Not for the first time that morning, Russell found himself awake. They had gone to bed a couple hours after Vera had finished watching her ghost show and been tucked in. In the last five hours, Russell had managed a whopping half hour of sleep. He rolled onto his back, scrubbing both hands over his face.
He dropped his hands to his chest, eyes focusing on the dark ceiling. The day before, he had gone through the details of Lauren’s homicide file. Though there had been a large part of him that had hoped there wouldn’t be nearly as many similarities between her death and Vince’s, he had needed to know.
And tragically, he had discovered even more similarities than he had prepared himself for. Both of them had been shot six times in the back while off-duty. Yes, Vince was technically ‘off-duty’ because he was retired, but Vince had always been a cop at heart, retired or not. Lauren and Vince had both been shot while walking home at night. Russell had yet to figure out if Vince had gone anywhere other than his usual nighttime walking route–that was on his to-do list–but Lauren had been walking home after buying groceries.
Three bags of groceries had been found in the alley with her body, along with her purse. She hadn’t been robbed, just like Vince. Both of them had still had their wallets on them, and as far as anyone had ever been able to tell, nothing had been taken from either wallet. Credit cards, debit cards, driver’s licenses, cash, photos. Nothing had been missing from their wallets, and nothing had been missing from Lauren’s purse.
Both of their badges had been missing. Vince always had his on him, tucked away in his wallet. Russell was certain of that. Lauren had been off-duty for a total of two hours before she had been shot. Her badge would have been pinned to her belt or tucked away in her blazer’s pocket, but it hadn’t been there. It hadn’t even been in her purse or in her car at home. Someone had stolen it.
Russell’s brow furrowed. If the cops had checked her car, they had reason to believe she had been in it, even though she had walked to the store. He rolled onto his side and grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand. After unlocking the device, he added another point to his to-do list.
Talk to Lauren’s partner about the night of the shooting, especially why she hadn’t taken the car, especially why the cops had checked it for her badge in the first place.
“You’re doing a lot of moving about,” Theodore mumbled.
“Sorry about that.” Russell set his phone down and rolled to his back again. “Did I wake you?” he asked, turning his head toward Theodore.
The man, his back to Russell, lifted a shoulder. “I’ve been in and out for the last hour or so, I think.”
“Yeah. Not because of you, though.”
Russell nodded. “Wanna talk about it?”
Theodore chuckled softly. “If I talk about it, you will think it’s because of you. I’ve just been thinking a lot about all of this.”
“As in you and me?”
“Not us dating. Us sleeping in the same bed.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable?”
“Not uncomfortable.” Theodore rolled over onto his bad hip, shoving an arm under his pillow as he met Russell’s eyes. “I hate that I still feel… weird about it. I slept in the same bed as Shane the… second time we saw each other. Christ, I slept with Shane the second time we saw each other. But this… I can’t even bring myself to kiss you.”
“Your mind doesn’t want to recreate the circumstances that led to you eventually marrying Shane. Because of the things he said and did to you, your mind is still convinced it’s your fault. Which means that things like you sleeping with him, you kissing him, you sleeping in the same bed with him… Well, it means your brain reads those as mistakes you made, as though there wouldn’t have been any abuse if those things hadn’t happened when they did. So your brain wants you to avoid doing them again. That’s… why you feel weird.” Russell cleared his throat. “I think. I mean, I’m assuming.”
“Maybe.” With a grunt, Theodore rolled onto his stomach, crossing his arms over Russell’s chest. Russell couldn’t help but smile as he moved a hand to the shorter man’s back. “Your turn?”
“My turn for what?”
“I don’t think you’ve slept at all tonight. I’m sure it’s because of the case. So… do you wanna talk about it?” Theodore asked.
Russell shoved an arm beneath his head, clearing his throat. “I’m technically not supposed to discuss case details with civilians.”
“You don’t have to. You can… talk about how it makes you feel, if you want.” Theodore rested his chin on his forearm. “You were very open with me at the station yesterday.”
“It seemed to make you uncomfortable.”
“I didn’t know how to handle it. It’s not something I’m used to, to say the least.” Theodore smiled softly. “I like that you were comfortable enough to share that with me. I’ve just never had a man openly tell me exactly what was on his mind. I didn’t know how to respond. Amongst my normal fear register, I was scared I’d say something wrong.”
“You did great. Offered to sit with me and everything.” Russell offered a smile, his thumb caressing the curve of Theodore’s lower back. “I really appreciated that. Hell, I can’t even begin to tell you how much it meant to me that you showed up there tonight. That meant the world to me, Theo.”
“I’m glad it meant something to you. I mean, really. I-it didn’t matter what the hell I did for Shane. Nothing was good enough.”
“You showing up there was more than good enough. I really needed to see a face that wasn’t a cop today.”
A tiny smile tugged at one corner of Theodore’s mouth. “Glad I could help.”
Russell lifted his hand just long enough to push his fingers through Theodore’s hair. “If I tell you something about the case, you can’t go telling it to any reporters or anything like that.”
“I’ll do my best not to.”
Russell chuckled. “Works for me.” He did his best to keep at least some of the humor on his face, but it faded quickly. “You know how I told you the reason I don’t get a lot of cases is because I don’t have a partner right now?”
“I don’t have a partner because… the gal I was working with, Lauren, was shot and killed last year while she was off-duty. She was walking home, and someone shot her in an alley about four blocks from home.”
“Oh, my God,” Theodore whispered. “I’m so sorry, Russell.”
“Yeah. Thank you.” Russell cleared his throat. “She and Vince were both shot six times in the back. Overkill. They were both missing their badges, too. I mean… Vince’s was a retired detective badge, but he carried it with him everywhere. I think… the same person shot them both.”
“Wh-what would that mean?” Theodore asked.
“That this person is targeting cops, and Vince was the end of his cooldown period.”
“So… he’ll kill more cops?”
“After his cooldown period? Probably.”
“Jesus,” Theodore whispered. He uncrossed his arms, laying a hand on Russell’s cheek. “You have to be careful, Russell. I just got you in my life. I…”
Russell laid a hand over his, thumb caressing Theodore’s knuckles. “I’ll be watching my back until I catch this guy, I promise. I’ll be careful.”
“Good,” Theodore whispered. “Don’t move?”
Theodore leaned up and kissed Russell’s jaw. “How are you going to prove they’re related?”
“I still need some forensic information on Vince so I can compare the details there to the details from Lauren’s scene. Bullets, gun, height… Stuff like that. From there… I’ll question her partner, see what they remember from the day she was shot. The cops, umm… They checked her car for her detective badge, but she walked that day. I need to know why she walked, and I need to know why they checked her car. It was at home, so…” Russell shook his head. “I just gotta find out all the details I can. That’s the main goal.”
“Will that… be easy for you?”
“Nothing will be easy for me. I mean, it’s Vince. And now it might be Lauren, too.” Russell cleared his throat. “But talking to our forensic analyst won’t take a lot of time. That’ll be… easiest. Talking to Lauren’s partner will be rough, I imagine. As far as I know, they’ve become a bit of a shut-in since Lauren’s death. More so than before, anyway. But I just… I gotta know everything that I can about both scenes, about both of their deaths. The more I have, the better a detective I am.”
“You’ll do great,” Theodore whispered. “You’re a hard worker already, and I know this is gonna make you work even harder. You’ll do great.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered back. He brushed a thumb over Theodore’s cheek, eyes flickering to his lips for only a moment. If Theodore was anyone else he had tried to date, Russell would kiss him for the pep talk, for listening, for sharing. But Theodore wasn’t anyone else. Theodore was… Theodore, and kissing him without express permission was far from what Russell wanted to do.
Instead, caressing his cheek would serve as thanks, and Theodore’s weight on his chest would serve as comfort and understanding.
That was more than Russell ever could’ve asked for.
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