Russell stood beneath the shower head, face tilted back in the water. He hadn’t done much more than speak to Jamal that day, but he was absolutely exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed with Theodore, close his eyes, and not have to wake up again until all of this was over.
“Umm… I’m sorry. How much longer are you gonna be?”
Russell pulled open the shower curtain, leaning out to look at Theodore. “Not long. What’s up?”
“I’ve been thinking about the, uh, needing to take better care of my hip thing. You’re right. I do need to take better care of it. Which means that I… sorta need you to carry Vera back to your room. She fell asleep in the chair.”
“Okay. I’ll be done here in maybe five minutes. Just gotta rinse off and get dressed.”
Russell offered a tired smile. “No problem, Theo. Out in a few.” Theodore returned the smile before walking away from the doorway. Russell closed the curtain and leaned back into the water.
He couldn’t wait for the case to be over and solved. He couldn’t wait for life to go back to whatever the hell ‘normal’ would be from then on out. A version of normal that didn’t involve Vince was a kind of normal that Russell couldn’t even visualize. The only time his life hadn’t had Vince in it was a time before he had even met the man. Vince had been actively involved with his life ever since then.
Life would never go back to normal. It would only be able to come to a new normal, just as it had done after every other major ‘event’ in Russell’s life. This time, the new normal would include Theodore and Vera.
He could certainly chalk that up to ‘the bright side’ of his new normal.
After carrying Vera to bed, Russell walked back to the other end of the house and slid into bed beside Theodore. It felt odd to be in his brother’s room, even if it hadn’t been his for years.
“Thank you for carrying her,” Theodore said, laying a hand on Russell’s chest.
Russell closed his eyes, covering Theodore’s hand with his own. “No problem, Theo.” He cleared his throat. “You comfortable on that side?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Are you?”
“Comfortable as I can be. Still a little weird.”
“But you feel okay?”
“Yeah, I feel okay.”
“Good,” Theodore whispered. “If you feel like you can’t sleep in here, we can move back to the living room, no matter what time it is.”
Russell smiled, his eyes still closed. “If I can’t sleep in here, I’ll just take the couch, let you sleep. I’ll feel a little less like an ass that way.”
“If it works for you, it works for me.” Theodore carefully pulled his hand out from under Russell’s, threading their fingers together instead. “What’s our plan for tomorrow?”
“You should go to work if you want to, and Vera should go to school. She told me she gets to dress up for Halloween at school, and she sounded pretty damn excited about it. I’m going to go over to Andrew’s, tell him not to do any digging on this case until future notice. And then I’m heading out with one of Jamal’s bodyguards to see if we can find the stolen car. The stolen car is my in for the rest of the case, in the assumption there are prints on it.”
“So… you’ll be safe?”
“Yeah, I’ll be safe.”
“Good,” Theodore whispered. He gave Russell’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I hope you find that car, Russ.”
“Me too. I don’t know how I can possibly prove it was them without the damn thing.” Russell let out a harsh breath. “But, umm… enough about all that shit. Let’s get some sleep. In the morning, we’ll have breakfast for the three of us, I’ll take Vera to school, you to work, and then I’ll hand over to Andrew’s. Sound good?”
He heard Theodore shift beside him, felt the mattress dip slightly. “Sounds good to me, Russell. Goodnight.”
Russell squeezed his hand. “Night, Theo.”
After dropping Vera off at the school, Russell drove to the bookstore and pulled up to the curb by the door. “Do you need help getting out?”
“I’ll be okay.” Theodore pushed open the door before leaning over the console to press a kiss to Russell’s cheek. “Be safe.”
“I will. You too.”
Theodore nodded, dropping a hand to Russell’s on the steering wheel. “I better see you here when my shift ends. I’m calling Jamal if you’re not here.”
“Okay.” Russell laid a hand on Theodore’s cheek and kissed his forehead. “I’ll be here to pick you up. Are you off early? Or…?”
“Four,” Russell echoed. He smiled. “I’ll be here, safe and sound. Then we’ll go get Vera from your parents’ place, and then… then we’ll get changed and go trick-or-treating.”
“Perfect.” Theodore touched his cane to the ground before looking back at Russell. “Find that car, Russ.”
Russell offered a soft smile. “I’ll do my best, Theo. Have a good day at work. I’ll see you tonight.”
“See you then.” Theodore slid out of the car, offered a little wave as he closed the door, and headed up to the shop.
Russell let out a slow breath and shifted into drive. Adjusting his grip on the steering wheel, he pulled away from the curb. He still needed to swing by Andrew and Emelia’s place. Making sure Andrew didn’t get involved in the case was top priority. He had already lost Lauren. He had already lost Vince. He wouldn’t lose Andrew too. He wouldn’t lose Emelia for being the one to get her husband killed.
He needed to know his only damn friends were safe, even if he had no plans of being at the station that day. Hell, especially if he had no plans of being at the station that day.
His chat with Andrew had been mostly smooth sailing. Andrew had been a little against the whole Jamal aspect of the situation, but he was all for the bodyguards and extra help. Russell had chalked that up to a success for the day.
Now, he walked into the largest junkyard and auto salvage lot Rustin had, one of Jamal’s bodyguards at his side. The man was a good two to three inches taller than Russell, his posture much more proper. He had introduced himself as Enzo, his face set hard enough to cut stone.
Even though Russell was willing to admit he was a little intimidated by the guy, he was more than thankful to have the man with him. He felt… safe, and for the first time since his conspiracy theory about his coworkers had arisen in his mind, his paranoia of being followed and at risk had dissipated.
“Mister Pitman has already spoken to the owners of the lot. They don’t know anything about this vehicle, but they said we are more than willing to allow us to look around for as long as we need to, and they’re willing to give us a list of vehicles they’ve crushed or parted out in the last year or so.”
Enzo nodded. “I’ll make sure Mister Pitman knows you are grateful.” He untucked his hands long enough to gesture to the rows and rows of cars before them. “Where would you like to start?”
Russell’s eyes roamed over the cars. After what felt an eternity, he shook his head. “I’ve got no fuckin’ clue.”
Enzo chuckled. “What do you say we start at the back? In my experience, you don’t hide your stolen car at the front of the lot.”
Wanting to keep his knowledge of Enzo’s experience as one of Jamal’s personal soldiers as limited as he could, Russell only nodded.
A/N: Only THREE more chapters left!!
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