Freshly showered and changed back into the suit he kept in the car, Russell walked into the kitchen. Theodore stood at the stove, making something Russell couldn’t see. He was pretty sure he could smell peppers, though.
“It’s me,” Russell said before laying a hand on Theodore’s upper back, between his shoulders. “Where’s Vera?”
“Changing.” Theodore rolled his shoulders back.
Russell dropped his hand. “Sorry.”
“No, no, it’s okay. That wasn’t about you.”
Theodore shook his head. “My shoulders hurt. I’ve been leaning a little too heavy on my cane recently.”
“Mm.” Russell moved his hand back to Theodore’s back, bowing his head to kiss his shoulder. Theodore closed his eyes, resting his head against Russell’s for a moment. Russell couldn’t help the little smile that came to his face. “What’re you making?”
“Scrambled peppers and eggs. Hashbrowns, too. Vera likes them, so…”
“I’ve liked everything you’ve made. I’m, like, a hundred percent sure I’ll like this, too,” Russell said.
“Thanks,” Theodore whispered.
“No problem.” Russell moved his thumb in a little side-to-side swipe between Theodore’s shoulders. Thankfully, Theodore didn’t seem to mind that, either.
“Umm…. I’m supposed to tell you about Gina.”
“Supposed to?” Russell asked. “And… what about her?”
“Supposed to, yeah. She told me to. And… I dunno. That I’m best friends with her. That I talk to her a lot about what’s going on in my personal life. That she’s kind of my sounding board for a lot of things. Like, she’s the reason I decided to keep our first supper not-date,” Theodore said. “I guess I’m just, like, supposed to let you know that.”
Russell took a moment to think of the kind of response he was supposed to have to that. His initial thought was that he saw nothing wrong with Theodore’s friendship, but if Theodore wasn’t telling him in case there was something wrong with it, it was pretty likely that Theodore would think he was lying.
Biting the bullet, Russell pressed a kiss to Theodore’s temple. “I’m glad you have a friend like that.”
“Of course. If you bounce ideas off of her and whatnot, it’s because you trust her. Everyone deserves to have someone they trust like that. I’m just glad you already do,” Russell said.
Theodore’s shoulders relaxed, but not enough that he’d entirely let his guard down. Russell didn’t expect his guard to ever be all the way down. It had been decades since another human being had abused Russell, and he still always had his guard up. He was simply a little better at hiding the tension behind a genuine-appearing smile than Theodore was.
“She works with me at the bookstore,” Theodore said.
“Hey, that’s great. Close friends are the best friends,” Russell said. “I work with the friends that made supper for us.”
“The supper you were supposed to make?”
Russell smiled. “Yeah, that one.”
“Are they detectives?”
“Do you like them?”
Russell’s brow furrowed. The question had… implications he hadn’t been prepared for. “They’re married. To each other.”
“Marriage totally didn’t stop Shane,” Theodore whispered.
Russell laid a hand on Theodore’s cheek and turned his head toward him. “Theo, my dates usually don’t go well because I don’t wanna waste my time sleeping around. I’ve wanted to settle down with someone for as long as I can remember. I dreamed of being married when I was five. Planned it when I was seven. I have absolutely no interest or intention of screwing around with anyone. Not my co-workers, not anyone.”
Theodore searched his face for a moment before closing his eyes and bowing his head. “I wish I could believe you,” he whispered.
“I know, Theo. I know.” Russell slid his hand around to the back of Theodore’s head and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “One of my co-workers is a mostly sex-repulsed asexual. The only person she’s ever slept with or had interest in sleeping with is her husband, and her husband is one hundred percent straight. Hell, I’m the only guy who also likes dudes that works at that station. I’m not taking my sexual interests–or my emotional ones, for that matter–anywhere else.”
Theodore sniffled, turning away to stir the eggs on the stove. Russell stiffened when the man turned and wrapped him in a hug. Russell let out a breath, wrapping his arms around Theodore. “If I ever find out you’re lying, I’ll let Vera kick you in the nads.”
Russell laughed, burying his nose in Theodore’s hair. “Deal.”
After a moment, Theodore pulled away and turned back to the stove. “You look much better now than you did this morning when you got here.”
“I was tired. A couple hours of sleep and a warm shower helped a lot.”
“It was only because you were tired?”
Russell cleared his throat. He wasn’t sure he was comfortable lying to Theodore. It felt like taking the wrong path in their relationship, even if that lie was only about work, about the case he had been given. “No. The homicide messed me up a little bit, too.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Theodore asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe not right now, but… maybe eventually?”
Theodore nodded. “I… will be here when you decide.”
“Thanks, Theo.” Russell cleared his throat again, moving his hand back up to Theodore’s back. He desperately wanted to wrap him in a hug from behind, rest his chin on Theodore’s shoulder, but that felt too intimate for what Theodore needed from a relationship right now. Russell wasn’t there to push boundaries or force him out of his limited comfort zone. So for now, he’d settle for the hand between Theodore’s shoulders. That was more than good enough for him.
Theodore turned off the fire beneath the eggs. “I’m… going to go tell Vera food’s ready,” he said, turning to face Russell. “Do you mind setting out plates and… and all that? I-it’s okay if you don’t want to.”
“I’m more than happy to,” Russell said.
Theodore smiled, soft and timid like it usually was. “Thank you.”
Theodore cleared his throat, fingers tightening around his cane. “Don’t move your head?”
Theodore chuckled and leaned up, pressing a kiss to Russell’s cheek. “Back in a few.”
Russell smiled. “Okay. I’ll get the dishes out in the meantime.” Theodore only smiled at him before walking out of the room. Russell was thankful for that little smile. Anything that made him smile was something Russell could chalk up as a success, an achievement. The more smiles that crossed Theodore’s face, the better. The man deserved all the damn smiles in the world, far as Russell was concerned.
“You’re late,” Emilia said as Russell dropped into his chair. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just… not a case I expected to be working, that’s all,” Russell said.
Emilia nodded. “I heard about that… Saw it on the news. But I didn’t know it was your case.”
“Officers didn’t know who he was when they called me in. So…” He lifted his shoulders. “Who knows. Maybe Loo will pull me off of it, anyway. He doesn’t want me working cases alone in the first place. This would give him a good reason to get me away from it. Conflict of interest or something.”
“Would you prefer that?” Emilia asked.
One corner of Russell’s mouth scrunched up. “I don’t know. I thought about that a lot this morning, and I can’t decide if me working the case guarantees that it’s done right, or if me working the case has a bigger risk of emotional conflict that’ll lead to me screwing up and guaranteeing we never find out who killed him. I don’t know which one’s more likely.”
“Well… for what it’s worth, I’ve met you, Russ. You have a great work ethic, and even the cases where you’ve… invested yourself a little too much, you always end up on the good side of things. I’ve never seen your emotions compromise a case.”
Russell let out a breath that felt at least somewhat relieved. “Thanks, Emey.”
“No problem.” She cleared her throat. “You… think you’re gonna need help?”
“I don’t know. I’ll keep you updated, if that works for you?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s totally fine. Whatever’s good with you is fine for me and Andrew,” Emilia assured.
“Thanks,” Russell whispered. He sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. “I need to go down to the lab, see if anything has… come to light.”
“Okay. Good luck, Russ.”
He nodded, pushing himself to his feet. He made his way down to the lab. His steps were heavy, his legs tired. The smallest part of him really did hope his lieutenant would hand the case over to anyone else in the department, but the much larger part of him couldn’t get past the worry and fear that anyone else would screw up in one way or another.
Vince Gunn had been his mentor, the detective that had taught him damn near everything there was to know about being a detective. The man had been like a father to Russell, or at the very least, he’d been what Russell assumed a father was supposed to be like. It was a little hard to imagine what a good dad was supposed to be like, but he had always assumed Vince was pretty damn close.
He couldn’t just pass Vince’s murder off to someone else. He owed this to Vince. Solving his murder fell on Russell’s shoulders. It had to.
Russell knocked on the open lab door. Ellie Daniels, one of their forensic techs, lifted her eyes to his face. “Hey, Ellie.”
“Hey, Russ.” Her expression softened. “I’m so sorry about Vince.”
“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of… do you happen to have anything on him? On the crime scene?”
“You’re still working this?”
“Until Loo decides I can’t do it… yes. I owe this to Vince,” Russell said.
After a moment, Ellie nodded. Russell appreciated that. He didn’t think he had it in him to put up much of a fight, anyway. “Okay. Well, I don’t have much right now. He was shot six times in the chest. More appropriately, he was shot in the back six times.”
Russell walked a little further into the lab, forcing himself to nod. “Do you think he was trying to get away from someone? Or did they just… come up behind him?”
“I wish I knew. All I know is that he was shot the first time several feet away from where he fell, based on where I found his blood. He did try to get away after the first shot, but that’s all I can say for certain.”
“So… no chance it was a robbery gone wrong?”
Ellie shook her head. “I wouldn’t say so. If it was, they forgot to do the robbing part.” She pulled a bag out of the evidence box on the table and held it out to Russell. Finally, he crossed the room all the way. He grabbed the bag, his chest tightening.
It was Vince’s wallet. It had been flipped open before being bagged, allowing Russell to see Vince’s license, credit card, and debit card inside, and when he tilted the bag toward himself, he could see there was still cash inside, too.
“Where’s his badge? Did you bag that separately?” Russell asked.
“Yeah, his retired detective badge?”
Ellie shook his head. “He didn’t have that on him.”
Russell’s brow furrowed as he looked back down at the wallet. Since Vince retired, he had always had that badge on him. Russell had seen it every time they’d had a couple drinks at the bar, anytime they’d gone out for coffee. While Russell’s badge was always displayed rather prominently on his belt, Vince’s retirement badge was always neatly tucked between the two halves of his wallet.
“Thanks, Ellie,” he said quietly, handing the bag back to the analyst. “Let me know if anything turns up?”
Ellie nodded. “I will.”
“And, uh… if you haven’t already, could you dust that wallet for fingerprints?”
“Thanks.” Russell cleared his throat, taking a step back. “I’ll see you later. When, uh… If something turns up.”
“Of course, Russell. You keep me posted, and I’ll keep you posted.”
Russell nodded. “Yeah, sounds like a plan.”
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