Russell lifted his head at the little knock on his office door. A smile came to his face. “Hey, sweetheart.”
Vera smiled back at him. “Hi. Daddy told me to come tell you that we have food.”
“Awesome, thank you. I’ll be out in just a moment, okay?”
“Okay.” Vera walked out of the doorway, disappearing down the hall.
Russell slid his papers back into Vince’s file and tucked it into the top drawer of his desk. Pushing himself to his feet, he grabbed his phone. After flipping off the light and closing the door, Russell headed out to the kitchen. He laid a hand on Theodore’s back, pressing a kiss to his temple. “How was your day out?”
“It was… surprisingly good. I haven’t had a nice day out since shortly after I met Shane, I think.”
“Well, I’m glad you had a good day. How’d Vera get along with Boyd?”
“Great. They played a dance game on the Xbox, and then they chatted about how much they like each other’s names and how they mysteriously have the same birthday.”
Russell chuckled. “I’m glad she had a good day, too.”
“Yeah, me, too. She gets a lot more of those now, but I’m still happy every single time it’s a good one.”
“I hope you both eventually have so many good days that they become ‘normal days’ instead.”
“God, isn’t that the dream?”
“Always.” Russell pressed a kiss to Theodore’s shoulder. “Thank you for bringing supper.”
“Of course. I, umm, I hope you don’t mind, but Vera wanted tacos instead.”
“That’s fine with me. I’m not very picky.”
“Awesome.” Theodore cleared his throat, turning to face Russell. He leaned back against the counter, rested his cane against it, and laid his hands on Russell’s chest. Russell smiled, tucking his hands behind his back to avoid scaring off Theodore’s touch. “How was your day?”
“I’m making progress, so I guess, uh… ‘good’ is a solid answer,” Russell said.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“I’m going to invite over a friend from the station over tonight to discuss the case. If you’d like to be there for it, I wouldn’t complain.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Okay, I’ll be there. After Vera goes to bed?”
“Yeah. I mean, in the assumption he comes over, anyway.”
“He will. He’s your best friend–I’m assuming–for a reason.”
“Yeah. He usually doesn’t stand me up, but… I don’t know. The shit this case is bringing out has me questioning damn near everything I thought I knew.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe talking to your friend will make you feel a bit better.”
“Maybe,” Russell mumbled. He dropped his forehead to Theodore’s shoulder, snaking his arms around the man’s waist. “This okay?”
“This is fine.” Theodore moved a hand to the back of his head, burying his fingers in Russell’s dark hair. “Ready to go eat? Or do you wanna stay here a moment?”
“If you’re okay with it… I’d like to stay here for just a bit longer.”
“That’s fine with me, Russ. You’ve done nothing but support me every time I’ve needed it. I’ll do the same for you.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered.
Much like Theodore had promised, Andrew had come over to talk about the case without any complaint. Russell led him into the living room. “Andrew, this is Theo. Theo, Andrew.”
Andrew flashed that charming detective smile of his, sticking out a hand. “Theo the boyfriend?”
“Hope so,” Theodore said, grabbing Andrew’s hand. “You’re one of the detectives that works with Russell?”
“Sure am. Been friends with the shithead since Police Academy.”
Theodore chuckled, wrapping his hand around Russell’s arm. He has chosen to keep his cane out of reach while Andrew was there. Though he trusted Russell, he didn’t want to appear weak or vulnerable in front of another man. Russell couldn’t blame him for that, even though he knew Andrew would never in his life harm Theodore.
“So, umm, Theo’s gonna stick around for this conversation. If that’s cool with you,” Russell said.
“It’s your case, man. Long as he isn’t a suspect, you can tell him whatever you want. I’m not gonna tattle on you.”
“Thanks.” Russell gestured to the couch with one and helped Theodore sit down, dropping down beside him. Andrew grabbed the case file from the couch, perching himself on the edge of the coffee table. “There’s a lot of notes and transcripts in there, so I can give you a basic rundown on all of it and then pitch my thoughts, or I can just let you read it and pitch my thoughts after.”
“I trust your rundown, but I am going to have the folder open while you talk. I can remember details better if I can read them. Okay?” Andrew asked.
Russell nodded. “All right.”
Andrew flipped open the folder, clearing his throat. “All right, Russ. Walk me through.”
“In August of 2015, a Glock 17 Gen5 was stolen in Oklahoma. On November twenty-fourth, three months later, Lauren was shot five times in an alleyway on her way home from shopping. She was walking that day because her car wouldn’t start. Her car wouldn’t start because the ignition cable was missing. According to the file, she removed the cable and stuck it in her glovebox.
“Now, the glovebox thing is true. It was in her glovebox, but not because she removed it, and not because she put it there. I looked into the traffic camera footage from that morning, and I saw a car pull up and park a ways past the house. A man–I’m assuming–got out of the driver’s seat, pulled the ignition cable from Lauren’s car, put it in the glovebox, got back in his car, and drove away. I ran the license plate. It belongs to a woman named Marilyn Briggs. She reported it stolen around six PM on November twenty-second, which is when she and her husband returned home for the day.”
“You got the file for it?” Andrew asked.
“No, I put in a request. Still waiting.” Russell raked a hand through his hair. “I went and spoke to Mrs. Briggs. There was never a follow-up for her missing vehicle, and it was never found. She had even given the cops security cam footage, but she never heard back on that, either.”
“Jesus.” Andrew cleared his throat. “Do you have the footage?”
“Her granddaughter sent me a copy today,” Russell said with a nod. “I watched it. A person in a hoodie stole the car about an hour after she and her husband left that day, hotwired it. I sent it to Ellie for a height comparison against the person that took out Lauren’s ignition cable. Five-foot-five for both videos, which is too short to be the between six-foot and six-foot-two shooter that killed Lauren and Vince.”
After a moment, Andrew nodded. “So this is a two-person job?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“All right. Remind me again of what ties Lauren to Vince?”
“The shooter is estimated to be the same height, they were both shot with stolen weapons, they were both shot five times, they were both shot off-duty, and both of their badges were stolen.”
Andrew nodded, setting the folder down beside him. He looked down for a moment, twisting his wedding band around his finger. “I already know what you’re gonna say, and I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I.”
“You have any cops in mind?”
“All I’m saying is that Clouse and her scumbag partner are the right heights.”
“Jesus,” Andrew whispered. Elbows digging into his thighs, he clasped his hands in front of his mouth.
“You think… a cop from your station killed two of their own?” Theodore asked.
“I don’t want to think it or believe it, but it’s where my mind has gone, yeah,” Russell said quietly.
Theodore laid a hand on his back. “Why would they have killed them?”
“Corruption. Maybe Vince and Lauren saw or heard something they shouldn’t have.”
“This stays between the three of us,” Andrew said, holding out a hand to gesture between their trio of conspiracists. “We don’t talk about this at the station, we don’t talk about it on our phones, we don’t talk about it in our emails. We talk about it face-to-face, and we talk about it here or at my place. We clear?”
“Good. Em and I are still working that cold case, so I’ll help look into this when I can. You stay with the shit you’ve got now. The stolen guns, the stolen car. You stick with that. I’m gonna see if I can feel out what kind of corruption at the station we’re dealing with.”
“How the hell would you do that?”
“There’s been talk of replacing the sergeant in Narcotics. Not promoting him. Replacing him. I’m gonna find out why.” Andrew squeezed Russell’s knee before pushing himself to his feet. “We’ll figure this out, Russ. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered.
Andrew nodded. “We’ll talk soon. I’ll see myself out. You both do your best to enjoy the rest of your night.”
“You, too, Andy.” Russell dropped his head to his hands as Andrew walked out of the room. “So… that’s where my brain’s been.”
“That’s what you mean when you said you needed time away from it before you became a conspiracy theorist, uh?”
Theodore rubbed a hand down his spine. “I’m sorry, Russell. None of this has been easy for you, and I’m sorry for that.”
“Thank you.” Russell drew in a deep breath, letting it out as he scrubbed his hands down his face. “After this is over, will you let me take you and Vera out to a relaxing, celebratory weekend lunch or something?”
“I’d love that.”
“Awesome,” Russell whispered. He sat up, offering a smile as he turned toward Theodore. “I’m sorry about all this, Theo.”
“What do you have to be sorry for?”
“This maybe corruption shit. It’s hard enough to date a cop. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to. But on top of the normal… shit that comes with it, now you’ve gotta deal with the possibility that two of my favorite people were killed because a few people there might be corrupt.”
Theodore nodded, hand still moving over Russell’s spine. He hadn’t had someone around to rub his back like that in so damn long. To say it felt amazing still came up as an understatement. “It scares me. I can’t deny that. But you being a cop scares me, too. Knowing some people have it out for you because of the badge scares me. But I like you. I want you. Long as you keep being good to me and Vera, I’m going to keep dealing with that fear to keep being with you.”
Russell laid a hand on Theodore’s cheek, leaning up slightly to kiss his forehead. “Thank you.”
“No problem. But I totally don’t need thanks for my personal, factual opinion.”
A little smile tugged at one corner of Russell’s mouth. “No, but you deserve thanks for it. The difference is pretty minute, but it’s still important.”
“In that case, thank you.” Theodore pushed his fingers through Russell’s hair, brushing it away from his forehead. “Any chance you’d like to show me that secret master section of the house?”
“I could, yeah.”
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to. If there’s a reason you don’t want to, I’m okay with that.”
Russell offered a smile. “It’s okay.” He patted Theodore’s thigh and pushed himself to his feet. He stuck out a hand. “Come on.” Theodore grabbed his hand, accepting the help to his feet without complaint. Russell led him through the kitchen and down the hall there. With a short exhale, he pushed open the door to the master bedroom and flipped on the light. “Here you go.”
“This is… decorated. Pictures, covers on the bed…” Theodore stepped into the room before turning to face Russell. “Who lived here?”
“My older brother. It’s his place. Umm, I moved in after he was moved to rehab.”
“Like, injury rehab, or drug rehab?”
“Injury first, drugs second.” Russell cleared his throat and led Theodore over to the bed so he could sit down again. “Remember when you asked why I knew I had to be a cop?” Theodore nodded. “My older brother was a lawyer. I was going to school to become one, too. And then… his depression got worse, and his stress got worse, and he had a breakdown of sorts. His neighbor called the cops and, eventually, he pointed his gun at one of them. They shot him. The bullet embedded itself in his spine, doubling as a constant source of pain and taking away his ability to walk without extensive therapy.
“Rustin PD never had a training course on how to deal with mental illness or how to talk someone down from that dangerous state. I wanted that to change, and if nothing else, I wanted there to be even one damn cop in Rustin that knew what it was like, that knew how to stay level, that knew not to discharge a weapon on someone who wants to die.”
“I’m so sorry, Russell.”
“Me, too.” Russell offered a chuckle, shaking his head. “Nothing helped with his pain, so he turned to drugs. It was in moderation at first, I’ll give him that. But the problem with moderation is that it’s eventually not enough, y’know? The body gets used to it, needs more of it. It’s just… how it works.”
“Where is he now?”
“Rehab again. He took another dive back into it after being clean for seven months, almost eight. He’s really good in the wheelchair, and he’s making progress with learning to walk with a walker, but the pain is crippling somedays. That’s when he folds.” Russell cleared his throat, clasping his hands between his thighs. “I leave the master bedroom and bathroom untouched in the hope he’ll be able to come back and stay here long-term someday. But deep down, I know it’s nothing but a pipedream. Even he’s told me to stop clinging to that hope. But it’s hard.”
“God, Russ, I can only imagine. Actually, I can’t even imagine what… any of this is like. I mean, my family has very little history of mental health issues, and even less drug and alcohol abuse.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to be able to imagine it. Hell, I hope you never have the ability to imagine it. Just talking about it is… nice.”
Theodore wrapped an arm around Russell’s shoulder. “I’m glad talking about it helps, even if only a little bit. You do the same damn thing for me every single time you let me talk about Shane.”
“Mm… Paying it forward and whatnot. It’d be unhealthy if I refused to listen to any of the trust issues you have because of Shane. We’d never progress or move forward.” Russell wrapped his arms around Theodore, leaning down enough to drop his head to Theodore’s chest. He closed his eyes as Theodore moved a hand to the side of his head. “I like the hell outta you, Theo.”
Theodore chuckled softly, combing his fingers through Russell’s hair. “I like you, too, Russell.”
“We can, uh… we can sleep in here if you want to. You shouldn’t have to keep sleeping on the couch.”
“I can manage the couch, Russell. You slept on the couch and the floor for me, and that was before we were dating. I can handle the couch for a little while longer.”
“The only reason I refuse to take this room for myself is because I like to pretend he’ll be coming back, but even if he stays out of rehab, he doesn’t want the house back.” Russell laid his hand on Theodore’s chest, lifting his head to meet the other man’s eyes. “The sheets are clean. I change ‘em halfway through every month so they smell nice. I need a shower, but if you wanna watch Nurse Jackie after that, we can. And then we can… move in here and sleep, if you don’t have an issue with that.”
Theodore shook his head. “As long as you’re sure it’s what you’d like to do, I have no issue with us sleeping in here. But, I still think it should wait until next time, whether that’s tomorrow or the day after. If Vera were to wake up, come out to the living room, and find us both gone… We should wait until next time. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine with me, Theo.” Russell pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You want me to help you back into the living room?”
“I’d appreciate that, yeah. Thank you.”
Russell offered a smile. “No problem, Theo.”
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