Author's Note 1 - Well, readers this is our second foray into Ashley Seaver's character; this time, with Aaron Hotchner. We're well aware of the age difference. Personally, we enjoy it. We think it adds a new dimension to the relationships, and since one half of the writing partnership that forms the name "ilovetvalot" is married to a man quite a few years older (more than ten), those relationships are fairly easy for us to write. Give it a try; you might like it.
The Hardened Heart
Fury still coursed through him during his long drive home from the airfield. Shaking his head as he attempted to bring order back to his mind, Aaron Hotchner reminded himself that he had other things to focus his thought on. Training his eyes on the dark road, he studiously tried to avoid thinking about those innocent eyes that had stared back at him, stricken… by the gravity of the danger she'd placed them all in or merely the dark shadows of her past, he didn't know.
After his outburst with the young Agent Seaver, he'd passed the rest of their plane ride in complete silence, not even trying to speak to Rossi when the older man had taken a seat beside him. No, instead his eyes had kept traveling back to her bent head.
How could she have made such an ill timed, thoughtless move, he asked himself again, the question playing in repetition in his mind. True, she was still inexperienced in the field, barely even a rookie by his standards.
But shouldn't some decisions be common sense?
Common sense goes out the window when you feel a personal connection to the case, Aaron. And you know it, his mind chided. Who are you to judge her? You, who killed your ex-wife's murderer with your bare hands. You, who have allowed members of your own team to flout the rules in the face of their own personal convictions. Hell, you've HELPED them flout the rules. That woman was merely following her heart.
"And it led her to an unsub," Hotch growled aloud, thumping his hand against the steering wheel. He hated that he could still taste the bitter fear that had filled his mouth when he'd seen that psycho pressing her to the wall, a knife in her face. Her terrified eyes had bored into his, intensifying an already volatile situation, and for a moment his resolve had wavered.
Usually painfully unemotional, he'd felt something….for the first time since Haley had died.
For that alone, he could hate her.
Never again did he want to care for someone so much. At least, aside from Jack. Taking a risk with his heart and soul again was the last thing he wanted to do. Not again in this lifetime.
But he couldn't deny that those eyes of hers had an effect on him. How, after everything she'd been exposed to as a child, could that gaze of hers remain so pure...so free from the evil that had tainted her life?
Those sins weren't hers, Hotchner, his mind reminded him sternly.
And they weren't. But it was human nature to wonder how the apple could avoid falling near the tree, wasn't it? How the hell had she managed to hold onto her humanity in light of what her father had done?
Yeah, his mind smirked, like you're one to question someone else's humanity. Look at yourself.
He didn't want to. Not really. He was all too aware that after Foyet, things that had once bothered him...tugged at his heartstrings...they no longer had the same influence he'd once allowed them. Once, pulling his weapon and ending a life would have weighed heavily on his soul, no matter how monstrous the unsub. Now, his only concern was how quickly he'd be able to complete the necessary paperwork justifying his actions. He honestly hadn't given a thought to the unsub's family; he felt no responsibility to them. His sole mission was finding the killer and eliminating the threat to society.
She wanted to pay for sins that weren't even her own.
And he had censured her for it. He'd used her break in protocol as an excuse to punish her. In truth, he was condemning her for being human...for having a normal human reaction.
Mostly because he was jealous that he could no longer have one himself.
"Shit," he muttered, nodding at the security guard on duty as he mindlessly drove into Quantico's parking area.
He wasn't going to apologize, he told himself firmly as he walked to his office. He didn't owe her an apology. She'd made a stupid call during a high stress case. She'd made a decision that could have been potentially fatal not only to her, but to members of his team as well. Her actions had warranted his reprimand.
His very strong, entirely venom laced reprimand.
A reprimand that had caused even David Rossi, a man well known for having a stone heart when it came to cadets, to look at him as though he sprouted horns and a tail.
Throwing his briefcase into the chair in front of his desk, Aaron allowed the now familiar anger he felt toward Ashley Seaver to fuel the next few minutes as he fired up the computer on his desk and began to complete the incident report that would become a permanent part of her personnel jacket - a lasting black mark on her Bureau reputation.
He had no idea how long he sat there, typing a detailed analysis of his interpretation of the events that had transpired on their latest case. Minutes, hours...he had no idea.
It was only the light knock on his office door that finally diverted his attention. Glancing up, his heart sank in his chest as he met the slightly shattered eyes of the current subject of his case notes.
"Agent Seaver," he said dispassionately, his lips tightening. Damn it, there were those damned feelings again, making him all too uncomfortable, reminding himself that he was human...and so was she. He didn't want to sympathize with her, to identify with her. He couldn't afford to see her as anything other than the agent that had defied his direct orders.
But the undeniable truth was simple…the broken part that dwelled within in him recognized a kindred soul.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Agent Hotchner," Ashley said softly, not entering the door's threshold but remaining carefully at the dividing line. "I just wanted to drop this off before I went home," she said, holding up the single sheet of paper she held.
Glancing at his watch, he asked, his voice rough, "You've been here since the plane landed?"
"Yes, sir," Ashley nodded, still hesitating at the door. "I felt like I needed to...take responsibility for my actions. I knew that I'd be expected to make my own report to confirm or deny your own assessments. I figured there was no time like the present."
"That anxious to ride a desk the rest of your career, Agent Seaver?" Hotch asked, raising a dark brow at her. "You have to know that if you agree with what I have to say, then that's exactly what will happen. You won't be judged psychologically fit for field work."
"And as you pointed out earlier, sir, evidently, I'm not," Ashley admitted with soft dignity. "I did what I felt like I had to do, not what was best for the team. I put my own personal feelings above the case. I can't deny that. It's a decision that will leave a lasting impression. There are consequences. The sooner I accept that, the better," she said, quickly stepping inside his office to move to his desk, placing her report carefully on the corner of his desk and backtracking her steps immediately.
"You don't think I was too harsh? That you deserve a second chance?" Hotch asked curiously. Why the hell wasn't she fighting him?
"If that man had killed me...or you...or Agent Rossi… there wouldn't have been any second chances," Ashley replied as she shook her head slowly. "I've tried to tell myself that what happened was something I needed to do...but the truth is, I was selfish. I selfishly thought that my apology could alleviate someone else's pain. The truth is, nothing can do that. Not really. Not for my father's victims and not for this man's either. It's a lesson I learned too late."
Selfish or selfless, his mind taunted him as he let her words penetrate through his angry haze.
Nodding once, Hotch cleared his throat. "A reprimand does not necessarily mean that any penalty will be implemented."
"Agent Hotchner, due respect, sir. But we both know that I deserve any repercussions from this incident. You made your position clear earlier. I just wanted to take responsibility. Personally."
"Noted, Agent Seaver," Hotch replied evenly with a slow nod.
"Thank you, sir. And if I may say...despite everything, it was a pleasure watching your team do what they do," she offered quietly, before turning and slipping out of his office as softly as she'd arrived.
Sighing heavily as he stared blindly at the paper placed precisely on the corner of his desk, he reached for it with a deliberate hand. Studying it a moment, he shook his head slightly before spinning in his chair, dropping it into his paper shredder without blinking. Turning back to his computer, his eyes lingered on the bright screen, his earlier thoughts, then so orderly and neat, now a tangled mess. Shaking his head, he slowly closed the screen.
Do you wish to save?
Such a simple question flashing at him on the screen. It should have had an equally easy answer. Except...
Groaning, he quickly clicked his mouse over the grey box encasing the word "no".
Dave was right, after all. Every punishment should fit the crime.
Destroying a young, hopeful woman's career was not going to give him his own humanity back. But, perhaps, this...this moment...was a step in the right direction.
Author's Note 2: 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.