Out of Africa

Roll the Hard Six

"Is it what you want? Is it what you think you are supposed to want?...
You were right to want this, and I am wrong to want to stop you, but you need not make this move. Who says you must?
If you love, if she loves, why ask the world to take notice?
Just let it be."
~Emilie Autumn.

CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

Spencer Reid thoughtfully munched on his sandwich as he studied his boss' face. Hotch had been oddly anxious ever since they'd realized that Rossi and Prentiss went out to lunch on their own. Pair that with the way Prentiss had been watching Hotch earlier this morning, and you got an interesting narrative puzzle.

He also remembered Emily's expression whenever she noticed his scrutiny—the absolute dread, the please-don't-notice in her dark eyes that had only made him pay closer attention.

Something was definitely up. And Spencer had a pretty good guess as to what that something was. Despite all the jokes about his obliviousness to all matters of love and attraction, Spencer Reid was a pretty perceptive guy.

He decided to wait and talk to Rossi—if anyone knew what was going on between those two, it would be the Italian. Mainly because the older man seemed to be somehow instigating whatever oddness was brewing between Hotch and Emily. In fact, Rossi's involvement only furthered Spencer's suspicions.

Spencer Reid wasn't sure how he felt about all of it, really. Emily was one of his closest friends, and he admired Hotch in the way that a kid admires his older brother—he wanted to see them happy, but he didn't want them to somehow get hurt in all of this. David Rossi, for all his good intentions, could be a steamroller at times—Reid hoped that his Italian friend didn't push the other two into something that they weren't truly ready for.

He glanced over at Hotch again—the man looked positively ill. He looked the furthest thing from love-struck that Spencer had ever seen.

And Emily, her expression this morning—she'd been absolutely terrified, in a way that he'd never seen before (sure, he'd seen her scared, but this was a different sort of fear, something more intimate, something more based in emotion rather than situation, something that made her seem so much more vulnerable than he'd ever seen her before).

You'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to notice the little tidbits that had been happening between Emily and Hotch during her last few months with the BAU, after her return from the dead—but Spencer had seen those warm and tender moments as nothing different from the moments she'd had with Derek Morgan or David Rossi or even himself. People connected in deep and quiet ways. It was natural. And when you connected deeply with someone, you saw the soul underneath—and you couldn't help but be attracted by the authenticity, the vulnerability, and the courage. That was natural, too.

Spencer Reid could readily admit that he was attracted to Emily Prentiss' soul—just as she was to his, in a way. Theirs had been almost an instant connection, and the open authenticity that had followed their initial introduction had only solidified it. And yes, there were a few moments in the beginning when Spencer had wondered what if (and even a few moments when he'd looked into Emily's eyes and thought he saw the same question shining in those dark depths), but it had never gone past that simple question. At some point, both of them had quietly come to the realization that they really didn't want to know. The connection built between them was enough for both of them. Yes, the attraction was still there, but it had slowly muted into something more solid and less lustful.

Just because you felt attraction, didn't mean you had to act upon it. Didn't Rossi realize that?

Spencer contemplated this question. No, David Rossi probably did not. If he'd ever considered such a concept, he probably wouldn't have ended up with Erin Strauss (because there had certainly been plenty of obstacles to keep him from acting upon whatever strange desire he had for that woman—her personality, their jobs, his sanity…).

And look how that turned out—despite its tragic end, David didn't seem to regret a single second of it. Just like Spencer didn't regret his time with Maeve, even though it still brought him pain.

The great Spencer Reid contemplated this emotional paradox as he continued eating his lunch.

He needed to talk to Rossi. Regardless of what could happen between Hotch and Emily, whatever did happen needed to be based on their own actions, not the older man's prompting.

He glanced over at Hotch again, unable to stop the smile curling at the corner of his mouth. Never in a million years did he think he'd ever be riding to the rescue for Aaron Hotchner—and certainly not in a situation like this.

Central Shopping Center.

The two American agents were too close for Yonah Zamir's liking. Close in a way that made them dangerous.

It was lunch time, and a crew had erected a series of tents in the northern parking lot, with rows of tables underneath. It had become like a high school cafeteria—everyone had separated off into their own little groups, chatting and laughing amongst themselves as they enjoyed the chance to be outside and out of their stuffy white forensic jumpers.

As usual, Yonah sat on her own, away from the others, so that she could have an unrestricted view of everyone. She liked being able to observe the rest of the group, to see who might become a problem later on—anticipation was half the battle.

By nature, she was a generally mistrustful person. By habit and history, she was specifically mistrustful of Americans.

She found her gaze wandering back to them, watching them interact—they moved around one another quietly, without words, in an odd sense of synchronicity that proved they were closer than most of the other agents. Lewis gingerly picked the tomato off her sandwich, placing it on her partner's open sandwich and taking the pickles that he'd set to the side of his plate (obviously for her). It was a simple scene, yet it spoke a thousand words. They were comfortable in each other's space, more so than most—Yonah couldn't think of a single coworker with whom she would have such a rapport. It wasn't normal.

She'd definitely have to keep an eye on them.

After lunch, she found them by the evidence tables again, donning a fresh set of jumpsuits and joking about something.

"Good work this morning," she didn't bother with a greeting, merely a friendly smile. They stopped and turned to her, their own expressions slightly surprised but still warm and open.

"Thank you," Masterson spoke, his broad shoulders and barrel chest seeming even more imposing now that Yonah was actually closer to him. Pity he went into forensics—his body type alone would have made him good at interrogation.

"You seem very lucky," she added.

Lewis gave a slight shrug, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity."

Yonah smiled again, a shark of a smile, all teeth and no warmth. "I meant that you should be on your own when you found the bomb. Just you two and the good doctor."

She nodded in the direction of Benjamin Arterton, who was busy logging in new materials.

They both understood the implication of her words, but neither took the bait.

So they are smart, too. Tight as twins and smart as serpents. Even more dangerous.

"Well," she pasted on another bright smile, gave another slight nod of her head. "I wish you continued luck."

They nodded as well, their eyes watching her as she walked away.

"Whaddya think?" Jeff asked, stepping behind Rowena so that he stood directly over her shoulder, allowing them to talk quietly between themselves.

"I wouldn't trust her any further than I can throw her," Rowena turned her head slightly, closer to him. This certainly wasn't the kind of conversation that should be overheard.

He gave a slight smile, "Think that goes for all of 'em."

"Our people can be trusted," she was referring to the American FBI agents. He nodded in agreement. Then she added, "And Dr. Arterton."

"His head's in the right place," Jeff replied diplomatically. There was a beat of silence.

"Either way, I don't trust any of them as much as I trust you," she assured him.

"Same here," he turned to go, slightly bumping his shoulder against her back in a gesture of camaraderie. She followed him, the two zipping up their jumpsuits in unison as they headed back into the fray.

"We need to be in the lab as soon as possible," she said, once she caught up to him. "I want to do the ballistic testing myself."

"Agreed." His face was grim—he knew that would not be an easy battle. Still, he shared her sentiment. This was too important to let someone else do it, and despite all profusions of goodwill and international-working-together, he wasn't going to simply take a stranger's word on the results. "And I wanna take a crack at the IED we found this morning, too. I say we found it, so we should get first run at it. Send it back to TEDAC."

The Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center at Quantico was one of the best IED analysis centers in the world—there would be no denying that, and this would probably be the deciding factor in their favor.

"That's gonna be a battle royale," she informed him. He made a small noise of agreement.

"Maybe you can sweet-talk your delicious wunderkind into helping us out," he suggested with a slight grin. "He seems to be pretty close with Chief Prentiss—Interpol's the one calling all the shots when it comes to deciding what goes where."

"True," she shared his conspiratorial grin. After a beat, her expression sobered, "Would you be upset if I slept with him?"

She didn't know where that question came from (she did, but she didn't want to). A sudden wild hare of a thought, an impulse that slipped past her teeth before she could curb it.

His expression changed, too. He looked down, suddenly engrossed with his gloves. "Why should I care who you sleep with?"

She should have let it go. She didn't.

"I didn't ask why should you, I asked would you."

Jesus, Roe, what has gotten into you? You don't want to know the answer to this one.

"Why does it matter? You're not gonna do it," he picked up a pelican case, tossed it onto a table without even glancing at her. He opened it, looking for more evidence collection bags.

"How do you know?" She set her hands on her hips.

"Because you don't care about him—you like him, you find him fascinating, like some shiny new toy, but you don't care about him." He kept moving, kept unpacking and searching for things, his tone matter-of-fact. "And before you ask what that's got to do with anything—I know you. You wouldn't sleep with someone if you didn't care about them. You're not that kind of person."

She couldn't argue with that. Despite her coquettish ways and easy smiles, she never was the person she pretended to be for the rest of the world—Jeff Masterson saw that, and it was comforting, knowing that someone truly saw her. Still, she wanted to needle him further, because he hadn't answered the original question, he was deflecting and dodging and they both knew it.

"Well, what if I decided to be that kind of person?"

He became very still. Then he quietly looked up at her, blue eyes piercing into hazel, "You do whatever makes you happy, Roe. If you're happy, then so am I."

That simple edict spoke volumes yet declared nothing—it was too much and not enough. Rowena felt her breath catch in her throat as she recognized the weight of this moment.

She taught herself to breathe again, never breaking his gaze as she gave a single, small nod.

So there it was, then. The confession and the absolution. Your happiness is mine, but we can never cross that line, so go and be happy.

Jeff knew that he'd gone too far, said too much, but in a way, he knew that it needed to be said—it had needed to be said for quite some time now. There'd always been something between them, and most of the time he was certain that it was a mutual thing (sometimes Rowena would shift and change and become unreadable, sometimes he wasn't sure anymore), but he also knew it was a thing that could never be birthed into action.

He instinctively looked down at his hand—currently it was without his wedding band, the absence of which made his hand feel awkward and off-balance (the hand of a liar). Still, that golden circle of a promise was around his neck, next to his Saint Michael's shield (Blessed Michael, Archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil). He loved his wife, more than he'd loved any other, and whatever strange thing existed between him and Roe wasn't worth the destruction of all that he'd built with another woman for the past fifteen years.

Still, he felt as if he owed his partner something, some kind of acknowledgement, some kind of moment in which they recognized all that they were, for what they were. He could give her that much.

He hoped that she could see this offering for what it was. The look in her hazel eyes told him that she did.

"Understood," was all she said, and he felt a lump in his throat at the simple reply. She turned her attention to putting on her latex gloves, then, after a beat, changed the subject, "So, we've almost put in a full eight hours here today. I'm thinking we could do one more sweep of that eastern quadrant, and then perhaps call it a day."

He pretended to think about it (he knew where she was going with this), "And perhaps, since we'll have finished so early in the afternoon, we might could stop by the CID labs and take a look at ballistics?"

"Well, I mean, we might as well," she was beautifully deadpan. "After all, it seems a bit rude to go back to the hotel and sleep all afternoon, while the rest of our friends are still working so hard."

He grabbed the rest of his equipment and began gingerly making his way across the rubble, "I think that sounds like an excellent plan, Agent Lewis."

Now she grinned, "I thought you'd say that, Agent Masterson."

They walked side-by-side through the wreckage, comfortingly in-sync once again. Rowena had always known that this was as much as she would ever get, more than she could ever ask for, and she'd been fine with that (Jeff Masterson was an honorable man who loved his wife, she never wanted him to be anything less). Still, it was nice, to have some kind of recognition. It meant that it wasn't all in her head, and she appreciated her partner's bravery in confirming her suspicions.

Whatever this was, it truly was enough.

Downtown Nairobi.

Complete silence reigned for most of the journey back to CID. Emily had slipped her shades on, her face becoming an unreadable mask. Still, Dave could see the tight lines in her shoulders and neck that betrayed her feelings of anger and hurt.

The anger he could understand—he probably would have reacted the same way, had the tables been turned. But the hurt that had lined her voice and echoed in her eyes had been a surprise. Was she hurt because Dave had somehow betrayed her confidence (though she'd never admitted her feelings for Aaron to him)? Or was it because she realized that Aaron had been made aware of the situation, and still chose to ignore it?

David guessed it was the second reason.

Right now, Emily was shutting her old friend out, and he didn't like it. Still, he knew that when they began speaking to each other again, it would have to be on Emily's terms. He wouldn't push her—she deserved to have some control in this situation. If nothing else, his obedient silence would serve to prove his contrition.

He hated himself for the way she'd looked at him, at the diner—but what he hated even more was the fact that Emily Prentiss apparently wasn't the person that she used to be. When had she become so timid, so willfully unhappy?

They rounded the last corner, moving quietly through the throngs of people on the sidewalk.

Emily finally broke the silence.

"So. When you talked to Hotch about…about the things you've noticed between us. What did he say, exactly?"

A smile blossomed across his face. Ah, there she was, his gattina, his brave and gambling girl. As she'd pointed out earlier, the odds weren't exactly in her favor, but that had never stopped her before—perhaps she hadn't changed as much as he'd feared.

There might be hope for them yet.

"That was how it was, sometimes. You put yourself in front of the thing and waited for whatever was going to happen and that was all. It scared you and it didn't matter. You stood and faced it. There was no outwitting anything….Sometimes you looked the thing in the eye and it turned away. Sometimes it didn't."
~David Wroblewski.

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