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The Hint of a Spark

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Brian likes the beach.

Which is good, he decides, as he's suddenly found himself on one. It's not a beach he's ever been to before, he's pretty certain of that. For one thing it's clean, almost picturesque in its perfection - no broken glass, no garbage, just perfectly smooth sand and lapping water. No beach he's ever been to actually looks like that outside of the travel brochure. For another, there's only a handful of other people around - men and women that Brian doesn't recognize, exactly, but they feel familiar to him. They keep to themselves, talk to each other in whispered tones, the occasional word floating back to his ears. He can't follow any of their conversations, but he doesn't mind.

He's content to watch.

A man dressed up as Tarzan struts across the sand near the shoreline, catching Brian's attention fully. He's always had a thing for the loincloth. Tarzan walks for what seems like a long time without ever getting any farther away, and somehow this is perfectly normal to Brian's mind. He loses track of time until a pair of familiar hands settle on his hips, over the thin cotton fabric of his beach pants, and a soft mouth presses against the back of his neck, right under the hairline.

He doesn't need to turn around to know who's touching him. Those hands, that mouth - he'd know them anywhere. Brian shivers pleasantly and relaxes into the touch, Tarzan completely forgotten in favour of this. "Hey, baby," he murmurs softly, letting his eyes fall shut. There's a low laugh at the endearment, confirming what Brian already knew: Scott.

When Brian opens his eyes, the beach is gone, replaced by a forest, and he is alone. It's a feeling he doesn't like very much, so he walks around the woods, searching for what he's suddenly missing. There's nothing, but he keeps stepping over fallen logs and ducking under low branches until he comes to a stream. At the edge of the water, a turtle sits.

"Where are we going?" Brian asks him. He's certain the turtle has all the answers.

The turtle doesn't talk, just slides himself down the bank and into the water. Brian walks over to the edge, close enough that the water splashes over his bare feet, waiting for the turtle to come back. He's a little worried; he knows turtles don't need to come up for air very often, but they still need to breathe. What if the turtle forgets? Brian leans forward, trying to see into the water where the turtle went.

When he looks up again, he's back on the beach with Scott, staring out over the horizon. A smile curves across his face as Scott's hands run down his suddenly-bare skin, and Brian tilts his head to the side so the sensitive curve of his jawline is exposed to Scott's wandering mouth.

Out of the corner of his eye Brian sees the turtle, scurrying as much as any turtle does along the hot sand. Oh good, Brian thinks. You're alive.

That's the last thought he has about that, though, because he hears the soft thump of knees hitting sand like a siren's call, and he can't think of anything else. The hands on his hips are urging him to turn around and Brian goes willingly, will always go willingly.

His surroundings change in the blink of an eye as he turns. Home, he realizes with a smile.

*

Brian wakes up slowly, with his brain still foggy and distant, opening his eyes wide then immediately shutting them against the brightness of the room. The sun is shining through the window to his right, peeking through the forest green curtains and glaring against the full-length mirror propped up against the wall opposite. Turning his head to the left, he slowly opens his eyes again.

The first thing he sees is Scott, naked except for the towel around his waist, rummaging through their dresser in search of something to wear. The knot in the towel is slipping, revealing teasing glimpses of smooth, dark skin that make Brian smile. His eyes roam up and down Scott's solid, muscular build, and up to his almost-unruly hair, which is sticking up at a weird angle in the back. A rush of heat pools in Brian's stomach as the towel slips more. He leans back into the pillow, wondering what time it is and, more importantly, whether they have time for a quickie before work.

Scott turns around then and nearly jumps out of his skin. "Jesus Christ," he yelps, dropping the pair of socks he has in his hand. His already large eyes are even wider than usual, and Brian can see the rapid rise and fall of his chest as he tries to calm down again. "What are you- I thought you were still asleep."

"Sorry," Brian replies, laughing softly and stretching his arms out above his head.

"No you're not," Scott grumbles, reaching down to pick up his socks. He throws them at Brian's head, but Brian catches them easily. "You're a little too good at being quiet, you know that? It's creepy."

Brian makes an indifferent noise and watches Scott put on a pair of boxers and his crisp, white pants then sits down on the side of the bed. He shoots Brian a look of mock annoyance and grabs the socks back. As he starts putting them on, Brian decides that this is counter-productive to his let's have morning sex plan and that he should probably put a stop to that now. He reaches out with one hand and grabs Scott by the arm, tugging so that Scott falls back across the bed, his head resting on Brian's stomach.

Brian slides his hand from Scott's arm, down his chest and over his toned stomach. Smirking sleepily, he pushes his hand lower and starts rubbing his hand over Scott's cock through the fabric of his pants. Scott smiles as he closes his eyes and makes a pleased noise, but when he opens his mouth he says, "I really have to go."

Which is not the answer Brian was looking for. "You sure?" he murmurs, pressing harder. His own breaths are becoming harsh, ragged, and he's barely done anything yet.

Scott whimpers and pushes his hips up to meet Brian's hand, but he doesn't give in. "Wish I wasn't," he replies, and there is definite sincerity in his voice - and in his automatic response to Brian's touch. His cock is hardening in Brian's hand and his tongue darts out to lick his lips. Brian's not flexible enough to bend himself in half and chase after it with his own, but he does bring his free hand up to brush his thumb over Scott's soft, full lips, then down again to rub Scott's chest.

He pinches Scott's shoulder and Scott lets out a short, desperate moan, slamming his hips up hard into Brian's hand. "I hate you," he whines, and Brian laughs softly. "I can't- I have to work."

Reluctantly, Brian lets him go, his arms falling to the side. Scott just lays there, breathing hard and glaring for a few moments before sitting up and putting on his second sock. "Don't look at me like that," Brian says with a smile. "You're the one who has to leave."

"You're the one who..." Scott waves his arm around, grasping for a comeback as he stands up and reaches for his t-shirt. "You couldn't have woken up 20 minutes ago?" he asks finally, the second half of his question muffled by the shirt being pulled over his head.

Brian grins and shrugs. "I could have, if you'd woken me up," he replies logically. "Still not my fault."

"How was I supposed to know you were going to wake up horny?"

"I wake up next to you. It's pretty much a given, baby," he replies, pitching his voice low and Elvis-like.

Scott groans, but he's smiling as he walks over to the closet and pulls out his chef's shirt. "That was really, really cheesy, you know that, right?"

Brian laughs. "Yeah, it was. Still true, though," he says, tilting his head to watch as Scott pulls on his shirt.

Scott rolls his eyes, exasperated but affectionate as he comes back over to the bed. "Yeah, well," he laughs, then leans down and kisses Brian. "You flatter me. See ya later, gator," he says, and then he's walking away. Brian sighs and closes his eyes again, even though he's not the least bit tired now. He doesn't open them again until he hears Scott unlocking the front door.

"Bye!" he yells, hopefully loud enough to be heard. He listens for a response, but the only sound is the front door slamming shut. Oh well. Brian stretches again, letting his arms fall across his chest, and tries to convince his cock to calm down because no one is here to pay attention to it anymore.

*

Brian doesn't live that far away from the precinct, it only takes about ten minutes to drive home after work. But getting to work is a whole other story. There's an elementary school and a middle school between the house and the station, which means that early morning traffic is hell and it takes at least twice as long to drive as it would any other time of day. It used to make him crazy, all the stop and start driving, but he's learned to embrace it. It gives him a few minutes to himself before he faces the world.

Especially today. Waking up lazy is nice on days when he doesn't have to work, but it's hard to snap out of that on days that he does. Having a shower helped a little - it made him coherent enough to get dressed without looking like a clown, anyway. The coffee that was waiting for him downstairs is what's really helping, though. He can feel the caffeine floating through his veins and clearing his brain. Which is good, he thinks now as he stops to let a group of kids cross the street. Being on your toes is important, especially when you don't know your partner very well.

The first partner Brian had was a detective was a guy named Carter. He was a good guy, older and very jovial. One of the life-of-the-party types. In other words, the exact opposite of Brian. But they worked well together. Balanced each other out. They had a pretty good solve rate, never had any serious complaints filed against them. They were good together, until a few years ago when Carter had retired and moved to Florida with his wife. Brian had given him a hard time about being a cliché, but he really was sad to see the man go. There's a small part of him that still expects to see Carter's face first thing every morning and is a little disappointed when he realizes that he's not going to be there.

Since then Brian has been drifting from one partner to another. Sometimes he's assigned someone who has been around awhile and is between partners, but mostly he works with new detectives to give them some practical, real world experience with the job before sending them on their way to be partnered with someone else on a full-time basis. He's good at that, but it means he's been through a fair number of partners in the last four years. Never has he been particularly sad to move on to the next one. A lot of them had a problem with his personal life once they found out about it. Most of the others were plain and simple assholes, people Brian has never had any interest in being around. One or two were decent guys, good cops and good detectives, but there was never that click, that deeper connection that meant we should be partners.

And now there's Kate. They've been working together for a couple of months, and so far so good. She's the first woman they've partnered him with, because she's the first woman to become a detective at this precinct in over ten years - a fact that Kate seems very highly aware of. From the start she has been incredibly serious about her job and very hard on herself. She has a strong need to be the best, to prove herself worthy of being that rare woman. She's afraid of making mistakes.

Brian gets that, so he tries to encourage her as much as he can without sounding patronizing. Kate is good at her job, really good, and the only thing that's holding her back is the fact that she doesn't fully believe that yet. He's certain she'll get there, though, and in the mean time he is enjoying being her partner. She's funny, even though she tries not to be because she thinks it looks unprofessional, and she's the first partner he's had that didn't so much as look surprised when he introduced her to Scott the first time.

By the time Brian makes it to the station, he's feeling far more alert and ready to go. There's a new case file on his desk, which isn't surprising. Stuck to the top is a note from the Lieutenant: high priority scrawled in messy capital letters, underlined three times with a series of exclamation marks tacked on the end. Curious, Brian sits down and flips open the folder. It seems pretty basic; robbery of a high end jewellery store downtown. He doesn't get why it's so important until he gets to the name of the store's owner: the mayor's wife.

Someone with power and influence, that explains it all. Brian scans the rest of the information quickly. There isn't much to go on, just an unhelpful description of a possible suspect and a note about a car being stolen across the street last night as well. He shuts the folder and tosses it back down on his desk just in time to see Kate come in. She heads straight for his desk and hands him a large coffee. He thanks her, but doesn't open it.

"Got anything new?" she asks, perching on the corner of his desk. She doesn't bother to take off her jacket first, even though her desk is only three feet away.

Brian sits up straighter and shakes his head. "Not really," he replies, thumbing his eyebrow. "Robbery over on Canton, the jewellery store. Chevalier, is it? Someone took off with the window display last night."

"Smash 'n grab?" Kate says with a raise of her eyebrows. "While people are still around. Sounds risky."

"It is," Brian agrees, setting down his untouched coffee and picking up the case file again. He flips through pages until he finds the one he's looking for. "The, uh, salesgirl who was closing up said she was balancing the books and didn't see anything until the alarm went off. Said it was a young woman, probably under 20... kinda short..." He shrugs and puts the folder back down. "That's about it. No specific description, just that the girl was wearing a hat that covered all her hair. There was a car stolen across the street from the jewellery store last night as well, could be related as it wasn't there when the cops showed up to the jewellery store. Hill and Wyatt are on that one, though."

Kate nods and takes a sip of her own coffee as she considers this. "Are we sure it was a girl?" she asks after a second. "A kid that young, could easily have been a small male."

"Could be," Brian agrees. It makes him feel old when she refers to anyone as kid. He's almost twenty years older than Kate, and if she thinks someone is young, she might as well just call him Gramps and be done with it. It's even worse when she calls him sir.

"Okay. Anything else?" she asks.

"No. I figure we can go downtown, check it out, see if any of the other shops had people working that late. See if we can dig anything up."

Kate smiles and stands up. "Sounds good. I'll go talk to Wyatt, see if they've got anything on the car theft, and then we can go. Oh, I almost forgot," she adds hurriedly. "I have to take Madison to the doctor this afternoon, so I'm going to have to slip out for a bit after lunch. Larry usually takes her, but he won't get home from Olympia until late tonight."

"Okay," Brian replies easily, finally lifting the lid off his coffee. "Anything serious?"

"No, just a check-up."

He looks up at her and smiles. "Good, glad to hear it."

Kate nods, then leaves to go talk with Wyatt. She still hasn't taken off her coat. As soon as she's out of sight, Brian reaches into his top desk drawer and pulls out a packet of sugar. He adds it to his coffee, then crumples up the wrapper and throws it across the room into the garbage can by the door. He used to correct her when she brought him coffee - he likes two creams and three sugars, and she always brings him one with two and two - but she never remembers so he stopped. He appreciates the fact that she brings him coffee and it just doesn't seem worth it to make a big deal over something he can fix so easily.

*

They get absolutely nowhere talking to the other shop owners downtown. The jewellery place had stayed open an hour late to accommodate a very well-off client who had, according to the owner of the store, been "very, very interested" in some of their finer pieces. Every other business had closed down for the night at their regular times, and all of their employees had long gone home by the time the robbery took place.

"Probably why it all took place when it did," Brian says to Kate as they leave the third store. "They figured no one would be around to notice the alarms."

"You still think the two are related?"

"Sure, why not? The likelihood of two crimes happening this close together on the same night isn't very high."

Kate nods. "True. Could have been one person, though, doing both."

Brian is about to answer her when his cell phone rings. "Maybe," he says, reaching into his pocket. He figures that it's Scott calling to give him shit about getting him all worked up this morning, so he's not in any rush to answer it, but he frowns when he sees it's not Scott at all. "It's the station," he tells Kate as he flips open the phone, then, "Larson."

"Hi, it's Betty from the switchboard," comes the friendly voice through the line.

"Hi," Brian replies, propping his free hand against his waist. "What can I do for you?"

"We've just received an anonymous tip about the jewellery heist you and Detective Tunney are working on."

"Really?" Brian asks, surprised. They don't usually get that lucky. "Uh, okay, let's hear it."

There's a sound of paper shuffling in the background. "Let's see... anonymous caller, male. Said the jewellery were taken by a girl named Annie Newton-"

"Shit." He scrubs a hand over his face, but not before he sees Kate's curious look. He'll have to explain that one later, he can tell, but he's not concerned with it at the moment. It's not often Brian has any familiarity with the people he comes into contact with on the job. It's something that he's extremely grateful for. Annie Newton. Damn, he thinks sadly.

There's a short pause on the other end of the line. "I'm sorry?" Betty asks, uncertain but still polite.

"Sorry," Brian apologizes. "It's nothing, go ahead. Was that it?"

"No, the caller said that she... took them to school with her," Betty replies. "And that she's probably keeping them in her backpack or in her locker. I ran her name through the school system. She goes to Burnaby Mountain, but they wouldn't tell me whether she was there or not when I called. If you want, I can call back, try again..."

"Hmm? Oh, no, thanks. That's great, Betty. Kate and I can take it from here," he assures her distractedly. "Thanks for all your help."

*

It takes the rest of the morning to get their hands on a warrant to search the school and the Newton's apartment. While they wait, Kate follows up on some of their other cases - a couple of stolen cars, a domestic assault, convenience store robbery. Brian talks to some of the older uniform cops, the guys who were around when Jack Newton was still a cop. Most guys from back then have retired but there's still a few left. None of them kept in touch after he was fired, and no one has heard much about him since his wife died.

Brian pulls Annie's record and finds it mostly clean, with a couple of withdrawn charges for disorderly conduct and nothing else. It doesn't hold any answers over what happened to suddenly make her decide to rob a jewellery store - assuming the tip they received was legitimate - but he wasn't really expecting it to. That would have been nice, though.

When the warrant comes through, he and Kate grab a couple of uniform officers and head over to the high school. It's a short drive, which Brian is thankful for, and within minutes they're parked in front of the school. Brian tells the uniforms to wait outside - cops roaming the hallways is a surefire way to gain a lot of attention fast, and he's not interested in doing that for any longer than they have to - then follows Kate across the lawn.

"I went to school here," she says as they walk through the front doors. "Did you go here, too?"

Brian shakes his head. "No, I grew up in Ann Arbor. Michigan," he clarifies as he looks around at the white brick walls with bold green stripes, the giant bulletin board announcing proms and bake sales, and the large trophy case against the opposite wall. It all gives him a weird sense of deja vu. "I think all high schools look like this, though. Even the colours were the same at mine."

Kate smiles as they turn the corner and come across the school's office. Even that's the same, he thinks as he holds open the door for her then follows her inside. The room is empty; Brian sticks his head over the front desk and looks around, but there's no one there. "Hello?" he calls.

After a few seconds a short woman, maybe mid-fifties, sticks her head out from one of the doors in the back room. "Oh, hi!" she says brightly, coming out with a large box of file folders in her hands. She sets the box on a table in the back then smiles at them. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear anyone come in. How can I help you?"

Brian smiles back. "No problem. I'm Detective Larson, this is Detective Tunney." He gestures towards Kate, who nods hello to the woman, then shows her his badge. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name-"

The woman studies his badge, then looks up. "Hilda Patterson," she says, glancing back and forth between the two of them.

Brian nods an acknowledgement, then continues. "Ms Patterson, we need to speak with the principal - Mr Whitcliff, is that right?"

"I- yes, Mr Whitcliff is our principal," she replies. "He's in a meeting at the moment. Graduation is next week, you see, and prom this weekend. Things are rather hectic around here. Is there anything I can help you with?"

"No, I'm afraid this is a private matter," Brian says, offering her a polite smile to take the edge off his words. "We're going to need to speak with Mr Whitcliff, and - do you have a Resource Officer on duty?"

He can see the curiosity burning in Ms Patterson's eyes when she answers. "Not today, no. We share Officer Klassen with Washington High, he's only here on Mondays and Wednesdays. I could call the school for you, if you like. I'm sure he'll be available to come speak with you."

"No, that won't be necessary," Brian replies. There's no reason the secretary couldn't do it, but he gets the feeling that it will be a long, drawn-out process if they go that route and he would rather get this done. "Detective Tunney and I can call. If you could go pull Mr Whitcliff out of his meeting for us, it would be appreciated."

Ms Patterson nods, already opening the latched swing door that separates the back office from the front of the room. "Yes, of course," she agrees, making sure the divider is latched shut again. "I'll be back in just a moment."

"Great, thank you," Brian says. Ms Patterson flushes slightly as she leaves, and when she's a few feet away, she turns and looks back over her shoulder.

Kate laughs. "I didn't realize you were such a charmer," she says, smiling at him. "I'm impressed."

"What?" Brian asks, confused.

"She likes you," Kate sing-songs in reply. "Your boyfriend better watch out."

Brian blinks, unsure of how in the hell he should respond to that. He's pretty sure Kate is kidding around, it's just - she's never done that before. Teased him like that, the way a friend would. It's not a problem, exactly. The thing is, he has no idea what she means by it. Part of him wants to reply in kind, make a joke about a threesome or being the love 'em and leave 'em kind, but he's not sure if that's an acceptable kind of joke to make to her, especially now that he's been quiet for so long and her smile is looking mighty forced.

The awkward moment stretches out between them while Brian tries to figure out what he should say. Kate stops smiling altogether and blushes furiously. "Sorry," she says hurriedly, ducking her head like she can't look Brian in the eye at all. "I was just- um. Never mind. I'm going to call the other high school, get the Resource Officer down here."

Dammit. Brian shoves his hands in his pockets and looks around, half-listening to Kate's end of the phone call she's making. Everything about this room is familiar - the motivational posters, the old telephones and the cubbyhole mailboxes against the back wall. It's like they just clone high schools all over the country instead of designing new ones.

When Kate hangs up, he turns towards her. She's still flustered and not quite meeting his eyes, which makes him feel bad, but he still has no idea what to say. Maybe he should apologize for reacting the way he did, explain that she caught him off guard, that's all. It's true, but even in his head it sounds tired, like he's pulling an excuse out of the Handbook For Awkward Situations.

He's still considering this when something occurs to him. "Hey, what time was Madison's appointment?" he asks, glancing at his watch.

Kate's eyes go wide. "Shit!" she hisses, glancing at her own watch. "Shi- sorry," she says abruptly. "I shouldn't- I can't leave, we're about to arrest someone for stealing-"

"Allegedly," Brian points out, relieved that, if nothing else, he's distracted her from the awkwardness of their previous conversation.

"Yeah, whatever," she replies, flustered, and he has to bite back a laugh because Kate works so hard at being the consummate professional, but it's the tiniest unexpected things that make her falter. He thinks it's endearing, though he knows better than to say so. "What am I supposed to do?" she asks desperately.

Brian just shrugs. "Go."

"I- what?"

"Go," he repeats. "The uniforms can handle this, we're just here to make Chevalier's insurance company happy. It's no big deal, go take your kid to the doctor's. Go," he says again when she still doesn't move.

She looks like she's going to argue with him, but in the end she nods. "Yeah - are you sure? Okay, yes, I'm going. Oh, the Resource Officer is on his way, he said give him twenty." Her words are rushed, almost unintelligible, as she heads for the door. She pauses with her hand on the knob. "Thank you, sir," she adds with a tense smile, and then she's gone.

Brian shakes his head. "I hate when you call me that," he says to the empty room, then looks at his watch again, wondering what the hell is taking the secretary so long.

*

In the end, he waits almost twenty minutes for Ms Patterson to come back with Mr Whitcliff. By that time the Resource Officer - Klassen, who Brian has a passing familiarity in the way that he does with most cops in town - has shown up. While they wait, Brian briefs him on the case.

"Have you had any trouble with Annie before?" he asks.

Klassen nods. "Oh, yeah," he says. "She's always getting into trouble for something. Fighting, usually."

"Seems like a big jump from fighting in the hallways to robbing a jewellery store," Brian comments.

"Yeah, well-"

Klassen is interrupted by Ms Patterson finally bringing the principal back. A brief round of introductions is made, and Brian explains to the secretary why Kate isn't there anymore. Then, at Brian's request, Whitcliff brings Brian and Klassen upstairs to his office for privacy. It's a nice, if boring, office, large and sparsely decorated. Brian can see why Whitcliff likes it, though, as the giant windows on two sides gives him a birds-eye view of the cafeteria below.

"Now, Detective, what can we do for you?" Whitcliff asks, sitting down behind his desk. Klassen sits in one of the chairs opposite; Brian stays standing.

"I have a warrant to search the school," Brian replies, folding his arms across his chest. "One of your students is the primary suspect in a robbery that took place last night, and we believe she's holding the stolen items in her locker."

Whitcliff looks genuinely shocked by that information. He glances at Klassen, as if questioning whether this is really one big joke, then turns back to Brian when Klassen simply nods. "One of- who?"

"Annie Newton."

Whitcliff lets out a short laugh, and Brian wonders why that is in any way funny. Informing someone one of their students is wanted in a criminal investigation isn't something he would have expected to be found amusing in any case, but he finds himself even more defensive than usual. He can't help but feel protective of Annie, despite the fact that he hasn't seen her in years and he's here to, more than likely, arrest her.

"Forgive me," Whitcliff says, sobering as he realizes Brian isn't sharing his joke. "I realize that it's not a- well, I can't say that I'm surprised that's who you're here to see."

"Why not?" Brian asks sharply.

Whitcliff blinks, surprised by the tone, and Brian tells himself to take it easy. "She's a troublemaker," Whitcliff explains, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. It doesn't fit right with Brian's memory of Annie, but he listens without comment as Whitcliff continues. "She's been suspended more than any other student in this school, past and present. She spends her lunch hour selling stolen goods to the student body. Fighting, the endless fighting - I hate to say it, Detective, but the girl is trouble. I'm not surprised," he repeats.

Brian finds himself more annoyed by Whitcliff's attitude than he probably should. He can't help but feel like the man should have more of an interest in helping his troubled students than he apparently does. Brian tries to shake it off by putting an end to the discussion. He takes the warrant out of his inside pocket and hands it to Whitcliff. "There are uniformed men outside waiting for the okay to come in and search the place. If you could take us to her locker first, that would be great," he says evenly.

Whitcliff nods, barely looking at the paper in his hand. "Certainly," he agrees. "If you'll follow me..."

He leads the way out of the office, back down the stairs and past the front entrance. Brian opens the front door and signals the uniform cops to come in - he's pretty sure they're going to find something, and they're more than capable of handling the search and arrest - then follows Whitcliff down one hall, then another. There are a good number of students in the hallway, all of them unquestionably curious as to why two cops and a detective are roaming their halls under the lead of the principal.

Halfway down the second hall, Whitcliff stops. "Here we are," he says tensely, his eyes flickering towards the growing crowd. "Number 895."

Brian steps back into the crowd to watch as Donner, one of the uniform cops he called in, picks up the bolt cutter to bust open the lock. They don't need him for this, and he's certain he's not going to like what he sees. One of the kids he ends up standing next to, a young Japanese guy wearing a t-shirt that's about four sizes too big for him, watches with amused fascination. As the locker swings open, he mutters to his friend, "Newton's finally busted. That bitch sold me the worst phone ever, man, it was total crap. Serves her right."

"What did you say?" Brian asks sharply, and the kid glares defiantly until Brian puts his hands on his hips, flicking his jacket back. The kid's eyes immediately fall to the badge clipped to his belt, the exact effect Brian had been hoping for. "Annie was selling stolen phones?"

"I ain't tellin' you nothing," the kid says, his bravado slipping on the word you. "You're not arresting me for buying anything off her, 'cause I didn't do it."

"Look, I'm not-" Brian stops, then changes tactics. "I'm not going to arrest you, kid, I just want to know what she's up to."

The kid still looks nervous, but his buddy nudges him in the side and he starts to talk. "I don't know details, alright? But yeah, she's got this, ah, operation going on, you know, out of her locker. Cell phones, iPods, shit like that."

"Shit like that," Brian repeats, then shakes his head. It doesn't make sense to him, it doesn't fit with the Annie in his head, but somehow he knows it's the truth. "Thanks, kid," he says distractedly, then steps forward to get a closer look as Donner and Fulke start going through the contents of Annie's locker. Even from back here Brian can see the boxes of cell phones - they'll probably get her on that, even if she doesn't have the...

Jewellery, he thinks, defeated, watching Fulke pull a handful of diamond jewellery out of a nylon bag. Brian sighs and hangs his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. Dammit.

"Detective?"

Brian looks up with a start, hands falling to his hips. Donner is standing in front of him, the bag of jewellery in one hand and the other resting over the gun tucked into his belt. "Principal says she's in Math, if she bothered to show up."

Brian nods and follows as Whitcliff leads them to the other end of the hall, then up the stairs to the second floor. Behind them a growing crowd of students tries to tag along without making it obvious enough that they'll get in trouble for it. Brian hears the whispers, how all of the students are either glad to see Annie in trouble or find it amusing in some way. Part of him wants to stop and ask them why, but he doesn't, just follows behind Fulke and Donner until they come to a stop in front of Room 121. Whitcliff knocks on the door, and when it opens Officer Klassen speaks briefly with the teacher in a low tone so that the gathering crowd can't hear too much.

The teacher - Brian didn't catch his name - looks around at the crowd of cops and onlookers, then sticks his head back into the classroom. "Annie. In the hall," he says loudly.

There's a rough scraping of chair legs against linoleum and the muffled sounds of angry walking. The teacher steps aside and then there's Annie, a fierce glare in her eyes and bitter unhappiness shadowing her features. All her hair is tucked up under a knit hat - Brian would almost think she didn't have any, except there are a few loose strands hanging out the back, long and curly, just like it used to be. Just like her mother's was, and he thinks that Annie is probably a very beautiful girl underneath all that scowl and bluster.

She looks around, takes in the sight of the cops, the crowd; her eyes fall on Brian, but there's no flash of recognition. That saddens him a little bit, even though logically he knows it's been almost ten years since she last saw him and that she was just a kid back then. Still, he'd kind of hoped that -

"Annie Newton," Fulke cuts into Brian's thoughts. "You are being arrested under suspicion..."

Brian turns away. He's seen dozens of kids her age be arrested and it's never bothered him before, but with Annie there's a bit of an emotional attachment there. Even if she doesn't remember him, he knows her, and that's more than enough to make this hard to watch.

*

Back at the station, Donner leads Annie into Interrogation Room One. While they wait for her attorney to show up, Donner and Fulke head towards the staff room to grab a late lunch of candy bars and soda. They ask Brian to join them, but he politely declines and goes back to his desk. There's a granola bar in the top drawer, next to the sugar packets, so he takes that out and settles in to go through the mountain of paperwork in his inbox.

That's what he tries to do, anyway. In reality he ends up picking at his makeshift lunch and staring at an open file folder without really seeing it at all. His mind wanders to Annie and to her father. Brian worked at the same precinct as Jack for eleven years, went to the bar celebration the night Jack found out his wife was pregnant with their son, even worked a few cases with the man. Jack had been a good cop back then, but he had a nasty habit of falling off the wagon far more than he stayed on it, and that eventually became a very big problem.

Brian remembers the way Jack would come to work hung-over with increasing frequency, often reeking of alcohol and picking fights with other officers, the suspects - even the lawyers, sometimes. The higher-ups fired him for it eventually, though it was never made common knowledge what the final straw had been, and the last Brian heard he'd gotten a job working security.

Brian feels bad that he never gave them much thought after that. He was too wrapped up in his own life, but he remembers now. The little girl who used to bring her daddy lunch on Fridays, with her mommy trailing behind at a much slower pace. The Annie that Brian remembers is a sweet little girl in pigtails who smiled all the time and drew him pictures of unicorns and fairy princess castles. She would draw them at home then bring them to the station in her sparkly purple backpack, rolled up neatly and tied with a ribbon. She must have been no more than six at the time, but she took everything very seriously. Especially when it came to her drawings, which she would present to him with a bashful smile and a stern warning not to get them dirty because she worked real hard on them.

He didn't see any of that girl in the scowling teenager they just arrested, and he can't help but wonder where she went.

Maybe she didn't go anywhere. Maybe she's still there, somewhere, buried underneath years of anger and resentment and loss. God knows Brian isn't the same man he was when he worked with Jack. Back then he had longer hair, wore thick-lensed glasses, drove an electric blue Buick and lived with a woman. He's changed a lot, mostly for the better, because that's what people do. They grow, they change, they live their lives. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier to accept when things turn out horribly wrong.

Brian is startled out of his thoughts by Fulke rasping his knuckles on the desk. "Hey, Newton's lawyer is here," he says. "You want to be there? Your bust, too."

"I'll watch from behind the glass."

Fulke looks surprised, but he just shrugs. "Suit yourself," he replies indifferently as Brian stands up. His granola bar is only half gone, so he folds the wrapper over the open end and sets it back in his desk for later, then follows Fulke out of the room and down the hall to the interrogation rooms.

They meet up with Donner outside the door to Room One; Brian nods at them and slips into the next room to watch without being seen. Through the two-way mirror, he can see Annie sitting at the table, slouched down in her chair as far as she can get with her arms crossed defiantly against her chest. She's glaring at her lawyer, who looks equal parts bored and annoyed.

Brian leans against the wall, hands in his pockets, and watches as Donner and Fulke come into the room. He can see Annie talking to them, but he can't hear -

He flips the switch on the wall behind him just in time to hear Annie say, "You've got mustard on your tie," to Donner. It makes Brian smile, partly because there is so much contempt in her voice that she sounds more like a neat-nik housewife than a world-weary eighteen year old, but also because he remembers how much Annie liked his ties, back in the day. When she was a baby she would chew on them and as she got older, she would play with them.

It's still hard to reconcile the two in his head, but he finds it comforting that there's some of little Annie left in there after all.

Brian tunes back into the conversation in time to hear Donner ask, "Do you know why we arrested you, Annie?"

She shrugs. "Because I took the jewellery."

Fulke and Donner exchange glances, unsettled by the ease with which they had just gained their confession. "So you admit to robbing Chevalier Jewellers on the night of May 27th?" asks Donner after a moment.

"Yes, I did," Annie replies, dropping one hand to her thigh and picking at a loose thread on her pants. "Don't look so surprised, bud. You caught me with the goods, remember? What good is lying going to do me?"

Her lawyer only seems to be paying minimal attention to what's going on, clearly unconcerned about whether or not her client is hanging herself by admitting guilt right off the bat. Brian is unnaturally annoyed by this but is distracted from his ire by Fulke.

"Okay. Admitting to the theft of goods over $400, and to grand theft auto-"

"Excuse me?" Annie cuts in sharply, her head snapping up. Her eyes are like daggers, and even though Fulke's back is to him, Brian can see that the man is suddenly nervous. "I don't know anything about any grand theft auto and there's no fucking way I'm confessing to something I don't even know about."

Fulke recovers quickly. "Really? Mercedes-Benz W220? Silver, 2003? Not ringing any bells?"

"Nope." Annie doesn't look angry anymore, but she's radiating annoyance so strong that Brian can feel it through the walls.

"That's funny," Fulke comments without a trace of laughter in his voice. "We have a witness that says the car was there when you smashed the window and gone by the time she'd picked up the phone to call the police."

"Your witness must be mistaken. I don't even have a license."

"Maybe you had an accomplice," Donner suggests, leaning forward in his seat with his hands folded in front of him on the table. "Maybe you drove without a license."

Annie turns to stare at him with wide eyes. "But that would be illegal," she deadpans, and Brian lets out a surprised laugh, glad no one on the other side of the glass can hear him. Fulke and Donner exchange looks of irritation, and even her uninterested lawyer looks up in surprise, a tiny smile curving at her mouth.

The rest of the interrogation is uneventful. Annie refuses to admit knowing anything about the car theft, and eventually Fulke and Donner drop it and decide to charge her with the theft of the jewellery only, since that's what she's admitting to. They haul her off to set her up with a court date, and Brian sits down on one of the uncomfortable chairs in the room. Glancing at his watch he sees that it's almost four-thirty, so he takes out his phone and calls Kate. It goes straight to voicemail; he leaves a message giving her the brief rundown of what happened after she left and tells her not to bother coming back in tonight.

"Spend some time with your family. I'll see you in the morning," he says, then hangs up and leaves the room, flipping off the lights and the speaker switch on his way out.

*

Home, when Brian finally gets there, is quiet and empty. Under normal circumstances the silence wouldn't bother him in the least, but today it seems overwhelming and oppressing. The first thing he does after taking off his shoes is walk over to the stereo in the living room. It's times like this it would be nice to have a pet, someone to come home to even when Scott is working all day and night. They talked about getting a dog once or twice, but agreed that they weren't home often enough for it. A cat would be more independent, but Brian is allergic, so that wouldn't work out either.

After a minute of searching through their CD collection, Brian pulls out Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation and puts it into the stereo. He turns the volume up loud enough for it to be heard throughout the house, then goes upstairs to change into something more comfortable. The constant sound helps him shakes off the feeling of isolation, and by the time he heads back downstairs, now dressed in a t-shirt and running pants, he feels his mood improve drastically.

Routine kicks in after that as he walks into the kitchen and starts in on the mindless, necessary household chores that he put off last night. He wipes down the counters and washes the dishes, then walks over to the fridge to clean out anything that's expired. Stuck to the front with a golf ball shaped magnet is a note from Scott. Brian pulls it off and holds it closer to his face so that he can read it.

I hate you - been thinking about this morning all day. Distracting!! You owe me.
Love you.
- S

Brian smiles and sticks the note back on the fridge, then grabs a marker from the junk drawer and draws a happy face at the bottom. Satisfied with his handiwork, he goes back cleaning out the fridge like he'd intended in the first place. It doesn't take long to do and when he's done, he grabs a bottle of beer and puts it aside on the counter while he takes out the garbage.

He comes back in and washes his hands, then grabs his beer and heads back into the living room. Hangman Jury is blaring from the stereo; Brian lets it play through to the end because he likes that track, then flicks off the stereo and grabs the television remote. He calls his favourite pizza place and orders a large with the works, no anchovies, then settles comfortably in on the couch.

He finds a rerun of "Friends" on TV, which he watches for a few minutes. It's an episode he likes a lot, the one where Monica puts a turkey on her head. But Brian's mind wanders quickly and he finds himself spending a lot of time thinking about how to rearrange the living room. It's the one room in the house they've never really worked on, and as a result it looks like the hodgepodge mess that it is. He's not sure why they never finished it. Maybe they just got worn out after fixing up the rest of the house, but after three years of living here, Brian thinks it's probably time to deal with it.

Starting with a paint job. Green, maybe, they both like that colour.

By the time the doorbell startles him out of his thoughts, he's come up with a pretty good plan for the place, and he hasn't once caught himself dwelling on thoughts of Annie Newton.

*

Brian wakes the next morning to the dual sound of the telephone ringing and Scott grumbling the inventive ways that he is going to strangle whoever is calling. He blinks his eyes into focus, surprised by the darkness of the room. Groaning, he rolls onto his side and fumbles for the phone, sparing a second to look at the digital alarm clock next to the bed. It's not even six in the morning, and that gives him a sinking feeling deep in his gut.

The only reason anyone gets a phone call this early is when it's bad news.

"Hello?" he says sleepily, wiping one hand over his eyes.

"Detective Larson?"

He sits up, holding his weight on one elbow, suddenly tense. Bad news for someone, he thinks. "Yeah."

"This is Veronica. Chief Richmond's secretary," she clarifies, which he appreciates because he's not awake enough to remember that. But he is awake enough to know that getting a phone call from the Chief (or his secretary) this early in the morning means bad news is a horrible understatement. "We've just received a phone call from Diane Powell, she says her son, Nicholas, is missing. Didn't come home last night, and none of his friends know where he is."

Brian closes his eyes briefly and curses to himself. "How old?" he asks tensely.

"Pardon?"

"The, ah - Nicholas. How old is he?"

"Oh. Right." Veronica sounds frazzled; apparently Brian's not the only one still waking up. "Eighteen. He's an honours student at Burnaby Mountain. Set to graduate next week."

"Shit," Brian mutters. He's mildly relieved that it's not a young child that went missing - it's horrible to think of one age range as worse than another when it comes to disappearances, but child abductions are so much harder and often end much worse than those of a teenager. But it doesn't matter which way you look at it, a missing kid is a missing kid, the worst kind of case to be working on.

There's some muffled voices on the other end of the line, then Veronica's voice is back, clear as a bell, in his ear. "Chief Richmond is on his way over to the Powell residence to speak with Mrs Powell and would like for you and Detective Tunney to meet him there. We're sending over some uniforms as well."

Brian nods as he sits up, throwing the blankets off and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Okay, give me the address." He grabs a pen from the table drawer and scribbles it on the back of a birthday card from his brother as Veronica recites it to him. "Alright, thanks. Call Tunney, tell her to get over there. I'll be there in ten. And tell the uniforms not to touch anything," he adds, sharper than he intends. It's not that he doesn't trust them, really, and he definitely does not think he's better than they are, it's just -

A missing kid. There's no room for stupid mistakes on this one.

He hangs up with Veronica and stands up, dressing quickly. He doesn't bother to shower, there's no time, just trades his sleep clothes for work clothes then spends a quick four minutes in the bathroom getting freshened up enough to be presentable. He's tying his tie as he comes back into the bedroom, trying to be quiet so that he doesn't wake up Scott, who was back to sleep the second the phone stopped ringing and is now lying on his stomach with his face half-buried in the pillow.

There's glitter in his hair for some reason. On any other day, Brian would be all about waking him up nice and slow, teasing him to death about the apparent disco he catered the night before, then getting them both off sweet and hot before leaving for work. But today the thought doesn't even cross his mind, he just notices the glitter and makes a mental note to ask about it at some point, then shrugs into his shoulder holster. He takes his gun out of the safety lock box he keeps it in and puts it in his holster, then walks over to Scott's side of the bed. He puts one hand gently on Scott's back, then bends down and presses a kiss to the side of his forehead, pleased when Scott makes a soft noise of contentment.

"Love you," Brian says softly, then straightens up and goes downstairs to find his shoes.

*

When he gets to the Powell house, there's a couple of squad cars outside with uniforms waiting for someone to say action. Richmond is sitting in the front living room with a woman Brian assumes is Mrs Powell. She's not hysterical like most mothers of missing children are, but there's a tissue bunched tightly in her hands and her right leg is jiggling up and down nervously. Her face is schooled into an expression of calm, though her eyes give away the fact that she's been crying recently, and her posture is so ramrod straight Brian thinks it must be uncomfortable.

Interesting, he thinks, then focuses his attention in on Richmond.

"Mrs Powell, this is Detective Brian Larson," he's saying. "He's one of our best detectives, and I'm assigning him and his partner, Detective Tunney, to lead this case. They'll find Nicholas, Mrs Powell, you can count on that."

Brian nods and smiles politely at Mrs Powell, but inside he's cringing. Making promises like that is a big mistake, a huge mistake, one that could very well come back to bite them in the ass.

No, not them. Just Brian. It'll be his fault if they fail.

"Mrs Powell, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" he asks calmly, not betraying any of his irritation. "It'll just take a few moments, and then we'll have the other officers come in and start looking around."

"Looking around here?" she repeats, making a noise that isn't quite a scoff, but close enough. "Nicholas isn't here, Detective, in case you've forgotten. That would be the problem."

She's upset, scared, and taking it out on the nearest person. It's not personal, Brian has worked too many of these cases to think that it is, so he lets it roll right off his back. "Absolutely right," he agrees. "We're just going to make sure there's nothing here that might give us something to go on. Then we'll expand our search."

Mrs Powell nods absently. "Alright then," she agrees. "What would you like to know?"

"When was the last-" Brian feels ridiculous standing while she's sitting, and doesn't like that it gives the illusion that he's overpowering her in some way, so he glances around the room and sees an armchair in the corner. "May I?" he asks, gesturing towards it. At her assent, he pulls the foot stool across the floor so that it's closer to the couch. "Thank you," he says as he sits down. "When was the last time you saw or spoke with Nicholas?"

"I- last night," she replies, and her hands start to shake. "We had an argument about his summer plans when he returned home from school, and after that- he said he was going to a party at a friend's house, with Suzie."

"Suzie?"

Mrs Powell nods distractedly. "Suzie Pierce, she's Nicholas' girlfriend."

Brian raises his eyebrows. "Girlfriend. Okay, did you call her?"

"Yes, I- she told me that he left the party around midnight, by himself."

"He didn't take his girlfriend home first?" Brian realizes he sounds like an ass, he doesn't need the glare Richmond shoots him to tell him that, but it's an important question. And it gets him the kind of answer he was looking for.

"Well, they're not- I mean, not officially, yet, but-"

She looks flustered, so Brian cuts her off. She's already told him what he wanted to know. "Right, okay," he says. "And this party, do you know which friend of Nicholas' was hosting it?"

Mrs Powell shakes her head. "No, he- he said it was someone named Eva. Ava? I'm sorry, I don't know a last name. Maybe I should have asked, but Nicholas is a good boy, I didn't think-"

"It's no problem," he assures her. "We can find out, no problem."

"Oh," Mrs Powell says, surprised. "Good."

There's a moment of silence while Brian tries to figure out why that statement was surprising and Mrs Powell looks flustered, then Richmond clears his throat. Brian mentally shakes himself out of his train of thought, then asks, "Any other friends Nicholas might have seen, might have gone to the party with?"

"Peter Egan," Mrs Powell replies immediately. "He's Nicholas' best friend, has been since the day they met. Oh, about five years ago now. You see, Detective, my husband passed away when Nicholas was thirteen-"

There's a faint shuffling sound at the entrance way, and Brian glances over to see Kate quietly coming into the room. Her hair is wet and slightly disheveled, but otherwise she appears as professional as ever. She's holding two cups of coffee, one of which she hands to Brian as she comes over and perches on the opposite side of the ottoman. He smiles his thanks at her, then gives a brief introduction between Kate and Mrs Powell.

Once the niceties are done with again, he says, "I'm sorry to hear about your husband, Mrs Powell."

"Thank you. It's been hard. Nicholas met Pete shortly after his father passed away and they've been inseparable ever since." She smiles sadly, but only for the briefest of moments and then it's gone, her face schooled into that detached expression. "I called there first, of course, but Pete says he hasn't seen Nicholas since yesterday afternoon. Suzie did say she saw Pete at the party, however, so I don't know quite what to make of that."

Brian turns that over in his head. It's clear that Mrs Powell doesn't think very highly of Peter Egan, the question is why. Brian makes a mental note to check the kid out, see if he's hiding anything. "Alright, just one more question. Can you think of anywhere Nicholas might have gone? Or any reason at all he might have run away?"

Mrs Powell hesitates, then firmly shakes her head. "No, no, of course not," she replies tensely. "Nicholas is not that sort of boy."

Brian nods slowly. He's not entirely convinced Mrs Powell knows what kind of boy her son is at all, but he doesn't comment on that. Instead, he stands up (Kate immediately does the same) and says, "Thank you. Sorry, one last thing," he says apologetically. "A picture. Do you have a picture of Nick we can use?" He deliberately does not add for the missing person's report, but the words hang unspoken in the air regardless.

It takes Mrs Powell a moment to react, but when she does it's with brisk efficiency. "Yes, yes of course," she says, getting to her feet and walking over to the fireplace mantel on the other side of the room. Brian follows and she hands him a picture of Nick in his graduation gap and gown. "This is the most recent," she tells him, her voice thick. "He's very smart."

"I'm sure he is," Brian agrees softly, gently touching her arm. He feels her shudder with suppressed emotion and doesn't let go. "Do you have one without the- one where he's not wearing a hat?"

"Oh... yes, this one," Mrs Powell replies, delicately placing the graduation photo back in its place and picking up another framed picture, this one of Nick standing in front of a waterfall, tropical gardens and vibrant colours making the picture a shockingly bright contrast to the neutral earth tones present everywhere else. "This is- Hawaii, this past Christmas."

"Perfect," Brian tells her, accepting the outstretched frame. That word seems to have a positive effect on Mrs Powell, and any sign she was showing of cracking is gone within seconds. Expects perfection. Craves it. "Thank you," he continues, stepping back. "Detective Tunney and I are going to go outside to talk to the other officers, and then we'll be back. In the mean time, Chief Richmond will stay with you." Brian glances up to confirm this with Richmond, who nods tightly. "We're going to do everything we can, Mrs Powell."

She nods distractedly, and Brian lightly squeezes her arm before walking away, beckoning Kate to follow him.

As soon as they're out of earshot, Kate starts apologizing. "Sorry it took me so long to get here, I didn't-"

"It's fine," he interrupts. "Really." He pauses for a second as they walk out the front door. "Late night?" he guesses, a small smile curving at the corner of his mouth.

Kate stops dead in her tracks and starts to blush. "Um, something like that," she says. "Sorry."

Brian shakes his head and nudges her to keep walking. "Relax, Tunney. You're allowed to have a life."

"I know," she replies defensively. He's not sure that she does know that, but they're already across the lawn to where the uniform cops are waiting, so he lets the subject drop and pops open the top of his coffee cup.

He doesn't even get his mouth open to talk when Officer Tannen, a tiny woman with more fire and strength than most of the fully grown men on the force, speaks up. "Do we know anything solid?" she asks.

Brian gets the feeling he's going to be training her as a Detective one of these days. "Not much," he admits. "Missing person is Nicholas Powell." He holds up the framed picture in his hand. "Eighteen, a senior at the Mountain, set to graduate next week. Honours student. Last seen around midnight by a girl named Suzie Pierce, leaving a party thrown by one of their schoolmates. Not sure whose party it was yet, but one of you is going to be finding out for us. His mother called all of his friends already, no one knows where he is-"

"Or no one is admitting they know where he is," Tannen points out.

"Right," Brian agrees. "Let's assume the first for now, until we have reason to believe otherwise. His mother also says he has no reason to have left town. Though she admits they did have an argument the night before, she assures us it wasn't serious enough for him to have taken off without saying anything." He pauses, surveying the officers assembled before him, weighing what he knows about each of them to assign them tasks.

"Alright, here's how this is going to work," he says sharply. "Tremblay, I want you and Chen canvassing the neighbourhood. Talk to anyone and everyone, ask them if they saw or heard anything last night, when the last time they saw Nick was, anything you think might be useful. Let Tunney or myself know if you dig anything up. Lopez, take this picture and - Tunney will write down all the details for you, but go put out a missing person's on this kid. Border crossings, television, radio, the works. You're in charge of keeping them up to date until we find him. When you're done, come back here and we'll see where we're at."

Brian paused. "Everyone else, inside. We're starting with the house, looking for anything that might give us a clue as to where he went, or why- why someone might have kidnapped him. Nicholson, take upstairs. Stewart and Deray, main level. Tunney and I will take the basement. Any questions?"

There's a chorus of nos and head-shaking, except for Stewart. "What about the school?" he asks. "Have we talked to them yet?"

"Good question," Brian replies, checking his watch. "No, there's no one there yet, too early. Richmond sent someone over earlier to have a look around. Nothing suspicious. We'll give them a call in an hour or so." Stewart nods. "Okay, anyone else? Alright, let's get moving. If you find anything, think of anything, let me or Tunney know. Keep us posted."

With that he nods once, then jerks his head to signal Kate to follow him as he turns and walks back to the house. He finally takes a sip of his coffee, which is of course missing one sugar. It tastes awful, but Brian barely notices.

*

Their first stop after leaving the Powell house is the high school. Word hasn't gotten out yet about Nick's disappearance, but it's only a matter of time. They have Mrs Powell call the school before they leave, on the off chance that Nicholas is only trying to scare her and has shown up at school after all. He hasn't; Brian is certain no one was expecting that to be the case, but they were all hoping.

Brian talks to Whitcliff briefly and explains that they're going to need to speak with several of the students, to question them about Nick's whereabouts. Whitcliff is quick to agree, and when Brian and Kate show up at the school, he's waiting in the main office with Ms Patterson and Officer Klassen.

"Have you learned anything new?" Ms Patterson asks immediately. She looks worried, and there's a used tissue in her hand.

Brian shakes his head. "No, we're still looking."

"It's a shame," Whitcliff says sadly. "Nicholas Powell is a good student. A good kid. It just doesn't make sense that he'd disappear like this."

Brian feels his annoyance flare up at that. Of course Whitcliff cares now, when it's his golden boy in trouble, but not when it's someone like Annie Newton.

"You guys have any idea why the kid would just up and leave?" Klassen asks.

"That's what we're trying to find out," Kate replies. "We'd like to talk to some of Nick's friends, see if they know anything. Is there a classroom we could use? We'll need to take them out of class for a short period of time as well."

"Of course," Whitcliff replies seriously. "Anything we can do to help."

"You can use my office, if you like," Klassen offers.

Brian shakes his head. "Thanks, but - we don't want to freak them out if we don't have to." Klassen nods. "Is there anywhere else?"

"There's a science lab on the second floor that's not being used this morning. Class field trip," Ms Patterson cuts in, opening a locked cabinet against the wall and taking a key off the hook. With Whitcliff's nod of approval, she hands it to Kate. "Room 208."

"Thank you."

"Could you tell us what class Peter Egan is in?" Brian asks. "We'd like to speak to him first."

"Certainly." Mrs Patterson walks over to the first desk and sits down in front of the computer. A few moments of key-tapping and muttering to herself later, she looks up. "Physical Education," she tells them. "I believe Mr Lu's class is out on the soccer field today. If you head back to the main hallway, you can go straight down and out the back doors."

Brian thanks them for their help, then follows Kate down the hallway and outside, blinking against the suddenly bright sun. They have a quick word with the coach, who then walks across the field to a kid that Brian remembers seeing from the crowd of people who watched Annie be arrested the day before. After a brief exchange, the kid - Pete - slowly makes his way across the field to where Brian and Kate are waiting.

He looks miserable, Brian notes, and nervous. As the three of them walk back towards the school, Pete stares at the ground, only occasionally glancing anywhere else. Once it's at Kate and once it's at a wall he almost walks into, but not once does he look at Brian. Kate tries talking to him, telling him who they are and why they want to talk to him. Usually that works at getting people to open up and trust them. Not Pete. He just nods and stammers something that might be okay, then doesn't say another word until they make it all the way upstairs and shut themselves into the science lab.

Brian closes the door behind them and follows Kate over to one of the desks. Pete stands awkwardly near the door.

"Have a seat," Brian offers pointedly, nodding towards the stool on the opposite side of the desk. Pete hesitates but does this, his hands gripping his knees tight as he sits on the edge of the stool. He looks poised to run, a weird reaction to have when your best friend is missing. Unless you know something you don't want to share. Such as information about a plane ticket.

"You can relax," Brian says, pulling his notebook out of his pocket and flipping it open. "We know already."

He glances up just in time to see Pete look downright terrified. "Y-you do?"

Bran nods. "About the plane ticket, yeah."

The relief that shows itself on Pete's face is almost shocking. Some of the tension seeps out of his posture, and he even smiles a little. "Oh. Oh, good," he says.

"Good," Brian repeats. "We just need to ask you a few questions." When Pete nods quickly, Brian glances at Kate. It's hard to read the look on her face, and she doesn't cut in to say anything else, so he continues. "When was the last time you saw Nicholas?"

"Yesterday after school," Pete replies immediately, dropping his eyes to the floor.

Liar, Brian thinks. "Suzie Pierce told Mrs Powell she saw you at the party last night. Talking to Nick." He lets the statement hang in the air for a few seconds. "Want to try that answer again?"

Pete swallows hard and nods. "Last night. I was at the party, but I didn't- I left."

"What time?" Kate asks.

"Um, around nine, I think. Yeah, around then. I didn't stay, uh, very long."

"Why did you lie about being there?"

Pete doesn't answer right away. He looks out the window, then towards the door, then finally back at Kate. "I didn't want my parents to find out I was there," he says quietly. "They're really- I told them I was at the library. I didn't want Mrs Powell to tell them I went to the party instead. Yeah."

Brian thinks about this for a second, then nods. "Okay. And Nick didn't say anything about leaving? Nothing like that?"

"No. He had the plane ticket... I thought- when Mrs Powell called, I thought that he'd- gone."

"Where was he supposed to go?" Brian knows the answer to that already, and so does Kate. But Pete is Nick's best friend, the guy who knows Nick better than anyone. His apparent confidant, and the real question is whether Pete knows where Nick was headed.

Pete looks between them. "London," he answers after a moment. "There's a writing course, a poetry thing, that he was accepted into."

"And Mrs Powell didn't want him to go," Brian supplies, scribbling notes in his book when Pete confirms that. "How long did you know about the ticket?"

There's a twinge of sadness in Pete's voice when he answers. "Just since the day before yesterday. Nick was really good at keeping secrets."

Brian notices Kate tense up next to him and knows she caught the use of past tense, same as he did. He doesn't call Pete on it, though, because it seems like the kid has finally relaxed enough to talk freely with them and he doesn't want to mess that up by asking about it. Keeping Pete at ease might get them some crucial bit of information, for one thing, and for another Brian really isn't sure what it means. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it doesn't mean anything.

"Can you think of anyone else who might know where Nick went?" he asks instead. "Anyone else he might have told about London?"

Pete shakes his head. "Not really. Like I said, Nick was good at, you know. Hiding stuff. He didn't open up much."

Still using past tense. Not a fluke, then. "Okay. And you're sure there's nowhere else he might have gone? Nowhere he'd talked about going?"

"Just London."

Kate has been oddly quiet throughout the conversation to this point, but she speaks up at that. "Running off to London - that's not something Nick would usually do, is it?" she asks. "It was out of character for him to even consider it, is that right?"

Pete hesitates. "I- I guess so," he says finally, his eyes drifting towards the window, the chalkboard on the back wall, the periodic table poster tacked to the wall. Anywhere but at Kate and Brian.

"Why do you think he was going to do it, then?" she asks, undeterred by Pete's discomfort at the question.

"I don't know," Pete mumbles. "He just really wanted it, you know? He was real upset his mom wasn't going to let him go."

Brian can see that Pete is closing off again. He glances at Kate, a silent question in his eyes, and when she shakes her head, he turns back to Pete. His next question is likely going to make Pete nervous, so Brian wants to be sure it's the end of what they have to ask him. "One last thing. Is there anyone who might have wanted to hurt Nicholas?"

As predicted, this makes Pete tense up again. "Wh- why- Do you think someone... did that?" he asks nervously.

"I don't know," Brian replies honestly. "I hope not. Can you think of anyone?"

Pete shakes his head emphatically. "No," he says, his voice cracking.

He's upset, Brian decides, though he can't quite put his finger on why. It's not the same kind of upset he usually sees in people who have close friends and family go missing, but he can't articulate the difference, not even in his own head. In any case, it doesn't strike him as serious enough to worry over, so he shuts his notebook and stands up. "Alright, that should do it," he says. "If we have any more questions, we'll give you a call."

Pete stands up so fast he knocks over the stool. Cussing under his breath, he puts it upright again. "Okay, yeah. Um, thanks," he tells the floor, then turns and rushes to the door.

"Pete." He stops at the sound of Kate's voice, turning around with his hand on the doorknob. She walks over to him and hands him a business card. "Give us a call if you hear from Nick, okay? We need to know he's okay."

Brian thinks Pete looks like he's about to cry, but all he does is nod and grip the card tight as he flees the room.

*

Talking to the rest of Nick's friends and peers doesn't really get them anywhere. They split the list Mrs Powell gave them in half in the interest of saving time, and Brian ends up talking with a bunch of kids who don't seem to be very friendly with Nick at all, though they have no problem paying him to do their homework. Which explains where the money in Catch-22 came from, if nothing else, but doesn't fit with the way Mrs Powell describes her son.

By this point, word is spreading like wildfire about Nick's disappearance, and Brian spends a lot of time dispelling rumours before he actually gets anyone to talk. One of the kids he talks to is a loud, obnoxious jock named Jimmy. Mrs Powell had said he and Nick were friends who often worked on school projects together. Jimmy describes Nick as totally pretentious, man, you know - a writer in a way that makes Brian think he just learned the meaning of the word and has been using it as often as possible in hopes of impressing someone. Brian isn't impressed, but he takes note of it because Jimmy isn't the only one to describe Nick that way. They use a bunch of different words - some call him self-righteous, others call him a show off, and one particularly enlightened kid calls him a total douche - but it all boils down to the same thing.

The misunderstood artist, Brian thinks as he heads downstairs to talk to the last person on his list: Suzie Pierce, Nicholas' not-girlfriend. The secretary tells him she's in P. E., and that her class is in the pool this week, then gives him directions to the very back of the school.

Brian thanks her and heads towards the pool, wondering what Suzie is like. He imagines a girl who is ambitious, someone who aims high and will do anything to get it. She's probably the picture perfect definition of beautiful, he thinks, blonde and tiny with not a hair out of place. A 'good girl', as Mrs Powell would likely put it.

Outside the door of the pool area, Brian stops to slip off his shoes and socks, then rolls up his pant legs. Glancing down at himself, he realizes that he looks ridiculous, but chlorinated pool water is hell on a good suit and on expensive shoes, so he doesn't have much choice. He doesn't really care about that anyway, though he almost appreciates the fact that Scott isn't around to mock him about it.

Inside, the scent of chlorine is almost overwhelming, as is the echoing sound of whistles blowing and water splashing. Suzie is in the pool swimming laps, but the coach tells Brian that she's almost done, so he walks over to the edge and waits. A couple of the other girls are staring at him, but he's focused on Suzie. She hasn't said anything yet - though he knows she's seen him, as she falters ever-so-slightly - but already Brian is certain his assumptions about her are correct. She radiates practiced indifference, which is emphasized by the fact that she does another five laps before climbing out of the pool.

"Could you please?" she asks, nodding towards the towels. She's trying for the cool, calm, collected thing that trophy wife moms teach all their pretty little daughters, but she can't quite pull it off. Still, she reminds Brian so much of Mrs Powell it's almost eerie, and that gives him a good idea of how to approach this conversation. Like Mrs Powell, Suzie doesn't waste time, doesn't want to be bothered with superfluous talk when there are more important things to worry about. Brian can appreciate that personality trait, and can maybe concede the fact that he shares it.

He grabs a towel off the bench and tosses it at her, mildly impressed when she catches it with ease, then cuts right to the chase. "He left you a little after midnight. What was his frame of mind?" He doesn't need to be any more specific than that. They both know why he's here. Going through the preamble would be a waste of time for both of them.

Suzie gives a short, humourless laugh before she answers. She describes Nick as being moody, uninterested in sex - even though she can't actually say that word. Brian wonders if it's because she doesn't think it's proper or because even underneath all that confidence she's still an awkward kid. Either way she doesn't appreciate his suggestion that she may not be Nick's type.

"Do I look like I'm not his type?" she challenges.

Brian doesn't answer her. He's about thirty years too old to be noticing anything like that about a seventeen year old, for one thing, and for another he has very little patience for that kind of vanity. One day Suzie Pierce will learn that type has very little to do with physical appearance, even if that day isn't until she's old and grey, but it's not his place to be the one to teach her that lesson.

"You may have been the last person to, ah, see him, Suzie," he says instead. "Anything you think I should know?"

It turns out that Suzie is actually more helpful than anyone else when she answers. Nick was drunk, extremely so, which Brian knows all too well can cloud your judgement and weaken your reflexes. It's been a long time since Brian was that drunk for a bad reason, and even longer since he was an overly emotional high school kid, but it's the kind of drunk you don't forget easily.

He thanks Suzie and turns to leave, still mulling over what she said about he might not have gotten very far, when she speaks up again.

"Do you think he's dead?"

Brian hears the nervous falter in her voice and stops in his tracks. He turns around briefly, unsure of what to say. The immediate thought is no, but he's not confident enough in that belief to say so. He's not sure why he believes this is more than just a runaway case, yet he can't shake the feeling, deep in his bones, that somewhere Nicholas Powell is in trouble.

After a moment of indecision, Brian decides to be evasive. "Do you?" he asks simply.

Suzie doesn't answer him, and that's all the answer he really needs.

*

Brian meets up with Kate outside, and they head back to the Powell house to touch base with everyone else. Kate didn't have much luck talking to the kids on her list, either - the most she got was confirmation from Ava Lee that yes, Nick was at her party, she saw him leave around midnight. The frustration Kate feels over their lack of progress is written all over her face, but by the time they make it to the Powell's house again, she's back to business.

Brian can understand her frustration. Talking to Nick's friends got them nowhere, and their earlier search of the house turned up nothing other than the book of money. Brian's not even sure that means anything. It was a lot of cash, sure, but if he was planning on skipping town... having a stash made sense. But the fact that the money is still there makes Brian think that Nick didn't end up going anywhere. Not of his own free will, at any rate.

What it means beyond that, he has no idea.

Mrs Powell is sitting in the living room, her hands folded neatly in her lap, staring out the window. Officer Chen is sitting next to her looking very uncomfortable and out of her element, and looks up with relief when Brian and Kate come in.

"How are you holding up, Mrs Powell?" Kate asks softly. She's a lot better at this part than Brian is.

Mrs Powell looks up with a start. "Pardon? Oh. Yes, fine, thank you," she replies blankly. "Have you-"

She can't seem to finish the rest of her question, but they all know what she's trying to ask. "Not yet," Brian answers. He thinks Mrs Powell is going to say something, yell at him again or demand they do more, but all she does is nod tensely and go right back to staring out the window.

Brian and Kate exchange glances. Kate shrugs slightly, and he nods. "Mrs Powell, we're going to talk to Officer Chen for a few minutes," he continues, glancing at Chen and nodding towards the dining room, their de facto headquarters. "Do you want someone else to come sit with you?"

Mrs Powell shakes her head. "No, no, don't trouble yourselves," she says. Brian wonders how the hell she manages to sound so polite and so calm when her son is missing. If it were his kid...

Well, he doesn't really know how he'd react. How could he? He doesn't have kids, has never had kids. Alice had gotten pregnant once. It hadn't been planned, but once the shock had worn off, they'd both been excited about it. She'd had a miscarriage, though, and they hadn't - it had been too hard, too painful. They'd never tried again, and she'd left for good about a year later.

So Brian has no idea how he would react if it were him. Briefly he wonders what Kate would do, if it were Madison, but he feels guilty for that and pushes the thought out of his mind. He forces himself to focus on Nicholas Powell, who actually is missing. In the dining room, Tannen has a map of the city spread out across the table and is using a Sharpie to mark places in the neighbourhood.

Brian stands behind her for a second, watching. "This is where you've talked to people?" he guesses, pointing at a seven-block radius surrounding the Powell house.

"Yes, sir," she replies, stretching across the table to grab her notebook. She tears a sheet out of it and hands it to him. "These are the addresses we got no answer, but - I doubt they'll have anything new. Everyone we talked to had pretty much the exact same things to say."

"And what's that?"

Tremblay makes one last mark on the map, then caps the Sharpie and straightens up. "Nicholas Powell is a nice boy, very polite, never causes any trouble. Several of the older residents said that in the winter he shovels their driveways for them, free of charge." She says that part with an air of disbelief. "Not many kids would do that. Anyway. None of the neighbours saw Nicholas last night - one or two saw him leave home after dinner, but none saw or heard him come back."

Brian nods, thinking. Everyone they've talked to that is over the age of twenty-five has described Nick in a way that's almost picture perfect. He's a nice boy, never gets in trouble, wouldn't hurt a fly. And then there's the Nick that his friends and classmates describe, the pretentious kid who runs a cheating ring out of his locker. It's a fairly large disconnect, but not uncommon for someone who has grown up in a high pressure environment. The question is which of Nick's personalities got him in trouble, or whether this was simply a random act.

"Okay," he says finally. "Tunney, I need you to call the principal again, see if he's heard of any confrontations that Nicholas may have had in the last few days. If he can't think of anything, get him to ask the teachers. Anything they can think of, no matter how trivial it may have seemed."

Kate stares at him seriously. "And you?"

"I'm going to start walking," he tells her. "The party was here." He points at a spot marked in red Sharpie, then puts his other finger on the black circle that signifies the Powell house. "He was heading home, probably on foot. I'll take the most likely route Nick would have gone when he left and go from there. See if I can dig anything up. Give me a call when you're done with the principal and I'll let you know where I am. And get ahold of Lopez, see where he's at with the missing persons report."

"You got it," Kate agrees. She had her cellphone and radio out before he even finished talking.

Brian just stares at her for a second, which she is already too caught up in her task to notice, then turns around to leave. He stops in the living room to check on Mrs Powell, who is still staring out the window, looking shut off and emotionless. A defense mechanism, one that Brian knows well. He tries not to be that way himself, but he knows that's easier said than done, and Mrs Powell barely looks up when he says good-bye to her.

At the end of the driveway, he pauses to decide which direction Nick would have likely been coming from. Left looks faster, but more complicated. Right is a little out of the way but more direct, probably easier to navigate when you've been drinking.

Brian turns right.

As he walks down the street, he looks around, studies his surroundings intently. Scott calls this the "rich bitch" part of town, and it's a pretty apt description. Large, sprawling homes and perfectly manicured lawns, fancy cars in the driveway that are either expensive classics or whatever happens to be trendy this year. An idyllic suburban bubble with not a single thing out of place - no rust, no litter, no dirt to be seen except in the lush, vibrant gardens. The only sign of choice or individuality between each home seems to be in what shade of neutral is preferred. People like Diane Powell were made to live in places like this, but Brian's not so sure about Nicholas. Nick is a writer, an artist, and this is the most uninspiring place Brian can think of.

Brian turns left about three blocks down the road, onto a street that intersects with one of the busy roads heading out of town. More of the same houses, lawns, cars. It's too picturesque, makes Brian think there's something dark lurking in the non-existent shadows. By the time he gets to the main road, he's convinced that there is something off. Nowhere is this perfect. It's not normal.

The sound of a dog barking shakes Brian out of his thoughts, and he turns his head towards the woods at the side of the road, just in time to see an older gentleman leave the walk path, golden retriever in tow. A sharp, tingling feeling pinches at the back of his neck, urging him to go that way. Brian's been a detective long enough to trust his instincts when he gets that feeling, so he walks over to the edge of the woods and looks around. There's a broken sign post, the top laying abandoned on the ground next to the base, and tire tracks clearly visible in the surrounding mud.

The sunlight catches something large on the ground, sending a reflection of light straight into Brian's line of vision. Curious, he carefully makes his way through the wet, muddy grass to the edge of the creek. Crouching down, he picks up a broken-off side-view mirror, silver. The tire tracks match those by the broken sign, the pattern erratic but the marks themselves recent. He's not an expert at identifying this kind of thing, but knows enough to guess and he's almost positive that whatever happened here happened with the last 12 hours.

This is the last place Nicholas Powell was.

Brian's cellphone rings, startling him out of his musings. "Yeah," he barks into the mouthpiece without looking at the caller ID.

"It's me," Kate replies, completely unfazed by his tone. She knows it isn't personal. "Where are you?"

Standing up, Brian looks around. "Glendale. The woods. I think I've found something."

"Really?" Kate sounds surprised, but pleased. "I'll be there in three."

She hangs up on him before he can answer, but that's okay - he, too, knows that it's not personal. He puts his phone back in his pocket then starts on a quick walk through the immediate area of the woods, looking for something, anything, that might give him a clue as to where Nick is. There isn't much, or at least nothing blatantly obvious, but he finds a cluster of footprints nearby, and a short patch of mud that looks like it's been smoothed over.

There's blood in some places, and while it could belong to an animal, Brian doubts it. The more he sees, the worse he feels about the situation and the more certain he becomes that this is where Nick is, or was. Hopefully is. But he and Kate (who, true to her word, arrives about three minutes after she hangs up on him) aren't going to find anything here on their own. The woods are too large, too dense, and time is wasting.

"We need to get a search party up here," he says as he jogs back to where she's waiting for him. "Comb these woods."

She nods. "I spoke with the principal. Nick had a run-in yesterday with a girl at school."

Brian waits for a few seconds, then makes an and? gesture with both hands. Kate has a habit of that, of not explaining everything, and usually he has a lot more patience for it, but right now he doesn't have time. Nick is in these woods, somewhere, Brian knows it in his gut.

"Sorry," Kate says, flashing him a tight, apologetic smile. "Newton. Annie Newton."

Fuck, Brian thinks. He can feel himself go tense as this information works its way into his mind, and he comes to a stop at the edge of the creek. Because Kate really is a good detective, she doesn't miss this. "Anything I should know?" she asks, a hint of stubbornness in her tone.

He shakes his head. "No," he replies, not sure whether it's the truth or not. He knows Annie, sure, but he doesn't - before yesterday, it had been years since he last saw or even thought about her, or her family. "We arrested her yesterday. The jewellery store thing."

"Right. I forgot about that," she admits. "Do you think she might have something to do with this, too?"

Brian really wishes he could say no to that, but he can't. "Maybe," he says flatly. "Let's go find out."

*

The drive over to the apartment building the Newtons live in is a tense one. Brian is quieter than usual; Kate keeps trying to fill the silence but she gets annoyed after his fourth one-word answer, which he does feel bad about. He's just preoccupied thinking about the case and how Annie fits into it. Before they left, he called Richmond to get the search party set-up underway, then called Mrs Powell to ask if Nick had a history with Annie beyond yesterday's fight. She told them that she had never heard of Annie, wasn't aware that Nick knew anyone by that name. And she certainly hadn't been aware of the altercation between the two of them.

It doesn't make sense. It's obvious that Brian is missing something, he just has no idea what it might be.

"What's she like?" Kate asks after another few minutes of silence. Brian is certain she's only been quiet that long because she was thinking of a question to ask that would force him to use at least one complete sentence when he answers.

"Who, Annie?" he asks. It's a joke, albeit a lame one, but the look of don't act stupid with me Kate gives him is almost comical. She's such a mom. "She's... different," he says after a second. It's the truth; Annie is different, but there's a dual meaning to his words. She's different from the other kids they talked to today, but she's also very different from the girl he remembers.

"Different how?" Kate asks. She can be remarkably persistent when she wants to be, but Brian still doesn't answer right away. He likes Kate, but he's not sure if he wants to get into the entire history of it.

Brian doesn't spend a lot of time wondering about the whys or hows of the universe, but he can't hep but wonder why it is that after eight years, he's suddenly found Annie Newton back in his life. Maybe he wouldn't wonder about it if it were under better circumstances, but this is a weird coincidence, no doubt about that. All things considered, he'd really have preferred not to have ever seen her again if this is how it has to be.

"She's angry," he says after a minute. "I don't know how people get that angry."

The rest of the drive is quiet except for the radio. (Classic rock. Brian's always been impressed that Kate genuinely likes the same music he does, though he cringed when she said it was the same stuff her dad used to listen to.) He parks across the street from the address Chen dug up for them, and lets out a low whistle as they climb out of the car. "Nice place," he comments dryly, surveying the peeling paint and dead grass. There are weeds growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk, and one of the windows is boarded up with graffiti-covered plywood.

As they get closer to the building, they can hear a lot of screaming through one of the open windows on the top floor. Kate winces when a woman yells something about a stupid bitch whore. She hates that word - whore - Brian knows that from a rape case they worked on awhile back, though he hadn't asked why hearing their suspect call the victim that had gotten her so worked up. They hadn't been working together all that long then, and he hadn't wanted to push too hard too soon, but now he's wondering if maybe he should have. Kate looks like she's ready to scream.

At the front of the building, Brian glances around for an entrance system. All the apartments he ever lived in had some kind of buzzer system, but this place doesn't seem to. In fact, it doesn't look like there's any security in place at all, which maybe shouldn't be surprising given the neighbourhood. The most Brian can gather is that there used to be a security door, but now the lock is broken off and getting in is as simple as pulling the door open.

"How does anyone feel safe raising their kids in a place like this?" Kate asks in a murmur, the sound echoing in the hallway. She's a lot calmer now that they can't hear any of the fighting, but he's still curious about it. He doesn't ask, though; he just shrugs and knocks on the door to apartment 103. He can hear the blaring TV and some loud shuffling through the thin door, and it only takes a few seconds for the door to open.

"Jack." Brian smiles and keeps his tone friendly, familiar, hoping to set the man at ease. There's a long, uncomfortable silence in which it obviously doesn't work, but he just keeps smiling and says, "We're here to see Annie."

Another long silence. Jack rubs at his balding head, not really looking at Brian at all. It's hard to read the expression on his face. Shame, maybe, or disgrace. Hell, for all Brian knows it's just apathy. "She's on the roof," Jack says firmly, then shuts the door in Brian's face.

Brian stands there for a second. He's honestly surprised that just happened. Not that he'd been expecting a friendship bracelet or anything, but at least a hello, how are you. Then again, it's been a long time.

Brian gives his head a small shake, then starts towards the elevator. As they round the corner, Kate speaks up. "Some history there?"

He's not surprised she's figured him out now. "He used to be a cop," Brian explains.

"What happened?"

"Oooh, it's a long story." One that he's still not interested in completely divulging, but Kate is giving him an odd look and he knows he should say something. Talk to her, a voice in his head says. Treat her like your partner. "I knew Annie when she was just a baby," he adds with a smile as they walk into the elevator. He reaches over and pushes the button to the highest level. "She liked my ties."

He glances at Kate with a small smile on his face. At first he's not sure how she's going to react to the fact that he wasn't exactly forthcoming about knowing Annie, but she just smiles back. "You do have nice ties," she says.

"That's because I let other people pick them out," Brian replies, turning back to the door. "Never could figure out how to make them match shirts on my own."

"Larry's the same way," Kate says after a moment. "Except that he solves the problem by never wearing them."

Brian smiles again. "Wish I could take that route."

The elevator comes to a stop and the door dings open, revealing a sign on the wall opposite with an arrow pointing towards the roof exit. They walk down the short hallway in silence, then Brian pushes open the roof door. He sees Annie, who is sitting on a chair near the edge of the roof and idly playing with what looks like a necklace, flinch at the loud screeching sound that came with opening and closing the door. She turns her head to see who it is, and when she sees Brian, her eyes immediately go to his neck before she turns back around. It takes him about two seconds to figure out she was looking for his tie.

He can't help but smile a little at that. Annie remembers him now, and it's probably because Jack reminded her in the midst of all the yelling and screaming he surely did the night before, but she still remembers. It's nice to know that the sweet little Annie he remembers is still there.

"Hey, kiddo. What's up?"

*

The search party comes together quickly. By the time Kate and Brian get back to the station, Richmond has assembled a team of cops to help search, including a couple of guys from the Canine Unit. There's a news bulletin out about the search, with an estimated 2:40pm start time, being played on television and radio every 15 to 20 minutes, and Chen put up posters about it in the Powell's neighbourhood. Word is out as much as it's going to get on such short notice, and so far things are going off without a hitch.

Richmond leaves the station to oversee set-up of a command post near the woods, just in case, and to arrange to have the road blocked off on one side. Kate takes off for five minutes to call home and talk to her husband and daughter, and Brian thinks about calling Scott, but it's still early and he's probably still at work. Instead, Brian goes over to his desk and runs a search on Marcus Bohem, Annie's boyfriend. Unsurprisingly, the guy has a record - a pretty lengthy one, too, considering he's only 26. Numerous arrests and convictions, including time served for armed robbery. Currently on parole.

Brian picks up the phone on his desk and quickly dials the number of Marcus' parole officer. She doesn't tell him much he doesn't already know, but she does say that Marcus has been out for eight months and that he's been good in that time. He hasn't been arrested, or even questioned, on any crime, and that his employer has had no complaints whatsoever about his job performance. Marcus Bohem is, as far as she can tell, a positive example of post-prison behaviour.

Brian thanks her for her time and hangs up not believing a word of it. Marcus is Annie's boyfriend (Brian is overlooking the suspicious age difference for the moment), and he has a history of grand theft auto, which makes him the perfect person to have stolen the car while Annie grabbed the jewellery. Being employed at an auto repair shop would work to his advantage, too, especially if his employers are as morally ambiguous as Marcus himself seems to be. There is no doubt in Brian's mind that that's what happened, but he has no way to prove it.

Yet.

He scribbles down the address to the garage that Marcus works at and shoves it in his pocket as Kate comes back. She seems reinvigorated after her phone call - either that or she found a caffeine drip that she's not sharing. "Ready to go?" she asks, almost brightly.

Brian nods and stands up, pausing to grab the half-eaten granola bar out of his desk, then follows her out of the office and downstairs.

*

Night falls and they still haven't found- Brian hates thinking Nicholas' body, but he's pretty sure that's what they're looking for at this point. The closest they'd come to a lead was when one of the dogs sniffed out Nick's watch, and that was hours ago. (It is possible that he's still alive, but finding that watch destroyed any hope Brian had of finding Nick safe and sound somewhere.) They haven't found anything else to link Nick - or anyone else - to the woods. It's going to be next to impossible in the dark, even harder now that it's raining. They have flood lights and seemingly endless technology, but the woods are deep and dense, and Brian is realistic about their chances.

Most of the volunteers have gone home, soaked to the skin and frustrated by the lack of progress. There's a crowd of curious people watching from behind the police barricades, craning their necks to see around the ambulances and squad cars, and a local news crew setting up for a live report. Brian walks past them all towards the tent, where Richmond and a couple of uniform cops are hunched over a grid map of the woods, marking areas that have already been searched.

Richmond looks up when he hears Brian come in. "Anything?" he asks tensely, visibly deflating when Brian shakes his head.

Brian heads straight for the back of the tent, where a beat-up old card table is set up with coffee, donuts, and a fruit tray that has seen better days. He grabs a cup of coffee and an apple fritter, then goes back to where Richmond is waiting.

"Where's Tunney?" Richmond asks.

"Tailing someone," Brian replies, taking a sip of coffee. It tastes horrible, like he imagines old, dirty socks would taste if you boiled them and added sugar.

Richmond looks surprised. "You have a suspect? Who?"

Brian shrugs. "Suspect? I don't know, maybe." He glances around to make sure no one is listening in who shouldn't be. When he's sure the coast is clear, he continues. "Pete Egan, Nicholas' best friend. Tunney thinks he knows something he's not telling us."

"What do you think?"

"I trust her judgement," Brian says simply. He lifts the apple fritter to his mouth and gives it a dirty look before dropping it without taking a bite. It probably tastes worse than the coffee, anyway. Richmond is staring at him, waiting for some further explanation, but Brian doesn't have one. It really is that simple.

After a moment of silence, Richmond clears his throat. "Right, well." He turns back to the map on the table, gesturing for Brian to come closer. "We've barely scratched the surface of the woods. It would take days for us to get through the whole thing, and even the-"

The end of that sentence hangs unspoken in the air, neither of them wanting to be the one that says it. Brian drains the rest of his coffee, throwing the cup and the uneaten donut into the garbage. "We'll keep looking," he says firmly. He glances at his watch and is surprised by how late it's gotten. "As long as it takes."

There's nothing more to say about it, so Brian gives Richmond a respectful nod, then leaves the tent. It's not raining very hard anymore, which he is grateful for but knows probably won't last. Taking advantage of it while he can, he walks as far away from the noise as possible, but between the ambulances, the police sirens, and the helicopters overhead, it doesn't do much good. It'll have to do, though, because there's nowhere else to go. He digs his cellphone out of his pants pocket and hits speed dial one.

It only rings twice before Scott picks up. There's a loud banging noise on the other end of the line, and a broken-off curse of motherf-, then a breathless, "Hello?"

"Hey, it's me," Brian says, ducking his head and smiling a little to himself. Christ, just hearing that one word has made him feel a thousand times better about everything. "Are you getting into trouble without me or something?"

"Maybe," Scott replies, then laughs. The sound is low and warm, and Brian shuts his eyes and lets it wash over him. "Nah, we just need to find somewhere else to put this table. I keep running into the damn thing." There's a brief pause, and Brian remembers his grand plan for redecorating the living room that included moving that very table. He's going to say something about it when Scott speaks up again. "Where are you? It's loud."

Brian sighs and opens his eyes. "Search party," he replies flatly.

"I figured," Scott says gently. Always so gentle, especially when it's horrible things like this. "The kid on the news?"

Brian nods, even though Scott can't see him. "Yeah. Nick Powell."

"I heard about that earlier. Wondered if it was going to be yours. How's it going?"

"Not so great," he says, taking a deep breath and pinching the bridge of his nose. "We found his watch, but- Look, I'm going to be awhile. Don't wait up, okay?"

"Okay," Scott agrees softly. "Let me know if you need anything. Good luck."

Brian swallows hard, suddenly emotional about- jeez, everything. "Yeah," he says thickly. "Yeah, thanks."

He can practically hear Scott's smile on the other end of the line. "I love you."

"Love you, too," Brian replies, then hangs up the phone before he loses it. He can't do that, he doesn't have time. He needs to get back out there and search for Nick Powell. Everything else can wait.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Brian walks back through the throngs of people until he reaches an EMT. He's just patched up one of the volunteer officers, who fell and scratched his arm on a loose tree branch, and is checking around to make sure no one else is hurt.

"How long do we have?" Brian asks him. The helicopter is rising behind them and he has to shout to be heard.

The EMT shrugs. "Depends on his injuries. Two, three days tops."

*

It's after one in the morning when Brian finally makes it home. He's exhausted, but the kind of exhausted where his brain is still running at a thousand miles an hour and he's not sure whether he'll ever get it to stop.

He walks into the kitchen and drapes his jacket over the back of a chair, then goes to the fridge, more out of habit than any desire to actually get anything out of it. He opens the door and reaches for a bottle of water and his eye catches on a tinfoil covered glass baking pan. There's a note stuck to the top that says nothing more than EAT!! in large, bold letters. Brian sets the water on the counter then takes out the pan and straightens up, lifting the tinfoil off the corner. Lasagna, his favourite.

He's not hungry but knows that he needs to eat - half a granola bar and countless cups of coffee isn't enough for anyone. Brian steps back and lets the fridge door shut as he puts the dish in the microwave to heat up, then leans against the counter to wait.

His mind wanders, inevitably, back to the case and everything they know about Nicholas Powell's disappearance. Kate is convinced that Pete Egan has something to do with it, or at the very least knows someone who does, and Brian is inclined to agree with her. He was passing off Pete's nervousness during their talk as being worried about his friend, but the kid's behaviour during the search party was suspicious. Admittedly, Brian himself hadn't been paying a lot of attention to Pete, but Kate had, and her conviction on the subject was enough for him.

But he's equally convinced that Annie has a hand in this. He doesn't want that to be true, but his gut and his brain are both telling him that she is. She's hiding something, and so is her boyfriend, but other than being classmates and the fight she and Nick had at school the day before, Brian can't find a single connection between them. Maybe it has something to do with the smash and grab at the jewellery store; Brian doesn't remember seeing Nick at the school that day, though he must have been somewhere. The anonymous caller who tipped them off had been male - it could have easily been Nick.

What that has to do with Pete Egan, why Nick would have ratted her out in the first place, or what it is Annie might have done to him if that was true - Brian doesn't know about any of it.

The timer on the microwave beeps three times, and Brian pushes himself off the counter. Using an old towel instead of an oven mitt, he takes the dish out and sets it on a wooden cutting board, then carries that over to the kitchen table. He sits down and props his feet up on the chair opposite, relieved to be able to rest them for a few hours. His appetite is still lacking but he has to admit that the lasagna smells delicious, and he knows that it will taste the same way. Scott is a fantastic chef - he's always testing out fancy recipes of things with unnecessarily complicated (and often French) names, and they always taste great. But nothing beats the classics.

Brian just wishes he were in more of a position to appreciate it tonight. He manages to eat about half of the lasagna, too caught up in his own head to really enjoy it, then re-wraps the rest of it and sticks the container back in the fridge. All of a sudden he is bone-achingly tired, and he briefly considers sleeping on the couch so that he doesn't have to climb up the stairs to go to bed. That part does sound appealing, but the couch is cold and lonely and his bed is warm with Scott, so in the end, it's really not a hard decision to make.

Brian yawns loudly and shuffles his way towards the stairs, then climbs them slowly. His legs feel like lead, but eventually he makes it to the top. After a brief stop in the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face, he shuffles into the bedroom and flicks on the light. He knows Scott won't wake up from that - the man could probably sleep through the apocalypse if he felt like it - and Brian is already pulling his shirts off over his head as he does it. It's a few moments before he actually gets a good look at the bed, but when he does his breath catches in his throat.

Scott is fast asleep, laying on his side with one arm tucked under his head and the pillow, and the other draped across Brian's side of the bed. His hand is splayed protectively over the spot where Brian's chest would normally be.

A flood of warmth rushes through him at that. For a moment Brian just stands there, watching with a tiny smile on his face. He finishes undressing until he's only wearing his boxers, then flicks off the overhead light and walks over to the bed. There's enough moonlight coming through the window for him to see what he's doing as he gently lifts Scott's arm and the blankets up, then slides into bed and drops both back over his chest.

He feels immediately calmed, almost as if it were as simple as flipping a switch. His brain is still whirling, but Brian can feel himself settling as the faint scent of vanilla that Scott uses to mask the smell of raw fish on his hands after catering a seafood menu fills his nose. Brian has associated that smell with home for almost six years now, and he hadn't realized how much he'd been craving that all day. Not until he had it.

Brian holds tight to Scott's arm and lets his eyes fall shut. It's still a long time before he falls asleep, and when he does it's fitful and light, but at least he feels safe now.

*

When Brian wakes up for good the next morning, he's only been asleep for four hours and it's because Scott is trying to disentangle himself from the octopus-like hold Brian has on him. He's still holding Scott's arm to his chest and now their legs are tangled together, entwined in the bedsheets. Brian looks up in surprise, blinking Scott's face into focus.

"Sorry," he mumbles sleepily, struggling to sit up, get out of Scott's way, and rub the sleep out of his eyes, all at the same time. It's pointless, though, as within seconds he's flat on his back again, this time with Scott straddling his waist. Brian's wrists are being held down against the mattress on either side of his head, and he automatically tries to break free, but it doesn't get him anywhere.

He expects the sudden show of dominance to be about getting him to talk, but all Scott does is lean down and kiss him. It's soft and gentle, which is surprising, but Brian opens his mouth to it immediately, kisses back until he can't breathe anymore. He shouldn't be wasting time like this, he needs to get up and call Richmond, and Kate, see if anything new has come in, and -

"Did you eat dinner?" Scott asks when he pulls back.

It sounds like a ridiculous question, like it might be a joke or something, but Brian knows better than to laugh. "Yes," he replies, then amends when Scott raises an eyebrow, "Okay, half of it." Scott tsks, but before they can have their you need to eat, even when you're stressed and busy discussion, Brian cuts him off. "I'll bring the other half to work with me," he says. "Promise."

Scott considers this. "Today?"

Brian gets a little distracted from the conversation when he tries to pull his wrists down and Scott pushes them deeper into the mattress without even realizing he's doing it. "What?" Brian asks, not really paying attention to anything other than the pressure against his skin.

"You have to bring it with you today," Scott says, letting go of Brian's wrist and poking him in the chest with one finger. "Or I'll come find you and bring it to you. Don't think I won't."

"I know you would," Brian replies with a small smile. It wouldn't be the first time, or even the second or third, that Scott showed up at the station with a plate of food and a demand that Brian eat in the middle of an important investigation. Some of the other guys on the force give Brian shit about it when it happens, but he doesn't care. It's nice, actually, because it reminds him that someone is going to be there when he's done submersing himself in work, and that that someone cares enough to lecture him on his eating habits. Well, that and the food is always amazing. It sure as hell beats whatever vending machine smorgasbord everyone else eats.

But as nice as it would be, Brian knows that Scott is busy and that he doesn't have time to chase Brian down to baby-sit him, so he says, "Yes, I promise to take the food to work - and to eat it - today."

"Good," Scott says firmly, letting go of Brian's other wrist and climbing off of him. He sits on the edge of the bed, watching as Brian sits up, then asks, "Did you find anything?"

Brian shakes his head. "Not enough," he replies, stretching his arms over his head. "Just a lot of maybes. I should call Kate, see if she got anywhere tailing that kid," he adds as he drops his arms down into his lap.

Scott just nods and stands up, pausing to run his hand through Brian's messy, greasy hair. "'Kay," he agrees, even though Brian knows he has no idea what kid they're talking about. "I'll go make coffee."

That is, possibly, the best idea Brian has heard in awhile. He watches Scott leave, then gets up to grab his cellphone from the pocket of the pants he wore the day before. If Kate had found anything worth knowing, she would have called as soon as she found it, but he dials her number anyway.

It takes her a few rings to answer, and when she does she sounds like he just woke her up. "Did you get anything on Pete Egan?" he asks.

"Hmm? No, he- I lost him, once, near the library - I don't know where he went, but he came back about an hour later."

"Who's watching him now?"

"Wyatt," she replies, sounding more alert the longer they speak. "I told him to call me if anything went down, but I haven't heard from him."

"Okay. Check in with him, then get over there as soon as you can," he says. "I want you on this."

"Yes, sir."

Brian makes a face at that, then hangs up and runs a hand through his hair. "Yeuch," he mutters, patting it back down where he can feel it stick up in the back. He's not sure which sounds more appealing at the moment, having a shower or going back to sleep, and he wonders if it is at all possible to do both at the same time. Probably not, but it doesn't matter anyway - sleep isn't an option. Nick Powell is still out there somewhere (Brian hopes to God that he's out there alive) and sleeping isn't going to help find him.

Despite that thought, Brian yawns as he stands up and heads to the bathroom, where he turns on on the shower as hot as it will go and spends a few long minutes just standing under the spray of water. It feels good pounding against his shoulders, good enough to lull him into a sense of relaxation that does make him doze off for a few minutes, with his head resting on the cool tile of the shower. Eventually the scalding water becomes too much to stand. Brian jerks awake and quickly finishes washing up.

By the time he's out of the shower, dried off and dressed for work, his phone is already ringing non-stop. First it's Kate, calling back to let him know she's back watching Pete and that Wyatt didn't see anything during the night. Then it's Wyatt calling to tell him the exact same thing, and that he's going home to grab a few hours of sleep but if they need any extra hands to give him a call.

Next it's Richmond, wanting to know where they're at and what the game plan for the day is. Brian fills him in on everything he's found out about since the night before, including Pete disappearing for an hour and what Marcus Bohem had to say, as he makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen. He sits down at the table with a thud, then shoots Scott a grateful look when he slides a cup of coffee down the table. It makes Scott smile, so Brian's sure that he looked really pathetic about it.

"Has anyone talked to Mrs Powell yet?" he asks Richmond, picking up his coffee and taking a long, desperate drink of it.

"I called her myself," Richmond says wearily. "Sounded tired, but okay all things considered. She's a tough cookie."

Brian makes a vague noise of agreement. However true that may be, this is her son they're talking about - at some point she's going to break, if she hasn't already, and it could get messy. He doesn't say that, though, just tells Richmond that he'll be by the station in an hour or so and then hangs up.

Scott comes over and sits down next to him, pulling their chairs closer together so that he can rest his head on Brian's shoulder. They drink their coffee in silence, with Brian already lost in thought over what they know about Nick Powell's disappearance, and Scott simply accepting the silence because he knows that's what Brian needs when he's working a case like this. Brian appreciates that fact more than he's ever been able to say in words, but he hopes that his hand resting on Scott's thigh gets his point across all the same.

"I gotta go," he says after a few minutes, draining the end of his coffee and setting the mug back down on the table. "You working today?"

Scott nods and shifts so that he's sitting upright in his chair; Brian misses the physical contact immediately. "Yeah, just a lunch thing," he says. "I'll be home early."

Brian nods as he stands up to put the mug in the sink, then walks back to the table. Bracing one hand on the back of Scott's chair, he leans down and kisses him, his free hand coming around to cup the side of Scott's face. "I don't know when I'll be back," he says when he pulls away, sweeping his thumb across Scott's cheek. "It'll probably be late."

"I know." Scott gives him a small smile, one that looks tired but still genuine. "I'll be here."

*

Brian spends the first few hours of his morning getting caught up with everything that happened after he left. Before he heads into the station he checks back with the search team at the woods, but though they've been looking all night, they haven't turned up with a single thing. As much as Brian was hoping for a different answer, he's not surprised.

When he gets to the station, he stops in the break room to put his lunch in the fridge and to grab a bottle of iced tea from the vending machine. It's still early, not quite eight in the morning, and the other detectives are just starting to trickle in. Brian escapes to his desk before he can be dragged into endless conversations about the case. He's got better things to do than rehash the details eight times - like work at solving the case.

Kate is still out watching Pete, so Brian takes the time to make a variety of phone calls. He goes through the messages on his desk - most of them useless tips from concerned citizens - then checks in with Kate, Richmond, and the search team again. Finally, he calls Diane Powell himself, even though he hates that he has to tell her they haven't found anything else. But Richmond was right, she sounds calm and put-together, and she refuses his offer to have someone come stay with her.

"You have better things to do with your time, Detective," she tells him. "I'll be fine."

Brian doesn't argue with her, but when he hangs up he makes a note to have someone drive by her place later, just in case.

He's thinking about what to do next, maybe calling the garage Marcus Bohem works at to see if he showed up for work today or not, when his cellphone rings, the sound muffled in his jacket pocket. It takes him a second to actually get it free and answer it.

"Pete Egan is heading somewhere," Kate says as soon as he answers. Her voice is tense, her words short, her intense focus on something that is definitely not this conversation. A car horn blares in the background, and she mutters something that Brian is willing to bet on being rude and unprofessional under her breath before she starts talking. "He's on his bike, heading east."

"You think he's meeting someone?" Brian is already standing up and shrugging into his coat.

"He's going somewhere he doesn't want to be followed."

"He's up to something?"

Kate hesitates, but when she answers, "Yes," it's with complete conviction.

"Alright. Stay on the line with me, let me know where you're going." Brian grabs his keys off his desk and heads for the elevator, then changes his mind and uses the stairs. On the second floor, he ducks his head into the uniform cops' break room. There's a few people standing around, including two or three from yesterday morning at the Powells. They all look up with a start when he barges in.

"Any of you busy?" he asks impatiently. There's some nervous head shaking and a few confused looks. "Good. You're coming with me." He turns to leave the room, until he realizes that no one is following him. "Let's go," he snaps.

That's all it takes for them to snap out of it, and he leads them downstairs and outside towards the parking lot. "What's going on?" Stewart asks once they come to a stop next to a couple of squad cars. Brian doesn't answer him, just holds up one finger in a wait signal, then says into the phone, "Where are you?"

"Decker Avenue," Kate replies immediately.

"Good, that's not too far. Any idea where he's headed?"

"I'd guess the bridge," she says. "I used to meet friends there when I was a kid."

"Okay," Brian replies. That's a good enough reason for him, and he moves the phone away from his mouth as he addresses the others. "Here's the deal. Tunney's following one of Nick's friends; we think he's meeting up with whoever is responsible. We don't know for sure where, or who, but we're going in anyway. Split up, two cars - no lights, no sirens - and follow me. We're guessing the bridge, but if that changes I'll let you know. Any questions? Okay, let's go."

*

Kate was right about where Pete was headed, and it only takes Brian and the others a few minutes to reach where she's waiting. There's a lot of brush cover but with a decent view of the bridge - a good spot for not being seen. There's a busy highway right behind the bridge, too, which helps cover the sound of them driving up. The six of them hide behind a large expanse of shubs, and Brian can see Marcus and Annie, along with two other kids he doesn't recognize, but there's no sign of Pete Egan.

"Where's the kid?" he asks Kate.

"He's right-" Kate glances up to the bridge, then narrows her eyes. "He was right there, he must have taken off, I don't-"

Brian waves her off. "Worry about it later," he interrupts. "He was with them, maybe they know something. Let's deal with what we have in front of us, okay?" She nods. "Good. Tannen and Tremblay, with me. We'll go up, see if they feel like playing nice. Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky. The rest of you, work with Tunney down here in case they make a run for it. Got it?"

This is met with a series of nods and quiet confirmations. "Alright, let's move," he says, signalling the others to follow him as he heads towards the entrance of the bridge. He quietly runs up the walkway, Tannen and Tremblay at his heels. He's trying for fast and stealthy, but something about the situaton is making him nervous. As they get closer, Brian can see that Marcus has the gun pointed at Annie's chest and the two of them are locked in a staring contest. Annie doesn't look scared and that itself is worrisome.

They get almost to the very top before one of the kids Brian doesn't recognize, the blond one, spots them. "Cops," he hisses, trying to make himself invisible by leaning into the wire gate. The others look over, startled, and within seconds everything goes to pot. Annie takes advantage of the fact that Marcus is distracted to elbow him in the stomach and wrestle the gun away from him. As soon as she has it she whirls around, aiming it at Brian and the others.

"Annie, put the gun down," he says, knowing even as he does that it isn't going to work. He sees her looking for a way out, an escape, but she's too far gone into fear to accept the one Brian wants to offer her.

He knows what she's going to do almost as soon as she does. Annie sees the hole in the chain link above their heads, and all Brian can do is watch as she tucks the gun into the back of her pants and gets ready to jump. "Hold your fire," he barks at the other officers, just in case someone thinks they're going to try anything stupid, then refocuses his attention on Annie. "Put the gun down!"

Annie jumps up, sliding through the hole with ease. Shit, Brian thinks, running up to where she was just standing. The hole isn't big enough for any of the officers to get through; she's got her advantage.

Brian watches her run across the top of the bridge, his heart in his throat. She's going to break her damn neck if she's not careful - which she's not, because she's scared. "Annie, stop," he yells, shoving his gun back into his holster. "Stop!"

She turns back to look at him, but she doesn't listen. Instead she jumps down to the lower part of the bridge, the chain link rattling loud as she starts to run again. Brian follows her, only vaguely aware of Tannen and Tremblay stopping to cuff Marcus and the other two. He keeps yelling at her, asking her to stop, but it only makes her run more. The way she sways back and forth puts unwelcome visions into his head, and he wishes that she would stop doing it.

They meet at the end of the bridge, him in the enclosure and her still on the top. She has nowhere else to run, but she climbs down the side like Spider-man on a brick wall, stopping when she's eye level to him.

"Nice," he comments dryly, because he's not sure what else to say. She stares at him for a moment, her fingers curling around the holes in the fence, like she's waiting for him to do something. Say something, maybe. The problem is, he can't figure out what that is she wants from him. "Come on, Annie, where's Nicholas?"

You can trust me, he thinks strongly, trying to will her to understand even as she lets go of the fence. Somehow she manages not to hurt herself, despite the near-ten foot drop to the ground, and as soon as she lands she's springing to her feet and taking off at a run. There's a part of Brian that wants to hit the fence - the bang and the rattle might be satisfying, but that's not his style.

He closes his eyes briefly, frustrated with himself for not getting through to her, then turns around and watches as she runs.

"Do you think it was her?" Kate asks quietly. Tannen and the others are hauling the rest of the kids back down to the squad cars, but Kate stays with him, watching.

The gun is back in Annie's hands, poised to shoot, but her aim isn't as steady now as it was a few minutes ago. It's adrenaline, or maybe lack of. She stumbles as she runs, slipping in the mud and not watching where she's going. "Never!" she screams suddenly, waving the gun back towards the bridge with no specific target.

Brian looks at Kate for an explanation, but she looks just as confused as he feels.

*

They let the two unknowns, Dean Kennedy and Matthew Francis, go without pressing any charges. Brian and Kate talk to them each separately, but they might as well have not bothered because they say the exact same things: they don't know anything about Nicholas Powell's disappearance, barely know who he is, and they've never even met Pete Egan. They were just hanging out with their buddy Marcus when all of a sudden his "crazy bitch" girlfriend showed up and pulled his own gun on him. He was just protecting himself, it was self-defense.

Since no one saw either one of them do anything other than stand there, they don't have any choice about letting them go. Brian is frustrated by it, though he tries not to let it show. He was holding out hope that one of them would crack - both of them are small fish, a handful of misdemeanors between them with no time served, and he'd been hoping they'd confess to knowing something in order to save their own asses.

But they didn't, and now their best chance lies with Marcus Bohem, who is waiting for them in Interview 3. After talking with the guy the night before, Brian's almost certain they aren't going to get anywhere with this, but at the very least they'll be able to charge him with something. Six cops saw him holding a gun on his girlfriend, that's going to count for something. In the meantime, Brian and Kate are letting him stew for another few minutes while they go over what they learned from Dean and Matthew.

"What I don't get is why are they protecting Pete?" Kate asks, leaning against the wall outside the interrogation rooms. "They don't even know him."

Brian turns towards her, hands in his pockets. "They're not," he says simply. "They know we're onto him and they're protecting themselves."

"So you don't think they're involved?"

"They probably are," Brian admits. "But we have nothing on them and they know that, too."

"I guess so," Kate agrees, sighing. "What about Marcus? You talked to him yesterday."

Brian nods. "I don't know. I think he knows, but if it was his idea..."

"Then we'd have to work a lot harder?" Kate supplies, trying a tiny smile.

"Yeah, that." Brian rubs a hand over his face, covering his mouth when he yawns. "Sorry. Let's go talk to him."

Kate nods and pushes herself off the wall, looking as tired as Brian feels. She doesn't say a word about it, though, just follows him into Interview 3. Inside, they find Marcus slouched in his seat, his head thrown back and staring at the ceiling. He looks up when the door opens, and his eyes immediately fall on Kate, giving her a sleazy once-over.

Brian bares his teeth in a smile as he sits down across from Marcus. "Hi," he says loudly, pulling the other man's attention away from Kate. "Good to see you again."

Marcus just stares at him. "You too, Detective," he replies politely.

For a minute, Brian doesn't say anything. He puts the case file down on the table and opens it slowly, then flicks through it without reading a word. After that he reaches into his pockets for a pen. Finally, he looks around the room - Kate is standing a few feet behind him, her arms folded across her chest, watching - and then back to Marcus. "So what happened out there today?" he asks casually, as if they were two old pals just shooting the breeze.

Marcus huffs out a laugh. "What happened?" he repeats. "Annie tried to kill me, that's what happened. Just ask Dean and Matty."

"You were the one holding a gun on her," Brian points out. "Holding it to her chest and smiling, in fact."

"I was happy to be alive," Marcus replies, unflinching as he meets Brian's gaze across the table.

He's good, Brian has to give him that. "I bet," Brian says calmly. "If she was trying to kill you, how come you were the one with the gun?"

Marcus pauses. "I took it away from her," he says, managing to sound both smug and patronizing at the same time.

The tone riles Brian something fierce, but he keeps his voice calm when he replies. "She must have been pretty mad at you, if she was pulling a gun in the first place. Why was she mad?"

Marcus stares at him. "She's jealous, I guess."

"Ooh, that open relationship's not working out so well anymore?" Brian asks with exaggerated sympathy.

That makes Marcus laugh shortly, and Brian flashes him a humourless smile. "No, not so much."

"That's sad."

"Yeah, well," Marcus shrugs. "You know chicks, man. They're crazy."

Brian raises his eyebrows. "You think Annie is crazy?"

"She pulled a gun on me, man. Yeah, I think she's crazy."

"Fair enough." Brian leans back in his chair, pretending to think, then sits up and drums his index and middle fingers against the table. "So she just showed up and pulled a gun on you? Just like that?"

Marcus shrugs. "What can I tell ya, man. Crazy," he replies.

"Tell me what happened."

"I was hanging out with my friends, that's all." Marcus' voice doesn't falter once. "I didn't do nothing wrong. Then Annie shows up, and she fuckin' pulls a gun on me! She starts yelling about how I cheated on her and how she was going to make me pay, all this shit. I was terrified."

Brian nods along with this. It's complete bullshit, he knows it is and he's pretty sure Marcus knows he knows it is, but he plays along anyway. "So how'd you end up with the gun?"

Marcus grins. "It wasn't exactly hard to overpower her, Detective."

"Hmm," Brian replies noncommittally. He doesn't like the sound of that at all. "Well, she didn't have any trouble getting it back when we were there."

"Yeah, because she sucker-punched me," Marcus protests.

Brian nods. "Right. Have you ever hit her?" he asks, keeping his tone light and casual.

For the first time, anger flashes in Marcus' eyes. "Excuse me?"

"Nothing," Brian replies absently, then abruptly changes tracks. "Then what? You aimed the gun at her because..."

He's not sure Marcus is going to go with it for a minute, but after glaring at Brian for a few long moments, he does answer. "Because I didn't want her to get away with it. She could've hurt someone. Matty, he was gonna call the cops. But then you guys showed up."

Brian makes a surprised face. "That's a lucky break for you, isn't it?"

"Real lucky," Marcus agrees. He doesn't so much as blink under Brian's stare.

"Okay. Well, did Annie tell you anything else?" he asks. "Like about Nick Powell?"

"I don't know anything about that."

"What about Peter Egan?"

Marcus stares. "Never heard of him," he says flatly.

"Oh. That's a shame," Brian replies, abruptly shutting the file folder and standing up. "Alright, well, an officer will be in shortly to book you. Have a good night," he says, turning to leave and signalling Kate to follow him. They won't be able to hold Marcus long - he'll probably be out within 24 hours - but Brian is going to enjoy doing it anyway.

"Book me? For what?" Marcus demands.

Brian turns around, smiling. "Owning a gun after being convicted of a felony? Rookie mistake, Marcus. Have a good night," he says again, then leaves without another word.

*

Having Marcus Bohem in custody is satisfying, but it doesn't get them anywhere. They still don't know where Nicholas is, and though both Brian and Kate are sure that Annie knows something, finding her is proving as hard as finding Nicholas. They try everything they can to track her down - they drive around town for awhile, they check out coffee shops and arcades, anywhere crowded that someone might try to hide.

In a last-ditch effort, Brian goes back to the Newton's apartment, even though he's positive Annie won't be there. He's right about that. Jack opens the door, but when he sees who it is he growls, "She doesn't live here anymore," then slams the door in Brian's face. He doesn't answer when Brian tries knocking again, just turns up the volume of the television to drown out the sound.

Frustrated, Brian goes back to the station. He's in the break room, picking absently at the food he promised to eat and drinking another iced tea, when Kate comes back from the high school, where she was hoping to find some trace of Annie - or of Pete.

"You look like you had as much luck as I did," she comments, sitting down across from him.

"Yeah," he replies, stabbing his fork into the lasagna and taking a bite. It still tastes good, even after being reheated twice, but he's not paying much attention to it. "They stopped searching the woods."

"I heard." Kate is quiet for a minute, twirling a bottle of water around in her hands. She sets it down with a thunk. "I still think Pete knows something. I think he was involved."

Brian thinks about this for a second. "He and Annie are in on it together? Why?"

"Maybe it's a doomed love triangle." Brian smiles at that, and Kate shakes her head. "Maybe I read too many trashy novels. I don't know. But he knows something. Why else would he have taken off from the bridge?"

Brian nods. "Yeah. Okay, so what do you want to do about it?" he asks.

"Pardon?"

He stares at her. "We can't arrest him without a reason. So what do you want to do?"

Kate looks surprised, like she was waiting for him to give her direction. But that's not how Brian works. That's not how being partners works. The sooner she learns that, the better, so he just sits there and waits for her to say something.

It takes a few moments, but she does. "We could go talk to him," she suggests, picking at the label on the bottle in her hands. "He didn't show up for school today - I asked when I was checking in about Annie - but he has to go home sometime. I say we talk to him there."

"Think that will work?"

"Think it won't?" Kate challenges.

"Guess we'll find out," Brian replies with a tiny smile. He takes one last bite of his lunch - which is probably closer to dinner at this point - then packs it all back into the bag and sticks it back in the fridge. "Let's go."

*

It's another six hours before Brian ends up going home. It had taken Pete a long time to show up at his house, and he'd left again in a hurry when Kate knocked on the the door. He'd gone out the basement window, of all things, and Brian ended up tackling him to the ground on the sidewalk, slamming his arm into the pavement in the process. It hurt like hell, and it was all for nothing because Pete Egan didn't tell them a single thing.

They tried everything to get him to tell what he knows, but it was never going to work with Pete's father in the room. There wasn't anything they could have done about that, though, because Pete's still a minor, won't turn eighteen for another month, and his father knows better than to let him talk to cops without someone there. Still, they tried everything they could think of to make Pete crack. He just wouldn't do it.

Brian doesn't get that, how anyone can care more about their own ass than the life of their best friend.

Scott is awake, but already in bed, when Brian does get home. He's reading a cookbook - Brian has no idea how he does that without making himself hungry. Just looking at the covers is usually enough to make his stomach start to rumble. Tonight, though, he barely glances at it before he pulls his sweater off then sits down on the edge of the bed. He sighs and lets his head hang forward.

He hears the rustle of the pages as Scott closes his book, and he tries to shake himself out of it. You're home now, let it go. The bed shifts and squeaks as Scott sits up.

"You okay?" he asks, his hand gently sliding down Brian's back.

Brian flinches and stands up, ostensibly to take off his pants and polo shirt, but really because he feels like he's going to break. "No," he replies gruffly, throwing his dirty clothes into the laundry basket with far more force than is necessary. After a few seconds of frustrated pacing, he sits back down and rubs a hand over his face. Scott kneels behind him, arms wrapped around him from the back as he runs his hands over Brian's chest. The press of familiar lips to the side of his neck makes Brian shiver, and his eyes fall closed almost against his will.

"You're tense," Scott murmurs against his ear. "Want to talk about it?"

Brian shakes his head.

"Mmm, didn't think so," Scott continues, sliding his hand down to cup Brian's cock.

Brian feels the smile against his neck as Scott's hand starts to move. It feels good, he can't deny that, but he tries to shrug Scott off of him anyway. "I'm not-"

"I can make you feel better," Scott offers, his voice low and husky in Brian's ear. "Suck you off? Know you'd like that..."

Brian shrugs harder, hard enough to dislodge the hold Scott has on him and stands up. "I'm not in the fucking mood," he grumbles, taking off his t-shirt and throwing it into the laundry basket.

"Ooookay," Scott replies slowly, the slight hurt and confusion mixing in his voice. "Forget it, then."

Immediately Brian feels like an ass. It's not Scott's fault he's in a bad mood, and he shouldn't take it out on him like it is. "Sorry," Brian says tensely, running a hand through his hair out of frustration as he walks back over to the bed, stopping at the edge. Scott is back on his side of the bed, staring at Brian expectantly.

"I just..." Brian tries finding the words to explain why he's so worked up about this case, but he can't do it. "Long day," he finishes lamely. That doesn't even begin to cover it, but it's all he can come up with.

It's enough. Scott nods and picks up his book again, then uses one hand to flip down the covers on Brian's side of the bed. It's a simple gesture, one he does without even looking up, but it makes Brian smile anyway, just for the briefest of moments.

He lays down in bed, flat on his back. He closes his eyes and rests his hands on his chest, but despite his bone-tired level of exhaustion, sleep isn't coming. The whole mess at the bridge keeps playing itself over and over in his head. He can't help but wonder if there was something he could have said, or something he could have done, to make Annie trust him enough to tell him where Nick is.

All it does is make him feel crazy. Brian makes a noise of frustration and opens his eyes. Unsurprisingly, Scott isn't even pretending to read his cookbook anymore. He's just staring at Brian, patiently waiting for some kind of explanation. Brian doesn't want to talk about it because he's worried he'll lose it if he so much as opens his mouth, but Scott has this way of making him talk even when he feels like he can't, and this is no exception.

"I don't think we're going to find him," Brian admits in a whisper, fighting back the rush of fear and depression saying those words brings over him. "Not- not alive, anyway."

"Oh."

"Yeah," Brian agrees, turning his eyes to the ceiling. There's really not much else to be said, and he doesn't want to see the look of saddened sympathy on Scott's face anymore. It reminds him too much of everything he's failed to do.

He feels the bed shift as Scott gets underneath the blankets and lays back down, and he hears the soft thud of Scott's book hitting the bedside table. Brian wonders if that's the end of it, but then Scott is pushing him around, forcing him to roll over onto his side and getting as close behind him as he can. He wraps his arms around Brain in the same way he had earlier, kisses his neck in the exact same spot as before, but Brian doesn't try to shove him away this time. Because it's not about sex now, only love, and that - that's what he really needs.

They are quiet for several minutes while Brian tries to focus his brain on the rhythmic sound of Scott breathing instead of the endless replays and what ifs of the day. He feels Scott's fingers running up and down his arm, eventually settling on his elbow, and then Scott finally breaks the silence. "What happened here?"

Brian lifts his head a little bit to see, even though he knows what Scott is talking about. "Had to tackle a kid for trying to run off," he says quietly. The bruise has already darkened into an ugly shade of purple. "Hit the pavement."

"You okay?"

That's a loaded question if Brian's ever heard one, but all he does is nod and put his head back down on the pillow. Scott's strong hand moves to his chest and rubs in small, gentle circles, and Brian feels himself start to relax. He's still thinking about the case, about Annie and about trying to find Nick, but the edges of his mind start to blur as the exhaustion takes over. Everything he's thinking about turns hazy and out of focus. Except he still remembers being rude to Scott and he feels really bad about that.

"Sorry I snapped at you," he mumbles, his voice thick with exhaustion. "Didn't mean it."

"I know. Go to sleep," Scott says soothingly.

Brian makes a soft noise and reaches up to place one of his hands over Scott's, threading their fingers together. "Okay," he agrees, letting his eyes fall closed. He wants to say something more, thank you for putting up with me, but the words don't come out and he's asleep within seconds.

*

The next day is a frustrating one. Brian and Kate have nothing more to go on, and every avenue they try leads to a dead end. The closest they get to a decent lead is first thing in the morning, while they're trying to figure out what the hell they can do at this point. The phone on Brian's desk rings, interrupting their discussion, and he picks it up without looking.

He's surprised when it's a shaky female voice that comes over the line. "Detective? This is Diane Powell."

Brian sits up straighter in his chair. This is the first time he's heard Mrs Powell sound anything other than put-together, and it makes his heart beat faster with anticipation. "Mrs Powell," he says, glancing up at Kate in time to see her eyes go wide. "Is something wrong?"

She takes a deep breath before answering, and when she does her voice is controlled, but still furious. "I- that girl was here. She was in my house, Detective."

"What girl?" Brian asks, his brow furrowing. "Annie?"

"Yes, yes, Annie," Mrs Powell replies impatiently. "What was she doing here?"

Why she thinks Brian knows the answer to that, he can't guess. "Mrs Powell, can you tell me what happened?" he asks calmly. "Was she doing anything? Looking for something, maybe?"

"She was in Nicholas' bedroom - on his bed. I heard sounds, coming from the basement, and I thought... well, I'd hoped that-"

Brian winces. He can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to have your child, or anyone you love, go missing. "I understand," he says, even though he's not sure he really does. It seems like something she needs to hear, anyway.

"Thank you," she says, then takes another breath. "I went down to see if it was- if it was really him. And she was just there, on his bed. Looking at photographs. She ran off as soon as she saw me, I don't- I don't know where she went. But I thought you should know."

"You did the right thing calling, Mrs Powell."

Brian hangs up with her and recounts the conversation to Kate. After that they try everything they can think of, again, to find Annie. She's still in town, which should make it easier to find her but in reality has the opposite effect. She's good at hiding, wherever she is, and no one sees her all day. Another dead end. They can't talk to Pete again, either, not without his father making good on his threat to file a complaint.

The worst part of it is, looking for Nick is even more of a dead end than both of those things.

Brian is frustrated and exhausted, trying to wrack his brain for some magical answer, when his desk phone rings again. "Larson."

"You don't have to look for me anymore." It takes half a second for the voice to register, and when it does Brian's eyes go wide. He snaps his fingers wildly to catch Kate's attention and listens raptly to what Annie has to say.

"I'll tell you where Nick is. He's still alive."

*

It's a whirlwind of chaos finding Nick. The first few minutes they're at the dam, Brian's terrified that it's too late, that they didn't get the dam closed in time, or that it doesn't matter whether they did or not because he's already gone. Those minutes up until he sees Nick laying lifeless on the rocks seem like hours, and by the time the EMTs and firefighters get him out, it feels like days.

Brian doesn't breathe until he hears the words I've got a pulse. It's not over yet, not even close - Nick has been severely beaten and left in the cold and rain for days, it's going to be a long road. But he is alive, and that's more than Brian was expecting to find. Half of him wants to collapse onto the rocks himself out of pure and simple relief.

He doesn't let it show, just turns and climbs back up to the grass to watch as Nick gets loaded into the back of the ambulance. "You should call Mrs Powell," he says to Kate after a moment.

"You don't want to?"

Brian shakes his head and gives her a small smile. "You give the good news," he says. "You deserve it."

The grin Kate gives him at that is almost blinding, and he knows he did the right thing by saying that. He half-listens as she makes the call, and he's glad that she sounds so pleased, but his mind is already preoccupied. Now that he knows Nick is, if not safe and sound, at least with a positive chance of becoming that way, Brian starts to wonder about Annie. When she called, she was in tears, and now he can't help but wonder where she is. Why she was crying.

After they load Nick into the ambulance, Brian leads Kate back over to his car. They'll need to go to the hospital to check on Nick and to speak with Mrs Powell, but first he drives them over to the high school.

"What are we doing here?" Kate asks curiously.

"A favour," he says simply, pulling to a stop in front of the school and throwing the car into park. "I'll be back in a minute."

He leaves Kate in the car and heads inside - the doors are unlocked because it's prom night, which sounds like some kind of cruel, twisted joke at the expense of Nick and Annie, but is convenient for this. Brian finds Annie's locker easily from memory; the lock is still busted and all he has to do is pull the door open. Most of the stuff that was in it a few days ago is gone, but there's still a stack of textbooks, a hairbrush, a package of gum... and a plain white envelope.

Brian picks it up, turning it over in his hands until he sees the name Victor written in neat print. Inside the envelope is a thick wad of cash, a few hundred bucks at least. He stuffs the envelope in his pocket, then looks through the rest of the locker. The only other personal items are the pictures of a little boy who looks just like Joanne Newton on the door - Victor, Brian assumes. He takes the two that look the most important, the most worn with love, and sticks them in with the envelope, then shuts the locker and heads back to the car.

He's not sure what he's going to do with the money, or with the photos, but he knows for damn sure that he's not going to let Jack get his hands on any of it. These things belong to Victor, a gift from Annie.

*

Kate doesn't ask any questions about what he did in the high school, and for that Brian is grateful. He drives in silence back to the hospital. When they get there, Officer Chen stops them just outside the Emergency entrance.

"Thought you guys would want to know - about 20 minutes ago, Pete Egan was rushed in via ambulance," she says.

"What for?" Kate asks, alarmed.

"Drug overdose," Chen replies. "He took a handful of his mother's prescription."

"Shit," Brian mutters, raking a hand through his hair. "Is he-"

Chen shakes her head. "He's alive. They pumped his stomach as soon as he arrived. He should be fine in a few days."

Brian nods. "Okay, good. Has he said anything?"

"Not that I know of, not since he got here. His father said he'd been apologizing to Nick when they found him."

Brian's heard all he needs to about that, so he leaves Kate talking to Chen and heads upstairs to the ICU, flashing his badge to the nurse on duty when she tries to stop him. At the end of the hallway he sees Mrs Powell, sitting on the floor with her back against the wall and staring straight ahead, her eyes completely vacant. It's not a sight Brian would have ever expected - the floor is dirty, filthy, and Mrs Powell is pristine. But then again, he's equally sure that she's not thinking about anything other than her son right now, and she could be sitting on a garbage pile for all she was aware.

Brian walks over and sits down next to her. She looks up with a start, as if she hadn't heard him arrive. He'd made a lot of noise, but maybe she hadn't. Neither of them speaks for several minutes. The silence between them isn't exactly comfortable, but then nothing about this situation should be.

"Thank you," she says eventually. "Thank you for finding my son."

There are no adequate words to respond to something like that - you're welcome is trite and unmeaning, any time makes things sound lighthearted - so Brian doesn't say anything. He just nods his acknowledgement, then waits a few seconds to ask his question. "How is he?"

"He- he's in a coma," she says slowly. "The doctors say that he suffered" - her voice catches on that word, and he pretends not to notice - "severe bruising and internal bleeding, and that he has several cracked ribs and broken bones. And a concussion." He hears her taking several deep, calming breaths, but it's all for nothing because her voice is fierce when she says, "How could- why would anyone do that to him?"

"I wish I knew." Brian tries to imagine Annie doing those things, hurting Nick that severely and he can't. He can't picture Annie as a violent person, only as the scared, vulnerable girl from the bridge, and he can't fathom how she ended up in this mess in the first place.

Mrs Powell's voice shakes him from his thoughts. "Was Peter involved?" she asks quietly. "I heard about- that he's here."

Brian hesitates, unsure of the answer. It sure looks that way, but he doesn't want to assign any undue blame. He tries to imagine Pete hurting Nick and he can't picture that anymore than he can picture Annie doing it. Pete is too weak, too cowardly, and if he did have a hand in what happened, Brian's pretty sure it was from the sidelines.

"It's possible," he says finally. "We won't know for sure until we talk to him again."

He expects her to get angry over that, and there's a flash of it in her eyes, but her voice is calm when she asks, "Do you have any children, Detective?"

"No," he replies honestly.

He thinks she's going to ask him why not, or if he ever wanted them, but she doesn't. "I love my son," is all she says. It's almost defensive, but also proud and defiant, like she's challenging him to argue that point or to call her a horrible mother for having such high expectations of her child.

But Brian doesn't believe that. He doesn't think expectations are a bad thing - maybe if Jack Newton had any for his daughter, they wouldn't be here right now. Playing the what if game isn't going to do anyone any good, though, so all he says is, "I know."

*

Nick's status doesn't change, and after about an hour Brian gets up to go get them coffee. It's not that he needs the caffeine - he doesn't think Mrs Powell does, either - but the longer they wait, the more her hands shake and the harder it is for her not to cry. It would make her uncomfortable to do it in front of him, he knows, so he decides to take himself out of the equation.

He's wandering aimlessly through the halls, taking as long as possible to reach the coffee machine, when he runs into Kate near the stairwell. Brian barely has time to process what she tells him - a girl, fitting Annie's description, bleeding profusely, pulled over for speeding and instigating a high-speed chase - when a loud crash around the corner catches his attention, and Brian races back to where he left Mrs Powell, with Kate on his heels.

They find Mrs Powell standing in the middle of the hall, shaking, with tears streaking her face. It's hard to read the expression on her face: confusion, relief, anger, fear... The shaking draws his attention to her hands, and his eyes go wide when he sees what she's holding.

"Mrs Powell," he says slowly. His voice is calm but insistent, and his heart is pounding in his chest. "Where did you get that gun?"

"What?" She looks down at her hands and her eyes go wide. "Oh. I- she gave it to me."

"Who? Who gave it to you, Mrs Powell?" Kate asks tensely.

Mrs Powell looks back and forth between the two of them. "The girl. Annie." Her eyes are wide. "She brought Nicholas back to me."

For a second, Brian doesn't move. He's trying to wrap his head around that until the underlying meaning of her words sink in: Annie is here. Kate somehow manages to take the gun away from Mrs Powell, but Brian's not paying attention to how. As soon as it's in Kate's hands, he takes off down the hall to Nick's room, throwing the door open.

Nicholas is awake and, as far as Brian can tell, lucid. There's a hint of recognition in Nick's eyes when he looks up and sees Brian - it doesn't make sense, they've never met, but that's what it is - and lying next to Nick is Annie. She's curled against his side, one hand over his and her head resting on his shoulder. Her eyes are closed and there's blood everywhere, all over the sheets and Nick's arm and chest, but the thing Brian focuses on is her hair - loose and wild, free from the confines of her hat. She looks peaceful. Free.

There's a sharp gasp from behind him, then Mrs Powell is pushing her way past him to get to Nicholas' side. Brian stands in the doorway, watching their reunion without really seeing it at all. He's happy for them, and he's glad that Nicholas is alive. But he can't stop looking at Annie, who hasn't so much as twitched since Brian came into the room, and eventually he finds the courage to walk over to the side of the bed and confirm what he already knows.

Annie Newton is dead.

*

On his way home from the hospital, Brian stops at the Newton's to tell them that Annie has died. It takes him fifteen minutes to convince Jack to open the door and talk to him, and even then Brian ends up giving him the news in the middle of the hallway because Jack refuses to let him inside the apartment. Jack barely reacts at all, just shrugs and says, "She was never good for anything, anyway," then slams the door in Brian's face for the third time in as many days.

Brian stands there, stunned, for a full minute before he leaves. There's a 24-hour Wal-mart halfway between the Newton's place and his, so he stops in and buys three cans of paint (two in pale green for the walls, one in white for the ceiling), as well as paint brushes, rollers and plastic drop sheets. He's not sure why he's doing this now, just knows that it's a better idea than finding a bar and a bottle of whisky, which is the only other idea he has. So he pays for his paint and supplies, then drives the rest of the way home with the car radio off and the windows rolled down. It's raining again and some of it soaks his jacket sleeve, but Brian barely notices.

He moves on autopilot as he parks his car in the driveway and unloads the trunk of everything he bought. He carries all the bags and cans in one trip, which makes unlocking the front door complicated and awkward. But he manages, and soon enough he's standing in the front hallway, completely at a loss for what to do next. He's overwhelmed by the feeling of home mixed in with all his lingering frustration and anger and guilt.

He stands there for at least a full two minutes, distantly aware of the murmuring voices and pre-recorded laugh track coming from whatever Scott is watching on TV, wondering if maybe he should turn around and go to a bar after all. He doesn't feel like he should be somewhere this good right now.

The sound of the TV suddenly cuts out, and he hears Scott standing up. "Brian?"

Brian knows he should say something, and he does try, but his voice isn't working. His hands start to shake, and he's painfully aware of the thin wire handles on the paint cans digging into his palms. He also knows he should put them down, but he can't manage that, either. There's too much noise in his head and he can't concentrate on any one thing long enough to follow through on it.

Scott comes out of the living room with a wide smile on his face. "Hey, I heard you found Nick," he says proudly. Brian's attention immediately focuses on him, but his words only make Brian feel worse about everything he didn't do. Everything he should have done more of. "It's all over the news. I knew you wou-"

Scott's words cut off when he realizes Brian isn't sharing his excitement, and his smile slowly fades. After a few seconds he notices the bags Brian is carrying. "What's all- what's wrong?"

Brian opens his mouth to answer, but all that comes out is a shaky sob. Scott looks worried now, but he doesn't ask again, just takes the bags and cans from Brian's hands and sets them down against the wall. When he comes back, he slides his arms around Brian's shoulders and pulls him into a tight hug. Brian resists for a moment because he feels like he should. He feels guilty for accepting comfort when he didn't do enough to find Nicholas and didn't try hard enough to protect Annie.

But Scott is quietly insistent and Brian's too tired to fight for long, so he wraps his arms around Scott's waist and presses his face into his shoulder. Brian is tense, wound up tight as a drum, but he feels marginally better even as his breaths start to come shallow and ragged. As soon as Scott starts rubbing his back, Brian's eyes fill with tears and he can't stop the heavy sobs ripping themselves out of his throat.

"Shh," Scott says quietly, his touch soothing and light. "I got you."

That only makes Brian hold on tighter, and it's a few long minutes before he stops sobbing. When he feels like he has himself together enough, he pulls back and presses the palms of his hands against his eyes. He's trying to stop the tears that are still there, which works well enough that he can, for the most part, see clearly when he puts his hands down.

Scott is standing in front of him, patiently waiting for whatever is going to come next. He still looks worried, which Brian hates, but he doesn't ask for an explanation. He just reaches out and starts pulling off Brian's wet jacket, hanging it on the end of the banister behind them so that it can dry. "Come on," he says softly. "Let's go to bed, okay?"

Part of Brian wants to tell Scott not to worry about him, that he can take care of himself and that he'll be fine. But the bigger part of him is craving this, the comfort offered without any hesitation or explanation needed. Maybe it's selfish, he doesn't know, but he can't turn it down when Scott is giving it so easily, so he just nods and kicks off his shoes, then lets Scott lead him up the stairs and into the bedroom.

He doesn't protest as Scott starts stripping him - he tries to help, but his limbs feel heavy and disconnected from his brain, so he's completely useless. Scott swats his hands away and finishes the job himself, until Brian is wearing nothing but his boxers and t-shirt, then herds him over to the bed. Once they are both under the covers, Scott turns them so that they're laying face to face. He props his head up with one hand and rests the other protectively on Brian's side.

"Tell me about it," Scott says after a moment. His voice is still gentle, but there's an underlying punch of command to it. He's not asking anymore.

Brian takes a deep breath and lets it out slow so that he sounds almost calm when he says, "We found Nick, he's- okay. Rough shape, but he should make a full recovery. But Annie-" He swallows hard around the sudden lump in his throat.

"Who's Annie?"

He tries to think of a way to answer that, but he doesn't know where to start explaining. He stays quiet for so long that Scott repeats the question, a little sharper this time. "She's- the girl who beat up Nick Powell and left him for dead," Brian replies finally. "She's dead, and I couldn't- I didn't do anything, I couldn't help her."

There's a moment of silence while Scott looks confused and Brian feels even guiltier than before, then Scott asks, "But she- what happened?"

"We arrested her on Monday," Brian says quietly. "For the jewellery store thing. And I- knew her before. Her dad was a cop, years ago. She used to play with my ties when she was a baby." Scott gives him a small, sad smile at that and waits for him to continue. "Jack, her dad, he left the force years and years ago, and I never - never really thought about their family that much after that. I don't know why. Annie's mom died a few years later, but I didn't... Maybe if I'd done something then, Annie wouldn't..." The tears are stinging his eyes again, and Brian has to wipe hard at his face to keep them from falling.

"You can't blame yourself, Brian," Scott says, sliding his hand up and down Brian's side. "And I know you know that, but sometimes you need to be reminded."

Reluctantly Brian nods, because he does have a tendency to blame himself when things go wrong - especially on a case. "I couldn't get her to talk to me, once I figured out she knew where Nick was. I couldn't get her to trust me. But I can't blame her, I- everyone, everyone had given up on her. No one cared. And I couldn't convince her that I was any different."

A sudden rush of anger flares through him, and Brian wants to scream or maybe cry again. "No one gave a damn about her, not even her father," he says bitterly, roughly turning so that he's laying on his back and blinking furiously at the ceiling. "I went to tell him what happened and he just - he didn't care that she was dead. How the hell do you not care?"

Scott's hand moves easily to rest on Brian's stomach. "I don't know," he replies honestly. "It's not right."

Brian doesn't say anything for awhile, waiting for the rage to simmer down before he speaks again. "She was in a bad situation. Bad home life, abusive boyfriend, stupid friends. It happens all the time, I know that, it's just-"

"It's just that you knew her."

"Yeah," Brian replies, relieved that Scott gets it. "She used to be this sweet little girl in pigtails, you know? And then somehow she ended up in this mess, in over her head and not trusting anyone. So she tried to take care of it herself and ended up shot. And then she called me, Jesus Christ, it was so pointless." He turns his head to look at Scott. "I just- I really wanted to be able to save her."

"I know," Scott says quietly, his own voice thick with emotion. He shifts around so that he's resting his head on the pillow instead of his hand, watching without comment as Brian takes several deep, calming breaths that don't do anything at all to help him settle down.

"I think she did trust you," Scott says after a few moments. "She trusted you enough to call you and tell you where Nick was, right? She called you."

Brian hadn't considered it that way at all, and yet it does make sense. Which is Scott's gift in a nutshell, being able to make Brian see things in a completely new, logical way when he needs it the most. "Yeah, I guess," he says, calming more from that than any of his useless breathing exercises. "I wish she'd done it sooner, though."

"You did what you could, Brian. You can't force people to trust you," Scott points out softly. "But you were there when she finally did, and you found Nick. She told you where to look, but it was you who found him - I know it was you, they said it on the news. Good to know I can count on them to keep me up to date when you don't," he adds teasingly, and Brian gives him an apologetic smile. "It's okay, I know how you get caught up in things. That's not the point. I'm saying you found him, and I was- I am so proud of you for that."

There's so much conviction in Scott's words that Brian has to take a moment to recover from the warm feeling that gives him. He hadn't realized how much he wanted or needed to hear something like that, and there aren't words for how grateful he is that he never has to ask for it anyway, that Scott is always there. "I love you," Brian mumbles, sliding his head across the pillows until his forehead knocks with Scott's.

"I love you, too."

Brian smiles drowsily, suddenly aware of how achingly tired he really is. He feels like he hasn't slept in days, and it's a struggle now to keep his eyes open. Scott seems to pick up on that, because the last thing Brian sees before his eyes fall closed is him smile back. "Get some sleep," Scott murmurs, shifting them around so that they are front-to-front again, with his chin resting on the top of Brian's head. He wraps his arm around Brain's middle, holding him close, and threads the fingers on his other hand through Brian's hair, making short little movements that instantly make Brian relax.

His mind isn't completely quiet, and he doesn't fall asleep right away, but when he does it's with a feeling of warmth and love holding back the darkness.

*

Brian is back on the beach.

This time, though, all of the beauty is gone. The sky overhead is dark and grey, the water rough and choppy, and he is all alone. There's no familiarity, no turtle, no Tarzan, and - worst of all - no Scott. There's a sharp pang of fear in Brian's gut as he looks at his surroundings, desperately searching for someone, anyone, to tell him that he's not alone. There's no one, just a loud clap of ominous thunder that makes him start walking, trying to escape the darkness.

He walks and walks, not finding anything. Maybe he's not even moving at all. That thought makes him shiver and cross his arms over his chest to ward against the chills. He doesn't know how much time passes before he blinks and comes across a rocky bluff. Annie is sitting on the highest rock, her legs dangling over the edge, and Brian doesn't know whether he should feel relieved or troubled by the sight of her there. He thinks maybe relieved, though, because while he can't really see her face, he thinks she looks happy. She's staring out over the water, nodding her head to a beat only she can hear through the headphones covering her ears.

She seems calm as she turns towards him, carefully lifting the headphones off her ears and settling them around her neck. It traps her long hair down against the sudden breeze as another bang of thunder sounds. "Your dreams are depressing," she tells him, glancing around at the barren beach.

"Not usually," he replies. Then, without giving her a chance to respond, he adds in a rush, "I'm sorry."

Annie just shrugs. "No big deal."

"Yes, it is," Brian replies emphatically. He needs to convince her of this so he tries to step closer, but the bluff shifts back with every step forward he takes. Frustrated, he stops trying to move and says, "It is a big deal. You shouldn't have had to-"

His voice catches on the last word, die, but they both hear it anyway. She doesn't say anything for what seems like a very long time, and when she does, it's a simple, "Thanks. Make sure Victor gets that stuff, okay?"

"I will," Brian promises, and when he blinks again, she's gone.

He stands there for a minute, feeling better than he has in days, then tries walking over to the bluff again. It doesn't move away from him this time, and he's able to climb up to the top and sit on the same rock Annie had been on. This time when he looks out across the water, it's the clearest blue he has ever seen. Even the sky above him is lightening up, with the storm clouds disappearing into nothingness and the sound of thunder being replaced by singing birds.

"It's gorgeous," a deep voice says from next to him.

Brian reaches over and settles his hand on Scott's thigh. And just like that, all the lingering darkness is gone, and in its place, only radiant sunlight. He looks over at Scott and smiles when he sees the t-shirt he's wearing, the one with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it. It's the shirt he was wearing the first time they met, but it's been years since Brian has seen him wear it.

"Yeah. Yeah, it is," he agrees quietly.