of conversation fill my head, Tangling with words we haven't said
Glimpses of a movement you once made, Knowing I could live but dream instead
...Questioning my own reality, Doubting in my mind the things I see
Altering perception fast as light, Do you know for years you've haunted me?
Speaking words you never could recite, Giving bliss as if to test my flight
All is but illusion, this I know, Yet more felt than objects in my sight."
Erin would have loved it here, David decided. Though her job had kept her anchored in Virginia, Erin Strauss had always wanted to travel—she had kept books on the histories and cultures of places like Morocco, Cambodia, Croatia, Singapore, and Peru, stacks of large glossy coffee-table photobooks filled with famous cities and ancient ruins, old issues of National Geographic neatly arranged under trinkets from the places that she had visited. She would have loved all of it, would have relished the sheer exoticism, though her heart would have ached over their reason for visiting. She had always been much more tender-hearted than the rest, when it came to their line of work. He had never fully understood that—how she could still be so easily affected, after decades of peering into the darkest corners of humanity. He often thought that had been part of his strange attraction to her—she had kept her humanity better than any of them, almost defiantly so, and in a way, it had given him part of his own humanity back as well.
Currently, his humanity was being bumped along in a military-issue jeep that had the world's worst suspension (seriously, it made the smooth city streets feel like some rut-filled dirt road), as he and the rest of the international task force were being transported from the airport to their temporary headquarters at the Kenya Police Criminal Investigation Department, better known as the CID. There were six more vehicles behind them, slipping easily through the snarled traffic. For the most part, no one seemed to even notice this military convoy—those who did take a second look weren't wearing expressions of surprise, but something sadder (disappointment, David thought, disappointment in their government's inability to protect them).
"The British and the Israelis arrived yesterday," their driver, John Mosi Jeptoo, who also happened to be a member of CID's Anti-Terrorism Unit, stated in his almost-lyrical accent. "But the task force that originally brought down the terrorists has already been processing physical evidence since the morning of the final assault. Hopefully this will be a smooth transition."
"Have the Interpol agents arrived?" David asked, taking a second to glance back at Reid and Hotch, who were in the back seat. By now, Reid had been brought up-to-speed on the possibility of Emily's involvement, and he still wore that look of anxious excitement that made him seem only a third of his natural age.
"They have. They are with the Brits."
"Do you remember their names?" Spencer asked.
John shook his head, "There are so many new faces, I can't keep all the names straight. But I do remember that they are from the London office—it's funny to me, because neither one is English. He is Kenyan by birth—Kikuyu, if I had to guess, by the way he speaks Swahili. She is American. "
"What does she look like?" David was certain of the answer—how many other Americans with Prentiss' qualifications could be working at the London Interpol HQ?
"Very tall. Very pale. Very pretty."
David turned back to his BAU team members, "It's her."
She really needed to stop biting her nails.
Emily knew why her old nervous tic had resurfaced, but she didn't want to think about it. So instead, she glanced up at the wall, tapping her pen against the top of the polished table in the conference room in CID's Anti-Terrorism Unit.
The rest of the joint task force would be here soon—the plane had landed and several vehicles had been sent to pick them up and bring them back here, to begin the bloody business of the day. She and Mika, her partner, had arrived yesterday, but it had been so late that they'd merely gotten a brief update from the Kenyan ATU team before going to their hotel. The morning had started off with another briefing, followed by the Israeli and British forensic team heading out to the site. She and Mika had chosen to stay behind to sort through the photographic evidence that had already been processed. Now they were simply waiting for the rest of the various foreign agencies to arrive.
Well, they weren't simply waiting. Mika was busy pinning glossy full-page photos to a large cork board, quietly muttering to himself as he arranged them into groups—on the left, photos of the Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen taken from the mall's security feed and various hostage cell phones, and on the right, photos of the bodies that had been brought into the morgue (some victims, some ANAM members, some unknown). On another board, he had a map of the shopping center, plus more photos of various bits of metal and wiring, which were believed to be part of the IEDs used by the hostage-takers.
She smiled softly at Mika's low tone—it was one of those quirks that she first found annoying, but now found comforting. In some ways, he reminded her of Spencer. In other ways, he was his complete opposite—he was more self-assured, more suave, and much more extroverted.
Like Emily, Mika Kimathi was perfectly suited for the task at hand—he was born in Kenya, learning to speak Swahili, English, and Gikuyu interchangeably (all three necessary languages in this region of the world), and after his family moved to England during his teens, he went to Oxford and obtained a degree in International Relations, picking up French, Portuguese, and Hebrew along the way. He also had an acute eye for detail and a brain that housed more arcane information than the Library at Alexandria. Most importantly, he understood the nuances of the region—the deeper meanings of language, culture, and religion that no outsider could truly comprehend without years of immersion.
And currently, he was being more productive than his partner. He stopped for a moment, turning to study Emily's profile, "You want to actually give me a hand on this?"
"Not particularly," she returned easily. "You seem to be doing a fine job on your own."
He merely shook his head, though his mouth was smiling. In truth, he preferred doing this on his own, but he felt the need to make some kind of conversation. He'd been working under Chief Prentiss for over a year now, and he'd learned that they worked best together when they simply left one another alone—an odd formula, but an effective one. Emily Prentiss was someone who worked quickly and quietly, and he liked knowing that she trusted him enough to refrain from micromanaging every step he took. And while he'd come to learn that her reticence was merely part of her personality and not a personal slight towards him, he had to admit that she was being even quieter than usual. More withdrawn, more fidgety. He wasn't sure why this case had her spooked more than any of the others, but they weren't close enough for him to directly ask her what was wrong.
There was a commotion at the office entrance, and Emily was on her feet in a flash, long neck craning to see around the doorframe and into the main bullpen.
Mika watched her like a hawk, taking in the way her hands nervously clasped together, the way she bit her bottom lip and held her breath, the way she rose onto the balls of her feet as if she were preparing to bolt at any second.
Of course. The Americans were sending FBI agents. Perhaps some of Chief Prentiss' former partners. That explained her current excitement—it didn't explain the almost-fearful nervous energy that had been radiating off her in waves since they boarded the plane at Heathrow.
Mika could mark the exact instant that his boss saw a familiar face, because a smile broke across her face like a river bursting its dam, bright and quick and almost unexpected.
David Rossi was the first person whom Emily saw, and she could tell that he knew she was here—whenever he got off the elevator, his dark eyes began to scan the room in a gesture that she knew so well (a small thing that she suddenly realized she had missed).
When he saw her, his expression lit up to match hers.
He knew that she'd be here. Of course he knew. Despite his sometimes-unbearable smart-assery about it, David Rossi always did seem to know these things.
Emily's grin only widened when Spencer Reid appeared behind him, wide-eyed and adorable as always. It faltered at the sight of Aaron Hotchner, but not because she wasn't glad to see him.
"Mia gattina," Rossi's voice was filled with tender warmth as Emily launched into his arms, surprising herself with her own reaction to the sight of her former teammate. He'd started calling her that, after she'd returned from the dead—gattina, little cat, owner of nine lives. She used to laugh and roll her eyes at the nickname, but now it brought tears to her eyes. She missed it.
"How are you?" She asked quietly, still not releasing him from her hug. He squeezed her tighter, and she understood the answer before he spoke.
"I'm OK." There was a sadness, still tinged with gratefulness. The others never really knew how Emily had always tried to care for Rossi when they weren't in the field—she didn't cook him meals like Garcia did, but she'd always made sure to quietly check-in with him whenever she felt that something was bothering him. There had even been a few nights spent curled up on his deck, sipping Jack Daniels or a lovely scotch as they had talked quietly into the evening air.
"I tried to come back for the funeral," she admitted, tears renewing themselves as she felt the warm weight of his hand on her back, patting her reassuringly.
"I know," was the simple reply. "Thank you."
Then David pulled away, offering another smile.
"You look good, cara," he still held her shoulders. She thought that this must be what it felt like, to come home to your parents—constant hugs and terms of endearment, the pride and happiness tinged with gentle sadness at seeing so much change. She had never received such a welcome from her own mother, and when she was in college, she had often enviously wondered how it felt to be her other classmates who got to return home for the holidays. Now, she thought perhaps she knew, on some small scale.
"And you look like hell," she countered, her heart warming again when he laughed at her dry quip (he'd never told her this, but sometimes he liked to think that if he had a daughter, she would be smart and crackling and unbelievably brave, like Emily—he never told her because he knew that it would be too much of a burden, and he never wanted her to feel like she had to spend the rest of her life fulfilling some kind of expectation).
"You always know how to make a guy feel special," he returned easily, shaking his head.
"Just trying to keep you humble, Rossi," she assured him, and he laughed.
"Not a chance, gattina."
Now it was Emily's turn to merely shake her head as she rolled her eyes (she knew that the blustery and self-assured Rossi was just a shell, an act that went along with the legend he'd crafted around himself over a decade ago, but she also knew that he loved the tongue-in-cheek ability to play the suave agent, to be able to slip into this odd form of armor, and she would never betray his secret, not in a million years—after all, she understood armor and hiding-in-shells better than most).
Emily had barely taken a step back from Rossi when Spencer pounced, his long arms gently pulling her into another hug. She laughed in relief.
"We knew it'd be you," he informed her quietly.
"I hoped it would be you," she returned, just as gently, and she didn't protest when his grip tightened.
Of all her team, Spencer was the one she worried about the most, and in some ways, the one she missed the deepest. They were creatures of the same mold, cut from the same cloth, destined for the same tribe. He was the closest thing to a kindred spirit that she'd ever found. She had felt every inch of the hole left by his absence, and she'd often hoped that he didn't feel the same (though she knew that he did), just because she hated the thought of being a source of pain for this kind man and his kinder heart.
Finally, Spencer released her, and she turned to her final former team member with anxious eyes. Hotch simply held his arms open and she smiled again as she gladly accepted the offer.
Aaron Hotchner quietly reminded himself that he couldn't behave the way he did last time, when he'd held her in the bullpen, holding on so much longer than anyone else, wishing with every fiber of his being that he could simply keep her there forever. He'd noticed the apprehension in her expression when she first saw him today, and he knew that it was because of what he'd done—he'd betrayed his true feelings, making a mess of years of steady friendship in a matter of seconds.
Keep it together this time, Emily's inner voice chided. Don't make it awkward, like you did last time.
"It's good to see you," he said as he pulled back, taking a moment to simply look at her.
"You, too," she tried not to let her tone get too warm or too soft. She gave him a once over, "You look good. Ran any marathons lately?"
"Haven't had the time," he admitted.
"He's good. Not too happy with me right now—I'll probably miss soccer tryouts, if this takes over a week."
"I'm sorry," Emily said, and she truly meant it.
"It's the job," he replied in his usual stoic manner. "He understands."
Emily didn't point out that she'd understood her own mother's job, but it hadn't made the absences and distance any easier on her as a child—and it hadn't changed the resentment that she'd often felt towards her mother for always choosing the job over her daughter.
She suddenly realized that Mika was standing in the doorway behind her. She took a step back, angling her body to include him in the conversation, "Guys, this is Mika Kimathi—he's the best of the best in the London office. Mika, this is David Rossi, Dr. Spencer Reid, and Aaron Hotchner, from the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico."
David noticed that Agent Kimathi didn't refute Emily's claim of his greatness. He actually liked the man better for it—nothing was more off-putting than a false show of humility. There was a round of handshakes and how-do-you-do's, then Mika motioned back to the conference room.
"We've just begun sorting photographic evidence—perhaps you'd like to take a look? It will give you a chance to collect yourselves before we head out to the crime scene."
Aaron nodded in agreement, and they followed the Interpol agents into the conference room, with the rest of the American, Canadian, and German Task Force members trailing along behind them. Mika continued, "The Israeli forensic team is already on-site—they've been at the scene since yesterday, and the British joined them early this morning."
Emily looked back over her shoulder at the newcomers as she added, "We thought it would be more prudent to wait for everyone else to show up."
"Saves time—playing catch-up only once instead of a dozen times," Hotch agreed. Emily gave a slight smile at his usual brusque approval (such a welcome change from Clyde's usual coyness).
By now, Spencer had slipped past the others to stand next to Mika, observing the pictures on the cork board. Mika helpfully supplied, "We're still trying to sort out who's who. Of the twenty-three hostages that were alive on the final day, nineteen survived the task force assault—the other four were killed due to their proximity to the ANAM members wearing IEDs. According to reports and video footage, we're looking at anywhere between fifteen and twenty ANAM members as well—ten were killed during the take-down, and the rest blew themselves to bits. There are several bodies in the morgue that we're still trying to identify."
In the section of the board reserved for photos of the victims, Mika had tacked a running tally of hostages—forty, minus fourteen released, minus three killed in escape attempt, minus nineteen survivors.
Spencer reached up to gently tap the number fourteen, "They released the hostages who could prove their Muslim status by quoting parts of the Qur'an."
"A shibboleth, of sorts," Rowena Lewis crossed her arms over her chest as she moved closer to the table, allowing more room for the rest of the task force to fit into the conference room.
Spencer looked at her with a new-found sense of admiration and Jeff Masterson gave her a light nudge (look at you go, Miss Smarty-Pants).
"A what?" Mika turned to her in confusion.
"Shibboleth," Spencer took over. "In the Book of Judges, the Ephriamites tried to cross the border back into the Gilead by pretending to be Hebrews—so those wanting to cross were required to say the word shibboleth. The Ephriamite language doesn't allow for a voiceless palato-alveolar fricative phoneme, so they were unable to pronounce it. Those who said sibboleth were proven to be imposters and put to death."
"Lovely story," David decreed, his face just as deadpan as his voice. Emily bit back a grin (goodness, she'd missed that, actually missed the smart-assery).
As usual, Dr. Reid was completely unfazed. He continued as if Rossi hadn't even spoken, "Nowadays the word shibboleth is used to describe a word or custom that differentiates in-groups from out-groups, or similar tests of faith or membership."
"So there definitely is a religious component," Eric Silver, one of the Canadian agents, placed his hands on his hips as he took a moment to simply look at the pictures on the board. "But that never really was a question, was it?"
"Their demands were politically motivated," Emily reminded him. "The fact that they still have a conscionable objection to killing true followers of Islam proves that despite the political nature of their demands, they are still coming from a place of religious devotion."
"Zealotry," corrected Ahoo Shir-Del, another Canadian agent. She crossed her arms over her chest, and Spencer could feel her almost cringing at the sudden amount of attention that her remark had brought her—as one of the only Muslims on the Task Force, she already had a point of similarity between herself and the UNSUBs in a way that the others did not.
"Sorry to interrupt," a small man with an unbelievably deep voice stepped into the room, and all eyes focused on him. "I am Njua Oduya, chief of the Anti-Terrorism Unit and chief of operations for this particular action. I apologize for not greeting you all at the airport—but, as I am sure you can understand, I have been a bit busy this morning. Now that everyone is here, I have arranged for an escort to the crime scene—we will leave in ten minutes. We are converting two more conference rooms into temporary work stations, but we do ask for your patience, as we weren't exactly equipped to take on thirty new agents overnight."
"We understand," Laurenz Blanke, head of the German investigative team, gave a curt nod. "And we thank you again for being so accommodating."
Blanke turned to his agents, giving a few quick orders in German. Two agents nodded and followed him out the door. A third pulled a chair from the conference room table.
"Looks like I drew the short straw," he announced with a small smile. He leaned across the table to offer his hand to Mika and Spencer. "Karl Vetter. I will be assisting you with photographic evidence."
"Mika Kimathi. Welcome to the Short Straw Club," Mika joked easily.
"Dr. Spencer Reid," the younger man waved away the offered hand, and thankfully Vetter didn't seem offended by the gesture.
Ahoo Shir-Del turned to Eric Silver, her supervisor, "I'd like to go to the site, if you don't mind."
"Of course," Eric returned gently (he knew that this case hit close to home for her, made her feel like even more of an outsider in a world turned hostile after years of war and destruction). He turned to the remaining three Canadians. "Whitting, you stay. Samson and Brown, you're with us."
Hotch took a moment to look at Spencer, who merely waved him away, signaling that he was quite alright with staying behind. In a similar fashion, Emily Prentiss made a small motion to Mika, silently asking him if he wanted to go. He shook his head and made a shooing gesture.
"Have you been to the crime scene yet?" Aaron asked as they headed back to the elevators.
Emily shook her head, "It was so late when we got in, and I'd prefer to see it in the daylight. It's easier to miss things in the dark."
"So how's London?" Rossi easily changed the subject. "Has some suave 007 swept you off your feet?"
"If he had, what makes you think I'd tell you about it?" She replied smoothly, and he laughed in response.
"Good girl. Don't kiss and tell."
She rolled her eyes, but her mouth was still smiling.
Aaron Hotchner was smiling, too, but he couldn't deny the strange tug in his chest at the thought of Emily Prentiss with another man.
Had. She used subjunctive language, as in it was a possibility but not a current reality. If she really did have someone, she would have used has. But why did it matter? Emily's personal life was certainly none of his business, and he shouldn't begrudge her some happiness. After all, he had Beth.
Beth. She'd been in New York for almost a year now. She still called, and there were occasional weekend trips between their two cities, but the trips were few and far between, and the calls were becoming less and less often.
"I don't really have time for that sort of thing," Emily was speaking to Rossi again, turning to him as they stepped into the elevator. "You know the old saying—power is an aphrodisiac, except when it's worn by a woman. My mother taught me that lesson, all too well."
David simply took a moment to observe the lines of Emily's face—the forced smile that didn't reach her eyes, the taunt line of her lips that showed the old resentment bubbling under her psychological surface. She never really spoke of her parents, but from that little tidbit, David could guess how her childhood was, with a mother devoted to her career and a father resentful of such commitment, who finally couldn't take anymore and left. As far as Dave knew, Emily's father was still alive, but he certainly hadn't been a part of her life—on the rare occasions that Prentiss had spoken of her childhood, her stories always mentioned her mother, but never her father.
She sensed his scrutiny and cut him a quick look (don't you dare profile me, Rossi).
He gave a slight shrug as he looked away (it's what I do, don't act surprised when I stay true to my nature).
Emily found herself smiling again.
"SSA Rowena Lewis, forensics," a tall brunette offered her hand to Emily as she boarded the elevator with a few other agents. "We didn't have much time for introductions."
"No, we didn't," Emily agreed, shaking the woman's hand. "Chief Emily Prentiss, Interpol."
"I've gotta admit, I feel like I know you already—I've heard a few stories about you from Dr. Reid."
"I can only imagine," Emily rolled her eyes good-naturedly.
"Don't worry, he only had the most complimentary things to say," Rowena smiled warmly. "I think you would have to be pretty amazing, to garner such high praise from someone like Spencer Reid."
"Roe's got a little crush on your wunderkind," Jeff Masterson spoke up, directing his comment to Rossi.
"Well, he is adorably delicious," Rowena admitted with a wicked grin.
"Watch it, cougar," Jeff returned lightly.
"You calling me old?"
"No." Jeff's tone implied the opposite. He gave an exaggerated shrug, "I'm just saying you're...older than he is."
Rowena shot him a dark look, though the corner of her mouth quirked into a grin.
"I'm afraid your efforts would be wasted," Rossi piped up. "Our wunderkind is both oblivious and immune to most forms of flirting and flattery."
"Oh, trust me, I could get his attention," Rowena wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, and Rossi laughed (during the layover in Amsterdam, they'd gotten the chance to simply sit and talk, and they had quickly learned that they shared the same risqué sense of humor).
"Yeah, subtlety isn't this girl's strength," Jeff added in agreement. "Ol' Roe prefers the bull-in-a-china-shop approach."
Rowena elbowed him, rolling her eyes as she returned to Emily, "This charming gentleman is SSA Jeff Masterson."
"How d'you do?" He offered his hand as well. Emily gave a good, solid shake, and he liked that. He steered the conversation back to more appropriate waters by asking, "So, how does Interpol fit into the mix?"
Chief Prentiss gave a slight shrug, "We've got some of the best facial recognition software, which we can use on the mall's security feeds, as well as one of the most extensive criminal databases. We're also the only organization here without ties to any specific nation, which by default makes us the most neutral and unbiased. In the event of a dispute, we'll be handling the arbitration—though I'm hoping that it won't come to that."
Ever the voice of pragmatism, Hotch couldn't help but quietly remind her, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."
Eric Silver was not prepared for the sight that met his eyes—yes, he'd seen dozens of pictures and press coverage of the crumbling remains of the Central Shopping Center, but something about their 2D nature had made everything seem so...contained.
The scene in front of him was not contained. It was cordoned off with police tape, but the surrounding area was littered with candles and flowers and stuffed animals and cards with prayers and condolences for the victims. Debris still swept across the lot as traffic buzzed around them.
"Holy hell," he murmured. "This is going to be absolute fuckery."
"Fuckery to the tenth degree," Ahoo Shir-Del agreed quietly, tucking her hands into the front of her green khaki cargo pants (that was the one thing she loved about being on foreign field assignments—the ability to ditch the slacks and button-downs for clothes that were actually comfortable). With another heavy sigh, she turned to squint up at her supervisor, "So where do we start, boss?"
"Let's see what's already been done," he moved towards what was left of the mall's southern entrance—the far eastern side of the building was caved in, due to bomb blasts which had taken out pivotal structure points. From the outside, the western side looked untouched, but inside, the entire center was a mess.
The Brits and Israelis were already re-organizing everyone for an update.
"Please, everyone, if we could only do this once," Yonah Zamir, the lead investigator for the Israeli task force, waved everyone closer to her. She had the beautiful profile that declared her Hebrew lineage, with skin that was neither pale nor olive, and deep brown eyes—and in an odd juxtaposition to her skin tone, a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheekbones. Once the shuffling and whispers had ebbed, she set her hands on her hips and took a deep breath, "Rather than divide evidence collection into subgroups, such as ballistics, fingerprints, or explosives, we have decided to simply place the area on a grid."
One of the British analysts pulled up a schematic on his laptop, turning it so that the others could see. Yonah continued, "We think this is the best way to tackle the situation, but, of course, we are open to suggestions."
There were shrugs and nods of agreement—no one else had a better plan. With a curt nod, Yonah motioned to a long row of tables near the northern entrance, "Once evidence is bagged and tagged, we are placing it here, for transport back to the labs—each table is labeled according to quadrants on the grid. The standard protocol is that all evidence will be processed here, at CID's labs, and then can be shipped to respective agencies for secondary testing and analysis. If the lab in Nairobi does not have the equipment, test materials, or database necessary for analysis, the evidence will be shipped to whichever country's lab does possess such items and can process them the most expediently."
Rowena turned to look at Jeff over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows in slight awe (this chick's got the jump on us).
"Now, obviously, in the interest of fair play, agents are allowed to move between quadrants on the grid—though in an effort to reduce redundancy, I don't think each agency should scour every section." Yonah took a moment to look over the group, trying to gauge people's reaction to this statement (she understood the desire to check every square inch for oneself, to be sure that nothing was missed, but their biggest enemy was time—the clock was running and they had no clue as to where or when ANAM would strike next). Thankfully, she was met with more nods of agreement. She continued, "The only stipulation we have about moving to a new quadrant is that you must deliver the evidence from your current quadrant to the processing tables first. We don't want to have the whole thing thrown off because someone places a bullet they found in Quadrant Six on the evidence table for Quadrant Fourteen. Even if you think you will be able to keep things straight in your head, don't try. As you can see, this place is already a nightmare, so let us not add cross contamination or false leads into the mix."
The Brit who was assisting Yonah with the laptop, a smiling man with sleek black hair and black-rimmed glasses, raised his hand to grab everyone's attention, "I am Dr. Ben Arterton, and I'll be overseeing the processing and packaging of evidence—I'm also the guy to whom you need to speak when it comes to questions of who has searched which quadrant, and what they found there. We want to ensure that every inch of this place receives equal inspection, so we will keep a running list of which agencies have analyzed which quadrant. I'm afraid that by the end of it all, you will think of me as a glorified hall monitor, and for that, I apologize in advance."
This earned him a light chuckle from several agents, and he smiled in response. He motioned to the left of the group—to a small area of yet another set of tables, filled with evidence bags, gloves, body suits, and other tools and supplies, "And though this place looks like an absolute cock-up, we are still trying to preserve some sense of containment, so please, follow the same protocol as you would for any other forensic site. We are only requiring full body suits for the Eastern quadrants, due to the high volume of genetic materials left behind."
He didn't point out that the genetic materials were the remnants of the Al-Noor members, after the IEDs had detonated. Even though the bodies had been removed, there was still blood and smaller bits of genetic material, as Dr. Arterton had so delicately put it.
"Now," Yonah Zamir stepped forward again, motioning for the group to follow her, "We will do a quick walk-through of the event—this of course, is based upon interviews with witnesses and hostages, thanks the Kenyan police force."
Jeff didn't pay too much attention to Zamir's commentary after that—he was too busy glancing around the wreckage, his eyes already searching for the best place to start.
Rowena seemed to read his mind, because she quietly sidled up to him, her tone low and cautious, "We should get into the eastern quadrants first. That's where the most ballistics are going to be, as well as all the IED materials. I don't want to pick over whatever's left behind after everyone else tramples all over it."
"Agreed," he gave a curt nod, taking a quick glance at the people around them. Surely every other forensic analyst had the same idea, which would make this yet another interesting dance of politesse and assertiveness. Thankfully, most of the people here weren't forensics, so some would return back to the CID headquarters to begin investigation and research.
"It's gonna be one of those days, isn't it?" Roe's voice informed him that she already knew the answer to that question.
"Yup," he gave a light sigh, too, sharing her misery. "It's gonna be one of those days."
"Here's the rest of what the morgue has, so far," Addison Cortez, an American CIA operative, breezed back into the conference room with another stack of folders and photos. The last hour had been pretty productive—Spencer and Mika had arranged all of the photos on the board, matching as many ANAM members as they could from various angles and shots of the security footage, and Karl Vetter had sorted out the most important physical evidence photos, such as ballistics, explosive detonators, and shrapnel, adding them to a separate cork board. George Whitting, the Canadian agent, had taken to the dry-erase board and had charted out a timeline of events, based on the reports of the hostages.
Addison cringed slightly as she opened one of the folders and saw the photos. "Obviously, some of our ANAM members aren't in any shape for accurate facial comparison—thankfully, most of the IED materials remained strapped to the bodies after detonation, so it was a little bit easier to figure out which ones were ANAM and which were hostages."
"Unless some ANAM members weren't wearing IEDs," Mika pointed out.
Addison gave him a look of light exasperation. Obviously she hadn't considered that.
"I will take confirmation of the deceased," Karl Vetter rose to his feet, taking the files from Addison. He motioned to George, "Agent Whitting and I can sort through and match these to the faces on the security footage, as best we can."
George nodded in agreement, literally rolling up his sleeves as he sat down at the table, dutifully taking a stack of files from Vetter.
"I can read the autopsy reports," Spencer volunteered. "I have eidetic memory, so it's probably best if I read them—I'll be able to recall any detail whenever we need it."
Karl Vetter looked up in surprise, an amused smile dancing across his face, "My, my, Dr. Reid. I think you will be very useful to this investigation."
"I hope so," Spencer offered a small smile.
George gave a nod of approval and continued his efforts to match the face on his current file to one of the grainy footage stills on the board. Addison leaned over, slipping a few files from Vetter's stack, "The last two on the bottom are confirmed as non-ANAM —a Dutch tourist and a local store manager—we can put them aside."
Something about the movement of her wrist struck Spencer Reid—the gesture was airy, fragile yet somehow grounded in strength, delicate and graceful.
The way Maeve used to move.
Spencer suddenly looked at the CIA operative with new eyes—aside from her height, she bore no physical resemblance to Maeve at all. Maeve's skin had been porcelain; Addison was mocha, with black almond-shaped eyes that showed her lineage also held something else, perhaps Caribbean or Native American. They were as different as night and day.
So why did he still want to stare at her wrists as if they were the most fascinating things that he'd ever encountered? Why did he want to gently reach out and touch them, as if they were the holy grail itself?
This wasn't fair. Maeve already completely inhabited the world of his dreams, his waking thoughts—she couldn't return to reality in the form of other people. It was one thing to remember how she moved, how she laughed, how she spoke, but there was safety and distance—because even though he never wanted to forget her, he was still able to turn his mind to other things, to distract himself so that he could focus on the task at hand. This was visual reminder, something that could not be controlled by his mind—it was present and constant and silently taunting him (you can remember how she moved, you can see it in your thoughts and dreams forever, but you'll never actually see her wrist again, you'll never actually witness her smile or know any of her odd physical quirks—you can dream, you can imagine, you can re-envision, but you'll never witness any of it, ever again).
"Excuse me," Spencer quickly walked out of the room.
"Everything alright?" Mika called after him.
He didn't answer. He kept walking.
Addison turned to watch his retreat before looking back at Mika. The Interpol agent simply gave a shrug and they both went back to their files.
Karl Vetter also watched him leave. After a beat, he smiled at the others. "I like him. He is—I believe the saying goes—an odd duck."
"Yes, that is how the saying goes," George Whitting replied dryly. He was already engrossed in his stack of files again. "And yes, Dr. Reid certainly is an odd duck."
"You guys headin' back to CID?" Rowena turned to Rossi and Hotch as she quickly threw her long hair into a makeshift bun. The tour was over and they were all back at the southern entrance, where Lewis and Masterson were already prepping to enter the eastern quadrants by donning full forensic regalia.
Aaron Hotchner gave a curt nod, "We need to go over the witness and hostage interviews, see if we can find anything that helps us build a profile—and of course, there's the security footage from the first ten minutes of the initial takeover, before they cut the feed."
He looked away slightly as Rowena whipped off her overshirt (she was wearing a tank top underneath, and he briefly felt embarrassed at how prudish his actions made him seem). To make things worse, she'd noticed, and she was grinning again. Thankfully, she didn't say anything.
"We'll let you know if we find anything," Jeff was already in his white jumpsuit, zipping it over his broad chest. He corrected his statement, "Well, obviously we'll find things. We'll just let you know if it's something that will help your assessment."
Rossi gave a polite smile, "Thanks. We appreciate it."
Erin Silver approached, motioning towards the parking lot, "We've got a ride back to headquarters, if you'd like to join us."
Rowena Lewis simply took a moment to smile at him. He was tall, slender without seeming skinny, with hair that was more salt than pepper and ice blue eyes and a smooth, low voice that could charm the moon from the sky—he was the polar opposite of Dr. Reid in age and demeanor, yet still very much on the same scale of deliciousness.
Silver noticed her smile and seemed a bit flustered by it. "Well, if you'll excuse me, we're leaving in the next few minutes—I need to get the rest of my team."
He headed back to the evidence tables.
Rossi, who had witnessed the exchange, turned back to Lewis with a look of feigned disapproval. "You just like toying with people, don't you?"
"It passes the time," she grinned again, this time with a sparkling deviousness that made Rossi laugh.
"Good luck," Hotch gave a small wave to the two forensic analysts as he and Rossi turned to go.
Once they were alone again, Jeff quietly shook his head, "Really, Roe?"
"What? I like men." She zipped up her suit. "It's certainly not a secret."
"But do you really have to make it so obvious?"
"Oh, c'mon. Silver has those gorgeous baby blues. You know I can't resist."
"That's because they remind you of me," he informed her, his tone laced with feigned cockiness as he grabbed a set of gloves and protective shoe covers and slipped them into the pocket of his jumpsuit.
"Absolutely. You know that's what I do at night—lie awake thinking of your eyes," she rolled her eyes in sarcasm, grabbing her own gloves and shoe covers. She pulled the hood of her suit over her head, tightening the strings so that it framed her face and kept her hair out of the way. She kept her tone light, conversational, though it was still obviously guarded as she asked, "Speaking of lying awake at night, did you call your wife and tell her that we made it here safely?"
"Yup." There was an odd change in Jeff's tone, too. He moved towards the entrance, where someone had stacked their large black pelican cases filled with tools and collection materials. She followed him, grabbing a case as well.
"Good." She gave a curt nod. She considered asking and how is your wife?, but thought perhaps that would seem too forced. For the most part, they didn't truly talk about their lives outside of work, though they were closer than most colleagues. Sometimes she wondered if that slim gold band on his finger was the only thing that kept him from pursuing something beyond their occasional banter. She also wondered if she was simply deluding herself into thinking that he even saw her in such a light.
Gods, she was a regular soap-opera, being enamored of a married man.
Eric Silver walked by again, and she gave another softer, shyer smile (boldness scares him, so let's pull it back and see if he bites).
This time, he smiled back.
Game on. She might be emotionally committed to a man whom she couldn't have, but that wouldn't stop her from physically enjoying other men.
And if it just so happened to make Jeff Masterson think that she wasn't attracted to him, well—two birds, one stone.
Emily Prentiss was already in the vehicle, dark shades on as she stared out the window. Hotch got in first, sitting next to her. Rossi jumped in second, slightly jostling the younger man, "Move over a little bit, so we can fit another."
Hotch obliged, and his repositioning put his shoulder firmly against Emily's, hips and knees aligned as well. She shifted slightly, almost flustered by the contact, and tried not to let it show. However, Hotch noticed (of course) and immediately assumed that it was because she was remembering how awkward he had made their last goodbye over a year ago. See, Aaron, this is why you never said anything, and why you should have never made it so obvious whenever you said goodbye—now she feels awkward and off-balance, and as usual, it's because of you.
Ahoo Shir-Del slipped onto the seat next to David Rossi—with her petite frame, there was still plenty of room. David smiled to himself. He still wasn't going to shift back over, so that Aaron and Emily could have more space between them.
Sometimes certain…events just needed a little push.
David Rossi was nothing if not an instigator.