November 3
Boston Police Department
Warren Avenue

"I swear if I ever see that moron's face again, I'm going to smack him around a bit." Buck was angry. Chris eyed his partner in crime as the big man dropped down on his chair and ran both hands through his thick hair. "What does it take, huh?" he asked with regret.

"Who are you talking about and do I really want to know?" Chris asked.

"I don't know if you want to know, pard, but life sure hasn't become any easier since we made detective," Buck lamented.

"Now what?" Chris asked, starting to feel rather convinced that he didn't want to know.

"That Clark-guy. The jewel-robber. Remember him?" Buck asked and Chris nodded, a little weary already. That had been a tough case they had cracked about two weeks ago. "Well, he was just let out on bail. And guess what he did."

"What did he do?" Chris asked.

"He went to the nearest jeweler and tried to rob them. How stupid can you get?" Buck leaned forward. "The silent alarm went off and the black&whites were there in no time and he's back where he belongs. But, man, I'm glad I didn't have to arrest that idiot again."

All Chris could think of doing was lean back on his chair and start chewing on the end of his pencil to avoid making any inappropriate comments. He settled for smiling quietly.

"It's not funny," Buck complained.

"Am I laughing?" Chris replied and barely prevented himself from smiling.

"No, but I can tell what you're thinking. Remember how well I know you," Buck growled. "You are so easy to see through once someone knows you."

"Yeah, right," Chris agreed. "So, did you get anywhere with the Martinez woman?"

Buck's demeanor changed immediately. "She's a woman, ain't she?" he asked with a sly smile. "I had a little chat with her and she says her hubby has gone abroad. She has no idea when he'll be back or where he's gone, though. She suggested we try out the Albatross Travel agency."

"She probably knew he was skipping out on her," Chris theorized and tapped his pen against the top of the desk for a moment. "So, did you go there?"

"Is the sky blue?" Buck replied and grinned. "They did have him listed. He went to Guatemala. And it was a one-way ticket. Looks like he's out of our hair."

"Looks like the guy may be smarter than we gave him credit for," Chris disagreed. "He'll be back. If he's gone to South America, he's on a drug run. Of course he wouldn't buy a return ticket. That would be too easy. We have to alert the feds on this one."

"Still means he's out of our hair," Buck said. "And that again means we might be able to get home at a decent time tonight," he added and grinned. "Is Sarah still doing that roast?"

"How the hell did you know about that?" Chris asked with a frown.

"She told me this morning when I called to tell you I was late," Buck replied. "You wanna call the feds or should I?"

Chris leaned forward and grabbed the phone, but then hesitated. "Whatever happened to Standish by the way? Have you seen him around since he was laid off two months ago?"

"Nope. But he's got your card. He'll turn up eventually," Buck replied with a grin.

Chris arched an eyebrow and sighed before stabbing the speed dial button for the FBI office they were in direct contact with. "Like I have any influence," he mumbled to himself.


The transfer of the Martinez-case to the feds took longer than anticipated and Chris was pretty much fed up with them by the time he hung up. "Damned if I'll know why they laid off Standish," he said and gave the phone a glare. "They're all as slick as him."

Buck merely grinned. "Can we get out of here? I'm starving," he replied.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have skipped lunch to put the moves on the new girl in accounting," Chris said with a grin. "I'm done here. Let's call it a night," he added and glanced at his watch. They were two hours late and he knew his lovely wife would raise hell once they got home. He had promised her to be there on time.

"You got it, pardner," Buck agreed.

They left the office and headed down to the underground garage to pick up their cars. The second Chris laid eyes on his Land Rover, he knew something was wrong. It was tilting slightly to the right. "What the hell," he growled under his breath and strode over to the car. Both right-side tires had been slashed open. "Ah, for crying out loud," he snapped.

Buck eyed the damage for a moment. "I'll bet you it's that Parker guy. He was pretty pissed off at you during the trial."

Chris gave him an angry glare. "How stupid do you think he would have to be to walk into a police parking garage and slash the tires of a car?" he snapped.

"Relax, pard," Buck said and clapped him on the shoulder. "Parker is just another dumb-ass criminal with a grudge. We'll fix it tomorrow. Sarah's waiting," he added.

Grumbling incomprehensible curses under his breath, Chris gave the right rear tire a kick and then turned around and followed Buck over to his Trans-Am. How the man could afford such an expensive car was beyond him, but he figured he shouldn't ask questions when it came to Buck.


7 p.m.

All the way across town, Chris was in a foul mood and Buck couldn't blame the guy. Chris was very hung up about security and to realize that someone had been able to cut up the tires of his car in the garage of the police station was a less than comforting experience.

"This day is just getting worse by the minute," Chris growled.

"Come on. It's almost over. Sarah's waiting with another culinary experience, Adam's probably gonna pester the hell out of you with what he's learned in school today. How can you not look forward to that?" Buck replied and turned the Trans-Am onto Foster Street. He gave Chris a grin and returned his attention to the road ahead and almost immediately regretted having done so. As a matter of fact, the first thing that flashed through his mind was that he wanted to turn the car around and race out of there. Instead he stepped hard on the break, bringing the car to a skittering halt.

"What the hell are you doing?" Chris demanded, more surprised than angry.

Buck just stared ahead and suddenly found it a little hard to breathe. Chris turned his attention from his friend to the road in front of them and then to the blazing inferno further down the street and stopped moving for a second.

Before Chris could do something stupid, Buck stepped on the gas and the Trans-Am jerked forward and picked up speed until they were nearly at the flame-engulfed building. Buck had barely managed to stop the car's forward motion before Chris was out and running toward the building, his building, where every single window was shattered and blenching flames toward the overcast night sky. Buck followed him out, fully aware that he would have to stop the man from rushing into the burning building to find his wife and son.

The firemen at the scene were working hard on putting the fire out, but it seemed pretty hopeless. The roof was collapsing and yellow and orange flames licked toward the sky while thick, black smoke rose from the places where the water had managed to make an indent in the inferno.

Buck reached Chris where he had been stopped by two firemen trying to hold him back. "My wife and kid are in there," he snapped.

"Sir, the majority of the occupants made it out before the whole thing went up," one of the firemen tried to explain and nodded toward a cluster of people on the other side of the street.

Chris swirled around and ran over there to search for familiar faces among his scared-looking neighbors. When he spotted their next-door neighbor, he rushed toward her. "Mrs. Jones, were are Sarah and Adam? Have you seen them?" he asked, nearly pleading with the woman.

Mrs. Jones looked shell shocked, but was still able to respond. "No, I'm sorry, Mr. Larabee. I haven't seen them," she said and returned her attention to the burning building. "Everything I own," she whispered and tears started rolling down her cheeks.

Chris turned around again and looked up at the burning building. Buck could see in his eyes what he had in mind and the second Chris moved forward, he grabbed a hold of him. "Let go of me," Chris snarled.

"You're not going in there, Chris. Look at it, for Heaven's sake. It'll cave in around your ears if you even try," Buck admonished, a lump in his throat. "You can't go in there. I won't let you."

"It's not up to you," Chris snarled and tried to rip free. "They're in there."

"You don't know that," Buck disagreed heatedly. "They might not even have been at home. Just let these guys do their job in peace. You don't need to add to their work load by getting in their way."

Chris hesitated, obviously seeing reason, but Buck could still sense that he would rather rush into the burning building than stand out here and wait. "Just cool it, pard," he suggested. "Isn't there someone you can call? Someone they might have gone to see?"

"I... don't know. I can't think," Chris replied hesitantly.

"I've got the phone in the car. Come on. You need to sit down, pard," Buck insisted and guided his now shell shocked friend toward the car.


9.30 p.m.

Five phone calls and two fire trucks later, Chris was sitting on the hood of the Trans-Am, cold to the bone both because of the low temperatures and the fear in his heart. He kept staring at the building, which was still smoldering but no longer on fire. The firemen had managed to put the fire out and were now going through the various apartments in search of bodies. Since nobody knew anything about Sarah's whereabouts, Chris feared the worst, but he was unable to act until he knew they hadn't been in there. He couldn't think beyond the moment, couldn't really breathe properly.

So far, the firemen had salvaged three bodies of occupants. Two of them had been badly burned, but they had both been grown men. The third one was a woman Chris had seen a couple of times. She wasn't burned too badly and had seemingly died of smoke inhalation.

Time passed slowly while he sat there, watching and waiting, and while he waited, dark thoughts rummaged around in his mind; thoughts he had believed to be subdued. The fear of losing his family was alight in his mind again, screaming in his ears. He could hear nothing but that right now.

Two more firemen came out of the building with another black bag and then two more with one more. Chris wasn't too sure he could stand looking at more dead people, not knowing if his wife and son were among them, and hesitated while the firemen deposited the two bags on the ground next to the others.

Buck got out of the car again, his complexion nearly ashen. Chris knew that this situation affected Buck too. He had known Sarah as long as Chris had, had been there on the day that Adam had been born. For nothing else, he had always been considered a part of the family, and the thought of losing that surrogate family was a bad blow to him as well. But Chris didn't have enough left over to feel compassion for his friend right now. All he could do was try and hold down his lunch while he slipped off the hood of the car and walked over to the bags.

On account of him being a police detective, he was allowed near the bodies. He drew in a deep breath and hunkered down next to the first bag and briefly pressed the back of one hand against his lips. Somehow, he knew what he was going to see when he undid that zipper and some part of him was screaming for him to leave it be; if he pretended it hadn't happened, it wouldn't be true. But he knew enough of real life to know that turning your back on your problems didn't make them go away.

With a slightly shivering hand, he unzipped the bag and pulled the flap away. His mind reeled and he felt himself go cold at the sight that met him. She looked like she was sleeping. Her face was soot-covered, her hair slightly singed, but she wasn't burned. She was wet and dirty and quite dead, but she wasn't burned. Chris rocked back on his heels and closed his eyes, unable to stand the thought that he would have to face the rest of his life without her.

For the longest of moments, he couldn't act, couldn't think, but then he closed the bag again and reached out to touch the other one, feeling the body of a child inside. He couldn't bare to see his son dead and simply left it be with the knowledge that Sarah would not have let Adam die alone.


November 10
Old North Church
Salem Street

The ceremony was quite and rather uneventful. A lot of people had a lot of nice things to say about both Sarah and Adam and the church was decorated tastefully and not too gaudy. Buck had been able to get a hold of an old friend to conduct the ceremony and Josiah Sanchez did so with the utmost respect for Chris and his departed family.

Chris said nothing, had hardly spoken a word since disaster had struck one week ago, and at first Buck hadn't blamed him. But he was beginning to worry about him. Chris drank like a sailor every damned day and had only barely managed to remain sober for the funeral. He didn't shed any tears and seemed to sleep soundly, something Buck attributed to the fact that his friend was dead drunk every night.

To keep an eye on the man, Buck had taken him home with him, but he realized that there was fairly little he could do to prevent Chris from drinking himself to death, but he could prevent him from doing something more extreme.

Chris' dad had turned up for the funeral and had said some awkward words of consolation to his son before withdrawing and minding his own business. Father and son had never had much to say to each other and Chris' father had never been the emotional type. Like father, like son. Buck did think that he had seen the gleam of tears in the old man's eyes, but he wasn't sure.

The thing that had almost made this whole thing collapse had been Sarah's parents. Both of them had often displayed small signs of disregard for their son-in-law. Sarah's father had regularly told his daughter that he didn't think that Chris was good enough for her. But now, they were really ticked off. Buck had kept himself between the Porters and Chris all the time to avoid any scenes that might cause what little self-control Chris had left to snap.

But Mr. Porter had managed to tell his estranged son-in-law that he blamed him for Sarah and Adam's death. Buck had told the old man to back off and warned him of the consequences if he said anything further and fortunately the man had been wise enough to leave it be. But Buck knew that Mr. Porter had added fuel to the fire that was already raging inside Chris.

If Chris became convinced enough that this was his fault, there would be nothing that could stop him from eating a bullet and Buck was dead set on preventing that, no matter how he had to go about it.

The ceremony ended without anybody losing their temper and they all bid their final farewell to Sarah and Adam, before Buck decided that the wake would be something for Sarah's family, because he could sense that Chris wasn't going to make it through that without shooting someone. So instead of going there, the two of them went to the nearest bar and drank their brains out.


December 5
Boston Police Department
Warren Avenue

The case file folder lay open in front of him, describing another gruesome murder, and all Chris could do was stare at the picture of the victim and feel nothing. He was numb, had been numb ever since the beginning of November, and nothing really mattered any more. He did his job, trudged through the day with no enthusiasm or spirit, and when he got off work, he headed straight for the nearest bar to drink himself into a stupor.

He didn't think about what had happened, didn't look at pictures or, God forbid, listen to any of the answering machine messages Sarah had left for Buck. Buck had kept the last few tapes, obviously thinking that Chris might want to listen to them some day, but Chris had no interest in anything other than getting the day over with so he could get drunk again.

His colleagues had tentatively tried to get through to him, but he didn't give a damn about them and just wanted them to leave him alone. Fortunately, Buck acted as a buffer between him and the outside world and that caused most people to leave him alone most of the time.

The worst part was that the resident shrink had insisted on seeing him. He had gone because he had to, but it had given the shrink nothing to go on. He didn't appear suicidal and to those that didn't know him, he seemed to have come to terms with his loss. The shrink hadn't known what to say to his captain and had merely indicated that he didn't seem to be a danger to himself or others and that was the only thing that really mattered in connection with work. He did his job, did the hours, had even managed to solve a case or two over the last month, but his dedication to the job was gone.

"What's the point," he suddenly said without looking up.

Buck, who was sitting at his own desk across from him, looked up from the file he was reading and frowned. "What do you mean?"

"What's the point?" Chris repeated, his eyes still on the photo of the dead body. "It's not like we make a difference."

Buck's frown deepened. "What are you talking about, pard?"

"Why the hell are we doing this? It's not like there are any less crooks now than there were before. So, what's the point?" Chris kept staring at the photo, feeling detached and completely incapable of feeling anything for the crime scene described. There was nothing left and he didn't want this job any more. If he couldn't even protect his own family, how could anybody expect him to protect anyone else? No, he was done with this job. He needed to do something where he made a difference. And being a cop wasn't it.

"What do you suggest we do then?" Buck asked.

"Don't know. Don't care. Everything's going to hell anyway. Doesn't matter what we do," Chris said and closed the folder again. For a moment longer, he just stared at the cover of the file, but then finally looked up to face Buck. "I'm going to hand in my resignation this afternoon."

Chris didn't have to be very attentive to see what that did to Buck. His friend paled considerably and Chris knew exactly what he was thinking. Instead of responding to it, he pulled the prepared envelope out of one drawer and eyed it for a moment. There was no doubt in his mind that he was doing the right thing. Law enforcement was not for him any more.

"You're nuts," Buck stated. "You've finally lost it, haven't you? You can't be serious."

Chris focused on him, his expression unchanged. "Whatever. I'm quitting."

For a moment, all Buck did was stare at him. Then he nodded almost to himself, closed his folder and turned to his PC. "Fine. If you go, I go," he said and started typing.

Chris frowned, but said nothing. He couldn't stop Buck from following in his footsteps and he didn't want to try either. The fact was that he didn't care right now.


December 10
Buck's apartment
Tremont Street

The air in the livingroom was freezing. The balcony doors had been open for awhile and any heat the otherwise warm room had contained was gone. Buck stopped just inside the door and glanced around. By now, he had expected Chris to do something nuts like turn his apartment into a pile of rubble or pick a fight with someone that would land him in the hospital, but his long-time friend had been unusually calm since they had both quit their jobs five days ago. Buck did consider this the first sign of an impending breakdown, though. Chris stood on the balcony, his back to the room, and stared out over the city. Buck assumed he'd been standing there for awhile and he figured he'd better get the man back inside before he caught pneumonia or something similarly nasty.

"Hey, are you trying to freeze me out?" he complained with a mechanically cheerful tone to his voice.

Chris didn't move, just remained standing on the balcony, the icy December air blowing into the room with a wind chill of what felt like zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Buck strode over to the balcony doors and put a hand on Chris' shoulder. "Would you please come inside before we both catch our deaths? I'm not partial to spending the next few days in bed, you know," he said.

For a moment he feared he'd have to force Chris to come inside, but then his friend turned and stepped inside, allowing Buck to close the doors. "You are nuts, you know that?" Buck demanded and rubbed his hands together. "It's freezing in here."

"Then turn up the heat," Chris replied, walked over to the couch and dropped down on it. "You got any more beer?"

"Yeah, I do. But I think you've had enough," Buck replied with a glance at the empty whiskey bottle Chris had put down on the coffee table after settling down on the couch.

Chris raised his eyes and stared at him like only he could. Buck always felt like a bug under a microscope when Chris looked at him like that. "Since when is that for you to decide?" he asked.

"Since you're staying in my apartment, pard," Buck replied. He had made a decision he knew could have fatalistic consequences, but he also felt that this matter needed to be addressed now. Chris had yet to respond to the deaths of his wife and son and Buck figured that one and a half months was enough. "I think what you need right now is to tell me what the hell is going on with you. I have not heard you mention Sarah or Adam with even one word since they died. And I'm kinda thinking that's disrespectful and totally uncalled for."

Chris' expression remained unchanged, but his eyes had gone deadly cold. He didn't get up and he didn't move, just sat there and stared at Buck. "Stay out of my business," he finally said and returned his gaze to the table top.

"No, Chris. For once in my life, I'm gonna stand up to you. I loved them too, you know. Adam and Sarah. They were family to me. And it hurts like hell that they're gone. But it hurts even more that you can't even admit that they're gone. You're acting like they never existed in the first place and that's just so wrong on so many levels, I can't even begin to..."

Chris interrupted him by getting up and walking out on him. But Buck was not about to let this go so easily. He had worked himself up about this and he needed to get it out in the open. So he followed Chris out into the hallway and blocked his exit when he tried to leave after shrugging into his coat.

"Forget it, pard. You're not leaving until we hash this out," Buck said and knew he was asking for trouble. He could tell from the look in Chris' eyes.

"I'm warning you, Buck. Get out of my way," Chris said quietly.

"No, not this time. You need to talk about this before you have a total meltdown," Buck replied stubbornly, already wincing inside at what this was going to cost him. Because of his preoccupation about what might happen, he didn't see the actual attack coming.

Chris simply lashed out with a powerful right hook, knocking him off his feet and into unconsciousness. Right before he passed out, he heard Chris mumble something about people minding their own business and then the door slammed.


Some hours later

Buck leaned back on the couch, gingerly holding the towel-wrapped bag of ice cubes against his sore jaw.

"Better?" Josiah Sanchez had settled down on the edge of the coffee table and was watching him intently.

"Yeah," Buck replied and carefully flexed his jaw. "Man, he's still got a powerful right hook," he added.

"Where would he go?" Josiah asked.

"I don't know. He could be anywhere by now. The way he's been acting lately, I'd more or less expect to find him floating face down in the river to be honest," Buck replied with a sad look in his eyes. "He's so damned stubborn in everything he does. But this time he's really lost it. He's gone one hundred percent bye-bye."

"Let's not jump to conclusions before we know what's going on, Buck," Josiah said, calm as always. "Chris is hurting, but he does it in his own way. You know that. He's always been that way and he probably always will be. There's not much you can do to change a man's nature."

"Yeah, yeah, I remember the lessons, preacher man," Buck said and grinned crookedly. "A man's gonna have to want to change or it won't make any difference."

"Exactly. And that applies to this situation as to any other. You remember how Chris was before he met Sarah, right?" Josiah asked and Buck nodded solemnly. "Well, that's his nature. He's broody, dark. You've seen him, known him that way long before Sarah brought a bit of sunshine into his life. Chris thinks he deserves all the darkness in his life. He doesn't think he's good enough, fast enough, brave enough. Whatever it is, you can be sure that he will see the dark side of things." Josiah sighed and leaned backward a little. "But he's not suicidal. He may not come back here tonight, but he will return eventually. No matter how little he wants to admit it, he can't go on without his friends. And he's known you since childhood. There's nothing that can stop him from coming back here."

"You know, Josiah, I'm not so sure I want him to come back. He's just so damned depressing to be around these days. Can't he just have a good cry and get it over with? What's with the self-punishment? Can't he just open up?" Buck sighed deeply. He knew the answers to those questions as well as Josiah did.

"No, he can't. You know that. He's not the type," Josiah replied and leaned forward again. "Chris needs to do something that makes him feel like he's making a difference. I had hoped that being a cop would give him that feeling, but obviously it didn't. He probably feels he failed his family by not being able to protect them. He won't accept it for being an accident. He blames it on himself. He thinks he could have saved them."

"But he couldn't have," Buck replied darkly. "You see... it wasn't an accident. I talked to the guys on the case a few days ago... the day after we quit. They said there were definite signs of arson. Someone torched the place."

Josiah's expression tightened a little. "Have you told Chris?"

"Are you nuts? If I told him about that, he would make a nuclear meltdown look like a trip to the park. You know what he's like. And right now I do not want to be the one to pour fuel on the fire, so to speak," Buck replied and got up. He walked over to the window and looked out at the snow-covered city. Snowflakes were falling heavily out there, adding to the already overwhelming load of snow on the streets. "If I told him about that... it would kill him," he added quietly.

Josiah sat silently on the edge of the coffee table for a moment longer. Then he rose and turned around to face Buck, who'd turned his back on the window. "If you tell him, you'll give him a mission. One he isn't ready for yet. I think you're right. Don't tell him," he agreed. "Yet! But you will have to tell him eventually. He has to hear it from you. It can't come from someone else. You know that. If he finds out that you knew about it and didn't tell him, he'll lose it."

"Yeah, he's big on loyalty, isn't he?" Buck replied, his tone sarcastic. "Towards him, anyway. But he's not really big on giving it, is he?"

"He's fighting his inner demons, Buck. He always has. It takes away a lot of his sensitivity toward others. Just give him some time. And, first and foremost, forgive him for being who he is. He's gonna need you when he finally collapses," Josiah said and glanced at his watch. "Listen, I have to go. But give me a call on the cell as soon as you hear from him."

"Sure thing," Buck replied. "If he doesn't shoot me, of course."

Josiah gave him a look he knew all too well. "That's not funny, Buck. It wouldn't be funny at any time."

"I know. I'm just tired and my jaw hurts," Buck replied. "I'll call you when he turns up again."

"Do that. And take care of yourself. You might want to call that sister of yours. Just in case," Josiah said with a smile. "There's nothing like a woman's touch when you're feeling bad."

Buck grinned and winced when it hurt his jaw. "My sister is not the first thing that comes to mind here, Josiah. Go on. I'll be fine," he said.

Josiah took off, leaving Buck alone in a dark apartment. He didn't much feel like turning on the lights. Instead he stood by the window facing the street and stared out over the city. The snow had stopped and the air was crystal clear and deadly cold. "He'll be a man with a mission alright," he mumbled to himself. "A mission of revenge. And I'm gonna be the one who steers him onto that course." With a heavy sigh, he shook his head. "Why do I always get the bad gigs?"