Out of Africa


"Destiny is important, see, but people go wrong when they think it controls them. It's the other way around."
~Terry Pratchett.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Nairobi, Kenya.

Constance Connelly tried to fight the shiver that tremored down her spine as she walked across the tarmac—the night air was cooler than expected, though she wondered if her reaction was more psychological than physical.

Clyde was right behind her, never missing a beat, as always. His hand automatically went to the small of her back as he leaned in, quietly asking, "You alright, darling?"

"I'll be better when we're back on that plane, headed home," she returned dryly, slinging her bag over her shoulder.

"Here. Let me take that," he reached for her bag, which seemed almost as big as she was—Constance had always been a slight thing.

"Clyde Easter, I swear to God—I know it's been donkey's years since I've been in the field, but if you start treating me like an invalid, I will sock you square in the jaw."

The force and conviction behind her statement brought back his memories of the days of old, when they'd been young and brash (and she'd actually taken a swing at him, once, during a very heated disagreement). He began to laugh, more out of relief than amusement—there she was, his old Constance. It was good to see that perhaps she hadn't changed as much as he'd previously thought.

There was a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, too, but she pushed it away and held on to her feigned indignation.

She glanced around, looking for the CID car that was supposed to be awaiting their arrival. "What are your plans?"

"What are your plans?" He turned the question back to her.

"I'm going straight to the laboratory, to get started."

"At this hour?"

She motioned over her shoulder, to the flight attendant who was lugging the black pelican cases she'd brought along as well, "I've got my tools, I had a lovely nap on the plane—all I need is a cup of good, strong coffee, a quick cigarette, and I'll be good to go for hours."

He shook his head, "You weren't kidding about the whole not-needing-much-sleep thing."

She gave a wry grin, "What's the matter, Mr. Easter? Is old age catching up to you?"

"I will have you know that I have every intention of meeting Emily and Mika," he replied rather snippily. Emily had checked in less than an hour ago—she was still at the address that Wasaki had given, waiting for the bomb techs to finish disabling all of the explosives so that she and Mika could search the building.

"How fortunate we are, to have a boss who sits with us in the trenches," Constance mused dryly.

"Trenches aren't for sitting," he reminded her. "They're the place where you bolster up your courage to charge the enemy, with no hope of winning."

"There's my lovely ray of sunshine."

"I was never yours."

"Oh, Clyde. Thou hast cleft my heart in twain."

"Something tells me you'll survive, Gertrude."

"My, my—you know your Shakespeare well, good sir."

He simply smiled. By now, they'd both spotted the unmarked police car waiting for them at the edge of the gate. They greeted their escort, tossing their bags into the trunk after a brief round of introductions.

As he slammed the trunk shut, she brushed past, her voice low and filled with amusement, "And as for never being mine—two very restless nights in Moldova disagree."

He laughed at that—of course she would bring it up. "You wicked, wicked woman."

She merely waved away his admonishment, slipping into the back seat of the car. He knew that she was leaving the front passenger seat for him—mainly because Constance Connelly wasn't the best around strangers, and certainly not the best at small talk of any form.

He was still smiling when the car pulled out into traffic. If Constance was cracking jokes, then it meant that she was officially back in field agent mode—the melancholy hovering over her earlier that day had dissipated, and her mind was clear and focused again. He wouldn't have to worry about her anymore—or at least not as much as he had earlier.

Which meant that only one problem on his plate was gone. He still had to find Wasaki—and figure out what the hell was going on with Emily Prentiss.

The Plaza Hotel. Nairobi, Kenya.

Emily Prentiss opened the door to her hotel room with a weary sigh, rubbing the aching muscles in her neck. It had been a grueling day that turned into a grueling night, standing under the command center tent on a street corner in Nairobi, waiting for the bomb squad's signal that all the explosives had been discovered and disarmed. Once the building had been cleared, she and Mika had searched from room to room—all for naught, because there wasn't anything that showed that Wasaki (or anyone, for that matter) had been there. Clyde Easter had joined them, looking a bit frayed around the edges from his long flight. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet, but not unalert—she felt him watching her, sizing her up, and she couldn't quite figure out why.

The feeling deep in her gut whispered that this was going to be a long case. It would be months of dead-ends and starting-agains, days of feeling helpless and hopeless and still continuing despite it all. She didn't mind the challenge, really, but she knew that it would also contain the memory of all that had happened (or hadn't happened, to put it more accurately) between her and Aaron. That was something she could definitely do without.

She squinted her tired eyes as she kicked off her shoes and put her gun and badge on the bedside table. She glanced out the window—Nairobi was beautiful tonight, a landscape of blues and warm yellows, dark outlines of buildings against a purple sky.

She quietly slipped out of her jeans, grabbing a pair of loose pajama bottoms from her huge black go-bag. Her body was tired, but her mind still had miles to run tonight, so she might as well enjoy the exotic new locale while she unwound.

The instant she opened the sliding glass door to her balcony, she knew that someone else was nearby (not an unfamiliar concept, for she was in a hotel, after all). She stepped out, her bare feet adjusting to the coarse feel of the concrete floor.

"Rough day for you, too, huh?"

Emily turned to the sound of the voice—then she looked down to see Rowena Lewis sitting cross-legged on the balcony next to hers.

Lewis had a beer in her hand, and judging by the lazy smile on her face, it wasn't her first.

"Want one?" She queried, as congenial as ever.

"What kind?" Emily asked, more out of habit than actual preference.

"The kind that's free and can be in your hand in five seconds," came the dry reply.

Emily had to smile at that, "You make a very convincing point."

She plopped down on the concrete, reaching over to take the beer that Rowena offered her.

"It's a bit unethical, drinking on the case," Rowena admitted. "But some days, you do what you have to do to survive."

"I understand that," Emily popped the top and took her first sip.

The other woman took a beat to study her profile before simply saying, "Something told me that you would."

Emily looked over at her, slightly confused by the statement.

"We're creatures of survival," Agent Lewis noted her confusion and gave an explanation. "I sensed you were a kindred spirit, when we first met. Trust me, I know how weird that sounds. But it's still true."

Emily gave a shrug, "I've heard weirder."

Rowena chuckled at that, "I bet you have."

There was a few moments of silence as the two women simply sat on their respective balconies, watching the city through the iron-wrought rails.

"So, what's your tragedy?" Rowena broke the stillness.

"What?" Emily turned to her.

"You don't become a creature of survival by having an easy life," she replied matter-of-factly. "So, what's your tragedy?"

"I have to pick just one?" Emily asked dryly, and that earned her a light chuckle.

The other woman sensed her hesitancy, because she gently added, "You don't have to share, if you don't want to. I mean, after all, I'm just some relative stranger on a balcony. Some people just like to save it for their priest, and that's fine, too."

"I don't do priests." Emily informed her.

"Ah," Rowena tilted her head back softly. "There's our first tragedy."

Emily suddenly decided that she liked this woman, on a level that went deeper than her first our-personalities-mesh-well-enough-that-we-can-work-together sentiment that she'd felt upon meeting Agent Lewis a few days ago. They were kindred spirits—the kind that could even be friends, perhaps.

Emily took another swig of her beer before continuing, her tone flat and unaffected, "I got an abortion when I was fifteen. The priest informed me that I was no longer welcome in his congregation. And in all the years since, I haven't really seen much reason to go back."

Rowena made a small noise of understanding. A beat of silence passed.

"I had my first pregnancy scare when I was fifteen," she admitted. "Did you love him—the guy who knocked you up?"

"In the way that fifteen year old girls think love is, yes," Emily gave a soft, sad smile.

"That's good," Rowena gave a deft nod. "You're luckier than I was."

Emily looked over at her now, trying to read between the unspoken lines. Rowena answered the questions in Emily's eyes, "My dad was a cop. He was killed in the line of duty when I was eight. My mother remarried when I was twelve. By the time I was fourteen, my stepfather was visiting my room almost every night—he used to say I had a glitch, something in me that drove men crazy. It's funny, what men tell themselves so that they can sleep at night."

The heavy hatred in her voice said that it wasn't funny at all. She continued, turning her eyes up to the stars, "Then one time, when I was fifteen, I was late on my period. I remember wondering what was wrong—and then I realized I might be pregnant. It was like….the floor just disappeared beneath me, and my stomach dropped all the way into hell. I mean, it was bad enough, living with what he did to me, but all of those scars were invisible—having a baby, being pregnant…you can't hide that and pretend it's not happening, you know?"

"Where was your mother?" Emily couldn't stop herself from asking.

This earned her a mirthless smile. "Where she always was. In the next room."

Emily finished the rest of her drink. Rowena silently offered her another one, which she gladly accepted.

"Still, I think perhaps my stepfather was right," Rowena admitted. "I do have some kind of glitch."

Emily looked at her, slightly shocked, "Don't you dare for one second believe—"

"Oh, I know it doesn't justify what he did," Rowena waved the protest away. "He's still a rat bastard, and if I believed in a god, I'd pray every day that he ended up in hell. But it's hard, trying to figure out just who gets how much blame. I mean, my mother knew, and she never stopped it—and towards the end, I….I never really fought back, the way I should have, I think."

"You did what you had to, in order to survive," Emily said quietly.

"That's what all the shrinks tell me," Rowena informed her. Then she looked away, gave a slight hitch of her shoulder as she confessed, "By the time I was seventeen, I started using it to my advantage. I don't know if he felt guilty, or if he thought he loved me, or if he just wanted to keep me quiet—but I got a car out of the deal. I picked a college as far away as I could, drove my car out there—the car that I paid for, almost every night for five years—and I never went back to that hell hole again."

She made a noise that sounded like a snort of derision, "And do you know, my mother never asked why I didn't come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She knew why. She never said, but she knew. If she hadn't known, then she wouldn't have understood why I stayed away."

Emily noticed that Rowena was referring to her mother in past tense. She gently asked, "Where is she now?"

"Still living in that house, with that man," came the reply. Rowena opened another beer for herself. "I call once a year, on my birthday. I don't even know why."

"Because you still care," Emily replied softly. Rowena turned to her, a mixture of surprise and dismay on her face at the pronouncement.

"You know, in childhood, we're fed this lie," Emily shifted slightly, getting more comfortable on the rough concrete. "We're told that our parents love us unconditionally. But when we grow older, we realize it isn't true. We make mistakes and we lose that love, and we're bewildered because all our lives, we were told that out of all the people in this world, our parents will always be the ones who stand beside us, no matter what. They'll love us, protect us, support us, have faith in us even when we don't have faith in ourselves."

Emily looked up at her kindred spirit again, "But that's the irony of it all, isn't it? The fact that it's actually the other way around. Our parents are the ones who can fail us, who can hurt us and break promises and expectations, and we're still programmed to love them, even when they're unlovable. It's always the children who hold on, who always hold some sense of faith, even when they try not to. It's so damned unfair."

"Jesus, that's fucking deep," Rowena pronounced, and this earned her a laugh. After another beat, she added, "You speak from experience."

"Even when my mother was in the same room with me, she was never there," Emily admitted. "I excused it, because she was a U.S. Ambassador. But then I got older and realized that regardless of what she was, she was never cut out to be a mother."

Emily gave a wry smile, "And yet, as angry as I was about it all, and as much as I've dealt with those demons, she could still walk through the door today and I'd still want to do anything to please her."

Rowena held up her beer, "To absent mothers and the fucked-up daughters they left behind."

Emily gave a dry smile as she clicked her bottle against Rowena's in solidarity. "To mothers and daughters."

Rowena settled back against the door frame again with a slight sigh. A few beats passed as they simply stared out at the city, sipping their beers.

"So what brought you out here?" Rowena motioned to the balcony. "I mean, let's face it—we've dealt with our mommy issues for years now. Something else drove you out that door tonight."

"Drove me?" Emily found the phrase odd.

"We're kindred spirits," Rowena reminded her, taking a beat to set aside her now-empty bottle. "Water seeks its own level, tragedy seeks tragedy, all that jazz."

"Except I didn't seek you out," Emily pointed out.

"And yet here you are," the other woman smiled, opening her hands in a welcoming gesture. "So maybe it was on a subconscious level. Maybe we were always destined to cross paths."

"I don't believe in destiny."

"Again—and yet here you are."

Emily gave a small hum of amusement, taking another sip of her beer. Though she didn't agree with Rowena's theory, she simply changed the subject, "And why does something have to be wrong with me?"

Rowena grinned again, a sloppy, semi-drunk grin, "Because people who have their shit together don't sit out on balconies drinking beer at midnight when they're in the middle of an international case. They set their alarms and get into bed like responsible adults. But you—you're here, with me. You're out here because your mind wouldn't shut off and shut up. You came out here to escape all the thoughts that were too depressing for a lonely hotel room."

"Jesus, are you sure you aren't a behavioral analyst?" Emily quipped. Her companion snorted.

"Forensics teaches you to look at the minutia. It's the small things that make up the bigger picture." Rowena gave another gesture towards the world at large, "So too with people."

Emily Prentiss couldn't refute that statement. Still, she wasn't exactly ready to spill her guts about her current woes, so she asked, "Why are you out here?"

"I'm always out here," Rowena simply smiled. She grabbed another beer, "Well, metaphorically speaking. I'm always the girl sitting outside, trying to get her shit together and always failing miserably. But I mean, if we're speaking on specifics, then I'd have to say that I am out here drowning my sorrows because today, I had to finally admit that the man I love will never love me back—at least not the way I want him to. And, if by some unforeseen miracle, he were to do so….well, then I wouldn't be able to love him anymore."

"Why not?" Emily was curious.

Rowena turned to her with the saddest smile she'd ever seen, "Because I wouldn't be able to love any man who saw me as I truly am and still loved me. I'd lose all respect for him. And this particular man—the things he'd have to do, the promises he'd have to break, to be with me…I'd hate him for it. I'd hate him for becoming something else, just for me. I don't deserve that kind of sacrifice and he—well, I love him for who he is now. He's…honorable. No man could willingly choose me, knowing who I am, and still be honorable. I'd feel like he betrayed me, and I'd never forgive him."

Not for the first time that evening, Emily Prentiss wished she could track down Agent Lewis' stepfather and murder him with her bare hands for all the damage that he'd obviously done to this woman, this woman who was such a force in her own right yet remained trapped by her own baggage.

"You're not nearly as horrible as you think you are." She said quietly.

"I know," Rowena answered, her voice small and uncertain. "But he would have to become horrible to be with me. That's the thing I couldn't abide, you know? I've…I've destroyed men, just to feel some power, some kind of control and—I don't know, justice about it all. But he's the one I never could bring myself to harm. And that's how I knew that I loved him. Truly, deeply loved him, more than I ever have cared about anyone else. I've only ever wanted what's best for him—the irony of that is that what's best for him is to stay the hell away from me."

What's best. That was the second time that Emily Prentiss had confronted that situation in a single day.

Rowena smiled again, a mirthless thing, "Problem is, we work together. Hard to stay the hell away when you spend every day side-by-side."

Suddenly, Emily understood, "You mean—"

"Uh-huh," the other woman gave a slight nod before taking another swig of her drink. "I broke the cardinal rule. I fell for my partner. But I swear, I didn't mean to. I just…in our line of work, you live and breathe and bleed next to one another, and you go home to lovers who haven't the slightest clue what you've been through—but your partner, your partner understands. They understand better than anyone—and in the end, they understandyou better than anyone. You share the same scars, you're imprinted by the same tragedies—creatures of the same creator, if that makes sense. And there's a comfort in that, a safety, an openness….an intimacy that you suddenly wish could translate into other areas, simply because it'd be so much damn easier than trying to recount everything to someone else, to reopen wounds all the time. And god dammit if we humans don't prefer the easy route."

You share the same scars. Emily's mind flashed to Hotch, lying so small and still in that hospital bed, mangled by Foyet. She'd kept vigil over him, silently begging him to wake up and be his usual strong self. When he'd finally awakened and asked for his things, she'd taken out his blood-soaked shirt—his blood had seeped onto her fingertips, into her skin. She remembered him standing next to her as she sat at the back of ambulance, quietly watching as the EMT checked out the cut on her forehead—given to her by Joe Smith and his lovely two-by-four whenever she'd rushed into the basement to save his latest victim.

And suddenly, she remembered something that she had never before—a brief flash of Hotch's face, hovering over her as they wheeled her through the halls of the hospital, the night that Doyle had tried to kill her.

Emily, his voice had cracked with fear and adrenaline and some deeper emotion. Emily, it's going to be alright. Just stay strong. Just stay. Just stay….

Tears sprung into her eyes, just as quick and unexpected as this newly-recalled memory. How could she have forgotten that?

We've pleaded with each other's lives. Creatures of the same creator.

That was what mattered, what had always mattered. Why had they ever let these other foolish things get in the way?

Beth. There's Beth. That was Aaron's last hurdle.

Beth be damned. Beth didn't keep watch over your broken body, doesn't know what it's like to walk into a room filled with your blood and feel the ice-pick of fear deep in her gut at the thought that you might no longer be alive. Beth didn't risk her life, time and again at your side. Beth doesn't share your scars. I paid my price. The rest be damned.

"Y'okay?" Rowena's voice gently brought her back to reality. She'd obviously noticed Emily's silence.

"Fine," Emily forced a smile. After a beat, she added, "I think we really are kindred spirits."

"What, you've got a thing for a married man, too?" Rowena asked, half in jest.

"Well, he was married, for a time." Emily admitted.

"And now?"

"Now he's not."

"So what's the hold up?"

"Nothing," Emily looked up at the sky, the weight of that word settling into her stomach. "Nothing that really matters."

She suddenly felt like laughing.

"You know what?" She turned back to her drinking companion. "Maybe I do believe in destiny."

"But remember, nothing comes without a price. Our paths are not mapped; they're made."
~Priya Ardis.

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