Reverse Falling
by Wistful

5:59 p.m.

Clayton Webb took a single breath, and let it out, wondering how he'd gotten to this point when only this morning, he'd been drinking coffee happily, and contemplating what the day would bring.

Fire engines had their alarms screaming, bellowing into the air as yet more of them rushed toward the scene. People scurried around him, faces caked with soot, eyes glazed with horror and determination. There was crying. Tears tracking down unfamiliar cheeks left him with the strange sense of guilt he always tried to deny.

He hadn't been able to stop this. He'd known, and yet, been able to do nothing. There was no way to take this back or make it right. He couldn't dust over it with a carefully planned cover story, and nothing would take the look off of Mac's face as she stood frozen next to him, staring at the flames.

The darkening evening melted with fire, black smoke rising from the building, flames licking out at the sky with snake-like tongues. Heat bled around them, reddening their skin, but they couldn't step away, and no one moved them.

A fireman limped toward them, face drawn, hat off, and Webb knew. Slowly, with surprising tenacity, Webb took Mac's hand into his as the man relayed the news. The fire was out of control. They might be able to contain it, but they couldn't send any more men inside.

No survivors.

Mac's fingers clenched and released several times, her mouth opening without a sound as if she had too much smoke in her lungs to speak. The firelight danced across the angles of her shocked face, and she was more beautiful than he'd ever seen her. It was horrible to want her so much at a moment like this, to want her as more than a fantasy to casually idle over when it was late and he couldn't sleep.

`Comfort her,' a dusty place inside him demanded. Webb found his grip on her tightening, and he reeled her into his arms. She came into his embrace like a living doll, stiff bones and limp muscles. Her cheek pressed against his shoulder. The scent of smoke lingered in her hair.

"Don't look, Sarah."

His heart squeezed, twisting sharply.

Mac dragged her gaze away from the fire, and shut her eyes.

Webb couldn't even imagine tomorrow. But, hidden by the noise and fury of the building being eaten, somewhere a clock struck a new hour.


4:36 p.m.

Outside the JAG office, it was a pandemonium of flak jackets and heavy guns.

Although orders were shouted in every direction, there wasn't a single calm person in sight. They were a nest of insects eating out its own center, and Webb could see the chaos erupting before his eyes with a numb sort of shock. They were trained to deal with this. Why wasn't anyone dealing with this?

There was no noise from inside the building. Each door had been barricaded. There hadn't been any demands for money, a prisoner exchange, or even any press. Someone had simply called out that if anyone tried to get in, they'd blow a hole in this city so wide, North America would be dragged into it.

Adrenaline pumped through Webb's veins as he stood in front of the barricade of SWAT vehicles and men in blue, with red, sweating faces. His heart pounded madly; an ache of fear permeating its way from his stomach to his mouth, leaving a bad taste.

You can't negotiate with someone who doesn't want anything.

So. Find out what they want.

As Webb was about to make another call, a face in the crowd caught his eyes. Mac. Relief swept over him. She wasn't inside. He turned in the direction he had seen her, searching for her among the throng of uniforms and flashing lights.

He spotted Mac trying to get through the barricade in front the building, but an older man, with a chest like a barrel, kept pushing her away, saying something that Webb couldn't hear. Fear stretched Mac's face into pale lines. She pulled her arm back, about to punch her way through the blockade the man made, when Webb caught her fist, telling the officer that it was all right.

It wasn't. She knew it. He knew it. Neither said it.

Mac's nails dug into his forearm as he dragged her over to where he had been and told her what was going on.

Terrorists had taken over JAG. They'd only released one prisoner, and that had been Harriet. She'd come running out, screaming and crying, with blood streaked over her uniform. Hysterical, she'd said that they'd started killing people and that she was the `two-way radio'.

It was a fear tactic, plain and simple. The terrorists had let everyone know just what was going on inside through Harriet, to motivate panic. And they'd sent out a woman to inspire more pity for the captives inside, because there was just something more harrowing about seeing a woman bleeding. Terrorists 101, Webb had thought wryly, at the time.

"I have to go back inside," Harriet had yelled. "They said I have to go back inside!" But they wouldn't let her go back in, couldn't. Harriet's face white-washed, and then her knees gave out, as if someone had turned the lights off inside her head.

Webb finished telling Mac, and she shook her head, shaken. "Where's Harm?"

He didn't answer.

A silence swept over the crowd of people, as if they knew what was about to happen. A sharp shooter, who had been on top of a building down the street, slowly lifted his face away from the weapon in his hands. Mac stood still, looking toward the building, eyes disturbingly wide.

"I went to get Chinese," she whispered, face blank.

It only took a second for the world to explode. Much later, Webb would consider the irony that Rome wasn't built in a day, but a life could be torn apart in less than a moment's time.

Reacting on instinct, Webb wrapped his arms tightly around her, dragging both of their bodies to the ground as the building erupted before them. Pain shot up his arm when they landed with her beneath him, his arm cushioning her fall but absorbing the impact from the hard pavement. Heat swept over them, and all he could see was her eyes staring blindly past his shoulder, at the yellowing sky.


2:24 p.m.

Traffic was horrible.

Webb wished for one of those elite escorts, with the flags and police men, because damn it, didn't they see he was trying to save lives? Obviously not. He leaned on his horn, honking loudly. It wouldn't make a dent in the traffic, but the sound vibrated in his ears, in the back of his throat, and it felt like he was doing something.

He had to do something.

The cell phone remained glued to his ears as he relayed all the information he had to the National Security Advisor. He would be spreading the warning to all the proper individuals, safe-guarding important sites that could be a possible target, alerting the President, organizing Home Security. They couldn't take any chances of mass panic on this, so they wouldn't warn the public, but they'd make sure buildings were cleared out and that political figures were safe.

Webb's lips turned down in frustration as the phone continued to ring in his ear. He'd been trying to call JAG for assistance for the past twenty-two minutes. As much as their persistence in believing the truth was the only answer, that there could only be black and white in a world made up of grays irritated him, he could use a few extra hands on this, before it was taken out of his control by people beyond him. No one in the office had picked up.

Twenty-three minutes.

Why weren't they picking up?

The phone rang again.

A chill moved across his heart.

The terrorists would pick the place least likely to be suspected as a target, but one that would still matter. Who would consider a simple lawyer's office as a terrorists' target? JAG had gotten a great deal more publicity lately than it was used to. Besides the high profile cases they'd dealt with, they had also involved themselves in overseas controversy.

Oh, God.

Webb pressed the `end' button on his cell phone and quickly began a new call, dialing the number to the Director of the CIA.

"I know where the attack is going to be."


12:01 p.m

"Damn it!" Webb hissed, slamming down the phone.

His chair squeaked in protest as he shoved back from his desk, the wheels rolling swiftly across the plastic mat beneath it. Webb stood, frustrated beyond belief at his inability to figure out this puzzle, and stalked over to the bathroom attached to his office. When he turned the light on, there was a low, buzzing noise, as the electricity fought to return to full power. Above him, the florescent bulbs blinked quickly, like a man trying to get something out of his eyes.

Next to the sink, Webb rolled up his shirt sleeves and turned the water on. His eyes glared back at him from the mirror, the circles beneath his eyes darkly evident. He craved another coffee. Or two. The water grew hot, turning his skin red as he bent down and splashed it against his face.

Wake up!

"It's not only my job at risk this time," he whispered.

Water circled down the drain, noisy in the pipes. Webb reached for the towel with his initials sewn into the cloth that hung beside the hand cleanser, and dabbed at his cheeks, blotting away the wetness. He turned off the water, the light, left the bathroom, and shut the door.

The mundane was usually comforting, but not today.

Outside his office, hundreds of people were at work on the same case he was right now. Pressure mounted quickly, and soon, something would give. The idea that it would be him spurred him on.

Think, Webb. Think.

On his desk, a stack of folders waited for his return. A to Z, an alphabet of dates, times, weapons, and dealers. Every probable situation must be covered in his report. One possible situation was that there would be an attack today, by a group of terrorists vaguely connected to Bin Laden. That was only one eventuality, but they needed to prepare for it anyhow.

And he had this hunch...

Someone would die today.

It might be him.


6:00 a.m

Clayton Webb tucked his tie neatly against his chest, smoothing it flat. The clock ticked on the wall; a smaller version clucked away on his wrist, and he glanced at it every now and then, holding tightly to the minutes as they passed. No one could control time, but keeping a constant watch of it gave him the impression that he could at least contain it.

The coffee maker gurgled and burped, brown liquid spitting out.

Webb inspected his appearance in the mirror hanging on the closet door, adjusted his tie one more time, and then relaxed. The scent of coffee overwhelmed him as he re-entered the kitchen and approached the counter, pulling a mug out of the cabinet and holding it in quiet anticipation of his first caffeine boost of the day.

The coffee maker spat one more time into the pot, and then gave a quiet sigh as it winded down.

Contentedly, Webb poured coffee into his mug, ignoring the hiss as a few drops of coffee fell out of the maker onto the burner. He liked his coffee black. Carefully, he took a seat at his kitchen table, once again tucking his tie against his chest so that he wouldn't get coffee on it if the cup dripped at all.

He opened up the newspaper, spreading it across the table. His elbow jarred the edge, and the hot coffee lapped at the rim of the mug, one brown drop spilling over the side. It trailed down the black ceramic like a tear. Webb glanced at it with a frown before returning to the newspaper.

He wondered what the day would bring.


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