Little Matchstick Girl
Like a last breath you would breathe
You were like home to me
[Now] I don't recognize the street."
Quantico, Virginia. September 2013.
For what seemed like the thousandth time in a matter of hours, Alex Blake glanced over at David Rossi. His face was still set in an unreadable mask, and his eyes were distant, unfocused.
It had been two months since Erin Strauss' death, and Rossi was still in a state of almost-constant shock. He didn't smile anymore, didn't crack his usual snarky jokes, didn't even have his hair-trigger temper anymore. Alex knew that he was still healing, and eventually, some of his old spark would return (though not all of it, because there were some wounds that time could never fully mend or erase), but the dark period of mourning and waiting was slowly tearing him to pieces, and Alex hated watching his devolution in slow motion, while being completely helpless to alter its course.
More concerning than David's depression was the fact that Aaron Hotchner had chosen Rossi as one of the agents for the new assignment in Nairobi. Since they still had cases to consult and assist on, the entire team couldn't be sent to Kenya—instead, Hotch had announced that he, Rossi, and Reid would be going. While she wasn't exactly upset about not having to travel halfway across the world, Alex still wasn't clear on Hotch's reasoning.
Aaron Hotchner sensed this, whenever Blake gently knocked on his door after the briefing.
"Hotch, I don't mean to pry, but—"
He answered her question before she could even ask it, replying in his usual brusque tone, "JJ shouldn't be so far away from her son. We will need Reid's expertise and knowledge of local culture and practices. If Reid goes, then you need to stay because your strengths are very similar and I don't want the team to be without at least one of you. I have to go, because I've been specifically asked. If I go, then either Morgan or Rossi needs to stay to act as unit chief, and Dave is not in any shape to head the BAU in my absence. Which means he has to go with us."
Hotch took a moment to simply watch Blake's expression, to see what her thoughts were on the matter (she didn't have to say anything, her face was an easy read, at least when she wasn't intentionally trying to hide her emotions). While he certainly didn't have to explain himself, he still wanted her to see his reasoning, to nod and say that he'd made the right decision, because honestly, he wasn't sure either.
"It makes sense," Alex agreed quietly, slipping her hands into the back pockets of her slacks. Then she quirked her eyebrow in a gently concerned expression, "But are you sure that Rossi can handle being out in the field like that? There's no telling how long you'll be in Nairobi, and you'll have to watch your backs the entire time—terrorists are a horse of a different color, Hotch, and you said yourself that Dave isn't at his best right now."
"I considered that," Hotch assured her. "But I really don't see a better option. Reid and Rossi are two of our best insights when it comes to these mindsets and situations—and I have to admit, I'm hoping that this will somehow help Dave get back into the swing of things."
Though they didn't talk about it much, Hotch had been keeping careful tabs on his friend, and he knew that Dave was actually moving forward, though he also noticed that some days weren't as good as others. Today was one of those not-so-good days—Hotch had begun to realize that the not-so-good days tended to happen after they'd spent too many days in the office, surrounded by too many memories. Maybe a long trip in the field would be good, cathartic in some ways.
Blake didn't want to ask, but she couldn't stop herself, "And if it doesn't?"
The question hung in the air for several beats. Aaron Hotchner gave a heavy sigh, looking down at his desk before bringing his eyes up to meet Blake's again, "I honestly don't know."
New York City, New York.
"Five days ago, Al-Noor al-Mujahedeen, a militant jihadist group from East Africa, took control of the Central Shopping Mall in Nairobi, holding over forty hostages. Twenty-six people were killed in the initial take-down, with over sixty injured. The group released fourteen hostages who proved themselves to be Muslims by answering a series of questions—another three were killed during an escape attempt. The stand-off lasted for four days, ending yesterday morning, after a military task force bombarded the shopping center. Two military police were also shot and killed during the final assault on the shopping center, with thirteen others being severely injured by the bombs which were set off when they finally entered the building."
Luc Dempsey seemed completely unfazed by these facts as he relayed the information to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, handing off a stack of files to his assistant, who dutifully doled out the packets to each task force member. He took a deep breath and continued, "None of the militants survived—those who were not killed during the military assault were equipped with IEDs, which they detonated as the military police stormed the building. ANAM claimed responsibility for the attack via several media outlets, announcing that it was the beginning of a series of coordinated attacks against Western oppression in East Africa. They will continue this campaign until U.N. troops leave East African soil."
The man seated next to David Rossi made a small noise of empathy as he opened the folder to see photos of the ghastly remnants of the crime scene.
Dempsey set his hands on his hips, "We have reason to believe that ANAM is a direct threat to the United States, as well as several other Western powers—which is why we are sending JTTF agents to Nairobi to investigate. The Kenyan authorities have been very helpful so far, but they also understand our desire to have our own people working on this. We will be joined by members from similar organizations in Canada, the U.K., Germany, and Israel. As guests in a foreign country, we will have to adjust to Kenyan Intelligence protocol, as well as play nicely and share information and evidence with our other foreign friends. It certainly ain't gonna be a cake walk, folks."
There were a few smiles at this pronouncement, a few nods of agreement—international cases were always tricky, and the more countries involved, the more complicated it got. You walked a fine line between trying to be helpful and trying to protect your own country's interest, without stepping on foreign toes.
Aaron Hotchner took a moment to observe the reactions around the table. He knew that he was being brought in to profile the men behind the attack, but he couldn't stop himself from sizing up his new team members as well—it was always good, especially when going into an already-volatile situation, to have some sense of whom you were working with. He wanted to be able to identify the trouble-makers before they actually started making trouble.
Across the table, SSA Rowena Lewis caught his gaze. She seemed to understand what he was doing, because she merely stared back, cocking her head slightly to the side. Then the corners of her eyes narrowed and she gave a small smirk of genuine amusement, You scoping me out? Nice try, head-shrinker.
Aaron surprised himself by smiling back.
Emily Prentiss gave her usual perfunctory smile as her driver dutifully took her luggage from her, moving it to the trunk of the car. Although she'd grown up in a world of drivers and bullet-proof tinted windows (she could literally could count on one hand the number of times she'd ever seen her mother actually drive a car), Emily still never got over how odd it always seemed—that was another thing she'd relished about working in the BAU, being able to drive her own damn car to work. Nowadays, she was much too important to drive herself to work—no, no, that time could be spent making phone calls or scheduling meetings or reading the never-ending stream of emails and texts that kept her phone buzzing at all hours of the night and day.
It had been another gift, another "perk" that Clyde Easter had given her, and as usual, Clyde's idea of a gift was the exactly opposite of Emily's definition (though she never said so, because he really did try—she knew that this was his way of showing that he valued her, that he wanted to reward her loyalty and fortitude). It just meant that from the moment she left for work in the mornings until the moment she finally walked through the front door of her flat at night, she was constantly surrounded by people, constantly under someone's scrutiny, like a fish in a bowl. Some days, she didn't mind the pressure. Some days, it made her want to scream. Today, she was too tired to know which category she fit into.
She still had her own car (after all, the car service was only for her trips to and from the office), which she sometimes took for drives late at night, when her mind was too busy to sleep—in fact, that was exactly what she'd done the night before, after she'd packed her bags for an indefinite amount of time in Nairobi. She'd driven in aimless circles through the city, relishing the quiet emptiness of her car, the feeling of being completely unseen, even in the middle of traffic.
Her mind had drifted down paths that she'd actively avoided for quite some time—back into valleys of memory, dark and heavy with so many unnamed and unexpressed emotions, into times and places to which she never wanted to return.
She knew why. She didn't want to admit it, but she knew.
She told herself that it was simply because she was going to be back with her old team (or at least parts of it, she didn't imagine that the whole BAU would come over), that she was just nervous about working with them again, about being reminded of the fact that she was once one of them, coupled with the painful reality that she no longer was.
However, if she were completely honest, she'd know that wasn't true. Derek and Penelope had visited for a few weeks, and she'd had some semblance of her old life back, for a time. She had missed them when they left, but she hadn't dreaded their arrival, like she did now.
That's because this time, he was going to be there.
Emily felt another odd wave of apprehension surge up her throat at the thought. She'd made a fool of herself the last time that she'd seen him—hugging him, holding onto him in the middle of the bullpen like a helpless child, unable to control the tears streaming down her face. Jesus, why hadn't she just trumpeted to the world about her obvious feelings for the man?
That was probably the worst part, the thing that filled her with the most dread—she had been unable to handle her own emotions, and she had turned their last moments into something heavy and awkward. She'd done so well, had been so careful for so many years, sidestepping around feelings and furtive glances, and then she'd gone and fucked in all up in the final ten seconds. Typical Emily.
She shook her head gently, as if trying to physically remove this particular line of thought from her mind.
"Ready, m'um?" Hershey, her driver, had slipped back into the front seat with a warm smile.
Emily returned the smile as she nodded, "Let's get this show on the road, sir."
"Kenya, is it?"
"Yes. But you're just driving me to Heathrow."
He grinned at the quip. "How long ya gone for?"
"Dunno. As long as it takes to get some answers—or at least enough answers to satisfy Mr. Easter."
Hershey made a slight face at the pronouncement—he'd met Clyde Easter, only a few times, when he'd shared a ride to a meeting or back to Ms. Prentiss' flat. He knew that Ms. Prentiss didn't seem to care for Easter, and by extension, neither did he. Of course, he'd also become a pretty good gauge of human behavior (it's amazing how easily people forget that their driver is actually human, actually observing), and he saw very little common decency in Mr. Easter. Nothing good could come from a man that suave.
"Well, I'll be hoping that you get back soon."
"Thank you, Hershey," she smiled at him through the rearview mirror, a quiet, genuine smile that made her eyes seem even bigger and brighter.
With another smile of his own, Hershey pulled out into traffic, allowing Emily a moment to collect her thoughts.
She had a job to do. She couldn't lose focus by getting all soppy-sentimental over things that never truly happened, over old boxes filled with faded coulda-shoulda-woulda-beens. With a small nod of self-agreement, she turned her face to the window, watching the city streets roll by. And like Hershey, she wondered when she'd see this place again—the place that was still becoming her home, yet still more of a home than anywhere else in the world, at the moment. She felt the familiar wave of nostalgic longing wash over her body—the need to belong somewhere, to someone, in some way. She would turn forty-three this October, and she still felt like the little matchstick girl, striking up things that never lasted with a futile sense of determination—romances that fizzled out, homes that were bought only to be sold, friends found and lost and found again (though slightly lost by distance again, too).
And now she was on her way again, to some strange land and an even stranger adventure—with every waking moment to be spent soaking in the remnants of the people and emotions who were once home to her. Except they didn't feel like home anymore.
Emily, Emily, the orphaned girl with two living parents, Emily, Emily, the homeless girl with the coziest flat in London, Emily, Emily, the loveless girl with a heart full of ache and desire. Never belonged anywhere, to anyone, never, never, never...Emily, Emily, alone and forgotten, always and forever.
New York City, New York.
Reid rubbed his eyes sleepily as he boarded the plane for their flight to Amsterdam. Yesterday evening, they'd flown into New York, where they'd spent the next morning in a Joint Terrorism Task Force meeting, catching up on the events in Nairobi. Naturally, the powers-that-be were concerned that this could mean further attacks on American citizens abroad, though they weren't the only nation sending investigators—the American CIA and FBI agents would first fly out to the Netherlands, where they would meet with their German and Canadian counterparts (the Israelis and the British were already en route and would arrive a day earlier), and from there, they would fly to Nairobi. They would have to hit the ground running, with no chance to recover from jetlag, but Spencer Reid wasn't one to shy away from a challenge.
The thought of being off-rhythm made him instinctively turn back to glance at David Rossi, who was right behind him on the jetbridge. Perhaps this trip would be good for him—after all, of all the people who could possibly understand what Rossi was going through, Spencer Reid and Aaron Hotchner were definitely the most likely candidates. Maybe during a quiet moment, Spencer could offer Rossi some kind of support—in return for all the kindness that Rossi had shown to Spencer after he lost Maeve.
Maeve. The mere thought of her name still created a now-familiar pang in his chest. That was a wound that would never fully heal, no matter how much Spencer moved forward. She had left a scar on his soul, and you don't simply move past scars. They stayed with you, indelible parts of your skin and your story, and though the wound itself may hurt less, your memory never faded and your remembrance of the pain was as fresh as the first loss itself. And honestly, he didn't want to ever stop feeling this way about her—his feelings for her, no matter how tumultuous or excruciating, still reminded him that he wasn't just a walking encyclopedia, some machine without feeling or humanity. That was probably the greatest gift that Maeve had given him during their short time together—she had restored the lost and unfeeling parts of his heart, gently breathing life and light into darkened corners that he had long forgotten within himself.
Spencer wondered if that was how Rossi felt about Strauss. It was hard to imagine them being as kind and sweet to one another as he and Maeve had been, but who really knew what went on behind closed doors? The young doctor decided that he really didn't want to know.
Hotch was already on the plane, seated and ready for take-off. He barely glanced up from his phone as Spencer moved down the aisle towards him.
"I've gotta go, buddy," Hotch was using the voice that was reserved for his son. Spencer looked down at his boss' phone to see Jack's face smiling back via Skype.
"Bye, Daddy. I love you."
"Love you, too." The soft smile on Hotch's face was such a rare thing that Spencer couldn't help but stare. However, that expression was quickly replaced with his usual no-nonsense mask once he hung up.
"Soccer tryouts are next week," Aaron stated, and Spencer could hear the regret in his voice.
By now, Rossi had joined them, tucking his carry-on into the overhead bin as he gently assured his friend, "He understands, Aaron."
"I know." The younger man didn't sound entirely convinced.
Dave offered one last sympathetic smile before plopping down in the row ahead of Hotch, easily changing the subject, his tone filling with the usual Rossi snark, "One thing I just love about these flights—you always have so much room to yourself."
That was obviously a joke, because this certainly was not the BAU jet—it was a standard commercial flight, complete with bored business men and an already-crying baby, though the US government had been kind enough to ensure that they were seated at the back of the plane, spread out and away from the rest of the passengers.
"I'm definitely missing our jet," Hotch cast a wary eye towards the front of the plane.
Spencer nodded in agreement, taking a seat across the aisle from Hotch—once the plane reached cruising altitude, he could turn in his seat and stretch his legs across the entire row, a definite perk for an eight hour flight. Still, it wasn't nearly as comfortable as their usual accommodations.
There was a light commotion at the plane entrance as Jeff Masterson and Rowena Lewis, two of the New York JTTF agents assigned to the mission, made their way down the aisle.
Spencer took a moment to study them—Jeff Masterson looked like he might have been police or military before his time in the Bureau, with his well-muscled frame and buzz-cut hair (cut so short to hide the beginnings of gray, Spencer guessed). He moved with authority, with the relaxed easy energy of a man who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. With his steel-blue eyes and square jaw, he looked like the kind of FBI agent that one would see on TV. Rowena Lewis reminded him of Prentiss in some ways—tall, broad-shouldered, brunette, with an oddly self-contained movement to her gait, as if every muscle was always tensed, always ready to pounce. However, unlike Prentiss, she had dark hazel eyes and sharply-defined brows that made her look as if she was perpetually pissed at the world. Her hands were weathered, telling Spencer that she was probably a good seven years older than she actually looked, and her fingers seemed to always curl and flex into dainty, fluttery gestures, an odd juxtaposition to the strength of the rest of her body.
Together, these two agents made a hell of a pair—Gideon had once told Spencer that in order to be truly effective at intimidation, one needed not to be violent, but to merely have the suggestion of violence, carried in their frame and in the way they walked. Masterson and Lewis definitely had that. Either one looked like they could take on Derek Morgan—and win.
Despite their looks, they had both been nothing but warm and welcoming to the BAU team since their introduction at the JTTF meeting earlier that day. Even now, Rowena spared them a sunny smile that completely changed the look of her features.
"I've got exactly ten minutes before I am out like a light," Rowena announced, handing her bag to Jeff, who easily slipped it into the overhead bin. She checked her cellphone one last time before turning it off and slipping it in her pocket.
"Dramamine," Jeff offered the explanation, glancing at his coworker with a smile. "Roe here can't fly without being drugged out of her mind."
"If I start snoring, just kick the back of my seat," she instructed Spencer, who simply nodded, slightly smiling at her easy-natured self-effacement.
"That's why I have these," he informed her, holding up his headphones. He had the latest audio recording of the complete works of Dostoevsky, and he was excited at the chance to listen for hours without interruption.
Despite the fact that they practically had ten rows to themselves, Jeff slipped into the seat next to Rowena, across the aisle from Rossi (an action that didn't go unnoticed by Hotch, who made a mental note to keep an eye on those two—emotionally involved agents sometimes presented more of a danger in high-charged situations, because they were too concerned with each other's safety to let their partner do their job).
David also noticed—he immediately thought of times gone by, when he and Erin spent hours side-by-side in planes, trains, and automobiles, working on cases together. On the flight to New York during the tainted MDMA case, she'd sat beside him, silently slipping her hand across the seat to let her fingertips gently touch his (just enough to be felt, not enough to be noticed by the others). If he'd known that would be their last flight together, he would have held her hand the entire flight, not giving a damn who saw or what they thought about it.
He turned his face back to the window. Erin wasn't his first loss, he'd had better lessons in deeper grief, but God above, this one hit harder than the others. He wasn't even sure why—maybe it was because of the way he lost her, how a woman of steel was taken out by a cruel coward who used her worst fears and deepest vices against her, how her death left behind three shaky and shattered children, how it reminded David that he could share this fate (Erin had been damaged by her job for years, then saved by it again when she fought for sobriety, and finally killed by it, a cycle that could be repeated by David, by any agent, if they weren't careful).
Regardless of how or why this particular loss affected him, David knew that it was affecting every other aspect of his life—most importantly, his job, his one solace and escape from whatever reality surrounded him. He had once admitted to Hotch that the chase had become his mistress, his true calling and the purpose of his life. Now he wondered if that was just the excuse he'd told himself, so that he didn't have to be bothered with things like relationships and remembrances of things past and people lost. Maybe what was once his refuge had now become his shield of denial, a way to deflect instead of dealing with things. Regardless of his reasons, he now found that his usual sanctuary had become a private hell—every room had some memory of her, some reminder of all the things that he was trying to avoid.
"Agent Rossi," Masterson's voice interrupted his thoughts, and David turned to look at the younger man. Jeff was fighting back a boyish grin as he admitted, "I just—I wanted to say, I'm a big fan of yours—well, fanperhaps isn't the best choice of word, but I am truly honored to get to work with you."
"We'll see if you still feel that way after you've actually worked with him." Aaron Hotchner's deadpan voice drifted over the seat, followed by the light sound of Spencer Reid trying (and failing) to fight back a snicker.
David rose to look over the back of the seat, giving Hotch his best disapproving-old-man glare and sparing a quick look at Dr. Reid as well before turning back to Jeff. "Thank you, Agent Masterson. It's nice to work with someone who appreciates my skills."
This earned him a light huff from Hotch, and though neither man could see one another, they both knew that the other was smiling.
Jeff watched this exchange with a wide grin. He liked these guys—during his army days, there had been the old adage that you could always spot the head-shrinkers (they always looked like analysts, kind of the way that Dr. Reid kid looked), and though he'd known it to be a myth for many years, it was still refreshing to see that the BAU had a sense of humor.
Rowena gave him a slight nudge with her elbow, and he didn't have to look at her to know that she was grinning, coy and sparkling like a cheshire cat. She was well-aware of his admiration for David Rossi—they'd discussed the man's books and his career many times (your man crush, that's what she'd called it, teasing in a way that didn't feel like teasing because her eyes still danced as her fingertips trailed up his arm).
He heard her chuckle softly as she shifted in her seat again, turning towards the plane window. By now, the rest of the JTTF had boarded the plane, talking amongst themselves as they settled into their seats and prepared for takeoff.
Rowena blindly reached over to tap his leg, "Wake me when we reach Amsterdam."
"Sure thing," he promised easily. She gave a light smile, eyes already closed as her heavy dose of Dramamine began to take full effect. The pilot gave his usual greeting over the intercom and the plane began to taxi down the runway, but Jeff kept his eyes on his partner, watching her drift into slumber. Roe didn't even look like her usual self when she was asleep—the harsh arch of her eyebrows (villain brows, she jokingly called them, I could have played Maleficent) softened and the lines in her forehead disappeared, and it almost seemed as if she was smiling (not that she didn't smile when she was awake, but she didn't smile like that, not softly and peacefully and almost-secretively). She seemed like a strangely distilled version of her self, of the woman who seemed incapable of sitting still or being quiet during her waking hours (a trait that had caused her partner grief, many, many times).
With a soft shake of his head, Jeff turned his attention to the file that he'd brought along. He wanted to know this incident inside-out by the time they landed in Nairobi, especially since there would be hardly any time to play catch-up once they had boots on the ground. Sadly, there wasn't much information to learn—the local authorities hadn't had time to complete any definitive forensic testing yet (after all, it had been less than forty-eight hours since the stand-off finally ended), and the crime scene was still an absolute muddled mess. Of course, that was the reason that Jeff and Roe were being called in, as forensic analysts. Their mutual specialty was ballistics, but this go-round, they would also be overseeing the collection of fingerprints, DNA samples, and IED materials, all of which would eventually be sent back to FBI's labs. Roe had already bemoaned the fact that their crime scene was certainly already contaminated and compromised by now—and it would be even more so by the time they arrived.
Their supervisor, Dempsey, hadn't been joking when he said that it wouldn't be a cake-walk. Jeff felt that familiar weight settle onto his shoulders as he scanned the file—with a crime scene that was literally the size of an entire shopping mall (which had oh-so-inconveniently been blown to bits by the jihadists' last stand), plus six or seven other agencies vying for a chance to process evidence and information, it would certainly be a grand clusterfuck.
"I don't envy your job," David Rossi's voice quietly interrupted his thoughts.
Jeff looked up, his lips quirking into a wry smile, "Yeah, something tells me that I'm gonna spend the next few days wishing that I'd listened to my mother and became a dentist."
David chuckled in agreement. "I think we'll all have one of those moments, by the time this thing is over."
Jeff frowned slightly as he scanned another sheet of paper, "My main concern is how we will decide which piece of evidence goes to which lab. I mean, we've got intelligence from five different countries, along with local authorities—then you add Interpol to the mix—"
"Interpol?" Rossi sat up, craning to look over the seat at Hotch, making sure that he'd heard. The younger man sat up a little, suddenly interested in the conversation. As the last guys to show up to the JTTF meeting, they had no idea which agencies would be joining them, although they knew their nationalities. Rossi turned back to Jeff, "Any idea who Interpol is sending?"
The other agent shook his head, "No clue."
Rossi returned his attention to Hotch, "Maybe Emily."
Hotch gave a slight shrug, "She would be a good fit—she's worked with American and British agencies, she speaks several languages—"
"Terrorism was always one of her specialties in profiling," Rossi added. "And she has a working relationship with the FBI. They'd be fools not to send her."
David suddenly remembered his manners and turned back to Jeff, "We have a former colleague who runs the London Interpol office. She might be one of the ones they send."
"Except for the fact that she's in a supervisory position," Hotch pointed out.
"So are you, and you're still here," Rossi reminded him.
"Yes, but that's because I wouldn't allow them to send someone else."
"And what makes you think that Emily Prentiss would be any different?" The older man let that question hang in the air for a few seconds before quietly adding, "You two have always been more alike than either of you cared to admit."
"Perhaps," was Aaron's diplomatic-yet-cryptic reply. Dave could tell that his friend did not wish to pursue the conversation, so he wisely turned back around, returning to his own thoughts.
He hoped Emily would be there. He missed her, missed working with her, missed her caustic humor and her dry wit, missed the calm weight that she brought to every investigation. And Dave was pretty certain that he wasn't the only one—though Hotch would never admit such a thing aloud. Still, David Rossi wasn't a master profiler for nothing. He knew the little things he'd seen over the years, and more importantly, he understood their meaning.
Like David, Aaron's mind turned to Emily Prentiss as well. It had been over a year since he'd seen her, though they'd kept in touch via social media and a few technically work-related phone calls here and there (not that he hadn't wanted to call her, just to talk, from time to time, but he'd never felt as if he had the right—unlike the rest of the team, who'd simply been her friends and her partners, he was her former boss, and that somehow created a breach in Hotch's mind).
Of course, there was no sense in wondering if she would or wouldn't be assigned to this task force. He'd know for sure in a few hours.
Regardless of whether or not Emily Prentiss was also currently en route to Kenya, Aaron Hotchner found himself hoping that she was well and in good company. He hoped that she was happy, and most importantly, that she'd finally found the home for which she'd been so desperately searching, for as long as he'd known her.
They had never talked about, and she'd never confessed such a thing to him, but Aaron had always sensed it—after a childhood spent shifting around from one country to the next, and a career spent bumping from one agency to another, Emily Prentiss had created an entire life of being in constant motion. There were no roots, merely temporary harbors, places where she could tether her ship without setting down foundations for a permanent residence. Even when she tried to build a nest, the winds of chance seemed to rip it all away.
That's what had happened when Doyle returned, wasn't it? After Emily's alleged death and subsequent enrollment into protective services, JJ had been the only person to keep in contact with Emily (that was protocol, that was the way things were done, and Hotch would never do anything to jeopardize Emily's cover). However, Emily had called him, once, very late at night—even now, he could recall the hurt and betrayal in her tone (why, why did you do this to me?). He had tried to soothe her, to do his very best to explain all of his reasons, to make her see that it was the only choice, the only way to keep her safe, but she had refused to accept it.
They are my family. You took them from me. And now I can't come home until he's in custody. How long will that take, Hotch?
They. She hadn't included him in that statement. And he hadn't missed that little slip of the tongue.
He also hadn't missed the word home, the way she spoke it so longingly, so fervently that it caused a pang in his heart, to know that he was the one responsible for tearing her away from the one place where she had truly established roots and connections.
They had never mentioned that phone call, not even after she returned. And he had watched in silence as she struggled to regain her sense of home, ached as she failed, and dutifully accepted the truth when she finally admitted to her failure. It was his fault. He knew that.
Maybe she had found a home in London. Maybe it was an even better, deeper sense of home than the one she had in Virginia. He hoped so. Emily Prentiss was a strong woman, with a determination to match even the harshest situations. She had done it before; she could do it again.
He had faith in her. If anyone could overcome, it was Emily. That was one of the things he'd always admired about her.
"We're here," Emily took a page from Clyde Easter's playbook and didn't even take the time to offer a greeting. They had landed two hours ago, but had immediately been whisked into a briefing. They had finally arrived at their hotel and although she felt as if she might collapse from jetlag, she knew that she still had to call her supervisor.
"Congratulations," Clyde's tone bordered between sarcasm and amusement. "How long has it been, since the last time you had to do a check-in with me?"
"Officially?" Emily's mind traveled back, "Since before Doyle was arrested in France."
"I miss our late night talks."
"Really? Because you never seemed to care for them at the time."
"That's because you always called at four o'clock in the morning, Emily."
"I was undercover."
"You were and still are a sadist who likes depriving people of sleep."
She rolled her eyes at the pronouncement, "Well, I'm calling you now, before four o'clock in the morning, so be grateful."
"As I always am."
She gave a derisive snort at that statement, but wisely chose not to pursue it.
"What's it look like so far?" He became more serious, his voice lined with something that might even qualify as concern.
"Messy." Emily sighed, plopping down onto the hotel bed. "The Kenyan Criminal Investigative Department has been interviewing hostages since yesterday morning, and their Anti-Terrorism Unit has been collecting as much forensic evidence as they can, but from the looks of it, the site is a complete haystack."
"From the looks of it?"
"Well, we arrived so late that we decided not to visit the site until tomorrow morning."
For some reason, his response irritated her. She rubbed her forehead in frustration, mentally pulling her emotions back in check.
"You need to get some rest," Clyde's voice became softer. He could obviously sense her aggravation, though she hadn't said a word. "You can't start this thing with nerves that are already run ragged."
"I know," she sighed.
"You'll keep me in the loop on this, won't you?" There was something more than just protocol behind his words (let me know that you're alright, Emily).
"I will," she promised. With a wry smile, she added, "It'll be just like old times."
"Watch it, Delilah." He used to call her that, when she was posing as Doyle's lover. It had aggravated the hell out of her (because he got to remain a pristine good solider for his country, while she had to play the double-agent whore), but right now she was too tired to be upset.
"Fuck you, Easter," she replied drolly.
"From what I hear, you'd be the one to do it." Ever the suave agent, he never missed a beat.
"I walked right into that one, didn't I?" She couldn't stop the wry grin from slipping across her face.
"I'm afraid so." She could tell by the sound of his voice that he was smiling too. "Get some sleep."
"You too." She hung up, taking a beat to simply stare at the ceiling.
It was just like old times—strange hotel rooms in foreign cities, late night calls to her handler (a man who was her friend merely by virtue of their work), frustrating rabbit trails and an unwavering faith that it would all be alright in the end. Sadly, this felt more like home to her than London.
She resumed the line of thought that she'd had when she was leaving her flat this morning—her self-comparison to the little matchstick girl, fruitlessly striking up things that would never last. There was a difference between the two of them, she realized. The matchstick girl stayed in one place, striking her matches until they all burned out. She didn't move and as a result, she froze to death. Emily kept moving. She survived. And within the moving, within the survival, there was a sense of rightness. Maybe that was as close to feeling at-home as she would ever be. And maybe that was quite alright.
It certainly was for now, at least.