Title: Mend What’s Broken
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Characters: Penelope Garcia, others
Genre: mostly gen (hints of future relationship)
Prompt: Penelope Garcia
Word Count: 2,000
Summary: Penelope helps a stranger. It stirs up some dark memories.
Warnings: No beta
– – – –
Penelope was off, and even though she knew it, there wasn’t anything she could do about it. She’d gotten herself rattled this morning, and as much as she was putting up a front like everything was okay, she was just off.
It wasn’t as if she wanted people to be dying—not even a little bit—by why did the team have to be in town when she was so obviously off? Derek had been by twice giving her concerned looks and trying to prod the truth out of her, but she wasn’t getting into it with him. Of all people, not with Derek. He was one of her favorite people, but this discussion wasn’t happening.
Reid had been by, too, but he was much easier to deflect than Derek. And she’d managed to fob off JJ just a few minutes ago. Trying to force it all out of her mind, she immersed herself in trying to better refine search algorithms and forget about her near panic attack this morning.
When there was a tap at her door, she turned just in time for JJ and Emily to enter, closing the door ominously behind them. Oh, she was doomed. Because they had on their resolve faces.
“Okay, Garcia, what’s going on?” JJ asked.
“If I tell you, it has to stay between us,” she replied immediately, not wanting to revisit this over and over.
“It’s not about work, right?” Emily clarified.
“No! Oh, god, no. I’d never ask you to keep something that could compromise the work a secret.”
“Then your secret is safe with me,” Emily promised.
“Me, too,” JJ added.
Penelope huffed out a breath and stuck her favorite pen behind her ear. “I’ve been thinking about dating again.”
The ladies exchanged a perplexed look, but JJ simply said, “Well, that makes sense. You and Kevin broke up a few months ago. Is there someone you have in mind?”
She felt her heart start to race just thinking about this morning. “No. Well, yes, but… no. Not really”
“Clear as mud,” Emily said without any bite.
“There was a guy I’ve never seen before at my coffee shop the last couple of days.”
Both of the other ladies immediately tensed at a memory of another story that began exactly that way.
“I know! And it was eerily the same! He was superhot and sitting there banging away on a laptop. This morning, he was obviously having problems, and I stopped and asked if he needed help.”
“You did?” they said in unison.
“Yes!” she forced herself to take a breath. “I never wanted the shooting to define me, you know? I don’t want to be a different person because of what happened. Besides, it was four years ago!”
“What happened?” Emily prompted.
“He was grateful and sweet and flirted with me. And I just got this horrible feeling of déjà vu—the coffee shop, the computer problems… the guy even has similar build and coloring to Deputy Battle, and I started to feel sick. Then I just started to panic.”
“Oh, Garcia,” Emily said softly. “What did you do?”
“I wasn’t going to have a meltdown in front of some stranger, so I turned and left. He was mid-sentence, and I don’t even know what he was saying, and I just… left. I even abandoned my tea sitting there on the table.”
JJ moved closer and curled an arm around her shoulders. “You know it’s okay, right? You don’t owe some random guy in a coffee shop anything.”
“I know, and it’s not even about him. It’s been more than four years! Why is this bothering me?”
Emily got right in front of her. “Hey. Someone tried to kill you, seriously hurting you in the process. There is no expiration date on that pain. So take a deep breath and deal with how you feel, and don’t think about that guy. He doesn’t matter.”
Penelope took that in and let it rattle around in her head for a few moments.
JJ nudged her shoulder. “You got hurt and immediately met Kevin. You two hit it off, and you’ve never had to deal with the anxiety around meeting prospective partners again. Now you’re single again, but even though it’s been four years, you’re really dealing with this for the first time. So give yourself some space, okay?”
That was a really good point. She could work with that. It was something she could file away and build on.
They talked for a few minutes, and, by the end, she wasn’t feeling quite so off kilter. A couple days later, Derek managed to pry the truth out of her. She made him buy her dinner as recompense for not letting it go.
– – – –
A perfunctory tap at her door pulled her attention away from her screen, but by the time she turned around, Hotch was already standing in her doorway. He was frowning but that was pretty much his usual expression.
“Greetings, fearless leader, how may the Oracle help you today?” Her team had had back to back bad cases the last few weeks, and they were all finally home for some downtime. She hoped they hadn’t already caught another bad case. Although, new cases should have come through her.
“Have you been doing any work that I don’t know about?”
She blinked and it took her several seconds to manage to reply, “No, sir. Even if I were given something to work on that I couldn’t tell you about, I’d still tell you that I was working on something I couldn’t tell you about.” Okay, that was convoluted, but Hotchner had better have learned to speak Garcia by now.
“Why is a Special Agent in Charge from Homeland Security here to see you?”
“I… what?” she asked, utterly stupefied.
“He’s one of DHS’s reps on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And he signed in to see you. With his credentials and clearance, security couldn’t keep him downstairs, but Dave is occupying him while I ostensibly came to retrieve you.”
“Did he say why he wanted to speak to me?” She had no idea why Homeland Security would want to talk to her directly. They had some amazing computer experts at DHS, and even if they needed her skills, the request would never come to her personally. Getting to her feet, she shook off the confusion and found her composure. “I guess I better talk to him.”
Hotch inclined his head and held the door open. “We’ll stay with you.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, mind whirling.
A minute later, she turned the corner into the hallway where the BAU Team 4 bullpen was located behind the heavy glass doors. She spotted Rossi talking to a tall man whose back was to her. Rossi was keeping the man outside the bullpen and near the elevators. Presumably this was the DHS Special Agent in Charge. She noted that he was tall, maybe 6’2, had broad shoulders, a trim waist, and short light-brown hair. He filled out his grey, obviously-designer suit really nicely.
“Here she is now,” Rossi said as they approached. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind filling us all in? We can take this to a conference room if it’s confidential.”
The man turned around, and Penelope froze in place, staring at a face she hadn’t been able to get out of her mind the last couple weeks. “You,” she whispered, garnering looks from Rossi and Hotch.
The man smiled, and it lit up his face, making him even better looking. “It’s good to be remembered.”
“You know each other, I take it?” Hotch said dryly.
“Not exactly,” the DHS agent replied. “I just needed to give Miss Garcia something.”
“Like what?” she asked, still completely stunned.
“It’s more of a short-term loan.” He passed her a leather wallet of some sort.
Blinking in confusion, she opened it and realized it was his credentials and badge. Homeland Security, Special Agent in Charge Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Junior. She found herself smiling faintly.
She closed the badge, but didn’t hand it back. “There’s a conference room around the corner that’s available?” she offered questioningly.
“Garcia,” Hotch began.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with my work here, sir. I just need to speak with Agent DiNozzo privately for a minute.” She managed to keep her cool, because this had nothing to do with the Bureau, but she wasn’t sure what it did have to do with.
With obvious reluctance, Rossi and Hotchner let her lead DiNozzo down the hall.
As soon as the conference room door was closed, Penelope handed the badge back. “Why?” she asked without preamble.
“You were fine and then you clearly were not. I wanted to make sure you were okay.” He took a seat at the table, leaning back, posture non-threatening. “I kept going back to see if I’d run into you, but you abandoned your favorite coffee shop.”
She didn’t feel even a little bad about avoiding her usual coffee haunt—even if she missed the beverages—but still felt her cheeks get warm. Which she found really annoying. “There were some… reasons. How did you find me?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said softly. “The barista obviously knows you well. She gave me grief for whatever I’d done to upset you. Once I convinced her that I really was a federal agent and was on the up and up, she told me the basics of what happened to you. No names, but I was able to fill in the blanks.”
Penelope felt kind of exposed, and it wasn’t a feeling she liked. With the security clearance he must have for his job, he could know everything about her. “So you… know?”
“Most of it,” he confirmed. “I limited my snooping to getting your name and the case report about your shooting.”
“But… why? Why keep looking for me? Why come here?”
“Well, when I first went back, I first wanted to make sure you were okay. I’d been working up to asking you out for coffee or drinks when you left abruptly, and if my flirting upset you or reminded you of something painful, I’m truly sorry. And then once I figured out who you were and what happened… well, I came to bring you my badge, so you’d know I wasn’t a lunatic pretending to be someone else. I thought maybe it would set your mind at ease.”
There was a lot to unpack in that. “You didn’t have to.”
“No, I didn’t, but you deserve to have your coffee shop back.”
“You wanted me to feel better and have good coffee?” she murmured. Okay, that was the sweetest thing she’d ever experienced, and she wasn’t too proud to admit that, inside, she had turned to Jell-O.
“Yeah, I guess that’s one way to say it,” he replied, sounding perplexed. He got to his feet, hands in his pockets. “I didn’t want to be the cause of putting that expression on your face. And I’ll leave you alone if that’s what makes you feel safe, but once I found out what happened, I thought it might help more to know who I actually am.”
She found herself smiling. “It does.” It was obvious he was prepared to walk away and leave her to return to life the way it was before they’d crossed paths, and in that second, she knew it wasn’t what she wanted. She had always believed there was some meaning to life, and it seemed life might be giving her an opportunity to mend what had been broken.
“Good,” Tony replied, and it was clear to her that he was angling toward the door. Now or never.
“Would you like to have a drink with me sometime? Coffee works, too, but I’m not one much for limiting myself.”
For a second, she thought she’d misstepped, but then his smile was so genuine, it nearly made her breath catch. “There’s nothing I’d like more.”
– – – –
The Big Short is a short-story challenge on Rough Trade based on thematic or character prompts. The maximum word count for themes is 1k, for characters it’s 2k. They are NOT beta’d. I re-read them looking for errors, but that is all.
Each short story is complete AS IS. They will not be expanded on, there will be no sequels, they are not connected to anything else. Also, they are most assuredly NOT prompts themselves.
Oh yeah… these are not strays. I don’t run an adoption program.