Out of Africa

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

"The orgastic future that year by year recedes before us…eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
~F. Scott Fitzgerald.


September 2013. Nairobi West Hospital. Nairobi, Kenya.

Clyde Easter shifted slightly, his entire frame filled with agitation as he quietly admitted, "Though she may be our biggest issue, Constance Connelly might not be our most pressing matter right now."

"What do you mean?" Aaron Hotchner's dark eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Agent Shir-Del knows something's up. She knows that Connelly is missing, and she's beginning to think there might be a connection to Emily's shooting."

"Well, there is," Spencer pointed out.

"Yes, but we don't exactly want to trumpet that to the entire world, now do we?" Clyde shot him a dark look. He tucked his hands into his pockets, his fingers instinctively wrapping around Constance's mobile. After Shir-Del had mentioned seeing it still sitting on the counter in the lab, Clyde had returned downstairs to retrieve it and put away the rest of the things at Constance's workstation—at least now it looked as if she'd simply packed her things and gone back to the hotel for the day.

Now everyone turned to look at Emily Prentiss—the keeper of the keys, the hand of fate deciding whom to include in the coveted inner circle.

She shook her head slowly, "No, I'm not ready to have that on my doorstep. We don't know Shir-Del well enough to know what she would do with information like this. She could compromise everything."

"My darling, we are already compromised," Clyde pointed out dryly. "Though I agree with your assessment. Shir-Del seems a bit of a loose cannon, from what little time I've spent with her."

"We have enough unpredictable factors as it is," Hotch agreed.

"I feel sick," Emily murmured, tilting her head forward slightly as she closed her eyes. She really wasn't supposed to be awake right now, but she'd convinced the nurses to lower her morphine and had forced herself to stay awake and alert for the sake of the team.

"I'll get a nurse," Reid volunteered.

"No, no—I just need to rest." She turned her weary eyes to Clyde. "You can handle the rest?"

He nodded, reaching out to give her hand a reassuring squeeze. "We've got our analysts looking into other properties that might have some kind of connection to Wasaki, just like before. Your analyst is covering Connelly. Right now, all we can do is wait."

"Never was very good at that," she admitted with a self-deprecating smile.

Clyde smiled too, then gave her one last affectionate pat on the arm. "Sleep. We'll be back tomorrow."

She nodded. Easter left the room, but she motioned for her former team members to stay.

"I trust Clyde. I'm just not sure I can trust his emotions," she spoke quietly. She took a deep breath, choosing her next words carefully, "I think he used to be romantically involved with Constance. He's a good soldier and one of the best compartmentalizers I know, but even I can see it's affecting him, and that means it must be a pretty heavy blow."

"We'll keep an eye on him, gattina," Rossi offered in a kindly tone.

Emily merely nodded, closing her eyes again—the simple action was making her head feel like it was in a jar, hot and stuffy and oddly reverberating. She slowly opened her eyes again, slightly surprised to see three sets of eyes watching her with concern.

"Guys. I'm fine." She couldn't help but smile at their expressions—mother hens, all of them.

"You're pushing yourself too hard," Hotch's voice was gentle, lined with worry.

"I'll rest when I'm dead," she assured him, and from the three blanched expressions, she realized that her humor was not appreciated. "What? Too soon?"

"Emily. You were shot less than seven hours ago," Spencer Reid's tone was gentle, but she knew him well enough to hear the edge of reprimand underneath.

"Yeah, I think I was there for that." She feigned slight confusion, as if she couldn't quite recall the obviously-traumatic experience.

Rossi bit back a grin at her smart-assery. Reid did not look impressed. Hotch was still concerned.

"We need you to take care of yourself," her former unit chief urged with a tenderness that was touching.

"I will," she promised, reaching out to simply take his hand for a moment, to prove her seriousness and still his worried mind. Rossi and Reid were standing right there, but she didn't care.

Aaron's cellphone buzzed, and he glanced at the caller ID, wondering who could be calling at this hour. It was Jessica, Haley's sister, which meant that it was actually his son, wanting to check in for the day.

"I've gotta take this—it's Jack." He held up his phone in explanation before disappearing down the hall.

Emily was smiling softly as she watched him walk away.

There was a beat of silence. Emily returned her attention to her two former team members, whose careful eyes informed her that they were both well aware of what was happening. She took a breath, straightened her shoulders, patiently waited for one of them to address the elephant in the room.

"You think you can handle this?" Spencer bit the bullet first, motioning in the direction Hotch had gone.

"I can handle this," she assured him. Then she glanced over at Rossi, "Not that it's either of your damn business."

Rossi shrugged, elegantly nonchalant. "That's what happens when you're part of a big extended family. Everyone knows everyone's business."

Reid suddenly stood a little straighter, his face skewed in adorable confusion, "Wait. If this is one big family, isn't Hotch and Prentiss' new relationship technically incest?"

"Ew. No. Spencer, shut up." Emily grimaced.

"I'm just saying, if we're following the model—"

"Don't make me hurt you, Dr. Reid." She fixed him with her best Death Ray Stare.

Now Rossi was laughing out loud, making no effort to hide his amusement. He began to usher the young doctor towards the door, "Enough, you two."

Spencer turned back, quickly moving to hug Emily—gingerly, as if he feared she might break, but still with enough force to relay his feelings of relief.

"I'm glad you're OK," he whispered.

"Me, too." She smiled up at his face, much too lined with fatigue and worry. She gently cupped his cheek, "You get some rest, OK?"

He simply nodded, offering one last little hopeful smile that could only be described as utterly Reid. Then he quietly took Rowena's bouquet of Kenyan wildflowers from Emily's lap and began setting it into a makeshift vase he'd made out of a water pitcher.

Rossi hugged her as well, planting a fierce kiss atop her head. She held him close to her for a little while longer, her head nestled in the crook of his neck as her cheek felt his heartbeat, suddenly remembering herself as a very little girl, curled up in her grandfather's lap and feeling so completely safe and loved that it seemed as if nothing could ever harm her.

The Italian didn't move, but rather gently stroked her hair, letting her get whatever comfort she needed from his physical presence.

Finally, she shifted away, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.

"You really are a gattina," he teased, though his voice was thick with emotion. "Nine lives and always landing on your feet."

"Funny, I feel like this time, I landed on my ass."

He laughed at that, and she smiled as well.

"We'll drop by tomorrow morning," he assured her.

"I'll be out of here by tomorrow afternoon," she leaned back into her pillows again.

"Seems a bit unlikely," Spencer commented.

"Sounds exactly like Emily Prentiss," Rossi pointed out. The young doctor had to agree.

With one last round of goodbyes, they left the room.

"Should we wait for Hotch?" Spencer glanced around the practically-empty hallway.

"Nah," Rossi kept walking. "Something tells me that those two have some catching up to do."


By the time Aaron returned to Emily's room, everyone else was gone and she was sleeping peacefully. The room was quiet, except for the buzz and whirrs of machines. Her blood transfusion was almost complete, and he was thankful for that—one less needle to be stuck in her arm, one less source of discomfort.

He stood beside the bed, taking in the relaxed lines of her face, the deep and steady rise and fall of her chest—she was safe and free from pain, finally resting. Given today's events, it was the best possible outcome.

He quietly took a seat in the corner of the room. She didn't need him right now, but he remembered how she'd kept vigil over him, after Foyet had struck—perhaps he could finally return the favor, in some small way. Besides, he still wasn't ready to go back to his silent and empty hotel room. Even when Emily wasn't awake, her presence brought an odd sense of comfort.

His mind traveled back to the conversation he'd just had with his son. Jack had asked when he was coming back—and then when Beth was coming home, too.

Beth. Jack didn't know that the phone calls had been less and less over the weeks, or that she had even suggested that Aaron should just call her whenever he got back from Kenya—they both seemed to understand that he no longer needed the constant comfort of her voice, and that perhaps she could no longer provide that comfort anyways, either through his lack of desire to receive or her lack of desire to give. Jack couldn't understand that, yet. The nuances of adults and their relationships and how they drift was still a foreign land, something to be navigated many years into the future. And even though Aaron understood this land (somewhat), it was still hard to explain, especially to his son, especially to a boy who had only seen his father with his mother and with this second woman whom he liked very much.

Yes, Beth had been good for them both, in different ways. She was bright and quick to laugh, goofy in the way that Aaron had been, many many years ago. She brought things into Jack's life that Haley had asked for, in her final moments.

But was that enough?

He wasn't sure anymore. Yes, he knew he would pursue whatever this thing was with Emily, but the question of Beth still waited patiently in the corner of his heart and mind.

Would he tell her, once he returned to Virginia? He couldn't imagine keeping a secret like this from her, and yet he couldn't imagine that she'd take the news well. Not that he would blame her.

At the risk of sounding like every other person who had an affair, Hotch told himself that he and Emily were different. Beth wouldn't understand that, wouldn't see why their story was something in a league of its own.

And what was their story, exactly? He wasn't sure that he could fully answer it—stolen glances and shy smiles and moments of honestly mixed with words of double meaning, days spent elbows-deep in faith-depriving work and nights spent waging quiet wars against their own mistakes and failings and demons, cases filled with questioning one another yet always having each other's back.

This was part of their story, too—waiting in still hospital rooms for the other to come back from some traumatic event or another, keeping vigil with clasped hands and quiet eyes as their steadfast actions spoke the words that their lips could never utter and their hearts had not even truly realized.


September 2009. Saint Sebastian Medical Center. Washington, D.C.

That sound again. Emily Prentiss' cloudy mind faintly registered it—some kind of quick, fevered tapping, something that didn't belong amidst the sounds of the machines monitoring Aaron Hotchner's vital signs.

She pulled herself from her thoughts, frowning as she looked down, to the source—it was her own heel, pumping against the floor in a frenetic fashion, so riddled with nerves and leftover adrenaline was she.

She willed her jumpy muscles to stop. She took a deep breath (not the first, not today) and tried to settle herself into a sense of calm, which she certainly didn't feel and which she hadn't felt all day. Her feeling of dis-ease had begun when Hotch didn't show up at work this morning, and continued to build when he didn't return phone calls. She had finally left Reid at Dr. Barton's house and had gone in search of Hotch herself—and when she'd found his apartment empty and filled with bullet holes and a pool of blood, her feeling of uneasiness had imploded into full-on internal panic. Now the panic was replaced by a quieter fear as she watched over his unconscious form.

For some reason, her mind kept thinking of when her grandfather was dying. He was in a hospital in Switzerland, but all hospitals look and sound and smell the same, at least in first world countries. His death had been slow and quiet, a sad loss but not particularly traumatizing or dramatic. So why was she thinking about it now?

Perhaps it was the sense of helplessness that she'd felt, watching a man who once seemed like a mountain wither into a husk of unrecognizable flesh—a god becoming mortal, in the saddest, smallest of ways. She felt that same helplessness now—a tidal wave of heavy, crushing powerlessness that incited an animalistic frenetic energy in every pore of her body.

Hotch looked so tiny, beneath the white sheets of the hospital bed, out of his familiar armor of suit and tie, face unnaturally pale and eyes so sunken and rimmed with shadows. He wasn't Hotch at all—he was some uncertain, feeble imitation of the man who seemed unshakeable to her, in all the best of ways.

She wanted to scream. She wanted to find a nurse, a doctor, someone, tell them to do something, to make him well again, to make him wake up and be Hotch again, to make this horrific waiting stop. Of course, she did none of those things. She simply chewed on her thumbnail as her mind drifted and her heel took up its rapid tapping once more.

Finally, she bolted from her seat, pushing her long legs to take even longer strides down the hallway, her fists impotently clenching and unclenching again.

In less than sixty seconds, she was headed back—he could wake at any moment, and she wanted to be there when he did. He deserved to see a familiar face, to feel some kind of calm and comfort in knowing that he wasn't alone in a building full of strangers.

Haley should be here. Haley should be the one at his side, face filled with loving concern as she leaned over him, quietly assuring him that everything was alright.

Emily was a poor substitute for a loving wife, but it would have to do, for now. She cared just as fiercely for his well-being, even if it was in a different way.

After what seemed like an agony of eternities, he finally regained consciousness—though in his usual sense of perceptional timing, he waited until the entire team had arrived.

Whenever the others left again to retrieve Haley and Jack, she volunteered to stay behind once more. She kept her chair at the foot of his bed, watching him drift back into a drugged and fitful sleep. Again, she was struck by how small and helpless he looked, which made her feel the same in turn.

His brows quirked and twitched, and he shifted slightly. She was on her feet in a flash, breath catching in her lungs as her stomach plummeted to the floor.

The doctor burst in, alarmed by the beeping of his heart monitor, and once more, Emily Prentiss was helpless and frightened. She was ordered out of the room, and she obeyed in blind shock, her own heart rate matching pace with Hotchner's.

No, no, no, it isn't supposed to be like this. He's OK now, he's awake, everything's supposed to be alright now, her mind kept breathing this strange mantra, this hybrid of prayer and angry accusation directed at whatever powers ruled the universe.

Her hand was at her throat as she watched through the glass—she might be banned from the room, but it didn't mean that she'd let that man out of her sight.

Once his vital signs returned to a normal level and the doctor was assured that Aaron Hotchner was not going to kick the bucket, Emily was allowed back into the room.

With little fanfare, she resumed her post at the chair beside his bed. Hotch had drifted back into a semi-conscious state, not truly resting or sleeping, but not truly awake or cognizant either. He gave another small twitch, his dark brows furrowing (in fear for his family, in memory of a traumatic moment from last night, she wasn't sure) as he turned his head, as if physically moving away from whatever vision or thought filled his mind.

She couldn't stop herself from reaching out to gingerly place a hand on the curve of his calf muscle hidden beneath the blankets—firm enough to be felt, light enough to not seem confining or threatening.

His body stilled for a moment. She exhaled, suddenly realizing that she'd been holding her breath for quite some time. She wanted this to be over, wanted to be past the waiting and uncertainty, wanted him to be Hotchagain, to be her steadfast leader once more. Emily Prentiss was never much of a follower, but that was another miracle wrought during her relatively short time at the BAU—she had come to like being part of the team, had come to trust and even prefer Hotch's hand of leadership in the field.

His brows were still knit together in a pained expression, and she suddenly felt the urge to kiss the wrinkled space between them—an action born out of motherly compassion, not desire.

Of course, she did not do this. That would cross the line of professional demarcation—and even though their relationship was certainly easy and cordial, it would never be the kind of thing that would allow for kissing of any kind, no matter how chaste or platonic.


September 2013. Nairobi West Hospital. Nairobi, Kenya.

Emily was waking again. Aaron didn't get up from his seat, but he did sit up slightly in expectation.

He gave her a few seconds to open her eyes, gain her bearings, take a deep breath. Then he spoke, quietly so not to startle her. "How are you feeling?"

She turned her head to see him, a still-sleepy smile gracing her lips. "What are you still doing here?"

"I wasn't ready to leave you," he admitted with a soft smile of his own.

"I'm not going anywhere," she assured him.

"Not yet." He corrected.

She knew what he meant—not yet, but soon enough we'll be pushed apart again, me to Quantico, you to London.

She also remembered Spencer's question from earlier that night. She knew that she could handle this, but suddenly she wondered if Aaron could.

"Is that a problem for you?" She asked, directly but not unkindly. She was sitting up now, her gaze less of a lover's and more of a profiler's as she tried to read and gauge his nonverbal cues.

He was quiet, simply weighing the question in his mind.

"Because," she began, stopped, looked down at her hand, began again, "It's alright, if it is. But if it is…I don't know if I can do this."

He looked over at her again, slightly shocked (and perhaps, yes, even scared) by her words.

It took all of her courage to meet his eyes with her own as she confessed, "I'd rather never know than break your heart."

"No one can ever guarantee that won't happen," he pointed out.

He was right, of course. But that hadn't been the answer she was looking for.

"I don't want a relationship," she tried to choose her words carefully, to take the callous edge off the truth. "I don't want you to think that I wouldn't want something more, if things weren't...if things weren't the way they are now—but they are and I can't...I can't let myself make promises to you that I know I'll never be able to keep. You...you are such—you deserve more. And you deserve the truth. I need you to know that, before this goes any further."

"Understood," he said simply. She watched him with wary eyes as she waited for his next move, his next response. He stood up, coming back to her side and leaning forward to caress the side of her neck, "I won't make any promises that I can't keep, either."

She nodded, her mouth suddenly too dry to speak. He brought his lips to hers, sealing his words with a quick, chaste kiss.

"You never answered the question," he changed the subject, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"What?"

"I asked you how you were feeling, when you first woke up. You never answered."

"Oh," she smiled, almost sheepishly. She reached for him, taking his hand between her own two hands. "I'm fine. You know me—I'm always fine."

His smile didn't quite reach his eyes. Instead, they filled with concern, "How well do you know Constance Connelly?"

Emily frowned slightly, "Not well at all. I mean, we work in the same building, but that's about it. By the time I started working with Interpol, she was already gone. We're both in supervisory positions, but she never really attended any meetings. When it came to information intelligence, I usually dealt with her staff, not her personally. I just thought she was one of those very introverted types."

"How did you know about her past with Easter?"

"He told me, earlier today. When he gave me the lead on this—he had to explain why he couldn't do it himself."

"And you believe Clyde Easter can be trusted." It was both a statement and a question.

"Yes." No hesitation, full conviction. Emily Prentiss meant it.

Emily tried to find a way to explain, "He's…kind of like Strauss was, really. Not quite a stickler for rules and protocols, but still very black-and-white in his approach to the job and his dedication to his work. As much as this thing with Constance is killing him, it won't stop him from doing what needs to be done."

"And what is that, exactly?" Hotch's voice was heavy with knowing.

She bit the inside of her lip, looked out the darkened window. "I don't know Connelly, but I know her type. She won't come quietly, and she won't give up until her mission is complete. Those kinds of situations generally don't end well."

Her grip on his hand tightened, silently reassuring herself that he was still here.

"I was scared," she admitted quietly. She didn't specify when or about what, but he understood.

"I know."

She looked at him in askance, and he had to smile as he confessed, "You told jokes, in the ambulance. They weren't your usual ones, though. They were really horrible. It's always been one of your tells."

Now she shared his small, warm smile. "You laughed at them anyways."

"Of course," he took her hand in his, kissing it again, holding it closer to his chest as he added, "I was scared, too. But at least you were still there, still talking to me, even if you were barely making sense. The sound of your voice was enough to keep me calm—it didn't matter what you were saying."

She didn't blush, but her eyelids fluttered and she glanced away, slightly embarrassed.

"I don't know if I can get used to this," she said with a smile. "You're still you, but it's so different."

He didn't reply—at least not with words. Instead, he leaned forward again, caressing the side of her face as his tongue slipped between her teeth, filling her with a soft sigh that swelled from the tips of her toes all the way through her lungs, tumbling out from lips that still searched for more of his. Her hands moved upwards, cupping his face in return as she kept his mouth close to hers, nibbling his bottom lip, testing his tongue against her own, exploring and enjoying each slight sensation created by the simple nuances of a kiss.

"Well, Chief Prentiss, you always were very good at adapting to change," he teased, his voice still a low purr that made a shiver of heat simmer over her skin.

She wanted to say something witty and sexy and perfectly-timed, but her mind was too lost in the moment. Instead, she simply kept her hands around his face, kept him close to her, sharing breaths and feeling the tingling anticipation of an almost-kiss.

Her gaze came to rest on that little line at the corner of his mouth—the same line she'd noticed just a few nights before, the same line she'd wanted to kiss and thought she'd never have the chance. She gently tilted his head and lightly pressed her lips upon the spot.

The sweet reverence behind Emily's small token of affection made Aaron forget to breathe. This woman, didn't she know that she could stop the entire world with a single kiss?

"You're still worried," she spoke quietly, her voice filled with a loving concern.

"I'm always worried," he returned, just as gently. He sat back, taking a moment to simply look at the woman before him—her eyes were brighter, color had returned to her chest and cheeks, she looked more alive and moreEmily.

"You need to rest," she placed her hand on his leg, more of a push than a caress. She was dismissing him, kindly but firmly.

"I'll be back tomorrow," he vowed.

"I'll be out of here tomorrow."

"I know," he stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair. "I'm coming to pick you up."

She was surprised at this, her eyes widening just a fraction of an inch.

"Do you really think I'd let anyone else take my excuse to have a few more moments alone with you?" He returned to her side, bestowing another gentle kiss on her forehead.

She gave a small huff of disapproval. "That's how you're gonna leave it, Hotchner?"

"You need rest, too," he reminded her as he moved to the door.

"I'm not nearly as fragile as you think I am."

He stopped and gave her a look that said We'll see about that soon enough.

Her stomach gave a little flip of anticipation, and she fought back the grin that was curling at the corners of her mouth (after all, she was still pretending to be upset with the chastity of his last kiss).

"I have never seen you as fragile," he informed her (and it was a lie, slightly, yet still filled with a strange truth).

"Then what do you see me as?" There was curiosity in her tone, tempered with a more seductive air—a playful challenge tinged with a purr.

She was teasing him, and she was as brilliant as a diamond—coy smiles and shining eyes and razor-sharp wit, all that was best and most alluring about Emily Prentiss. He fought the urge to return to her, to make that smile deepen and that skin flush again, to do all the things he'd never dared.

Two could play this game. Emily Prentiss could be an infamously hard read when she wanted to be, but right now, she wasn't trying to hide—he saw that she wanted him just as much as he wanted her. And if she was teasing him…why shouldn't he fight fire with fire?

"Tomorrow," he promised in a low and knowing tone. "I'll tell you the answer tomorrow."

She was grinning when he left, laughing soundlessly in a mixture of anticipation and frustration.

Oh, tomorrow, tomorrow. Had there ever been a more delicious promise?


"Just thinking about tomorrow, clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow…tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow! You're only a day away!"
~Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin.


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