Out of Africa

Doors and Windows

"Thou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself."
~Robert Burton.

Nairobi, Kenya.

David Rossi stamped down another wave of irritation as he waited for the transport van to arrive at the hotel entrance. It was an hour before their scheduled rendezvous, but they were all awake and ready to go—Dr. Arterton had called earlier, informing them of the latest discovery. They had found the final hostage-taker's IED, but there hadn't been a body, or any evidence of a body at all. The harness had been intact, meaning that the IED had merely been placed behind a pillar while the man who was supposed to be wearing it had slipped away.

Aaron Hotchner and Emily Prentiss walked up, their expressions equally grim. Early mornings weren't exactly fun, but early mornings that began with the realization that you were already behind on a case that couldn't afford mistakes were even worse.

"I knew it," Rossi muttered, angrily tracing the outline of his goatee as he shook his head at his own ineptitude. "The whole death-of-a-martyr thing isn't our guy's style. We've profiled him as a terrorist for hire. I should have seen that suicide doesn't fit with that ideology—he's all about the money, he gets off on the chaos, he doesn't have a belief worth dying for. It was right there the whole time, staring me in the face."

"Dave, you're not the only one who missed it," Aaron quietly reminded him, and Emily nodded in agreement, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You said something was off last night," she pointed out. "At least you had some kind of clue. That puts you ahead of the rest of us."

"And still ten steps behind our UNSUB," the older man dourly added.

Emily turned her face away with a heavy sigh. She couldn't deny that—their missing ANAM member could be anywhere by now, with a three day head-start.

"We need to look at building schematics again," Hotch spoke up. "My guess is that the others didn't know that our missing man wasn't going to die with them—they wouldn't have given him an IED if the plan was to get him out alive."

"So we need to look at the placement of the bodies and the remaining IED, and see how he got out before the blast," Emily picked up the vein of thought. She scrunched her expression in slight frustration as she added, "We also need to look at possible exit points—it couldn't be easy, getting out without being seen by the assault team."

Rossi gave another string of curses under his breath. "Right there, the whole time."

Emily didn't try to placate him any further—she knew that he simply needed to vent, so that whenever they arrived at CID, he could be clear and focused and ready to tackle the case again. Honestly, she shared his sense of frustration. She'd felt like there were puzzle pieces missing since day one, and with each new discovery, the feeling of missing some crucial piece grew larger and deeper in her gut.

Spencer suddenly appeared, munching on a bagel from the hotel breakfast bar. He seemed to be the only one unaffected by the recent news or the early hour.

He smiled when Emily glanced over at him, his usual wide, boyish grin of simple happiness.

"What're you so chipper about?" She asked.

"Free bagels," he replied with utter honesty. He gave a small shrug as he acknowledged the absurdity of his own statement. "It's the little things."

She couldn't help but grin at his oddness—Spencer Reid was probably the only person in the world to get excited over continental breakfast.

Well, with the exception of Clyde Easter, probably. It didn't matter what it was—if it was free, he loved it.

Clyde. Shit. She needed to call him with an update on their latest discovery. That was one phone call that she certainly was not looking forward to.

She squinted, her mouth setting in a moue of reluctance as she watched the early morning traffic—it would probably be a solid ten minutes before their ride arrived, and even though it was four o'clock in the morning in London, Clyde would want to know what was going on, even if he would later complain about the interruption to his slumber.

"What is it?" Aaron's voice gently broke into her thoughts. She turned back to him, momentarily struck by the intensity in his gaze as it locked on to hers.

"Oh, nothing. I just—I need to call Clyde and tell him what's happened." She gestured in the general direction of London (or at least what she thought was the general direction of London). With a dry smile, she added, "I don't think it's going to be a very pleasant conversation."

"I suppose I should call Quantico," Aaron admitted. He shared her smile, "I don't think that will be a pleasant conversation, either."

She gave another sigh of commiseration. A beat of silence ensued as she glanced down at her phone, prolonging the inevitable.

Aaron's voice was quiet, hesitant, almost-shy, "Is…do you still like it there? Your work situation, I mean, is it…."

He trailed off, unsure of how to fully ask the questions swimming in his brain (are you happy, are they appreciative of you and all your assets, do you miss us like we miss you?).

"It's…." she took a deep breath, considering her answer before carefully continuing, "Good. I belong there, I think. I feel centered, grounded…good again, like I did before Doyle. I wasn't sure I'd ever feel that way again, so it's nice."

He gave a curt nod of approval. With a small smile, she added, "But Easter's not you."

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment," he admitted.

"It is," she assured him, the gentle edges of her voice filling with some unnamed emotion that pricked a reaction deep in Hotch's chest. "You were—I never felt like I was fighting with you. And I was never…I don't know how to put it, but our working relationship always felt much simpler. More symbiotic, I guess."

He glanced over at her again, his expression informing her that he needed further explanation. She made a helpless gesture with her hands, her mind searching for a way to clarify, "Clyde is just….he's Clyde. I don't know how else to explain him. He's always been intentionally obtuse, which can be frustrating—but at the same time, I know he's looking out for me. He can turn around and be caring and concerned and…the unpredictability is unnerving, sometimes. I never had that problem with you. I never had any problems with you, really."

Except for the fact that I was hopelessly in love with you and you didn't want anything to do with it.

She didn't voice that last bit aloud. Instead, she offered another almost-sheepish smile as she admitted, "I miss the simplicity of our working relationship."

That little smile made his heart flutter, the way it shone in the depths of her dark eyes—but he remembered his discussion with Dave the night before, and his silent promise to keep distance between them. So he simply said, "I have no doubt that you still handle it with your usual professionalism, Chief Prentiss."

She blinked as if she'd been slapped in the face. Here was his chance to admit that he'd missed her, too, but instead he'd merely placated her with some empty professional compliment, throwing her sentiments back in her face with a dismissive line and polite smile. And he'd ended it with Chief Prentiss, another knife to her tender heart that he didn't even realize.

Typical Hotchner. World's greatest profiler and world's most oblivious man.

She glanced down at her phone again, trying to hide the hurt that was certainly evident in her face. "Yes, well, I suppose I should go handle this."

He didn't miss the hint of angry sarcasm that gave sharp edges to the world handle, and he knew that she'd been insulted by his words. He knew that he'd overcorrected, that he'd been too cold, too dismissive, but god, couldn't she see that he was trying to be respectful? He was trying to keep from making a fool of himself, and instead, he'd just sounded like an ass. As if this day needed any extra frustration.

She turned and walked away, putting distance between herself and the others under the pretext of wanting privacy for her phone call—in truth, she just needed to be away from him, away from the cause of this stinging at the corners of her eyes (really, was she really about to cry like some middle-school girl who'd just been dumped by her first crush?).

Of course, David Rossi had eavesdropped on this entire exchange (Reid had wandered off to the edge of the portico and was currently installed on a little iron-wrought bench, absorbed in some book he'd brought with him). With a light sigh of his own, David quietly commented, "Please understand that I say this with all respect and affection—but Aaron, you are an idiot."

Aaron didn't comment. And that's when David realized that Aaron's obliviousness from the night before had been absolutely feigned.

Aaron knew that there was something between him and Emily. He was pretending to be unaware. But why? Dave studied the younger man with a new-found sense of curiosity—if Hotch was attracted to Emily, and he knew that Emily felt the same attraction, then what the hell was the hold up?

We aren't all like you. It was Erin's voice in his head—they'd fought over whether or not to make their relationship public (she feared repercussions from work, and he'd called her a coward, and there were some other equally regretful things said), and afterwards, she'd curled up next to him in the chaise lounge on the back deck and had quietly reminded him, Love is scary, David. It's hard to be brave when your deepest part is on the line.

He could still feel the weight of her head resting against the crook of his neck, could still remember how she'd held him so tightly, as if she'd feared that this was the moment of breaking, as if perhaps they'd finally reached an irrevocable difference. She'd been so fragile and vulnerable in that moment, and he'd suddenly realized all the mental hurdles that an absolute rule-follower like Erin Strauss had already overcome, just to be there, with him—and he'd also realized that perhaps he'd pushed her far enough out of her comfort zone, and perhaps he could deal with loving her in secret, so long as he was loving her at all.

Her words held truth—love was scary, it was unpredictable and it affected every other aspect of your life, in ways that you couldn't even begin to expect or imagine. It was always a risk, and it wasn't until all was said and done that you even knew if it was worth it.

Aaron Hotchner wasn't a gambling man. Sure, he took risks, but they were always calculated and measured and considered from every angle.

Pursuing anything with Emily Prentiss wasn't logical, David understood that. Still, as he had pointed out to Reid last night, sometimes it wasn't about logic.

Aaron could still feel his friend's gaze on him—each passing second of Dave's scrutiny only added to the irritation he felt rising in his blood. Still, he kept his tone calm as he warned, "Don't, Dave."

"Oh, I think we both know it's too late for that," the Italian returned, casually tucking his hands into his pockets.

Despite his aggravation, Hotch had to give a wry grin at the comment—it was true, David Rossi was already involved in this (whatever it was), whether or not Aaron wanted him to be.

"It's nothing," Aaron informed him.

"The fact that we're talking about it says that it's something." Dave was being infuriatingly philosophical at this point. Still, he quietly added, "I'm not going to do anything about it, Aaron—that's up to you. But don't expect me to pretend it isn't there."

Hotch gave a curt nod. It was the best he could hope for. The last thing he needed was David Rossi playing match-maker—he could deal with the occasional side comments, because Dave did have enough kindness to keep them out of earshot of Emily, removing further awkwardness to the situation.

"Just remember," Dave looked out at the traffic, rocking gently back onto his heels. "You only regret the things you didn't do."

"Emily Prentiss, I swear to god, you did this on purpose." As usual, Clyde Easter didn't even bother with a greeting.

"You know I wouldn't call if it wasn't important."

Emily could feel him shifting suddenly, as if he were sitting up, "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she assured him, a small smile creeping onto her face. This was the part that she couldn't quite explain to Hotch—underneath the snark and the odd circular mind games, Clyde held genuine concern for his agents. It was his redeeming grace.

"Then what is it?"

"We're missing an UNSUB. The excavation crew finished early this morning—we've recovered all of the bodies at the site, but we're one short. There was an abandoned IED, so we think our final ANAM member slipped away shortly before the blast."

"So you're telling me that we have a terrorist loose in Nairobi."

"Well, I doubt he's still in Nairobi—he's had plenty of time to get out, and no airports or highways were closed, because everyone assumed that all the terrorists were killed in the blast."

"Lovely." Clyde gave a disgruntled sigh, "A right royal cock-up from the start."

"There was so much damage, so much turmoil—there's no way the authorities could have expected this," she felt the need to point out the obvious, because it seemed that Easter was forgetting that hindsight was 20/20, and it was always easier to judge mistakes from a high vantage point rather than from the place of boots on the ground.

"I'm not blaming anyone, Emily," he assured her, though there was still a hint of irritation in his tone. Then he gave a little sigh, "So, what's your next move?"

"We're going back to look at schematics, see if we can figure out how he escaped. However, our biggest priority is identifying him and the rest of the ANAM members—the sooner we know who he is, the sooner we can put out an arrest bulletin."

"And what if he's not in our database?"

"He is."

"You sound very sure of yourself."

"I am sure of my team."

"And which team would that be? Mika, or your old friends from the BAU?"

For some reason, that question sent a wave of anger through her chest, "The entire joint task force—which happens to include both Mika and my former colleagues."

"I feel your temper flaring, Emily. That was always your tell, whenever you were in denial." Unable to leave well enough alone, Clyde added, "That's how you got with Doyle, towards the end."

Fuck you. Those were the words that leapt to the tip of her tongue, but she caged them behind her teeth (it would only give him more ammunition, further his point). Instead, she kept her voice calm and level as she reminded him, "And in the end, I handed you Doyle's head on a silver platter. Because I do my job. Always. Every fucking time. Don't you dare forget that."

She hung up before she could hear his reply.

With an angry sigh, she set her hands on her hips, letting the aggravation and frustration ripple over her skin for a few seconds before taking a deep, calming breath.

She shouldn't have let him get to her like that. On the other hand, he shouldn't have goaded her in the first place—this is exactly what she'd been trying to explain to Hotch earlier. Clyde crossed boundaries, pushed buttons, used personal knowledge against his own colleagues in professional settings. Aaron Hotchner would never have done such a thing.

Stop. She closed her eyes, willing her mind to discontinue its current path. Stop turning everything back to him—he's not interested, he's been as clear and as kind as he could about it, so stop making a fool of yourself.

She fought the urge to throw her phone across the parking lot, to scream at the utter frustration and futility of it all. Men. Terrorists, bosses, one-sided amours...why did all of her problems begin and end with men?

"Fuck it." She muttered. "I'm becoming a nun."

Even then, she had to chuckle at the absurdity of her own words. Running her fingers through her dark hair in one last gesture of irritation, she straightened her shoulders and returned to the entrance, where the rest of the joint task force had assembled, all waiting for the transport van.

Spencer was still seated on the bench, though Ahoo Shir-Del was with him. When he saw Emily, he stood up, his face etched with concern, "Y'Okay?"

"Some days I just want to strangle my boss," she admitted with her usual breezy nonchalance, waving away the question.

Emily spared another glance at Hotch before forcing herself to look away. He was smiling, chatting amiably with Agent Cortez, who was smiling as well, a brilliant, beautiful smile that lit up her brilliant, beautiful face.

The sound of Addison Cortez's laughter floated on the early morning air. It was light and airy and feminine and flirty, and the last adjective was what irritated Emily Prentiss.

Then Aaron Hotchner laughed, too. He laughed.

Spencer noticed, too, because Emily felt his head swiveling in Hotch's direction. He didn't say anything, but she could feel his confusion.

Emily fully turned her body away, crossing her arms over her chest to steel herself. She'd told herself that Hotch's distance had been due to the fact that he didn't believe in crossing certain lines with colleagues, but obviously, that wasn't true—apparently, he just didn't want to cross that line with her.

That realization stung more than she thought it would. For so long, she'd told herself that he held something for her, that his sense of honor and duty kept him from expressing these feelings, and now, she had the sudden sinking feeling that perhaps she'd made it all up—these past two years were nothing more than the delusions of a love-starved mind, a drowning woman desperately looking for something and someone to hold on to.

Oh, this was hell. Absolute and utter hell.

David was swapping war stories with George Whitting (he liked the guy, liked his wry humor and his directness) when he heard Aaron's laugh. He craned his neck slightly, trying to get a better glimpse at this rare occurrence.

The more interesting sight was ten feet past Aaron—Spencer was looking at Hotch as if he'd grown a second head, but Emily wasn't looking at all. And the saying goes, sometimes it's the things you don't do that give you away.

He studied the brunette—the way her lips pressed into a thin line as she looked down at the sidewalk, the way she turned away, arms crossing over her chest in a protectively self-contained gesture, the slight inward curve of her shoulders, as if she'd taken a physical hit.

Emily Prentiss was way past like. She was in love.

David had known that the attraction and affection between those two was mutual, but he hadn't realized just how deep Emily's feelings really were.

What an interesting new development.

George Whitting continued with his story, and David listened with half an ear, nodding at the appropriate times, but the wheels of his mind were already turning and spinning.

Perhaps he'd been using the wrong tack—he'd tried to push Aaron into making a move, instead of targeting Emily. He should've known that it wouldn't work. Aaron Hotchner was many things, but he certainly wasn't brash or impetuous or daring in the ways of love.

However, Emily Prentiss was a different story.

She was his gattina, his little brave one, the one more capable of taking risks and making moves. She'd always had that streak in her, a trait that bordered between fearlessness and self-destructiveness. It was one of the reasons that David had connected so easily with her—he saw himself in those tendencies.

And if Emily was Rossi in this equation, then Aaron was Erin—and David Rossi had first-hand knowledge of how to convince that personality type to finally take the plunge. He'd pass along his wisdom to Emily, and hopefully, it'd work. And technically, it wouldn't be breaking his vow to Aaron. After all, he wasn't doing anything, just offering some friendly words of advice to a former colleague whom he loved like a daughter. How could he possibly be held responsible for what she might do with said advice?

Yes, if either of those blind fools ever made any kind of attempt at pursing more, Emily Prentiss would be the one to do it.

David smiled to himself. When one door closes, a window opens.

"If one window closes, run to the next windowor break down a door."
~Brooke Shields.

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