Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah, DPB, blah, blah, blah.
Author's note: Written for Gail for Fan the Vote :-) Follows "Fire" and "Earth", but can also stand alone. Beta credits go to Gail and Jerie. Thanks, ladies!
Timeline: Beginning of season 9
From across the hotel bar, I watch Webb. He sits hunched over his drink at the very end of the bar. He idly picks at the bowl of peanuts with his left hand, casually stirs his drink with his right. He has chosen to sit at the very end of the bar, where the shadows seem somehow darker. Occasionally, Webb looks up, and once, he signals to the bartender. There is a brief conversation and a few seconds later, the bartender slams a martini on the mahogany counter. Webb twists in his chair and if he sees me, sitting at the opposite end of the bar, he gives no indication. Instead, he turns, very slowly, his lips turning up into a half-smile. A woman, with dark hair and eyes, nods at him. Webb takes the martini and walks in her direction.
I turn back to my own drink -- beer, Stella Artois.
"Another one?" the bartender asks in heavily accented English. He's a kid, in his early twenties, a flop of black hair obscuring his forehead.
I shake my head. "No."
"First time in Singapore?"
"You get out, see the city?"
Another shake of the head. "No time."
"Ah. Quick visit then."
"You could say that." I turn to look in Webb's direction. He and his new lady friend are deep in conversation, leaning in so closely, their heads are nearly touching. I have a brief flashback to Sydney, when on each of several occasions, Bud and I saw Webb acting very friendly to a beautiful woman. I remember the suspicion I felt each time we saw Webb with a 'lady friend' -- suspicion tempered with envy.
"Friend of yours?" the bartender asks, obviously noting my interest in Webb.
"Ah." The bartender busies himself wiping at the counter. I note that the mahogany wood is already burnished to a shine, and the lights reflect back in the richly textured grain. "You come to Singapore today?"
"Yes." I rub my eyes. "Just a few hours ago."
"You could say that."
The bartender nods sagely. "Top secret?"
I suppress the instinct to laugh, but the kid is oddly prescient. "You could say that too."
He leans forward. "Once, I did an errand for that man." He points in Webb's direction. "He comes here often. He says The Meridian is his favorite hotel." He beams. "I remember all of his drinks, his favorite drinks. That woman, she is his special friend."
I nearly choke on my beer. "'Special' friend?"
"She is always here when he comes and he always buys her a martini," the bartender confides.
"Lucky him." Idly I touch the top button on my shirt.
"Perhaps you too will meet someone here," the bartender says, his eyes lightening. "I can help."
"No, no, thanks." I shake my head. "I've got all the women I need in my life."
"No." The word comes out a little more sharply than I intend. "Nothing like that." I look at the kid. "What's your name?"
I extend my hand. "Nice to meet you."
"How long are you in Singapore?"
I resist the urge to look back at Webb. Originally, my mission had called for me to fly Webb here and then turn around and head back to DC. Of course, mid-flight, plans had changed as the pilot originally scheduled to bring Webb back to the US had gone missing. The logical outcome was that I'd stay for the twenty-four hours -- or however long it took -- for Webb to meet his contact and then fly him back. I'd agreed readily, but that was before I realized Webb was here to meet his 'special' friend, and not an Al-Qaeda informant as I'd been told.
"Not long," I tell Kenny. I push my empty beer mug back. "Put it on my tab." I stalk out of the hotel bar and head towards the elevator. My room is on the eighteenth floor, Webb is on the twentieth. However, I pass my floor and head to the terrace. Outside, the night air is cool and brisk, and the sky above clear, a full moon hanging against the darkness. Perfect flying weather, I muse, as I lean against the railing, taking in the lights and sounds of Singapore. There is no one else up here and for that small luxury, I'm grateful. After nearly seventeen hours with only Webb for company, I find silence to be a welcome companion. However, I'm disappointed to discover I'm not alone. Two men stand at the far corner of the terrace, talking in low voices. One of them flicks a spark of ash from his cigarette, the other leans forward, his weight on his forearms as he contemplates the view. I turn my back to them, intent on my own contemplation.
"I thought I'd find you here."
I turn at the sound of Webb's voice. He stands in the door, a dark silhouette against the backdrop of light streaming from the open door. After a beat, he shuts the door and joins me at the railing.
"Done with your lady friend?" I ask.
"If that's her name."
"It's Aisha today."
"Kenny the bartender recognized you," I tell him. Webb glances at me sideways and then leans a little over the railing. Twenty-two stories below us, the cars look like Matchbox toys and people are barely discernable.
"I suppose that was inevitable," Webb says finally in his irritatingly calm voice.
"And you don't think that's a problem?"
Webb shrugs. "I know what I'm doing."
"How about you let *me* in on what *we're* doing?" I jab a finger in his direction. "If this is some kind of sordid affair--"
The amusement in Webb's voice is hard to miss. I scowl in his direction. "You
underestimate me, Rabb.
Aisha *is* an informant, one of our very best."
"A woman in Al-Qaeda? I find that hard to believe."
"She's an informant, Rabb. She's not personally involved."
"Am I what?" Webb's gaze is clear.
"It's always personal, Rabb." He takes a deep breath. "But not in the way you mean and you need to be able to draw that distinction."
"So your meeting is over? Or do you plan to continue it in your room?"
"So you really think that little of me."
"You ask me to fly you halfway around the world and you expect me to believe your informant, a beautiful woman, is telling you about what Al-Qaeda is plotting?" I shake my head, grateful for the cool air soothing my feverish skin.
"I don't expect you to understand."
"Oh *please*." I stalk back and forth in front of Webb. "You owe me the truth."
"I owe you nothing. You have a job and so do I." Webb remains infuriatingly calm. "And you ought to trust me a little more, Rabb, when I tell you I know what I'm doing." He clutches the railing tightly and I realize suddenly he's trying to hide the tremors in his hands. I consider the situation, consider the man, and then nod slowly.
"I'm going to bed," I tell him. And then I turn my back and head towards the stairs, leaving Webb to recover himself without having to worry about me witnessing his weakness once again.
In the atrium of my floor, I see Aisha. She's dressed in a black dress, one that hugs every curve of her body. Her lips are a brilliant slash of red, her eyes are darkly outlined in a blue-black. Her long fingers are topped off with red nails. Her hair, smooth and sleek, is a dark cap against her skull. She smiles at me, a hint of teeth between those lips.
"Hello." She practically purrs the word out to me. She leans against the wall, still smiling.
"You were in the hotel bar earlier," she says.
"I noticed you," Aisha says. Her voice is light, delicately accented. "You are the type of man women notice."
I just smile back in what I hope is a polite but distant way.
"Perhaps you would like to buy me a drink," Aisha says.
"But I would like to get to know you better." She edges closer to me. Her breath is warm against my cheek, her perfume is musky. She puts her hand on my forearm. "Just one drink."
"I thought you already had a friend. You weren't alone at the bar."
"Ah. Him." I take a perverse pleasure in the reduction of Clayton Webb to a pronoun. "Yes." She narrows her eyes. "He is gone." She puts a little more pressure on my arm. "Come." She brushes up against me. "It will be fun."
I consider. In that split moment of decision, Aisha cups her hands on my jaw, pulling my face down towards hers. Her lips are light against mine and her tongue gently brushes against my teeth. I pull away.
"I apologize," Aisha says. "I could not resist."
"I can't," I tell her. "Not tonight."
She pouts, but I turn away. The hotel key is already in my hand. As I head to my room, I'm aware of Aisha's footsteps behind me. I turn around.
"I told you," I tell her in annoyance, "I'm not interested."
"It wasn't a question, Mr. Rabb," Aisha says smoothly.
"You know my name."
"Of course. I always do my homework." She smiles. "Open the door, Mr. Rabb. We need to talk."
I shake my head. "Not until you tell me who you are."
"Mr. Webb didn't tell you?"
"He told me. I don't believe him."
Aisha lets out a low, throat laugh. "You're a smart man then, Mr. Rabb." She leans her head against the door jamb. "Open the door. Now."
She shrugs. "Your choice, Mr. Rabb." She makes a hand gesture and I turn around and see the two men from the terrace standing directly behind me. Both have guns -- Walther PPKs -- trained on me. Aisha's hand is feather-light on my forearm as she leans forward to whisper in my ear, "Welcome to Singapore, Mr. Rabb."
With Aisha on my arm, the two men in back of us, we make our way down into the hotel lobby, past the concierge and through the front door. A black limo pulls up immediately and the chauffeur opens the door. His hand is firm on my back as he pushes me in. I narrowly miss bumping my head on the car frame. Aisha slides in next to me, her skirt riding up on her thighs as she puts her hand -- possessively -- on my knee. The two men sit across from us, neither smiling.
"You want to tell me what this is all about?" I ask.
"Easy. We want something and you are the best way to get it," Aisha says. She leans in my direction just slightly so that the v-neck of her dress shifts to show some cleavage. One of the men frowns, but Aisha makes no notice. Instead, she presses her lips lightly against my cheek. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, of course," she says. "And for any bruising you may have incurred when my men --" she nods in their direction "-- disarmed you. And of course, I must apologize in advance if I'm forced to kill you."
"Kill me?" I ask.
"If your government does not comply with my request."
"That is none of your concern."
"If I'm going to die, I think it's pretty damn well my concern," I answer. I shift position, knocking her hand off my knee. I turn to look out the window, but the driver is weaving in and out of traffic, moving so quickly, that I find it difficult to get a good bearing on our location.
Aisha hangs on to the door handle as the driver takes a tight corner. "It's only that you have something we want, that we *need*."
"You want to be more specific on who 'we' is?"
"Aisha." One of the men leans forward.
She looks annoyed. "I know what I'm doing."
"Do not be so careless," he says.
He leans forward, grips both of her knees tightly in his big hands. His jacket falls open, and once again, I'm treated to a nice view of the Walther PPK. For a moment, I fantasize about grabbing the gun, training it on them, but realize that it'll be a stalemate as 'John' -- I have no doubt it's an alias in much the same way 'Aisha' is -- has his friend sitting right next to me. I settle back against the seat, doing my best to appear nonchalant. After all, it's not the first time a gun's been waved in my face and I seriously doubt it'll be the last.
The car comes to a stop in front of a house on a tree-lined street. The street light is conveniently out. John roughly grabs me by one elbow and hauls me out of the car. His goon friend grabs my other arm. Aisha leads the way, cutting across the finely manicured lawn in her strappy sandals. We enter the house through a side door, leading into a subterranean basement. They push me down into a chair, binding my arms and legs to it with duct tape.
The basement is empty except for the chair I'm bound to and a desk in the far corner. From a closet, John hauls out a video camera. Aisha stands off to the side, her arms crossed against her chest, the red of her nails a sharp splash of color against her black dress.
I test my bindings in what I hope is a casual way, but John and his friend are so busy setting up the video camera, they don't notice, but I see Aisha watching me.
"You want to tell me what this is all about?" I ask.
"It's very simple,
Mr. Rabb," Aisha says. She takes a step or two in my direction. "You
know Mr. Webb. I know Mr. Webb. I
think we should be able to make some kind of arrangement."
"My brother is in Guantanamo," she says. "I want him out. And I have a list of others I desire freed as well."
"The US government won't give in to your demands," I tell her flatly.
"Then you will die. Like the other."
"The other?" The blood rushes to my head, and there's suddenly a loud buzzing in my ears. I see that John has finished setting up the camera tripod and is now putting a tape into the machine.
"We have pictures," Aisha says casually. "If you are interested."
I flinch as she shows me several 3 x 5 photos of a man, lying face down, in a pool of his own blood. He has been shot several times, and dark maroon stains his white dress shirt.
"Who is this?" I ask, trying to keep my voice to an even pitch.
"You might call him a friend of Webb." Aisha's lips turned up slightly at the corner. "A pilot, like yourself."
My stomach twisted. So this was the man who had been scheduled to meet Webb at the airport, the man who had never shown, and the reason why I had agreed to stay in Singapore to see Webb's mission through. I licked my lips, refusing to give Aisha the pleasure of seeing my horror.
"The government has seventy-two hours to meet our demands. Once we have confirmation of the prisoners' release, we will let you go," Aisha says, nodding in the direction of the video camera. "We will take you back to the hotel."
"I can identify you," I tell her. "I can identify this place."
Aisha smiles beatifically, leans in towards me. "Yes, perhaps, but you're also making a big assumption, Mr. Rabb."
"An assumption that I'm getting out of here alive?" I shake my head. "My government doesn't make deals with terrorists, Aisha, and I certainly wouldn't want them to do so to save *my* life."
"Then you must be prepared to die."
"I don't think anyone's ever prepared," I answer softly, "but in this case..."
Aisha draws back from me. "You have no fear."
I laugh briefly. "I wouldn't say that."
We watch as John pulls on a black face mask and stands in front of the video camera as his goon friend records.
"We have as captive Harmon Rabb of the CIA. We will execute Harmon Rabb in seventy two hours if certain people are not released from their illegal place of captivity in Guantanamo Bay. The list of individuals will be delivered to the US Embassy with this videotape." Then John points in my direction. "See Harmon Rabb!" His voice rises to a crescendo. "He will live or die by the actions of the United States government." A beat and then John nods, a signal to turn off the video camera. Aisha drags her index finger across the curve of my jaw.
"Sleep well, Mr. Rabb," she says, her breath very warm against my skin. And with that, she turns off the single light. In the darkness, I can barely make out the forms of the shadowy trio as they exit. Alone, once again, I test my bonds and under my breath, curse Clayton Webb.
I doze fitfully through the long hours, wakening only as the first light of morning creeps through the sole window in the basement. I'm aware of some movement upstairs, heavy footsteps and then a clatter of dishes. Breakfast time, I think. I strain against the duct tape binding me to the chair once again, but Aisha's friends have done their job well. It's not in my nature to wait and do nothing. Mac has always criticized my impulsive nature, my desire to *act*, regardless of consequence. I once jokingly responded to her nagging, saying, "It's part of my charm, Mac."
She'd shot me a look of tense annoyance, shook her head, and answered, "Well, count on that charm to get you killed."
Now, I tip my head back. My muscles are starting to ache from being kept in one position for so long. I can't help but wonder what Mac is doing now, Sturgis, Bud, Harriet, the Admiral, Coates -- the self-absorbed part of me wonders if they are wondering about me in quite the same way, if they know what's happened to me. And it occurs to me that I owe them all apologies, that I need their forgiveness to varying degrees for the way I treated them all after Paraguay. But I can't help but think that *they* don't understand, even *Mac*, whom I gave everything up for, doesn't quite grasp the *why*. So much for actions speaking louder than words. Now, I understand all too well that it's too late, that I've lost Mac and to Clayton Webb of all people.
Not for the first time since Aisha and her friends dragged me down here, I wonder if this is all a nefarious plot on Webb's part to get me killed.
I'm still deep in thought when Aisha comes down the stairs, holding a tray in her hands.
"Breakfast," she says, switching on the light. I blink, trying to adjust to the sudden brightness. Today, Aisha's wearing a long skirt and a long-sleeved blouse, and a cream-colored scarf is draped around her head. "Your embassy has not responded, Mr. Rabb."
"Don't count on it," I say.
"You are a valuable man. A Navy pilot, a JAG lawyer, a CIA agent..." her eyes narrow as she eyes me contemplatively. "You are no truck driver, Mr. Rabb. I'm sure there must be some concern over what you know, what you can tell us."
"I'm no longer in the Navy," I say easily. "If you did your homework, like it sounds like you did, then you would know this."
She crouches on the floor next to me. "I do not want to kill you, Mr. Rabb."
I glance at her sideways. "I don't want you to kill me either."
"Will you make a videotape? Will you ask your government?" Her voice is soft, almost sad. "I need my brother, Mr. Rabb. He is not who they say he is."
"What do they say he is?"
"They say he is Al-Qaeda."
She lifts her head to look directly at me. "My brother is a man of strong moral character and of action. When he felt threatened, he felt compelled to act." Her lips turn up slightly. "This must be something you understand, yes?"
"I understand fighting for what you believe in. I do not believe in the massacre of innocents."
"We are innocents too. American tyranny has turned us into something less than who we were meant to be."
"And so you strike back?"
"We fight for what is rightfully ours, by the grace of God. You should admire that, not scorn it."
"That is your opinion," I tell her firmly.
Her eyes are wide, black, and luminous. She grasps my knee tightly. "I do not want to kill you," she says clearly, "but if the deadline passes without answer, then I must and I will."
"Just like the other CIA agent?"
Aisha lifts her chin defiantly. "Yes."
I contemplate. Her gaze on me is unwavering, unflinching, and I only hope I can look back at her with the same strength. We stay like that for a few moments and then I hear footsteps on the stairs. It's John.
"Aisha!" he says sharply.
She rises quickly and follows him up the stairs. I take a deep breath. The air down here is foul, musty, mildewed. There must be a water leak somewhere, I think. And then I laugh briefly. The things you think of at times like this.
When Aisha returns, she expresses surprise that I have not eaten my breakfast. I note she didn't remove my bindings. She contemplates, shifting from foot to foot.
"I cannot untie you," she says. "I will feed you."
"You must eat."
"You're going to kill me in seventy-two hours anyway."
"Your embassy may speak to us."
"They won't." My voice is confident, strong. I offer her a half-smile. "We don't deal with terrorists."
She visibly recoils at the word. "We are not terrorists. We simply have no other way to fight back."
"It's the same thing. You promote fear, terror. You kill with impunity," I tell her. "That is no way to effect the change you want."
"Will you make the videotape? Will you save your own life?"
I stare at her defiantly. "No."
Aisha kicks my breakfast tray over, a thick textured slop of brown and black spilling over the cement floor. "Then don't eat," she says tersely and storms out.
The hours pass slowly. I'm only aware of the passage of time by the brightening of the light streaming in through the window. Aisha does not come downstairs, nor do her two friends. However, on occasion, I hear them moving above me. There does not seem to be much urgency in their footsteps, so I wonder if they are just biding their time, waiting. I take deep breaths. One, two, three... and I think of what I'll say the next time I see Clayton Webb.
Night falls and still no Aisha. I hear nothing above me and suspect that the house is vacant. I wiggle my hands slightly, strain against the bonds. Over time, I've managed to weaken them somewhat. The sticky adhesive pulls against the hair on my arms, which becomes more and more uncomfortable. Still, I know the need to be quiet, to be subtle -- two things Mac says are not among my strengths.
Oh hell with Mac, I think irritably. She made her choices, I made mine. *Except her choice isn't going to get her killed*. I take a deep breath. The air down here is dank with mildew and the leftovers of the lunch tray Aisha kicked over. I shift enough to move the chair over an inch or two. The action takes more effort than I expect and I hold position for a second, worried that Aisha or her friends will have heard the news. My stomach clenches and unclenches uncomfortably with hunger. I look towards the basement door; it remains closed.
I get the feeling that Aisha won't be coming back, that I blew my last chance to make a connection. I can only hope that her 'special' friendship with Clayton Webb may give me a fighting chance.
I'm half-asleep when the door is kicked open. Light streams down the basement stairs. Clayton Webb stands there. God. I've never been so glad, so very glad, to see the man in my life.
"Rabb?" He lowers his gun.
"Yeah," I say. "What the hell took you so long?"
In the kitchen, Aisha and her friends have already been handcuffed. Aisha doesn't look at me as I follow Webb out into the dining room. Already, agents are packing files and other evidence into boxes and placing them on top of the table.
"You should have been more careful," I say. I show her the top button of my polo shirt. "Tracking device." Aisha spits. "Any way to send her to Guantanamo? She wants to be reunited with her brother," I tell Webb. He tips his head in acknowledgement.
"I know someone," he says. "I'll take care of it."
We walk out in to the sunlight together, my eyes blinking as I adjust to the brightness. Then I stop. Webb looks at me curiously.
"What?" he asks.
"Nothing." I shake my head. I've always wondered what freedom smells like, what it means to breathe it in. Now I know.
We sit in Webb's hotel room. He's drinking brandy, I've got a sweating bottle of Dos Equis. Blaisdell is on the speaker phone, his voice thick with enthusiasm.
"These three were minor figures in the organization," Blaisdell says, "which accounts for their unsophisticated methods. We had a tail on them almost immediately after they took you out of the hotel, Rabb. Smart thinking, wearing the wire and the tracking device."
"The only thing I was concerned about was if they searched me," I say. I take a deep swig of my beer. "I probably would have been dead on the spot."
"No, there was very little possibility of that," Webb says genially. He leans back in his chair, looking completely relaxed. "I've met with Aisha a few times, and I realized her actions were all personally motivated and that she lacked support of some of the bigger operations. As you said, Allen--" he says directly into the speaker phone "-- this trio had never really tried anything before. This was their first go. But--" now he looks at me "-- all groups start somewhere. You did good, Harm, keeping it all together."
"You did take a damn long time to show up."
Webb waves his hand dismissively. "You knew I would, Rabb."
"It's a hell of chance to take, you know, that they would actually wait seventy-two hours."
Webb leans forward, his elbows resting lightly on his thighs. "It was worth it, Rabb," he says. "They did get a little comfortable in that time and we were able to grab some of their maps, photographs, aerial surveillance, computers. There's some intelligence there that we can make use of." He reaches over and punches the mute button on the phone, and his lips turn up wickedly as he stares directly at me. "Plus, it was worth it to see you sweat." He straightens up and presses mute once again. "Anything else, Allen?"
"No, nothing else. Good work," Blaisdell says. "I'll continue the debriefing when you return to the States. Are you planning to leave in the morning?"
Webb is still looking at me. I refuse to flinch, to look away.
"We'll let you know," Webb says. "Have a good night, sir."
"You too." A click signifies the termination of the trans-Pacific connection. Webb smiles lazily at me.
"You don't look worse for the wear to me," he says. "Seems to me, Rabb, you make pretty good CIA material."
I stand up and walk to the window. Outside, the lights of Singapore twinkle in the dark sky. "Not the career path I expect." I turn to look back at Webb. "You have any more plans to have me kidnapped by terrorists, Webb? If so, I may have to second-guess this particular opportunity."
Webb stands up to join me. "I told you to trust me."
"Yeah, I did."
He is very close to me, almost shoulder to shoulder. I've got a few inches on him, but at this particular moment, it doesn't really matter. He rests his hand lightly on the windowsill.
"For what it's worth," Webb says, "I think we make good partners." He looks at me intently. I put my hand down next to his, my thumb brushing next to his pinky. "And I appreciate you stepping in."
"You didn't leave me much choice," I say. "You set me up real good."
"Believe me, that took months of work."
"Were you planning this all along?" I ask softly.
"To have you come here and help me break this thing open?"
Webb shook his head. "Originally, it was to be someone else." He looked pained for a moment. "But then we received word he'd been killed. I had to scramble for a back-up plan. I thought with your Navy background, your JAG connections, you'd make an attractive target. I just had to make Aisha see that."
"So in the bar, when you asked me to sit there, while you met with someone, was that when you pointed me out to Aisha?"
Webb nods in the affirmative. "She wanted a bargaining chip to get her brother out of Guantanamo and after I earned her trust, I suggested perhaps she ought to kidnap an American with connections, who could perhaps negotiate on her behalf. And when you met me on the roof later on, her accomplices were already lying in wait."
"And then you delivered."
"Yes." Webb offers me a tight smile. "You played nicely into it, picking that argument with me. It gave Aisha the opening she needed to contact you when you were alone and in her eyes, perhaps distracted enough to lower your guard."
I shake my head. "And I had to come all the way to Singapore before I had any idea and by then, it was too late to back out."
Webb smiles. "Did you expect me to share my entire playbook with you, Rabb? I've been doing this a long time, and a good agent never shares."
I cross my arms against my chest. "I'd like to change that."
"Does that mean you're sticking around?"
I look out at the lights of Singapore. It's been nearly four months since the Admiral accepted my resignation. No contact since -- my fault as much as his -- and it doesn't seem as if my future lies with JAG. The CIA is the best deal I've got going right now, and maybe hanging around with Webb has the potential to get me killed, but I admit, I like the excitement, the tension and the energy. I smile wryly and then turn back to Webb. "Yeah," I say. "I think I'd like that."
~ the end
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