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Her New Beginning

Prompt: Men in Trees - "Read Between the Minds"

Penelope Garcia stood outside his closed office door, garnering her flailing strength.

You're making the right decision, Penny. The only decision that you can under the circumstances. C'mon, don't chicken out. Your sanity depends on your ability to do this.

Peering through the slats of the blinds to his office window, she saw him, head bent over some file or another, diligently making notes. Gnawing on her full lower lips, she tapped her fingers against the silky fabric of the full bright orange skirt she wore. Lifting a hand to adjust the collar of her fitted yellow shirt, she gulped audibly.

It was now or never…do or die.

Tapping timidly on the door, she waited as she heard Hotch's deep familiar voice bid her enter. Walking inside, he barely glanced up at her before double taking.

"Sorry," Hotch frowned. "The knock didn't match the personality. I thought you were Reid," Hotch said with a faint smile. "What can I do for you, Garcia?"

Uhmmmm...don't hate me? Her mouth went dry as she stared back at him. "I...uh..."

"Penelope?" Hotch murmured, canting his head to the side as his brows drew together in concern. One thing Penelope Garcia was not was easily flustered. And if the look on her face was any indication, flustered didn't come close to what she was feeling. Tortured would be a more accurate description. "Penelope?" he repeated, her pale face worrying him, "What's wrong?"

"S-sir," she began, silently cursing her warbling voice, "I, uh...I need to speak to you."

"Okay," Hotch said slowly, gesturing toward the seat in front of his desk. "Please sit down," he invited, his voice deliberately even, knowing from experience that one could never push the incomparable Penelope Garcia.

Watching as the unit's normally animated technical analyst stiffly took the visitor's chair he'd pointed out, Hotch frowned. Feel the first cool fingers of dread sliding down his spine, he tried to read her normally expressive face and came up blank. For the first time, Garcia's emotions weren't etched on her face for the world to see. No, instead of the bright, intelligent woman he normally saw, this person was a shell…a mere shadow. While her eyes were the same, the person behind them was somehow diminished, her inner light dimmed.

"Garcia," Hotch murmured softly, "You're beginning to scare me here a little bit and I don't scare easily." And it was true. After facing off with some of the worst of the worst that the world had to offer, not much had the ability to rattle him anymore. But this sadness etched on the perpetually happy face in front of him...that was doing something no unsub could ever do.

I scare myself, Hotch. Clearing her throat, Penelope opened her mouth, willing the words to come forth. Come on, lips. Don't fail me now. "Hotch, I've been doing some thinking...actually, a lot of thinking...well, honestly, all I've been doing for months is thinking," she rambled, her words coming in a rush, tripping over each other in eagerness to be spoken.

"All right," Hotch nodded encouragingly, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his desk. "Tell me what all these thoughts have been centered around," he urged supportively. Please God, don't let this be about her relationship with Morgan. He'd hate to lose a good agent, but he'd be damned if he'd look the other way if Derek had somehow managed to hurt Garcia. No one would. Derek Morgan could be replaced….Penelope Garcia couldn't.

Biting her lip, Penelope stared down at her hands. Please God, if you give me the strength to do this, I swear on my favorite troll doll Mimzy's head that I'll make the most of my life. I'll use my considerable skills for good...not evil. Wait...she was doing that here, wasn't she? Okay, God, I'll find a way to use those powers for good WITHOUT having to watch the daily horrors that seem to have invaded and taken over my life entirely, she bargained. "Uhmm, Hotch," Garcia said, twisting her fingers together nervously, "I need to leave."

Relieved, Hotch leaned back in his chair, his shoulders relaxing from their Defcon Four position. This was about her taking an afternoon off? Damn, he knew his team thought he was a slave driver, but he never imagined that Garcia would be anxious about taking him on...especially over something so simple as an afternoon off. "Well, since I don't remember you taking a day off in the last eighteen months, I don't see where that would be a problem."

Shaking her head as realized that he had completely misunderstood her words, Garcia swallowed the lump in her throat. Crap, he would take her in the literal sense. Hotch was a literal guy. If he said something, he meant it...and he expected everyone else to, too. "I should have been more clear," Garcia winced, finally forcing her eyes back up to his face, meeting his dark eyes. "I do need to leave today...but by today, I mean for good, Hotch. I'm quitting."

"Wh-what?" Hotch asked, leaning forward abruptly, his elbows hitting his polished desk with a thud as he caught her blurted words. Narrowing his eyes on the nervous woman across from him, Hotch was stymied. "When did you decide this?"

"I made the final decision while you guys were in Austin last week on that child abduction," Garcia revealed hoarsely, shivering as images of the footage she obtained on that Satanic cult that had kidnapped children for sacrifice danced through her head, taunting her cruelly. For weeks, she'd dealt with those horrific visions, her sleep interrupted violently, her daytime hours haunted. No matter what she had tried, from meditation to immersing herself in every video game known to man, she'd still been afflicted with the sights and sounds that never seemed to fade.

Her soul was being slowly murdered by psychopaths that had already claimed their victims…and she had no choice but to stop the slaughter.

Author's Note 2 - Also guys, please don't forget that if you'd like to advertise the awards on your own profile pages or stories, there's a short blurb on my (ilovetvalot) and Tonnie's (tonnie2001969) profile page for you to copy and paste if you choose!

Again, thanks to everyone reading, reviewing, alerting and favoriting this story!