Wednesday: December 4, 2024
3:00 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
Bo couldn’t sleep. Images of a teenage boy dying because of him taunted him every time he closed his eyes. It was like the Hunter case all over again. A killer far too obsessed with the blonde, obsessed enough to kidnap and kill people simply to prove a point.
Jamal had promised he’d handle it, and Bo did his best to believe the elderly man, but it wasn’t always that simple. Sometimes, the bad thoughts took over and he couldn’t decide who he trusted or who he believed in.
Behind him, Jensen cleared his throat, snuggling closer to the blonde as his arm tightened around the shorter man’s chest. His hand slid beneath Bo’s chin. Bo smiled faintly, slipping a hand under Jensen’s and threading his fingers through Jensen’s.
“You’re awake,” Jensen murmured, his voice rough with sleep. “Are you scared?” he asked.
“I don’t… think scared is the right word. Just… worried, I guess. Every time I close my eyes, I can only imagine this sick freak murdering a good that mildly looks like me just to prove a point to me,” Bo said.
Jensen squeezed Bo’s hand. “Jamal said he’ll take care of it, Eli. You gotta trust him.”
“I know,” Bo whispered.
Jensen pressed a kiss to Bo’s shoulder. “Jamal and I love you too much to let anything bad happen to you. That includes the blame you’d put on yourself if this kid died. He’s not going to let it happen,” he said softly. Bo nodded. “What can I do to make it better?”
“I don’t know. Just… You can go back to sleep, Jens.”
“No, I can’t, Eli. Not while you’re over here suffering,” Jensen said.
“Well, just hold me, then.”
“Mm, that I can do.” Jensen hugged the blonde tightly. “I love you, Eli. We’ve got this,” he said.
Again, Bo nodded. “I love you, too.”
“Good,” Jensen whispered. He leaned up slightly, leaning over to kiss Bo. “I know it won’t be easy, but try to get some sleep. I’ll be right here the whole time.”
“And you’ll wake me up if something happens?”
“If you don’t wake up before me? Yes, absolutely.”
“Okay,” Bo said quietly. He squeezed Jensen’s hand. “Jamal has it covered?” he asked, closing his eyes.
“Affirmative,” Jensen murmured. “It’s gonna be okay, Eli. You have my word.”
4:18 AM; CLINSTONE, UNKNOWN LOCATION
Nicole drew a leg closer to herself, resting her foot on the seat, propping her head up with her fist as she stared at the screen of her phone. Jamal had forwarded her the information on the boy that had been kidnapped. She’d read through the basics—his age, his hair color and eye color, his address, his height. She knew the basics. The basics were the easy part. Everything that followed was muscle memory. Everything that followed was something she hadn’t been allowed to do since she promised Wayne she’d never kill again.
Although she snuck out of the house on occasion to do a bit of stalking, to break the rules. It kept her senses keen, her eyes sharp.
Nicole locked her phone, sliding it onto the dash of the rental car as she turned to stare out the window. Across the street, her eyes landed on the house the boy lived in, the house he had been taken from. She had two plans. The first was that the parents would eventually leave and she could search the house.
Bo Austen hadn’t been allowed to look at the house for clues. Jensen Taylor had protected him from it, had protected him from seeing the pictures of the boy that was meant to symbolize a younger Bo from two decades ago. The human part of Nicole didn’t blame the younger man for his need to protect the short blonde.
The killer part of her, the darkness that consumed her soul, considered Jensen weak for hiding the scene from Bo. Wayne would be disappointed in her for that, but she didn’t care. Wayne was disappointed in her for a lot of things, the first of which was her disrespect of Jamal. His ‘love’ for Jamal was so blind that he couldn’t see what a terrible idea this truly was. If she got anywhere near the killer, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself. Her darkness would jump straight into the passenger seat and sink a knife into the killer’s flesh over and over again.
Nicole cleared her throat, pulling her elbow away from the window and dropping her hand to her lap. She did her best to think about something else, something that wasn’t blood on her hands, no matter how much her flesh ached for the familiar warmth of human blood.
If the parents didn’t leave the house anytime soon, she’d just sit and wait. If the killer was anything like her or Wayne, he’d drive past the house again for a sneak peek of how miserable the parents were or to see the house he had broken. Nicole had always driven past the empty house as a reminder that she had done a good deed, a service to the world.
Wayne always drove past the broken home as a silent apology for the family he had destroyed.
Nicole sighed softly. Sometimes, she forgot that, between Wayne and herself, she was the true monster. He felt guilty about his kills, Nicole’s darkness said. It’s why he’s weak. Don’t compare yourself to him in some sort of negative light. You’re strong, it whispered.
She rolled her eyes. She had learned from Wayne that the easiest way to fight the crushing darkness was to not respond to it. No matter how badly it mocked you or set you up for failure, you couldn’t respond. It was how Wayne had fought his darkness, how he had stopped killing. It was how he had helped her stop killing, too.
If she was lucky, she could fix Jamal’s… issue without killing the Copycat. If she was lucky, she could keep her darkness in the backseat and prevent it from taking control.
If she was lucky, fixing Jamal’s problem with the Copycat wouldn’t tear her and Wayne apart and destroy their family.
7:52 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
“Where are you going?”
Jensen turned toward Bo as he pulled a shirt on over his head. Bo lay on his back on the bed, hands folded over his chest. “The school, babe. I gotta drop the kids off at school.”
“And then you’re coming back?”
“I’m not going to the station today, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m staying here with you,” Jensen said. Bo nodded. “Tom’s asleep in the family room. Do you… want me to wake up before I leave?” he asked.
“No, I’ll be okay,” Bo said quietly.
“All right, babe. I won’t be long.” Jensen crossed the room and, pressing a hand to the mattress, leaned down to kiss Bo. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, Jens.”
“Keep your sanity at least until I get back, okay?” Jensen asked.
One corner of Bo’s mouth lifted. “Mm… ten-four, Detective.” He turned his head enough to look at Jensen. “I’ll do what I can. Just come back soon.”
“I will. I gotta run to the store for a few groceries after I drop the kids off. But I’ll back after that. Forty-five minutes, tops,” Jensen promised. Bo held out a hand, which Jensen promptly grabbed. “Sanity, okay?”
“Okay,” Bo whispered. Jensen pressed a kiss to the blonde’s forehead and squeezed his hand before leaving the room. Bo looked over at the nightstand, grabbing his phone as it rang. Without checking the ID, he answered the call and pressed his phone to his ear. “Austen.”
“How you holding up, kid?” Jamal asked.
Bo closed his eyes. “I haven’t decided. I feel a little more dead inside than I usually do, but that might be a good thing at this point. The more dead I feel, the less I feel.”
“That kid isn’t dying, Bo. I won’t let that happen,” Jamal said.
“Look, I’m in Kansas at the moment dealing with some… things, but if you want me to come up to Clinstone, I’ll drop everything and be there in just over an hour,” Jamal said.
“You have other stuff to worry about, Jamal.”
“Sure, but none of those things are as important as you,” Jamal said.
“I’m fine. Promise.”
“He’s taking the kids to school,” Bo said.
Jamal grunted his response. In the background of the call, someone coughed. “He’ll be back soon?”
“You well enough to answer a case-related question?” Jamal questioned.
“Mammoth. How long do we have?”
“Tomorrow morning, more than likely,” Bo said.
“All right. Good to know.” Jamal cleared his throat. “I need to relay a bit of information to my person, here. I’ll talk to you soon, okay? Call me if you need something before I call you,” he said.
“Okay, Jamal,” Bo said softly.
“I love you, shot stuff.”
The blonde smiled faintly. “I love you, too, Jamal. Don’t strain yourself too hard, okay?”
Jamal chuckled. “Was gonna say the same damn thing to you, kid. Take it easy. I’ve got your six on this one.”
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