Further Up and Deeper In
right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins."
Ahoo and George found Clyde Easter in the next conference room—however, he was unavailable for questioning. Mainly because he was already fielding questions from the American FBI agents, who had just returned from the hospital.
"What happened to the heat-mapping satellites?" Agent Rossi was asking, his tone and body language implying that he didn't have much faith in the answer.
Ahoo quickly summed up the persons in the room—Easter and Kimathi, with the three Americans. It wasn't the time or the place to question the workings of Interpol. Still, she could listen and wait.
Easter shook his head with a sigh, "It's easy to follow when there's only one target on the screen. We had three assigned—when the first target left the building, we had a satellite map him. Then the second one—the one who shot Chief Prentiss—was also being mapped. But when the fire alarm was triggered in the second apartment building, the target was lost in the crowd. There were so many heat signatures in one place, and the satellite is trying to following through six stories of bodies, all moving and jostling around. It's impossible."
"What about the first target? The one who left before we arrived?"
Another disgruntled sigh from Easter, "Lost, too, eventually. Hit a market, mixed around with a lot of other bodies, went into a parking garage. We lost the signal."
Rossi swore under his breath. Spencer Reid switched gears, "So, how exactly are we going to pick up the trail again?"
"Wasaki and Ade are running on fumes," George Whitting spoke up, and for the first time, the others actually noticed that he and Ahoo were in the room. "They know they're being hunted, and even if Wasaki still sees it as a fun round of cat-and-mouse, he's also going to start feeling like it's cutting a little too close for comfort—the point is to win this game, and he can't win if he stays. He's going to be looking for a way out of the city."
"Except he knows that we'll have eyes on every road, airport, and railway station within a fifty mile radius," Easter pointed out.
Whitting turned to Agent Hotchner, "What would you do?"
"I'd do what he's already done—use connections to find a safe house. Lay low, probably do something to change my appearance—it's a tactic he's used before—and then use one of my false identities to book something inconspicuous, like a bus ticket out of town."
"Why not just walk?" Ahoo piped up, looking around. "He could get out on foot—no documentation, easily able to skirt around any road blocks—"
"You don't go out of the city after dark—not on foot," Mika Kimathi shook his head. "No. You'd have to leave in a vehicle."
"Why a bus, though?" Ahoo persisted. "Why not rent a car—or steal one?"
"Because a bus gives you leverage," Aaron Hotchner returned in his usual neutral tone. "Easier to negotiate your way out with a bus full of hostages."
Ahoo couldn't argue with that.
And she couldn't deny the queasy feeling in her gut.
This was going to get much worse before it could get better. If it got better again.
"This is Penelope Garcia."
There was a beat of shocked silence. Then, Derek Morgan's voice filled the line, "Now, what happened to my oh-so-irresistibly helpful genie?"
"The lamp just ain't feeling like being rubbed today, my love," she mournfully informed him.
"You stop that kind of talk right now, Baby Girl."
She couldn't help but smile at his mock-severity.
"Whatcha need, my handsome and hearty hero?"
"What do I need? Penelope, I called you an hour ago and asked for everything you could find on this Erik Smith guy."
"Oh, yes. And I have it—some of it." Penelope clicked through the various open tabs and windows on her desktop, which was as disordered as her brain felt—half of her loves were still in Kenya (one with a bullet hole in her leg), and the other half were on a case in Pennsylvania, which meant she was overseeing two field operations, all while still handling the usual influx of requests from police departments across the nation. To add to the melee, she was also operating on very few hours of sleep.
"Some of it? What does that even mean?" Derek's voice was lined with a mixture of concern and exasperation, and something more urgent—they needed to get this guy, and they didn't have time to waste.
"It means what it means," she returned with her own sense of frustration. "I can only do so much—I've got you guys and your UNSUB, I'm tracking down international terrorists for Hotch, and there's so much information buzzing and too many secrets and I can't—"
"Secrets? What secrets?"
Of course, that would be exactly what Derek Morgan picked up on—the one thing she didn't want him to.
"Nothing." She snapped, just a bit too quickly.
"I guess I'm not in the loop on this one," he commented casually, completely unaffected by her tone. However, he did add, "Penelope, if Hotch was in trouble, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?"
God, he was too smart by half.
"Of course," she meant it, every ounce of it.
"That's it? You're just gonna drop it?"
"For now." She could hear the smile in his voice. Then he became serious again, "You know that I'm the first person to admit how much I hate secrecy—it spells distrust, and I don't like it. But I've learned the very hard way that Hotch is a man who needs secrets, from time to time, and he doesn't keep them unless he feels that he has to. As long as it isn't something that could hurt himself or any of the rest of us, I just let it go. It's his way, sweetness."
She nodded—Morgan's description was Hotch to a tee.
"I promise no one's in danger—anymore, anyways."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa—anymore? What the hell does that mean?"
Penelope quickly explained what had happened to Emily.
Morgan made a small sound of disgruntled disbelief. "Typical Prentiss—if anybody's gonna get shot, it's her. On the upside, if anyone's gonna get shot and still land on their feet, it's her. You're sure she's OK?"
"Hotch wouldn't lie about that," Penelope assured him. "And I heard it—his voice, it was filled with relief. He couldn't fake that."
"Especially not if it was Emily."
The blonde hummed in agreement—years ago, during one of their many fun nights of drinking on Penelope's couch, they had paired up everyone in the BAU (well, JJ was already taken care of, but the others had been fair game). Spencer had gone to a cute, somewhat shy woman who happened to be the director's receptionist; Rossi had gone to a young Jane Russell look-alike in White Collar Division (that was before they knew about Strauss, obviously); Hotch and Prentiss had ended up together. Garcia and Morgan had agreed that it simply fit, their personalities and their personal concern for one another, and it had been their own private headcanon ever since. It would never happen, especially now, but it was still nice to imagine.
There was an indistinct voice in the background. Morgan replied, then returned his attention to her, "Baby Girl, I gotta go. Send me whatever you've got on Erik Smith. I know you're busy, but we need this guy in a jail cell now."
"Ten minutes tops," she promised, slightly chagrined at her own inability to multitask.
"That's my girl. Now give me a sexy sign-off so that I know you're really alright."
She pushed her voice into a lower register, a silky purr, "Your wish is my command, my darling delicious man."
He chuckled. "There we go. All's right in the world."
And for once, Penelope Garcia's usual brand of cheery optimism didn't kick-in to agree.
Rowena Lewis watched Benjamin Arterton doctor his coffee with way too much sugar, an amused smile dancing on the edge of her mouth.
"Don't judge me, Miss Straight-Up and Black." He teased gently.
"No judgment. Though I'll never understand it."
"It's coffee. It's supposed to be bitter. If you want to change the taste, why drink it? Accept it as it is."
"How deeply philosophical." He added another packet of sugar. "Though I'm afraid I shall never be able to embrace such a philosophy. At least when it comes to coffee."
She smiled again. Then, after a beat, she asked the question that had been on her mind for almost twenty minutes now, "Why did you ask me? To coffee, I mean."
"I'm surprised it took you that long to ask," he admitted, focusing on stirring the steaming cup of java in front of him. Then he looked up, his face open and honest. "I like you, Agent Lewis."
"Rowena." He gave a small nod, then continued, "You seem to be a good person, trying to make the best of a bad world. And yesterday evening, you seemed….you were not your usual self."
"My usual self?"
"You're much…brighter, most of the time—I know, it's ridiculous, because I have known you for such a short time, but you always seem rather chipper. Perhaps that's not the best word...hopeful, I suppose, suits you better." He took a tentative sip of his coffee. "Anyways, yesterday afternoon, whenever you and Agent Masterson were leaving the site, I thought you seemed almost despondent. And today, in the few times that I've seen you, you've been much more reserved than usual. More contained, for lack of a better word."
"Contained," she gave a small hum as she considered the word. She took a sip of her own drink and looked out the grimy coffee shop window. "Perhaps some things need to be contained."
She couldn't deny Benjamin's assessment—she had been quieter, more careful, more aware of herself as she tried to begin the first day of the rest of her life. After her late-night discussion with Emily Prentiss, she had told herself that the morning would bring the first steps of extricating her heart from the keeping of a man who'd never asked for such a duty—her partner and the man who could never love her the way that she loved him, Jeff Masterson. It was the right thing, it was the healthy thing, but that didn't mean it was an easy thing to do. For so long, this fragile hope had blossomed in the dark and silent corners of her soul, and now she had to uproot this climbing vine, slowly and with gut-wrenching precision, with a studied patience that didn't cause her emotions to burst forth like an unfettered river of pain.
"And perhaps some things are never meant to be contained," Benjamin Arterton's voice interrupted her thoughts, bringing her back to the present moment.
"Do you always speak in riddles?" She asked, almost playfully, though the quiet and resigned grief in her heart made her smile sluggish.
"Do you?" He returned the question, quietly and honestly.
Normally, she would throw in a witty retort—something between a barb and an innuendo-laden come on—but she found herself unable to do so. It wasn't that she couldn't, but rather that she didn't want to. Not with him. Something about the kind and gentle doctor made her want to simply be honest.
"Deflection is one of my best defenses," she informed him.
"I won't take it from you," he sat back slightly, as if ceding some unseen field of war. "And you don't—if I am too forward, or if you simply don't want to talk about it, you can tell me to shut up and drop it, and I will. I'm not one to push."
"Thank you," she smiled again, and Arterton felt as if it was the return of the sun.
"It doesn't mean that I won't ask," he held up a cautionary hand. Then his face became lined with concern, "You are alright, aren't you?"
She leaned forward, her hazel eyes slightly narrowing as she scrutinized his face, "Would you have taken Agent Masterson out for coffee?"
"Probably not. But not for the reasons you're thinking."
"Oh, really? And what reasons might those be?"
"You're deflecting again."
"So are you, Doctor."
He couldn't deny the accusation. Instead, he shook his head with a wry grin (caught by my own trap), and answered, quickly and concisely, "I wouldn't ask Agent Masterson to coffee because I don't have the same rapport with him as I do you. If I knew him better, if I had shared more poignant conversations with him and had been given a deeper glimpse into his personality by which to gauge his current emotional state—then perhaps, yes, I would ask him to coffee, to see that he was truly alright. But I have that with you, not him, and you are the one who seems to be under the weather, hence you are the one I asked to coffee."
She gave a small, tight smile, one that didn't reach her eyes, and she turned to look out the window again, sipping her coffee.
"I'm making an ass of myself," she pointed out quietly.
"No," his voice was equally quiet, but much kinder. "You're just used to dealing with people who only want the basest part of you."
"But you don't." Her hazel eyes flicked back to his, lost, soulful, a strange siren whose song pulled at heartstrings.
"I never said that." He looked down at his coffee. "I just—God, I sound like some drippy idiot from a trashy paperback romance."
"What?" She couldn't help but laugh at that comparison. "What does that even mean?"
"Nothing." He waved it away.
"No, no, no—you already started down this path, you have to finish it. What were you going to say that was so drippy idiotic?"
"It's egotistical and stupid."
"C'mon." She leaned over, resting her hand on his forearm, flashing her most winning smile as she pleaded, "C'mon, with a byline like that, you have to tell me now. Pleeeease."
He rolled his eyes in mock surrender. "Fine. What I was going to say is that I also appreciate all that's beyond your basest part."
Before she could reply, he held his hands up, waving away the thought, "And yes, I realize it sounds so cocky, as if I know anything about you—because I don't, not really, I mean, we've only barely met—and here I am, acting as if I've uncovered all your secrets and facets and I somehow understand and see things that no one else on this earth has ever seen. It's—"
"Very sweet," she finished for him, and when he looked up, he saw that she was smiling. "And I wouldn't think that you were being egotistical or cocky or whatever else you think it may be."
She took another sip, focused her attention on the paper cup, which she turned in circles on the tabletop with her fingers. "You are right, though—you don't really know me, not all my secrets and facets. But I think you've taken the time to try to see more than most people do. At the risk of sounding vain or cocky myself, I have to admit most people see a certain thing when they look at me, and they don't take a second glance—and for the most part, I don't mind, because it means they leave me alone….well, at least they leave me alone in the way that matters."
"In the way that matters? What does that mean?"
Her eyes came back to his, trepidatious and guarded, "They don't ask questions that are hard to answer. They don't….they don't want to know all the things that I don't want them to know. They only want things that I can give easily, things that don't hurt me or burden me or make me feel like I'm digging up skeletons."
"Some skeletons are meant to be dug up," he replied quietly. She looked at him in confusion, and he explained, "It's how we learn more about history, about the evolution of a species—sometimes we have to dissect the dead to find ways to understand and heal the living."
She sat back, looking out the window as she contemplated this.
"You have a lovely way with words," she said, after a beat. It was a deflection, but one that he allowed to stand. He was hitting the edges of old wounds, he could tell—scars that he didn't have the right to see, rooms of her life that he had not proven himself worthy to enter.
"I would have been a writer, if my grandfather hadn't decided that I should be a doctor. Terribly patriarchal, my family was—is, I suppose."
"You can still be one. In all your spare time, you know." There was a playful twinkle in her eye at that.
"Ah, yes, absolutely. You know, I've been wondering what I should do with all the free time I've had in Nairobi," he went along with the jest. "I've just been wasting it all at the swimming pool."
She laughed, and the worried creases around her eyes disappeared.
She drained the rest of her coffee. "I suppose we should be getting back."
"Yes. Of course." He followed suit and drank the last remnants of his own cup.
She was already moving out the door, though she waited for him on the sidewalk. Their footsteps fell into sync.
"I am sorry, if I was too forward—"
"You care. It's nice."
"You think so?"
"I do." She was smiling again, and he decided that as long as she smiled, he didn't care if he made a total ass of himself.
"Agent Masterson is going to tease you mercilessly about this, isn't he?"
She burst into laughter at this prediction. "I'm afraid so. But I can handle Jeff. After all, it was just coffee, wasn't it?"
"It was," Ben nodded quickly. By the time they crossed the street, he summoned enough courage to add, "But, if we didn't have an ocean between us on a regular basis, I would have enjoyed turning it into something more, perhaps. You're a very courageous woman, Rowena. It's an admirable and attractive quality."
She stopped, slightly shocked by his sudden confession.
He stopped as well, turning to look back.
"I'm not courageous." Her voice was quiet, certain, but there was a pleading in her eyes.
He took a step back to her, "Anyone can slay a dragon, she told me. But try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero."
She smiled again, like a young girl being told that she is pretty for the very first time.
"Those are not my own words," he warned. "Brian Andreas wrote them. But I can't help wondering if perhaps he met you, once upon a time."
He offered his hand to her, "I don't know your story at all. But I see the things left behind by that story. And they tell me that you are a real hero, Rowena Lewis."
She took his hand, her throat tight with unshed tears as her fingers gave his a grateful squeeze.
They continued walking along, their hands naturally parting but their bodies still staying close. After several beats, she broke the silence, "You really do have a way with words."
"That was pretty good, wasn't it? I should write that down." He pretended to shuffle through his pockets for paper and pen, and she began to laugh again. This time, he laughed with her, and he was grateful for the relief.
"May I ask you a question, Doctor?"
"For the hundredth time—Ben. And yes, you may."
"Do you believe in destiny? The idea that some paths are meant to cross, for whatever reason?"
Nairobi West Hospital. Nairobi, Kenya.
Answer the questions, Emily. Who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Emily Prentiss stared up at the blank white ceiling, mentally reminding herself of everything that she knew about her current state.
I am in a hospital. I am having a blood transfusion. Constance Connelly shot me. I told Clyde the truth. Hotch knows. They all know.
She stopped on the last thought.
Hotch knew. Clyde knew. Neither one would breathe a word to a single soul until she gave them permission. Their all-too-noble hands were tied behind their backs until she was able to bring more people into the loop.
She glanced around—how long had she been out?
Her still-muddled eyes found a clock on the wall, but it didn't matter, because she had no idea what time she got shot, or what time she talked to Clyde. She felt distorted and off-kilter, like Alice drifting through the weightless void of the rabbit hole.
Was it 7am or 7pm? She couldn't tell.
There was a phone in the room, but it was too far from the bed—and her cellphone, with her other belongings, was in a bag in the chair on the other side of the room.
With a frustrated sigh, she hit the nurse call button.
A woman old enough to be her mother appeared, "Yes, Miss Prentiss?"
"Could you bring the phone closer to my bed, please?"
"Miss Prentiss, you shouldn't even be awake right now. You should be sleeping—you need to let your body rest."
"I understand. But this is important."
"Your health is important."
"Yes, I agree. But this is more important. Very important."
The nurse moved closer to the morphine drip, "If you are having trouble resting, I can change the dose—"
Emily reached out, warding the woman off with her hands.
"Miss Prentiss!" There was a reprimand in the older woman's tone.
Emily took a beat to make eye contact, to make sure that the nurse understood just how imperative her request was.
"I am Chief Emily Prentiss, I am an international law enforcement officer, and I am asking you to give me the damn phone."
Clyde Easter was still neck-deep in the logistics of re-locating Mariatu Wasaki and Andwele Ade when his mobile buzzed in his pocket. He didn't recognize the number, but he answered anyways, "Clyde Easter here."
"Clyde." Emily's voice, almost relieved (as if she expected someone else to answer, which was absurd).
"Emily," Clyde bolted upright. Everyone in the room followed suit, suddenly on-edge at the mention of Emily's name.
He glanced around quickly, at the room full of people who were out of the loop, who happened to be watching him with rapt attention. "Hold on."
He left the room, finding a quiet corner in the hallway before continuing, "Us, plus Hotchner and your analyst."
"Any leads on Wasaki or Connelly?"
"None, as of yet."
"Tell Hotch that he can bring in Rossi and Reid."
Easter hesitated—his first instinct was to argue, but he had given Emily authority to decide who would be in the loop, and he had to honor his delegation.
Still, Prentiss understood his lack of response. She spoke quietly, "I need them, Clyde. All of them. I'm strung out on morphine, you're too emotionally involved, and Hotch can't do this alone."
He couldn't argue with that.
She continued, "They'll be discreet."
"In a room full of other profilers," Clyde pointed out. "It's going to attract attention, either way, I suppose."
He gave a heavy sigh. "You weren't the one who brought her back to Interpol."
"You didn't know."
"Which makes me incompetent."
"Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
"Sadly." He looked over his shoulder, made sure no one was in hearing range. "It still doesn't make sense."
"Let the BAU do their work. They'll find something that will make sense. It's a puzzle and we just don't have enough pieces yet."
"Your faith in these people is both perplexing and concerning."
"I'm not going back, Clyde."
"Pretty sure you said that about Interpol, too."
She sighed at his obtuseness. "Just tell Hotch to let the others know."
"Aye, Chief." He hung up and took another deep breath to steel himself before re-entering the room.
"She's OK?" Mika asked, his face filled with concern.
"Right as rain," Easter pasted on a smile. He made a quick motion to Agent Hotchner, who rose and joined him outside in the hall.
Rossi and Reid exchanged glances again. Something was definitely up.
And everyone in the room was aware of this—Ahoo's big dark eyes were bouncing from face to face, reading the cues, Mika was watching Hotch and Easter through the glass door of the conference room, face skewed in a mixture of confusion and curiosity, and George was reading Rossi and Reid, who were currently also trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
Rossi watched the two men outside the window—Easter was still tense, worried, anxious, while Hotch suddenly seemed more relaxed. Relieved, almost.
Hotch glanced back through the glass, his gaze settling on his two team members.
Whatever secret he'd been keeping, he was about to confess to Reid and Rossi. Something told David that it wouldn't be good news.
"People are supposed to fear the unknown, but ignorance is bliss when knowledge is so damn frightening."
~Laurell K. Hamilton.