Title: Zeroes and Ones
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Summary: AU. This diverges from canon directly after 4x01. When Derek's offered the job heading up the NYC field office, he takes it for the good of his career. He expects to leave the BAU and everyone he knew in Virginia behind, but some people are easier to let go of than others.
A/N: I started writing this in September 2009, I think? That's when I posted a little teaser of the beginning, at any rate, so if it seems at all familiar, that's why. Recently I dusted it off and decided that hey, the first 10,000 words I wrote were actually not terrible. Maybe I should finish that thing, yeah? Well, it's not done yet, but I am 15,000 words in now and I thought it might be fun to start posting in parts. I'll try to post a section a day and see how far ahead of myself I can stay. Once it's done I'll post it in its entirety on AO3, so if you're not a WIP reader, you can always wait for the full version.
***He'd expected Garcia to take it the hardest. When Hotch stood up in front of the team and told them all that Derek had taken the job heading up the New York City field office, Derek knew what all their reactions would be.
Well, he thought he knew, anyway, and for the most part he was right. Garcia got flustered and indignant, then sad and then right back to mad, then she started with the threats about what would happen if he didn't stay in touch. She cycled through all five stages of grief in about thirty seconds, and by the time the meeting broke up she was already planning her first trip up to visit. Prentiss was happy for him -- maybe a little jealous, but mostly happy. J.J. and Rossi both looked surprised for a second before they pulled it together to congratulate him, and he could tell they both meant it. Hotch...well, he already knew what Hotch thought about the whole thing, and he'd told himself a million times already that he didn't care.
Which left Reid.
Derek assumed Reid would react pretty much the same way J.J. and Rossi did; maybe he'd be a little sorrier to see Derek go, maybe even question whether Derek could handle the job the way Hotch had. What he hadn't expected was a wide-eyed stare, followed by that little frown he wore whenever Derek took the teasing too far. He hadn't expected total silence, not even a 'congratulations' for the sake of appearances. And he definitely hadn't expected Reid to stand up and walk out of the conference room, too-long hair hiding his face and moving so fast he practically knocked Derek off his feet on the way out.
"Reid," Derek called after him, but Reid didn't even break his stride. Then Garcia was on him, J.J. and Prentiss too, asking questions about whether he'd started looking for a place yet and which neighborhoods he'd considered and what about Clooney? So he just let Reid go, because there wasn't much else he could do.
He didn't see Reid again until later, after everyone got tired of asking Derek questions he didn't have the answers to and went back to their own desks with their stacks of neglected paperwork. Derek had plenty of paperwork of his own, all of which would have to be taken care of before he left. He heaved a sigh at the stack of folders in his inbox and glanced over at Reid's empty cubicle for what felt like the millionth time. There weren't that many places Reid could go, really, at least not without going to Hotch and asking for permission to take last-minute personal leave. And yeah, he could tell Reid was mad that Derek was leaving, but he wouldn't be upset enough to fake a sudden cold or personal emergency just to get out of the office.
They'd been through a lot together, sure, and over the years Reid had gotten comfortable enough with Derek to confide things he wouldn't tell anyone else. Sometimes he confided things he should have been telling someone else, but it had never been more than two teammates looking out for each other. It wasn't like they hung out or anything, not like Derek and Garcia or even Garcia and J.J. So he was losing another teammate, one he was comfortable with, but once Derek was gone Reid would see that it wasn't such a big loss. Someone else would come along to replace him, just like Rossi had replaced Gideon, and once Reid got used to that person, he wouldn't even think about Derek anymore.
For some reason that idea didn't sit all that well with Derek. He couldn't say why, exactly, because he'd changed jobs enough in his life to be used to how it worked. People moved on, that was just how it was. He liked everyone at the BAU, sure, but he'd always known he wasn't going to stay here forever. He shook off the unsettling feeling and picked up the coffee he'd let go cold, heading for the break room for a fresh cup.
When he got there he paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of Reid hunched over one of the tables, files spread out around him and a Styrofoam cup teetering dangerously close to Reid's elbow. He wasn't all that surprised; in fact, he was pretty sure he should have realized where Reid was from the start, because it was just like him to hide in plain sight and pout about whatever wasn't going his way. It was the reason Derek had such a hard time sometimes remembering that Reid was a grown man, because when it came to stuff like this, he reacted just like a scared little kid.
Derek crossed the room in a few short strides, catching the half-full cup of coffee before Reid knocked it off the table. "You'd probably be a lot more comfortable working at your desk."
"What do you care?" Reid muttered, glancing up long enough to flash a dark look at Derek.
He checked the urge to roll his eyes and carried both cups of coffee to the sink, dumping them before heading for the coffee maker to brew a fresh pot.
"Yet you’re just leaving."
“Not ‘just’, kid,” Derek said, frowning because of all the people he’d expected to be upset, Reid was at the bottom of the list. Put out, sure, maybe a little annoyed, but Reid actually looked like he was taking it personally. “Leaving the BAU is tough, but this is a pretty big step for my career.”
And it was the truth, but somehow it sounded a little hollow when he said it to Reid. Maybe because for Reid the BAU was the whole reason he’d joined the FBI, because of his obsession with serial killers and the way he idolized guys like Gideon and Rossi. Or maybe it was just because he hadn’t expected Reid to react this way; sorry to see Derek go, sure, because he never dealt all that well when it came to change. But he'd never expected Reid to be angry.
“Your career? What’s wrong with working here?”
“Nothing. Look, kid…”
“And what about us?” Reid interrupted, talking right over Derek without really looking at him. Like he couldn’t meet Derek’s eyes, and he’d only seen Reid like this one other time. “The team needs you.”
It had been hard on them all when Elle left, never mind Gideon. It had been hardest on Reid, though; Derek knew it was, because he was the one Reid had talked to about it. So maybe Derek should have realized how hard he was going to take another member of the team moving on. Then again, he'd never been one of Reid's personal heroes. Anyway, at least Derek had the decency to say goodbye.
“Listen, Reid, I’m not going that far. New York’s only an hour away by plane, remember?” He grinned at the memory of their first conversation about New York, but Reid just sat there, gaze locked on his jaw and his whole body so tense that he was practically vibrating. “Look, whoever they get to replace me will fit in just fine. You got used to Prentiss, didn’t you? And I thought you were going to start a fan club for Rossi when he showed up.”
Still no reaction, and Derek let out a sigh and reached out to rest a hand on Reid’s shoulder. But before he even made contact Reid flinched away, practically scrambling out of his chair and grabbing the mess of files on the table.
“Forget it,” he said, and he still wasn’t looking at Derek. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter. See you around.”
He turned on his heel and walked away, and before Derek could even get out so much as a "Reid, wait", he was gone.
***Derek’s last two weeks at the BAU were business as usual, mostly. There were cases and flights across the country, brainstorming sessions and frustration and short tempers, and in between all that he had to squeeze in all the details of a transfer. The FBI gave him time for the actual move, of course, and he had a per diem for the first couple weeks in New York, so he’d have time to find a place to stay once he got there. But he still had rental properties in Virginia to deal with, and he had to make temporary arrangements for Clooney.
So he didn’t have time to worry about the fact that Reid was mostly avoiding him, and if he noticed he told himself it was just because Reid didn’t like change. As soon as Derek was gone he’d get over it, and when someone new joined the team…well, Reid would probably be cold at first, but he trusted Rossi and Prentiss enough by now to let them help him work it out. At least Derek hoped he did, but he’d been pretty much keeping to himself lately, and that couldn’t be a good sign.
There was a going-away party on his last day – organized by Garcia, of course – and Derek wasn’t surprised that Reid more or less boycotted that too. He told himself it didn’t matter, that eventually Reid would come around and then maybe they could talk about keeping in touch. They were still colleagues, after all, and even if they didn’t stay friends their paths were bound to cross again sooner or later. Derek would rather things between them were at least civil, but it was hard to tell Reid any of that when he headed in the other direction as soon as he saw Derek coming.
“No frowning from the guest of honor,” Garcia said, sidling up next to Derek and bumping her shoulder against his bicep. “You’re supposed to be making us all feel bad by going on and on about how you can’t wait to get out of here.”
“You know that’s not true,” Derek answered, but he couldn’t quite muster a smile. The truth was that he’d had second thoughts from the moment he accepted the job; he had a life here, coworkers he clicked with and a job that challenged him at every turn. His new job would be even more challenging in some ways, but there would be no Garcia to look out for him, and no Reid to make him think outside his own personal boxes. Hell, he was even going miss working for Hotch, and if it was up to Hotch he wouldn’t even have gotten the job.
“Listen, baby girl, I need you to promise me something.”
“Sure, but if it involves phone sex, we’re going to have to keep it a secret. I don’t think Kevin will understand.”
Derek smiled, but it faded as soon as he looked up and saw Reid walking back into the bullpen. “I need you to look after Reid the way you’ve always looked out for me.”
“I look after all my babies, you know that,” Garcia said, frowning as she followed Derek’s gaze. He was watching Reid cross the room to stop in front of Derek’s desk, hesitating for a second before he pulled something out of his bag and set it down on the desk.
“I think Reid’s going to need more looking after than usual,” Derek said, still watching as Reid looked up and finally met his gaze. Just for a second, then he ducked his head and started for the door, and Derek wasn’t sure if he was supposed to follow, or if he should go look at whatever Reid left him. “Something’s up with him.”
“Sure thing,” Garcia answered, and Derek could hear the concern in her voice. “You can count on me.”
“Thanks, baby girl,” Derek said, turning back to her long enough to brush a kiss across her cheek. “I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
Before she could answer he was walking away, making a beeline for his desk and the small, rectangular package sitting in the center of it. He could tell what it was before he opened it, but he picked it up carefully anyway, taking his time peeling back the plain brown paper Reid had wrapped it in. There was a Post-It stuck to the cover of the book, and Derek smiled at Reid’s handwriting.
My mother read this to me when I started college. She said all new journeys are scary, but if we compare them to Odysseus’ epic journey then we’ll see that there’s nothing to fear.
Derek had pictured thirteen-year-old Reid on his first day of college plenty of times, scared out of his mind and carrying more weight on his pre-teen shoulders than any kid should have to deal with. Derek knew a little bit about how that felt, but at least he’d never been a scrawny ten-year-old in a sea of high school kids. Reid knew better than anyone what it was like to face the unknown completely alone, and the fact that he’d done this even though he was still mad at Derek for leaving…well, it meant something.
The copy of The Odyssey looked worn, and Derek wondered idly if it was Reid’s own. He ran his fingers over the binding, wondering how many times Reid had opened this book himself. Considering his memory he didn’t have much need to read a book more than once, but he seemed to like having them, and Derek always figured that had something to do with how he was brought up.
He flipped the book open and turned to the title page, frowning when he realized there was an inscription. But it wasn’t addressed to him, and as he read it something tightened in his chest. He closed the book and carefully tucked it into his box of personal belongings, then he headed back to the party and started saying his goodbyes.
***In the end it took him just over an hour to get out of the BAU. He smiled his way through another round of congratulations, made a bunch of mostly empty promises about keeping in touch, and pretended he didn’t notice the displeasure in Hotch’s expression when he shook Derek’s hand and wished him well. By the time he finally escaped he was exhausted and all he really wanted to do was go home, but there was still one more thing to take care of before he left town.
He dug out his cell phone as soon as he got to his car, setting the box carefully in the passenger seat as he dialed Reid’s number. He picked up on the second ring, his careful ‘hello?’ telling Derek that he’d been expecting a call. Which made sense, considering, but that didn’t explain the way Derek’s heart hammered in his chest when he heard Reid’s voice.
“Reid,” Derek said, and in the silence of his car his voice sounded a little strained. “I…appreciate the gesture, but I can’t accept this.”
“Why not?” And they’d talked on the phone a thousand times in the years they’d worked together, but somehow Reid’s voice sounded different this time. Closer, maybe, or just more vulnerable. Like when he told Derek about his nightmares, and those eyes of his went all wide and trusting, like Derek was going to be able to make it all go away. Like he’d ever had the answers to anything.
“Because it belonged to your mother,” Derek answered. He’d only read the inscription once, but that was enough to know exactly what it meant. “’To My Diana, Here’s to the start of our own epic adventure. Love, Bill’. Diana…that’s your mom, right?”
“It’s just a book,” Reid said, but he didn’t deny it, which was the same as admitting Derek was right. He could have claimed it was a coincidence, that he’d picked it up in a second hand shop somewhere and that Bill was a common name, but the fact that he didn’t even bother made it mean even more.
“It’s not just a book, Reid. It’s a piece of your history. Your mom’s had this, what, since before you were even born?”
“I think it was an engagement present,” Reid answered, and Derek rolled his eyes, because only Spencer Reid would think that wasn’t a big deal. Granted, he didn’t have the best relationship with either of his parents, but one day he was going to regret giving away their stuff.
“Well I can’t keep it. I’ll swing by and drop it off.”
“Isn’t it considered rude to return a gift?” Reid asked, and over the phone Derek couldn’t tell if he was kidding. He laughed anyway, because the kid had a point.
“Fine. Thank you,” he said. “So does this mean you’re not still mad at me?”
For a minute Reid didn’t answer, and Derek was starting to wish he hadn’t asked when he heard Reid sigh on the other end of the line. “I’m not mad.”
The sun was going down, and Derek heard a car start a few rows over and realized people were starting to leave for the day. It felt weird, sitting here in the parking lot talking to Reid on the phone and knowing this was probably going to be the last time. He’d made a lot of promises to keep in touch, promised to e-mail or look people up for a beer when he made it back to town, but none of them had really meant it. It was just something you said when you moved on with your life, and with the exception of Garcia he knew he wouldn’t know any of these people in a year.
He’d expected Reid to fall into that same category, but suddenly he didn’t want that to happen to them.
“Good,” he said, his free hand gripping the steering wheel as he spoke. “So what do you say I hold onto your book for awhile, and when you get up to New York you can pick it up again. It’s only a three hour train ride, right?”
“Morgan…” Reid said, something like nervousness creeping into his voice, and Derek’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel.
“Listen, just think about it. The invitation’s there whenever you’re ready. Look, kid…I’m gonna miss you, you know. Leaving…it’s the right choice, but I’m not happy about it.”
He still wasn’t sure it was the right choice, but it made him feel a little better to say it. And it was true that he wasn’t happy about leaving; he liked his life here, liked his friends and his job and his house. He felt guilty moving Clooney to a big city where he couldn’t have a back yard to run around in, and he wasn’t crazy about the idea of some real estate agent managing his rental properties in his absence. But it was this job or give the higher-ups the impression that he couldn’t handle the responsibility, and they wouldn’t let him stay at the BAU forever. So he was leaving on his own terms instead of someone else’s, and he told himself it was for the best.
Leaving behind Reid was something he hadn’t given much thought to until he’d already accepted the position, but now he realized he was leaving the kid without anyone he really trusted to confide in. He’d always taken for granted that Reid came to him with his problems; that no matter how much Derek teased him, Reid trusted him. Now that Gideon and Derek had both left him behind, he had to be feeling pretty alone.
“Really?” Reid finally said, voice a little hesitant, like maybe he didn’t believe Derek. And there was no reason he should, really, because people said that stuff all the time and then they just moved on with their lives. “I mean, you want to keep in touch?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “You know how to find me.”
“Right. I mean, I’ll think about it,” Reid answered, and Derek wasn’t sure if he meant he’d think about visiting, or whether or not he even wanted to keep in touch. “I have to go. I have a thing…”
“Sure,” Derek said. And none of this had really felt final until right now, but the thought of hanging up made it seem real for the first time. Still, he couldn’t keep Reid on the phone forever, even if he could think of something else to say. “Take care of yourself, kid.”
Derek listened as the line clicked and went dead, and just like that Reid was gone. Out of his life, maybe, and if that was the way he wanted it, there wasn’t much Derek could do.
***Shopping for real estate in New York City was pretty much a nightmare. Over the years Derek had flipped enough houses to consider himself more or less an expert in the industry, but the rules in New York were different than anywhere else. As soon as he got to town he'd started asking around about short-term rentals, just someplace to stay until he found a place he wanted to buy. In the end he'd wound up in a three month sub-lease, which meant storing pretty much everything he owned and living with someone else's furniture for the duration.
He hired a guy to come in and walk Clooney a couple times a day, and he tried not to feel guilty about being gone all the time. He was traveling a lot less, sure, but getting into the swing of running a field office took a lot of time and most of his energy. What little time and energy he had left over went into viewing whatever listings his broker came up with, so he didn't have much time to notice that he hadn't heard from anyone back home except Garcia. She'd called him at least twice a week in the month he'd been in New York, e-mailed plenty too and gave him status reports on what was going on with the rest of the team. But they were down a man, which meant they were busier than ever, and that meant they didn't have time to worry about how he was doing.
Derek understood that. He didn't take it personally, because it wasn't like he'd called any of them either. But Reid's book had been sitting next to the bed in his sublet since he moved in, and every time Derek saw it he wondered if he was going to hear from Reid again. Maybe he'd forgotten Derek's offer already, but as much as Derek tried to convince himself it was a possibility, he just didn't buy it. Not after hearing the surprise in Reid's voice when Derek asked him to keep in touch, like he'd never considered until right then that he might mean something to Derek.
And that was the thing, because Reid did mean something to him. He'd never thought much about it until Reid wasn't around all the time, waving his hands around while he talked or bringing Derek coffee just because or rolling his eyes when Derek asked something Reid thought should be obvious. Even though they never really hung out outside of work, Reid had gotten under his skin somehow, and now that he was gone Derek didn't know what to do about it. There wasn't much he could do, really, because he'd left the ball in Reid's court the last time they talked.
Derek's phone beeped in his pocket, and he sighed and pulled it out as he reached the brownstone his broker wanted to show him. The new e-mail alerted flashed and he hit a few buttons until he got to the right screen, expecting some work emergency or maybe just one of his sisters demanding -- again -- to know why he hadn't called home. But it wasn't work and it wasn't his sisters; it wasn't even Garcia giving him the run-down on J.J.'s morning sickness or her latest date with Kevin. He grinned at the familiar name and clicked the 'OK' button, pausing on the steps of the building to scroll through the message.
Hotch finally picked your replacement. Prentiss claims she's not completely useless, but you could have fooled me. If you wash out in New York maybe Hotch will give you your job back. -- Reid
Derek laughed softly at the last line and hit 'reply'.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid. I better not wash out here, not after the amount of time I've spent just looking for a place to live.
Give the new agent a chance, she must be good or Hotch wouldn't have hired her.
He hit 'send' and slid the phone back into his pocket, still grinning when he looked up to see his broker coming up the steps.
"Derek," good to see you, his broker said, holding out a hand to grasp Derek's in a firm shake. "Let's head inside. I have a feeling you're really going to like this place."
As it turned out, his broker was right. Of all the places Derek had seen, this one was the closest to what he'd imagined when he first got to the city. It was a three-story brownstone in Bed-Stuy, with lots of original features still intact underneath all the 'improvements' other owners had made over the years. He'd peeled the carpet back enough to see that the hardwood was in decent shape, and he'd checked that the wiring wasn't a total nightmare. There were some pipes to replace and layers of paint to strip off almost all the woodwork, but what really sold him on the place was the kitchen. It looked like it hadn't been touched much since the place was built, which meant he could bring the appliances up to date but still restore the rest of it back to the original character of the property.
Flipping wasn't going to be an option for him here, not now that he was running an office. He wouldn't have that kind of time, even if he could afford to turn properties in New York, so he'd just have to focus all his energy on fixing up his own place. He was still waiting for the results of the inspection, but already Derek was running down a mental list of everything that needed to be done, and exactly where he wanted to start. The rooms were kind of small, but he figured he'd knock down a few walls and create a more open floor plan on the first floor, maybe turn the two bedrooms on the top floor into one big master and put in a bigger closet and a completely new bath. A lot of the doors had the original arches and he wanted to keep them wherever he could, so he was thinking about columns between the living room and dining room and maybe some low built-in shelves to keep things open while saving the arches.
It was a big job, and living in it while he did the work was going to be kind of a mess. But the price was right, and he was still pulling in enough money from his rentals in Virginia to cover the mortgage. There was even a little back yard; it wasn't much, but there was a cracked patio that needed replacing and enough grass to give Clooney someplace safe to go out first thing in the morning when Derek didn't feel like getting dressed to take him for a run.
It was as close to perfect as he was going to get, and as long as the inspection didn't turn up anything he couldn't handle, he was pretty sure he'd found a place to call home. It still felt a little weird to think of New York as home, but he figured he'd get used to it once he had his own place and he wasn't living with someone else's stuff anymore.
Derek glanced up at the clock in his office and let out a heavy sigh. Six-thirty already, and the rest of the staff was probably long gone. It was harder than he expected, making the transition from being out in the field all the time to what was essentially a desk job. He had a lot more responsibility and the pay grade to go with it, and it meant seeing a lot less of the stuff that still gave him nightmares from time to time, but it meant he spent a lot of his time feeling kind of restless. Having a building to work on would help with that, but Derek knew if he didn't get some kind of life in New York that he was going to turn into Hotch way before he was ready.
He reached up to loosen his tie, leaning back in his expensive leather chair and scrubbing his hands over his face. And that was another thing he was still getting used to -- this whole suit and tie every day thing was kind of a drag. At least at the BAU the dress code had been pretty informal; nowadays he dressed just like Hotch too, and there were days when he felt like some kind of imposter. Like maybe Hotch had been right and he really wasn't ready for this job. So maybe Reid would get his wish and he would wash out, only Derek was pretty sure if that happened he wouldn't just get his old job back like nothing happened.
"Pull yourself together, Derek," he said to nobody in particular, ignoring the creak in his back as he stood up and reached into his desk for his keys. He reached the subway station just as his phone beeped, and he pulled it out of his pocket and opened a new e-mail.
Just got back from Arkansas. Serial rapist who escalated into murder. Parnell mostly just got in the way, but we caught him anyway. Garcia said you bought a house. Real estate isn't as sound an investment as it used to be, you know. -- Reid
Derek grinned at the screen and pocketed the phone, digging his MetroCard out and sliding it through the turnstile. Once he boarded the subway and found a seat at the back he took his phone out again and read Reid's e-mail for the second time. He knew thanks to Garcia that Parnell was his replacement, and he also knew that she wasn't nearly as useless as Reid pretended. Still, it was nice to know Reid missed him, even if he wouldn't come out and say it. He shook his head and hit the 'reply' button, glancing up to make sure he wasn't about to miss his stop before he started typing.
Trust me, kid, I know what I'm doing. And I put in an offer on a house, so it's not a done deal yet. Once the sale's final you can catch that train to the city and tell me all about Parnell. If you gave her a chance you might even like her.
He dropped his phone back into his pocket as the train pulled into his station, following the crowd up the stairs and back to the sidewalk above them. He eased into the steady stream of foot traffic, stepping around the window shoppers and anybody who looked like they didn't know where they were going. When he reached his favorite take-out place he stopped long enough to pick up dinner, then he headed back to his sublet to feed Clooney and take him out just like he did every night.
It wasn't much of a routine, but it was his, for better or worse. Maybe his life was a little more boring now than it had been back in Quantico, but it was all in the name of moving forward in his profession.
***"Congratulations, Mr. Morgan, it's all yours."
"It's Derek," Derek said, grasping first the mortgage broker's, then his real estate broker's hand. "Thanks."
"It's a great neighborhood. I think you're going to be very happy there," his broker said. He handed over the keys to the brownstone and Derek pushed a stacked of signed papers towards him, pushing his chair back and standing up.
A few minutes later he was saying one last goodbye and letting himself out of the mortgage broker's office, the keys to his new place tucked firmly in his pocket. It was a quick subway ride back to his office, and he waved to his new team as he crossed the bullpen and let himself into the glassed-in office at the back of the room. It had taken awhile to get used to being the one who sat in that office instead of having a cubicle out in the center, but he'd finally stopped hesitating every time he reached for the door handle. This time he let himself in and closed the door behind him, setting his new keys and his phone on the desk as he sat down.
There were reports to sift through about a suspected terrorist cell they'd been watching for awhile, and on top of his inbox was a stack of messages detailing all the phone calls he'd missed while he was signing the papers for his new house. He had lots of catching up to do, but another couple of minutes wasn't going to make a difference either way. Hell, he was the boss now anyway, right? Derek grinned at the thought and picked up his phone, opening a new message and typing in Reid's e-mail address.
Just signed the papers: now it's official. Guess I'm stuck with this gig for awhile, so I better not screw it up. When are you coming up to see the place? If you're scared to take the train alone I bet Garcia will hold your hand the first time.
He laughed and set his phone down again, then he picked up the stack of phone messages and flipped through them. He was still sorting them into piles by importance when his phone beeped, and he picked it up and glanced at the screen. He expected to see the e-mail alert, but instead the screen read 'new txt msg from Spen...' Derek smiled and opened the message, shaking his head as he read it.
Not scared, just busy. I know you're a desk jockey now, but you can't have forgotten what it's like at the BAU already.
Derek hit 'reply' and glanced out at the bullpen to make sure no one was watching him before he started typing.
That's pretty big talk, considering. You know I've still got eyes in that place. Garcia says you've been in town all week, safe and sound.
He set his phone down again and finished sorting his messages. When he was finished he glanced at his cell, but the screen was still black. He reached for the land line and dialed the number scribbled on the first message, and when it went straight to voice mail he listened to the message and left one of his own. He worked his way through half the messages, glancing at his cell phone between each one, and just as the line connected with his supervisor's office down in Quantico Derek's cell beeped again.
"Derek Morgan returning the Director's call," he said when the receptionist picked up. She put him on hold and he reached for his cell phone, then set it back down again and rolled his eyes. It was just a text from Reid; it probably didn't even say much of anything, and there was no reason it couldn't wait. His focus should be on his job, especially when it was his boss calling to check up on him. That didn't stop him from swallowing a sigh of relief when the receptionist came back on the line to say that the Director was out, but she'd leave a message that Derek had called. He thanked her and hung up, then he picked up his cell phone and opened Reid's text.
Can't make the same weekend as Garcia. Maybe next month, if we don't have a case.
Derek grinned at his phone and hit 'reply' without hesitating.
Any time, you know that. I'm not going anywhere.
He was pretty sure Reid knew that. Derek hoped he did, at least. He'd been honest before he left Quantico; he'd told Reid he was going to miss him, and it turned out to be even more true than he'd realized at the time. Maybe it was just because he didn't know anybody in New York, or maybe it was just that he was the boss now, and he missed having somebody around who was his equal. Either way it didn't really matter, as long as Reid wanted to keep in touch.
***Derek still had a month left on his sublet when the sale of his house was finalized, so he'd taken his time moving in. It gave him a chance to get a little work done without having to sleep in the mess, anyway, and by the time his lease was up he'd replaced the sketchiest looking pipes and made sure there was at least one reliable shower in the place. By the time Garcia showed up he'd been staying there for about a week, but between work and moving stuff out of his storage unit and into the upstairs bedrooms he hadn't had time to make it look all that welcoming. Still, there was a couch and a TV, a working fridge and a guest bed with clean sheets, and Garcia didn't need much more than that. She kept sending him lists of things she wanted to do in the city, anyway, so he figured they wouldn't even be there all that much.
He left work a little early for once, catching the subway to Penn Station just in time to meet Garcia's train. And he should have known better than to think she could pack like a normal person for a weekend trip, but when he caught sight of her hauling a suitcase and a giant bag across the station, he shook his head and picked up his pace to intercept her before she hurt herself. As soon as she saw him she squealed and dropped her luggage, and before he had time to brace himself Derek found his arms full of squealing computer geek. She squeezed him until he was pretty sure she'd broken a rib or two, then she shoved him away so she could look him up and down.
"Ooh, FBI chic. Mama likes."
Derek laughed and leaned in to press a kiss to her cheek before he reached around her to pick up her luggage. "Good to see you too, baby girl."
"Well, I know how much you miss me, I could hardly deprive you of my company," Garcia said. She slid her arm through Derek's and leaned into him, bumping his bicep with her shoulder. "Of course, I don't rate text messages like some people, but I suppose I should be grateful you manage to e-mail me back once in awhile."
"What?" He hadn't mentioned anything to Garcia about any text messages, so if she'd heard about that it was from Reid himself. Not that there was anything to tell; there hadn't even been all that many texts, but judging by the look on Garcia's face, she thought it was a big deal.
"There I was, minding my own business, and one Special Agent Spencer Reid storms into my office and demands to know when I'm coming to visit you. So I told him, because I thought he might want to pass along a message or something. Maybe send another gift, which reminds me that you have avoided the question every single time I've asked what he gave you before you left."
Derek raised his eyebrows and avoided the question again, steering her out of the station and onto the sidewalk to hail a cab. When the driver popped the trunk he loaded her luggage in and slid into the cab beside her, then rattled off his address before he looked at Garcia again.
"So he asked when you were coming to visit. What's wrong with that?"
"Still avoiding," she said, shaking her head and letting out a put-upon sigh. "Fine, keep your secrets."
"It was a book," Derek said, and when she narrowed her eyes at him he couldn't help laughing. "Hand to God, it was."
She shook her head, blond curls flying around her face and sticking to her lipstick. Derek reached over and pulled a few strands of hair away from her mouth, and just like that her smile was back in full force. "So I told him when I was coming to visit, and do you know what the little..." She paused and took a deep breath, teeth clenched to grind out the rest of her sentence, "...what the little genius said? 'That doesn't work for me.' He was trying to horn in on my trip without even asking! Then he pulled out his phone and started punching keys without so much as a thank you."
"Yeah, well, I might have suggested he tag along with you the first time up," Derek admitted. Garcia's eyes narrowed again and he ducked out of reach before she took a swing at him. "I told you, Garcia, I was worried about him. I figured it might be good for him, you know, get his head out of that cloud he's always walking around in for awhile."
"What about me? I was heartbroken when you left. It's so depressing around there now, no eye candy in sight. I was counting on this weekend filling my eye candy quota for the next few months, and now I find out you miss Reid more than me."
"You know that's not true," he said, but the thing was, she was kind of right. It wasn't that he missed Reid more, exactly, it was just...different. He knew there was no way he could say it that she'd understand -- he wasn't even sure he understood it -- so he swallowed a surge of guilt and forced a casual grin.
She was still pouting when they pulled up outside his building, but she got out of the cab anyway and waited while Derek paid the driver and retrieved her luggage. He carried her bags up the stoop, stopping at the front door and turning to look at her. "So how did you hear about the text messages?"
"You have your secrets, I have mine," she answered, chin poked out in that way that told him he wasn't getting her to spill any time soon.
He shook his head and opened the front door, standing aside to let her brush past him before he followed her in. "It's not much to look at yet," he said, "but once I get the carpets out and strip all the paint off the woodwork it'll start to shape up."
For a minute she just stood in the middle of the living room, looking around at the holes in the drywall from where he'd checked to make sure the walls he wanted to knock down weren't load-bearing. She took in the ugly carpet, still pulled up in one corner of the room, and the row of tools he'd lined up along one side of the room. "And the secrets just keep coming," she said, finally turning to look at him. "Gorgeous and good with your hands? I feel like I'm in one of my better dreams."
Derek laughed at that, shaking his head and nodding toward the stairs. "Come on, I'll show you where you're staying. Then I'll get out of this suit and we can go paint the town."
Once he'd gotten Garcia and her luggage settled in the guest room he headed up to the third floor, changing into a pair of jeans and a comfortable t-shirt. He listened to her baby-talking to Clooney on the floor below him as he tucked his wallet into his jeans and reached for his cell phone. And he knew better than to think there would be a message from Reid, but he checked anyway, telling himself he wasn't disappointed when he didn't find one. There was no reason to be, because this thing with Reid was just about making sure Reid was dealing with the latest shake-up on the team now that Derek wasn't there to talk him through it.
Looking out for Reid had been his job, at least once Gideon was gone, so mostly it was just habit. He told himself he believed that and went back downstairs in search of Garcia.
***"So Reid didn't say why he couldn't make it this weekend?"
They were sitting at a table in the back of some club one of the girls in the office had recommended. It was loud enough that Morgan had to lean into Garcia to make himself heard over the music. There were plenty of bodies moving on the dance floor, and any other time Derek would be out there with them. But he didn't feel much like getting out there right now, even if he hadn't been with someone. The truth was that if Garcia wasn't here this weekend he'd be back at his place right now, alone except for his dog and his stereo, eating takeout and pulling up carpet. He wasn't sure if that meant he was getting old or if he was just losing his touch, but he wasn't going to ask Garcia.
"I'm starting to feel like second choice here," Garcia said, and he could tell she was only half joking. "What is with you and this obsession with Reid?"
"I'm not obsessed," he said. He wasn't; he was just looking out for the guy like he'd always done, only it was a little more obvious long-distance than it was when they worked together every day. "I'm just saying, it's Reid. What could he have to do on the weekend that he couldn't blow off?"
"No idea. Maybe you should text him and find out."
He rolled his eyes at her smirk and didn't reach for his phone, picking up his drink instead and swallowing a mouthful of beer. Chances were Reid hadn't told Garcia that he'd texted Derek. Knowing her, she'd hacked Reid's phone records just for kicks, or maybe that was her idea of looking out for Reid while Derek wasn't around. Either way she wasn't going to tell him, so he didn't bother asking again. "So how's Parnell working out?"
She pursed her lips at him and he could tell she thought he was deliberately changing the subject. She didn't call him on it, though; instead she shrugged and took a sip of whatever fruity concoction she was drinking and leaned in so he could hear her over the music. "I think she has a little crush on Prentiss."
"What? No," Derek said, lips frozen in a half-smile while he waited for her to laugh. It wasn't so much that his replacement would have the hots for Prentiss -- Emily was gorgeous, so it wasn't like he'd blame her -- but she was supposed to be a profiler, and if even Garcia could tell, she wasn't doing a very good job of hiding it. "You think...Parnell and Prentiss...?"
"Not even," Garcia answered, all the weirdness about Reid gone now that she was digging into a really juicy piece of gossip. "Talk about barking up the wrong tree. I mean, Emily's..." Garcia paused, mouth opening and closing as she searched for the right word. Finally she gave up and just made a sort of curvy gesture in the air in front of her. "And Parnell's...well, she's a little mousy. She reminds me a little of Reid, actually."
"Reid's not mousy," Derek said, regretting it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He wasn't even sure why he was defending Reid; he knew better than anybody that Garcia loved Reid, no matter how weird or stand-offish he could be. But he wasn't mousy, at least not in the way Garcia meant. He was just way too smart for his own damn good, and all those smarts rattling around in his brain took up the room normal people used for things like fashion or social niceties.
"Well, sure, our dear Dr. Reid gets a pass because he's got an I.Q. of, like, a billion. Parnell's nice enough and she's good at her job, she's just kind of...sensible. You know: sensible shoes, sensible suits, sensible hair. Mousy."
None of that explained what Reid had against her. If anything, he should be more comfortable around someone who didn't work at drawing attention to themselves. But no matter how sensible Parnell's shoes were, she still wasn't Derek, and he had a feeling that was her biggest failing in Reid's eyes. Derek knew that shouldn't make him feel as good as it did, but he couldn't quite stifle a smile as he picked up his beer.
It turned out that Garcia's plans for the weekend mostly involved dragging Derek around the city to do all the things he hadn't made time for since his move. Not that playing tourist was all that high on his list of priorities, but she was the one who didn't live here, so if she wanted to track down the best pizza in Brooklyn he wasn't going to argue. He didn't even put up a fight when she insisted they go all the way into Manhattan just to visit some comic book shop.
He regretted it as soon as he stepped into the place, taking in cramped aisles filled with people reading or jostling each other as they tried to navigate the store. On top of every shelf were rows of toys, those little posable action figures Derek and his friends stopped playing with sometime in grade school. Every inch of wall space was covered with movie posters or t-shirts stretched over cardboard, the kind with sayings that would probably make perfect sense to somebody like Reid, but were totally lost on him. Claustrophobic didn't even begin to cover it, and Derek was about to catch Garcia's elbow and tell her he'd meet her outside when she let out a squeal and took off.
Derek rolled his eyes and followed her, squeezing his way around people who looked way too old to be standing around reading comic books on a Saturday morning. He caught up with Garcia at the back of the store, tapping the glass with one bright red fingernail and talking to the kid she'd already corralled into waiting on her. "No, not Angel. Spike. The signed one."
She was practically vibrating, and Derek couldn't help smiling at the sight of a grown woman getting so worked up over a little plastic toy. She glanced up at him and then back at the case, holding her breath while the kid pulled it out and set it down so he could look for the box. "Kevin is going to swallow his tongue when he sees this. He has such a fanboy crush on Spike. It's the cutest thing ever."
"You're okay with your man having a thing for some other guy?" Derek asked, raising an eyebrow when she rolled her eyes at him.
"I don't get jealous about your crush on Reid, do I? And he's not even fictional."
"I do not have a crush on Reid." The words were out of his mouth before he even thought about it, but he wasn't taking them back no matter how much Garcia smirked at him. Because he didn't; he wasn't fifteen, for one thing, and anyway, Reid wasn't even his type. On the rare occasions Derek hooked up with another guy, it was always someone...well, someone like him. Outgoing, built, more action than talk. The kind of guy who wouldn't confuse things with a whole bunch of expectations, who knew what he wanted and just took it without expecting Derek to stick around for coffee in the morning.
That was his type. Not geeky, bookish geniuses who talked his ear off about stuff he didn't care about and looked at Derek like he was the one person in the world who could make everything safe even in the midst of all the garbage they saw. He didn't go for that type, not ever, because he knew damn well that kind of guy wouldn't be so easy to walk away from.
Garcia was still smirking at him when she reached out and pressed a finger to the tip of his nose. "Your nose is growing, Pinocchio."
Before he could do more than shake his head she was gone, following the kid with Kevin's action figure toward the front of the store. He hoped that meant they were done with this place already, but after Garcia talked to the kid again he stuck the figure behind the counter and she took off in another direction entirely. Derek sighed and glanced at the shelves of books around him, resigning himself to a long wait. He pulled a random comic book off the shelf and glanced down at the cover, frowning when he realized it wasn't about superheroes or time travel or something.
It wasn't about any of the things people usually expected comics to be about; instead it was about a serial killer from Chicago. He looked at the shelf where he'd found the comic and read the other titles: there was one about Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and a family of serial killers on the Osage Trail. He hadn't even heard that last story, but he had a feeling Reid knew all about it. But Derek was willing to bet he'd never read the comics; he was a geek, sure, but not the same kind of geek as Garcia and her boyfriend.
He was still trying to decide whether Reid would prefer Jack the Ripper or the one about H.H. Holmes when Garcia found him again. Holmes was from Chicago, on the one hand, which made sense coming from Derek. But even though Reid knew the story backwards and forwards, Jack the Ripper was classic, and happening upon a new version was as good an excuse as any to buy Reid a gift out of the blue.
Garcia announced her presence by hooking her chin over his shoulder and peering down at the books in his hands, and when Morgan glanced at her she screwed up her face in an expression of disgust. "You mean to tell me you finally got out of the psycho killer business and now you want to read about it?"
Morgan laughed and turned around, holding up both books for her to see. "Not for me, for Reid. He'll get a kick out of a comic book about serial killers, don't you think? I just can't decide which one he'd like better."
"They're not comic books, they're graphic novels," she said in that tone that let him know she thought he was hopeless. And he was, when it came to this stuff, but he was more than okay with that. "Sure you should be sending gifts to someone you don't have a crush on? People might get the wrong impression."
She was smirking again, and Derek scowled and grabbed the one about the Osage Trail off the shelf as well, then headed for the cash register with all three comics -- graphic novels -- in hand. "Don't even," he said when she caught up with him, but he didn't quite manage to hide the grin that was threatening to form.
***Derek put Garcia back on the train on Sunday with one graphic novel tucked safely in her bag. He went back and forth for most of the weekend until finally he settled on the one about H.H. Holmes, Chicago's first documented serial killer. And yeah, maybe it was a little obvious, but it wasn't like he could get much past Reid anyway, so there was no point in trying. He thought about sticking a note inside like the yellow Post-it still stuck to the front of Reid's copy of The Odyssey, but the last thing he needed after twenty-four hours of relentless teasing from Garcia was to throw more fuel on the fire. Even if he stuck it inside he knew she'd find it and read it before she handed it over, so in the end he just kissed her on the cheek, handed her the book, and shook his head when she smiled knowingly.
He distracted himself from wondering what, exactly, Garcia was going to say to Reid when she gave him the book by spending Sunday evening tearing out carpet on the main floor. It was too late to take it back, to stick the book in the mail so Garcia wouldn't have a chance to embarrass him. It wouldn't stop her anyway, because she knew he'd bought it even if she wasn't the one to deliver it, and he'd never known Garcia to keep her mouth shut when it came to really good gossip.
Not that there was anything to gossip about. Yeah, he'd bought a few books, but Reid was the kind of guy who liked books. Besides, he'd given Derek a going away present, so really Derek was just returning the favor. It was just a way to let Reid know that Derek hadn't forgotten his friends just because he'd taken a new job. It didn't mean he was interested in more than friendship, no matter what Garcia thought. He couldn't be, because even if Derek hadn't moved almost three hundred miles away, they were both FBI agents.
Technically they wouldn't be breaking any rules now that they weren't on the same team. And if Hotch did find out that Reid was dating a man, Derek was pretty sure Hotch wouldn't hold it against him. He might hold the part where it was Derek against him, but the rest of it might not even come as that much of a surprise. Then again, the only relationships Derek had ever heard about Reid having were with women, so it was possible he wouldn't even be interested. Not that it mattered, because there was still the whole problem of the distance between them, not to mention the fact that Derek was pretty much Hotch's equal now.
Even if nobody called him on the whole subordinate thing, dating guys as a field agent was a lot different than dating guys as the head of a whole field office. He knew how the game worked; he'd seen Hotch jump through enough hoops -- different hoops, sure, but it all boiled down to the same thing -- and before that he'd seen the same game played in the Chicago P.D. It was the main reason he never got involved with a guy he could get serious about when it was easier just to have a little fun once in awhile with no strings attached. Then again, he never got serious about any of the women he dated, either, and when he was still with the BAU it was easy to tell himself it was just because he hadn't met the right girl yet.
Maybe he did have a soft spot for Reid; he was pretty sure he wasn't the only one. Reid was the kind of guy who made you want to take care of him. If he was a victim they'd saved, his picture would be in Rossi's -- and before that, Gideon's -- office, and somebody would check in with him every so often. He'd come a long way in the years they'd worked together, but the way he'd reacted to Derek's promotion proved that in a lot of ways, he was still a kid. He still didn't know how to deal with his own feelings half the time, and now Derek wasn't around to help him. So maybe Derek was overcompensating by trying so hard to keep in touch, but there was nothing wrong with trying to be a friend.
He was coming out of the subway station on Monday morning when his phone beeped at him, and Derek reached for it as he joined the flow of foot traffic crowding the Manhattan sidewalk. He expected -- okay, hoped for -- an e-mail or maybe a text from Reid, but instead it was a missed call notification. Derek looked at his caller ID, frowning at the office number before he pressed redial. A second later the line connected, and he heard a crisp voice on the other end of the line.
"It's Morgan, what's up?" he said, and when Barnes started talking he forgot all about Reid and started walking faster.
***Derek spent the rest of the day putting out fires, juggling reports on their suspected terrorist cell and running interference between his staff and the higher-ups who were breathing down their necks for results. He was so busy that he didn't have time to worry about what Reid thought of his gift until long after his work day should have ended, and by the time he left the building and headed toward the subway he'd resigned himself to the fact that he wasn't going to hear from Reid today.
It didn't necessarily mean anything. Maybe they'd gotten hit with a big case and he hadn't had a chance to get in touch. Maybe they'd left so suddenly Garcia hadn't even gotten a chance to give him the book. Maybe he just thought it was kind of dumb to give a comic book to a guy who'd memorized the Bible at age eight.
Derek blew out a frustrated breath and slid through the closing doors onto a mostly empty subway car, groaning when he realized just how late it was. The commuters were long gone, and Clooney was probably climbing the walls by now. He swallowed a rush of guilt and scrubbed a hand over his face. He'd just have to skip finishing the carpet tear-out tonight and take Clooney for a long walk. Maybe he'd go for a run; it would probably do them both some good, and maybe it would even take his mind off work for a little while.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and Derek groaned. For a second he considered ignoring it, but he was in charge now, and he knew he didn't have that luxury. He fished his cell out of his pocket and glanced at the screen, expecting to see the name of one of his agents, or maybe even the head office. When he saw Reid's name instead he grinned, then he pressed the talk button and lifted the phone to his ear.
"Hey, Pretty Boy. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Objectively speaking, most people would consider you more attractive than me. Which technically makes you the pretty one."
Derek grinned and relaxed against the seat, stretching his legs out in front of him as he pictured Reid frowning on the other end of the line. "Nah. Nobody's prettier than you."
And okay, so technically he was flirting. He was flirting with a colleague, one he knew maybe better than pretty much anyone else in the FBI except Garcia. But Reid was all the way down in Virginia, so Derek figured it couldn't hurt to give the kid a little ego boost now and then. If it had the added benefit of ruffling his feathers, well, that was probably good for him too.
For a few beats Reid didn't answer, and in the silence that stretched out Derek could picture his blush, see the little wrinkles between his eyes as he tried to work out whether Derek meant it or not. It wasn't really fair, knocking Reid off balance like that just because he knew how. But Reid was the genius, and he was a few steps ahead of Derek in pretty much everything else, so it was kind of nice to be the one who knew which end was up every once in awhile.
"January 12th," Reid finally said, like that was supposed to mean something Derek.
"What about it?"
"I've been invited to speak at a symposium at Columbia. I'll be in the city January 12th through the 17th. I thought if your offer was still open I could visit at the same time."
Derek's heart skipped a beat when Reid's words sank in, and he grinned and leaned forward to check that he hadn't gotten distracted enough to miss his stop. "So now you're using me to avoid New York hotel rates?"
"Actually, the school offered to pay for my lodging. It's part of the guest lecturer package. I can contact the Dean..."
"You better not," Derek interrupted before Reid had a chance to talk himself right back out of visiting. "You taking the train?"
"Flying. Once you factor in security and the wait for boarding, it still saves almost an hour of travel time," Reid answered, and Derek laughed, because it just figured Reid would do the math.
"Send me your arrival information and I'll pick you up."
"I'm sure I can just catch..."
"Reid," Derek interrupted for the second time, voice low and warmer now and he was pretty sure even a clueless genius like Reid could pick up on it. "Quit being a pain in the ass and just forward me your confirmation e-mail."
He didn't answer, but Derek could hear him moving around, then a deep, deliberate intake of breath. "Done."
A second later Derek's phone beeped to let him know he had a new message, and he grinned and stood up as the train rolled into his station.
"Good. So I'll see you next month."
"Morgan," Reid said, and when Derek's heart did that thing again he told himself it was just from taking the subway stairs two at a time.
"Thanks for the book."
"You can thank me when you get here by telling me what you thought of it. That is, if you're going to have any time for me between lectures."
There was a slight pause on the other end of the line, and Derek held his breath while he waited for Reid to tell him that he really was pretty booked up, and the most he could promise was a dinner or two. He wanted more; more of Reid's time, more of his company, more useless facts and frustrating logic and mostly he just wanted to see that Reid was doing okay, that he was back to confusing everyone around him with the power of his brain instead of crawling back into whatever dark place he'd been stuck in for so long after the Henkel case.
"I should have some time," Reid finally said, and Derek breathed out a relieved sigh. "I'll have to be at the university during the day, but my evenings are free."
"Good. I'm holding you to that, Pretty Boy."
Reid's laugh was the last thing he heard before he hung up the phone.
***Derek spent the weeks between Reid's phone call and his visit focused on work. When he wasn't stuck in the office coordinating raids or filing reports, he was working overtime to try to get his house livable before Reid showed up. He'd been sleeping in the guest bedroom since he knocked down the wall between the two bedrooms on the third floor, but he couldn't expect Reid to share, so he focused most of his energy on getting the master bedroom to the point where he could at least throw a mattress on the floor.
It took a lot of late nights and long weekends, but by the time the second week of January rolled around, there was new sheet rock hung and the woodwork had been stripped of several layers of paint. The floors needed sanding and fresh stain, and he hadn't gotten around to picking out paint for the walls yet, but he had a bed and a working shower, and that was pretty much all he needed.
Having a deadline helped keep his mind off Reid's visit, anyway, which meant he didn't drive himself crazy thinking about what they were doing. Nothing, he told himself every time he caught himself wondering, but the closer Reid's visit got, the less he believed it. It was pretty clear from one phone call that things between them had changed somehow since Derek left the BAU, only he didn't know what had changed exactly, so he had no idea what to expect. Reid had left him feeling off balance plenty of times before, usually when he was talking circles around Derek about something that only made sense to him. But this was the first time just the thought of seeing Reid face-to-face knocked him off center, and he had no idea how he was going to handle a whole week of Reid in his house.
The alternative was walking away, e-mailing Reid to tell him Derek was sorry, but he couldn't put him up after all. Then he'd have to ignore Reid's texts and probably Garcia's for awhile, too, until finally Reid got the hint and lost his number. And he knew how well Reid took a hint, so it would probably take a lot longer for him to get the message than Derek could stand to ignore him. Because the truth was he liked Reid's texts and his e-mails; he'd started to look forward to them enough to change the ringtone on his phone to let him know when it was Reid doing the sending, just so his pulse would stop racing when his phone buzzed, only to discover a work e-mail waiting in his inbox.
Not that he heard from Reid all that much. Less than he'd like, if he was being honest with himself, but he was trying pretty hard not to think about it. He got a text about a week after Reid's phone call informing him that Garcia was compiling a list of places they should visit while he was in New York, even though Reid had tried to tell her he wouldn't have much time for sightseeing. Derek recognized the message for what it was: Reid bitching about Garcia interfering, even though it was his own fault for telling her he was visiting in the first place. Not that she wouldn't have found out from Derek eventually, but he knew Reid had told her first, because she'd sent him a furious e-mail accusing him of holding out on her the second she found out.
Reid's next message appeared in his inbox about a week later, informing Derek that they were in Minnesota consulting on a multiple homicide situation, and he was starting to think Derek had made the right decision leaving the BAU, because it meant he wasn't freezing his ass off in Bemidji. Not that Reid used the word 'ass', but Derek knew what he meant. He just grinned and texted Reid back to say it was pretty damn cold in New York too, and he should bring a warm coat when he came to visit. Which he'd already taken his sweet time about, so he better not freeze to death in Minnesota before he ever made it to New York.
Thanks to Garcia he knew it was a pretty rough case -- four dead kids so far -- and when she called to tell him the team was stuck in Minnesota for Christmas his mind went straight to Reid. Not that Reid had ever been all that big on holidays, but Derek knew Spencer never dealt well when kids were involved, and anyway there was no way living out of a suitcase in some nondescript motel over Christmas wasn't depressing. He thought about calling, but he knew from experience they had their hands full, and the last thing he wanted to be was a distraction. So he waited until noon on the 25th before he sent Reid a text that just said, Merry Christmas.
A couple hours later Reid texted him back to say, Thanks. Say hi to your family. That was it; no complaints about the weather or the frustrating case, no worries about maybe being stuck in Minnesota even longer and having to cancel his trip to New York. Derek had been worrying about that for awhile, but he wasn't about to admit it. Instead he texted Reid back, promising to tell his sisters hello when he called home to wish them a Merry Christmas. Then he put his phone on vibrate so he'd stop obsessing about Reid and went back to mudding drywall.
It was four days later when the team caught their guy and went home. Just in time for New Year's, though Derek had been in their shoes enough times to know they didn't feel much like celebrating. He waited until almost 10:00 on New Year's Eve to call, frowning as Reid's phone went straight to voicemail. "Hey," he said after the beep, "it's me. Just calling to say happy new year. I hope this means you're out having some fun for once. Guess I'll see you in a couple weeks."
He hung up and frowned down at his phone for another minute, wondering if Reid really was out letting off some steam, and if so, who he was letting it off with. If it was Garcia she would have told Derek, if for no other reason than to rub it in that he was missing out. And yeah, okay, he would have been jealous, but only because he was spending his holiday alone this year. His sisters had let him hear about that, but the fact was he had a lot more responsibility now, and that meant he couldn't always get away for visits. Then again, if he was still with the BAU he would have missed out on a trip home this year too, so either way he wouldn't have seen them. If he was still with the BAU he would have spent Christmas with Reid, though, and he might even know what Reid was doing for New Year's.
It was tempting to call Garcia, but the last thing she needed was more fuel for her theory that he was obsessed with Reid. He wasn't; he was worried, sure, but that was because he knew Reid, knew how hard some of the bad cases hit him, and he knew how good Reid was at making the people around him think he was fine. Most people, anyway, but he'd never managed to snow Derek. He'd always been able to tell when Reid was trying a little too hard to act like everything was okay, just by the way he clutched that stupid bag of his, or the number of times he pushed a hand through his hair. He'd spent a lot of time profiling Reid over the years, maybe more than anybody else, and he knew if he called and asked Garcia the right questions, he'd be able to figure out how Reid was doing without even talking to him.
He'd almost talked himself into it when his phone beeped, Reid's ringtone loud in the silence of his house. Derek pressed the button to display Reid's text, pulse racing just a little more than usual as he read. Sorry I missed you. I went to a movie. You're probably out celebrating now; I'll hear all about it from Garcia on Monday, I'm sure.
Derek didn't even hesitate before he dialed Reid's number, listening to the phone ring and willing Reid to pick up. When the line connected he closed his eyes and let out a breath, something that felt way too much like relief flooding him when he heard Reid's voice.
"Hey, genius,' Derek said, forcing a smile into his voice. "So you're not out ringing in the new year with some sweet young thing?"
"That's not really my style," Reid said, like Derek didn't already know that. "It's more yours, actually."
"Not so much, these days. Guess all this responsibility's making me old before my time." Derek laughed, but he knew there was a little truth to it. "Heard you got your man up in Minnesota."
"Not before he killed another kid."
Derek could hear what Reid wasn't saying: We weren't smart enough to catch him before he took another life, and that means we failed.. He didn't bother reminding Reid of all the lives they had saved by catching him eventually; they both knew it was true, just like they both knew it never made them feel any better to hear it.
"Hell of a way to spend Christmas."
"I didn't have any plans anyway," Reid said. "I felt sorry for J.J."
J.J.: the only one on the team with a life outside the BAU. They always felt sorriest for her when they got stuck somewhere for a long time, mostly because the fact that she had a life meant it was possible, and they all sort of hoped maybe it could happen for them someday too. And now Derek had a desk job and some stability, and he could have all that any time he wanted. The problem was he was starting to think he wanted something he wasn't sure he could have.
"We'll make up for it when you get here," he said, just to lighten the mood. "I'll take you ice skating in Rockefeller Center."
"No thanks," Reid said, but he was laughing, and that was the idea. "I'd like to make it home without breaking anything I might need later."
"Yeah? That what you were doing at the movies on New Year's Eve? Keeping yourself out of harm's way?"
It was a joke, but the silence on the other end of the line told Derek he'd hit pretty close to the mark. Suddenly he felt like a jerk for pushing when he knew Reid was probably still worked up about the case. He'd heard the 'at the movies' excuse before and he'd never really bought it, but he'd never pressed too hard for the truth, either. He'd always figured it was none of his business, and it wasn't so hard to tell himself Reid was fine when Derek was there to see him every day. Now all he got were messages every so often and a couple phone calls, and somehow not talking to Reid made Derek worry about him even more.
"It's a good time to see a movie," Reid finally said. "Most people are at bars or parties, so there are less people in the theater to distract you from the film."
Derek didn't bother pointing out that the reason there was no one in the theater was because only losers went to the movies on New Year's Eve. He had a feeling that even if Reid was lying about where he'd been tonight, he had firsthand experience of how crowded the theaters weren't on holidays. Not that Derek's plans for tonight were so much better anyway; so far all he'd done so far was sand the window frames in his bedroom and worry about Reid.
"So tell me about these plans Garcia's been making for us," Derek said, hoping a change of subject would lighten the mood a little.
"It's nothing, she's just making fun of me."
Derek could practically hear his scowl over the phone, and he pictured Reid frowning and running a nervous hand through his hair. He didn't believe Garcia was making fun of Reid; chances were pretty good that if she was trying to tease anybody, it was Derek. She probably figured Reid was too clueless to catch on to whatever she was up to, but obviously she was wrong. Which meant he was going to have to have a conversation with Garcia, and he wasn't really looking forward to that.
"She's not making fun of you, kid. You know how she gets when she gets an idea in her head. She's probably just jealous that she doesn't get to bask in my presence for a whole week too."
That got him a laugh, however shaky, and Derek grinned into the phone.
"She was mumbling something about flight patterns and hacking into air traffic control the other day."
"Tell her to be careful, we take that kind of threat seriously around here," Derek said, his grin fading into a soft smile when Reid sighed on the other end of the line. "You know Garcia's crazy about you, right?"
Reid made a sound that could have been disbelief, but Derek knew him well enough to know it was just Reid's way of brushing off a compliment. For a minute they were both quiet, and Derek wondered when he'd reached the point where he was cool with just listening to Reid breathe.
"It's almost midnight."
Derek glanced down at his watch to see that Reid was right. "So it is. Happy new year, kid."
"I'm even less of a kid now than I the first time I asked you not to call me that."
Derek laughed, low and warm and he wondered if Reid could tell just how much he hated the idea of hanging up the phone. "Fair enough. So should I stick with Reid, then?"
"You could call me Spencer."
It wasn't like he'd never called Reid by his first name before; he had, plenty of times. But there was something about Reid -- Spencer -- giving him permission that made it seem like he was offering something totally different.
"Okay. So I'll see you soon."
"Derek." There was a slow, deliberate breath on the other end of the line, like Spencer was trying out the feel of Derek's name in his mouth. "You're sure I won't be in the way? A week's a long time."
All of a sudden a week didn't seem like much time at all, but Derek didn't say so. Instead he said, "You can stay as long as you want, Spencer."
"Thanks," Spencer said, and Derek closed his eyes to picture his blush.
***Next part of Zeroes and Ones.
- Criminal Minds - home page
- New stories
- Other pairings
- Gen stories