Out of Africa

Day's Long Journey Into Night

"It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest…The night is quiet. Let the quietness of Your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities."
~The New Zealand Prayer Book.

CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

Ahoo stepped into the empty room, taking a moment to reorient herself in the proper direction for her afternoon salat—though she was granted leniency due to travel, she still tried to perform her prayers as punctually as possible. Thankfully, being a Shia Muslim meant that she performed her five daily prayers at three distinct times, instead of the five separate salats adhered to by the Sunnis.

Current conditions also kept her from performing true ablution, or wudu, so she resorted to tayammum—taking pure dust from a small satchel in her purse and applying to her hands and face, reciting the Bismillah (In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful) and the Shahadah (There is no god but God, Mohammed is the messenger of God, and Ali is the friend of God), and hoping that Allah would see the pure intention behind her imperfect offering.

She took a moment to inwardly thank Eric Silver for quietly taking her aside and mentioning that this room wouldn't be in use for a little while, since they were still sorting out the other conference room which the Anti-Terrorism Unit had so generously relinquished to the international task force—her supervisor hadn't said anything else, hadn't mentioned why she would need somewhere quiet and private, and she had been grateful for his consideration. He was a kind man, and for that, she thanked Allah every day—not everyone was that respectful of her faith, and sometimes their ignorance and disrespect transferred to a direct grudge against her, though she'd never raised a hand to harm any human being (well, except her brother, they'd fought like cats and dogs as kids, but that was different).

She gently pulled her prayer mat from her black go-bag, rolling it out onto the floor as she turned her body and her mind towards Mecca.

Something tugged at the back of her mind.

Salat. One of the Five Pillars of Islam. True believers must pray five times daily.

If the members of Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen were truly zealots, they would have done their best not to miss prayers.

So who kept watch over the hostages while everyone was praying?

She hadn't even made it to the opening takbir (Allahu Akbar, God is the greatest), and she was already rolling up the mat, slipping it back into her bag as she simply grabbed her shoes.

Mecca would still be standing at sunset—she'd have to make up for all her missed prayers at Maghrib, the evening prayer.

"I need to see the interview transcripts," Ahoo Shir-Del breezed into the main conference room, tossing her black duffel bag into a nearby chair. She noticed that aside from George Whitting and Karl Vetter, the rest of the Canadians and Germans weren't in the room—they must have still been prepping the second conference room. Currently, it was the two Interpol agents, one CIA operative, the three BAU agents, plus Vetter and Whitting, all seated around the table, skimming over autopsy reports and hostage interview transcripts.

"Why the hell are you barefoot?" Mika asked.

"Afternoon prayer," Emily Prentiss answered before Ahoo could, her voice surprisingly soft.

"Yes," she said, taking a breath and waiting for a reaction that never came. So she continued, "They released the Muslims—that proves some religious aspect, right? All of our information and research suggests that ANAM identifies with Sunni Islam. But if they were truly followers, they would have to perform salat five times daily—there is no leniency in this, especially not for the most devoted zealots. And if I knew that I was going to die soon, I think I would make sure that I never missed a single prayer—it is the performance of salat that differentiates between nonbelievers and believers, according to the Sahih Muslim."

A brief glance around the room informed her that no one else knew what the Sahih was. She explained, "The Sahih is the second-most authentic hadith, or tradition—um, a gospel, if you will—in Sunni Islam. They would have studied this—and more importantly, they would have followed its instruction. They would not have missed prayer."

Spencer Reid was already following her line of thought, flipping through the stacks of hostage interviews taken by the CID, "Right here, one hostage says that two of the men never participated in prayer—'when the others went to pray, we were always guarded by the same two men'. The investigator asks for a description, but the hostage merely says that it was the two oldest men—'they were older, and they did not look like the others, or talk like them, either...they seemed to be the ones in charge'."

"What does that mean, exactly?" Addison Cortez crossed her arms over her chest.

"The shot-callers weren't religious," George Whitting leaned forward, his tone slow, as if he was absorbing his own words. "But the soldiers beneath them were. The younger ones were probably taken off the streets as young children, raised and indoctrinated in a misconstrued ideology—"

"Common M.O. for building terrorist organizations," Rossi agreed with a curt nod. "The sheep believe in the cause but the shepherds are just using it as an excuse—Hitler 101."

"So our focus needs to be on these two men," Hotch surmised.

"They sounded differently than the others," Ahoo pointed out, leaning against the table so that she could keep her balance as she slipped her shoes back onto her feet. "The others are all East African locals, but these two—we're looking for someone from a different background entirely. Someone who has made terror their career."

"Someone who will most likely have a record," Mika added, glancing back at his laptop, where the security footage was currently cycling through an enhancement program.

"Good call, Lion-Heart," George gave a curt nod of approval to Ahoo. She merely smiled.

"We need to call Garcia," Hotch looked over at Emily, who was seated next to him.

The brunette nodded, grabbing her cell phone off the table and handing it to him, "Use mine. International calls are covered."

He gave a small smile of thanks as he redialed the last number that Emily had called—Penelope Garcia's direct line.

A familiar voice greeted him, "Speak and be heard, my porcelain-skinned goddess."

Emily was sitting close enough to hear Penelope's voice on the other end of the line, and she clapped a hand over her mouth as she snorted.

"I'm not sure if I should be offended or flattered," Hotch admitted, though he couldn't stop himself from grinning as he glanced over at Emily, who was practically dying with glee. She was glowing, something he hadn't seen her do in a very long time, and if the price of such a sight was his professional dignity, then he didn't mind the cost (too much).

Penelope howled with laughter, "Hotch? Why are you calling from Emily's phone?"

"I had to do it," Emily confessed, holding her hands up in surrender. "I knew that she'd save my number and I knew that she'd give me a great Morgan kind of greeting the next time I called. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist."

Hotch held the phone closer to Emily, so that Garcia could better hear her friend's confession, before putting it back to his ear, "I think we are both the victim of an evil plot."

"Don't worry, sir—I will devise a perfect retribution."

"Of that I have no doubt, Garcia." Hotch grinned again. However his smile disappeared as he returned to the matter at hand, "I know you're already looking into past attacks, but I need you to send us what you can on the organizational structure of Al-Noor. We're looking for mid-to-high level men, early thirties or older, most likely not from the region, who have ties to previous attacks or connections to other organizations."

"All seemingly specific and yet very vague," she pointed out. "Maybe you've got some faces to go with that description? Or a name—first, last, nickname, something? Distinguishing characteristics?"

Hotch's gaze flicked back over to Prentiss, whose expression had become serious again, too. "Working on that now. We're enhancing video footage—as soon as we've got a clear shot of the two we're looking for, we will run it through Interpol's facial recognition software and we'll be able to give you a name."

"But until then—"

"It's a shot in the dark, Garcia, I know."

"I'm not saying I won't try, sir. I'm just saying not to hold your breath."

"Understood." Hotch hung up, handing the phone back to Emily, who was grinning again, like the cat that ate the canary.

"Highly unprofessional, Chief Prentiss," he informed her in a somber tone, though a smile danced at the corners of his eyes.

"It was, Chief Hotchner," she agreed. "And it was worth it."

Spencer Reid felt like he'd begun the first descent into the proverbial rabbit hole—sure, Hotch had a sense of humor, but he rarely let it show during a case. But now, he was smiling a bright, happy smile, and so was Emily (who also could crack the occasional joke on a case, but who'd never been quite this...bubbly). The young doctor glanced over at David Rossi, who was wearing an oddly triumphant smirk. Rossi turned, noticed his quizzical expression, gave a slight flutter of his fingers (I'll tell ya later, kid).

The ride back to headquarters had eased some of the awkward tension between Emily and Aaron, thankfully—Dave didn't know why they were acting so weirdly towards each other when they first reunited, but he'd felt it, from almost the instant that they'd arrived. Well, perhaps it wasn't that big of a mystery—or at least he hoped not. He hoped that the strange shyness was due to the fact that they could no longer hide behind the defense of rank and working relationships and that their previous excuses were gone.

Regardless of why they'd started on such a odd note, the important thing was that they seemed to be back in sync again—the way it used to be, when Emily was still part of the team, but now with something more relaxed, something more playful, and perhaps even a little...flirty?

Flirty, yes. Well, as close to being flirty as those two had ever been. Sometimes David wasn't sure if they were both just too timid and overly cautious, or simply deaf, dumb, and blind to all the signals that the other person was sending.

Attraction did that to you—even the world's best profiler could be blinded by emotion, left uncertain of his or her abilities as they scrambled for the truth. When the matter was personal, when it involved your own heart and self-doubt, the waters always got muddier. He'd felt that way with Erin—he would swear on a stack of bibles that when she was just his section chief, he could read her like a bold-print front page headline without a second of hesitation. However, when she became something more, suddenly she became a sphinx, with worlds of indecipherable languages and gestures, a room filled with shadows and smoke, and yet, she hadn't changed at all. The stakes had become higher, his involvement became personal, and suddenly, his ability to analyze was lost. You could tell when someone was attracted to someone else, but when it came to figuring out how a person felt about your own self, you suddenly came up short, thinking how could they possibly love me, how could I ever be worthy of such attention? Objective became subjective and the forest was lost in the trees.

So Aaron and Emily might still be lost in the forest. Well, Tourguide Rossi just might have to give them a little help.

There was a little ring of a notification on Mika's laptop, and he rolled his chair over to the corner of the conference room table, where he'd set the computer. "Enhancement's done. Let's see what we've got."

He turned the laptop to face the others, who all leaned forward in their seats.

"This is the camera from the eastern entrance," Mika explained. He pointed to a group of four men entering the glass doors, "Here's where the action starts—but the others must have already been inside the mall, at strategic points. The mall is two stories high; there's no way someone could take over the whole place from a single entrance."

"There's no way only eighteen men could take over this whole place at all," Whitting pointed out. By now, they had counted enough bodies and read enough statements to conclude that there were eighteen ANAM members. "And yet they did."

"As far as we know," Ahoo added. Her team mate turned to look at her, and she gave a slight shrug, "There could have been another group that took out the cameras and subdued the local security officers, and then left the scene. A tag-team effort."

"We've seen similar actions taken in other attacks," Addison Cortez agreed. "For the Madrid bombings, one cell made the bomb; another cell delivered it to the destination. It ensured that if one part of the mission was compromised, then the whole plan wasn't lost."

"Let's approach that theory whenever we have some kind of evidence to support it," Emily suggested, turning her attention back to the video. She tapped Mika's shoulder. "Pause it."

He obeyed. Emily leaned closer, "Look, in the top right corner of the screen. That store's not open yet."

She was right—the store's marquee was lit and the interior lights were on, but the metal gate at the store entrance was still down.

Karl Vetter, who'd been quiet throughout most of the day, suddenly spoke up, "That's why they struck so early in the day—the mall was just opening. Less people are there, which means less to control, but still enough to catch attention."

"Also explains why we won't see the others entering the building—at least not through the front doors," David Rossi added. "They were most likely posing as employees."

Spencer nodded in agreement, "If they were employees of various stores, they would have to be there at least an hour before the mall opened. By then, they would be aware of any complications that might arise and could alert the others who were coming in as shoppers. They probably worked at the mall for several weeks, figuring out security details, such as when officers changed shifts, where the surveillance cameras were, the easiest ways to gain access through employee-only sections of the mall—whoever orchestrated this wasn't a novice, not by a long shot."

Rossi suddenly sat back in his seat, a look of disgruntled confusion on his face. "Something's not right."

"Would you care to elaborate?" Hotch asked, after a beat of silence.

"I'm too tired to see it," the older man admitted, giving his face an aggravated scrub with his hands. "But we're missing something. I can feel it."

Emily worried her bottom lip between her teeth, darting her dark eyes back to the laptop. She had to agree—something wasn't adding up, and there wasn't enough known correct factors to show what the incorrect or unknown factor was.

She hadn't ever expected this case to be easy. But god almighty, she had hoped it wouldn't hit a brick wall this soon. She leaned forward slightly, zeroing in on the four figures frozen at the mall's entrance.

Tell me what I'm missing. Tell me your story, you little lost boys. Tell me who led you away with tales of Never Land.

Quantico, Virginia.

"Oh, Baby Girl," Derek Morgan sing-songed as he slowly opened the door to Penelope Garcia's lair. "Since we're having a slow day, I thought we could go out for a nice lunch. Maybe some—"

He stopped mid-sentence, because from the looks of things, his Baby Girl was not having a slow day at all—in fact, she seemed to be having the exact opposite.

"What in the hell?" He moved closer, trying to read some of the words zipping across the computer screens at light-speed.

"We'll have to order in, Hot Stuff," she didn't even look up from her screen. "But I'd love some sushi."

"I don't do raw fish, babydoll." He reminded her, standing over her shoulder as he glanced from one screen to the next, looking for something that he could actually understand. "Now, can you tell me what on earth you're doing? You working on some secret mission that I don't know about?"

"Secret, no. Unknown to you, also kinda no—Emily called from Nairobi; she and the boys need my help. She gave me access to the Interpol database and whoo, boy, is it amazing—like if operating systems were theme parks, this would be Six Flags in the middle of Disney's Enchanted Kingdom, and it's all managed by Willy Wonka, who gives you this special candy that makes sure you never get sick and the park never closes and there's never any lines to wait in and everyone is super-nice and you don't ever get tired or sweaty or sun-burned—"

"I think I get the picture," he lightly placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her tumbling words of excitement. He pulled up a chair, leaning in to read the CIA documents on her secondary screen, "So what's the deal? They've traced Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen back to its origins...what are they looking for?"

"The gang thinks there must have been some kind of dress rehearsal for this attack. I'm going back to see if I can find something...but it's possible that this particular M.O. is from one of the original founding groups."

"Makes sense. If a trick works for a magician in one show, he'll use it in the next."

"Yeah, except this magician has some nasty tricks up his sleeve." She made a face. Another result popped up, and she scanned the text, highlighting the pieces she needed, then tagging it for further analysis by the international task force. "They're using Interpol's facial recognition software to see if anything pops up, at which point I'll start searching even further into the dregs of humanity—"

"Oh, don't even act like you don't love the chance to help out," he interrupted smoothly, leaning back in his chair, nudging her knee with his own. "I bet you were in here counting ceiling tiles until they called."

She didn't answer, but the flicker of shocked surprise in those big Bambi eyes confirmed that he'd hit the nail on the head. He gave a smug self-satisfied grin, lacing his fingers together behind his head as he simply watched his favorite lady in action.

"So no sushi?" Penelope resumed their earlier line of discussion, her gaze still focused on her primary computer screen as she watched the latest query results scroll in.

"I'll get you sushi, if that's what you really want." He gave a heavy sigh, sounding like the ultimate martyr.

"You are a doll."

"No, I'm a real boy."

"Don't I know it." A wicked grin quirked at the corner of her mouth. He chuckled softly.

She followed a link to one of her query results, her lips moving though no sound came out as she read the report. Suddenly she pumped her fist in the air victoriously, "Score another point for the indomitable Team Penemily!"

"Team what?"

"Penemily. It's a combination of Penelope and Emily. We're a team now. It's a thing." She was adorably straight-faced and matter-of-fact.

"Sounds like a team that I would very much like to be a part of," Derek gave another mischievous grin.

"Right now it's girls-only. But I'll let you know if we need you." She swiveled in her chair, taking a moment to simply bask in the presence of her beloved dark knight. "So, you gonna get me that sushi or will I simply have to start nibbling on you instead?"

"Down, girl," he warned playfully, gently tapping the tip of her nose with his fingertip as he rose to his feet. When he reached the door, he turned around again, his expression much more somber, "I'm serious, Garcia. If you need an extra set of eyes, you call me."

"Always, my love."

He grinned again and headed out. A few seconds later, she heard his voice calling down the hall, "Go, Team Penemily!"

She laughed. Then she reached for the phone. Time for Team Penemily to spring into action.

Alex Blake was waiting for Derek in the bullpen. When she noticed that he was alone, she held up her hands in confusion, "I thought we were all going out to lunch. Where's Penelope?"

"Busy helping Hotch with the case in Nairobi."

"Oh," Blake stood a little straighter, cocking her head to the side. "Does she need any help?"

Derek couldn't help but grin at the question—it was a slow day in what seemed like an entire month of slow days (after the Replicator, the director became more wary of sending the team into the field), and everyone in the BAU was getting cabin fever.

"I think she's pulling a one-woman show right now," he informed the brunette. "But I am on a high-priority mission to obtain sushi for the lady—wanna come along?"

Alex made a face. "Not really feeling like sushi today. Can we grab some burgers on the way back?"

Derek's grin deepened, "Now you're speaking my language."

She smiled as well, grabbing her things and following him to the elevators.

"I wonder how they're doing." Alex admitted quietly. She didn't have to specify who they were, or why she was worried—Derek understood, and more importantly, he shared her concern.

"They're all tin soldiers," he replied simply, giving a small shrug. Alex looked at him in confusion, and he elaborated, "No matter what happens, they always survive. Like the fairy tale."

"Except at the end, the tin soldier melts in the fire," she reminded him.

"But the tin heart remains," he pointed out. "It melts, it shifts, it adapts—and it remains."

There was a pregnant pause as Alex Blake contemplated her partner's words. They boarded the elevators in silence, and she took a moment to simply study his profile. A small smile snuck across her lips.

"I never knew you were such a philosopher."

"Deep well and a tall glass of water," he agreed. "That's me."

"And so very, very humble."

He laughed. "I never claimed to be anything but myself."

She smiled in agreement. After another beat of contented silence, she asked, "Do you wish that you'd gone instead?"

"I don't envy what they're going through," he admitted. "But I'd rather be the one going through it, just so I could know that they were safe."

She gave a small hum of understanding. She was pretty sure that he had just given the definition of family—at least the definition of this family.

Family. She had barely been here for a year, and she already considered this team a part of her family (she'd spent years in other departments without ever even truly making friends—what was so special about these people?). It was odd. And wonderful.

Mostly wonderful.

Central Shopping Center. Nairobi, Kenya.

Jeff Masterson settled onto the curb of the concrete sidewalk outside the southern entrance with a heavy sigh—they'd finally decided to take a break, and he was glad to be out of that clingy white jumpsuit which didn't breathe at all. He'd taken a walk around the parking lot to clear his mind and cool his body, but he still wasn't ready to go back inside. The sun had long since set on Nairobi, and now the place was filled with huge sets of stadium lights with generators that hummed and whirred at an almost-unbearable decibel level (the bombs had wrecked the electrical system, so everything was being run by generators instead). It didn't help that the acoustic nature of the mall itself caused the sounds to echo and reverberate even more loudly, turning the place into a madhouse—he and Roe had been so close to the excavation crew that they'd been forced to wear earplugs.

He looked up at the night sky, to the new moon whose face was still shrouded in shadow.

Even the heavens turn their face from this place.

He gave a wry smile at his own melodramatic thoughts.

He heard the door behind him groan in protest as it opened, bits of glass getting caught underneath the metal frame and scraping against the concrete. There were footsteps, light but steady and assured—he knew it was Rowena.

She sat down beside him, elbows easily resting on her knees, "The excavation crew's saying that we'll be able to get into the collapsed section by tomorrow morning."

"Good. Maybe we can get a look at the bodies before they haul them out."

"Wouldn't count on it. That Dr. Arterton runs a tight ship. Between him and Zamir, we won't get an inch of wiggle room."

Jeff sighed in agreement, turning his face back to the heavens. Rowena mimicked his movement, her hazel eyes rising upwards as well.

She spoke again, her voice much softer, filled with nostalgia, "Regard the moon, La lune ne garde aucune rancune...she winks a feeble eye, she smiles into corner...ah, damn I forget the rest."

"Nice," he replied gently.

"It's Eliot. My favorite."

He shook his head with a wry grin. She noticed.

"What? What's that look for? You think I can't be deep enough to enjoy poetry?"

"No, I just...you always seemed to be a little more rock n' roll."

"Should I be offended or flattered by that?"

"Neither. It's just an opinion."

"You have made neutrality into an art form, Agent Masterson." She gave a slightly irritated roll of her eyes.

"Neutral is good. It's balanced."

"Some things aren't meant to be balanced," she retorted gently.

"Perhaps," he replied, his tone equally soft. She wondered if they were talking about something else now.

"I don't like it here," she admitted. He wondered if she was referring to their physical location or their emotional one.

"Me either."

There was another loud noise as the jackhammer started up again—the excavators must have reached another block of concrete that was too big to lift, so they would have to split it into smaller, more manageable pieces.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Rowena winced, instinctively leaning away from the sound, an action which brought her shoulder against his. Normally this wouldn't have even been noticeable, except that his sleeves were rolled up and she was wearing a spaghetti strap tank—bare skin collided and merged, warm and sticky from hours in unforgiving jumpsuits, and the sensation caused a white-hot moment of shock.

She pulled back quickly, unable to stop herself from muttering, "Sorry."

"No worries," he kept his tone even, nonchalant, as his mind tried not to imagine the feeling of her skin against his in a very different setting.

"I think the others are getting ready to call it a night," she recovered quickly, still wanting to kick herself (sorry, really, what the hell was she apologizing for?). "But Dr. Arterton said that he'd stay here with us, if we wanted to tackle another section."

"How kind of him." Jeff was certain that the good doctor had become yet another casualty of Rowena Lewis' spell—of course he would give up sleep to spend a few more hours in her presence, even if it was just standing to the side and watching her pick up bits of debris with a pair of tweezers. Roe had that effect on men (and a few women, too)—her partner had seen it played out dozens of times, in various forms and levels. Sometimes it worked to their advantage, got them things that they needed and into places that they normally wouldn't be able to get into on their own. Sometimes it was humorous. Sometimes it was annoying.

Roe heard the flatness in his tone, but she didn't comment. She knew what he was thinking—that she'd batted her eyes and wiggled her hips and gotten someone to dance to her tune—but in truth, Dr. Arterton was just a good person who wanted to give them as much time at the site as possible. After all, the British and the Israelis had been here for hours before them, so they were technically behind the curve. The doctor simply possessed a deep sense of fair play, and was offering them a chance to catch up. Why couldn't Jeff believe that someone would simply want to help her, without any ulterior motive?

She knew why. Her stepfather had called it the glitch (you got something in you that rewires people's brains...you make 'em glitch, make 'em think and do things they thought they'd never do—something behind your eyes like an electric short-circuit). Of course, he was just looking for an excuse—it couldn't be his fault, so it had to be hers. Maybe there had been some truth behind the words, though, because Rowena had soon learned that she could incite similar responses from others as well. Maybe it was her fault. Maybe she was just some malfunctioning livewire, jumping around, zapping unsuspecting people, disrupting lives, glitching internal systems. Maybe that's all people could see, when they looked at her—the glitch.

The night air suddenly felt colder. She rose to her feet, arms instinctively wrapping around herself as she tried to rub away the goosebumps on her arms.

"So what's the plan?" She looked down at her partner. "We staying or going?"

"I want to be in that quadrant as soon as they say it's safe," Jeff rose to his feet. "I say let's head to the hotel and get some sleep, so we can be here bright and early tomorrow morning."

"I second that motion," she gave a curt nod, turning on her heel and heading back into the shopping center.

She grabbed her overshirt from the forensic supply table, quickly pulling it over her head as she moved towards the northern entrance, where the evidence collected for the day was being loaded into vans, to be taken back to the CID labs.

Dr. Arterton spotted her and met her halfway—he had to yell to be heard over the jackhammer, "So, what have you decided?"

"We're going," she replied, raising her voice as well. He nodded, giving another smile as he gestured that he needed to return to overseeing the van loading. She waved him on and went to grab their pelican cases full of tools.

Jeff was already at their cases, grabbing the larger one and handing the smaller to her. He avoided making eye contact, and she knew that he knew he'd somehow upset her. They'd danced this dance before—if it were a slight, like this one, it would simply be ignored and smoothed over, but if it were something deeper, he would quietly apologize, she would quietly forgive him, and they'd keep going.

She didn't blame him for thinking that Dr. Arterton was acting out of impure intentions—after all, she flirted with just about every man that she met (a defensive tactic, hit them before they hit me, find control in the situation, be ahead of the game), so why should he assume that she would refrain from doing so with that one? She wasn't even really upset. It was her lot in life, she'd accepted that a long time ago. If she felt any emotion about the whole thing, it was sadness.

Roe moved ahead of her partner, slipping through the maze of people and tables to the northern entrance. Jeff followed, quietly taking in the set of her shoulders and the speed of her gait—normally, she moved quickly, smoothly, like a shark at the bottom of the ocean, but when she was tired or upset, she was slower, more disjointed. Right now, she was the latter. He wondered if it was from jetlag or from what he'd said earlier.

The problem was that he wasn't even sure how he'd upset her. He had an inkling—she hadn't changed until after his comment on Arterton's kindness (and he knew that she'd picked up on his sarcasm, that she'd inferred what his tone had implied). Usually, Roe didn't even acknowledge his little asides like that, or if she did, she merely smiled and winked and went on her merry way.

Aside from the van currently being filled with large plastic tubs of evidence, there were two more parked in the north lot, doors open and ready to take them to their hotel. Rowena headed to the closest crew van, opening the back and setting her pelican case on the floor. She stepped aside so that Jeff could load his as well.

There was a beat of silence as Rowena watched the rest of the team load the evidence van and Jeff watched her.

"Y'okay?" He finally asked, brows knitting into an expression of tender concern.

"Peachy keen," she looked back at him, flashing her brightest smile (it didn't reach her eyes, and he noticed).

He turned around, surveying the tattered landscape. The night wind blew a piece of paper across the parking lot, tumbling and twirling until it wrapped around his ankle. He stooped to pick it up, his heart stopping when he saw the crooked childish handwriting—it wasn't in English, but he could tell that it was one of the condolence letters left at the edge of the crime scene, with all the other cards and flowers and stuffed animals and candles.

"You know, no matter how long I do this job, I'll never really get used to things like this," he admitted quietly, taking a deep breath. "Never ceases to amaze me, how some people can have such evil in their hearts."

"We all have evil in our hearts," she informed him, her face set in a blank expression as her arms crossed over her chest. "It's just that some people's evil is more restless than others."

He gave a sad smile, his large thumbs smoothing over the delicate weathered paper, "I suppose you're right."

He walked towards the police cordon, to return the letter to its rightful place, and she watched him go, the good soldier in the dark night—her heart broke for him, for this Atlas whose soul was much too pure for the task that he'd been given, for the little bit of hope and innocence that had died within him today. Her entire being hollowed out, aching for nothing more than to rush after him, to take him in her arms, to hold his head over her heart so that he could remember what was good and right and true in the world, to kiss his temple and whisper soothing words in his ear until he was whole again.

But she didn't. She merely watched him go, like she had so many times before, heart in her throat and the wind at her back.

"There is darkness inside all of us, though mine is more dangerous than most. Still, we all have it—that part of our soul that is irreparably damaged by the very trials and tribulations of life. We are what we are because of it, or perhaps in spite of it. Some use it as a shield to hide behind, others as an excuse to do unconscionable things. But, truly, the darkness is simply a piece of the whole, neither good nor evil unless you make it so."
~Jenna Maclaine

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.