her own hand out. "Mrs. Morgan, so nice to meet you." She smiled radiantly. "I'm Savannah Hayes. I'll be helping you find you the perfect house."
Penelope, still avoiding eye contact with Derek, shook her head frantically. "Oh, no, no!" she exclaimed. "We're not married. We were never married, just together for a few years. This house he's looking for a bachelor pad." She could have slapped herself for going off with her motor mouth. And the way that the realtor was looking at her told her she completely right about her assumption; Savannah was looking at her like she was crazy.
Derek cleared his throat, and she looked over at him. He was watching her with one arched brow, and Regina on his lap. He didn't say a word.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that actually!" Savannah chirped, eyes flicking back toward Derek. There was a clear hint of hunger in her eyes, and it was clear she was one of those women always on the hunt. And now Derek was in her sights.
Predator had found the prey.
Penelope smiled tightly as the realization of what Savannah was talking about hit her like a kick to the gut. She nodded tightly and crossed her arms over her chest. "Alright, well…" She paused momentarily. Now she felt burning behind her eyes. "I'm going to go," she whispered, pushing the lump in her throat back down as far as it would go. Looking at her daughter, she squatted down as best she could in her hip-hugging pencil skirt.
"Go say goodbye to your mama," Derek said, kissing the top of his daughter's head.
Smiling, she opened her arms up for Regina to rush into. "I love you, sweet girl," she murmured in Regina's ear. "You have a good time with Daddy, okay?"
Regina grinned and gave Penelope an Eskimo kiss. "I love you, too, Mama," she said, returning to sit on Derek's lap.
She rubbed her thumb over Regina's cheek and rose from the ground. Her eyes met Derek's for the second and last time that afternoon. Coughing into her fist, she worked to find her voice again. "Make sure her pair of rain boots is at the apartment. I couldn't find them at home, and it's supposed to be stormy this whole week. I know she's only with you for the three day break, but —"
He cut her off. "I get it," he said, irritated.
Inhaling sharply, she nodded. Wow, she thought. He really wants me gone. It makes sense, though. He wants this realtor. He's looking at her the way he used to look at me.
"Oh, okay," she said. She turned to Savannah. "Nice…nice to meet." She swallowed hard.
Savannah grinned, her teeth nearly blinding Penelope's vision as if she were missing her glasses. "Oh, it was good to meet you, too." Her eyes flicked back to Derek, and she surveyed him up and down.
With one last lingering look at her daughter, Penelope turned around and started for the door. When she exited the building, her heart tried prompting her to turn around again. Her gut, though, forced her to keep walking. It would only pain her to see her daughter and the man who was still infecting her bloodstream becoming "friendly" with another woman.
As she walked down the sidewalk back towards her car, droplets fell down her cheeks. She was appalled. Wiping her face hurriedly, she wondered why she was crying. She and Derek weren't together anymore. They were coming up on their first year of separation. There was no earthly reason she should be crying.
Moments later, though, she felt droplets on the top of her head. The speed of them increased, and there was a crack of thunder that tore through her ear drums. Looking up, she sighed. Thank God it wasn't tears. The weather was beginning to match her mood, that was all.
Penelope rubbed her forehead and attempted to put everything behind her. She just needed to go home, open a bottle of wine, and solidify the feeling that all she was feeling with regard to Derek was loneliness.
Derek had found himself someone who he'd likely charm and date; maybe she should do the same.
"Daddy?" Regina asked as Derek was plopping down on the couch next to her. Tonight was their movie night, and the screen was lit up with the main menu of Beauty and the Beast. Outside the weather was raging. There had been few days of sunshine in the past three weeks. He was wondering if it would continue another week at the rate the storm was raging.
He set the bowl of popcorn on the couch between them and smiled. "Gina?" he quipped back, pressing the play button on the remote.
Regina sat up at looked directly at him, her eyebrows furrowing in the same way his own did. She crossed her arms over her chest impatiently. "Daddy, why don't you ever spend time with Mama?" she asked. "She said you were seeing Ms. Savannah again after you drop me off tomorrow. But I want you to hang out with Mama."
Derek sighed tiredly. He really wasn't interested in talking about Savannah Hayes with his daughter. It was just a casual dating relationship, despite the fact Savannah was throwing out clear hints that she wanted more than that. He just couldn't muster the energy to go on anymore than a few dates. That and he was carrying a ring around in his pocket that was meant for another woman.
"Honey, why do you want me to spend more time with Mama?" he asked, pausing the opening credits on the screen. "Mama and I haven't lived together since you were a lot younger. You can't even remember it."
His daughter rolled her eyes. "But you both keep pictures of each other in your rooms," she said.
He rubbed his forehead. "Baby, I think you're just thinking of something else," he said doubtfully. "I'm pretty sure your mama doesn't have pictures of me around."
"She does so!" Regina exclaimed, looking incredibly astonished her father would dare doubt her. "I've seen it! Mama has a picture of you holding me when I was born. You're smiling and everything!"
Derek stared down at his hands. That may have been true, but he was skeptical it meant anything. Penelope and he screamed and hollered at each other the night he left. They destroyed themselves that night as he slammed his way out the door, only a flicker of doubt that he was doing the right thing in the back of his mind. But as the months of separation passed, he realized he should have listened to that small feeling he'd felt.
He was miserable. He was miserable, and he had no one to turn to about it.
Leaning over, Derek kissed her forehead. "Oh, Baby Doll," he murmured. "I know you want your mama and daddy in the same place, but it isn't gonna happen." He grinned brightly, attempting to lighten the mood. Regina's lips were pouted, and he tweaked her nose. She smiled reluctantly. "But you know what? Both of us will always love you…even if we don't love each other." He said the last part with a heavy heart, weighing him down almost as low as the ring that he'd shoved in his pocket by mistake before picking up his daughter from Penelope's.
Regina frowned. "Do you love Mama?"
Derek was quiet for a long time. The DVD screen was off the opening credits of the movie and onto the blinking screen that appeared only when the movie was paused too long. He did love Penelope, always would. He had no idea how to apologize, and if he could find a way, he would do it in a heartbeat.
Problem was, he wasn't all that great at apologizing.
Regina tugged on his sleeve, shaking him out of his daze. He looked down at her and chuckled at her look of expectation. "Yeah," he murmured. "I do lo —"
Before he could finish though, all the lights went out, the room going black with the sound of the thunder crackling in the background.