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*

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.

Part 3
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