Out of Africa

Unlikely

"One doesn't need to be taught fear when one is the hunted."
~Nenia Campbell.


Nairobi, Kenya.

As soon as Constance felt the recoil of her pistol, she bolted. She didn't have to stay and see if her bullet hit its mark—she knew it had, just as certainly as the sun had risen in the East.

The others were in the stairwell, giving her approximately a five second head start—provided that Emily hadn't held onto her gun and wasn't currently aiming at her back.

Don't look back. Either die or disappear, those are your options.

She made it across the skybridge as she heard the shouts. She didn't go for the first stairwell—too obvious, and stairwells were deathtraps (the stairs slowed you down, there was nowhere to hide, your pursuer had a higher vantage point).

She pushed herself to run faster. The straps of her harness were tugging at her shoulders, pulling her back as her arms pumped double-time with her legs.

This building was filled with people—more apartments, all locked doors that she couldn't simply slip behind, more innocents, more lives to be caught in the crosshairs.

She needed to lose the leather jacket. It was weighing her down. But she couldn't stop to take it off.

She heard the sound of someone else's footsteps. Someone faster and gaining on her.

She kept running, looking around furiously.

Think, Connelly, think!

A fire alarm.

She came to a screeching halt and pulled the lever. Then she turned to the hose in its glass case, waiting patiently beside the alarm switch. She threw her elbow into it, shattering the glass (suddenly grateful that she had not ditched the jacket). With quick and steady hands, she unfurled the hose.

Injuring Prentiss had been her innocent blood shed for the day. Whoever came around that corner would not receive another bullet, not from her. She'd send them skyrocketing backwards with a burst from the high-pressure hose (and save a precious bullet in the trade-off, because she only had one extra clip, and she didn't know how things would go with Wasaki).

The footsteps were faster, and closer.

Don't make me kill you. Not today.


A gunshot. Chava Azoulay's head snapped up, looking back at Agent Kimathi and Agent Rossi.

Kimathi's face became stone. He moved back to the stairwell door, craning his neck to look around.

She could mark the instant he realized that his partner had been hit.

"Chief!" He bellowed, bolting down the hall.

Azoulay and Rossi were back up the stairs in a heartbeat.

Chava could see Chief Prentiss's prone form, sprawled across the entrance of the skybridge.

"All units report," Agent Silver's voice was lined with worry.

Agent Rossi was already running. Azoulay was close behind, slowing her pace so that she could respond, "Agent down, we have an agent down!"

She tightened her grip on her gun and doubled her pace. Kimathi was already at his chief's side, and Rossi was kneeling next to her, too.

Emily Prentiss was taken care of. The shooter was not.

Chava didn't even check her stride for a single second, bolting down the skybridge.

She opened the door to the stairwell once she was across, listening for the sound of hurried footsteps. Nothing.

Damn. Another precious second wasted.

She heard running, somewhere on this floor. One hallway over, two?

She darted off again. Adrenaline took control, she ran as if she had wings, feeling as if she could go like this forever.

Some kind of alarm—harsh, loud, insistent.

She kept pumping her legs. Focus on the target. That's all that matters. Find him. Find him and kill him.

Then pandemonium struck.

The residents had heard the alarm and were exiting their apartments, flooding the halls with noise and bodies. Her unstoppable stride was checked as she tried to fight her way through the sea of people. A few noticed her gun and moved away, more screams and shouts and distractions. She fought the urge to shriek in rage and frustration.

Silver's voice again, "Azoulay. Azoulay, do you copy?"

She finally stopped, her entire body heavy with defeat, "I copy."

"Where are you?"

"In the building across the skybridge. He's gone. I….he's gone."

"Return immediately. You are not to engage—we've already got one agent down, we don't need another."

She nodded, though Silver couldn't see it. "Copy."

She turned and made her way back down the hall, almost oblivious to the people pushing past her, struggling and shouting for exits.

Any faith she may have had in God had certainly evaporated.

This was not the way things should end.


CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

Clyde Easter's brow furrowed in a mixture of irritation and concern as he prowled the halls. Emily Prentiss had just been shot (condition believed to be non-critical), and Constance Connelly was not answering his calls. What the hell was happening to his best and brightest?

He finally found the lab, entering with little ceremony as he scanned the room for that familiar head of auburn hair.

Except he didn't see that familiar form. He dialed her number again, waited for the inevitable transfer to voicemail.

"Can I help you?" A charmingly timid man who must be the lab supervisor appeared.

Then another sound. The ring of a mobile.

Easter held up his hand in a silencing gesture, eyes narrowing in curiosity as he moved closer to the sound.

A workstation next to a body—obviously Connelly's, judging from the various tools lined up in an orderly row across the metal counter. There was also a laptop, standard issue Interpol, and sitting next to it was a cellphone, currently ringing. The screen read Easter.

Connelly's phone was here, but she was not.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," a barrel-chested man with impossibly ice-blue eyes rounded the corner. "That phone has been going crazy for five minutes straight now."

"Have you seen Constance Connelly?" Easter ignored the frustration in the other man's tone. He didn't have time for placations.

"Is she the owner of that phone?" The blue-eyed man motioned to the cell. His accent was American, and he had the distinct look of an FBI agent.

"Yes. Five-foot five, red hair, blue eyes. Thin. Have you seen her?"

"Roe," the American called over his shoulder. Another head popped around the corner, dark and curious, with eyes the twinkled like Kipling's renowned Rikki Tikki Tavi.

The American repeated the description, "You seen anyone matching that?"

"Today? Here? No." She moved closer to them. She was American too, tall and broad shouldered and smooth gaited—she reminded Clyde so much of Emily that it actually hurt. Emily, Emily, poor Emily.

Clyde swore under his breath.

"What's going on?" The American's shoulders were set in a tense fashion, alert and curious.

"I need to find Agent Connelly."

"We'll be on the lookout," Emily's doppelganger assured him.

"And you're sure you haven't seen her all morning?"

The two Americans exchanged glances. The man spoke, "We've been in our own section—it's possible that she's been here, but we haven't seen her."

Clyde fought back a sigh of frustration. "This isn't like her at all. She's not the type to just disappear—especially without her mobile."

Another silent exchange between the American duo. God, now they reminded him of past moments with Connelly—their rapport had been instant and without the need for words, even from the start.

Dear god, he was going insane.

"If you do see her, tell her that Clyde Easter is looking for her," he gave a curt nod and headed back upstairs. He'd already wasted too much time—he needed to get to the hospital, to see Emily.

He was already in the parking lot when his phone buzzed, and he answered immediately, "Easter."

"It's Aaron Hotchner." As if he couldn't recognize that low and unwaveringly serious voice.

"How is she?"

"It's a flesh wound. No bones or major arteries were hit. The doctors have determined that it won't require surgery, but they are ordering a blood transfusion." An awkward pause. "She's asking for you. She refuses to take morphine until she speaks to you."

"I'm on my way. Tell her to be strong for just a little bit longer." That was his Emily, his daring Agent Prentiss, who placed duty above pain.

But what could be so important that she could only tell him? The question sent a chill down his spine.

Constance's words came back to him. It certainly seemed like an ill-fated mission indeed.


Nairobi West Hospital. Nairobi, Kenya.

Aaron Hotchner gave a heavy sigh as he made his way back through the relatively quiet emergency room—Emily was still lying behind one of those white curtains, eyes closed so that she couldn't see the nurse stitching up the gap in her thigh (she always closed her eyes with stuff like that, and he always wondered where she went in her mind to get away from the moment). Despite her insistence to remain fully lucid until Easter's arrival (she'd caused such a ruckus in the ambulance that the paramedics had finally agreed to cut the morphine drip), she had at least agreed to a local anesthesia, so that the wound itself was now numb. Still, Aaron knew from experience that even though you couldn't feel the pain of the stitching, you still felt the odd pull of your skin as the wound was sewn shut, and it wasn't exactly a pleasant sensation.

He walked to the curtain again, opening his mouth to speak—but Emily's voice called out first.

"Aaron Hotchner. I just got shot in the leg. Please tell me that you're not seriously going to stand behind that curtain and wait for an invitation, like it's some kind of tea party."

He couldn't help but grin at the dry amusement in her tone—a true sign that she was well on her way to recovery. He pulled back the curtain to reveal Emily, also smiling. The nurse was making quick work of the stitches, though Aaron could still see the blood seeping into the white sheets underneath Emily's leg. Her Kevlar vest had been removed, and she looked smaller, more fragile again.

"The doctor came by while you were on the phone," Emily continued, closing her eyes and tilting her face upwards. "After I'm all stitched up, they're sending me to a room. Looks like I'll be here at least overnight."

He simply nodded—he hadn't expected anything less.

"Is Clyde on his way?" Her voice was worried, almost plaintive.

"Yes." He didn't know how to feel about this—Emily's sudden need for her current supervisor, her sudden secrecy (he'd asked, a dozen times, who had shot her, but she refused to answer, simply asking for Easter instead).

She read his emotions behind that single small word, because she gave another soft smile. "Don't make that face, Hotchner."

"What face?"

"That face you make. It's hard to describe. But you're making it."

"Your eyes are closed."

"Still. I can feel you making that face."

He shook his head, fighting back a smile—yes, she was off pain meds, but her body's natural defense system of endorphins was still working, and she was getting a little loopy. She was utterly adorable.

The nurse stood up, "OK, I have to flip you over, Chief Prentiss—I need to close up the exit wound at the back of your thigh, too."

"Sure thing," Emily was completely compliant, unfazed by it all. Of course, this certainly wasn't her first rodeo at the emergency room.

Aaron moved forward to help, but between Emily and the nurse, it wasn't a hard move. However, Emily waved him closer, motioning to the empty bed beside her. "Sit. Talk to me. Keep me awake."

He obliged, cringing slightly at the sight of the needle currently being inserted into her skin to numb the wound. She had been lucky—the bullet wasn't a hollow-point, which meant the shot was clean through and through, not widening and causing massive tissue damage. Then again, Emily Prentiss always seemed to be lucky when it came to such things.

"You're hilarious, you know that?" Emily was smiling at him again.

"That's not something I hear every day," he admitted dryly.

She laughed, "You can handle so much pain, but only if it's your own."

He couldn't refute that statement.

"I can't take the drugs until I speak to Easter," she continued, her tone more serious. "I know it sounds crazy, but I'm afraid—when I woke up, after Doyle, I forgot…there were whole chunks of that day just missing from my mind. I don't want that to happen again."

"What are you so afraid of forgetting?" He asked, his voice quiet, gentle.

She pressed her lips together, eyes filled with regret and worry. "I can't, Hotch. Not until Clyde gets here. Just trust me, please?"

He couldn't stop himself from instinctively reaching forward to push a stray hair out of her face, his fingertips trailing along the curve of her face. "I do. Always."

There were tears in her eyes, but she was smiling.

The sound of footsteps, heavy and rapid, then Clyde Easter appeared.

"Ah, Delilah. In fine form, I see."

Emily chuckled, "Good thing I decided to wear underwear today, eh?"

They were both referring to the fact that her pants leg had been sliced open all the way to her hipbone, revealing the curve of her ass (something Aaron realized that he hadn't even noticed—he'd been too busy worrying about the gaping bullet hole in her thigh).

"Yes, well," Clyde tilted his head slightly, inspecting the scene. "Thongs don't leave much to the imagination, darling."

"You're an ass, you know that?"

"I do, in fact. But I generally keep mine covered up."

Aaron felt like he'd just fallen into the proverbial rabbit hole—he'd never seen Clyde Easter exhibit so much humor, and Emily was acting as if she hadn't been anxious and urgent for his arrival. However, in hindsight, he saw that Easter's blasé approach had definitely influenced how Emily reacted to stress (how many times had she made quips while injured, or shrugged off near-death experiences with an irreverent joke?).

Easter knelt beside her bed, his face even with hers, his body now between Aaron and Emily.

"I'm here now." His voice was soft, filled with compassion and concern, all the things that Hotch had never seen in the uptight Englishman. Clyde's hand was on Emily's shoulder blade, weighted and comforting. "Now tell me what's so important that you're acting like a royal twat and refusing pain meds."

She didn't laugh this time—her big doe eyes were filled with worry.

"Hotch." She didn't say anything else, she didn't have to.

Aaron stood, nodding slightly in understanding. He walked away.

Emily dismissed the nurse as well.

Clyde didn't ask questions. He simply waited—after all, she'd waited through agonizing pain for his arrival, he could wait a few more seconds for her to end the mystery.

"Constance Connelly. She's the one who shot me, Clyde."

He rocked back on his heels, his mind feeling fuzzy and confused. "No, that's—that's impossible, Emily. She—"

"She was there. She looked me in the eye and shot me."

"And you're sure?"

"Clyde—"

"Emily, your adrenaline levels were racing, things were happening quickly, you know better than anyone how the mind can play tricks when—"

"Clyde." The quiet certainty in Emily's voice stopped him.

He knew it was true. Still his mind warred with his heart as he tried to make it all make sense—he had a queer feeling in his stomach and the floor seemed unstable, shifting beneath the balls of his feet.

Constance. His Constance. Quiet, tilling-her-flower-beds, tending-her-sick-mum Constance. The woman he'd held in his arms, decades ago. The woman who'd brushed her body against his and made a risqué little joke, not twenty-four hours ago—the memory of that feline smile landed like a punch in his stomach. Constance Connelly. A traitor. A turncoat. A fucking terrorist.

It didn't make sense. It couldn't make sense.

"What is going on?" Emily's voice was small, searching, just as confused as his thoughts.

"I don't know," he admitted softly. He looked up at her again, "You haven't told anyone else?"

"No. And I don't think anyone else saw her. I just—you deserved to be the first to hear it."

He gave a heavy sigh as he looked away. His brow furrowed and the corner of his mouth hitched downward, all signs that he was trying to map out a plan (gods, how many times had Emily witnessed that expression, over the years?).

"Let's keep this in-house for now," he spoke slowly, his mind still formulating the course of action. "Need-to-know basis only. Tell Mika if you have to, but I'd prefer to keep the number of people in the loop to a minimum. We're going to have some serious egg on our face, if Interpol employed a double-agent. And we don't know the full story yet."

"The full story? Clyde, she shot me—"

"In the leg." His tone was low, but still full of force. "You don't know Constance like I do, Emily—she could have taken you out with a single headshot. She has the skill and the training. But she didn't. She gave you a superficial flesh wound when she could have just killed you. Use that damn profiling you love so much—what does that tell you?"

Emily didn't answer.

He continued, "I can't believe I'm actually saying this—but bring in your little FBI analyst on this one. I don't want our own people to know that we're looking into Connelly. She runs Intel, they're all her people—we can't be entirely certain that they won't try to protect her, or worse, that one of them is actually part of her scheme."

Emily gave a slight nod, her face rubbing against the uncomfortable hospital sheet.

"Now will you take the morphine?" Easter gave her a longsuffering look.

"Can I tell Aaron?"

"Need-to-know, Emily. But I suppose I'll let you determine who meets that criteria." Easter stood, looking around as he tucked his hands into his pockets. "I can't run point on this one—I'm emotionally involved."

Emily's face was filled with utter shock.

"Oh, don't look so surprised. I'd have to do the same if it were you."

"Clyde Easter, you truly are a man of surprises."

He pasted on a wry grin, "And don't you dare forget it, darling."

He moved to find the nurse, then stopped, turning back again with a devious look, "And by the way, when did you start referring to Chief Hotchner as Aaron?"

"Fuck off, Clyde."

Another wry grin. "Funny. That's the second time today I've heard that."


Aaron mentally braced himself as Easter approached—however, the Englishman's face held nothing but concern.

He kept his voice low, quick, "Look, I've got the nurse putting Emily on a morphine drip, so she'll be out for a while—and I fear we don't have time to waste."

"What's going on?"

Easter sighed, looked down at the floor, almost ashamed, "Emily believes that she was shot by another Interpol operative—Constance Connelly, the reconstructionist who flew into Nairobi with me. I know, it sounds far-fetched, but Emily's not the kind to imagine things."

Hotch nodded in agreement. The Englishman continued, "For obvious reasons, we want to keep this very closed. Emily requested that you be told, and I am trusting her judgment."

There was a moment in which Easter's eyes flicked back up to Hotch's, weighing the statement with so much more—I am also trusting her judgment in whatever the hell's going on between you two, so don't betray my trust on either matter.

Again, Hotch nodded in understanding.

"I'd also like to use your technical analyst to look into Constance Connelly—see if we can find anything to back up Emily's statement. Connelly was vetted by Interpol Intelligence when she first returned to us a few years ago, but I can't use our people on this."

"You're afraid she might have someone on her side," Hotch surmised.

Clyde Easter sighed again, his face suddenly aging a decade. "You think you know someone. God, Connelly and I were together in the 80s, jumping all over Europe with a task force. Decades, I've known her."

He fell silent for a moment, then pulled himself out of his reverie. Back to business, "I need you to contact your analyst now. The sooner we get started on this, the better. Connelly already has a hell of a head start."

Hotch gave another curt nod, turning on his heel as he fished his cellphone out of his pocket.

"And Hotchner?"

He stopped, turning back to the older man.

"Thank you. For being with her." Easter shrugged his shoulder in the direction of Emily's bed. He looked almost…tearful? "She's a brave girl, and I know she could survive on her own, but I do like knowing that someone she trusted was with her, the whole time."

Aaron was absolutely speechless. He remembered Emily's words from several days ago—this was the part of Clyde Easter that she'd been trying to explain, the part that made up for some of his less bearable qualities.

It was strange, feeling an almost-kinship with this man. Just another example of how tragedy brought together the unlikeliest of allies.

He turned away and made the phone call—unfortunately, he also had to inform Penelope Garcia of Emily's current condition, and that was not a pleasant task. Then of course, he had to further compound the stress upon his bubbly analyst by asking her to keep her work a secret from the others.

"Hotch, you know I don't do well with the whole keeping-secrets thing."

"I know. But do it for Emily."

There was a light sigh on the other end of the line. "You always know just how to hit me where it hurts, dontcha, sir?"

He smiled at that. "I am a profiler, Garcia."

"A mighty fine one, too." There was a grin in her voice. Then a beat. "She's really OK?"

"Well, she's seen better days."

"On a scale of one to Doyle, how bad?"

"For anyone else? A seven. For Emily Prentiss? A four."

This earned him a hum of amusement. "Our girl really is a cat with ninety-nine lives."

"I hope so."

After a few more promises of secrecy and speedy fact-finding from Garcia, Hotch hung up and went back to Emily's side.

She was in a hospital gown now, her clothes in a plastic bag at her feet. She was on her back again, eyes closed, leg stitched and wrapped up and a morphine drip already underway.

He quietly sat down in the chair that the nurse had left behind, taking a moment to study her face—paler than usual, but serene, as if carved from marble. The pain and the worry that had been etched into her expression were finally gone.

There was beeping, noise from another patient's vital monitor a few beds over.

She stirred slightly, grimacing as she looked around. "Hotch?"

"I'm here."

"I needed….I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before—Clyde deserved to know first. But it's not….he said I could—"

"I know about Connelly," he assured her. The drugs were definitely taking effect, slurring her speech and muddying her mind—he understood why she'd been so adamant about staying sober until Easter's arrival.

"Oh," was her only reply, but she seemed to relax again.

Then her left hand moved slightly towards him—he understood the gesture and gently took her hand in his own.

She smiled sleepily, closing her eyes. "You have very nice hands, Chief Hotchner."

"Are you hitting on me?"

"Maybe. Maybe not." Her eyes were still closed, but she arched one eyebrow in drunken playfulness. She gave a heavy breath. "We'll….hafta continue this conversation later…I'm not—I think I'm gonna go to sleep now."

He nodded, gently raising her hand to bestow a kiss on her knuckles.

Another smile. "Very nice lips, too."

He chuckled quietly at this, silently storing it away for future reference, when she was well and he could tease her about it.

She slowly slipped into drowsy land of drugged sleep, and he continued holding her hand, his thumb lightly tracing and retracing the ridges of her knuckles.

He knew that he should be getting back. Rossi and Reid were probably beside themselves with worry—in fact, he'd wager good money that they were currently in the waiting room, anxiously anticipating news of Prentiss' condition. Then, of course, there was the entire manhunt that was certainly underway by now, as the task force tried to regroup and regain some kind of knowledge as to Wasaki's whereabouts.

But he couldn't bring himself to leave. Not yet. Her fingers were still firmly clasped around his, their warmth and weight reassuring after the events of today—she's still here, still alive, still Emily.

He stood, leaning forward to place a chaste kiss on her forehead. His throat suddenly closed with emotion as the full impact of this almost-loss struck him.

Emily's words from earlier that morning came back to him: We shouldn't worry about this. We've earned it, right?

Right?

God above, they had earned it, in a thousand different ways, almost from the day they'd met. And if they hadn't already, then today they'd certainly paid the full price.

And as his thumb continued its continuous remapping of the skin on the back of her hand, he made a promise—to both of them, for both of them—that as soon as Emily was out of this place, they'd take the time to finally cash in on this debt that had been owed to them for so long.


"Yeah you, you got that something—I think you'll understand
When I feel that something, I wanna hold your hand….
Oh please say to me, you'll let me be your man
And please say to me, you'll let me hold your hand.
Now let me hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand."
~The Beatles.


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