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Her New Beginning
Face softening as he watched a shudder wrack her body, Hotch murmured, his voice quietly convicted, "Garcia, I know that case was hard on you...the things you had to see...to watch. I don't wish that on my worst enemy, let alone someone like you. But, you need to know you were an integral part of what caught those monsters."
"I...I know that, sir," Garcia choked, bile rising in her throat as she recalled the last footage she'd seen regarding that particular case. All she had to do was close her eyes and it was their faces...mocking her...
"Maybe rather than quit, you'd consider a sabbatical," Hotch offered quickly, now recognizing the signs of burnout etched in her pale face. Damn it, how had he missed this? Wasn't he supposed to be attuned to the needs of his team….his friends?
"No break is ever going to take those images out of my mind, Hotch," Garcia denied softly, truth filling her words. "And there's always going to be another case...a worse case just around the corner. I'm not built to watch that kind of brutality every day. I'm not Em...I can't just shove it in a box. Or Reid, that takes his comfort from the cold hard facts. I'm sorry, but I don't have my Love Muffin's strength...his fortitude." Pausing for a breath, she filled her aching lungs as she continued, "I can't be like you and Rossi, Boss, and focus on the hunt rather than the sickness of the crime. Don't you see? I understand why JJ left now. She left to preserve what she had left of her mind.
He'd had no idea things had reached such an emotional crescendo for the woman that each member of their team had looked to at one time or another for hope and compassion. She was the lynchpin of their intrepid group, the grounding wire that held them all together…whether she realized it or not. Looking at her now, though, Aaron knew that she meant every word she said. "Garcia, put in a temporary leave of absence. Take a few months and then reevaluate."
Lips tightening, Garcia shook her head, unable to accept the alternative he was offering. "I've been evaluating for months, Boss. I don't want to read between the minds anymore," she whispered violently, her words shaking as she tried to maintain her composure. Taking a deep breath, she fought to control her breathing, to gain a semblance of control. "When I used to walk down the street and meet someone new, I used look at the person and automatically find something to like...to respect. Do you know what happens when I meet someone now?"
"No," Hotch replied, shaking his head. He could tell from the look on her face, however, that whatever she thought, it didn't bode well for any of them. "Tell me."
"Now, I look at people and wonder what I'd find if I dug. What kind of inner freak would I find. What kind of evil is masquerading around in a perfectly innocent looking body."
Jesus! How had any of them not seen the pain this formally bubbly woman had been in? "We all have moments like that, Garcia," Hotch offered, his explanation weak even to his own ears, his words a simple platitude in the face of her heart wrenching admission.
"But, it's not just moments anymore, Hotch," Garcia declared balefully, shifting impatiently in the not-so-comfortable chair. Sighing, she explained, "It's days and months of doubt and fear...of wondering if one less kid would have died if I'd found one teeny tiny kernel of information just a little bit sooner. I can't live like that anymore. I can't live underneath that kind of pressure. The Goddess wasn't set up for that," Garcia informed him sadly, her fingers picking convulsively at some imaginary lint on her colorful skirt. "I have to go now, while there's still a chance I can find the good in people again."
What the hell could he say to that? Hadn't he thought that very thing dozens of times over the course of his career? The difference between him and the woman sitting in his office was that only one of them had actually found the courage to walk away...to search for that elusive something better. And he knew in his heart of hearts that his fear was rooted in the fact that he doubted there was a better….but she didn't. "I'll miss you," Hotch said softly, not realizing until this moment how very true that was. He would miss her. Her grace. Her ability to heal others with something as simple as a smile and a well placed joke. Her indominatable spirit that seemed to override any crisis they might be facing, singularly or collectively. He would miss her. "We'll all miss you."
"I'll miss you guys, too. You're my family," Garcia replied faintly, her words catching in her throat as mental pictures of each of the team members came to her mind. "The only family I have left. But I have to do this...for me, Hotch," Garcia whispered, rising from her chair, forcing her legs to move, to go forward.
Nodding solemnly, Hotch rose and circled the desk. "If you ever change your mind...if you ever decide that you're ready to try again, call. There will always be a place for you on this team. In this family."
Genuinely smiling for the first time since she walked in the room, Garcia shook her head, her colorful strands bouncing from side to side. "Stick a fork in me, captain, because I'm done. But thank you," she said huskily, wrapping her arms around Hotch and holding on tight. For a brief moment in time, she'd been privileged to call this man her leader…and that was a privilege she would always hold dear.
Returning her embrace, Hotch sighed. "Be happy, Garcia," he offered quietly, squeezing her gently. Be happy for all of us.
Wiping her watering eyes as she pulled away, she nodded. "Be safe," she ordered, her wavering grin belying her tone. "And take care of all of them, Boss," she murmured, glancing over her shoulder and out his office window down at the busy bullpen.
With one final shaky smile at her former Unit Chief, Garcia slipped out of his office, freer that she'd felt in years.
This was her new beginning.
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!