Out of Africa

Luck

"I'd think, maybe he truly is something extraordinary. He's what he is, that's it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is."
~Ken Kesey.


CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

"I think I've got something," Ahoo Shir-Del's voice bordered between cautious excitement and impending dread.

"What?" Eric Silver leaned over to inspect her computer screen.

"There was an address—in the paperwork that Wasaki filled out, when he was giving his statement as a hostage—it's a valid address," she motioned to the satellite map of the area. "It's near the outskirts of town. It could definitely be worth looking into."

"It's a trap," George Whitting replied succinctly, not looking up from his lunch. "This man doesn't do anything by accident. He gave us that address, hoping we'd figure it out and come looking for him. It's probably rigged to blow us all to kingdom come."

Ahoo gave him a slightly irritated look—he was probably right, but leave it to George to rain on the parade.

"However," he pushed his food away, turning his full attention to his teammates. "The son of a bitch is probably a couple buildings over—somewhere nearby, where he can watch us get blown to bits, idiots that we are."

"So…what you're saying is that we should concentrate on the areas around the address," Ahoo interpreted the infamous George-speak (they had a running joke about it, about how he always spoke in riddles, in ways that gave an answer but still made everyone have to figure it out for themselves).

He gave a satisfied nod.

Eric Silver rose to his feet, his mind already turning. "If he's expecting us, he'll already have eyes and ears all over the place. I'll talk to the military task force that started this whole thing—we should be able to use their satellites to heat map the area, figure out which building he's actually hiding in."

The Germans and Israelis gave their agreement with this plan, and Silver went off to put things into motion.

"You're getting good at this," George said quietly, giving a small, proud smile to Ahoo.

"I had a good teacher," she returned his smile with a grateful one of her own. That statement was pure truth—Eric Silver had been a kind and compassionate boss, but it had been George Whitting who'd taken her under his wing and taught her the ropes of profiling and tactical planning.

He waved away the compliment, "We don't know if my hunch was right, yet. That's the problem with trying to get two steps ahead—sometimes you get too elaborate. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best option."

"Mariatu Wasaki doesn't seem like a simple guy," Ahoo pointed out.

George smiled again, "No, he doesn't."


Aaron Hotchner was about to crawl out of his own skin. Too much time had passed—Dave and Emily had been gone far too long for it to be a simple lunch. No, they had to be talking about something. Something deep and important. He'd bet everything he owned that he knew exactly what the subject was.

Goddammit, he'd told Rossi to stay out of this. The heaviness in his gut told him that the older man had not listened, not for a single second.

He shouldn't be surprised. Typical Dave, always thinking he knew best.

His anger towards his friend was momentarily forgotten when Rossi and Prentiss breezed back into the conference room—he watched Emily's nuances like a hawk, searching for her tells, for any sign of what had transpired over the last ninety minutes (ninety minutes, a lot could be said and asked and told in ninety minutes).

She simply smiled, slightly breathless but nothing unordinary. Except there was a faint tremor behind her eyes, as if perhaps she thought that he wouldn't return the cordial greeting—or maybe he just imagined it. Either way, he smiled back, though it didn't quite reach his eyes.

He glanced over at David Rossi, who was suddenly engrossed in the wood grain pattern on the table.

Spencer Reid was taking it in as well, his brown eyes bouncing back and forth between the two—dear god above, who didn't know about this awkward situation?

A glimmer of irritation washed over Aaron's body at the thought. Whatever this was between him and Emily, it was just that—between them, private, personal, untouchable.

Untouchable. An apt adjective. That sent another ripple of aggravation across his skin.

It's not entirely my fault, he wanted to shout, but he knew that it wasn't entirely true (though it wasn't entirely false, either).

He glanced over at Emily again (he was thinking of her as Emily, a dangerous thing—he had to make her simply Prentiss again, but how could he, when she was chatting quietly with Mika and looking so wonderfully like every good thing he'd ever seen in her, like every bit of strength and vulnerability mixed into the concoction that could only be described as Emily?). He suddenly realized that he never should have told her that he knew her tells—he couldn't read her, but he could tell that she was intentionally keeping her body language neutral and unreadable.

Damn Rossi. Damn Emily. Damn it all.

His litany was cut short as Eric Silver hurried into the room in his usual authoritative air, "We've got something—when Wasaki filled out the paperwork as a hostage, he left an address—"

"It's a trap," Rossi and Hotch said in unison, taking a beat to look at one another in surprise.

"We know," Silver said simply. Then he continued, "We've got heat-map satellites turned to the area, and we're assembling a task force now."

Now, he turned his attention to Emily, "Chief Oduya mentioned that you would probably want to run point—with the whole world watching, we want to do this one by the book."

"Well, since it's no pressure," she returned with a shrug of feigned nonchalance.

There. There's the part that's the Emily beyond the Prentiss. How could I ignore that? Aaron Hotchner fought back a small smile at Eric Silver's expression—obviously, he didn't share Emily's sense of humor about the situation.

"When do we roll out?" Emily set her hands on her hips, resuming a serious air.

"The tactical team can be ready in fifteen minutes," Silver assured her. "But the location's on the other side of town—could be an hour or more to get there, with traffic conditions. If we go in with lights flashing, we might spook him."

"I think the bullet-proof vests and battering rams are probably going to clue him in, regardless of whether or not we come in with lights," Emily pointed out.

Silver acquiesced to that statement. "So, lights or no, Chief?"

"No lights," Emily went with his original recommendation. "We'll meet the rest of the tac team at the vans."

Silver disappeared again. Emily turned back to the room, which had suddenly gone anxiously quiet.

"You're with me," she motioned to Mika Kimathi. He simply nodded. She glanced at her former BAU team mates, "Do I even have to ask if you're coming along?"

"Not even for a second, gattina," Dave replied. Spencer was already on his feet and heading for the door. She gave a slight smile—she hadn't expected anything less. She turned back to Hotch.

"I'm with you," he replied simply. There was another flicker of something unreadable behind her eyes, but she merely gave a nod and a grim smile.

"Alright then, let's do this."


Quantico, Virginia.

Penelope cursed the time-zone difference in every way that she knew how—and then she made up a couple of new ways, too.

As per usual, Hotch had told her to finally go home and go to bed last night—she'd never figured out quite how he knew when she was still awake and there, but he'd called (it was late in Virginia, which meant it was even later in Nairobi) and told her that she'd done enough for the day and that everything else could wait until tomorrow.

Except it didn't wait.

When Penelope entered her office, she had to only log in at her computer screen and know that some serious shit had gone down during the past six hours.

Since she was on the Interpol system, she received notifications whenever a new file on this particular case was added to the system—there were several waiting for her, and each seemed more important and more ominous than the last.

"Mariatu Wasaki," she read the name on the file. "Who the heck is this guy?"

Her fingers were already searching out the answer, tapping away at the keys.

"Oh. Oh my."

"Oh my what, Babygirl?" Even Derek Morgan's smooth voice couldn't lessen the gravity of the situation.

She simply swung around in her chairs, her big Bambi eyes immediately telling him of her fear.

"What is it?" He was across the room in three easy strides, his usual loose movements suddenly rigid with concern and anxiety. "Is everyone OK?"

"Yes. I don't know. I mean, I think so—God, I hope so," she turned back around to the computer, pulling up the latest information. "Apparently this case blew up over night—they're missing a bad guy's body, who turned out to be an international terrorist who is very much still alive, and he's…he's a real piece of work, Morgan. Like scarier than our usual fare of scary. And now it seems that Clyde Easter is going down there to sort things out, and they just updated the file to say that Emily's taking a tactical unit to apprehend this super-scary terrorist guy, and I just—"

Morgan simply took her by the shoulders, stopping her mid-freakout. "Breathe."

She took a deep breath, her eyes never leaving his, like they were some kind of life-line. Then he continued, keeping his voice as gentle as possible, "I know you don't like hearing this, Babygirl, but there's nothing you can do about it right now. Whenever they get back, Hotch will notice what time it is—he'll call, you know he will. And he'll tell you what he always tells you, that your little chicks are all safe in the nest, Mama Bird. Until then, it's not gonna do you a bit of good to sit here and worry. We've got cases that need to be briefed, and nobody can brief 'em like you do, Sweetness."

She gave a small smile at that last remark.

"C'mon," he stood up. "They've got a job to do, and so do we."

She grabbed her folders and headed out the door. Once he was sure that she wasn't looking, Derek Morgan cast one last worried look back at the computer—currently their only window into what was happening with their friends and coworkers.

Dammit, Hotch, you stay safe—and keep the rest of them safe, too.


Nairobi, Kenya.

Eric Silver had been right—traffic put a heavy delay on the tactical team's rendezvous. The team itself was less than twenty people in two sleek black vans, and even though their skillful drivers were slipping in and out of traffic with the ease of sharks in water, the minutes were flying by.

It had been almost an hour since they'd first gotten word of the tactical movement, and their driver was guessing that it would take another fifteen minutes to get to the location.

Emily chewed on her bottom lip, in an attempt to keep from biting her fingernails. She didn't like the downtime—her nerves were already singing with adrenaline and the blood of the chase, and sitting still only intensified the energy building in her veins. She felt apprehensive, almost dizzy, and each breath seemed harder to take as she tried to calm her rushing heart.

Of course, it certainly didn't help that the waiting also gave her time to mull over Rossi's words from earlier this afternoon—and now certainly wasn't the appropriate time or place to be thinking of such things. She needed to be clear-headed and alert, not preoccupied and muddling through the swamps of suggestion and shadowed meanings.

There hadn't been much to report—Rossi had admitted that most of what he knew of Aaron's feelings came from what he didn't say, rather than what he did. Which basically put Emily back into the same boat that she'd been in since the beginning. Nothing said, all inferred but never specifically implied, shadows on the walls and riddles in the dark.

Her one jewel of hope was the fact that Aaron hadn't refuted Rossi's claims about his feelings towards Emily—instead, he'd merely asked Dave to stay out of it (a useless and ludicrous request, as was evidenced by recent events). Still, that wasn't enough.

Out, she commanded the thought. You're just gonna have to ask Hotch, straight-up. Once this is finished, you can make a mess of your personal life—but right now, you need to focus on taking this block, one building, one room, one step at a time.

She fell back on her old compartmentalizing trick—a move that had kept her sane and seen her through many a firestorm.

Who. What. When. Where. How. Why. Answer the questions, Emily.

Who. Mariatu Wasaki.

What. Hunt and find.

When. Now. Ten minutes from now the search begins, but the mental prep begins now.

Where. The mud-brick houses. Tiny, claustrophobic hot rooms with many open doors and narrow halls, each a trap, each possibly filled with someone armed and ready to leap out at any second.

How. First we ram the door, then I lead point. I clear the first room, then the second, then the third…until every room is cleared. Until I find him. Until I have the bastard face-down on the floor as I slip cuffs around his wrists.

Why. Because this is my job. Because I am Emily Prentiss, Interpol Section Chief, Hunter of Monsters and Profiler of Motives. Because this is what I do, what I've always done, what I will always do.

She repeated that last phrase to herself several times as she looked up at the van's ceiling. That was the part that always played in her mind, during the darkest or scariest or most anxious moments of a case—somehow, it was soothing, her life's mantra. This was her place, her habitat, her territory of belonging, and the fear and the adrenaline and the grief at so many heartbreaking losses were just part of the bargain. Despite all the darkness, all the tragedy and horror that reared its head on a daily basis, there was some measure of comfort in knowing that this was where she was meant to be, doing what she was meant to do.

The driver made a small sound of delight as he declared, "Traffic is better here—we will be there much sooner now."

At that prediction, everyone began last minute preparations—Kevlar vests were tightened and adjusted, ear pieces were slipped into place, weapons were gripped a little tighter as each person took a deep breath and readied themselves for the plunge into action. The four guys in charge of battering down doors shifted closer to the back of the van, talking quietly amongst themselves. Emily watched them with wary eyes—they weren't speaking English, and she didn't understand Swahili.

"They are saying that they must break down the doors quickly, then use the shields on their backs to form a canopy, to protect us from overhead shots," Mika translated quietly, leaning closer to her.

She looked up to him with a quick, grateful smile. Mika had a way of anticipating her needs and answering her questions long before she asked them—that was part of the reason that she'd chosen him to come along on this assignment, aside from his birth ties to the region. He was a no-fuss, no-muss kind of guy who simply focused on getting the job done (in other words, Clyde Easter's polar opposite). Right now, she couldn't imagine anyone she'd rather have beside her.

Aside from Derek Morgan.

That thought leapt unbidden to her mind, and she suddenly felt a stab of nostalgia for her former partner—as much as she loved and cared for her other BAU team mates, no one else had the power to make her feel calm and centered in the middle of the most adrenaline-packed moments like Morgan did. Everything, from the reassuring breadth of his shoulders to the smooth rolling sound of his voice, had the ability to make her feel as if all would be alright, no matter how dire the situation seemed.

Even when she'd lain dying, with Doyle's stake in her chest, Morgan's voice had been a comfort—though it had been lined with panic and fear as he pleaded, Stay with me, stay with me, she'd still felt the familiar calm that he always seemed to instill in her. She hadn't stopped herself from slipping further into the cold darkness, because somehow, she'd known that whatever awaited her after that, Derek Morgan would still find a way to keep her safe. He always had.

But he wasn't here right now. And the assurance that his presence always provided was long gone, too.

She wished she had full armor, like the four guys at the back of the van—helmets, shoulder pads, Kevlar vests, thick gloves, riot shields. She hadn't thought about rooftop snipers until Mika had mentioned it, but suddenly she wondered if Wasaki would try such a thing. It seemed a little too…brave and personal for a man of his tastes, but what if she was wrong? Was she willing to stake her own head on that guess? What about Reid's head? Or Rossi's? Or Aaron's?

Aaron. When the fuck did I start calling him Aaron?

Out. You can't think about that.

Who, what, when, where, how, and why. Answer the questions, Emily.

I am Emily Prentiss. This is my job. This is what I do, what I've always done, what I will always do.

The van slowed to a stop. Eternity passed.

"What've you got on the heat-maps?" Emily used a big clunky hand-held radio to communicate with their operatives back at the CID, who were surveying the area via satellites.

"Three bodies in building one, a body in building two, nothing in three," came the reply. They'd targeted three separate buildings for assault, since these were the closest to the actual address that Wasaki had given.

"Team two ready for action," came Eric Silver's voice over her comm set.

"Team three ready for action," Aaron Hotchner announced.

She glanced around the van, getting silent confirmation before radioing back, "Team one ready for action. Team one go."

The back doors of the van burst open and the battering team quickly disappeared. There were some shouts, a loud, satisfying crack of splintering wood, then another voice over the comm set, "Entry secured."

Mika grabbed her elbow, helping her out of the van. There were shields over their heads, making the noise of the streets sound odd and disjointed in her ears.

She disappeared into the world of the chase—it was like being underwater, moving fluidly and slowly, sound distorted by the blood humming in her ears (trust what you see, not what you hear). She performed her choreography, just as she had a hundred times before—pulling her weapon, setting the safety off, keeping it shoulder-height, wrist balanced and supported, moving her gun with her gaze as she stepped cautiously through every room. Every action came as naturally as breathing, ingrained into her muscles and her memory from years of practice and use.

This is who I am, this is what I do, what I've always done, what I will always do.

She went up a set of rickety steps, the beat of her heart keeping time with the quick staccato of her heels on the wooden slats—more empty rooms, more dust.

She heard the calls of all clear from downstairs, and with a frustrated sigh, she added her own, "Clear!"

She took a moment to breathe, to calm her racing heart as she listened to the sounds around her—she could hear the battering ram shattering another door as the third team entered the next building. Still, more calls of all clear.

As she was tromping back down the stairs, Silver's voice came over the radio again, "We found a couple vagrants in ours, but nothing else."

"Nothing here," she admitted.

"We're all clear, too," Hotch's voice announced.

"I don't understand this," Emily turned to Mika, holstering her sidearm. "The heat-map satellites showed a body here, just a few minutes ago."

Mika made a face, "There's about a five-minute delay. I mean, you're heat-mapping an area from a satellite and bouncing it back to Earth, so it's not exactly in real-time…"

She set her hands on her hips as she gave him an incredulous look, "So you're telling me that someone was in this building five minutes ago, and he just happened to slip away right before we entered?"

"Prentiss," Reid's voice held a hint of warning. She followed the sound into the next room.

The building had been uninhabited for quite some time, judging by the thick layer of dust on the floor. He motioned to light shuffle marks in the dirt, "Someone's been here recently—and they left in a hurry."

Being careful not to disturb the footprints, Emily followed the trail to the back door, which was still open. An empty lot of tangled weeds and broken-down fences greeted her.

"We just missed him." She knew it, with every fiber of her being. "The bastard was right here, and he slipped through our fingers again."

"He's a very lucky man," Mika gave a heavy sigh.

Emily squinted out at the bright afternoon landscape, "I don't believe in luck."


Somewhere over Central Africa.

Clyde Easter cursed under his breath as he tossed his cellphone back into the adjoining seat. Constance didn't ask questions, but he felt her shift, sitting up, leaning forward and cocking her head to the side slightly (yes, a cat, she was every ounce a cat, with her curiosity and her easy movements).

Easter rubbed his brow, "The tactical team that was sent to intercept Wasaki was unsuccessful."

Even in his frustration, he had a way of drawing out everything. Constance leaned further forward, her legs curling underneath her, "How so?"

"He wasn't there." He announced, rather flatly. "No casualties, no arrests. Just a lump of steaming nothing."

She gave a slight sigh, settling back into her seat again.

He glanced over at her with a critical eye, "I dare say you look relieved."

She ducked her head, "Horrible as it may seem, I am."

She looked up at him again, sea-grey eyes filled with an odd light, "I want to catch this man as much as the next person, Clyde, I truly do. But if the fact that we didn't catch him also means that everyone walks away unharmed and in one piece, I can't help but feel relieved."

He sat up, taking a beat to observe her. His expression bordered between concern and scorn, "You used to not be so skittish."

She gave a small, sad smile as she looked down at her hands again, "Time changes us."

He knew full well the truth of that statement. The thought of changing personalities immediately sent him back to Emily Prentiss.

Constance glanced at the slim watch on her wrist, "I need to call Mother again."

"You've spoken to her twice since we've boarded the plane," he pointed out. "How many times does she need to be reminded that you won't be home for Sunday dinner?"

"Brunch," she corrected with a tight smile. "And Mother needs to be reminded often these days—that it's not Sunday yet, that I am her daughter and not her sister who's been dead for fourteen years, that Father isn't running late because he's been gone nigh on ten years, and that she's already taken tea twice this morning, though she can't remember either time."

With that, Constance rose to her feet, taking her cell from her trouser pocket as she quietly walked back down the hall.

The tired smile and weary defeated slump of her shoulders were more damaging to Clyde than a sucker-punch to the face. Several years ago, when Clyde had first started building his new team at Interpol, he'd found Constance Connelly back home in Northern Ireland, happily planting her rosebushes and living in an odd limbo of semi-retirement. He had asked her then what she was doing back, and she'd merely smiled. She'd refused his first offers, and when she had finally realized that he'd never relent, she had made him promise that she would never do field work again. At the time, he'd thought that she had merely fancied herself too old and worn to be trucking around Europe in shoddy conditions. Now he understood the truth of the matter.

Her mother was deteriorating. Constance was the last surviving child of her family (if he remembered correctly, Clyde was sure that she'd had an older brother who died in some war or another), and she'd left her own life to care for her mother in her old age. He'd pulled her away from that, and now he was dragging her further away from her duties as a daughter. If there was anything Constance Connelly loved more than justice and country, it was her mother. The fact that she gave up the latter to serve the former spoke volumes of this woman's strength of character—and hinted at the immense guilt she must have felt for that choice, every day.

Clyde thought back to the days when he and Constance were just agents, two rookies with big eyes and open minds. He'd first noticed the cut on her upper lip (it wasn't as noticeable now, time had faded the scar and age had helped to lessen its appearance as well). She'd told him that it had been given to her by her mother in a brawling rage, and yet whenever Constance had told the story, she had glowed as if she'd received the seal of divine confirmation itself. Then and there, Clyde Easter had known that he would never fully understand this woman, nor her strange sense of loyalty.

Regardless of whether or not the elder Mrs. Connelly deserved her daughter's love, she most certainly had it. And Clyde was only increasing her love-based guilt by taking her further away from the person who truly needed her most in the world.

He thought back to Constance's dark words earlier that morning—I'm not sure I'll come back from this one.

He pressed his lips into a grim line, Yes, you will, Constance Connelly. I'll bring you back, alive and kicking. I'll bring you back to your mother and I won't let them send you away, ever again. If that's the only good that comes from this wretched venture, then so be it. But I will keep my word, on that I do swear.


"Would you like to know your future?
If your answer is yes, think again. Not knowing is the greatest life motivator."
~Vera Nazarian.



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