Author's Note: This story is a direct sequel to "The Thunder Rolls". It is also my submission into two challenges...The Theme Song Challenge (my assignment was David Rossi "Aftermath") and The Times are Changing Mini Challenge.

Stay tuned for our next challenge on the Chit Chat on Author's Corner Forum. We'd love to see everyone participate.

We also wanted you to know, we're on Facebook now. Look us up under "Ilovetvalot Fanfiction" and add away. It's just another way for we authors and readers to remain in contact!

And check out our new "Times are Changing" mini-challenge at Chit Chat on Author's Corner forum. This one is for those Ashley Seaver fans that would like to write a resolution to her storyline.

Aftermath

Chapter One

A man shouldn't have been surprised in his own home. Wasn't it supposed to be his castle and all that? But at that moment, he truly was. After the night his houseguest had experienced, he'd fully expected her to be tucked tightly in his guest bedroom.

Oh, hell, who was he kidding, he asked himself grimly. He'd been praying she'd be asleep...hoping he'd have some more time to rifle through these emotions he'd been experiencing and relegate them to the furthest corner of his mind, locked in a box with the rest of the things he didn't want to spend too much time analyzing.

But she wasn't. Instead, she was sitting stiffly at his kitchen table, hunched over a mug of what appeared to be steaming coffee. And she looked so forlorn, it broke a heart he'd sworn was already shattered. This woman….this amazingly gifted and talented woman had the uncanny ability to sway him with just a mere look, which was something that no other had ever been able to accomplish.

It was obvious by her demeanor that she'd been there for a while. Glancing over at the neon numbers on the microwave, Dave merely shook his head as he realized that she might have never actually gone to sleep. Taking a step further into the dimly lit kitchen, Dave headed toward the coffee pot, which obviously had been percolating for a while now. Reaching for a mug on the open shelf, he easily poured the right amount. Raising the glass pot, he asked, breaking the silence, "You ready for a refill?"

But there was no response. He wasn't even certain that she had heard him. Frowning, he said, "Ashley? You with me?" His brows furrowing, he watched her continue to stare into space, no recognition of her surroundings, whatsoever.

Now this was not a good sign. Not at all.

Damn it, he thought grimly. He should never have allowed her to be alone last night. But when she'd pulled away from his embrace and asked him for some space, he'd thought she needed the time to process what she'd learned. He'd never imagined her crawling into this shell she seemed to have pulled around herself in self-defense.

She'd been a fighter from the get-go. Even as a child, her eyes had held a determination to survive that had belied her age. He'd admired it. Hell, he still admired it. Even more so now. So, needless to say, the lost, unfocused look shining in those blue pools scared the hell out of him.

"Babe?" he said softly, pushing away from where he leaned against the counter to pad across the hardwood floor, gently touching her shoulder. "Did you sleep at all last night?" he asked, wincing at the bluish hollows under her eyes, the lids slightly swollen from crying.

"I'm leaving," she whispered tonelessly, the simple phrase as wooden as the table before her.

Glancing out the still darkened windows of the kitchen, Dave shook his head. "I don't think so, Sweetheart. By the look of things, you haven't slept at all. There's no way I'm loaning you a car and putting you out on a highway." Relieved when she finally turned her face toward him, blinking slowly as though her overtaxed mind was trying to decipher his words, Dave was self-aware enough to admit that these...feelings he was having weren't run of the mill protective instincts.

He cared. And not just in that "I've got to watch my colleague's back" kind of way.

Of course it wouldn't be that fucking simple for him. When had it ever been? For some ironic reason, he was doomed to always want those he shouldn't touch. Hotch would tell him it was the lure of forbidden fruit.

But damn, she'd be sweet to taste, he thought grimly staring back into her confused gaze.

"Huh?" she grunted softly, cocking her head to the side.

"It's three thirty in the morning and pitch black out there, Ash. You aren't familiar with these country roads," Dave replied as he shook his head, trying to clear his own thoughts as much as offer her an explanation. "You need to..."

Comprehension dawned slowly on the tired younger woman. "What are you...no, I didn't mean leave here," she said slowly, lifting a hand to push her hair off her face.

"Then what did you mean?" Dave asked, shoving his hand in the pocket of his jeans to keep from touching her face.

"I meant...I'm leaving the BAU...the Bureau..." Ashley replied softly, averting her gaze.

"What?" Dave asked, his hand tightening on the back of her chair as he watched her gaze drop.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, shaking her head. "I know I must seem ungrateful...especially after everything you did to help me find a place on the team, but..."

"Ashley, you don't owe me any apologies. But you're tired right now. You've had a hell of a shock in the last few hours. You're traumatized..."

"And none of that changes the fact that I'm not meant to do this, Dave," she stated evenly, forcing herself to meet his darkened eyes. Inhaling deeply, she swallowed. "Can we move this conversation back to your living room?" she asked hopefully, uncomfortable with him towering over her chair.

"Y-yeah," Dave nodded, taking a step back when she rose. Following her petite frame through his kitchen, his mind spun. This had been the last thing he'd expected her to say. Now, if she'd told him to go to hell for sharing information she'd been better off not knowing, that, he could have understood. But this?

This he hadn't been prepared to hear...and odder still, he didn't quite know how the hell he felt about it. His gut suddenly seemed to have no opinion. Hell, maybe it was in shock, too.

Following her to the sofa, he sank down beside her, his lips unconsciously curling as she tucked her small bare feet underneath her again, the pink tips of her toes peeking out from beneath her. Funny, he'd never taken her for a "pink" personality. Somehow, he'd always assumed she'd be some variation of deep red.

Giving himself a mental shake and a stern order to redirect his thoughts, he cleared his throat. "Okay, babe," he said, turning his head to rake over her with his eyes, "Explain this thought process to me."