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*

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.
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