Out of Africa

Welcome Wounds

"The hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong, but between what's right and what's best."
~Jamie Ford.

CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

There was a light rap on the door, and Emily looked up wearily, "Come in."

David Rossi appeared, her favorite candy bar in hand, "Thought you might like a little pick-me-up."

She sighed in agreement as he tossed her the chocolate, "You know me too well, sir."

"Eh," he gave a shrug as he closed to door and took a seat at the table. "I like to think I do, but truth is, not always."

She noted his comment but didn't respond.

"How ya feeling?" He asked gently.

"Good. I think maybe tomorrow I'll start using only one crutch—work my way back to full mobility."

His eyes smiled, "I wasn't asking about your leg, gattina."

She ducked her head, smiling as well. Then she looked back up at him, suddenly searching and serious, "Let's talk about something else. Like why you're upset with me."

"Upset?" Rossi shifted slightly, leaning forward in curiosity.

She gave him a droll look which informed him that she saw right through his charade. "You don't agree with how I handled the situation with Constance—you haven't said anything to me directly, but I could sense it, back at the hospital yesterday during Ahoo's debriefing. And you've been quiet and withdrawn all morning, neither of which are words that would usually describe you, Rossi. Something's up."

He sighed, looked down at his hand resting on the table top. "Reid made an interesting point, when we were at the scene yesterday—he said that despite how long we've known you, there's an entire side to you that we don't really know at all."

"And that side makes you unhappy."

"Not for the reasons you think. I like to think that I've always known that side of you existed—it just makes me unhappy to think your job puts you in a position where that side has to come out more and more often." He looked up at her, dark eyes pleading that she'd understand what he was trying to say, "You're still my gattina, and you're also still the person who ordered this cover-up. I know there are times when it's hard to hold onto the things that made you Agent Prentiss at the BAU, but…but I hope you do find a way to do it."

"We had to do cover-ups at the BAU," she reminded him gently.

"And you hated it."

"I still do."

His expression muted into one of compassion. She continued, "You know I hate politics, and I hate lying to people I trust—but you're right, being in this position brings a lot more extraordinary circumstances my way, and some of those require me to be that person. And Reid's right, too—it's part of who I've always been, and I'm better at being that person than I'd care to admit. But I need you to understand: I knew all of this when I accepted this job, and I chose to take it anyways. I know, this world seems more…clandestine than what you're used to, but for me…it's home. My last eighteen months with the BAU—the stuff with Doyle, going away, coming back again—I spent every second feeling like I couldn't breathe. And here…even in the middle of this…I'm breathing."

Now it was Emily's turn to look at David with pleading eyes, her lips pressed into an apprehensive line as she awaited his judgment, as she held out the bleeding, beating offering of her true self and prayed that he'd accept it for what it was, without condition or derision.

Oh, gattina. Yes, if he'd ever had a daughter, he knew that she would have been just like Emily—and at some point, she would have looked at him with that same anxiously imploring look, and his heart would have broken for imposing even a second of doubt and distress upon her.

"I understand. I do." His voice was quiet, soothing, more tender than he'd been in a very long time. "And it doesn't change who you are to me—but I need you to understand that loving you unconditionally isn't the same as supporting you unconditionally. Even now, I support your actions by following your orders, but I don't condone them. There's a difference."

There was a beat of heavy silence as Emily Prentiss digested his words. Then, quietly, she broke the stillness of the room.

"So…you're saying you love me?"

He began to chuckle. "Don't act so surprised. You know I do."

She was grinning too, crackling and full of light again. "My, my, a day for surprises—David Rossi loves me."

"Don't tell the others; they'll be jealous."

"Never a word. Cross my heart."

"Speaking of hearts and love—"

"No, Rossi. Just no."

"I don't need all the gory details—I just want to know you're both happy."

"Do we look happy?"

"Well, yes."

"Then be a profiler and make a deduction. I seriously can't talk about this with you—it's weird."

"We're weird people, gattina."

"Not that weird."

He laughed at her retort, giving a slight shrug that implied he might not entirely agree with her. She was chuckling as well, shaking her head at the absurdity of it all.

The door opened again, this time to reveal Clyde Easter.

"Well, so glad you two are having a moment of chummy fun," he drawled. "But I believe Agent Kimathi would like to interview you next, Agent Rossi—and Emily, I need you for a moment as well."

With regretful sighs, they both rose to their feet (Rossi much more quickly than Prentiss).

"I didn't even get a chance to enjoy my chocolate," Emily moaned.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Clyde rolled his eyes. "You can eat it while we talk."

"I said I wanted to enjoy it, Easter." Emily shot back with equal sarcasm. "Your presence would ruin the effect."

Rossi snickered as he brushed past, making his way down the hall. He was right—she was still there, his Emily, his gattina, fiery and brave and true. And he was still proud of her, even when he couldn't agree with her.

That was what being a parent was like, he thought. He'd seen glimpses of this concept, through life with Erin and her three children, and he'd even understood it—but now, he knew, because he felt it.

Erin. He'd dreamt of her last night, but it hadn't been his usual nightmare. She'd merely been lying beside him, lips pressed against his temple as she hummed some tune that seemed so strangely familiar. His dream-self kept waiting for the disturbance, for whatever thing that would pull him away from her for a single second, during which she'd disappear, but she'd held him close and whispered in his ear (it's alright, David, it's alright…it's all going to be alright, my darling, just sleep).

It really was going to be alright. He spared a smile heavenward, though even now, he wouldn't admit that Erin Strauss was right. Because if he did, he knew that even from the grave, she'd find a way to say I told you so.

"I don't understand, Garcia."

"Well, sir, there seems to have been some kind of mix-up—the flight didn't have enough seats to accommodate the entire JTTF. So the BAU is getting moved back to the next available flight—which happens to be tomorrow morning."

God help him, Aaron Hotchner should not have been so relieved at this, but he was. Fate had afforded him one more day with Emily, and he couldn't regret a delayed flight, not in the least.

Still, he should probably pretend to be at least inconvenienced by it. "I still don't understand how this kind of thing could happen—"

"I don't know, sir." Penelope sounded regretful. Then she became her usual perky self, "Think of it as a little extra vacation time. Make the most of it. Go explore the city. Have a nice dinner. Relax."

"Please forward our flight information when you can."

"Sending now, sir."

"Thank you, Garcia."

"My pleasure, my dear. Oh, and give Emily a big ol' hug from me."

"Will do." Hotch hung up and shook his head slightly.

"What's up?" Spencer asked quietly, and Hotch turned to glance at him across the conference table.

"We aren't leaving until tomorrow morning."

"Oh," Spencer looked confused, then relieved. Hotch knew why—because it was the exact same reason for his own relief. More time with Emily.

"We should go out to dinner tonight," Rossi suggested. "The three of us, plus Emily. It'll be like old times."

Spencer fought down the urge to refute that last statement—it could never be like old times again, because so much had changed. Still, he relished the idea of the four of them around a table again, laughing and letting the stress of the case slip away.

As if on cue, Emily Prentiss entered the room, apparently done with her little tête-à-tête with Clyde Easter. She hobbled past the other JTTF agents, taking the empty seat next to Hotch.

Aaron noticed that Emily winced slightly whenever she sat down next to him, and he was instantly alarmed.

"Y'Okay?" He leaned in, his voice quiet.

"Yeah, I just…." She looked around quickly then leaned closer in, whispering. "I think—I busted a stitch last night."

"What?" His eyes widened in surprise and concern.

She shook her head, "It was just one—it'll still heal just fine."

"You sure?"

"Of course."

He sat back, taking a moment to look at her. She smiled a secretive smile, eyebrows quirking (it's your fault, Hotchner). He found himself holding back a laugh, ducking his head and turning away to regain his composure.

Rossi didn't hear their conversation, but he didn't have to—those glowing smiles and dancing eyes told him everything he needed to know about Emily and Aaron's state of the union.

"We're thinking about going out for dinner tonight," Rossi announced, causing Emily to look over at him. "You in?"

"Of course," she gave a quick look at Hotch again, her brow furrowed in confusion. "But I thought you guys were leaving today, with the rest of the American crew."

"Some kind of mix-up," Hotch shrugged. "They weren't able to get us on a plane until tomorrow morning."

"Oh," was her only response.

Silence reigned as everyone in the room concentrated on last minute travel plans or filling out after-action reports.

Emily shifted her chair closer to Hotch again, her head ducked down as she focused on her phone.

Suddenly, Hotch's cell buzzed with a text message.

It was from Emily.

Wanna play hooky?

He didn't look up, merely texting back: Now?

A few seconds later, he received her reply: All that's left to wrap up are a few more interviews and reports. No one would miss us if we disappear for a few hours.

He stamped down a grin as he asked: And where would we disappear to?

He felt her shift again, and he glanced up to find her grinning mischievously at him.

He rose to his feet, sparing a moment to inform Rossi and Reid, "We're going to finish up some last minute reports. We'll see you at dinner."

He didn't even care that all four of them knew it was an absolute lie.

The Plaza Hotel. Nairobi, Kenya.

"You should wear the dress again."

Emily looked at him over her bare shoulder, "Never knew you were such a sucker for women in skirts, Hotchner."

"One skirt. On one woman," he clarified, moving closer to kiss the side of her neck. She gave a happy hum, leaning back to rest against him. They'd decided that at some point, perhaps they should leave the hotel room to actually explore the city, which required getting dressed again, and Emily had already bemoaned the thought of having to put on pants (she'd worn some loose-fitting cargo pants that morning, but the fabric had still been rough and tight enough to bother her leg).

"Besides," his hands slipped around her ribcage, moving further up to cup her breasts. "It'll make it that much easier for me to undress you again later."

She grinned at this, "Well, who can argue with logic like that?"

He chuckled in agreement, planting another kiss on the curve of her shoulder.

She gave a light sigh, "Do we really have to go out?"

"I want to."


"How many other chances will we have to simply be ourselves, together, in the open?"

She shifted, turning to look at him fully, "So, what—this is like...a date?"

He gave a slight shrug, "I suppose. But it's more about—I don't know, having something normal for a little while, I suppose. Something more than just this."

She understood what this was—this was just sex in a hotel, a hook-up, time spent enjoying each other in a physical way, but out there…there was something deeper in simply walking the streets together, on some new adventure.

He wants more than what you can give. The realization hit deep in her gut. And she understood that as well—because if she could, she'd want more with him, too. Of course, Aaron Hotchner would never admit to such a thing, because he was much too concerned with making sure he wasn't some sort of burden to her (and she loved him even more for his silent sacrifice).

She could give him more—even if it was only this, only this afternoon of pretending they were simply a couple spending the day together, only this illusion of a normal life with a normal relationship.

She nodded, offering a small smile before leaning in to give him another quick peck.

"The dress it is, then."

Maasai Market. Downtown Nairobi.

Aaron couldn't stop himself from smiling as he watched Emily Prentiss—eyes closed, face turned to the sun, a happy smile of her own dancing on her lips. They'd taken a moment to rest, due to her leg, and he welcomed the slower change of pace. They weren't barreling down the sidewalks, intent on catching a killer—they were strolling, looking at crafts and fabrics and other trinkets under patchwork tents, admiring the colors and sounds and smells of an entirely different world. Even now, Emily's pale profile and dark locks were afforded a stunning backdrop of jade-colored necklaces and red scarves, as vibrant and breathtaking as ever.

"What?" She looked at him in amusement, leaning against her crutch. She'd insisted on only bringing one, using it more like a cane to lean on, and although he'd worried about her putting too much strain on her injured leg, she seemed to be doing well.

"You," he answered, his grin deepening.

She blushed, and it was the most enchanting sight in the world.

"A man of few words, but you always know how to make them count," she admitted, moving forward again.

He noticed some hand-carved figurines and stopped to inspect them.

"Jack would love these," he held one up, turning it in his fingers.

Emily smiled again, much more softly this time.

"I should thank you, by the way," he informed her, after he'd bought the figurine.

"What for?"

"I'll be home in time for soccer tryouts."

"Good." She was beaming now. "I'm glad."

"Me too." He admitted warmly. Then, with a slight frown, he added, "Did you ever forgive your mother for the life you had to live as a child?"

She looked at him, thrown-off by this question. Clearing her throat, she stated, "You are not my mother, Hotch. You're there for Jack in more ways than my mother ever was for me. He understands that—you're still his hero."

"Being his hero isn't the same as being his dad," his voice was small, uncertain.

She reached for him, pulling on his shirt to make him stop walking, turning him back to her. Her hand rested on his abdomen, warm and weighted with reassurance, "You're a good father, Aaron. You love your son, and he loves you, and he knows that you're trying. He knows."

He took a moment to simply stare at this woman, with her hopeful eyes and her kindness and all the things that were exactly what he wanted and needed. Then he gently took her face in his hands and kissed her, deeply and gratefully.

He felt the breath leave her lungs in surprise, heard her low hum of approval against his mouth as her fingers clutched at his shirt again.

When their lips finally parted, she was grinning again. She didn't blush, or look around to see who saw—and her ability to simply be there, in this bubble with him, tugged at his heart again.

God, he could build a world around this woman, if time and circumstances would let him.

She read his thoughts, because she simply reached up, letting her fingertips brush along the line of his jaw with a regretful smile. She didn't say anything, and she didn't have to.

He returned her smile and turned to walk again, his hand resting lightly on the small of her back.

Last night, they'd decided that they would move forward in their relationship, holding onto the moments created between them, allowing them to run silently through their lives, quiet pieces of twine that unraveled throughout their respective journeys. Now, in the light of day, he gently allowed his heart to hope that perhaps someday, they could pick up those strings and follow them back to this moment, this feeling, this hope, and perhaps, they could start a new journey—something closer to what they both wanted.

It was a distant hope, but a hope nonetheless. It took root in the quiet corner of his heart, and began to grow.

Talisman Restaurant. Nairobi, Kenya.

"A toast," David Rossi held up his drink. His three companions followed suit. "To friends who are family, no matter the distance."

"To family," Emily agreed, glowing with adoration for the man who had become the closest thing to a true father that she'd ever had.

Spencer and Aaron made noises of agreement as their glasses clinked together.

Emily transferred a piece of food from her plate to Spencer's, "Try it. You'll love it."

"What is it?"

"Just eat it."

He did as he was told, his eyes widening in surprise. "Whoa."



Aaron reached forward with his fork, but Emily swatted him away, "No way, dude."

"You shared with Reid—"

"I like him better," she retorted playfully, which earned her a laugh from Reid and Rossi.

"Fine," Hotch pretended to be miffed. "But please note that your lack of sharing will have to go in my after-action report, Chief Prentiss."

Her foot tapped his under the table and her brow arched slightly. Are you also going to include all the other sharing we've done, Agent Hotchner?

He had the good grace to look embarrassed, returning his attention to his drink, though he could still feel her wicked grin.

Luckily, Dave changed the subject, "Per the rules of dinner, you're buying the next round of drinks, Hotch—your mention of an after-action report qualifies as discussing work, which is strictly prohibited at this table."

The younger man gave a shrug of acquiescence, while Spencer and Emily chuckled at his misfortune.

The conversation shifted and eddied around various topics, from Rossi explaining how a certain dish would have been improved by a red wine reduction, to Reid discussing a new French film that he and Emily had both happened to see, to Hotch telling them funny things Jack had said, to Emily regaling them with her misadventures in London. They cracked jokes and had a moment of seriousness as they discussed their varying opinions on the nature of evil and the difference between justice and vengeance (and though it bordered dangerously close to work talk, Rossi allowed it without infraction).

Once several bottles of wine had disappeared and the plates had been cleared away, they drifted towards the inevitable end of their night out. Spencer gently helped Emily to her feet as Dave took care of the bill and Aaron went out to hail a cab.

"I'm so glad we got to spend time together," Emily admitted quietly, taking a moment to rest her head against Spencer's shoulder in a friendly half-hug.

"Me, too." He smiled, patting her back. "It doesn't make the parting any less painful, but it's a nice way to salve the wound."

"It is," she agreed as they slowly wove their way through the tables and out to the sidewalk.

Dave sat up front with the driver, while Emily found herself seated between two of her favorite people (her crutches being exiled to the trunk). The mood was airy, lighthearted as the former team of profilers kept telling jokes and making caustic comments in an attempt to keep the impending depressive separation at bay.

In the darkness, Aaron's hand found hers, his thumb rubbing circles into the back of her hand, each brush sending a light tingle up her arm. Spencer's words came back to her: It doesn't make the parting any less painful, but it's a nice way to salve the wound.

She smiled softly to herself. Yes, this quiet collection of soft moments would leave a wound, to be sure, but oh, what a lovely scar it would be.

"Sometimes the best and worst times of your life can coincide. It is a talent of the soul to discover the joy in the pain—thinking of moments you long for, and knowing you'll never have them again. The beautiful ghosts of our past haunt us and yet we still can't decide if the pain they caused us outweighs the tender moments when they touched our soul. That is the irony of love."
~Shannon L. Alder.

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