Author's Note:

Hold on folks, this is a long note today! First, Tonnie and I would like to announce that signups for Chit Chat on Author's Corner's January Challenge-The Happy New Year's Challenge are open thru December 30, 2010. Simply swing by the forum (you can link to it thru our profile pages) and sign up with the pairing you'd like to see written and three prompts associated with the holiday. On Jan 1, 2011, you'll be assigned a random pairing (not the one you usually write) and three prompts to write by January 30.

Second, I have a question for my readers. I truly enjoyed last night's CM episode, "What Happens at Home" and the introduction of the character Agent Ashley Seaver. I intend to do some stories with her character incorporated into a pairing and I'd like to know who you guys would like to see me pair her with. I know the obvious choice is Reid, but what about Hotch or Rossi. Anybody that knows my work knows I'm a sucker for older man/younger woman pairings. So, shoot me a pm or review and let me know what you think. I think the world of you guys and value your opinions!

Just a reminder, December 25th is right around the corner. Everyone that signed up for the CM Christmas Fic Exchange, please remember your stories. We want this to be a WONDERFUL gift experience for all involved. If you have any questions, feel free to pm either myself (ilovetvalot) or tonnie2001969.

In other forum news, please check out our newest discussion thread, "Serious vs. Light - Which gets the most response?" It is a discussion of serious vs. light stories and the response they get from readers. We also have new interviews with Clarebones and musicxlife4 up for your reading pleasure.

Also please check out the discussion thread entitled, "The Fine Line Between T and M ratings". There's a great ongoing discussion there, too.

Finally, if any of you have any idea for issues/activities that you'd like to see "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" forum tackle in the form of discussion threads and/or challenges, please let us know. We want to bring you all some really fun threads in the New Year!

As always, thank you to every reader, reviewer, and person that favorites or alerts one of our stories. Hearing from each of you means a great deal to each of us. We truly value your thoughts and opinions. Now, on with our story!


The Chains We Wear In Life

His eyes lingered on her as she descended the metal steps toward the tarmac. Shoulders hunched, whether against the wind or the overwhelming emotions crushing down on her, he couldn't tell. But one thing was for certain.

She looked beaten.

His mouth was open before he took time to consider it. "Ashley!" He watched her footsteps falter on the wet pavement of the airfield. Hurrying toward her as his teammates shuffled toward their various vehicles, a few shooting him curious looks, Dave ignored them.

Turning, he winced as the young woman's face was illuminated by a dim light from one of the poles lining the parking lot. Hell, ultimately he was the one responsible for that shattered look shining in her young eyes. It has been his idea to drag her into their latest case, hadn't it?

"Yes, sir," Ashley said, keeping her soft voice even as her eyes rested on the elder profiler's face as he walked toward her.

"I just wanted to say...I'll talk to Hotch. See if I can't smooth some of this over for you," he offered quietly as he pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders. "You shouldn't have to lose your job because of inexperience. Not when I'm the reason you were brought in on this."

Forcing herself to smile in spite of the heaviness threatening to overtake her, Ashley shook her head. "That's not necessary, Agent Rossi. I appreciate it, but ultimately, I made a mistake. Agent Hotchner is right. There isn't any room for those kinds of errors in the field. I'll live with the consequences of my actions," she said with as much dignity as she could manage.

Hell of a woman...especially for one so young, Dave thought, impressed by the younger woman's character. "You sure?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, giving her a chance to change her mind.

Ashley nodded, her long hair bouncing against her shoulder. "Positive, sir."

"For the record, we all make mistakes, Ashley," Dave said softly, his words meant for her and her alone. "The punishment needs to fit the crime. And in my opinion, you're going to make a great agent."

"I hope so," Ashley said, her eyes dropping to the ground, the solid asphalt beneath her suddenly drawing her attention. "With my history..."

"You don't have any history. Your father does. That shame doesn't belong to you. It's all his. And we shouldn't have used you and your past to our advantage. We felt like our options were limited."

"I'd like to say I was glad to help," she stated ruefully, scuffing her foot against a small puddle of rain. "Except, I didn't help. I just nearly got myself and potentially another innocent life killed." Swallowing determinedly past the lump in her throat, she whispered, "I got that man killed."

"That man was our unsub. That man had killed a lot of other people. There are a lot of things for you to lose sleep over, honey, but that's not one of them."

"Still..." Ashley whispered, raising her head to stare over his shoulder as she watched Agent Hotchner deplane.

"Still, nothing," Dave stated firmly, waiting for her eyes to turn back to him. "You made some mistakes, Ashley. That's undeniable. But wasting time feeling guilty over that psycho's death isn't something you should let slow you down."

"You don't understand." Ashley shook her head, wondering how she could find any words that would come close to relaying her feelings. "I made that little girl an orphan."

"Would it have been easier for her to be in the position you're in?" Dave asked gently, shifting his weight to his other leg as he watched her drop her head again. "At least this way, that child can close this chapter of her life. She can move on."

"Unlike me, huh?" she asked guiltily, her words almost lost as she felt her throat tighten with the tears she so desperately needed to cry. But she knew she couldn't. She couldn't let that emotional dam break…not now…not in front of them...him

"You tell me," Dave countered.

Blowing out a long shaky breath as Dave waited for her to reply, she finally lifted her eyes to his. "Before this...before this case...I'd put all these feelings about my father into a little box in my mind and I just never opened it. I was really careful to never open it. I tried to forget it was even there."

"And this case broke the box, didn't it?" Dave prodded gently.

"I just have so many questions," Ashley breathed, lifting a hand to massage her temple. "Questions that I'm afraid I'll never know the answers to."

"Sometimes not knowing is easier than actually knowing," Dave said slowly. "Chances are, none of his reasons would make any sense to you."

"Am I wrong for wondering?" she asked, her pure gaze holding his as she realized that he just might be the one person who understood her…in spite of herself.

"I don't think there is a wrong or right. There's just what is." Dave shook his head. "But," he offered, reaching into his wallet and extracting a business card with his personal information on it, "if you ever decide you really want to examine all the crap in that box of yours...hell, if you just need somebody to listen, you can call me."

"I couldn't," Ashley began to shake her head as he tried to pass the card to her.

"Ashley," Dave said deeply, "I'm responsible for taking your dad away from you. I don't regret it. It was the absolute right thing to do, but I've got a feeling you've spent years suffering...wondering...trying to nail that box in your mind closed. And if you need an ear...if I can answer any of those unasked questions, I'm willing to try."

"Can I think about it?" Ashley asked nervously, letting herself finally grab hold of that small piece of paper.

"For as long as you need," Dave murmured, his heart turning over at the way her fingers twisted his card uncertainly in her small hands. "You're only alone if you choose to be, Ash. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and let somebody in...and hope they can understand those things that haunt us."

"Are you haunted, Agent Rossi?" she asked softly, her clear gaze meeting his in askance.

"We're all haunted in one way or another," Dave said with a faint smile.

"You're sure I won't bother you if I choose to use this?" she asked, lifting the hand holding his card slightly.

"I wouldn't have offered it to you if I thought you'd be a bother," Dave said calmly as he shook his head. "And I don't want you to be afraid to use it. Any time you need to."

Nodding once, Ashley swallowed, dropping her hand and tucking the card into the safety of her pocket. "Thank you, Agent Rossi. Thank you for not thinking that the child of a serial killer would be cut from the same cloth."

"You're nothing like your father, Ashley," Dave said solemnly, never meaning the words he was saying more in his life.

Smiling slightly, Ashley turned away, getting in her small compact car and offering a weak wave as she drove away.

He stared at the vehicle until the lights disappeared, only then realizing he wasn't alone. "Well, say something, Aaron," he sighed without turning.

"You aren't going to talk me out of a formal reprimand, you know," Hotch replied firmly, his arms crossed as he stared at the back of Rossi's dark head.

"Yeah?" Dave grunted.

"Yeah," Hotch returned. "But I guess I could tone down what I was going to say."

"She's a good woman, Hotch. I'd hate to see her career derailed because of something I asked her to do," Dave replied, turning to look at his friend. "She's just trying to find her way in the shadows her father cast over her."

"Gonna help her with that?" Hotch asked curiously, cocking his head as he stared at the older man.

"If she allows me to," Dave nodded slowly.

"For purely altruistic reasons, I'm sure," Hotch said, fighting a grin, as both men turned toward their vehicles.

"Of course," Dave winked, his lips pulling up slightly as he pressed his hand to his heart. "Haven't you heard, Aaron? I'm a giver."

"Yeah," Hotch sighed. "You're going to be responsible for giving me an ulcer. She's too young for you, Dave."

Dave shrugged. "So were wives one and three. Didn't slow me down a bit."

"That, my friend, is what I'm afraid of."

Dave laughed at Hotch's mockery, the tone one he was well accustomed to hearing. Of course, what he'd never tell the younger man was that there was no laughter on the inside...only the torture of knowing that Ashley Seaver was one woman he had no business looking toward.

And yet, he found himself doing that very thing. And he had a feeling he was going to have to learn to live with the consequences.

Finis


A/N 2 - Okay, guys, I'm really excited to know what you thought of this story and pairing. I had a ball writing...but I'm a sucker for Rossi. Have no fear if you didn't particularly care for it, Ashley pairings will be coming for all the guys. I liked the character and thought I'd see where she could go in fic. Drop a line if you have time! Thanks!