Author's Note: Hello, readers. Just a brief note for you all today. For those interested, we have a new challenge up at "Chit Chat on Author's Corner". Sign-ups for our theme song challenge run through May 14, 2011. The rules are simple. Tell us your favorite character about which to write, the character you'd like to receive a story about AND what you envision that character's theme song being. We think it'll be a lot of fun and hope to see all of you there! All our best!

Also, the second annual Profiler's Choice Awards ARE on the horizon. Please visit our forum, "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" to read the details we have released about this year's awards and offer your opinion on any changes or things you'd like to see this year. It's right around the corner!

I wrote this story to illustrate the challenge. I hope ya'll enjoy it. Song inspiration: I'm Much Too Young to Feel This Damned Old by Garth Brooks.


Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old

Chapter One

It was dark when she got to work and dark when she left. And she was okay with that.

Most days.

Today, however, as she stood staring out over the grounds of Quantico, twilight casting an eerie glow over the many buildings, she realized that she wasn't okay. Not even close.

Today, she was tired...exhausted on a level so deep it made her bones ache.

"I'm much too young to feel this damned old," she muttered to herself, letting out a deep sigh that seemed to rattle her shoulder blades.

Leaning her head against the cool glass, her eyes drifted closed. This new career path she'd chosen for herself had given a whole new meaning to the words "full steam ahead". The pace was relentless and unforgiving. The job itself was grueling. Viewing the unspeakable...the depravity of a human mind was often more than her own consciousness could comprehend.

Now she knew why the burnout rate was so high in the Bureau.

"Ashley?" a deep voice called from behind her.

Great, she though grimly as her overworked mind recognized the voice, just what she needed. A pep talk from the man single-handedly responsible for the destruction of her family, such as it had been. Of course, if she was honest, if there was ever a family a bomb needed to be detonated within, it was hers.

But that didn't change her thoughts right now.

She should have hated him. After all, if not for him, she'd still be living in the happy land of delusion, never aware that a serial killer lurked in her midst, let alone that that shrouded figure had been her own father. Her mother would never have become a raging alcoholic, unable to deal with the revolting truth that the man she'd married...she'd loved...was a monster masquerading as a man. If not for him, they could have all remained unaware that the blackest of evils pervaded every aspect of their lives.

The truth, however, was quite simply that he'd probably been responsible for saving their lives. If her extensive studies had taught her anything about her sire, it was that they'd been existing on borrowed time. Eventually, his wrath would have extended to them. And his family would have become his victims.

Those pertinent facts precluded her from hating the man that had exposed her father's deeds. Or even disliking him.

As hard as it had been over the years to accept, he'd very probably saved her life. So, simply ignoring his presence wasn't particularly polite.

"Agent Rossi," she said softly, acknowledging his presence behind her.

"You okay?" Dave asked, standing a step behind his youngest teammate as he watched her raise her forehead from the glass. "You seemed a little off today."

Damn it, she silently cursed. Of course he'd be watching the serial killer's daughter for signs of struggle, wouldn't he? Her mask must be slipping if he had noticed anything at all. "Just fine," she said, turning to face him while simultaneously pasting a smile on her face.

"Yeah, that innocent act doesn't work on me," Dave replied, leaning against the wall as he shoved one hand in his jeans' pocket. "Three wives and a lifetime of profiling have made me kinda good at reading faces. Yours doesn't say that you're fine."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you," Ashley replied brightly, shrugging as she deliberately met his eyes without hesitation. "Maybe you need to find your glasses."

"Attacks on my age won't win you points either," Dave returned, raising one eyebrow as he kept his gaze focused on her now reddening face. "You've got a few years ahead of you before you'll be skilled enough to adequately divert a seasoned professional. Why don't you just try answering the question?"

Pressing her lips together, Ashley seethed as she tried to come up with something witty to say rather than what she really wanted to say. How could this man always manage to sneak beneath her well-honed shields? Why him?

"Go ahead," Dave invited, lips twitching as he watched the younger woman obviously battle to keep her temper in check. "Say what you really want to say."

"You can be a real asshole, can't you?" Ashley spat before she could control the impulse, the words firing off her tongue with machine gun rhythm.

"Oh, yeah. I'm the genuine deal," Dave replied conversationally, nodding as he raised one brow. "No disputing that."

Laughing in spite of herself, Ashley rolled her eyes as she felt her earlier anger start to lessen for just a bare second. "At least you're honest about it."

"I am," Dave agreed. "And I'm still waiting. What's going on with you, Ashley?"

Licking her lips, she sighed. There was no point in trying to dodge his questions. If there'd been one thing she'd learned over the last few months of shadowing him in the field, it was that he could be as tenacious as a bulldog when he caught a whiff of something. "I got a letter from my father today," she confided quietly, the words catching in her throat as she met his gaze once again. "It's the third one in two weeks."

Blinking as he absorbed her confession, Dave considered his response carefully. He knew Seaver's feelings regarding her father confused her, and not for the first time, he wondered if it wouldn't have been simpler for all of them if the bullet he'd been forced to put in that man all those years ago had been just a few inches higher. "Did you read it?" he asked slowly.

Walking toward her desk, Ashley nodded as she sank into her chair. "Yeah, I did," she revealed, pausing as she reached for the envelope on the corner of her desk. Staring at it a moment, she glanced up at Dave. "He wants to see me. He says it's time and that he wants to make amends."

"Amends?" Dave snorted derisively, accepting the letter she held out to him. Unfolding the simple sheet of notebook paper, he scanned the contents. Lifting his eyes back to hers a second later, he murmured, "He's dying."

Swallowing tightly, Ashley nodded jerkily as she stared at the coffee cup on her desk. "I called the warden of his prison this morning to verify what he says. I thought maybe it was a ploy for pity," she laughed bitterly, blinking hard against the tears she refused to shed. "It wasn't," she breathed. "Pancreatic cancer. He has maybe a month. And he wants to see me before the inevitable happens."