December 11

The first shimmer of light caressed the horizon with a greyish white that expanded outward and upward, brightening the sky as it crept from its drowsy sleep. The world was waking up and one lonely figure stood at the water's edge on the North End Playground, his boot tips a fraction of an inch away from the sluggishly moving water.

Chris didn't know how long he'd been standing there, watching for the dawn he sometimes felt would never come. It didn't matter much either. He'd gotten drunk again, worse than usual because he remembered nothing of what he had done or said during the night. He was cold to the bone, numb inside and out, and it suited him best that way. He didn't have to focus on the darkness inside, the hole in his heart, as long as his limbs ached with the cold.

But the memories washed over him while his mind slowly snapped back into focus. He was here, in this park, standing by the water, listening for something he would never hear again. The delighted laughter of his son as he tried to touch the sky on a swing, the happy and content chuckle of his wife while she stood by and watched the child play.

Who was he that he thought he had a right to such happiness? What had he ever done that made him deserving of the love of such a woman? She had made it clear from the start that she loved him, that she would always be there for him. But it had been a lie, a glamor. Whoever made the rules out there had lulled him into a make-believe world where everything was coming up roses, but nothing was what it seemed. He had known happiness, brief as it had been, and now he was alone and hurting. The old saying that it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all was bullshit. Being alone didn't hurt as much as losing that special someone you had hoped to end your life with. They were gone and had left him with nothing. He stood with empty hands and a big hole where his heart had once been. And all he could feel was an all-consuming anger. Not at them, but at the circumstances that had taken them away from him. And at himself for not listening to Sarah begging for a house. If he had moved them out of the city, out into the suburbs, Sarah and Adam would still be alive and he would still have been as happy as he could get.

It was his fault that they had died. She had suggested a house and he had said no. He had been worried about the money. And after all, the North End was the safest part of Boston. Well, if it was so bloody safe, how come his wife and son had died in a blazing inferno? And what good did all that money do him if it meant having to go on without them?

He closed his eyes and pushed the memories away. They did him no good, only made him question why he bothered going on. There was nothing left to live for, really. The only things in his life that had truly mattered were gone. So why was he still here?

For a moment, he considered what death would be like. Would he see them again? He doubted it. Wasn't there something about that those who committed suicide went to Hell? Well, he was bound for there anyway. Why speed up the process? Or was this Hell? This big, cold and empty solitude others called a life? Was that Hell? Was he bound for a better place after this?

With a halfhearted smile that stretched painfully dry and icy cold lips, he could see the irony in his thoughts despite it all. He could no more kill himself than he could have killed his family with his own bare hands. That just wasn't the way it was done. There were still rules to be upheld and he needed to know the truth before he could make up his mind about what steps to take next. He needed to know what exactly had happened. He needed to justify any further actions before he could take them.

Stiffly, he turned and started walking on aching cold feet back toward the edge of the North End Playground. Although he couldn't really see the sense in anything any more, he needed to sleep. He couldn't think straight when he was cold and tired.


10.00 a.m.
Buck's apartment
Tremont street

Even though he would never openly admit to it, Buck was worried sick about his friend. So much so that he had fallen asleep on his couch while waiting for Chris to come back.

He woke up when a fire truck went by with blaring sirens and found himself covered with a blanket from his bedroom. For a moment, he just sat there with a slight frown creasing his brow while he stared at the blanket. But only until his sleep-heavy mind focused on where it had come from. He hadn't picked it up himself. That meant Chris had come back.

He got off the couch, walked quietly over to the guestroom door and pushed it open a little. Yup, Chris was back and he was sleeping soundly. "Crazy bastard," he mumbled, pulled the door shut again and decided to catch a few more hours himself.


January 3
Tremont Street

It was cold enough for the river to be frozen solid and Buck wasn't so sure he liked the cold too much. Not any more, at least. Still out of work, he had to put up with a lot of things these days. Money was no problem, though. A savings account his mother had made him start when he was ten came to good use now and Chris' insurance had paid up after a tug of war, which would have left anybody but Chris pennyless. The insurance guy had seen reason, though, and the company had coughed up with a nice round sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to cover the damages and loss of property. But there was no amount of money that could cover the loss of Chris' loved ones. Not that he mentioned them with a word. But Buck was no longer so concerned about him. He had caught him staring at pictures, a lost look in his eyes, and that was good enough for Buck. Chris was dealing and that was the main thing.

But Buck was still struggling with himself over when he should tell Chris what their former colleagues had come up with. He couldn't for the life of him see any reason in rubbing this in and he knew that this information would do just that.

He was on his way out to meet Chris and Josiah at the Doubletree Hotel on Washington Street where Josiah always stayed when he was in town. Chris had gone ahead to meet their old friend. They were all going out for a beer and, Buck hoped, a discussion about their future. Chris couldn't make up his mind about what he wanted to do and Buck had decided he would follow in his footsteps until he was fairly certain his friend wouldn't go down like the Titanic once he was on his own. And somehow he hoped that Josiah might be able to suggest something he hadn't come up with yet.

With a slight shudder, Buck pulled the collar of his coat up and glanced toward the iron-grey sky. There wasn't even the smallest sign of the sun up there and he was really beginning to resent this constant cold.


Doubletree Hotel
Washington Street

Chris sat motionless on the armchair in the corner of the room, his arms resting on the arms of the chair. Josiah hadn't said much since he had arrived, had only spent time observing his friend, and he knew Buck's concerns were understandable. This wasn't the same man he had known before that terrible disaster had struck. Not that Josiah blamed the man for cracking after that blow. But he had hoped that Chris would at least have found some glimmer of hope since then. Nothing had changed since the funeral, though.

"So," Josiah said to break the monotony. "You haven't found a new job yet?"

Chris blinked and looked up. "No," he replied.

"Don't you miss the excitement of being a cop?" Josiah asked on and settled down on the edge of the bed.

"No," Chris said with a light shake of the head.

"Not at all?" Josiah asked.

"Not a bit. It wasn't right," Chris said, breaking his routine of only answering with one syllable words for the first time since he had arrived.

"Well, you must have some type of idea of what you want to do," Josiah mussed.

"You sound like career day at school," Chris said, his expression unchanging. "I don't know. I don't feel like anything."

"You know what they say. Idle hands are the devil's playground," Josiah said with a half-smirk. The thing was, he meant it, but he knew how Chris saw such things too and he wanted to take any edge off his words in advance.

Chris narrowed his eyes and snorted lightly. "Give me a break," he growled. "Now you sound like my father."

"Have you talked to him lately?" Josiah asked, seeing the chance to change the subject. He just wasn't too sure that this subject would be better than discussing career opportunities.

"No. Not lately," Chris said and sighed. "Where the hell is Buck? He was supposed to be here half an hour ago."

All Josiah could do was smile. Buck had never been on time a day in his life and it had always been a subject of much scorn for Chris, who was usually on time to the second. "He'll be here," he assured him. "He always turns up eventually."

"Yeah, but never on time. I don't understand how the hell he can live his life like that. How can you do anything if you're never on time?" Chris grumbled.

"Buck may never be on time, Chris, but he gets the job done. You know that. Even though he's nearly always late, he's never been late for something important. It's not like anybody's life depends on him being here on time. He knows that and he's just a little more laid back about such things than others are," Josiah said.

"Yeah, right," Chris snorted. "If he were any more laid back, he'd spend his life lying down."

Josiah made a face, but said nothing because a knock on the door interrupted him at that very moment. But he did see the smirk on Chris' lips and knew the other man had realized what he'd just said.


A night out with the guys was what Chris needed. Or so he believed. It would give him a much needed opportunity to get his mind off things he didn't want to think about. But underneath it all, there was still that feeling of total loss. He felt empty inside and try as he might, he couldn't find anything that would even marginally fill that hole.

It was important to him that his friends didn't worry too much about him. Mainly, he wanted them to mind their own business and if that meant putting on a charade every damned day, he would do that. Buck knew him well enough to realize that things weren't entirely as they should be, but Chris never let him see how bad he sometimes felt.

As they walked along the street, heading toward the nearest bar to have a drink or two before going to the restaurant, he listened to Buck and Josiah going on and on about what they should do with the rest of their lives. And it struck him that he didn't really care. Being a cop hadn't done it for him. Not after...! He paused in his thoughts and barely prevented himself from shuddering. Nope, that door had to remain closed for now. He couldn't go there just yet. The job hadn't filled the void, so he had quit it. He needed something to do that would keep his mind busy and his soul satisfied. But he had no idea where to find a job like that.

"I'm just saying that there has to be something more fulfilling out there than being a cop," Buck said, his tone somewhat exasperated.

Chris glanced over at him, but said nothing.

Josiah merely nodded. "I see your point, Buck, but wouldn't it have been wiser to wait until the two of you had figured out what that exactly is? I mean..." He hesitated and shook his head a little sadly. "It's not like you've got unending resources."

Buck sighed heavily. "True enough," he agreed. "But... well, when you gotta go, you gotta go, right?" Here he glanced over at Chris, who shrugged. He didn't want to get drawn into the conversation and made that pretty clear by not replying.

"I guess," Josiah replied. "Oh well, never mind that now. Let's not dwell on things that can't be changed," he added and gave Chris a sideways glance.

Chris knew exactly what he meant, but he wasn't going to acknowledge that. Instead, he kept his eyes on the pavement ahead of them and wondered what it took for these two to butt out of his business.

"Right. A few drinks and a decent dinner is gonna do wonders," Buck replied and grinned.

"I sure hope so," Josiah agreed.


A few hours later

A few drinks, then dinner and then nightclubbing. Buck figured he'd had his share of fun for one week, but the night didn't feel complete without female company. Considering the mood that Chris was in, though, he wasn't likely to leave him alone just yet.

Josiah had been fairly quiet most of the evening, obviously sensing like Buck did that Chris wasn't really in the mood for this. For a moment, none of them spoke. Then Josiah turned his attention to Buck. "Have you heard anything for your former colleagues?" he asked.

Buck stared at him for a second, remembering their little talk a while ago, and wished he could tell the preacher to can it. He hadn't had a chance to bring up the topic with Chris and he just knew that today wasn't the day for that sort of talk. "No," he lied.

Josiah's expression told Buck what the preacher was thinking and he just knew that Josiah wouldn't relent until he'd come clean. He just didn't see the reason why Chris should be burdened with that knowledge right now.

"Didn't you tell me..." Josiah began, but Buck felt the distinct need to jump in and cut him off.

"Never mind that. That was nothing," he said quickly.

Chris was beginning to pay attention and that was not a good thing.

"Buck, I really think you need to..." Josiah tried again, but again Buck cut him off.

"No, I don't. Not now, at least," he retorted, a little angrier than he had intended. And his response to Josiah's quarries peaked Chris' interest.

"You don't what?" Chris asked and sat up straighter. "Is there something you haven't told me?"

Buck didn't look at him. He knew full well that Chris would be able to see right through him if he did. For a long moment, he kept his mouth shut and stared down into this drink, but then he finally raised his eyes and met Chris' stare. "Hank called me. A day after we quit," he said, then hesitated.

"And?" Chris continued to stare at him, his expression revealing that there was no way this Jack could be put back in the box.

"He said..." Buck tried, but didn't know how to go on. Telling Chris this could have two outcomes. Either he didn't care or didn't believe it, which was highly unlikely, or he would go through the roof. Buck's money was on the latter and he wasn't even a betting man.

"He said what?" Chris demanded and leaned forward a little. "Buck!" There was a distinct warning in his voice now.

Buck drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He said that they think that the fire was... not accidental," he finally said. "I haven't talked to him since, but... they were pretty sure that it was... arson."

For the longest of moments nothing happened at all. Chris just kept staring at him without any reaction to what he had said. Then he leaned back on his chair and focused on his glass. "Why didn't you tell me?" His voice was barely above a whisper and Buck knew he was in deep shit right now.

"I..." Buck hesitated, but then shook his head and sighed. "I don't know. I didn't know how."

Chris just sat there and stared at his glass for a moment longer, then he suddenly got up, grabbed his coat and left.

And all Buck could do was frown. "What the hell just happened?"

Josiah stared at the door, and then shook his head. "I have no idea," he admitted. "I do think that we should follow him, though."

"Yeah, good idea," Buck agreed, threw a few bills on the table and got up too.

The two men hurried outside to find Chris standing at the curb, his hands buried in the pockets of his coat, his back to the establishment. Buck and Josiah stepped up on either side of him, neither of them really knowing what to say.

"Someone is responsible for that fire," Chris said to nobody in particular.

"Yeah," Buck agreed. "It looks that way." It seemed as if Chris had found some kind of purpose in that realization and Buck wasn't too sure which way he'd go.

"You should have told me," Chris said and glanced at Buck. His voice was a tad too chilly for Buck's liking.

"Yeah, I should have. But I didn't know how. Didn't know how you'd respond to it," Buck said.

"How the hell did you expect me to respond?" Chris snarled. "What I thought was an accident now turns out to be someone's fault. Someone deliberately killed my wife and my son. How the hell did you think I would take that, huh?"

He wasn't yelling, wasn't even loud, but he didn't need to do either. Buck flinched anyway. He knew that tone and Chris was more than pissed at him right now. "Not well," he confessed. "Look, Chris, we're no longer on the force. We don't have a say in this and we can't interfere. I suggest we give Hank a call and ask how far they've gotten with the investigation. Maybe they have some news for us."

"And maybe I don't give a fuck," Chris spat. "You should have told me."

"It wouldn't have made a difference," Buck tried, knowing before he said it that it was the wrong thing to say.

Chris scowled at him. "Yeah, it would have," he countered and stepped out into the street. Fortunately, the traffic wasn't heavy and he managed to get to the other side without being run over. He walked away briskly, head down, shoulders up.

"See?" Buck asked and glanced at Josiah. "That's why I didn't want to tell him. He's not taking it well and he's taking it out on me."

"Well, you should have told him," Josiah countered.

"In my own time, Josiah. That's what I told you before. This was neither the time nor the place. Why the hell can't you just leave well enough alone? You think it's gonna help him that he knows that someone's responsible for killing Sarah and Adam? You think he's gonna have it easier now?" Buck was angry too and he knew he was taking it out on Josiah unjustly, but he couldn't help himself. "We'd better catch up with him," he added. "There's no telling what he'll do right now."

Josiah nodded and they hurried after Chris.


Chris walked briskly along the street, his eyes on the pavement in front of his feet, his mind boiling with unsettling thoughts. They mainly centered around what he would do to the arsonist once he caught him. And there was no doubt in his mind that he would. He would tear this city apart to find that man and he would make sure he died slowly.

He slowed his pace a little after a few blocks, though. Not so much because he became aware that he had left his two friends behind, but because something ahead caught his attention. He raised his head and looked upward. The smell of smoke was heavy in the air. He had turned down a side street to Washington Street and about a block ahead, a building was on fire. Thick, heavy smoke billowed out of some of the windows and there was a lot of commotion down on the street in front of the building. But there were no fire trucks and he couldn't hear any on approach either.

He sped up and closed the distance to the burning building. One look up at the building told him that this was going wrong very quickly. Up on the fifth floor, one of the windows was open and smoke was wafting out of it, but it wasn't enough to indicate that the apartment behind that window was on fire yet. A woman stood there, holding a bundle in her arms and was screaming for help. And down on the street, all people did was stand and stare.

Chris glanced around with a frown. "Someone call the 911," he yelled, pulled his coat off and dropped it on a bench. Apparently, nobody had thought about calling for help. One man pulled his cell phone out of one pocket, a befuddled look on his face. Chris very much felt like kicking collective butt here, but he felt it was more important to get that woman out of the building.

Somehow, it never occurred to him that this was a dangerous thing for him to do. Instead, he ran across the street and kicked the glass entrance door in to get into the building.

The smoke hung heavy in the air, but there was apparently no fire on the ground floor. Chris found the stairwell and raced up the stairs with no consideration for what lay ahead. All he could think of was that woman and what he assumed was her baby. He needed to get up there and get them out and that was all he could think of. That was all that mattered.

He made it to the fifth floor in record time and grabbed the doorhandle, but had to release it immediately to not burn his hand severely. It was blistering hot. "Shit," he hissed, pulled the sweater he was wearing off and wrapped it around his hand before trying again. The door sprung open, nearly hitting him in the face, and heavy black smoke billowed out into the stairwell. The fifth floor was definitely on fire. He pushed through the door opening and started coughing almost instantly. There was fairly little air left in the corridor. He covered his mouth and nose with the sweater and pushed forward. He had a pretty good idea of where the apartment in question was and it was essential to get there before the fire decided to engulf the corridor. It couldn't be long before that happened.

The only door still closed was the one he headed straight for. All the fire doors in the corridor were open, which made him frown angrily. If the fire doors didn't work, the whole building could come down in an instant. That was really one of the few things that had to be one hundred percent in order in a building like this. He reached the closed door and glanced either way. From what he could see, all the other doors were open, which meant that people had managed to escape already. Why this woman had remained was beyond him, but it didn't matter now. All that mattered was getting her out. So he kicked the door in. There was no time to be polite.

"Ma'am?" he called and stepped inside. The air in the room he stepped into was foggy with smoke and hot too. "Hello?" And then he heard coughing.

"Over here," he heard a voice calling and then more coughing. And then a baby started wailing.

Using the infant's cries as a guideline, he hurried through the smoke to the open window. "Ma'am, you have to come with me," he insisted and grabbed the woman by the arm. She was sitting on the floor below the window, one hand covering her mouth and nose. "I'll get you out of here."

He rolled up his sweater and wrapped it around her face, tying it behind her head so her mouth and nose were covered. That left him vulnerable, but he didn't care about that. He hauled her back to her feet and propelled her forward, pushing her toward the door. "Hurry," he urged her and coughed heavily. "Move, move, move."

He managed to get them back to the stairwell, which was now clogged with smoke, and took the lead down the stairs, holding onto her with one hand to make sure she followed. They stumbled down the stairs and he nearly lost his footing several times because he couldn't see very far. The smoke was slightly acidic, stinging his eyes.

Somehow, they managed to reach the ground floor without being singed and Chris quickly pushed the woman through the door to the corridor while he heard the roaring of the fire up above somewhere. It was a matter of time before the whole thing came down on top of them and he aimed at being outside when that happened.

Without fail, he directed the woman to the front door and pushed her outside just in time to hear the ceiling collapsing behind them. Smoke and dust billowed out behind them while he quickly dragged her across the street. First there did he stop and turn back to eye the damage. The whole building was caving in while he heard sirens in the distance. With his hand still wrapped securely around the woman's upper arm, he finally turned his attention to her. "Are you all right?" he inquired.

She pulled his sweater away from her face and coughed heavily for a moment, her eyes teary from the smoke, and then she looked up at him. "Yes," she rasped. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied and glanced back at the building. "Someone should have called for help earlier," he added and then looked back at her. "How's your baby?"

She looked down at the bundle in her arms and smiled. "She'll be fine," she assured him and looked up again to meet his eyes. "If you hadn't turned up... I don't know what would have happened?"

"Why didn't you leave with the others?"

"I couldn't. The door was too hot. I couldn't touch it. And... I'm afraid of fire," she said and settled down on the bench he had left his coat on.

"Don't blame you," he said.


He turned his attention to Buck and Josiah, who both looked like he had just tried to shoot himself.

"What the hell are you doing? Are you aware of how dangerous that was?" Buck sputtered, very upset.

"Someone had to do it," Chris countered a little aggressively. "And I didn't see anybody else making an effort," he added.

The fire trucks finally arrived and all Chris could think was that they had been alerted far too late. This woman and her daughter would have died in the flames if he hadn't gone in after them.

"Yeah, but you could have died, pardner," Buck said, a little more subdued.

"I didn't, though," Chris said, his eyes on the firemen rushing to put the fire out. An ambulance arrived on the scene too and Chris waved the paramedics over. "Take care of her, guys. She's inhaled a lot of smoke," he said.

The paramedic eyed him. "Looks like you did too. You went in after her, did you?" he asked.

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "But I'm fine. Just take care of her and her baby."

"Are you sure?" the paramedic asked, a concerned look in his eyes.

"Yes, I'm fine. I wasn't in there long enough to sustain any damage," Chris assured him and handed the care of the woman over to him. She thanked him once again and allowed the paramedic to lead her away.

Chris watched her go, then grabbed his sweater and his coat and turned back to Buck and Josiah. "I know what I want to do now," he said and gave them a tense smile before pulling his sweater back on.

Buck instantly knew what he meant and just stared at him. "You can't be serious," he said.

"Why not?" Chris countered. "I haven't felt this alive in... forever," he added. "This is what I want to do. This is a job worth while."

"A fireman?" Josiah asked and glanced at the commotion going on at the other side of the street. He arched an eyebrow. "Well, it's definitely a job that keeps you busy," he added and returned his attention to Chris.

"Are you nuts? It's the fastest way of getting yourself killed. Do you know how many firemen kick the bucket every damned year?" Buck blustered. "No way in hell am I gonna..." he started and then trailed off. "You're serious, aren't you? You're really gonna do this."

Chris glanced from one to the other and back again. "Why not? It's a decent living. And, as you said, Josiah, it'll keep me busy."

"It's no more dangerous than being a cop, Buck," Josiah claimed. "If you know the rules and you have a feel for it... and I would say that Chris has just displayed that he has a feel for it... why not?"

"Why not?" Buck asked, totally stunned. "How the hell can you ask that? Man, you can count me out. I'm not doing this. No way. This is insane."

"Nobody said you had to tag along," Chris said. "If you think it's so bad, find something else to do. It's not mandatory."

Buck stared at him for a moment and Chris could virtually see what he was thinking. "Well..." he began, but trailed off again. Then he glanced over at the building and the firemen working hard on putting out the flames. For a long moment, he just watched them work. Then he sighed. "I must be crazy," he said and returned his attention to Chris. "Okay, fine. Where do I sign up?"

For the first time in a long time, Chris felt like smiling. Sure, he could go it alone, but it did feel better to have friends along for the ride. He turned his attention to Josiah. "What about you? You don't exactly seem to have a parish at the moment. Care for a change of scenery?"

Josiah eyed him for a moment, then smirked. "Well, why not. I've been a little at odds with the Lord lately. Maybe this is his way of telling me to do something useful," he said. "You can count me in."

"Good," Chris said and returned his attention to the fire. It might end up being the death of them, but he felt it in his bones that this was the way to go. This was what he needed to do with his life. At least he could help prevent others from losing loved ones the way he had lost his family. Yes, this was definitely the way to go.