Author's Notes: As I said at the bottom of chapter 10 of Begin Anew, I loved the season premier of CSI:NY but there were a couple of things that bothered me. The biggest being what happened to Claire. We see that she gets outside of the North Tower after the first plane hits; she's on the phone with Mac who is telling her to keep moving. The scene where she looks up and sees the second plane hit the second tower was chilling and well directed but then the cell phone goes dead and that's the end of that storyline. I've not been able to find any accounts as to people on the streets dying from the initial collisions so I'm left wondering what happened to Claire and if she was on the street when she died, why has it been so difficult to identify her remains? Maybe I'm overlooking some obviously simple explanation or maybe I need to get a life and remember that it's only a TV show and the writers can weave the story however they please but I can't do that. They showed us a glimpse of how wonderful Mac and Claire were together and I can't be satisfied with big questions like that. So, here's my attempt to try to fill the holes. I watched Mac's last conversation with Claire over and over again trying to get the words correct but if I didn't get it right, please forgive me. The words that we didn't hear, I think could still happen based on what they showed where they weren't listening. Saying I hope you enjoy this fic almost sounds wrong so I'll just say that I hope it touches you in some way. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Disclaimer: CBS, Anthony E. Zuiker, Carol Mendelsohn, and Ann Donahue own all rights to the characters and premise of the show. I am making no money off this story and it is for entertainment purposes only. However, this particular story is my creation and should not be used without my express written permission.

Gone

September 11, 2001

Claire Taylor sat at her desk on the 65th floor of World Trade Center 1, known to most people as the North Tower. The words to Here Comes the Sun, the song she'd been listening to on the ride to work earlier with Mac, were still floating in her head and she absently hummed along with it. She didn't think anything could bring down her mood today. In less than ten hours, she and Mac would be going to the opera, an event she'd been waiting for the longest time. She couldn't help but smile at the memory of how he'd surprised her with the tickets. While she'd wanted to slug him for his trickery, she couldn't help but love him for doing something that he knew would make her so happy. She dared anyone who knew them to ever try to tell her that she didn't have the absolute best husband in the entire world.

She opened her computer to a word document to type up the letter she needed to send out first thing this morning, forcing her thoughts off her husband and their plans for that night and onto the job at hand. She wasn't being paid to daydream after all. As she started to type in the date, the computer automatically filled it in for her. September 11, 2001. She smiled again. 9/11. The date once more sent her back into remembering how she'd teased Mac earlier in the bathroom by pretending to call 911 over his shaving mishaps. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was 8:40. She picked up her phone and started to dial his cell phone. Perhaps if she spoke to him for a moment, told him once more to have a great day and that she loved him, she could put her wayward thoughts on hold and get some work done. She had pressed the first few digits and then hung up the phone. He'd told her he was going to be bringing in a suspect for questioning. He didn't need the distraction of his wife calling while he was trying to work as well. She would just have to focus on her own work instead. So instead, she gave the picture of him that a prominent location on her desk and small wink and returned to her letter.

Her work was once more interrupted six minutes later when an explosion that seemed to come from several floors up rocked the entire building. Several people in the office with her screamed in terror and her own heart quickened its pace. She hadn't been working in the building back in '93 when the truck bomb had been detonated in the underground garage but she knew immediately that something was incredibly wrong. Should they evacuate or wait for an official word?

"Dear God in Heaven, it looks like the entire top floors of the building are on fire." One of her co-workers had gone to the windows to look out.

That convinced her of her next steps. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out her purse. "I think we should evacuate. No sense taking chances on there being another bomb waiting to go off or whatever that was. It'll take us awhile to walk down all those flights of stairs."

Mary, whose desk was closest to hers, looked at her with frightened eyes. "Wouldn't it be quicker to take the elevator?"

Clair shook her head. "You should never take the elevator in the event of a fire. It could trap you between floors if the power goes out. Besides, if they are still working, the firefighters will need to use them to get to the affected floors. Who knows, maybe we'll get downstairs to find out we evacuated for nothing. If so, I'll buy you one of those decadent chocolate éclairs from that bakery to make up for all the calories we burned going down."

Mary smiled wanly, worried about what might be happening but appreciating Claire's attempt to lighten the situation. The two women, along with just about everyone from the office, started down the stairwell. People from higher floors were already making their way down, almost panicked but still not out of control. Nobody seemed to know exactly what had happened but all seemed convinced that it was bad enough that they needed to get out as quickly as they could. People from lower floors also joined their ranks but not as many as Claire would have thought. Perhaps they hadn't felt the building rock with the same intensity as the ones closer to the initial explosion had.

As they continued their descent, rumors had started to circulate about the cause. Some people thought it was another bombing, others a natural gas explosion, still others thought it could just be an elaborate drill building security had devised to test their evacuation plans. By the time they reached the 20th floor, newcomers to the evacuation, who had managed to watch some of the news feeds before evacuating, said that the media was saying it was believed that a small commuter plane had crashed into the building. Claire shook her head. How did any pilot not see a building as big as the World Trade Center?

After what seemed like hours but according to her watch was only about twelve minutes, they reached the exit and spilled out of the building. Despite the gravity of the situation, Claire couldn't help but think that her trainer at the gym would be proud of her. If there had been any doubt as they had made their way down the stairwell that the situation was serious, stepping out into the street erased them completely. People were screaming, standing around looking up at the top of the building with looks of abject horror on their faces. Claire looked up as well, appalled by the sight of the billowing black smoke that seemed to engulf the top of the tower.

The crowd seemed to be mingling outside the building and she could hear them all speculating what might have happened. Instinctively she reached for her phone and called Mac. If there was any reliable information about what had happened, the NYPD and thus her husband would have the answers.

He answered on the second ring and she could hear his worry just by the way he said her name so she left him no room for concern. "I'm okay. I'm out. I got out."

"Where are you?" There was a barely disguised panic in his voice that only fueled her own fear. It should have been an easy question. She had worked in the North Tower for several years now and should now where every exit led out to but the one she'd been forced to use was an unfamiliar one and she was almost embarrassed to admit she was turned around.

"Uh, I don't know." She glanced around at the shops looking for some sign of where she was and rattled off the streets she thought she was on. She could almost hear the relief warring with his continued fear as he urged her to keep moving uptown. Instead, she stopped, looking at all the confusion and commotion going on around her. She could hear sirens but didn't see any of the fire or police personnel. They must on the other side of the building. "Mac, are you watching? What are they saying on TV?"

"They don't know yet. We don't know anything right now. Just head up Church Street." Now it was the frustration that she recognized. Mac didn't like not knowing what was going on. The part of him that would forever be military hated being in the dark about anything.

She glanced around, seeing the same shocked expression on the faces of everyone she could see. Unfortunately there seemed to be way too few faces around. "This is crazy. There are so many people still inside." True, she had shared the stairwell with hundreds of people but that was nothing compared to the thousands who should have been exiting the building."

"Claire, I know you want to help. Listen to me, just…" His words trailed off as she lowered the phone. It wasn't that she didn't want to hear Mac's instructions but the scene that was playing out around her demanded her attention. Gasps from the others around her turned her attention skyward. A large passenger jet was passing overhead, much too low.

"Oh my God." she muttered as the plane banked left as it headed straight into the side of the South Tower much lower than the gaping hole in the North Tower. People screamed around her as the horrible truth hit them all as a roaring fireball engulfed the tower. One plane hitting a tower could be a mistake, two in less than twenty minutes had to be an attack. She put the phone back to her ear. "Mac, I love you. I need you to know that just in case. I can't stand back and do nothing. I'll be careful but you're right, I have to help others. Please forgive me. "

She hung up without listening for his answer. If he had protested, she might have given in and headed up Church Street as he'd asked her to earlier. She was scared but determined. She was, after all, the wife of a marine and NYPD detective; if hers and Mac's positions had been reversed that morning, there was no way Mac would have walked away to safety knowing others were still in peril. In fact, she was almost certain he'd be heading this way pretty soon himself.

"Claire, this can't be real. It just can't." Claire turned to look at her co-worker Mary. They'd gotten separated somehow during their escape from the building. Her friend was holding her chest as if she were having chest pains. Claire put a comforting hand around Mary shoulders and started to lead her toward an ambulance that was just pulling up at the base of the towers. She'd forgotten about the other woman's fragile heart when she'd suggested they evacuate. The frantic flight down the stairs and the stress of the day itself were not what the doctor had had in mind when he'd ordered Mary to take it easy after her last cardiologist appointment. A paramedic directed Mary to a stretcher as Claire explained about the woman's heart condition. Mary gripped Claire's arm.

"Claire, my sister Sarah works in the South Tower on the 54th floor. She's on crutches from her car wreck last week. She'll never make it down those stairs."

Claire looked at the medic. "Can you radio a fire unit and have them help her down?"

The medic shook his head as he took Mary's blood pressure. "54th floor should be relatively safe for now. Right now the fire units are trying to get up to the actual floors that were hit. I heard on the radio traffic that they were urging people who couldn't get down on their own to wait in their offices until help could arrive. They'll get to her as soon as they can."

Mary looked far from relieved at his news and Claire couldn't blame her. She glance at her watch. 9:07. It had taken her twelve minutes to make it down the stairs from the 65th floor. It would probably take her a little longer to make it up to the 54th floor of the South Tower since she'd be going against the flow of people evacuating the building. It would then probably take her another twenty minutes or more to help the other woman down the stairs again since Sarah had a broken leg. The medic had just said the floor should be safe. What could be the harm in going in to help her? She gave Mary's hand a reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry, Mary. I'll make sure she's fine. Just do what the medics tell you."

Claire took off toward the South Tower, knowing that Mac would probably be upset with her for not getting to safety but knowing that he'd also be proud of her for doing her part. Besides, he would be in the thick of rescue efforts pretty soon himself. If America was under attack, it made her feel a little securer knowing that she and Mac would be working toward the same goal even if they didn't see each other in the process.

If she expected someone to stop her from entering the South Tower, she was mistaken. Everything was too chaotic for anyone to pay anyone else too much attention. It was much slower than she expected going up the stairs past the scores of frightened people descending the building. She tried to look each one in the eye as she passed them, giving them the same advice Mac had tried to give her earlier.

"As soon as you get outside, keep heading uptown. Just keep going up Church Street as far as you can. You are almost safe."

It took her almost twenty minutes to reach the 54th floor. She pulled open the door and headed down a hallway. The loud claxon of a fire alarm made it impossible to for her to scream Sarah's name but fortunately she knew where the other woman's office was. She and Mary occasionally stopped by on their way to lunch to pick up Sarah. She pushed open the door to Sarah's office and found the older woman sitting at her desk crying. Sarah looked up at her, surprised to see someone come in.

"Claire, what are you doing here? Everyone else has left already. They tried to get me to go with them but I knew those stairs would be impossible with this crutches. I called 911 to let them know I was trapped and they said to stay put and firefighters would get to me as soon as they can."

Claire didn't answer at first, her gaze suddenly riveted to the window. Something large fell past the window and it took her a moment to realize it was a human body. Dread filled the pit of her stomach as she realized someone had either fallen from the gaping hole above or had jumped to a certain death. When a second body fell a moment later she realized it was more than likely the latter. Were people trapped on the floors above the crash really choosing certain death by jumping to possibly burning to death from the fire that had to be spreading from where the plane had crashed? How horrible to have to choose your manner of death that way. She felt sick to her stomach and couldn't believe that just an hour earlier she had believed nothing could change her good mood. How naïve she had been.

"Claire?" Sarah called her name. She hadn't seen the bodies fall past the window.

Shaking her head, Claire looked at her friend's sister. "Mary was worried about you being trapped. I promised her I would get you out."

Sarah shook her head. "That's sweet of you but I can't maneuver those stairs with this cast and my crutches. I'll just wait for the firefighters."

With a growing certainty, Claire knew that if Sarah waited, there was no way she would get out of the building alive. She also had a sinking feeling in her gut that if they didn't hurry, neither of them would make it out. "Sarah, I'll help you. You can lean on me the whole way and we'll stop for breaks if you get tired. We can do this. I promised Mary that I would get you out and I'm not going back on my promise. I'm not leaving here without you."

Seeing that Claire was serious, Sarah nodded and rose shakily to her feet. Claire put an arm around her waist and supported most of the other woman's weight as they made their way down the stairs. She heard her phone ring several different times and knew Mac must be frantically trying to get a hold of her. As much as she wanted to hear her husband's reassuring voice she couldn't take the time to stop and answer. Even when Sarah admitted that she needed to stop and rest for a moment, Claire was reluctant to do so sensing, without any basis for the feeling, that time was running out for them. However, she allowed them to stop for just a couple of minutes, pulling them into a corner on a landing to escape the swarm of people rushing past them, too blind by their own fears and panic to even stop and help. As she allowed Sarah to catch her breath, she glanced around. They were on the 42nd floor; not even halfway down. A quick look at her watch told her it was 9:45; almost thirty five minutes after she'd entered the building in her rescue attempt.

"Come on, Sarah, we have to keep moving. I know you are tired and hurting but we've got to get out of here. I'll take your weight." She urged the woman forward once more and they struggled on, moving slower this time as Claire was practically carrying the injured woman down the stairs. She wasn't sure if she could manage to do this for 42 more floors but was determined to do the best she could.

Her own strength was almost spent four floors later. By now they were almost alone on the stairs as it seemed like everyone else trying to get out and left them far behind. Claire almost cried with relief when three firefighters coming the opposite way met up with them. "Please help us. I'm trying to get her out of here but I don't think I can do it by myself."

The youngest of the firefighters looked at the other two. "The two of you keep going up. I'll get the ladies out and then join you." The firefighters nodded and continued their ascent upward. The young firefighter watched his buddies disappear above him, obviously wanting to go straight to the danger zone but yielding to her oath to help people. "What floor were you on?" He asked casually as he effortlessly swung Sarah into his arms.

"I was on the 54th floor but Claire works in the North Tower. She came up to get me." Sarah explained, a little breathless from the exertion but glad not to be walking anymore.

The firefighter looked at Claire with undisguised admiration. "What are you, some sort of professional hero or something?"

Claire smiled wanly, glad they could now move much faster. "My husband's the professional hero."

Sarah looked at her. "Claire, you can move much faster now; go on and get to safety. I'll be fine with this nice young man."

"I'm not leaving you behind even if you are in good hands." She glanced at her watch again. 9:58. Now that they were moving much faster, she was sure they would be out of the building and to safety in another ten minutes. She promised herself and Mac that as soon as she was out of the building and sure that Sarah was taken care of, she would head uptown herself to safety the way that Mac had requested almost an hour earlier.

One minute later the building made an awful shudder and started to come down around them. Claire looked up, the fear that had been growing now a certainty that this time she would not be getting out okay. She'd always heard people claim that at times like this when your live was in mortal danger, your entire life passed before you eyes but it wasn't like that for her. Instead, she kept seeing Mac standing on the outside of the public transit as it pulled away. Almost as if she were on the outside looking at them both, she could see herself stick her tongue out at him and the way he'd smiled boyishly at her. She tried to remember if she'd mouthed the words "I love you" to him before she'd gotten too far out of sight but she couldn't remember. As painful as it was to know that she was never going to see him again, a part of her felt it was appropriate that the last time she'd gotten to see him, the last memory he'd have of seeing her, she was the one riding away. It wasn't fair; there were so many things they had never gotten around to doing it and now, thanks to some unknown attack, their chances to do them were gone. She hoped one day that Mac would be able to forgive her. She whispered an almost inaudible "I love you" as the roar of the collapsing building grew louder. Her last thoughts as the debris swallowed them whole was of her husband.

- CSI: NY - CSI: NY - CSI: NY -

Mac parked his car behind several other cars and started jogging toward the towers. He'd lost phone contact with Claire as the second plane had hit the South Tower. Part of him had feared that she'd been killed on the street but as he'd listened to reports come in from the units on the scene he was certain that she should have been okay. He hoped she'd listened to his pleas that she get as far away from the buildings as she could but in his heart he knew that Claire would never take the safe and easy route. All of his attempts to call her back had been unsuccessful and that had only increased his fears that she was still in danger. Suddenly he drew up short, staring at the tower. What had been a visual focal point of the New York skyline was now collapsing in on itself. For a second, he could only stare in horror as the building came down. A piece of his heart died in that instant but he didn't have time to ponder it as an almost pyroclastic cloud of smoke and debris from the collapsing tower rolled toward him. He ran for the cover of a nearby building, pulling the nearest civilian he could grab with him. As he shielded the unknown woman with his body, the rush of rubble and debris sped past him. Once it was over, he checked to make sure the civilian was okay. He ordered her to keep moving and to get as far away as possible.

He stepped back to the street barely noticing that it looked more like some scene out of some sort of apocalyptic movie than his beloved New York City. His eyes stung from the dust that still hung in the air as he stared at the space that used to be the South Tower. He had no reason to believe that Claire had been inside; in fact everything he knew assured him that she had had no reason to be anywhere near that building. Still, the dull ache in his heart that always seemed to know when Claire was hurt or upset told him that the only woman he could ever imagine loving was gone forever. Just a few hours earlier, their lives had been damn near perfect; his face had been pressed to hers as they shared the ear buds to her Ipod. He really hadn't cared what song she'd been listening to but it had been a convenient excuse to have a little bit of physical contact with her among a crowd of people. Tonight he was suppose to take her to the opera, something he'd always put off doing for reasons that in this instant he couldn't remember. Now it would be too late. Why hadn't he told her he loved her when she'd called to let him know she'd gotten out of the building safely. He'd been so intent on keeping her safe but even that wasn't more important than telling her every single minute of every single day that he loved her. Tears that had nothing to do with the dust ran down his cheeks as he couldn't tear his gaze away. He wished he could go back in time to that moment he'd watched her pull away from him. If he'd only known that it would have been the last chance he'd ever get to see her beautiful face, would he have done things differently? Chased after her to give her just one more kiss? Or would he have just stared at her until he had perfectly memorized every perfect feature of her beautiful face.

The shock hadn't worn off but he knew he would be needed; every possible hand would be pressed into service in the next few hours as first responders struggled to save those that could still be saved and he would have to do his part no matter how much his heart was breaking. He wasn't even aware that his body had started moving again until he got as close to the collapsed tower as he could, unconsciously flashing his shield to anyone who might try to stop him. He really wasn't aware of anything but the dull ache in his chest until he was side by side with a captain from one of the fire departments. The man was wearing the same shocked expression that Mac was sure on his. The captain looked at him.

"They're gone. My men were in that building and now they're just gone. How did something like this happen? What do I do now?"

Mac had no answer for him as his mind echoed the other man's statements. She's gone. Claire's just gone. How did something like this happen? What do I do now?