Wednesday: March 14, 2029
7:50 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN
“I’m taking the girls to school. Mekhi’s outside, and two of Jamal’s guys are following me there,” Jensen said.
“Uh, Titus and Enzo?” Jensen asked.
Bo nodded. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Drive safe.”
“Will do, babe.” Jensen leaned down and pressed a kiss to Bo’s forehead. “Don’t worry about breakfast. I’ll start that when I get back. Till then, you just go ahead and worry about your coffee and those emails, all right?” Again, the blonde nodded.
“Want me to bring Mekhi inside? Or are you good with him sitting out there?”
“Depends. Are you asking because you want to make sure I have a babysitter?” Bo asked. Jensen had the grace to blush. “It’s okay, Jens. I’m… not exactly in the best place.” He cleared his throat. “Sure, love. Have him come in.” Jensen nodded, squeezing Bo’s shoulder before heading out of the kitchen. Bo leaned back against the counter, holding his coffee mug to his chest.
“Morning, Mekhi.” Bo opened his eyes, gauging the nearly unreadable expression of the much taller man. “How’s everything looking out there?”
“Safe,” Mekhi said with a nod. “Real quiet activity today. Still chatter, sure, but quiet.”
“Is that good for us, or bad?” Bo asked.
“Mm… could go either way, Mister Austen. Anything can mean anything in this line of work,” Mekhi said. “But, actively, concern’s low right now. Mister Pitman’s resting, but he has us on full alert.”
“Do we know who the threat’s coming from?”
“Oh, yeah. Leader of the Robinson family. Relatively small time white guy ripping out the power from other people to prove a point. Pitman isn’t going to let that happen much longer. We just need to work up the best plan to go in, take out the fucker, and come back out alive. He and his men aren’t well-known or respected, but they have a lot of firepower,” Mekhi said. “As it stands, we don’t know where his base is, either.”
“You’ll have to start picking up his members to get the information out of them,” Bo said.
“Yes, sir.” Mekhi smiled. “We’ll find him. You guys are fine.”
“Yeah,” Bo said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Coffee?”
“If it’s no trouble, sir.”
Bo turned, reaching up to pull open the cupboard. He set a mug on the counter before stepping away from it. “Creamer’s in the fridge.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“No problem.” Bo took a sip of his own coffee, lifting his head as Pollux walked into the room. “Hi, buddy.”
Pollux tilted his head back to look at Mekhi. “Who’s that?”
Bo smiled faintly. “That’s Mekhi, sweetheart. He’s one of Daddy’s friend.” Pollux hurried across the kitchen, holding his arms out to Bo. The blonde set his mug on the counter and bent down, picking up the boy.
“Big,” Pollux whispered as he wrapped his arms around Bo’s neck.
The blonde chuckled. “Yeah, buddy, I know. Mekhi’s a giant,” he agreed. “Is your brother still asleep?”
Bo pressed a kiss to the boy’s temple, grabbing his coffee mug. “I’m just going to play a game with him until Jensen gets home.”
Mekhi leaned back, eyes scanning the portion of the house he could see. “Mind hanging out in your little keeping room, there? Got a lotta windows in the family room,” he said.
Bo nodded. “Sure. No trouble.” He hiked Pollux up on his hip before heading into the keeping room. He sat down on the floor with the boy, reaching back to set his coffee mug on the end table. “What do you want to do while we wait for Daddy to come home?”
“Ball? Can we catch?”
Bo smiled, pointing to the toy box by the fireplace. “Sure, buddy. Go get your ball.” Bo watched the boy for a moment before raking a hand through his hair. He’d spent a lot of time faking smiles and laughs since he’d gotten back home, and he had yet to decide if each one was getting harder to fake or easier.
Either way, faking most of his expressions, forcing most of his emotions, felt like he was back to him old self, back in the days where he didn’t want to befriend anyone and he was a freak and those around him didn’t deserve to be stuck with him.
Bo swallowed as Pollux dropped down in front of him, rolling a ball toward Bo. He rolled the ball back toward the toddler, looking back at Mekhi, who was watching him carefully from the kitchen, one hand on his gun, his phone pressed to his ear.
The blonde cleared his throat, turning to face his son again. Bo knew giving Jensen the a-okay to bring Mekhi into the house had been the right call. If it wasn’t for Mekhi and Pollux watching him so intently, he knew exactly where he’d be, and he knew it’d lead to another regretful, shameful decision that he wanted no part of.
Or, at least, a decision he told himself he wanted no part of.
8:20 AM; UNITED STATES, UNKNOWN LOCATION
That was what the Hacker felt when they thought about Martha Fraser throwing herself to her death. Power.
It had taken them a while to come upon that conclusion. At first, they had felt almost wrong, almost guilty, because of it. As the hours and days passed, however, they had realized that the feeling of wrongness hadn’t been guilt of any kind.
It had been an unnerving uncomfortableness with their newfound power. That uncomfortable feeling was gone now, no longer lingering in their gut like a sickening disease.
They had power over people this way. Hidden behind a screen, deleted emails, scattered IP addresses, and an undetectable online personality, they were in control of people’s lives. They were in control of who lived or died, or suffered and who did not.
It was a power most would never get to experience, and the Hacker had it practically handed to them on a silver platter.
They wanted to try their hand at it again, remind someone else of the terrible crimes they committed.
1:04 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, BREAKFAST NOOK
Bo lifted his head as Jensen set a plate down beside his laptop on the table. “You didn’t have to do that,” Bo said quietly.
“No, but you wouldn’t eat if I didn’t,” Jensen reminded. He squeezed Bo’s shoulder, leaning down to kiss the top of Bo’s head. “Your mom texted me. She’s worried about you.”
“You didn’t tell her anything, did you?”
“God, no. That’s not my place, Eli.” Jensen rubbed a small circle between the blonde’s shoulders, clearing his throat. “She says you slept over there a few times when you were in L.A.. She just wants some reassurance.”
“I’ll, umm, I’ll give her a call tonight, then,” Bo said. “What’d you tell her when she asked?”
“That you were okay, just taking some down time to adjust to Clinstone time again,” Jensen said.
“Sure thing, Eli.” Jensen leaned back enough to look at the toddlers in the keeping room. The boys sat on the floor, happily rolling a ball back and forth. “Find anything good?”
“Well, I’ve been combing through her inbox, picking out the emails from this… this harasser. Some are in her junk mail, some are in her inbox, she starred a few, and she deleted a lot of others. I recovered some of the deleted ones, but others have been gone long enough that I’ll have to put in some extra work to retrieve them,” Bo said.
“Have you read through the ones you’ve got so far?”
“Some, yes. Others, I’ve just set up to trace the original IP address. I’m hoping to find some sort of similar patterns in the pings, find out where they’re actually coming from rather than just the cities and states and countries that they’re falsely being thrown toward. After that… I don’t know yet. Go through the emails, see what the person said, and how many times they had to repeat the same thing before Miss Fraser couldn’t handle it anymore.”
“And then what?” Jensen asked.
“I’m not entirely certain. Involuntary manslaughter? There’s a solid cause in there for online harassment and bullying, now. I think, if the emails show enough of what this person truly said or did to Miss Fraser, the charge could stand pretty easily in court. If not, evidence lets the family sue for civil injury damages or wrongful death. Not quite what the person deserves, but definitely better than absolutely nothing,” Bo said.
“Definitely,” Jensen murmured. “You keep me updated, okay?”
“Okay.” Bo cleared his throat, reaching up to lay a hand on Jensen’s cheek. “Thank you. Again.”
One corner of Jensen’s mouth lifted. “My pleasure, Eli.” He turned, pressing a kiss to the blonde’s palm. “I’ll be in the keeping room with the boys, okay?” Bo nodded. “Make sure you eat.”
“I will,” Bo promised. He covered Jensen’s hand briefly as the younger man squeezed his shoulder. Bo watched him walk back to the keeping room before he let out a sigh, blue eyes shifting back to his laptop.
Child killer or not, what would drive a random person to harass another person until the literal day they died?
11:07 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KEEPING ROOM
Bo sat on the couch, pressing his phone to his ear. He closed his eyes, dropping his head to rest in his hand. He had repeated the words ‘I’m fine’ to himself far too many times to count over the last few hours, constantly preparing himself to say the same two words to his mother.
It was amazing to him how difficult those two words were to wrap his mind around, but they were the ones he needed most in that moment, the ones his mother needed to hear the most.
“Hi, baby,” Renee Austen greeted.
“Hey, Mom.” Bo lifted his head, resting his chin on his hand. “How’re you?”
“I’m okay, sweetheart. How’re you?”
“I’m fine,” Bo said after a moment of silence passed between them.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, Momma, I’m sure,” Bo said softly. Momma. Renee had a soft spot for the term, and it usually helped swing things Bo’s way. He was hoping it’d do the same that night. “I’m just tired and working on a case that isn’t, well, really a case. You know how I am. Can’t stand to take a break from any of it for too long.”
“You need to learn to take breaks, sweetheart.”
“Oh, I know. Jensen’s doing a great job at making sure I come up for a breather every now and then,” Bo said. He closed his eyes, scratching the side of his head. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, baby. I just… wanted to check up on you, is all.”
“I know, Mom. It’s appreciated,” Bo said quietly. “Tell Dad I love him?”
“Of course, baby. Get some sleep, okay?”
Bo drew in a long breath, closing his eyes. “Sure, Momma. You, too.”
“I will. Goodnight, sweetheart. Take care of yourself.”
“I will,” Bo echoed. “Night, Mom.” He waited a moment before pulling his phone from his ear and ending the call. He tapped the power button on his phone, inhaling deeply before pushing himself to his feet. He headed back to the bedroom, stopping in the doorway. “Mom’s worried, but I think I managed to bring the concern down at least a little. I’ll let her worry when we’re all in L.A.. Halfway across the country and extreme worry don’t work well together.”
Jensen nodded. “Ready to go to sleep, then?”
Bo shook his head, leaning into the room to toss his phone onto the bed. “I need a smoke.”
“Oh,” Jensen said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Okay, babe. I’ll be here.”
“I’ll quit soon. Promise.”
Jensen offered a soft smile. “I know, Eli. You do what you gotta do. I’ll be here,” he repeated.
“Thanks,” Bo whispered.
Bo nodded, tapping his hand against the doorframe. He turned and headed back through the house and into the garage. He slid into the driver’s seat of his car, reaching over to open the glovebox. He froze at the sound of footsteps behind him. His hand went to his gun as he backed out of the car.
Mekhi held up his hands. “Sorry, Mister Austen, sir.” He smiled. “Nice reflexes, though.”
Bo let out a breath, hand falling back to his side. “What’re you doing in here?”
“Giving it the once over before I spend the rest of the night on guard outside,” Mekhi said simply. He rested his hand on the gun on his hip as Bo slid back into the car. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I know. I’m just jumpy,” Bo said, grabbing his cigarettes and a lighter from the glovebox.
“Jumpy can be good. Keeps you on your toes.”
“Sometimes, I suppose. Other times, it just manages to get the wrong people killed,” Bo said. “Jumpy people have trigger fingers.”
“There is that,” Mekhi agreed. He rested a hand on top of the car as Bo lit a cigarette. “How’re you holding up, Mister Austen?”
“Managing. Jensen helps take a lot of the pressure off,” Bo said. He leaned back in the car, closing his eyes. “If it was just me taking care of the kids, I’d be drowning. I don’t know how long I’d be able to force myself to keep going.”
“Damn good thing you have him on your side, then.”
“That… is the understatement of the year,” Bo said quietly. He opened his eyes, glancing up at the near-giant standing just outside his car. “Anything from Jamal?”
“Not yet. Anything on your case?”
“Not yet,” Bo echoed. “You’ll keep my family safe?”
“Always, sir,” Mekhi assured. “We’re working around the clock to guarantee it.”
Bo drew in a breath, shaking his head as he blew a puff of smoke from one corner of his mouth. “Is this what it feels like to be Jamal?”
Mekhi chuckled. “It, uh, it’s certainly a large part of it, sir.”
“Perfect,” Bo whispered.
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