ashan bli esh. (There is no smoke without fire.)"
Criminal Investigative Division (CID) Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.
For most of his life, Spencer Reid had feared going off the deep end, but he had never imagined that it would be like this.
He had rightly feared inheriting his mother's illness, had held his breath during the months leading up to his thirtieth birthday, had kept vigilant watch over his own senses and emotions, trying to predict and prevent a break before it started.
However, in a twist of fate which would suggest that God was a French absurdist, it wasn't genetics that caused his current mental instability, but rather unforeseen onslaughts of memory and emotion brought on by a relative stranger's wrist.
A wrist. He was losing his mind over a wrist.
This is the way the world ends.
With an aggravated sigh, Spencer rubbed his forehead, as if trying to erase the stupid emotional reaction from his mind.
It wasn't Addison Cortez's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. There was no logical explanation, no genetic marker, no biological imbalance—it was purely psychological, a completely unwarranted and unexpected cause.
And to think, everyone had been worrying over whether or not David Rossi would be able to handle this case—no one had actually voiced that concern aloud, at least not in front of Spencer, and yet, he had seen it in their faces, the moment that Hotch had announced the assignment. Penelope had bitten her lip as her big doe eyes had darted across the table at Rossi, Morgan had shifted in his seat, hand automatically going to his chin as he'd casually looked around the room, and JJ and Alex had simply looked at each other, communicating in that telepathic way that women always seemed to possess with one another. Even he had spared a glance in the older man's direction (quickly, discreetly, because even in his mourning, David Rossi didn't miss a beat).
Maybe he should have kept his scrutiny closer to home.
A transport van drove past, turning into the personnel parking lot at the side of the building, and Spencer's gaze followed it with mild interest. Two Kenyan CID investigators got out, followed by Agent Shir-Del—Spencer made a mental note to show a little kindness to her, to make her see that no one was going to judge her or vilify her for her faith (though she'd probably endured much worse, living in North America in a post-9/11 world). He knew, better than most, how it felt to be an outsider, and he'd do whatever he could to spare someone else from such a feeling. Then came Rossi, Hotch, and Prentiss, followed by Eric Silver, two Germans, and another man whom hadn't been with them earlier—obviously a member of either the Israeli or British team.
"Everything alright?" Hotch's eyebrow quirked in askance as he approached.
"Just needed some air," Spencer informed him. Now that he was surrounded by familiar faces, he felt his edginess melting away (because Emily was here, she wouldn't let him go crazy, no, she'd drag him kicking and screaming back to sanity, just as she had before, and there was a sense of solidarity in knowing that the people standing next to him could empathize with his pain, and would do anything to keep him sane—and for now, that was all he needed to readjust his mind and focus on the job again).
"Find anything yet?" Emily asked.
"We've only positively identified twelve ANAM members—according to all the statements, there were at least fifteen, and from the video feed, we've been able to determine there's probably seventeen or eighteen."
"Jesus," Emily's voice was soft, almost heartbroken, as she shook her head. However her tone resumed its usual professional air as she asked, "So what's the hold-up on the other IDs?"
"Some of the bodies were so badly disfigured by the blasts that DNA will be the only way to identify them," Spencer answered. "The problem is that we don't have any samples on file."
"They're all first timers," Rossi spoke up. "They've probably been preparing this for years."
"U.N. troops moved into East Africa during the mid-90s to stop the mass genocide that was occurring on an almost-daily basis," Emily moved towards the front entrance, and her three former team members followed her. "The rest of the world didn't really notice—or even know, for that matter—because the media focused on Bosnia."
"So they've basically had twenty years in which to plan their attack." Hotch surmised, giving a slight nod of greeting to the police officer stationed at the front desk, who waved them on (there was no need to check IDs—the Americans had a way of always standing out).
"Most of the men on the video appeared to be in their mid-20s," Spencer pointed out as he pushed the elevator button.
"But their generals wouldn't be," Rossi reminded him. He turned to Hotch as they boarded the elevator. "If they've had twenty years, then there's bound to be a test-run somewhere—my guess would be somewhere closer to home. We need to go back, start from when the United Nations sent troops into East Africa, and look for smaller-scale takeovers, not just in malls, but in large public arenas."
"It's going to be a longer list than you'd imagine," Emily warned. "This region of the world stays in a constant cycle of violence and war—there's a reason that the border between Somalia and East Africa is called the Gaza Strip of Africa."
Rossi patted Reid's shoulder, "Thankfully, we've got the adorably delicious Dr. Reid and his wonder-brain on our side."
Spencer Reid looked at the older man as if he'd grown a second head. Emily and Aaron burst into laughter.
"It's...a long story." Emily was laughing so hard that she could barely get the words out.
"Well, I feel it's definitely a story worth hearing," he informed her, his glance moving from one colleague to the next, waiting for someone to explain.
"Don't look at me," Hotch held up his hands in a defenseless gesture. "I couldn't possibly."
He laughed again, that funny little laugh of his that always made Emily laugh even harder.
Reid turned back to Rossi, who mercifully answered his unspoken question, "You've got a secret admirer, kid."
"That would be counter-productive to the 'secret' part," Rossi informed him with a smirk.
"You guys suck."
This only increased Hotch and Prentiss' giggles.
"I'll make a bet with you," Rossi tucked his hands into his pockets easily. "If you can figure out who it is, I'll give you a box of my best pre-embargo Cuban cigars."
"I don't smoke."
"Then you can sell 'em on the black market. Besides, I'm not too worried—you won't guess it anyways."
Emily and Aaron exchanged amused glances. Typical Dave, goading poor Spencer on.
The elevator dinged as it reached the Anti-Terrorism Unit's floor, the doors sliding open. As soon as they stepped into the unit, Spencer Reid answered with unwavering certainty, "SSA Lewis."
The look of utter shock on David Rossi's face was epically priceless.
"Whoa," Prentiss stopped as well, looking at Spencer with newfound appreciation. "You actually noticed that a woman was flirting with you?"
"I wouldn't call it flirting—based on her level of friendliness with members of the opposite sex, she wasn't treating me with any special preference," Spencer corrected her, his tone matter-of-fact. "It's just that Rossi used the word delicious. It's not a word commonly used in the English language, at least not when referring to people, and therefore can be used as a distinguishing idiolect."
"I'm assuming there's a point to this," Rossi commented dryly. By now, he'd recovered from his initial shock and wasn't exactly thrilled at the thought of losing a box of perfectly good cigars to a man who would never truly appreciate them.
"In the twenty-eight hours that I have known Agent Lewis, she's used the word delicious approximately thirty-two times."
Aaron Hotchner wasn't making a sound, but his shoulders were still moving with unvoiced laughter. Dave shot him a dark look, "Don't even."
"I wasn't going to," the younger man assured him.
"I think I'll send the cigar box to my mom," Spencer decided. "She likes collecting those kinds of things. Is it a nice box?"
The disdainful glare that David Rossi sent his way would have turned a lesser man to stone. "Those cigars cost more than you spend on books in an entire year. Everything about them is nice."
"Well that doesn't mean much—I buy bargain books from old libraries, so my book budget isn't really that high —"
"Oh, Mio Dio," David gave a longsuffering roll of his eyes. He held up his hands, "I can't do it; not in good conscience. It would be a mortal sin to waste such good cigars."
"Aw, c'mon, Rossi. You promised." Now Spencer was grinning madly, obviously proud of himself and his ability to outfox the infamous David Rossi. "A bet's a bet, no need to be a sore loser."
"Remind me to push you out the escape hatch on the flight back to Amsterdam."
Emily laughed again, wiping away the tears that were already in her eyes from laughing so hard. "Ah, man, I've missed you guys."
"We've missed you, too, gattina," Rossi assured her with a warm smile, lightly patting the small of her back as they entered the conference room.
Spencer couldn't stop himself from glancing at Addison Cortez, who was standing in front of dry-erase board, hands on her hips as she studied the timeline.
Her wrists didn't look like Maeve's right now. Maybe they never had. Maybe he was hallucinating.
Rossi noticed the young doctor's sudden change in demeanor—he quietly leaned over to ask, "Y'okay?"
"I think so," Spencer tried to answer truthfully. Rossi seemed to understand the meaning behind his words, because he simply nodded (and Spencer instinctively knew that while Rossi wasn't pursing the matter any further at this point, this conversation certainly wasn't over—and there actually was something comforting in that, in knowing that someone cared enough to make sure that he really was alright).
"We need to start looking through all incidents reports from East Africa," Emily was speaking to Mika now, who was nodding as he accepted orders. "Tag all events in which either ANAM claimed direct responsibility or there's a strong resemblance to ANAM activities."
"Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen has only been in known existence since the early 2000s," Addison Cortez pointed out. "The current heads of ANAM banded together from previous extremist groups—I had an analyst in our Northeast-Central African department pull together a history of the region before we left Langley; I can get you the information."
"Thanks," Emily gave a curt nod. While Interpol definitely had that information in its database, it would certainly cut out several hours of searching and researching and tracking down connections, if someone simply handed them a list of all former ties.
Addison moved across the room, to a box of files that she'd brought with her. After a few moments of shuffling through folders, she pulled one from the box with flourish, handing it to Emily with a smile, "Our first inter-departmental sharing of information."
"Let's hope they all go this smoothly," Emily returned the smile. Then she glanced up quickly, as if struck with an idea. "Mika, I need you to scan these documents and forward them, along with a second encrypted message including Interpol database pass-codes."
"You're not keeping this in-house?" Her partner's face skewed in confusion.
"No," she answered simply. She turned back to Hotch, "I can't think of a single person who could find anything we need faster than Penelope Garcia."
He grinned in agreement.
There were precisely nineteen and two-thirds ceiling tiles in her office, excluding spaces left out for those icky fluorescent lights.
That was the kind of day that Penelope Garcia was having—the kind that was so dead and so boring that she'd resorted to counting ceiling tiles.
The phone at her desk rang. A quick glance informed her that it wasn't a familiar number, so she politely answered, "Technical Analyst Garcia."
"I know I'm not Derek Morgan, but surely I've earned a warmer greeting than that."
The blonde let out a squeal that probably scared half the building. "Emily! Oh, my darling girl, is that you?"
"Yes, m'am." There was a smile in Emily's voice, a warmth that bubbled into an almost-laugh.
"So are you in the African wilderness with my other loves?"
"Good grief, did Reid tell everyone that he thought I was gonna be here?"
"Well, he told me, and that's all that matters." Penelope twirled one of her fuzzy pens between her fingers, "So that's a yes?"
"Yes. I'm here. And they're actually standing next to me."
"Please tell me that you called because you need a wise and powerful oracle to help you on your noble quest."
She could feel Emily grinning again, "If you're not too busy—"
"I'm never too busy for you. In fact, you called at the perfect time."
"Oh, shit, I forgot about the time difference. What time is it there?"
"A little after nine o'clock in the morning. You're seven hours ahead; I checked before the guys left. And don't worry, I'm available 24/7 for you, my love. Now, give me something to do."
"We just scanned some CIA documents —check your email, they should be—"
"Got 'em." Penelope took a moment to glance at the list. "Oh, my. Looks like some scouring is in my future."
"Scouring indeed. Look, I've got clearance codes to get you into Interpol's database—"
"Ooh, give 'em to me, baby." Penelope tossed her fuzzy pen back into the large coffee mug filled with various other writing utensils, all bedazzled and befeathered. Her fingers were already flying across the keyboard as she because cross-referencing the various groups on the CIA document.
"Mika's sending them now."
"Who's Mika?" Penelope perked up.
"My partner. You'd like him."
"Mm-hmm...and why would I like him, exactly?"
"One word: Moreid."
"Moreid…." Penelope's face skewed in confusion as she tried to solve the riddle, "Like Morgan and Reid rolled into one?"
"Such a man exists?"
"You lucky girl."
"He's in the room with you, isn't he?" Penelope guessed. "That's why we're talking in girl-code, right? Not that I mind girl-code. I don't get to use it much around here."
"Yes." Emily gave a little laugh. "And now they're all looking at me and wondering what we're talking about."
"Let 'em wonder. I like having secrets with you." Another notification popped up on her screen and Penelope gave a triumphant smile, "Got the pass-codes. Accessing as we speak...good golly miss molly, what a lovely system you guys have at Interpol."
"If you say so." Obviously Emily had never used the database—not that she would possess the background to truly appreciate its structure like Penelope did.
"Oh, I do say so. I very much say so. Tell Hotch to put this on my Christmas wish list—the things I could do with a system like this..."
"I'll see what I can do." Emily promised dryly.
"You're such a doll. Now what am I looking for, exactly?"
"Any and all attacks by any of these groups, as well as Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen—go as far back as 1994, right before the United Nations sent troops to occupy East Africa. Look for any situations involving hostages, large public areas such as sports arenas, shopping malls—"
"I get the idea," Penelope assured her.
"We're specifically looking for any event that could have been a dress rehearsal for this one."
"Copy that." The blonde gave a curt nod. "I'll call you as soon as I've got something."
"Always, lovey. And Emily?"
"I had to get creative."
"You should be one of those tabloid reporters that names celebrity couples."
"It's good to know I have a backup, just in case Interpol doesn't pan out."
Penelope grinned at her friend's deadpan wit, "Keep my boys safe—oh, and how...how is Rossi?"
There was a beat, in which Penelope was certain that Prentiss silently assessed the older man, "Fine, for now."
They were speaking in girl-code again, because David Rossi would rather die than know that they were talking about him, much less worrying over him. "Will you take extra special care of him?"
"You know I will," Emily's voice was warm, soft. "Happy hunting."
Penelope hung up, her fingers still typing as her brain went into autopilot mode—she could do this in her sleep (and probably had, actually), because after so many years, it had become ingrained into her as a muscle-memory reflex. Even on a slightly different (and way better) database, it wasn't that hard to navigate.
These were the moments when she didn't like her job—or, more correctly, she didn't like the fact that her job kept her here, so far away from her family, so unable to physically hold them and somehow protect them. She'd never felt the helplessness as acutely as she did now—even when they were across the country, they were never more than a few hours away by plane, and at least they were on the same continent.
Of course, it didn't help that she was still fidgety over the whole Replicator thing—the thought of her friends being out in the field for so long, so unprotected, frightened her more than she cared to admit.
She was glad that Emily was with them, though she hated the fact that it meant that yet another person whom she loved was in a semi-dangerous position. Emily Prentiss would have their backs, and she was one of the calmest, most level-headed people that Penelope Garcia had ever known.
It also didn't hurt that Emily also seemed to have the luckiest winning streak against death and destruction in all of recorded history, either.
Penelope gave a smug smile at that last thought.
Her girl was unstoppable.
Not that today's current villains were that hard to stop—they were all in body bags in a morgue in Nairobi...still, the point was that Emily Prentiss could and would kick international ass, with the help of her brilliant bestie Penelope (of course).
Results from her latest search began scrolling across the screen. Her perfectly-painted lips split into a wide grin. The top three results had almost all the necessary markers.
Score a point for Team Penemily.
CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.
"Does your analyst have the proper clearance for such sensitive information?" Addison Cortez asked softly, her tone more curious than judgmental.
Aaron Hotchner gave a small smile—if she only knew of Penelope Garcia's ability to circumvent propriety in any arena.
"Well, she does now," David Rossi pointed out dryly, moving across the room to study the timeline and the photos on the cork boards. He turned back to the others, "So, we've only identified twelve ANAM members so far?"
"Thirteen," George Whitting pushed another file across the table. He had the look of a man who was perpetually exhausted by life, with deep lines in his face, heavy bags under his eyes, and a hangdog expression, yet he never seemed to treat anyone with anything less than respectful politesse. He was, in some ways, like David Rossi —a man run ragged by his profession, but still passionate about his work, for it was his true calling.
"We have the names of the other two deceased victims—we are trying to match dental records," Mika added.
John Mosi Jeptoo entered the room, holding up a flashdrive, "Here we are—sorry it took so long, but with so many interviews, and so many other open cases—"
"No excuses necessary," Mika waved away the thought. "We understand, Officer Jeptoo—and we're here to help, not to add to the burden."
Jeptoo gave a grateful smile, handing over the flashdrive to Mika, who returned to his laptop. Emily moved to stand over Mika's shoulder, glancing over at Rossi and Hotch as she quickly explained, "Once we enhance the security footage as much as possible, we'll run the faces through our facial recognition software."
"Which will only help us if any of the hostage-takers had a criminal record," Whitting pointed out, almost regretfully. He was always the voice of pragmatism, but he didn't always like being so, especially when the outcome was likely a negative one. "Most of these are just boys, barely in their twenties—probably recruited in their early teens, groomed and trained for this one mission alone. They will have spent their entire existence under the radar."
"Better to try and fail, than to not try and never know," Karl Vetter remained philosophical.
"I agree," Whitting assured him. "I'm just pointing out that while we're trying, we shouldn't get our hopes up."
Addison Cortez glanced over at the board filled with the lifeless faces of the victims. She couldn't help but think that hope left this place a long time ago.
Central Shopping Center. Nairobi, Kenya.
Yonah Zamir leaned against the evidence table, giving a light sigh as she winced, her hand automatically going to the small of her back.
"You alright, Agent Zamir?" Dr. Arterton noticed her actions, taking a step closer as his face lined with concern.
"Major Zamir," she corrected, tapping the insignia on her sleeve that marked her as a Rav Seren. "And yes, I am alright."
"No need for apologies, Doctor." She forced a smile, stamping down the pain radiating from her back. "You did not know."
He gave another wobbly smile, and not for the first time, Yonah thought that this man's nervous energy certainly couldn't be good for his health—he was much too fidgety.
"It looks as if we'll clear away the rest of the rubble in Quadrant 36 by the end of the day," he changed the subject, nodding in the general direction of the eastern side of the mall. The IED blasts had taken out three major support pillars, resulting in a structural collapse—hydraulic jacks had been put in place to ensure that the rest of the building remained in-tact and to prevent further caving, but the CID team was still (very carefully) removing large chunks of concrete, metal, and various odd pieces of clothing and handbags and designer shades and gadgets from kiosks.
The major gave a curt nod of approval, resuming her inspection of the evidence tables.
"Would you—I've got some pain medicine, in my med kit—would you care for some?" Dr. Arterton followed her with a hesitant step.
She turned back to him, taking a moment to simply size him up. Then she gave a small nod, "That would be appreciated, thank you."
With another smile, he went off to grab the pills. Zamir's hands went to her back again, fingers kneading and pressing the muscles that were aching in protest—normally, she was pretty good at masking the pain, but the effects of so many hours of travel with so few hours of rest had caught up to her.
"Here we are," the doctor returned with a handful of pills and a bottled water.
"These will not make me...ah, how do you say—"
She smiled at the word, "Yes. Loopy."
"No. They'll just stop the pain."
She dutifully took the pills, though she knew that Dr. Arterton's statement wasn't entirely true—perhaps the pain would lessen, but it would never truly stop. She had taken a bullet to the spine for her country almost twenty years ago, and thanks to a handful of skilled surgeons, it hadn't affected her in the least until the birth of her second child four years ago. It had been a hard birth, much harder than her first, and it had somehow exacerbated the nerve damage. She'd lived in almost-constant pain ever since (she often told her husband: Let no one say that I never proved my loyalty to the future of my country or my lineage—I prove it again and again, every day).
"Jetlag?" Dr. Arterton guessed.
"Motherhood," she replied drolly. "The most dangerous profession of all."
He smiled again. She wondered if he was capable of any other reaction.
"Remind the excavators to be careful," she changed the subject. "There should still be two more bodies under there."
He nodded in agreement—the morgue had called earlier to say that they'd finished processing all of the dismembered bodies, and there were two bodies still completely unaccounted for. There was a medical examiner's team on stand-by, waiting for the instant that those bodies were unearthed from the rubble.
With one last smile and a slight readjustment of his black-rimmed glasses, the doctor disappeared again.
Chava Azoulay, another member of the Israeli team, rounded the corner with a plastic tub full of evidence bags.
"Yoter min esreem ush'moneh," she announced, setting the tub on the edge of the table as she began unpacking the various plastic bags filled with bits of evidence. "More from 28."
Yonah glanced over at the younger agent—with her deeply tanned skin, dark hair, and a malachite eyes, Chava looked like the child of North Africa that she truly was, and perhaps something closer to what their wandering ancestors must have looked like. In her late teens, Chava had left her native Morocco to return to the homeland, and she had used her impressive analytical skills to defend it ever since.
With a quick glance to make sure that no one else was within earshot, Chava shifted closer to her team leader, quietly asking in their native tongue, "Do you think it is him?"
"Yes." Yonah replied. "But until I know for sure, we will not say anything. There is no need to send the investigation down a rabbit trail until we know for sure that we are hunting rabbits."
Chava nodded in agreement, depositing the last of her evidence bags onto the table and easily setting the plastic tub on her hip again. "And what if we are hunting rabbits? How much time will we have wasted, waiting for the others to realize the truth?"
"If there is blood, it will be on my head," Yonah's dark eyes hardened as she rose to her full height. "It will be no concern of yours, Azoulay."
Chava instinctively took a step back. She hadn't meant to goad her superior, but rather point out a possible issue. However, she had learned a long time ago that Major Zamir didn't care for excuses, apologies, or backpedaling of any form, so she simply gave a curt nod and walked away.
With another heavy sigh, Yonah Zamir made her way to the northern entrance—some of the glass doors and windows had been blown out entirely, and the empty parking lot just beyond the broken glass made it look like a scene from some post-apocalyptic film. She stepped into the late afternoon sunshine, squinting as she watched the traffic roll by.
Agent Azoulay had a valid point. Time was of the essence and it wasn't on their side—how long could they afford to wait, silently hoping that the others made the connection?
It wasn't her job to share information. It was her job to obtain it, and to act upon it. If her hunch was correct, then she would relay the information back to her superiors at Ha-Mossad. The Kidon would take care of it from there.
Perhaps it was best if the other agencies never made the connection. After all, the Kidon was Israel's most secretive and elite counter-terrorism and assassination unit—it would be better for all involved if no one else knew that Israel was aware of who was behind this. That way, whenever this man was finally taken out like the rabid dog that he was, no one would be able to connect it back to the Kidon—or more importantly, back to the nation of Israel.
She would not hinder the investigation, nor hide or tamper with evidence—her moral compass was too strong to condone such activity, for her honor was all that she had—but she would refrain from volunteering information. There was a difference. A very small one, but still a difference.
Hopefully Agent Zoulay understood that. And if she didn't—well, as Yonah had pointed out before, the blood would be on her own head.
am not virtuous. Our sons will be, if we shed enough blood to give them the
right to be."