Sunday: April 16, 2028
1:32 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
Bo felt the mattress jerk as Jensen bolted upright. The blonde sat up beside him, carefully wrapping his arms around Jensen’s shoulders. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice soft as he combed his fingers through the younger man’s damp hair.
“Uh huh. Yeah, I’m good,” Jensen whispered. Still, he lifted a hand and wrapped it tightly around Bo’s forearm. “Saw my mom.”
“I’m sorry, love,” Bo murmured, pressing a kiss to Jensen’s shoulder.
“No, it, umm… It wasn’t about her dying. It was just, you know, my mom. Till the end, when she got taken away. But it was of her, and I’m just…” Jensen let out a heavy breath, leaning into Bo. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Surprised?” Bo suggested.
“Yeah. Surprised. It’s weird to see her alive, I guess.”
“I know, Jens.”
“Feels kinda good, though. To have a dream of her when she was happy and baking cookies and shit.” Jensen pulled away from Bo, turning to look at his husband. “Does that make sense?”
“Of course it does. No one likes to see their loved ones in pain, love,” Bo said softly.
“Mm.” Jensen lay down, tugging Bo back with him. He snuggled up to Bo’s side, wrapping his fingers around the collar of Bo’s—technically Jensen’s—shirt. He sniffled, clearing his throat. “I love you,” he mumbled, closing his eyes.
“I love you, too, Jens.” Bo combed his fingers through Jensen’s hair as the younger man’s breathing slowly evened itself out. It wasn’t long before Jensen shifted, rolling onto his stomach and throwing an arm over Bo’s chest instead. Bo stared up at the ceiling as a soft snore escaped his husband. The blonde smiled, closing his eyes.
He wasn’t necessarily tired any longer, but he knew he could sleep as long as Jensen stayed asleep beside him. The younger man tended to work his own magic that way, that something as simple as draping an arm over him could help Bo sleep.
Bo loved that about him.
6:00 AM; LOS ANGELES, THE WEREWOLF’S HOUSE, LIVING ROOM
Spencer Barnes’s life was boring.
That is what Dominic found out when he purposely found his way into the man’s mind. Spencer Barnes wasn’t a man who went to the gym to stay fit.
He was just a skinny guy with a high metabolism and expensive, hand-tailored suits that made him look strong and fit.
Spencer Barnes wasn’t some guy filled with insecurities.
He just threw on a suit in the morning and walked around with a tall posture and long stride. Who would dare question him in that stance? No one, as far as Dominic had seen.
Spencer Barnes was just a man who woke up in the morning, threw together a protein smoothie, got dressed, and went to work.
He wasn’t the type of ‘jackrabbit’ Dominic looked for. His story wasn’t interesting enough.
Dominic groaned and pushed himself to his feet. Jackrabbit. God, he hated calling them that. If it wasn’t for the fact that therapy helped him with his day-to-day life and handling his own life, he wouldn’t keep going in for sessions. He wouldn’t have to call them rabbits any longer. He’d never have to watch the way Tamara peered at him over her glasses like she was better than him, or like he was some ball of confusion and negative energy.
Dominic hated doctors and therapists and psychologists, but boy had his parents carted him around to see them all. Moving out and leaving all of it behind when he’d turned eighteen had been a godsend.
Until he realized he still needed at least one quack in his life, that is.
He had liked Tamara enough in the beginning, but she certainly got on his nerves nowadays.
“And how does that make you feel? Why do you do that? Is there a reason you think of it like that?” Dominic muttered under his breath as he walked into the kitchen. She hadn’t been that way in the beginning. She had asked thought provoking questions and helped him find out who he was, what his problems were, and why he was always so angry at the world.
He hadn’t started killing people instead of animals until after she changed her questioning technique. She had changed because she had gotten bored of him. He was no longer interesting enough for her.
Well, he’d show her a whole new kind of interesting. How would she feel when she finally found out that the names of the jackrabbits were the names of his victims? How boring would that be of him?
One corner of Dominic’s mouth lifted as he pulled open the refrigerator. It was empty, like always. He never quite made it to the grocery store. He preferred the walk there and the walk back.
Choosing who to touch on the sidewalk was much more thrilling than accidentally bumping into someone in the aisle of a grocery store and forever being stuck with their name in his head, their boring life. He liked choosing them based on their expression, based on their clothes or their gate. He liked to choose them with a purposeful reason, not just some unhappy little accident.
Dominic closed the refrigerator door, swiping his house keys from the counter.
It looked like he’d be going on a walk again.
7:37 AM; LOS ANGELES, THE PITMAN ESTATE, OFFICE
Jamal grabbed Frank’s hand with a heavy sigh. With his free hand pressed to the desk, he pushed himself out of his chair. “Massage therapist,” Jamal said simply.
Frank nodded. “Of course. I’ll call her and have her come here. She’s closed on Sundays,” he said.
“I know. Are you helping me down the stairs like the old bastard that I am?”
Frank grimaced. “I wasn’t expecting you to hold that phrase against me.”
Jamal chuckled. “I’m not, because it’s true. I am an old bastard. Rather proud of it, too,” he said. Frank smiled faintly, rolling his eyes as he hooked an arm around Jamal’s waist. “I’ve been fine, you know. No pain. No anything,” Jamal said, draping his arm over Frank’s shoulders.
“You keep skipping your appointments, though. You haven’t seen the chiropractor in almost a month, and you haven’t seen your massage therapist in over two weeks. They can’t help you if you don’t actually go to them. You’ve been favoring late night missions for Lucchese instead. It’s not helping you any,” Frank said as they walked out of the office. “If you skip the things that help the back pain, said pain will get worse. I believe Mister Austen would tell you that’s common sense and obvious logic.”
Jamal snorted. “Yeah, probably. He’s a little shit like that,” he agreed. At the stairs, he wrapped his free hand around the railing and pulled his arm away from Frank. “I’m good.”
Frank couldn’t help but roll his eyes again as he stepped away from his boss. Still, he walked directly at his side as the older man made his way down the stairs, gripping the railing as though his life depended on it. Sometimes, Frank was rather certain that Jamal’s life did depend on that support.
“We’ve talked about this before, Jamal. You don’t have to retire from the LAPD yet. You should wait that out until the contract switches. But you can retire from being under Lucchese’s thumb whenever you want to.”
Jamal scoffed. “The only reason she is in control of that family is because I turned it down when Alessandro offered it to me,” he said. “I’m not under her thumb, Frank. I’ve been making sure she stays alive. Do you know what he would’ve done to me if he were still alive when she got shot? That would’ve been my fault for not protecting his little girl.” He shook his head. “I’m not under anyone’s thumb.” A pause. “Not anymore.”
Frank cleared his throat, offering a nod even though Jamal wasn’t looking at him. “Of course, sir. My apologies.”
Jamal shook his head. “No need for that.” At the bottom of the stairs, Jamal let out a heavy sigh. “I feel like… if I stop doing my part for that family, I’m letting Antonio and Alessandro down. They both wanted me to take over for them. I turned them both down because I was too busy killing people, first to get back at my father, and then to ignore the anger that rose after I lost everyone but Katherine, and then one more time to pretend I wasn’t hurt when she fucking ran away.
“If I stop doing that for the family, if I stop doing the thing I considered more important than taking over for my family…” Jamal glanced up briefly, quickly swiping his tongue over his top row of his teeth. “It feels like I’m failing two of the only people that ever believed I could do anything, that I was unstoppable and untouchable. I can’t do that, not until my boy’s ready to take over.”
Frank shoved his hands into his pockets. “With all due respect, sir—”
“Don’t start with your bullshit,” Jamal muttered, pushing himself away from the railing. “If you want to offend me, do it without your preamble of respect. Just say it.”
Frank sighed, walking alongside Jamal as the older man headed for the kitchen. “The reason Mister Austen isn’t ready to take over for you is because you aren’t doing anything to make him ready.” He held up his hands as Jamal stopped walking. “You’ve made him shoot a guy. You’ve made him take boxing lessons and weight lifting and you’ve made him eat healthier. That doesn’t train him for what he needs most.”
“I don’t make him do anything. That’s your first mistake. My father made me shoot a man in front of a crowd of mobsters. If Bo hadn’t pulled that trigger, I would have. He didn’t have to. He had a choice,” Jamal corrected. “And the reason I don’t force him to do anything to be ready is because I know what that’s like. I know what kind of nightmares spawn from that shit. You don’t do that to somebody you love. You don’t.”
“Okay,” Frank said, his voice soft, palms still held out to Jamal. “Like I said, all due respect. I’m not criticizing you. If you don’t want to toss him into the lake until he learns to swim, I get it, but he’ll never be ready. No one ever is.” He swallowed, clearing his throat. “I wasn’t ready when you took me to that church. I wasn’t ready to walk into a church filled with mobsters, and I sure as hell wasn’t ready for you to kill him. But if you had told me that’s where I was going that day? I never would’ve gone with you. You would’ve gone in alone, and you would still be alone today. No one is ready until after the thing they need to be ready for is already over,” he said.
Jamal closed his eyes briefly, letting out a heavy breath. “I… do suppose you’re right,” he said quietly. He offered a smile. “But I’ve been through far too much to put him through it, too.”
Frank nodded, following Jamal as the older man started walking again, one hand pressed to the wall. “You don’t have to treat him the way your father treated you. Treat him the way… you treat Master Wayne, the way you treated Mrs. Silver.”
“I let Katherine be a spoiled brat most of her childhood. That is where I made my mistake,” Jamal muttered. “Bo, on the hand, has to be handled… carefully. I can’t handle him the way I handled Wayne. He was an active serial killer, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I don’t think I could,” Frank said. He remembered seeing Wayne’s kill room, remembered helping Jamal tie down an angry ball of serial killer rage. “Mister Austen doesn’t need to be handled with kid gloves, Jamal. He isn’t the man he was after Mister and Mrs. Silver went to prison. He isn’t who he was after Mrs. Decker died. He’s stronger than he’s ever been,” he said, crossing his arms over the counter.
Jamal nodded, straightening out his posture as he leaned up to pull a mug from the cupboard. He set it down, reaching back to press a palm to his lower back. “I know, but I still worry about him. I worry about ruining him and a perfectly happy family just because I’ve made more enemies in my life than trusted associates and soldiers.”
“You shouldn’t see it that way. Again, if he didn’t want to do this, he would’ve turned you down already. Not in the way a quote-normal-unquote person would, sure, but he’d let you know,” Frank said. “Besides, letting him run through a few bigger gigs isn’t going to hurt anyone. Let him test the waters before you throw him in and hope he doesn’t drown. If he doesn’t like it, he’s out. But if he does like it, you’ve got a good, level-headed kid that knows how to fucking swim.”
Jamal smiled, shaking his head. “What would I do without you, Franklin?”
“Well, in my experience, you’d fall down a flight of stairs,” Frank said.
Jamal laughed, leaning against the counter as he set his mug on the coffee machine’s raised platform. He tapped a button up top and turned his dark eyes back to Frank as the machine whirred behind him. “Very true,” he agreed, one eyebrow raised. “You’re one of the only people that can give me advice about Bo. You know, unless I want to call up the Mason kid and scare the hell out of him.”
Frank snorted. “Well, you know, I’ve done what I can for you, and that has included learning everything I can about Mister Austen,” he said simply. “One more piece of advice on training?”
“Sure, why not.”
“Bring him back to L.A. before the killer takes down another victim. Let him know why you’re bringing him here. Go with him on a mission instead of me. I can go with if you need, but he needs to be there with you. It needs to be something other than killing. He has to know that there is so much more to it than that. He has to know that he’s going to end up with new scars and new surgeries. You need to show him it isn’t only about the ability to point and shoot a gun, because besides the adoption center and the group homes, that’s all he knows, Jamal,” Frank explained.
Jamal nodded slowly. “Of course. I’ll call him on Tuesday. Let him and Jensen do whatever they have planned for his birthday. I’ll talk to him about it after that,” he said. “Sound okay?”
“Sounds good to me, sir.”
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