Out of Africa

The Power of Sacrifice and the Night of Courage

"Blessed Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the hour of conflict;
be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God restrain him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust, down to hell, Satan,
and with him the other wicked spirits
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.
~Prayer of St. Michael (English Translation used in Ireland).

The Plaza Hotel. Nairobi, Kenya.

Emily Prentiss gingerly patted herself down with the hotel towel, her skin still singing at the glorious feeling of cleanliness again. While her recent rendez-vous with Aaron had definitely left her feeling rejuvenated and relaxed, there was something to be said for the restorative power that comes from the simple joy of a shower. She felt stronger, more herself—she smelled like her own soap instead of the hospital, her hair was finally washed, and her face was grateful for moisturizer.

Her phone buzzed from the bathroom counter, and she scooped it up, answering without glancing at the caller ID, "Chief Prentiss."

"Emily, there's a situation." Aaron's voice was filled with a sense of nervous frustration that did not bode well. "It's…almost too much to believe."


"Yonah Zamir just came in a few minutes ago, claiming that Connelly is working for the Kidon, a secret—"

"It's basically a government kill-squad," Emily supplied. "I know. But…Connelly isn't Israeli."

"She is Jewish."

Emily swore under her breath. Aaron continued, "Apparently, that was the real reason for her time in Israel—the consulate posting was a cover-up. Or, she got recruited during her time there, and the authorities arranged to keep her there as long as possible."

"But why would she go back to Ireland? And why come back to Interpol?"

"I think our original theory of her mother's death as the catalyst still stands. But given Connelly's age, she may have just been put out to pasture—Clyde Easter mentioned something about operatives of this nature have a shelf life, due to the physical demands of their job."

Emily nodded, "She's got to be pushing fifty, if not in her early fifties already—she must have some mad skills for them to take her, even ten years ago."

"According to Zamir, she operates under the name Azriel—the Archangel of Death. She's a bit of a legend."

"Zamir seems to have a lot of Kidon-insider information."

"My thought, too. But a question for another time."

Emily returned her attention to drying off, "If that's the case, we do owe it to her to try our damnedest to get her out alive—but I don't really see how this changes our extraction plan."

"That isn't the issue. That's just the backstory."

Emily felt her heart rate speed up again, "Then what is the issue?"

"Ahoo Shir-Del slipped out of the room during Zamir's debriefing—and we have no idea where she went. The general consensus is that she's going after Connelly herself."

"To kill her or to save her?"

"That's the issue."


"She volunteered to go in, citing they had a good rapport—"

"And Clyde shut her down," Emily guessed.

Aaron made a small hum of confirmation. "However, she also said that Wasaki deserves to face justice. So it could go either way. Whitting seems to think that Shir-Del is too much of a straight man to take out Connelly."

"Well, if she was such a straight man, she never would have gone off reservation in the first place."

"I agree."

Emily swore again. "I told you that she was a loose cannon."

"We all had doubts," Aaron reminded her gently.

"I know," she rubbed her forehead. "I'm not upset at you. I'm just…why the hell can't anything go according to the script?"

He made a small sound of commiseration. Then, he quietly asked, "What do you want to do, Chief? It's still your case."

She set her hand on her hip, chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully, took a deep breath, held it, released it slowly.

"Roll out our guys—let Easter and Zamir stay in the conference room to run point. I don't want Zamir on the ground, Hotch. I don't trust her, or her eleventh-hour confession."

"Agreed. I'll lead the team, with Rossi and Reid. Whitting goes, but he stays in the tactical van. He may be emotionally compromised."

Emily nodded. "I don't like the odds, with all these unknown variables, but I don't suppose we have any other choice."

"We don't."

"Hotch? Be careful."

"I will," he promised gently.

"I mean it. Only one of us can be injured at a time. That's how it's always been, and it's gonna stay that way."

She could feel him smiling. "Deal."

Downtown Nairobi.

There is a good chance that you have fully and permanently fucked up your career and your life, Ahoo reminded herself as she slowed the car, parking it on the street. Yonah Zamir had blown into the conference room, making the case for Constance Connelly's life, and Ahoo had known that she couldn't stand by any longer.

She knew that she'd jumped so many protocols—she should have pushed harder to make her own case, should have convinced Easter to let her go in, should have accepted the plan and stayed in the room—but her heart had cried at the injustice of it all.

If you want a job done right, do it yourself. Her mother used to always tell her that. She couldn't trust that the others wouldn't either take out Connelly or simply let Connelly take out Wasaki. She honestly couldn't trust that she could prevent that, either, but at least she knew that she would try her hardest to prevent both outcomes.

She took a shallow, unsteady breath as she closed the car door, hand automatically going to the service weapon at her hip. She immediately wished that she'd had the time and forethought to grab a Kevlar vest on her way out, but wishing was of little help right now.

George was right. She was placing too much faith in too many uncertain factors. But faith was all she had, and it had served her well so far.

She closed her eyes, swallowed the lump of fear in her throat, and say a quick prayer of protection.

Allah protects the pure of heart. Her father's voice, soft and reassuring, echoed through her head.

She felt her stomach tremble with fear at the question: But am I pure of heart?

Only one way to find out.

She kept her breathing slow, deep, and steady as she made her way up the stairs—a complete juxtaposition to the adrenaline and blood hammering in her head and throat.

It was so quiet. Suddenly, she couldn't remember—what floor were Wasaki and Connelly on? Third? Fourth?

She reached the third floor and slowly made her way to the northern side, trying to reimagine the building's schematic as she walked through the twisting maze of abandoned hallways.

A sound. Her entire body froze for a full beat as her ears registered the source—indistinct voices, but definitely voices.

Constance's voice.

Ahoo tightened the grip on her weapon, acutely aware of how sweaty and unstable her fingers were.

She took a deep breath, pushed down the wave of nausea that bubbled in her throat, and listened for a moment longer.

Muffled words, a moan. Shuffling footsteps. Constance's voice again, strong and assured.

Please don't kill me, was her only coherent thought as she turned the doorknob and entered the room, weapon drawn.

Wasaki was in the center of the room, tied to a chair, bloody and bruised. There was a nasty cut above his left eye which was beginning to swell, distorting the face that she'd seen a hundred times over the past week, a face that she'd never forget, no matter how it muted.

Constance wasn't in sight.

Shit. Ahoo knew better than to look behind her—she remembered the layout of the room well enough to know there wasn't anything but a wall to her left. However, on the right side of the room, there was an open doorway into a smaller side room. She trained her weapon at the entrance and waited.

Wasaki was still alert enough to realize what was going on—his head came up, surprise and relief on his face (and Ahoo hated him for that smile, hated herself for being the one to make this man smile like that), but he kept quiet, not tipping Ahoo's hand by alerting Constance of her presence.

However, Connelly didn't need a tip. She stayed out of sight, but her voice called out, unbelievably calm, "Which one of us have you come to kill?"

"Neither, if I can help it," Ahoo tried to sound as confident as the older woman.

Connelly rounded the corner, her own weapon drawn, but a knowing smile on her face (and as with Wasaki, Ahoo hated her for it, for knowing her so well, for being so smug in the outcome of this situation).

"My darling, I'm afraid that isn't an option. So you need to decide now." Connelly moved closer to Wasaki, the nose of her gun smoothly turning away from Ahoo to rest just an inch from Wasaki's temple, "Which one of us are you going to let live?"

"This isn't the way," Ahoo said quietly, swallowing her own fear again, but keeping her gun trained on the other woman. "This isn't justice."

"Justice," Constance's expression spoke of her distaste. She tilted her chin in Wasaki's direction, the corners of her mouth drawn into thin bitter lines, "There isn't enough justice in the world to balance the scales. He could never fully pay the debt of all his crimes."

Wasaki opened his mouth to reply, but the muzzle of her gun firmly pressing against his head quickly stopped him.

"No." She kept her voice calm. "Your time to speak has ended."

The older woman looked back at Ahoo, "Do you know what he has done—all of it? Do you know what he would do to you, if the tables were turned?"

Ahoo didn't reply.

Constance continued with a clinical nonchalance that belied the righteous indignation rebuilding in her veins. "He started out recruiting child soldiers in Senegal—and by recruiting, I mean kidnapping and brainwashing them. If he had captured you, do you know what would happen? He'd make you his war wife. And when he got bored with you, he'd give you to his men. And when they grew tired of your screams and pleas for mercy, they'd put a gun inside of you and pull the trigger. If you were lucky, you'd die quickly. And all that's the best case scenario."

"Stop," Ahoo felt sick. She knew it was true, but to hear Connelly talk about it—so certain, so foreboding—was enough to make her feel as if it were a reality that could happen to her at any moment.

An odd look passed over Connelly's face, a mixture of heartache and pity and mournful anger.

"Imagine how many women begged the same thing of him," she quietly pointed out.

Ahoo tightened her grip on her gun, but it was no use—her whole body was shaking.

"Oh, my dear," Connelly's voice was laced with emotion. "We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of who this man is. Shall I tell you the rest? The fires in Bangladesh, perhaps?"

"All lies," Wasaki's voice trembled, a pitifully beautiful innocence lilting his words (but Ahoo had seen him cry before, and she knew the depth of his darkness, his ability to seem so real and raw and human and all the things a monster could never truly be). "There is no proof, I did—"

"This isn't a trial, Mariatu," Constance's voice was patronizingly longsuffering. "You aren't allowed a defense."

She returned her attention back to the younger woman, continuing as if the man's outburst had not even happened, "He helped rebels burn entire villages to the ground, then hunted the villagers in the jungle like they were merely animals. They were farmers, peaceful people with no political capital, no protection, no sins against any of those bastards, and especially not him. But that didn't stop him from slaughtering them. Children, drawn, quartered, hung from trees. Left to rot—"

"Stop it," Ahoo forced herself to speak, not even caring that her voice warbled with near-hysteria.

But Connelly did not stop, "In Tel Aviv, he bombed a complex—shops, apartments, daycare centers. He had no quarrel with Israel, but someone paid him enough, so he gladly slaughtered innocent people. He has no creed, no honor, no morality—he is only god is money, and he is its mightiest demon, a soul-sucking bottomless pit who feeds upon the hatred of others, who gives other monsters the weapons to be even more terrible beasts than they already are—"

"And this solves the problem?" Ahoo jerked her chin in the direction of Wasaki's bloody face.

"It eradicates a key element of the problem," Connelly corrected.

"No," Ahoo felt a surge of conviction. "It doesn't. Those other monsters are still out there—and if Wasaki doesn't help them, they'll still find a way."

The tension in the older woman's shoulders suddenly melted.

"And there, my dear little girl, is the point I'm trying to make—justice will never be enough."

"But vengeance will?" Ahoo surmised, her tone filling with sarcasm.

Connelly simply stood straighter, "You know what he has done—and what you know isn't even the half of it. Do you think he should live?"

"It isn't for me to decide." Ahoo pushed down a wave of emotion.

"It wasn't. But now it is." Connelly's blue eyes bored into her with a frightening intensity. "Because I swear to you now, one of us will not leave this room alive. So choose: will it be me or him?"

"No." Ahoo shook her head, suddenly feeling detached from her own body.

"I am an innocent man!" Wasaki cried out. Connelly swiftly struck his face with the butt of her weapon, a savage sickening dull thud.

"Stop!" Ahoo stepped forward, almost involuntarily, grip on her weapon re-tightening as she kept it on the other woman.

Connelly's laugh was breathless and incredulous. "You still want to save him?"

"I want to save you both," she admitted, before she had the chance to fully think about her words.

Another unreadable look crossed Constance's face. "You can't save either of us—we both passed that point a very long time ago. It's just a matter of which one gets to continue living."

"Just put the gun down, Constance. I won't—you can just leave, walk away, and let me take Wasaki back to the CID."

The older woman gave a bark of a laugh—sharp, mirthless, edged with steely anger.

"Constance, please. Clyde Easter will kill you if he gets the chance. That's why I came here—to get to you first." Ahoo couldn't stop herself now—the words were tumbling out, rushed and full of nerves and adrenaline, as if she instinctively knew that this was her only option, to keep the other woman talking, to wind her down with words. "I don't—I don't agree with what you're doing, but I do understand, I really do. But it doesn't work that way—it can't work that way. So please, just…please."

Connelly's expression softened. "You really do remind me so much of myself when I was your age."

"Then please," Ahoo saw her way in, and she took it with both hands. "For my sake—don't make me do this. Walk away. For me."

She realized too late that those were the wrong words.

"You've got to grow up sometime, my darling," Connelly informed her, returning her attention to Wasaki. Her finger tightened around the trigger.

So Ahoo pulled her trigger first.

Police Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

Emily thanked the cab-driver again as she steadied herself on her crutches, acutely away of how out-of-place she looked entering the lobby. After her shower, she'd gotten back into the dress that Rowena had sent (she couldn't bear the thought of trying to slip her injured, bandaged leg into a pair of jeans), although this time, she'd at least worn a bra and thrown a blazer over it in an attempt to look somewhat more professional.

Not that it really mattered, anyways. Her main concern were the agents already en route to intercept whatever shoot-out hell that Ahoo Shir-Del had inevitably created.

Rowena Lewis and Jeff Masterson were returning from their late afternoon coffee break—they entered the lobby as Emily boarded the elevator.

Rowena recognized Emily just as the elevator doors closed.

"Something's wrong," she spoke the instant that she felt the prick of intuition in her gut.

"What?" Jeff looked over his shoulder at her, oblivious.

"Emily Prentiss is here, right now—heading up the elevator. She wouldn't be here unless something went wrong." Rowena knew the truth, with every fiber of her being.

Jeff didn't refute her theory (he knew her too well for that). His hand instinctively went to the Saint Michael's shield around his neck. His first impulse was to hope that Roe was wrong, but again, he knew that she wasn't (it was an uncanny knack of hers, sensing and interpreting danger and dissecting events in a way that could baffle the brightest puzzle-breakers). Instead, he quietly prayed that the rest of their colleagues would be kept safe in the hour of danger.

Emily Prentiss ignored the stares of surprise from the other agents whenever she made her way through the CID, to the conference room where Easter and Zamir were currently overseeing the operation.

"What in holy hell?" Easter's face was filled with disapproving concern, though he was moving towards her, wrapping her into a quick, fierce hug. "Emily, you should be resting now—how did you even get here?"

"I took a cab."

"Of course you did." Easter warred between grateful amusement and worried irritation.

"When will they reach the location?" She didn't waste time with any more chit-chat. She merely gave a solemn nod of acknowledgement to Yonah Zamir, and it was evident that the other woman was well-aware of her standing in the current situation (she'd be lucky if Chief Prentiss didn't charge her with obstruction of justice and sanction her with the force of Interpol).

"ETA is less than five minutes," Zamir turned the laptop around so that Emily could see.

Prentiss gratefully took the chair that Easter offered, leaning her crutches against the table as her eyes scanned the satellite feed, looking for some kind of clue. There were three images now, "Ahoo's in the room."

"Yes." Easter sat next to her. "So far, nothing major has happened."

He pointed to each corresponding dot, "This has to be Ahoo—we watched it appear on the floor. Which means one of these is Wasaki, and the other is Connelly. This one, whomever it is, is the non-captive party—we've seen it move around a lot, while the other seems stuck in one place."

Just as he tapped the signature of the non-captive, there was an odd streak of heat, and the figure gave an odd jerk.

"I spoke too soon," Easter's stomach dropped.

"What?" Zamir shifted, moving around to get a better view.

Emily swallowed the fear in her throat, "Ahoo just shot someone."

Constance's ears were ringing, even though she never heard the gun discharge. There was a coppery tang in her mouth, the familiar alkaline taste of adrenaline rushing into her system at warp speed. There was a solid metallic clatter as her own weapon hit the floor, she could feel the heavy uselessness of her arm—instinctively, she knew that Ahoo had aimed for (and hit) the brachial nerve.

The soft, dull thud of Constance Connelly collapsing to the floor landed like a punch to Ahoo's gut. For a moment she couldn't move, couldn't breathe at all.

I just shot someone. Another human being, I shot her. The thought seared her brain, etched her skin and her soul with a mark that she knew would never be erased. She'd never had to shoot someone before—and even though she'd always known that she'd have to, eventually, she had never imagined having to shoot someone who was technically one of the good guys.

But the injured party didn't stay down long—even before Ahoo lowered her weapon, Constance was pushing herself up, her unwounded left arm twisting to grab her heel—no, something in her heel, something hidden in her boot. It all happened much too fast, yet it still felt like slow motion—Ahoo's brain registered a flash of metal as the older woman lunged forward.

It lacked her usual penchant for finesse, but even Constance Connelly could concede that this was certainly not the time to worry about such things. Her chest landed solidly against Wasaki's leg, her left hand moving with lightning speed—Ahoo was a fast thing, so she'd only get one second, one chance.

Wasaki knew what was happening—he jerked his leg away in response, but it was too late. The edge of her spear-tipped throwing blade was sharp and fast, a steady slash that smattered her face with a fine mist of blood. For the briefest of fearful flashes, she thought she'd missed the mark. She put what little strength she had left into the cut—the blood was thick and dark and she knew that she'd completed her mission. She'd gotten Wasaki's femoral artery, and in a matter of seconds, the world would be rid of one more monster—her last gift, as it were.

Someone was wailing. Ahoo suddenly realized that the sounds of dismay and disbelief were coming from her own mouth as she tumbled forward, dropping her gun as helpless hapless hands tried to stem the tide of blood soaking Wasaki's thigh.

"Leave. It." Constance panted, a wide, satisfied smile on her open mouth. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the dying man's dripping leg.

Wasaki's head lolled forward, his eyes unfocused, dazed.

Constance turned her face to his, grinning triumphantly, "I...told you. You and your kind will never win. It always…catches up to you in the end."

He murmured something in return, but his words died in his throat with his last breath.

Connelly watched the life leave his eyes, then gave a contented sigh of her own, laying her head in his lap again. She was chuckling now, a wet, guttural sound that spoke of her own injuries.

Ahoo crouched down, pulling the woman away from her victim to inspect her wounded shoulder.

"Leave it," Constance commanded, the simple act of breathing becoming a labor. "It's the price you pay."

"I don't want to," Ahoo admitted. Now that the moment was over, tears were threatening to overcome her—tears of relief, of futility, of frustration and anger and mourning.

The older woman gave her trademark feline smile, her voice growing wearier and more ragged with each word, "That's the thing about prices—you don't get to choose. You just…pay."

Ahoo ignored her argument. Instead, she gently laid Constance on her back, whipping off her own shirt to use as a compress on the still-bleeding wound.

Connelly gave another smile, and Ahoo felt herself blushing (even now, in the most heart-pounding of situations).

"We're gonna get you out of here," she assured the injured woman. "Just hang in there. I'll—I'll figure something out."

Constance simply closed her eyes.

The realization landed like a stone in Ahoo's gut—Constance Connelly was giving up.

It's the price you pay.

A few days ago, Constance's face had oddly reminded her of a statue of Durga she'd once seen in Nepal. Now, with a mixture of her own blood sprayed across her face and Wasaki's red stain smudged from her temple to her cheek, she truly looked like Durga—in the ninth form as Chinnamastika, who had defeated all the armies of demons and then cut off her own head to end her own bloodthirst.

The difference between Durga and Connelly was that after the long and bloody battle against demonic foes, Durga took tenth form and was worshiped by grateful gods as their salvation. Something told Ahoo that Connelly's story would not end on the same note.

"There are some debts that can't be paid with money."
~Steven J. Carroll.

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