Russell came to again for what felt like the millionth time. He’d been in and out of sleep ever since he had handed Super Mario Bros over to Theodore and Vera, taking his choice of Luigi out of the game. He cleared his throat, reaching out for his beer. Theodore sat between his legs on the couch. With the footrest kicked out, there was more than enough room for them both, giving Vera the other half of the couch.
“You were out for quite a bit that time,” Theodore said.
“Mm.” Russell took a sip of his beer. “Was I?”
“Yeah. Long enough to start snoring.”
“Sorry about that.”
Theodore shook his head. “You’re cute when you snore.”
Russell smiled, bowing his head to kiss Theodore’s shoulder. “Thank you.” He leaned back against the couch, gaze falling to his watch. “You gettin’ tired, Vera?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’s just about your bedtime.” Russell scrubbed a hand over his face. “You headin’ home tonight, Theo?”
“Do you want me to stay?” Theodore asked.
Russell snorted. “You’re turning my question tactic back on me.”
“I’d love for you to stay, but I don’t want you to screw up your hip.”
“I can manage a night,” Theodore said.
Russell nodded. “You and Vera can have my bed. I almost never sleep in it, anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. And then I can take you guys home tomorrow morning.”
“No, thank you,” Russell mumbled.
Theodore reached back and patted his cheek. “Let’s finish up this level, okay, sweetheart? And then we’ll get you ready for bed.”
Vera nodded. “Okay, Daddy.”
Russell awoke to Theodore climbing onto the couch. “Hey,” Russell whispered, his voice rough. “Where…? What time is it?”
“Little after two,” Theodore said, his voice soft. He leaned his cane up against the end table before leaning back against Russell. “Vera’s been asleep for a while, so I figured I’d come back out here, snuggle up with my own personal heater.”
“Mm.” Russell wrapped his arms around Theodore. “Sure you wanna sleep reclined like this? I can readjust and lay down instead.”
“This is fine, Russ. Promise.”
“Okay,” Russell whispered. He yawned, dropping his head to the back of the couch again. “Night, Theo.”
The alarm on Russell’s watch was its own form of incessant hell. With a groan, he pressed the button on the side to shut it off. He pulled open the end table drawer and grabbed the orange pill bottle from inside. “Look at that. First time you’re getting taken on time in a while,” he whispered.
“You should not be drinking while you’re on that.”
Russell tilted his head back to meet Theodore’s gaze. “Where’d you come from?”
“Kitchen. I started coffee.” Theodore leaned down, wrapping an arm around Russell’s shoulders. “What’s your poison?”
Theodore smiled faintly. “Me, too.” He pressed a kiss to Russell’s temple. “You know you’re gonna be dizzy and drowsy all day, right?”
“Yeah. Beer was a bad choice but… last night was a bad night.”
“I know, Russ.” Theodore rubbed his hand over Russell’s chest in a small circle. “Depression or anxiety?”
“Me, too.” Theodore dropped his chin to Russell’s shoulder. “It seems to be working for you.”
“It does. Took a couple tries to get there, of course.” Russell reached up and patted Theodore’s cheek. “Come on. I need water. And… I need to get you home to take yours?”
Theodore smiled. “I brought mine with, and I’ve already taken it.” He smacked Russell’s chest. “Bring them with you from now on. If you’re only taking them on time when you’re sleeping here on the couch, you aren’t doing yourself any good. You don’t have to be ashamed of taking them, obviously.”
“I’m not. I just forget to grab them.” Russell closed the footrest and pushed himself to his feet. “After coffee’s ready, we’ll head on out to your place. I’ve got nothing for breakfast here, so we can grab something on our way to the school.” A pause. “Assuming… that you’d be okay with me taking Vera to school and you to work?”
Theodore nodded. “Works for me. Take your meds, and I’ll go wake up Vera. Back in a few.”
Russell squeezed Theodore’s hand as the shorter man walked out of the room. Russell shook a pill into his palm and tossed the bottle back into the drawer. In the kitchen, he downed it with a sip of water.
Letting out a long breath, he tilted his head back against the cupboards. His head was already killing him from the hangover alone. Stack alcohol-versus-Lexapro dizziness on top of the hangover, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and pretend the rest of the world didn’t exist.
But that wasn’t an option. He had a case to work. He had justice to serve. He had two deaths to avenge.
Crawling into bed and blocking out the world would have to wait.
With Vera dropped off at school, Russell pulled into the parking lot of the book store and parked as close to the building as he could. “Well, here we are.”
Theodore nodded, taking off his seatbelt. “So… what’re you gonna do today?”
“Got a couple things in mind, but I’m planning on starting with, umm… with questioning the people the guns were stolen from. I can’t access the reports on those missing weapons without contacting the police department, and I have to do that through my lieutenant. If he doesn’t find out about Lauren’s part in this… Well, that’s for the best.”
“Yeah. Definitely for the best.” Theodore reached over and laid a hand over Russell’s. “You stay sane today, okay?
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “I’ll do my best.”
Theodore laid a hand on one side of Rusell’s face, leaning over to kiss the other. “I’m here if you need me. Call, text, lunch. Whatever you need, okay?”
“All right, Theo.” Russell lifted a hand to cover Theodore’s. “Thank you for letting me drive you and Vera today.”
“Thank you for being willing to.”
“Of course,” Russell said softly. “Have fun at work. Smell the books and talk to people and… and enjoy yourself today.”
“I’ll do my best.” Theodore poked his chest. “You… I know you can’t have fun at work right now, but just make sure you survive it. And no drinking tonight. You and your meds need a break from yesterday.”
“I know. Thank you.” Russell leaned over and pressed a kiss to Theodore’s forehead. “Text me if you need a ride after work. Benefits of being a detective, I guess. Even when I’m not at my desk, I’m still working.”
“I will. See you tonight, Russell.”
Russell nodded. “See you tonight, Theo.”
The detective lifted his head, hand frozen over his desk phone. “Lieutenant.”
Marcus cleared his throat. “I’d like you to come with me to my office, Russell.”
“Is everything okay?” Russell asked.
“Yeah, but I think we need to have a little talk. And I think you know why.”
Russell pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. Hands shoved into his pockets, he followed Marcus through the detective desks and back to his office.
Marcus gestured to the chairs before his desk, closing the door with his free hand. “Go on and have a seat, Russell.”
Russell crossed the room, lowering himself into the chair closest to the door. Marcus rounded the desk and sat down. “What’s up, Loo?” Russell asked.
“I’ve been informed… that you’ve been looking through Lauren’s case file.”
“I…” Russell closed his eyes. “I have, yeah.”
“You know there are multiple reasons as to why you cannot do that, correct?”
“I’m half-tempted to pull you off Vince’s case, but from your progress report yesterday, I believe you’re doing a damn fine job. But still… what the fuck are you doing messing around in Lauren’s file?”
“The guy who killed Vince killed Lauren, too.”
“Russell,” Marcus whispered.
“He did! I swear, Marcus, I can prove it to you.”
Marcus sighed, folding his arms over his chest. “Are you sure this isn’t another one of your… moments?”
“I am not having a breakdown. Pardon me for being mentally unsound when they were accusing me and actively investigating me for gunning down my own fucking partner.”
Marcus held out a hand. “All right. You’re right. I’m sorry.” Gently, he swept his hand through the air, palm facing the ceiling. “Go on, then. Prove the similarity to me,” he said.
“For real, or are you humoring me?” Russell asked.
“For real. You’ve always been a good detective, Russell. You’ve always been a good cop. If you think there’s something that connects them, I’d be an idiot not to listen.”
Hesitantly, Russell nodded. “Lauren and Vince were both off-duty. Yeah, Vince was retired, but he was still ‘off-duty’. They were both shot in the back six times. Neither of them were robbed, even though Lauren had just been out shopping. Both of them were missing their badges. They were both shot with stolen weapons. The shooter in both cases is estimated to be between six-foot and six-foot-two. Those are my similarities so far.”
Marcus nodded, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. “Those are some… compelling coincidences.”
“I’m not saying it’s not the same guy, Russell. I can’t determine that. But right now, they’re circumstantial.”
“Of course they are. I’m not done investigating.”
“Right.” Marcus cleared his throat. “Next time, just let me know you’re connecting the dots, especially when it’s a case you were a suspect in.”
“I know. Point is, when you need something for a case, get it yourself, and if no one will fulfill that request, just talk to me. I can’t have you working a case if you’re constantly fearing that I’m gonna pull you off of it. I need you to feel comfortable working the case. Okay?”
Marcus nodded. “All right, Russell. You’re dismissed. Good luck with this case. And if you ever start to feel like… you can’t do this anymore? You let me know.”
“I will, sir. Thank you.” Russell pushed himself to his feet and walked out of the office, closing the door behind him. On his way back to his desk, he stopped at Emilia and Andrew’s desks. “Where’s Emey?”
“Umm…” Andrew lifted his head, coffee mug held to his lips. “Good question. Break room, maybe?”
Russell nodded. “When she gets back, please tell her that I appreciate the concern, but I don’t need Loo thinking I’m having a fucking breakdown, too.”
Andrew held up a hand, setting his coffee mug back on his desk. “Breakdown? Russ, take a seat, talk to me.”
Against his best judgment, Russell sat down in the chair in front of Andrew’s desk. “I’m working on Vince’s case.”
“I had heard that. I can’t even imagine how difficult that is for you.”
Russell nodded. “Yeah, well, multiply it by the fact that the guy who killed Vince killed Lauren, too.”
“Jesus, Russ,” Andrew whispered.
Again, Russell nodded. “I told Emey about it so she could get Lauren’s case file for me.”
“Yeah. And then she reminded me of all of my previous hard times and told me to keep my head on straight so it doesn’t happen this time, too. I promised her I’d be fine, but it seems she told Loo about it, anyway, who asked me if I was sure this wasn’t one of my ‘moments’.”
Andrew let out a harsh breath. “Loo… should know better than that. And I’m sorry about Em. She loves you, Russ. You’re like a damn brother to us both. I’m sure she wasn’t seeking to hurt you. She couldn’t have known Loo would talk to you.”
“Since… she happened to ditch before I came outta his office, I have a feeling she knew.”
“I’m sorry, Russell,” Andrew said softly. “You know Em. She wants to help people whenever she can. Sometimes it’s just… Sometimes, it doesn’t go how she planned it to. It’s not malice on her part.”
“I know. It’s her moral compass telling her what to do. So just… let her know that I’ll keep the case to myself on this one. I love her, but I can’t have her jeopardizing Vince’s or Lauren’s justice because she thinks she’s doing me a favor,” Russell said. “I have no… ill will held against her. Just let her know, please?”
After a moment, Andrew nodded. “Okay.” He leaned to the side, grabbing Russell’s hand as the detective rounded his desk. “If you need to talk and you truly don’t feel comfortable sharing it with Em, I’m your guy. Okay? No matter what.”
“Thank you.” Russell patted the back of Andrew’s hand, taking a small step to the side once Andrew let go of him. “When you tell Emey about the, uh, leaving her out of the case thing, make sure to include the fact that I’m not mad at her. I just don’t want to talk to her… right this instant.”
Andrew nodded. “I’ll make sure that’s clear.” He let out a breath. “Good luck, Russell. Seriously, I’m hoping for the best with this one.”
“You and me both, Andy. You and me both.”
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