Out of Africa

The Sound of Silence

"Powerlessness is an excruciating pain; it is torture insurmountable."
~Richelle E. Goodrich.

Separatarian Ranch, Colorado. October 2008.

"Which one of you is it?" Benjamin Cyrus's voice was low, calm, rumbling with the distant yet distinct threat of violence. "Which one of you is the FBI agent?"

Hotch felt his stomach clench in fear. He automatically glanced up at David Rossi, whose expression was equally grim.

"Why do you think one of us is an FBI agent?" Typical Reid, trying to use logic to diffuse the situation. Usually it worked to his advantage.

Not today.

"God will forgive me for what I must do." There was such conviction in Cyrus' statement—and Aaron Hotchner knew that there was nothing more dangerous than a man who believed himself to be morally right.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Reid persevered.

"One of you does. Who is it?"

Aaron's grip on his headphones instinctively tightened. This would not end well, not matter how it played out.

"Me." Emily's voice came on the line. Aaron could almost feel her pushing down her fear as she repeated, "It's me."

There was a beat of silence, in which Morgan, Rossi, and Hotch looked at one another, their faces filled with dread.

A flurry of commotion, shouts and shoves and guns clicking ominously. Emily again, making noises of pain as she obviously struggled. Shuffling. Dragging.

Derek Morgan's fist was clenching with fear and rage. Hotch stared at the ground, his mind half a mile away, trying to figure out where they were, where they were going—if they had to storm the place, he wanted to get to Emily as quickly as possible.

Just lock her in a closet. Put her out of sight, out of mind. Just lock her away and leave her alone.

More indiscernible noise. Then Cyrus, righteously indignant, "I told you not to put me in this position!"

A solid sound—a slap, hard and full—followed by a gasp from Emily. A groan, the sound of Emily trying to regain her breath.

Hotch's hands instinctively went to his headphones—he wanted to pull them off, to throw them away, as far away as possible, as if removing the sounds would end the actual event itself. However, he stopped himself. He couldn't push this away—he would witness Emily's suffering, would note every ounce of her sacrifice, would record and remember every moment that she put herself on the line for the greater good. It was the least he could do. His muscles were tensing, a numbness settled into his lips and his eyes hazed over as he tried to figure out exactly what was going on (all the while, his mind fought it, not wanting to imagine Emily, beaten and bruised and struggling to stand).

The next blow was heavy and dull, something even harder than a slap—a kick that landed like a sucker-punch in his own gut, echoing with Emily's sharp cry.

She was beginning to moan now. He knew that sound—the sound of someone who has been badly hurt, someone who was about to throw in the towel, the involuntary inhuman sound of suffering.

And yet Cyrus was just getting warmed up.

"We gotta go in," Hotch took off his headphones—vile messengers of even viler things—and then put them back on again (he couldn't leave her alone, not now, not when she needed him the most). His skin was on fire, crawling with fear and adrenaline and pure unadulterated anger, he couldn't sit still any longer. He'd endured as much as he could—and Emily was enduring far worse. He couldn't (wouldn't) stand idly by while one of his agents was possibly beaten to death.

Surprisingly, it was David Rossi who remained the voice of reason, "We'd be risking the lives of everyone in there."

Aaron was shaking his head. Rossi was right, but it was still so wrong. He looked over at Morgan—the same battle was waging in his eyes as well. How could they sit here and debate the worth of Emily's safety while her shallow, pained breaths filled their ears?

"Get up!" Cyrus was speaking again. Another hit, the sound of glass shattering.

Emily was still crying out—as painful as it was to listen to, it meant that she was still alive, still conscious, still fighting.

Don't go quiet on me, Emily. Don't go quiet on me….

"Proverbs 20:30 tells us blows and wounds cleanse away evil." Pedantic, smug bastard.

Aaron Hotchner's blood boiled as he thought of exactly how he'd cleanse away Cyrus's evil, the second he got a chance.

Louder noises, a flurry of movement, Emily still struggling to catch her breath.

That's right, Emily. Keep breathing, stay on your feet, stay alive, stay alive, stay alive….

Then Emily spoke. And her words were the signature on her own death warrant.

"I can take it." Brave, impossibly brave, despite the fear and pain coursing underneath the statement.

"Oh, you can take it?"

No, Emily. No. Anything but that.

Hotch felt a sudden dread fill his entire being.

Derek Morgan was up again, ready to lead the charge.

Rossi held up his hand, "Wait—wait. Listen to what she's saying."

"I can take it." She sounded surer this time. Defiant. Prentiss in all her glory.

Aaron understood. He felt his heart sink—he knew the cost of her message. After this sacrifice, what could he do but honor her request (and damn his mind for wondering if it would be her last request)?

"She's antagonizing him," Morgan was becoming frantic, the way he got only when someone he loved was in jeopardy.

"She's not talking to him," Rossi's voice was equally quick, but weighted with assurance.

Hotch suddenly felt the tears brimming in his eyes as he quietly decreed, "She's talking to us. She's telling us not to come in."

The sound of Emily panting, heavy and labored.

Cyrus's voice again, smug and spiteful, "Pride comes before the fall."

Another hit.

Morgan tossed his headphones as if they were some poisonous serpent, walking off in helpless frustration. Rossi gently set his down as well, tired, resigned, heartbroken.

Hotch kept his on. He was the one who put her there in the first place. He'd stay with her through every blow, every scream. And even now, he knew those sounds would haunt his dreams for many nights to come. It would be his penance.

Little did he know, it was one of many that he would owe to the brave woman bleeding on the floor of the compound that day.

When she finally stopped whimpering, he realized that the silence was worse than her moans of agony.

And again, little did he know that when it came to Emily Prentiss, the sound of silence would always be his greatest fear.

Nairobi, Kenya. September 2013.

The gunshot echoed through the building, dull and distorted, like the sound of fireworks underwater.

Aaron froze.

"All units report," Eric Silver's voice crackled on the radio, quick and tense.

There was an indistinct yell. Then Agent Azoulay's heavy accent ripped across the airwaves, "Agent down, we have an agent down!"

His chest went cold and his skin turned to fire. He raced up the stairs, eyes blind with fear and adrenaline.

Instinctively he radioed in, "Emily. Chief Prentiss, report!"

No response. The silence was louder than the gunshot.

No, no, no, not again. No, Emily, please no….

Blood, blood, so much blood. Searing pain and blood, blood, blood. Hot and slick between the fingers, still pumping out—and it hurts, gods, it hurts—mind white-hot with hurt and the sound of ragged breathing (who's breathing like a dying animal, who's making that noise?).

No. Stop. Answer the questions, Emily.

Gun. Where's the gun? She must have dropped it. So focus on the next necessary step.

Bleeding. Has to stop.

Pain in her thigh—is it near the femoral artery? There's so much blood. How does it feel, when you bleed to death? Surely it would be calmer than this.

Mika is yelling now, at her side, holding her up in a sitting position. Someone is running past, their footsteps thundering through the glass hall of the skybridge, shaking the floor.

Hands sticky and fumbling with blood and shock grope and skitter around her own body, trying to get her belt off.

"I—ah, I need—make a tourniquet—"

Her voice, but not her voice. Shaky, trembling, wobbly, fading.

Dave is here. He's understanding her feeble words, pushing away her hands to easily zip her belt out of its loops, wrapping around her thigh and tightening it into a homemade tourniquet.

"You're gonna be fine, gattina," his face and his voice don't match his words. "It's just a hit to the leg. Just a flesh wound. You're going to be just fine."

She nods—an action that makes her head spin. She feels nauseous. It's so hot in here…and Constance. Where's Constance now?

Aaron. He's here. She can feel herself smiling in relief, goofy and sloppy and stupid.

The endorphins are kicking in, her body trying to combat the screaming pain in her leg. She's lightheaded, still too hot.

Breathe. In, out, do it all over again. You're alive. You're going to live. Compartmentalize, clear your head.

Mika is gone. Where's Mika? Spencer is nearby, she can sense him.

Aaron is gently cradling her head, letting her slump back against his chest.

"There's no elevator—we've got to carry her down." Dave's voice, sweet Dave.

Aaron's face, compassionate and worried and adorable. She shouldn't say that aloud right now. He probably wouldn't think it was very appropriate.

"Am I still bleeding?" Is that her voice again?

"Not anymore," Aaron assures her. His mouth is near her ear, warm and ticklish, "The paramedics are downstairs waiting. Just stay with me, okay? Please, Emily. Just stay."

She makes a small noise of agreement (nodding is too much now).

Mika is here again, hooking his strong arms under her shoulders as Aaron takes her legs—she knows that he chose her legs so that he could watch her face, keep his eyes connected to hers, and she feels a wave of emotion at this small act. Or maybe it's nausea again. Hard to tell at this point.

"Emily, it's gonna be OK," Spencer's voice, high-pitched and fast-paced.

The stairwell is hotter than she remembered, louder, more confined.

"I'm gonna be sick," she declares, and even that statement takes way too much air out of her lungs.

"That's OK," Aaron assures her.

She feels sleepy. She knows she shouldn't go to sleep, but her eyes are so heavy….

"Emily," Hotch's voice jolts her back. "Emily, stay here. Just stay with me."

"I—ah—not go…ing anywhere. How can I leave if yah…you're holding on—onto me?"

He laughs at this, sudden and surprising, and the way it changes his face makes her body feel flushed again.

There's a stretcher on the first floor, and the paramedics take her away from Mika and Aaron. The solid feel off the stretcher beneath her, the straps are too tight but she can't ask to loosen them.

Hotch is in the ambulance with her. There's lights, the prick of a needle, the straps are still too tight and she feels her head swimming again.

Hotch is holding her hand.

Hands. Constance had a gun in her hand.

She squeezes her eyes shut, tries to remember all the things that her mind is already forgetting.

"Hotch. Aaron. I need—I need Clyde. I need to tell him….don't, don't let them put me under until I speak to Clyde. Please."

She feels something one her forehead, weighted and comforting and grounding. She opens her eyes. It's Hotch, caressing the side of her face.

"Emily, it's alright. You're alright now." His voice is low, reassuring. The fear is gone from his eyes, though there are still tears.

She tries to fight, to tell him that it's not alright—not yet, not by a long shot.

But it's so nice and cool in here, and there's something in the IV they gave her, and she can smell Aaron's cologne and his sweat and his fear and his hand is holding hers while the other rests on her temple, keeping her from floating away….and she can't think anymore.

The last thing she sees is his eyes.

She wishes that she had just a moment longer to search those eyes. There are still so many questions to be found and answered there. Just a moment, only a moment longer….

Darkness. Still the warmth of his hand, and darkness.

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved….but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure."
~Rabindranath Tagore.

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