"Good morning. If you don't mind my saying so you look better than last time I saw you," Dr. Westfallen says to JJ.
JJ smiles. "I feel better."
"Yes. Not every night. Strangely, when I do get them they are worse than they were before. Guess my psyche saves up the images for one big show," she says with a grin.
Westfallen is glad to see JJ able to joke about the dreams. "Yes, that's how the mind works sometimes. What are your thoughts on work?"
JJ takes a deep breath. "I'm going in for a half day today. I need to see if I really am okay with going back. I know in my heart what I am and what I am meant to be. I just need to make sure my head agrees."
"You do understand that even if now isn't the time to return that doesn't mean you will never go back, right?"
JJ nods. "I know. That's why I want to see if it's too soon or not."
"And if it's time to go back, will you still travel right now knowing Emily is due in, what, a week?"
"Two weeks. And yes, I think I can. She's doing the right things. We have an incredible support group around us. Though it would terrify me on some levels, if by chance I am out of town when Rocky decides to debut, I know they will be safe until I can get to them."
Westfallen smiles. "That's a big admission, Jennifer."
"Big and scary," JJ admits. She thinks a minute. "Emily was facing the same thing when I was pregnant. It was just a quirk of fate that Henry came early after we had just come back from a case. That was already going to be my last time traveling with them." She chuckles. "Just didn't expect it to be the last because Henry had arrived."
Westfallen grins and nods. "I expect not. How are you feeling about your place on the team?"
"You mean the bad luck thing?" Westfallen nods. "I think that was just self-pity masquerading as concern for them."
JJ laughs. "Yeah, I'm not sure I fooled anyone but myself with that one. All in all I'm feeling really good about things. Now, do I think I'm cured? Nope. With my job, with what we see and do, with knowing there's a psycho out there with us on his drawing board, I know I will have bad days. But I think I trust the people around me and you enough to know I can work past those issues."
"I'm am very happy for you, Jennifer. I was worried you would walk away from the FBI and I knew that would actually do more harm than good in the long run."
"Why didn't you say so?"
She shakes her head. "That wasn't my place to say. You had to come into that knowledge on your own for it to really sink in."
JJ laughs. "Kinda like Dorothy figuring out Kansas isn't so bad after all?"
Westfallen nods. "Something like that."
The two continue to talk about JJ's revelations and feelings about the job until her appointment ends. Westfallen is thrilled to see the spark that had been missing back in her patient's eyes.
"You are doing incredibly good, Jennifer. But, as always, I'm just a phone call away if you feel yourself slipping a bit."
JJ nods and stands. "I know. That safety net helps, trust me."
"You be safe out there. Go catch a bad guy."
JJ grins. "My pleasure."
JJ steps off the elevator onto the BAU floor. From the safety of the hallway she stares down at the bullpen. Her stomach flutters with nerves, almost like her first day so many years before. She senses someone watching her and turns to see a curious Hotch watching her.
"Hi, Boss. I'm ready to work."
He nods and walks towards her. "Are you sure?"
She smiles and he is glad to see the confidence in her face. "Yes, I am. I need to work back in slowly but I'm here to work. Maybe half day for a couple days?" she asks.
He nods. "However long you need. The team is not the same without you. Rossi and Morgan are on an inmate visit. Reid will be glad to have someone to talk to. Especially since it's you."
"Thank you for saying that. And for everything. I really appreciate this, Hotch."
"It was about time for your breakdown. We all have them at some point," he notes.
"True. So, guess I need to get back to it."
"If you need anything my door is always open."
"I know. That helps."
JJ heads down to her desk. She smiles at Reid as she turns on her computer. When he gets off the phone he stands.
"Thanks. I really missed this place." She taps his arm. "And working with you."
"I was really scared you wouldn't come back," he admits softly. "The team wouldn't have been right without you here."
"Thanks, Reid. I was scared I wouldn't come back, too. And I may not be fully okay but I'm getting there. A few half days will help me get back into the swing of things."
"Good. If you need anything, just throw a piece of paper at me. That's what Morgan used to do."
JJ laughs. "Good to know. Thanks, Reid."
By Thursday JJ is back to working full days. The team and her wife were happy to see the job had actually helped click the last few pieces together in JJ's mind. On Friday she is working on a consult when Reid sees Garcia hurrying to Hotch's office.
"Uh oh. Looks like we have a case."
JJ whines. "Really? On Friday? Declan has a game tonight!"
Reid chuckles. "Damn those bad guys for not checking the football schedule."
JJ slides a glance at him. "You need to stop emailing with Emily, smart ass."
He just chuckles.
In Hotch's office, Garcia closes the door and paces nervously in front of his desk.
"We have a case that really needs the team but I don't know if we should go. I mean, the last one we all dealt with was hard on her and this one could send her into the stratosphere and she just got back and now this is so…oh, God, and yes, they need us but-"
"GARCIA!" Hotch's voice finally cuts through her nervous ramble. "What is the case?" he demands from the frazzled woman.
Garcia hands him the file. He looks it over and pinches the bridge of his nose. He finally looks at her. "Gather the team. We'll let her decide."
Garcia nods and heads out. Five minutes later the team is waiting for her to start. She passes out the folders.
"Macon, Georgia and the surrounding cities. Police are-"
"Holy shit! Are you fucking serious?" JJ blurts. She looks up at Garcia. "First dogs, now this? Are you trying to kill me? Really?"
Garcia winces. "I'm sorry, Jayje, but they really need us." She looks to Hotch for help.
"JJ, if you want to sit this out none of us will think any less of you."
JJ stares at him, then down at the folder in front of her. She can feel everyone's eyes on her. She takes a deep breath.
"I'll…let me…just talk, Garcia," she mutters.
Garcia looks at Hotch who nods. "So, uh, the police in that area connected 5 murders. The women were all kidnapped while pregnant and later found dead. The children were not found with them and there is evidence that the children were actually born. There is no lead on the children at this time though I will be running databases for adoptions in and around Georgia."
JJ is staring at the picture of victim number 4. Her long brunette hair is neatly done. The bodies had been laid out carefully with no post-mortem desecration. The women had even been killed by the seemingly humane way of being drugged then smothered. They would have suffered little at the time of death but not knowing what was to happen to their children would have been devastating. The remorse in the way the bodies were dumped is unusual considering the terror that they must have felt while captive.
JJ looks up and sees everyone is staring at her. She takes a deep breath and looks at Hotch.
"Wheels up in 30?"
He nods. "Yes."
She stands. "See you on the plane. I need to call Emily."
She walks out of the room. Everyone looks at Hotch. He stands. "You heard her." He looks at the analyst. "Get on those searches."
She nods. "Yes, sir."
Garcia makes her way into the hall but waits until she sees JJ walk out of the bullpen, her go bag over her shoulder.
"Jayje?" she says nervously.
JJ walks up to her best friend and smiles. "Good call, Garcia. They need our help before victim number 6 is taken and found dead."
"So…you're not pissed at me?"
JJ grins. "Of course not. Might want to kick in the teeth of The Fates, but I'm not mad at you. This…this is the job. And it's a job I'm damn good at. It's who I am."
Garcia smiles. "Damn right it is. If you need anything, you call me."
JJ pats her arm. "I will."
"And I plan to move into Chateau Prentiss until you return."
JJ chuckles. "I figured as much. Thanks, Pen. I really appreciate it."
Garcia pulls her into a hug. "I love you, Jayje."
"I love you, too, Pen."
JJ moves away and catches the elevator to the ground floor. And just like that, JJ is back to work.
A/N: This story is dedicated to my nephew and other servicemen and women struggling with the affects of PTSD. May they all some day find peace and reconciliation with what they experienced while at war for our freedoms.