Out of Africa


"Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul. I find myself searching the crowds for your face—I know it's an impossibility, but I cannot help myself."
~Nicholas Sparks.

CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.

The only sound in the room was the occasional turn of the page as the task force continued wading through interview transcripts, or the occasional tap on the keyboard as Mika Kimathi, George Whitting, and Karl Vetter watched and rewatched footage from the shopping center's thirty-two security cameras on their respective laptops. The four deceased victims' remains had been identified, and the medical examiner's office had pieced together sixteen additional bodies, leaving the final count of ANAM members to eighteen (though there were no leads as to their identities), when one included the two bodies that had yet to be recovered from the collapsed eastern section of the shopping center—this head count seemed consistent with everything that Mika, George, and Karl could find on the footage.

Emily's phone rang, and after a quick glance at the caller ID, she answered, "What've ya got for me, Garcia?"

"A heart full of love, my love." Judging by her friend's jovial tone, that wasn't all. "And some similar cases coming your way—I'm sending them back to Agent Kimathi, since he's the one who sent everything to me in the first place."

"That's fine."

"I've highlighted the important sections. As far as Hotch's two mystery men—that description matches about 90% of ANAM's upper level organization."

"We're still going through the footage, trying to find clean shots to send back to Interpol for facial recognition." Emily glanced over at Mika, who was busy watching footage—so far, the two oldest men hadn't appeared in any of the videos. "I'm afraid it's gonna be awhile."

"I'm here, whenever you need me."

"Thanks, Penelope."

"Oh, that reminds me—we're a thing now."

"A thing?"

"We're Penemily."

Emily burst into laughter. "Oh, that's so perfect."

"I thought so, too." There was a grin in Penelope's voice, and Emily could imagine her friend's bright and happy expression. "Since I've got some time to kill until you get some facial matches for me, I think I'm gonna start bedazzling team shirts."

"Oh, please do."

A sound from Mika's laptop grabbed Emily's attention, "Looks like we've got the files you sent. I'll talk to you soon."

"Be safe."

"I will," Emily promised before hanging up.

Addison and Spencer were already on their feet, moving to stand over Mika's shoulder as he opened the reports on his laptop.

Mika's dark brown eyes scanned the highlighted sections as he relayed the details to the rest of the team, "Alright, we've got an incident in 1997—two bombers at a soccer game. In 1999, we've got three guys taking a bus full of passengers hostage, forcing the driver to drive outside of the city of Haliza—that's the capitol of East Africa, where most of these attacks took place—where the hostages were held for six days."

"Bombs?" Whitting asked.

"No bombs." Mika Kimathi shook his head, scrolling down the list of results. "Wait, here's one that she specifically tagged—2002, a little town on the Somali-East African border...looks like a local market was taken over...the stand-off between police and the hostage-takers lasted less than 24 hours. They were taken out by snipers, but they were wearing IEDs."

"They learned," David pointed out. "The market would have been open-air, or at least with large open windows and entrances, easier for snipers to get to them—malls generally don't have windows, except at the entrances."

Hotch gave a nod of agreement, "Let's take a closer look at that incident—it seems like the most probable lead."

Mika followed the link, giving a low whistle of appreciation for all the information that popped up—newspaper clippings, police incident reports, even footage from local news stations, "Your girl's got skills."

"She most certainly does," Rossi agreed, even though from his current vantage point across the table, he had no idea what had impressed Agent Kimathi so much. Still, he knew that statement to be pure truth.

"No one claimed responsibility for the attack," Mika informed them.

"Al-Noor would have been in its infancy," George Whitting pointed out. "They wouldn't want to jeopardize their legitimacy by admitting to a failed coup."

"Social media wasn't as prevalent twelve years ago, either," Emily added. "ANAM's main source of communication is their Twitter feed."

Rossi gave an incredulous huff—just another reason to hate the new age of technology. Terrorists tweeting, where would it all end?

He felt another wave of irritation simmering beneath his skin—he still knew that they were missing something, and he hated knowing there was still an unknown factor out there.

A movement outside the conference room door grabbed his attention, and he turned to see Yonah Zamir entering the room.

"What have I missed?" She asked, breezily taking an empty chair and sitting down at the table with an expectant air.

"Has everyone left the site for the day?" Hotch turned to her, his expression filled with light confusion.

"Yes. The others went back to the hotel for rest. It has been a long day."

"But you're here." Hotch pointed out.

The corner of her mouth twisted into a wry grin, "I do not need rest."

She looked around, motioning to all the files stacked on the table, "Besides, it looks as if you could use an extra pair of eyes. How can I help?"

Mika Kimathi and George Whitting tag-teamed getting her up to speed, and Hotch was impressed with how Major Zamir simply nodded, taking in all the information without batting an eye—she didn't ask questions, and the clear calmness in her expression told him that she didn't need to (she must have possessed a strong head for detail and event construction, to be able to take in so many facts so effortlessly).

After the mini-debriefing was finished, she merely leaned forward, forearms resting on the tabletop as her fingers steepled (a body language sign of power and self-control, Reid noted—something she seemed to wear well). Her brown eyes flicked from the timeline on the dry-erase board, to the corkboards filled with photos and schematics.

"The store that was still closed, on the video," Zamir motioned to the computer screen. "Was it the only one not open yet?"

"I—um, I'm not sure," Mika admitted.

"You should find out," she suggested. "If we are looking for ANAM members who were posing as employees, we need to see where the first anomalies took place—that is the correct word, yes? Anomalies?"

"It is," David Rossi nodded. She was right—fresh eyes certainly were a help. He continued her line of thought, "If this is the only store that still isn't open, then we need to take a good look at the staff—they were probably ANAM members, already busy taking out security guards and trying to disable the cameras."

Zamir switched gears, leaning back slightly in her chair, "The morgue says that there are two bodies still missing."

Addison Cortez nodded, "We are assuming they are the final two ANAM members—we've identified the four deceased hostages, and we're still matching the remaining bodies to each of the hostage-takers."

"Matching them to what?" Yonah seemed confused.

"Matching the remains to the faces in the video," George Whitting supplied, holding up an autopsy photo of a badly charred body. "It isn't as easy as it sounds."

Hotch watched Zamir's reaction again—she didn't even bat an eye at the photo (and why should she, after so many years of witnessing war firsthand in her own country?).

"So we have...oh, I am not good with higher numbers in English—shmona'asar—the number of mujahedeen—"

"Eighteen," David offered, and she nodded.

"Yes. Eighteen, thank you," she gave a slight smile. She motioned back to the corkboard, "We know there were eighteen members now. We see four coming into the building on camera, and they do not have weapons or explosives. Yet we know that in the end, all of them had these things. Even the ones killed by police bullets were still wearing explosives. Who brought them in?"

"My guess is this man," Karl Vetter spoke up, turning his laptop so that the others could see the screen. He'd paused the video—a shadowy image of a man entering the back hallway reserved for mall employees, with a large black duffel bag over his shoulder. "The bag is too small to carry all of the weapons and explosives, but he's the first person I've seen on the video with such a large bag—surely there are more."

Yonah nodded in agreement. Then she looked around the table, "So, what can I do?"

David Rossi pushed a stack of witness reports across the table, "Welcome to the party."

Emily had been biting her nails again. Aaron supposed that he shouldn't notice that, but he had—it was getting late, his shoulder was aching, the reading was tedious, and his mind and eyes had begun to wander. And to be completely honest, the woman sitting next to him was much more fascinating than the papers in front of him.

He didn't turn and stare at her directly, but rather stretched all of his mental muscles by taking in her nuances in different ways. He stilled himself, so that he could better sense her breathing (easy, quiet, slow, she was relaxed, lost in the zone of work). He listened to the slight shifts she made as she turned the page, crossed her legs under the table, as she gave a light, almost imperceptible sigh (she was getting tired, too, bored with the mundane-yet-crucial task...how had she ever survived her job at Interpol, which couldn't be much different than this?). From the corner of his eye, he took in the lines of her posture, reading her body language (relaxed, open, bored, oblivious).

Interpol had changed her. Granted, during their last two years together, the Doyle case had turned her into a nervous, closed-off wreck, but even before that, she hadn't seemed this...transparent. She moved differently, too—less hesitation (except where he was concerned, and that was his fault, his own stupidity), less nervousness, with a smooth sense of assurance and belonging. She wore authority well.

She wears everything well. He shocked himself with his own thought. Aaron, what the hell is wrong with you? She's still your...

Your what? Your coworker, your team member, your subordinate? She's none of those things now—at least not beyond the scope of this case.

What a wonderfully frightening thought. It didn't have to mean anything...but it did.

He gave a curt shake of his head, refocusing his attention on the witness report. He had a job to do—they both did. He was tired and it was late and his internal filter wasn't working as it should. He missed Beth and he felt displaced in a strange country—Emily was comforting and familiar (yet not, not anymore, and that was an odd juxtaposition that he couldn't and didn't want to explain), and she was happy and light, and people were always attracted to that sort of thing.

Attracted. So he was admitting (even if only to himself) that he was attracted to her.

He took a moment to consider that internal statement. Well, of course he was attracted to her. She was a pretty woman—no, he corrected himself, she was beautiful (something deeper, something beyond physical looks, something that spoke to her strength and her sense of determination and her laugh and her prevailing hopefulness and her snark and her fire and her wit and her Emilyness). She was a beautiful woman, possessing so many qualities that Aaron admired and tried to possess within himself (hope, determination, mental fortitude, moral certainty), as well as a good sense of humor and a sense of balance that so few people ever really achieved between work and personal life.

And here he was, thinking about things that would disturb that balance. He'd caused enough havoc in Emily Prentiss' life—why couldn't he just leave well enough alone?

"You alright?" Emily's quiet voice gently interrupted his thoughts. She must have noticed that he was still, must have noticed that he hadn't turned the page in several minutes (had she been profiling him, too?).

"Yeah, just...tired." He admitted softly. She gave a small hum of understanding, shifting closer to him, trying to keep their conversation between the two of them (though everyone else was so engrossed in their respective tasks that it didn't seem like an issue).

"All of this will still be here tomorrow," she reminded him. "You guys must be exhausted. Go back to the hotel, get some sleep—tackle this thing with fresh eyes in the morning."

Hotch nodded at her suggestion, quietly retorting, "Just an hour or two more. We're almost done with the reports, and I'd rather have them out of the way so that we can focus on building the profile tomorrow."

She nodded as well, shifting away again. He glanced over at her again, smiling at the way she exhaled as she settled back into her chair with her report—her old tell, whenever she was tired or frustrated or overwhelmed in any form. Some things never changed.

Across the table, David Rossi sampled the cup of steaming coffee that Ahoo Shir-Del had graciously brought him (she'd disappeared for a long time, just before sunset, for prayers, but when she'd returned, she had been clear and focused, perhaps more so than the others).

"This is abysmal," David Rossi declared, setting the coffee cup back onto the table.

Yonah Zamir gave a wry smile, "It is police-station coffee, what do you expect? A perfectly made espresso?"

He had to grin at the last part—she had his number and tagged him accordingly. In a way, she reminded him of Erin—not just in the little barbs, but in her work ethic (because after spending the entire day at the mall, she had sent her team back to the hotel to rest, but she had returned to CID, to go over files and help with the profile).

"It'll do for now," Ahoo informed him, taking her seat next to him.

With an amused smile, Yonah looked at the three of them lined up at the table—the Israeli Jew, the Italian Christian, and the Persian Muslim, "We look like the beginning of a joke."

David took a beat to glance at the women seated on either side of him. Then he grinned as well. "One of those walks-into-a-bar ones?"

"Yes," Yonah gave a curt nod of approval. Ahoo smiled as well.

"Life's funny, innit?" Ahoo took a sip of her coffee, then made a face (Agent Rossi was right—it was abysmal).

"Sometimes," Yonah agreed. Her dark eyes shifted back to the photos on the corkboards (and she didn't have to add and sometimes it isn't, because they understood).

"We're still missing something," David became sober-faced again, his brow crinkling in aggravation.

"How so?" Yonah asked.

"It doesn't add up," he sighed, eyes narrowing as he took in all the information on the boards. "The two older fellas—the ones we've pegged as being the ring-leaders—they just don't fit with the rest of the M.O."

Major Zamir felt the first tremor in her gut—her old fight-or-flight reflexes kicking in, those warrior instincts that had kept her alive through many a fire storm.

There was no definite proof. No need to set the investigation down that path yet—especially when she could still be wrong, when her revelation could actually harm or hinder the case.

David Rossi stood, giving another frustrated sigh. He moved down the table, tapping Spencer Reid's shoulder, "C'mon. I need a walk and a decent cup of coffee."

"I don't really drink coffee."

"You walk, don't you?"

Spencer couldn't refute that.

"I saw a place, about a block from here," Rossi motioned down the unseen street. "Looked like it was geared specifically towards the local PD, so it should be open late."

With a slight shrug, Spencer rose to his feet and followed his team member out the door.

"If he doesn't come back, we'll know it was because of the cigars," Hotch commented dryly, not even looking up from his report.

"Have to prove it first," Rossi called over his shoulder.

"Cigars?" Mika sat up, face skewed in confusion. "What cigars?"

Emily just laughed.

The night air was still warm, though a light breeze ruffled through the city's maze of streets and buildings. Spencer took a moment to simply look around, taking in the sights and sounds of Nairobi at night (funny, how cities seemed just as unique as human beings, each with its own personality and scents and sounds and energy).

"So," David tucked his hands into his pockets. "Do you wanna tell me what happened earlier, when we went back into the conference room? You looked like you'd seen a ghost."

Spencer fought back a smile—of course, that's why Rossi had chosen him for the coffee run. He should've known.

"I guess I had, in a way," Spencer squinted at the confession, his hands slipping into his pockets as they stood side-by-side at the crosswalk, body language and posture mimicking each other's. "Agent Cortez...she did something, something that reminded me of Maeve—it was just a little thing, just the way she moved her wrist, and suddenly, I'm—I don't know. It reminded me of all the things I won't get to see again. All the things that are just in my head."

Rossi made a small hum of understanding. The light signaled that they could cross, and there was a thoughtful silence as they navigated the street.

"Zamir reminds me of Erin," David admitted quietly.

Spencer turned to look at him, "Really?"

"Not physically," the older man corrected. "Just...her personality. And not completely, just little parts. It happens. People remind you of other people. Sometimes the person they remind you of is the one you lost."

Spencer nodded (obviously, he knew this). They moved around another group of people, and he added, "I felt—I don't know, I was sad, I was angry, I was...I wasn't prepared. Normally, when I'm reminded of Maeve, I can switch it off. But when it's someone's actions—I can't turn that off, and that scares me."

"You can't control it—of course it's scary," David said easily, and his simple validation gave Spencer hope.

"That's why I was outside, when you guys came back—I felt like I had to get away," the younger man admitted. His expression skewed in confusion as he continued, "But the weird thing is that when we came back upstairs, she didn't remind me of Maeve anymore. And all night I've been...I've been watching her, trying to see if she does it again, if she moves like Maeve again and—and she doesn't. And I don't know whether I'm relieved or saddened by that."

David simply nodded in understanding as they entered the coffee shop. Their conversation went on temporary hold as he ordered two coffees (one for himself, one for Agent Shir-Del, who'd been kind enough to bring him a cup). When they were back on the street again, David resumed, "You know, Erin had a toothbrush at my house, for when she stayed over. It's still sitting by the bathroom sink. I can't bring myself to throw it away—stupidest thing, just some damn little piece of plastic, and yet, I can't do anything about it. And last week, I go to the grocery store and see a pineapple—a freaking piece of fruit, Reid—and all I can think about is her, because she loved pineapples. Woman could eat a whole pineapple every day, on anything. And here I am, standing in the middle of the produce aisle, getting teary-eyed over a piece of prickly fruit."

Even now, Spencer could hear the tears underneath Rossi's amused tone. They stopped at the crosswalk again, and the older man gave a heavy sigh, "Grief's a weird thing, kid. You never know how it's gonna hit, or when it's gonna spring up."

"So, what do you do?" Spencer asked, voice filled with trepidation (because he knew the answer, long before Rossi gave it).

"You survive." Rossi answered simply. "You push through, you do whatever you have to, and you survive."

"But how?"

He gave a slight shrug. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he admitted, "I bought the pineapple. I hate 'em, but I bought one anyways. And it's sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting, like she's just gonna waltz in and start chopping it up, like she would on any other day. Maybe that makes me crazy. But it made me feel better, and maybe that's more important than feeling sane."

Spencer contemplated his friend's words as they entered the CID again. Once they boarded the elevator, he quietly confessed, "All my life, I've been terrified of going insane. And after everything—my mom, Tobias Hankel, the painkillers, everything else this job has thrown at me—it just seems so...unfair, that I've stayed sane through all of that, just to lose it over the way someone moves their wrist."

"You haven't lost anything," David reminded him. "And all insanity isn't bad."

"You didn't have to watch your mother go insane, time and again," the younger man retorted gently, looking down at his feet.

David couldn't refute that statement—still, he wasn't going to let Spencer win (not this argument, not with so much at stake, not with this young man's sense of self and balance on the line). So he decided to speak the doctor's language, "The word insane sometimes refers to something extreme or absurd, not just mental health, correct?"

"Correct," Spencer replied slowly, not sure where this was going.

"So...illogical, right?"

"Technically, yes."

"Do you think I'm crazy?" David turned to look at him, dark eyes zeroing in on Spencer's.

"Well, sometimes you can get a little—"

"No, as a whole, do you think I'm certifiably insane?"

"Of course not."

"But would you also agree that the idea of me being with Chief Strauss is absurd?"

Spencer stopped for a moment—he suddenly understood what Rossi was getting at. Still, he followed along, "A little, at least at first. But then..."

"But then what? It just made sense, right?"


The elevator doors opened at their destination, but Rossi ignored it. The doors closed again and they kept riding the elevator.

"And you would admit that crying over a freaking pineapple is a little bit illogical, no?"

"Well, given the circumstances—"

"Exactly," Rossi punctuated the word with a triumphant point of his finger. "Given the circumstances, Doctor, even what seems illogical or absurd isn't necessarily insane—and if it is, then it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Grief isn't logical, but then again, neither is love."

Spencer was thoughtful. David smiled, knowing he'd won (but it wasn't about winning or being right, it was about bringing his friend back to safety, back to some sense of surety).

"It's OK to be reminded of Maeve," his tone became gentle again as he tapped the button for the correct floor. "Anger is normal, sadness is normal, everything is normal because when it comes to grief, nothing is normal."

"That actually makes sense," Spencer admitted, his brow wrinkling in slight befuddlement (sometimes Rossi was like the caterpillar from Wonderland—amidst the riddles and juxtaposed phrases, utter clarity abounded, in the strangest of ways).

"Trust me, I learned it the hard way," Rossi confided quietly.

"I suppose so." The younger man's voice was etched with sorrow and compassion. Then, with a sad smile, he confessed, "I have to admit, at the beginning of this trip, I thought I would finally get the chance to help you deal with losing Strauss—you know, after all the things you've done for me."

"You did," Rossi assured him. "I haven't told anyone else about the pineapple. I thought it would make me sound crazy—you made me realize that survival isn't always logical, but it isn't a bad thing, either."

The elevator doors opened again, and they were back on the Anti-Terrorism Unit floor. Rossi got out, resuming his usual brusque air of seriousness. With a deepening smile, Spencer followed him.

Perhaps his first prediction had been right—he would be able to help his friend heal. He just hadn't realized that in the midst of helping, he'd heal himself as well.

He doubled his pace, catching up with the older man.

"By the way," Rossi didn't even glance at him as they made their way down the hall. "I'm still going to push you out of the escape hatch as soon as we leave Nairobi."

"You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."
~Anne Lamott

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