He would never forget the message on his answering machine.

It had seemed a normal walk home, before that. The city was no quieter than usual, the world thriving and the people within it content. He had seen numerous couples walking hand in hand together down the street, before he hailed the taxi. Carrying his jacket over his shoulder, he had reflected on the day—an emotionally draining, terrible day. First he had witnessed a man's life taken right before his eyes, the lethal injection that slowed the heart and quieted the senses. The man deserved it, and McCoy felt no remorse. Maybe that was what bothered him the most, the sense of justice it had brought. It hadn't affected Claire in the same way. He had seen her stricken expression as she left the prison, the quickening of her step as she avoided him in returning to the office.

For some reason, he had felt compelled to speak to the men at the bar, to discuss his father. He never did that. For so long he had attempted to repress memories of the man that had terrorized his children and brutalized his wife. He had never told a complete stranger any of it, how large and frightening his father's hands were, how Jack's mother had dragged him into the basement, where she usually hid until her husband's drunken fits wore off. They had huddled there in the darkness, listening to the sound of breaking glass and furniture overhead. She was trembling. Terrified. It was something he had tried to forget, but couldn't.

Then that message—that damned, terrible message on his machine, the shaken voice of Adam Schiff. Adam was never shaken. He was as formidable as a rock, as strong as a tree that had weathered the forces of nature for hundreds of years. But yes, there was a horror in his voice, strengthened by the force of his words. Claire. Accident. Hospital. Jack made his way there in a blind haze, dread flooding through his form as he saw the ambulance, its lights still flickering blue and red in the night. He wanted to be there and yet didn't, as he walked down that white corridor, past the nurses to the group of individuals gathered in the waiting room, stricken. He stopped without approaching, knowing the instant he saw their faces. His head started to shake, denial that this was happening, clouding his ability to be objective.

He saw their faces in unison.




"No." It was a single word, but all that he could muster. He hadn't the strength to move, as Adam approached and rested his warm hand on Jack's arm. Looking up into the prosecutor's eyes, the district attorney said softly, "She's gone."

Many times he had experienced loss, both of a personal and business nature. Faces had passed before him and been taken just as swiftly. It was a part of life. But he was not willing to accept it, not Claire, the woman he loved more deeply than life itself. Not Claire, whose independent nature had compelled her to turn down any hint of marriage. Not Claire, who sometimes talked in her sleep and insisted on driving him to work every morning. Not Claire.

He wasn't really listening to Adam, something about a drunk driver, a truck, an accident. He wasn't really seeing the faces before him. He couldn't feel anything but the desperation to get out of there.

How he left, he never remembered. Only that the city streets welcomed him in the twinkling darkness, that the people he encountered had no understanding of his inner turmoil, that he knew nothing until he was standing at her door. The key trembled in his hand, then fitted into the lock with finality. She had just given it to him a few weeks before. It had been left on his desk, beneath his last summation. There was nothing on it to indicate what it unlocked, but he had known as he moved aside the papers and lifted it in nimble fingers. He had never asked for it. She had merely given it to him.

The key turned in the lock and the door edged open. It was devastatingly quiet.

Jack stood on the threshold, his hand resting on the door. He compelled himself to step inside. There were her things, just as she had left them. Only her car keys were missing from the little dish on the sideboard. The door closed behind him, engulfing him in darkness. The only light was faint, coming from the buildings across the street. He leaned against the door, and it was only then that it truly sunk in. She was gone. Never again would she return to the apartment, and warn him not to leave his briefcase on the sofa. Never again would her voice ring through the office, whether in subtle flirtation or voracious disagreement. Never again would she kiss him after a romantic dinner, or take a ride with him on his motorcycle. Never again would he buy her a cup of coffee, or take her to Central Park.

Never again.

The apartment was completely and utterly silent. There were no messages on the machine, its red button glowing dimly in the darkness.

Jack slowly crossed to the couch and sat down.

He placed his head in his hands.

And he cried.